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How to Make an Authentic Medieval Coat of Arms
Using Shields, Knights and Heraldry educational software to print a shield and traditional medieval devices for your coat of arms
During the Middle Ages, knights used a coat of
arms to identify themselves. One man in armor looked a
lot like another, so the coat of arms was used to
identify a knight in battle. In a society where few
people could read and write, pictures were very
important. A coat of arms was more like a label for
instant identification than it was like a painting. You
wanted to know instantly who was coming toward you, so
you could know which side he was on. Coats of arms later
took on further significance and meanings. They also
became a way of showing membership in the aristocracy,
after they lost their significance in warfare.
Pick a color for your shield
The background of a shield is called the "field" If you want a divided shield, click here to see the traditional divisions. Most shields were undivided. Traditional heraldry used only the following colors and metals (except for an object that was proper', which means in its natural colors)
Or can be light yellow, and argent can be white. However, medieval people would have preferred metallic paint to the ordinary colors. You will probably want to use metallic colored pencils or markers if you have them.
Another color designation is "proper", which means in the most common colors found in nature for that object. A "bear proper" would be brown and a "tree proper" would be green with a brown trunk. The rule "metal on color and color on metal" is not always used when the charge is proper".
Select the other colors for your shieldThe basic rule is "metal on color, or color on metal, but not metal on metal or color on color". This means that the field (the background) on your shield can be either a metal or a color. The main object or objects should be a color if the field is a metal, or it should be a "metal" (silver or gold) if the field is a color. If there is another object on top of the main object, it should be a metal if the background is metal, or a color if the background is a color. It doesn't have to be the same metal or color. You can have color-metal-color or metal-color-metal. The rule "metal on color or color on metal" is not always used when the charge is proper.
However, if the background is divided (such as per pale), those are considered as being next to each other, not on each other, so you can have two or three colors or two metals. This rule about colors and metals provides contrast, making the shields bright and easy to see. If you have a shield with a circle with a horse on it, the base color, the circle and the horse have to follow the metal/color/metal or color/metal/color rule. A gold shield with a green circle and a silver horse would be correct (metal/color/metal); a gold shield with a green circle and a black horse (metal/color/color) would not. However, if you have a horse below a circle, both the horse and circle have to be a color if the shield is a metal, or metal(s) if the shield is a color.
Choose the charges on your shield:
A charge is what is shown on the base color of
your shield. Animals were frequently used as a main
There were also names for the positions in which the animals were shown. Here are some of the most common.
standing on hind legs
The dragon and griffin, of course, are
mythological animals. They often combine characteristics
believed to be found in more than one animal. The griffin
was part eagle, part lion. Since the animals were symbols
of qualities, such combination animals were meant to
indicate a combination of those qualities.
Historically Accurate Designing of Shields
Here are some basic ideas of how medieval
shields were designed, so that you can create your own in
a historically accurate way.
How to describe your shield -- Blazonry
Emblazoning is the drawing of the actual shield. Blazoning
is the description in words. This can get very
complicated, in the case of complex shields. We will
cover only the fairly simple types of blazoning.
vert, a lion rampant or
A gold lion in profile standing on his hind legs on a green shield.
When there is only one charge, the
"a" (a lion, a rose) is sufficient description.
If the background is divided, it become a bit more complicated, as in:
per bend azure and sable, a lion rampant argent
A shield divided diagonally, upper left
to lower right, blue on top and black on the bottom, with
a silver lion standing on his hind legs
per paly tierce azure, sable, vert, in chief three roses or
A shield divided vertically into three
parts, the first one blue, then black, then green with
three gold roses across the top of the shield.
Sable, a chevron or charged with three mullets (stars) gules
black, with a chevron (an inverted V-shape) on which there are three red stars (the red stars are on the chevron).
It can get MUCH more complicated, with extra
colors, "furs" in addition to metals and
colors, and specific names for each position of an animal
or other charge, and names for lines, circles and drops
in each color. See the list of links for more information
Knights and Heraldry is and online program that needs not
downloading or installation and will work on a PC or a Mac. We
still have the older download version available for PC only:
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