These are the (slightly edited) teachers' notes for a class I taught for Pax Axe, an SCA event, in July 2000. Someday I'll write it up into a more userfriendly article, but the outline covers all the topics, in the order they were presented. A bibliography of my main souces can be found here.

The Origins and Practice of Medieval Heraldry

I. Arms vs. Heraldry - from ancient to hereditary

II. Origins

A. The Theories
  1. War
    • John of Guildford, 1394, Tractatus de Armis says, "Why were arms invented? To know one man from another."
    • This is the traditional view - heraldry evolved when the need to recognize soldiers arises - people identified by the arms on their shield during battle.
    • Crusaders multinational forces may have spread the use of heraldry. Arguments against this theory...
    • shields hard to see in battle if not right in front, plus can get dirty or mauled - not a practical solution
    • Many people has identical arms, the earliest rolls of arms in the 13th century have many similar or identical arms.
  2. Tourney
    • The Tourney first arises in France in the 11th century, and quickly develop elaborate rules, pageantry and organization.
    • Tournaments become popular by the 12th century with colorful pageantry, and participants taking arms to represent themselves and their parties.
    • Itinerant knights that traveled from tourney to tourney may have helped spread heraldry across Europe
    • by the late 1300's, a title, with arms as proof of that title, is required to participate in tourneys.
  3. Platt's Flemish Theory - (Origins of Heraldry, 1980)
    • northern European noble families descended from Charlemagne had hereditary personal symbols for seals and civic use. These families crossed the English Channel with William in 1066 (his army wasn't all Norman, had Flemish and other Norman kingdoms), and their descendants put those symbols on their shields as status symbols. Arguments against this theory...
    • Arms of Boulogne (used as proof) do appear in the Bayeaux Tapestry, but there is no evidence that they are associated with the name.
    • Platt claims arms of Eustace are carries by his sons in the 1st Crusade, but in fact they are not. Eustace's arms show up as the Papal crusader banner of the 13th century, his sons carry something different.
    • Many Flemish counts in the Bayeaux Tapestry bear arms there that are unrelated to the arms recorded 100 years later.
    • While modern scholars disagree with this theory, they say there is possibility of Flemish "clan" influence and bears further research - we will see that her theory comes up later on.
B. The Physical Evidence
  1. Bayeaux Tapestry
    • The Bayeaux Tapestry, while primarily considered proof against an early heraldic date, does seems to suggest some hereditary use by the 11th century, but evidence is scant and fragmentary. If heraldry was in practice at this time, it was in it's most infant stages.
      As evidence against heraldry before 1066:
    • Conventionally, BT provides a terminus ad quem (early date benchmark) for heraldry - it hasn't happened yet
    • At this point, personal arms are still assumes "at will" In one scene, William lifts his visor so his troops know he is alive.
    • During the first crusade, Godfrey de Bouillion does not use the arms that his father, Count Eustace of Boulogne, is depicted with on the Bayeaux Tapestry.
      As evidence for heraldry before 1066:
    • Evidence for heraldry before 1066 comes primarily through the backdating of old Norman families. Of the 30+ arms on the Bayeaux Tapestry, as few do accurately represent the families associated with them (like William Malet). There are also people whose families are known to be at Hastings whose arms appear on the tapestry, but not identified to a specific person.
    • Certain seals and pennants can be dated to very close to the time of the Conquest, and it can be reasoned that some of these individuals or their close ancestors were at Hastings with William.
    • Isabel de Veramndis (chequey), 1118, originally the Warrene arms, still seen today in Norfolk and Surrey
    • Count Hugh II (wheat sheaves), 1103
    • Many other Norman families in the historic record that have established hereditary arms within 150 years of the Bayeaux Tapestry, bear arms represented on the tapestry.
  2. The Crusades
    • Anna Comnena, the Byzantine historian (and daughter of the emperor) reports that Frankish shields were plain.
  3. Geoffery de Anjou
    • Hereditary arms for the Counts of Anjou as early as 1127.
    • First documentable use if shield in heraldry - when Henry I knights Geoffery, he hangs a shield with his arms around his neck - his family from then on uses those arms. An enameled picture hung over his tomb in 1151 portrays the scene. A bastard grandson, William Longesepee, who dies in 1226 bears similar arms.
  4. Seals, Rolls, ect.
    • First seal bearing a heraldic shield seen in 1136.
    • Seals bearing the arms of a king begin with Richard I (1157-1199) of England. Interestingly, he bore just a single lion for most of his life. Arms are still a fluid concept in his time.
    • simple geometric designs were popular at first. Simple symbols, like suns and wheat, may have descended from family symbols of Charlemagne's court (see Platt's theory!)
    • Heraldry homogenous at first, develops regional differences with time (regional design development if we run out of time)
    • Earliest Roll of Arms by Matthew Paris, an English monk, in 1244
    • Seals bearing the arms of a king begin with Richard I (1157-1199) of England. Interestingly, he bore just a single lion for most of his life. Arms are still a fluid concept in his time.
    • Proto-crests, plates attached to helms to deflect blows and painted with arms, appear in Equestrian seals in 1301. Germans have more formal crests by 1309. "Panache" (feathers) appear on rolls in 1350's. Crests granted with titles starting in the late 1400's.
    • Supporters first seen in late 13th century seals.
    • a 1301 letter to the Pope has 96 seals, some with supporters, usually wyverns.
    • some hereditary passing of supporters in the 15th century, first formal grant of supporters with arms in 1508
    • Heraldry as a decorative element dates to 1250's France. Henry III of England goes to a banquet thrown by Louis IX. The walls were hung with the great families of France. Henry was impressed, he copied and expanded the idea.
C. Evolution of Royal Regulation

III. The Herald

A. Origins - from minstrel to nobility
B. War
C. Tourney
From Rene de Anjou, 1460
D. Where Arms and Heralds Meet