International Heraldry - My Arms / Genealogy

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Coats of arms are inherited, rather like titles, usually (historically) through the male line. For present purposes this is important for two significant reasons.

First, to establish your right to use historic arms you will need to know your family tree (ie a proper genealogy; a family surname is not enough!).

Second, if you think you might be entitled to arms (because, say, you inherited something with arms engraved on it) then the arms themselves might include important clues about the earliers owners, which can be invaluable in genealogical research.

Rules - in some cases laws - are different in different jurisdictions. If you want to know about rules in a specific country, then click here Otherwise read on, to learn about genealogy.





Genealogy, or "family history" is the study of families, their lineages and history. Genealogists establish kinship and pedigrees using a range of techniques including interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, heraldry, art, and other records to obtain information about a family. Pedigrees may be written as narratives but are more often displayed in charts.

Heraldry can be of great use to genealogists, but is often under-used because a degree of expertise is required to interpret heraldic achievements.

On this page are some of the things you need to know about to help you with research if you have armigerous ancestors - ie ancestors entitled to coats of arms.

If you want to use heraldry, then your first task will be to familiarize yourself with the technical vocabulary of heraldry, (achievement, field, crest, supporters, etc.), cadency, hatchments, marshalling, augmentations, and so on - which you can do on the home page of this website.

If you interested in various genealogy tools and services available to you, you should turn off your ad-blocker for this website. That way you will see links to various ancestry and family research resources.


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



If you have a coat of arms to work from, do you know which country it comes from? If from the UK you need to know whether it is England / Wales, Scotland or Ireland. If you don't know, then you might be lucky in that some element of the arms will give you a clue (for example a motto in Irish might suggest they are Irish while a motto above the arms instead of below might suggest that they are Scottish).

If you are hoping to find a coat of arms that you are entitled to, then you need to know which country your ancestors came from. The only ones who matter for this purpose are your father, his father, his father, his father …and so on.

The country is important because that's the only place you are stand any realistic chance of finding your ancestor's coat of arms.

If you don't even know the country, do not despair. With a bit of practice you can make a good guess at the country of origin. For example Spanish arms often feature cooking pots - something that is otherwise rare. Canadian arms often feature distinctive Canadian animals (moose, narwhals, polar bears, ...). German arms feature distinctive crests. Your first line of inquiry for any gyrony arms should be the Campbell clan.

The arms on the right are easily identifiable as English. They are surmounted by the coronet of a British duke. They are encircled by a garter, representing the English Order of the Garter. They feature two old versions of the royal coat of arms - a clear sign of close relationship to English royalty (or just as often, a sign of completely bogus arms). Do not be mislead by the French motto. French mottos are common in English arms.


What can you tell from the arms below?

They belonged to a man

He is dead

His wife outlived him

He was a Duke

He was a Knight of the Garter

His family and his wife's were both related to royalty


In fact this Hatchment belonged to

Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland


Heraldic Conventions


Are you familiar with heraldic terminology and conventions. If not, you need to understand some important elements that carry potentially useful information. You need to understand

  • that looking up a coat of arms that belonged to someone with your surname is not likely to get you anywhere unless you happen to have a very rare and distinctive surname.
    More ...
  • who is or was entitled to use coats of arms in the jurisdiction you are interested in. Beware that misuse may be a civil or even a criminal offence.
    More ...
  • the elements of heraldry, including terminology in the jurisdiction you are interested in (e.g. achievement & crest, dexter & sinister)
    More ...
  • the rules of differencing and cadency in the jurisdiction you are interested in - a potential goldmine
    More ...
  • the rules that govern the combining of arms (marshalling) in the jurisdiction you are interested in - another potential goldmine
    More ...
  • the rules that govern the design of hatchments (funerary heraldry) - yet another potential goldmine
    More ...


What can you deduce from the arms shown below?

It's a hatchment - so belongs to someone who is dead

The shield tells you it was for a man

The artistic style tells you these are modern arms so he probably died relatively recently

The black background and lack of a wife's arms tell you he was a bachelor or that his wife did not come from an armigerous family

The quartered arms with two crests tell you that a predecessor married an heraldic heiress

The naval crown and anchor tell you he was a naval officer

The medal below the motto tell you that he won a DSO

(Distinguished Service Order) which also identifies him as a British or Commonwealth officer - so presumably an officer in the Royal Navy.

