Heraldry, Coats of Arms and Our Modern Armourial
The word heraldry is derived from the German words heer, which means “host” or “army,” and held, which means “champion” or “hero.” Heraldry is the system developed sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries by medieval heralds as a means of graphically recording a noble family’s hereditary insignia and distinguishing them among other nobles. Using a language of colors and symbols, they created these pictorial records designed by either the bearer or the one granting it, and emblazoned (painted) them on shields. These blazons were also incorporated in tapestries, banners, flags, the surcoats worn by knights and the trappings of their horses and even the clothing worn by the family’s herald.
In the language employed in emblazoning every charge (symbol), tincture (color), positioning of charges, shapes etc. had its own significance. Each detail told of a certain aspect of the bearer’s character or that of his family. Many times, charges were granted and added as honors to the arms of knights who distinguished themselves in battle or while performing other duties.
In Spain tinctures were used to remind the bearers and to inform others (particularly heralds) of the obligations to the king the bearer was privileged to carry. Essentially coat of arms told the history of the family. They were a sort of “visual reputation.”
Throughout Europe, careful records, called Armourials, were kept by the heralds as registries of identification for every family’s arms. This also prevented people from copying another’s arms since no two could be exactly alike. At first only kings and princes were allowed to have coats of arms but eventually everyone of noble lineage was granted the privilege, simply by right of noble birth. On occasion, a peasant or commoner was granted a coat of arms by his lord or even the king as reward for some extraordinary deed or service.
During wartime and at the rise of the popularity of the tournament, the work of heralds was in high demand. Not only did a good herald keep flawless records but he made it his business to commit to memory or his records the coat of arms of as many different knights, lords, kings, and noble families as possible, within his own country and outside of it as well. As more and more heralds were employed laws were instated in all of Europe, which granted them diplomatic immunity and free passage into any country at anytime. Then, every king and military commander did well to have his own personal herald in his service.
Though the demand may have died off centuries ago, the artisans and students of history of the Ulibarri family have been researching and preserving the traditions of the old world Spanish heralds since 2001.