Thursday, April 21, 2011

Designing Your Own Coat of Arms (415 Days to Go)

Kate Middleton's
Coat of Arms Courtesy of
the College of Arms
Just in time for the wedding, Kate Middleton received a customized Coat of Arms in order for her to be properly heralded in as the new princess of England.  Heraldry is an ancient tradition in England, dating back to the 12th century as a means of identifying knights as they rode into either battle or tournaments.  Here in America, we're most likely to recognize a coat of arms from A Knight's Tale or the Tudors.  But that doesn't mean that we Americans don't have some roots in English or Celtic traditions.

I myself am 3/4 Irish, my fiance is 3/4 Scottish.  So after reading about Kate Middleton's new coat of arms, I was intrigued.

The coat of arms is passed down through the male descendants.  What this quickly informs me is that I do not possess a coat of arms and neither does Jeff since it is our father's side of the families that are of different heritages.  Essentially, my maiden name is passed down from a very distant English and his surname is from a very recent Italian heritage.  But, a coat of arms can be newly acquired for those of professional or educational standings that merit a coat.  Most of the more recently awarded coat of arms from the College of Arms were to professors.

But there are many Irish-Americans, Scotch-Americans and Brit-Americans out there who probably don't have the means to acquire a formal coat of arms like Kate Middleton.  But that doesn't mean that you couldn't design one that is meaningful to you and your future spouse to use as a way to share both heritage and your personalities at the wedding.

So, if you're going to make your own coat of arms for you and your future spouse, to be handed down to your male heirs, you'll first need to understand the anatomy of the coat of arms and crest.  The one pictured to the right is from the College of Arms and does a fantastic job of showing all the possible parts to be included.  As you can already tell, Kate Middleton's coat of arms is pretty simplistic by comparison.  This is partially due to the fact that she is a woman and thus she would have no helm or crest--just the blue ribbon mantling to represent that she is a single woman.

The crest is typically an animal of some kind and varies from birds and dogs to goats and unicorns.  There are pretty much no limitations on the possibilities for a crest.   

The actual coat of arms is the shield and this can take on any variety of different patterns.  There doesn't have to an animal on the shield, as you can see above on Kate Middleton's they use the acorn to represent the trees surrounding the family's home: the Oak.  They also make use of the chevron in order to create a bold swatch of color.  For Kate Middleton, this represents her mother's maiden name: Goldsmith.

The motto scroll typically bears either a short phrase or a set of words that are symbolic to the family.  Marrying a marine?  Consider "Semper Fi".  Perhaps you would want to use your alma mater's motto?  For me it would be "Spiritus Est Qui Vivificat".  Again, there is no right or wrong choice.

The supporters, like the crest, are typically animals, but do not have to be.  I have seen coats of arms that were born up by olive branches or varying trees.  It's all about choosing something that is significant to you.

So, if you're in the market to make your own coat of arms and crest, be creative and pick something meaningful to you and your love.  Don't forget to consider your families and their traditions.  But if you need some help, there are some websites that provide basic software for creating a coat of arms.
Make Your Coat of Arms

Just to give you an idea, I played around with one of the sites and came up with the coat of arms you see to your left.  I picked a Sea-Horse because Jeff is my fish out of water; the white roses for love and faith; the crescent because Jeff is a second child; the trefoil because of my Irish heritage; the snake for wisdom; and the blue and green background for loyalty, specifically in love.  To find out the meanings of other symbols, you should check out Fleur-de-lis Designs.

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