If you search the Internet for the motto "cressa ne careat" you'll soon find this is the hatchment of Captain Addison Joe Baker-Cresswell (1901 - 1997), a famous Royal Naval officer. In 1940 he was given command of the destroyer HMS Bulldog. On the 9 May 1941 a party from his ship captured the German U-Boat U-110, seizing amongst other items an intact 'Enigma' code machine and code book, which explains why he was awarded his DSO

Lists of Arms


Next you need to understand that there is no single authoritative international list of arms that you can turn to. In fact you are very unlikely to find a single authoritative national list, though most with heraldic authorities have lists for certain periods. See below for sources in different jurisdictions.

More ...



Early arms are recorded on heralds' rolls, such as this one: The Dering Roll, late 13th.c., the earliest surviving English original roll of arms.


Bogus Arms


Be aware that coats of arms are not always genuine, even if they are old.

In the Middle Ages the assumption of arms was totally unregulated, but from around the fifteenth century the awarding coats of arms was reserved to senior nobles and then to royalty. Arms assumed after this were often regularized (after four generations or so), but some never were.

Unscrupulous merchants have been selling bogus coats of arms for centuries (and they are still in business). The older the arms are, the more difficult they are to spot as bogus, but you should be suspicious of nobodies whose purported arms proclaim descent from several noble families - for a genuine genealogist they are worse than no arms at all. With a bit of heraldic expertise you will be able to spot anachronisms and other examples of bogus heraldry.

With a bit of practice you will be able to spot the arms on the right as bogus.

More ...


An example of Bogus arms

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Who used arms? and when?


You might find it useful to understand when arms started to be used, as this can give a clue as to the status of armigers.

By the middle of the 14th century English courts upheld the principle that no man could use arms already adopted by another. Later the Crown forbade the bearing of arms without authority.

Beyond the early 1500s it is almost impossible to find evidence of commoner ancestors because written records of them were rarely made. Only records of the nobility are likely to exist, and only they bore arms, except in northern Europe where commoners could become knights.

A man of gentle birth was originally one born into the nobility - debonair "de bonne aire" - "from a good nest". Later the word gentleman came to designate a position below a knight but above a yeoman. An English act of parliament of 1429 used les gentiles to describe men holding freehold property of at least 40 shillings a year. From the 16th century the term gentleman usually refers to those who did not labour physically and who employed servants.

In many continental countries it became common for rich merchants and the grand bourgeoisie to assume arms.

What can you tell from the arms below?

They belong to a man

He is dead

The quartered arms with two crests tell you that a predecessor married an heraldic heiress

He married twice

His first wife predeceased him

His second wife outlived him

His second wife was an heraldic heiress (so his descendants will include her arms in the third quarter)


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

What to Look For


Once you have a coat of arms to investigate, here are some points to bear in mind:

