Excerpts from the book





          Written and illustrated by

          Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.


          Copenhagen 1973


          Internet version edited by   Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.













Shields and Helmets

(pp. 182-182 and 11 - 22)



A warrior could put his emblem on all parts of his equipment (see Fig. 34), but the shield with its large solid surface was the best suited. It was usually made of wood covered with leather or parchment (sometimes covered in canvas above this) on which the device was painted. The emblem could also be embossed in low relief in the leather itself or picked out in metal studs.


When in use as defence, the shield was carried on the left arm, supported by straps at the back of the shield. When not in use it hung at the left side by a strap over the right shoulder. Throughout the whole of the Middle Ages it was common to show a coat of arms in a slanting position, just as it must have looked hanging at the warrior's left side (see, e.g., Fig. 22 and p. 17). Occasionally it was depicted suspended by its strap and hanging from a tree.




The principal component of a coat of arms is the shield, sometimes called the escutcheon, decorated with one or more devices or 'charges'; to this is added the helmet with mantling and crest. According to the bearer's rank, the fashion of the age or individual preference, there can be added coronets or other insignia of rank, insignia of office, supporters, mantling, badges, a scroll with motto, etc.


Volborth 003 - Copy



All these details and others will be discussed in the following pages.



The earliest form of shield in heraldry was the elongated, kite-shaped Norman shield (see Figs 31 and 33). Examples have been found on seals from the twelfth century and from an enamelled and engraved tomb plate which shows Geoffrey Plantagenet (of Anjou) with gold lions on a blue shield. According to a contemporary chronicle he was granted this coat of arms by Henry I of England when he was knighted in 1127.


Volborth 004 - Copy


The shield is the most important part of a coat of arms. It can take practically any form, depending on period, place, function, situation or the whim of the heraldic artist. Examples are shown on the following pages. A shield can be used on its own (Fig. 26), with a crown above (Fig. 25), with helmet and crest (Fig. 28), or with crest alone, without helmet (Fig. 27).


Heraldry however followed the changes in style and fashion, and this is reflected in the varying forms of shield (see pp. 13 and 14). In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries particularly, during the periods of the Baroque and the Rococo, when the shield was no longer used for practical purposes but was merely continued in graphic form, decorative and distorted shapes far removed from a shield's original function were invented. The heraldic artist of our time must for each occasion consider seriously which form of shield he intends to use and should make it a rule from the aesthetic point of view especially to base his work on the early forms of heraldry in preference to the second-hand heraldry of later times. The same is of course true for the helmet and other heraldic appurtenances.


Volborth 004 - Copy (2)

Volborth 005 (2)


The helmet too has taken on different forms in different periods. The oldest type in heraldry is the barrel helm, also called the great helm (see p. 15). It was worn with a hauberk which also covered the neck and head of the warrior, and it was by degrees furnished with horns and other embellishments (see Fig. 36). When the warrior was not fighting, the helmet usually hung at his saddle.




36. The earliest form of helmet used in heraldry, going back to the thirteenth century, was the pot helm which usually had a flat top. Around 1300 it was gradually replaced by the great helm which had a conical top and rested on the warrior's shoulders. With this helmet the crest came into general use. From the end of the fourteenth century it began to be replaced by the tilting helm (see next page). In Scotland the great helm is used by gentlemen and esquires regardless of the antiquity of the arms, but in most other countries it is generally used only with arms which can be traced back to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.



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The good heraldic artist does not mix elements of different styles, and a barrel helm should therefore be used only with the forms of shield and mantling which belong to the same period, i.e. the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For the same reason the coronet should not be used together with the barrel helm.


Around 1400 the barrel helm was replaced by the tournament helmet (see p. 16) and in the course of the century this again by the barred helmet (see p. 18). In Spain, Italy and France the number of bars indicated the bearer's rank. Around the neck-piece of the barred helmet there often hangs a chain or a ribbon with a medallion. A variation of this type of helmet has the bars replaced with a grating or lattice-work of metal wire.








39. The tournament helmet derives its name from the tourney or tournament, i.e. fighting with lances as a form of sport. It came into use about the beginning of the fifteenth century and it was used in heraldry for several centuries, in non-aristocratic arms especially.









