Knights of the Pain Table

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Medieval Lesson 103 – Heraldry – for Thy Knights of the Pain Table

Medieval Lesson 103  –  Heraldry

Wilcume to the University of Camelot (UofC).    Today we will talketh about Heraldry.

Heraldry is a system in which inherited symbols, or devices, called charges are displayed on a shield, or escutcheon ( shield like surface ),  for the purpose of identifying individuals or families.

We often recognize famous people by their faces,  but in the Middle Ages, you would not know who famous people were, unless you met them in person.   Knights also were difficult to recognize, due to their helmets and face guards.   So those who needed a way to announce who they were used a coat of arms.   A coat of arms or armorial bearings in European tradition,  is a design belonging to a particular person (or group of people) and used by them in a wide variety of ways.  The term ‘coat of arms’ derives from the surcoat (outer garment ) on which the heraldry was displayed.

When Knights proceeded to battle their coat of arms was emblazoned on their shield, their surcoat and the cloth that draped their horse.   Along with the crest on their helmet, they could be identified by others including enemy soldiers.  The fact that a Knight could be identified often saved their lives.  If defeated,  he was worth keeping alive and held hostage, instead of being killed.   A well-marked Knight would also be disgraced if he ran away from the battle.

Only one coat of arms was carried by a Knight, and this passed onto his eldest son when he died.  Other children would use variants of their father’s coat of arms.   By the middle of the 12th century,  coats of arms were being inherited by the children of armigers (persons entitled to use a coat of arms) across Europe.

The coat of arms and other heraldic symbols were displayed in pageantry at tournaments.  These symbols,  during King Arthur’s time,   were a way of identifying chivalric valour and loyalty to the King.  The highest order of Chivalry in England was the Order of the Garter.   This was a revival of the Knights of the Round Table dedicated to St. George, the dragon slayer. 

A description of a coat of arms is called a blazon. To emblazon is to inscribe ( a prominent marking ) on a surface.  Coat of arms were placed on all sorts of objects.  Rings could be engraved with heraldic arms and then pressed into hot wax to seal documents with the coat of arms.   Heraldic banners would bear the arms of their knightly owners. 

Those in battles have always decorated their shields.    In the 12th century,  though, these designs became more standardized.   This system,   known as Heraldry,   had strict rules.

Arms used a series of standard colours divided into tinctures and “metals”  (silver and gold) and are described in a special language based on Old French.    Gold and Silver,   often represented by yellow and white,   were metals.   The tinctures were red, blue, black and green.    In a coat of arms, metals could only touch tinctures and tinctures would only touch metals.   These rules generated strongly contrasting coat of arms, which were easily identified.   To read more about the rules of Heraldry visit Heraldic Dictionary.   at the University of Notre Dame.

A herald or a herald of arms is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms.    Like other officers of arms,  a herald would often wear a surcoat,   called a tabard,  decorated with the coat of arms of his master.    In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, heralds came to be associated with the regulation of the Knights’ coats of arms.    Heralds made lists to keep a record of participants in military events like tournaments and battles and were experts in coat of arms. 

We doth conclude the lesson for today.

With Great Respect and Compassion,

 Merlin,   Magister of U of C
Camelot and The Knights of the Pain Table

 Read  Medieval Lesson 101 –  Duellum

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One Response to “Medieval Lesson 103 – Heraldry – for Thy Knights of the Pain Table”

  1. Lady Sharon says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    We thank you for riding by our Kingdom. We hope you found a Kingdom that you liked. Our Kingdom is a bit different, so we understand if it is the wrong fit.

    Peace to you,

    Lady Sharon
    Scribe of Camelot