The first sovereign that ever gave coat of Arms to his soldiers, was King Alexander the Great.

– From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p149

Another historically dubious claim. While many Greek and Roman soldiers bore shields with pictorial devices, there is no evidence that these symbols were part of a larger hereditary system.


Arms of the Duke of Aquitaine

From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586) p218

Blazon: Gules a lion passant guardant or

Ferne repeats the common trope that the arms of England originated from combining the arms of Normandy with those of Aquitaine after Richard I, heir of Eleanor of Aquitaine, took the throne. While this is difficult to prove, Richard I certainly used the three lions passant guardant during his lifetime, as evidenced by his Great Seal.

Arms of the Duke of Normandy

From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586) p218

Blazon: Gules two lions passant guardant or

According to Ferne, this was the coat of arms of England during the reigns of William the Conqueror, William II, Henry I, and Henry II, about 1066-1189. It is unclear if he recognizes Stephen or Matilda as rulers of England. It should also be noted that Henry II probably did not use this coat; it seems more possible that he bore gules, a lion rampant or, or a variation thereof, though sources are rare.

To this cause may be attributed the eventual decline of heraldry in England; because the ensigns were no longer simple, or the property unalienable, but were extended to a degree by which all the ancient and primary devices were exhausted, and the deficiency supplied by domestic and vulgar representations.

– From Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dallaway, p460 (1793)

17th-Century Heraldry

I wondered if you had any examples of heraldry specifically from the 17th century, I’m really interested to see how things develop from the sort of height of heraldry, i.e it actually being used for its intended purpose, to later years. From what I’ve seen the 17th century crests get a little more decorative and baroque looking, I was wondering if you had anymore information on that.
(Sorry for the long post; I got a little carried away.)

You’re generally right. I do just want to point out that heraldic artists technically don’t have much license when it comes to the coats of arms themselves; they’re confined to what is specified by the herald in the blazon. (The same goes for crests and supporters.) Grants of arms in the seventeenth century were still relatively conventional; most heralds had yet to incorporate things like perspective, industrial machinery as charges, and colors beyond the traditional tinctures. On the other hand, though, the longer heraldry was around, the more complex coats could get, since they were often quartered, dimidiated, or differenced.


(Montague achievement from Sylvanus Morgan’s The Language of Arms, published 1666 in London)

There absolutely was a shift towards more elaborate art and decoration in the 17th century, and heraldry was no exception. It’s easiest to see this in things that are, in a sense, external to the blazon; mantling, compartments (when the supporters are drawn standing on some kind of base), the shape of shields, and so forth. 

Check out this table of shields from A. C. Fox-Davies’ The Art of Heraldry:


Going left to right, top to bottom, the first shield is what was common in the 12th and 13th centuries. The second is from the 14th century; numbers 3 through 6 and 8 are from the mid-15th century, while the 7th is from the very end of the 15th century. (The nock in shield #8 is a spear-rest; handy for spearing enemies while keeping yourself defended.) The rest are from the sixteenth century, and the trend continued into the 17th. Heraldry generally is a pretty good reflection of contemporary styles, for better or worse. Fox-Davies quotes Eve as saying “With the Restoration, heraldry naturally became again conspicuous, with the worst form of the Renaissance character in full sway, the last vestiges of the Gothic having disappeared.” (41)* The shield shape below was common, as was the mantling and scrolling at the bottom: 


(A. C. Fox-Davies, The Art of Heraldry, p41)

But I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Here are some more examples of 17th-century heraldry; note the elaborate mantling and decorative shield shapes, as well as the detailed depictions of beasts.


(Achievement of Sir Robert Spenser, Baron Spenser from Display of Heraldry by John Guillim, p273, published 1610)


(Achievement of Britain from An Essay to Heraldry in Two Parts by Richard Blome, p227, published 1684)


(Achievement of Scotland from The Science of Heraldry by Sir George Mackenzie, p98, published 1680)

*Don’t mind Fox-Davies. He has very strong opinions on heraldic design, and they inevitably color his writing. Better or worse is, of course, a matter of taste.

Shields were comprised of metal, the surface of which was painted or enamelled with the armorial device.

-From Inquiry into the Origin and Progress of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dallaway, p452

Females being heirs, or conveying feodal lordships to their husbands, had, as early as the thirteenth century, the privilege of armorial seals.

-From Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dallaway, p443