  1. Arms traditionally descend unchanged through the male line to the eldest son. This makes it easy to trace the male line but is no help at all for other lines, unless someone married an heiress. In this case the arms will change and identify who the heiress's family were. - More ...
  2. For the male line, sons will (or at least should) bear arms with marks of cadency, until they inherit their father's arms (if they ever do). - More ...
  3. You might also be able to make useful deductions from other clues in a coat of arms. For example:
    • age. The style in which arms are rendered often tell you the period they belong to. You just need to familiarize yourself with changing fashions in heraldic art.
    • colours. Even if there are no colours on the example in your possession, you might be able to deduce them using the Petra Sancta method.. - More ...
    • breeches of the rule of tincture, or other errors. This might well indicate that the arms are bogus - ie assumed by someone
    • augmentations. If a new symbol appears in the arms it might signify a honour reflecting special recognition by a monarch - More
    • supporters. If your arms look genuine and have supporters then they belong to someone important - nobility, a very old family, or someone favoured by the monarch (like Kate Middleton's father) . - More
    • coronets. If the arms are surmounted by a coronet then you can tell the rank - and the country - of the bearer. Note that ancient crowns have no such significance. - More
    • orders. Orders of knighthood sometimes encircle arms - in which case you can what the order is, and which country it comes from
    • national styles. Different countries have different conventions and practices. For example cooking implements are very common in Spanish arms, including very prestigious arms, but very rare in other arms.
    • impaled arms. Impaled arms may represent the two coats of arms of a married couple. But note that impaled arms are not always personal arms. Holders of certain offices traditionally impale their own arms with those of the office they hold - examples are bishops, masters of Oxbridge colleges, and kings of arms. Bishops and kings of arms are easily identifiable by the mitres and crowns that surmount their impaled arms. - More ...
    • Quartered Arms and Inescutcheons. Arms with inescutcheons and quartered arms may indicate marriage to an heiress - children of the marriage inherit their mother's arms quartered with their father's. This also marks the end of a male line for the wife's family of birth. - More ...
    • Hatchments can be a real goldmine. They encode information about marriage status, previous marriages and even who died before whom. Look out for ornaments on the hatchment - for example an anchor might suggest the deceased was a naval officer. - More ...
    • Mottos. Mottos have a number of disadvantages as they are not strictly part of the heraldic achievement. They might change from generation to generation, and unrelated armigers might use the same motto. They have three advantages: the spelling might tell you something about their age or even conceivably the location of their original use; the language might give you useful clues; and phrases are much easier to search on the Internet than images.

What can you tell from the arms below?

On first sight they look like the arms of a man whose wife has died, but a few minutes' research tells you that the Dexter arms are those of All Souls College, Oxford

So these are the arms of a Warden of All Souls who died in office


What can you tell from the arms below?

They belong to a man

He is dead

He was married twice

His first wife predeceased him

His second wife survived him

All three families were probable old "county" families

Where to find other Examples


One you have one example of a coat of arms you might want to look for another, in the hope that it will convey more information. Where are good places to look:

  • Inherited objects: seals, signet rings, cufflinks, bookplates, crockery, jewellery, beds, silverware (remember the Darbyfields' teaspoon in Tess of the D'Urbervilles?)
  • records of arms - official lists, rolls of arms, books, official bodies (eg orders of knighthood)
  • buildings - old family properties often had the owner's arms carved over doorways, on mantelpieces, etc
  • churches - the local church of a dead armiger might retain their hatchment - or even a collection of family hatchments. There might also be a monument, providing not only coats of arms, but some text and often images of the dead person's children, telling you the number of girls and boys - boys to one side, girls to the other, in decreasing order of age, those already dead wearing their burial shrouds. Don't forget to check the church window's too.
  • The Internet. Worth a try, especially if you can blazon a coat of arms from an image

What can you tell from the arms below?

They belonged to a man

He is dead

He was a bachelor

He came from a noble family

He was the second son

This is the Hatchment of a second son of the Duke of Rutland,

who died a bachelor

What can you tell from this monument?

Seventeenth century - from the clothing

This couple had 8 children

1 boy, 7 girls

their third girl died in infancy (she is shown in her funeral shroud)

The man's arms were per saltire gules and azure


The family tree of Sigmund Christoph von Wldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg

Notice that all the arms disappear except (working upwards) the male line

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

My Arms - Using Heraldry to Establish your Family Tree




If you have a coat of arms that you want to use, here's a summary of some considerations:

Do you come from a country (or did your ancestors come from a country) that has an heraldic authority? If yes, read on. If no, jump to assumed arms below

Can you prove (using a legal standard of proof) that your father, or his father, or his father, or his father .... was entitled to bear arms. If yes then you are also entitled to those arms, subject to rules of cadency. They are inherited just like a title. You can confirm your right to arms by matriculating them with your national heraldic authority.

If you cannot prove direct descent fhrough the male line from an armiger, then you can apply to your national heraldic authority for a new grant of arms.

The following countries have heraldic authorities. If you click on one, it will take you to some information about applying for arms:


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

England and other countries of which the British monarch is head of state


Arms and crests are granted by letters patent. The Crown delegates its authority to issue such letters patent to the Kings of Arms.

Before they can act in each case they must first have a warrant from the Earl Marshal agreeing to the granting of the arms.

