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The study of coats of arms worn for individual identification, and of the accessories of crests, badges, mottoes, and flags that accompanied them. Its origins are military. Soldiers in armour and helmets could not easily be identified in battle and so the practice evolved of displaying a sign or device on the shield and on the linen surcoat worn over the armour (from which the terms ‘coat-of-arms’ and ‘court armoury’ derive). The first heraldic designs may have been worn by the Crusaders, but their use became widespread in Europe in the 12th century. A similar system also emerged in Japan during the 12th century.

By the 13th century heraldry had so developed that it had its own terminology, based on Old French. Its colours are called ‘tinctures’ of which there are two metals – gold (or) and silver (argent) – and five colours – blue (azure), black (sable), green (vert), purple (purpure), and red (gules). In England heralds were formed into the College of Arms (1484), which still controls the grant of arms. Scotland has its Court of the Lord Lyon (1592).

Subjects: History

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