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Last updated 14 May, 2006

Heraldry in England

All heraldry in England, Wales and Nothern Ireland is controlled by the College of Arms. They are the official repository of the coats of arms and pedigrees of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Commonwealth families and their descendants. It also holds the official copies of the records of Ulster King of Arms the originals of which remain in Dublin. The officers of the College are known as heralds and the coats of arms are granted by Letters Patent from the senior heralds, known as the Kings of Arms.

Contrary to popular belief, and many organisations that market coats of arms, arms are granted to individuals and do not belong to a surname. The right to arms can only be established by the registration in the official records of the College of Arms of a pedigree showing direct male line descent from an ancestor already appearing therein as entitled to arms. Alternatively an individual may make application through the College of Arms for a grant of arms.

Arms are described by a concise verbal description of them in the text, known as the blazon. There is no correct shade for the various colours used, nor is their a correct representation of the many animals that appear as charges on a shield. The same arms may thus be rendered perfectly correctly in an infinite number of artistic styles.

An achievement.

An achievement in heraldry is a complete display of arms, crest and other accessories. An achievement is made up of six items.

1. The shield.

The shield is the part of the achievement most people think in heraldry. It carries the special devices or objects, called charges, which make that particular coat-of-arms distinct from any other. The shield often appears by itself without any other parts of an achievement.

2. The helmet.

This appears above the shield, and its typing position indicates the rank of the owner.

3. The mantling or lambrequin.

This sweeps round from the top of the helmet and drapes each side of the shield. It is said that this is a representation of the mantle worn by a knight in warm climates (particularly during the Crusades) for protection from the scorching rays of the sun on the metal.

4.The wreath or torse.

A piece of twisted silk which covers the joint of the helmet and the crest.

5. The crest.

This was originally the object which knights used to wear attached to their helmets particularly at jousts. Nowadays the word crest is too often wrongly used to mean coat-of-arms.

6. Mottos.

They usually occur on a scroll normally placed beneath the shield or over the crest.