Additional Resources:
The Heraldic History

The Medieval Tournaments

Heraldry has a special vocabulary.  The wording was developed by the early heralds and its precise formation achieves brevity by which a single word might indicate the position, posture and attitude of a charge.  If one were to describe this charge in common terms, the resulting description would require several sentences.  In heraldic terminology, the written description of an armorial bearing is a blazon.  Knowledge of simple rules, which govern the blazoning of arms, is important to an understanding of the arms depicted. In most cases the first word mentioned is the field of shield color.  The next in importance is the major division of the shield, followed by the major charge in the description.  Thereafter the remaining elements would follow in order from chief (top) to base (bottom) and Dexter (left) to sinister (right)  as one views the shield.  In all cases the color of the charge follows the description of the charge.  For example: a lion rampant gules means that the lion is the charge, rampant indicates the position of the lion, "gules" (red) tells us the color of the lion. Colors are never repeated in a blazon.  Thereafter terms such as "of the first" and "of the last" refer to the first or the last color mentioned in the description.   When two or more charges of the same color occur, the color is not mentions until the end of the description relative to that color.  Example: a lion rampant between two roses gules.

Thus heraldry began as a specific mark of the fighting men and continues to be so to this day.  Every soldier, sailor and marine wears a specific device, which is heraldic in nature.  Yet arms are not exclusive to the fighting man.  Most universities and colleges have their individual Coat of Arms or symbolic arrangement, which heralds the school and its principles.  Clubs, corporations, churches, fraternities, agencies as well as city and state offices employ the equivalent of a Coat of Arms in some form.  The car you drive more than likely diplays the company's Coat of Arms proudly.  Trademarks and symbols on cigarette packets, signs on stores, adveritements in magazines employ forms of heraldic devices to distinguish the products and elevate the prestige of the company in the eye of the consumer.  The unifying quality of a Coat of Arms exists today, as much, if not more than 800 years ago, despite change and mechanization.  For today, as in the days of William the Conqueror and all the formidable rulers of the middle Ages, we find the armorial bearing offering a unique prupose in identifying, dedicated to one purpose, and lifting us out of a conformity and personal extinction. When you claim use of a Coat of Arms, you are in essence declaring to all the world that you belong to something - some family, group or orginization. More than likely you will want to display the Coat of Arms associated with your family name in a conspicuous place, with the knowledge that under the same banner great battles were fought and history made.