40. Mantling was originally a piece of material fastened to the top of the helmet and hanging down over the warrior's neck and shoulders, possibly to protect him from the heat of the sun.




41. It was probably in connection with the fashion of the times (see below) that heraldic mantling was developed during the fifteenth century as flowing drapery with pleats and creases, scallops and slashing. The tinctures of the mantling are as a rule the same as those of the shield, the most important colour being on the outside and the most important 'metal' on the inside, though there are many exceptions.

During the sixteenth century and later it developed into what is sometimes regarded as foliage (see above).










42. The barred helmet came into use in the course of the fifteenth century. It is not certain whether it was actually worn during the tournaments or whether it was merely a parade helmet decorated with the appropriate crests, displayed by the participants before the contest.


In the course of the Renaissance and at later periods attempts were made to ensure that the use of the barred helmet in a coat of arms was reserved for the nobility in contrast to the tournament helmet for the non-aristocrats, but this was not entirely successful. Many of the latter for that very reason bore the barred helmet. And many noblemen developed a preference for the tournament helmet because of the fact that it was an earlier type. In the seventeenth century and later several countries tried to establish the rule that the position of the helmet (profile or en face) and the number of bars should indicate the various ranks, but this classification was difficult to enforce.




The visored helmet became popular in the sixteenth century and is still used in certain countries with the visor either open or closed (pp. 19 and 20). In Central Europe, Germany and Scandinavia, however, it seems to have fallen out of use completely.


In some countries the position of the helmet indicates the rank of the bearer. In England the golden helmet of the royal arms and the helmet in the arms of a baronet or knight must be shown en face (see Figs 48 and 225), while all other ranks show the helmet in profile (facing dexter). In France, Spain and Italy a helmet shown en face indicates the highest ranks, from marquis upwards. Most other countries attach no importance to the position of the helmet, the crest being the determining factor. The inside of the helmet is usually red, but may also be of another colour, when for example it corresponds with the field of the shield.









Helmet for English or Irish esquire or gentleman. (A plain tournament helm with no pendant at the neck would be preferred today.)

43. Helmet with visor as used in Italy, England and Ireland.





45 and 46. From the sixteenth century onwards helmets with open visors, usually affronty and at times in gold, were used by kings and princes (see Fig. 440).



49. After the Renaissance, when heraldry no longer had any practical function and had become merely 'paper' heraldry, many errors and absurdities arose. Below can be seen a Spanish example of this: the mantling is not attached to the top of the helmet, but to its inside. The combination of visor and bars on the helmet does seem actually to have been used, however.




During the centuries the mantling of the helmet has become one of heraldry's most decorative effects (see pp. 11-22) and to exclude it when a coat of arms includes a helmet is considered incorrect heraldry. The details of the mantling's shape depend on the position and proportions of the coat of arms and on the desire of the artist, but in every instance some part of both sides of the mantling must be shown. Its tinctures are as a rule the same as the shield's, the most important 'colour' being on the outside and the most important 'metal' on the inside - though there are many exceptions.










50. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries another form of mantling came into prominence, as shown in the design for a coat of arms, right. This is the 'robe of estate', represented in some countries in the bunched manner illustrated here which resembles the tent-like 'pavilion' used by many hereditary sovereigns (see Figs 275 and 276-80).




51. The small Spanish mantle, or mantelete, which in the illustration on the left is red and lined with ermine, seems to be a transitional stage between mantling and robe of estate, although very early examples of mantling incapeline form may be found (see Fig. 206).


52. Arms of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linn6) (1707-78), ennobled in 1757. The robe of estate was very popular as a form of mantling with the new nobility of eighteenth-century Sweden.






53. A model for a Swedish baronial coat of arms with two helmets. The more important helmet is placed dexter.

4. Model for a German aristocratic coat of arms,

showing the order of precedence for three helmets and indicating possible relationship to quarterings.







55. The order of precedence with five helmets.




56. The order of precedence with four helmets.



57. A coat of arms may have more than one helmet (In Great Britain there are rarely more than two, while in Germany there may be anything up to a dozen.) If there are two, the most important is placed dexter; if three, in the middle. Examples of this are given on this page. On the Continent and in Scotland two or more helmets are mostly oriented towards the middle. In England they usually face to the dexter, as shown in this model for a viscount's coat of arms.