Excerpts from the book
HERALDRY OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by
Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.
Internet version edited by Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.
New Usages and Forms
(pp. 8, 10 and 180)
The word 'heraldry' is derived from the word 'herald'. The herald of the Middle Ages was a messenger between rulers, a sort of ambassador, and he gradually became responsible for the organising of state ceremonies and tournaments. Particularly in the case of tournaments it was of the greatest importance for him to be able to recognise the devices of the participants, and thus the herald became so expert in 'armory' that it was eventually named after him. Heralds attempted to work out registers in order to keep control of all the arms in use within their official sphere.
In Great Britain heralds have survived until the present clay and still exercise a certain authority. In England this is invested in the College of Arms (the Corporation of Kings, Heralds and Pursuivants of Arms) and, in Scotland, in the Office of Lord Lyon King of Arms. In other countries too thru- air offices which deal with heraldic problems, particularly those of state and local government. This is true of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Ireland and South Africa. Most of these however are of more recent origin.
'Herald’ is a general term for three classes or offices, "kings of arms', 'heralds' and 'pursuivants' (meaning those who follow). The individual offices might be named after the arms of the prince concerned (which the heralds wore on their tabards, see Fig. 13) or of one of his estates, or then again after an order of which he was the head. The King of Arms of Scotland is thus called Lyon (lion), after the arms of Scotland. Several of the Kings of Arms of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation bore the title Romreich. The highest in the hierarchy of England's kings of arms is called Garter King of Arms, after the Order of the Garter. Among the titles of the Danish mediaeval heralds are the names Zealand and Jutland.
Heraldry was originally used to distinguish warrior from warrior, first on the battlefield and later mainly in tournaments. At the same time and for a long period afterwards it was important as a means of identification on seals, and1 to this day it is used as a sign of ownership and a mark of decoration on all sorts of utilitarian and ornamental articles. Heraldry clearly meets a great human need, and when a political revolution abolishes an existing system of heraldry, very often a new one is introduced. This occurred at the end of the eighteenth century during the French Revolution, and during the wars of liberation in North and South America (see Figs 15, 432, 858 and 861). The same thing happened after 1917, when the Communists overthrew the Czarist regime in Russia (see p. 158) Japan has from ancient times had its own heraldic system which is in some respects reminiscent of the European.
The Legal Aspect of Heraldry
Who is entitled to armorial bearings? The answer is that, with certain local limitations (which will be mentioned when individual countries are dealt with), everybody has the right to bear arms. This is how it was at the very beginnings of heraldry in the Middle Ages, and so it is today.
The first bearings were independently assumed, and so are many nowadays. But from about 1400 kings started to grant patents of arms, both to individuals (sometimes, but not always, in connection with ennoblement) and to towns and corporations. Such titles to arms bestowed by the king were regarded as superior to those adopted independently, and this led to the king's being requested either to grant new arms or to recognise previously assumed arms. Many were only too glad to pay for such a patent of arms or recognition of arms, and thus the granting or straightforward sale of patents of arms became in many countries a good source of revenue for the king or for those officers to whom he had entrusted jurisdiction in matters of heraldry.
In some countries, particularly Great Britain, the heralds decided that a coat of arms that had been assumed independently and without ratification was not valid and that the only legal way of claiming a right to bear arms was to request it from the heralds appointed by the sovereign. This viewpoint is held officially in Great Britain today, but is less widely held on the Continent.
Some British heraldists consider that a grant of arms confers a certain kind of nobility. There is in fact no creation of untitled nobility in England, but an 'armiger' ranks as a gentleman, a degree which can be regarded in all but name as a form of lesser nobility: and a grant of arms, which can be withheld from applicants deemed unsuitable, has long served as a form of recognition of social status. In Scotland all arms are considered to be 'ensigns of nobility'.
A coat of arms is inherited largely in the same way as a name is inherited. Children as a rule bear their father's arms, but if the mother is of a higher rank they sometimes choose to assume her coat of arms. In Spain and Portugal children can inherit the arms of both father and mother, and when a woman marries she assumes her husband's bearings combined in some cases with those of her father (or mother)!. In Great Britain and Western Europe during the Middle Ages it was customary among the aristocracy for every male member of a family to add a charge (a 'difference' or 'brizure' or 'cadency' mark) to the family arms, or to alter the tinctures, so that no two men of the same family bore arms that were exactly the same (see, e.g., p. 85). In Scotland an attempt has been made to enforce this system (see p. 72) and it is practised within the royal family. Both male and female members all use a small addition to the royal arms - a 'label' charged with roses, anchors, crosses etc. - which distinguishes their arms from those of the other princes and princesses and from those of the sovereign. However, these marks are assigned specially in each case and do not follow the normal rules of cadency.
It is one thing to have the right to bear arms, but quite another to bear a specific coat of arms. The original and most important purpose of heraldry was and is identification, and this implies the principle that all coats of arms should differ. From the Middle Ages and the Renais¬sance we have reports of lawsuits, in which a person who had by chance assumed arms that were already borne by another was compelled by law to adopt a new coat of arms that could not be confused with the first. For heraldic legislation, legal protection, etc., see the various countries.