International Heraldry - FAQs

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Am I entitled to use a "family" coat of arms?


No. Coats of arms belong to individuals, not families. There is no such thing as a coat of arms for a surname. Many people of the same surname will be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and more of that surname will be entitled to no coat of arms.

For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

In countries that have an heraldic authority - such as the College of Arms in England or the Lord Lyon in Scotland - you can apply for a coat of arms or ask to have arms confirmed.

In other countries you can make up anything you like - but you might be well advised to find a club or society that runs a voluntary system of registration. They will advise on design and warn about duplicating existing arms.

Simply adopting someone else';s arms is the height of boorish bad taste - and guaranteed to impress people for the wrong reasons.

(If you are of Scottish descent you might be entitled to use your clan badge associated with your name - but not your clan chief's arms)




The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

How Do I Apply for A Coat of Arms


This depends on your nationality and that of your ancestors.

See My Arms





What is a coat of arms?


Properly, a coat of arms is exactly what you would expect - a surcoat decorated with the wearer's arms as shown on the left. Knights bore their arms on their coats, on their shields and on their caparisoned horses.

In common usage the term applies to what is technically an achievement of arms - the familiar shield decorated with the owner's arms along with the other elements: helm, crest, torse, mantling, supporters etc. as shown on the right.


An achievement of arms


What is a crest?


A crest is a specific part of a full achievement of arms. It is the three-dimensional object placed on top of the helm.

A popular misconception is that the word 'crest' describes a whole coat of arms, or an achievement of arms, or any heraldic device. It does not.

A crest (from the achievement above)


Where can I use my arms?


You can use your arms on any of your possessions. Common uses are on porcelain and other tableware, silver, windows, cuff-links, seal-rings, and book plates.

The only constraint is good taste!

Sir Geoffrey Luttrell of Irnham, c.1330, with his arms on his surcoat, his crest, his saddle, his shoulder tabs, his caparisoned horse and even his horse's crest. The same arms also appear on his shield (held by his daughter-in-law) and his pennon (held by his wife)

Notice the arms on the women's dresses - his wife has his arms impaled with her father's and his daughter-in-law wears his arms (actually his son's) impaled with those of her father.



A tattoo of a variation of the Polish Jastrzebiec coat of arms, presumably borne by a member of one of the 600 or so families entitled to use these arms.



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