The first step in applying for a grant of arms is to submit a petition, or memorial as it is called, to the Earl Marshal. This will be drawn up for the signature of the petitioner by one of the officers of arms if it is felt probable that such a petition will be accepted. There are no fixed criteria of eligibility for a grant of arms, but such things as awards or honours from the Crown, civil or military commissions, university degrees, professional qualifications, public and charitable services, and eminence or good standing in national or local life, are taken into account. When approaching a herald with a view to petitioning for a grant of arms it is desirable to submit a curriculum vitae.

When the memorial is submitted the fees due upon a grant of arms become payable. Such fees are laid down by Earl Marshal's Warrant.

As of 1 January 2012 the fees payable upon a personal grant of arms and crest are £4,725, a similar grant to an impersonal but non-profit making body, £10,075, and to a commercial company, £15,000. When a grant of arms includes the grant of a badge or (to eligible grantees) supporters, or the exemplification of a standard, a further fee is payable. A special reduced fee (currently £5,825) has recently been introduced for parish councils, to cover the grant of arms alone, without crest. Those wishing to know further details of the fee structure should contact the officer in waiting at the College of Arms.

If the Earl Marshal approves a petition he will issue his Warrant to the Kings of Arms allowing them to proceed with the grant. At this stage the designing of the arms will begin.

The Kings of Arms have full discretion over the design of the armorial bearings they grant, but the wishes of the applicant are taken into account as fully as possible. The officer of arms who is acting for the petitioner will discuss with him or her the allusions and references he or she would like made in the design. The design must be proper heraldry and be distinct from all previous arms on record at the College.

The best heraldic design is usually achieved if the petitioner gives his wishes in fairly general terms leaving the herald certain scope for inclusion or exclusion. References in the design could be made to the grantees profession, family, interests or place of residence or origin. Visual quotations may be made from the arms of institutions with which he or she is particularly associated. There is a long tradition of puns in heraldry, some of them obvious, others less so.

A sketch of the design proposed will be sent to the petitioner. When considering such a sketch it is important to remember that it is sent for comment primarily on points of substance, not on points of drawing. The form of the arms, once they are granted, will be governed not by the painting of the arms on the letters patent, but by the concise verbal description of them in the text, known as the blazon. The same arms may be rendered perfectly correctly in an infinite number of artistic styles.

Once the design has been agreed with the petitioner it is checked against all previous arms on record to ensure it is distinct and then submitted to the Kings of Arms for their approval. Assuming that this is forthcoming, the vellum which will become the letters patent is selected and the arms to be granted painted on to it by a College of Arms artist. The text is engrossed by a scrivener, it is signed and sealed by the Kings of Arms, and a copy of it painted and scrivened into the official College registers. The letters patent then become the property of the grantee.

Letters Patent granting arms and crest may also grant a badge and exemplify a standard.

Badges are separate heraldic devices which, like shields and crests, are particular to an individual or family. Some of the most well known badges are Royal ones such as the Prince of Wales' feathers, and the Queen's crowned Tudor rose which appears on the reverse of the British twenty penny piece. Any person or corporation already entitled to arms may petition for a grant of a badge, and others may do so at the same time as petitioning for a grant of arms and crest.

While arms and crest are personal to their bearers the badge may be used by others wishing to show connection or allegiance to the individual or corporation to whom it belongs. Thus it is appropriate for the employees of a company to wear a tie bearing the company's badge, but not the company's arms. The grandchildren in the female line of a man entitled to arms may not use his arms or crest but can quite properly wear his badge, and often do so in the form of a brooch.

The standard is a narrow tapering flag. It was in use from the reign of Edward III, and appears never to have been meant for any other purpose than that of pageantry. Traditionally the arms of St. George were shown in the hoist of the standard, and later the Union flag. Since the early years of the 20th century the arms of the bearer have been shown in the hoist. The badge or the badge and crest are shown repeated along the length of the remainder of the standard, usually with the motto shown on two diagonal stripes across it. The pole which supports the standard is topped by the appropriate coronet if that of a peer, and by a carved red hand if that of a baronet. Knights, esquires and gentlemen have plain tops to the pole. The standards of esquires and gentlemen have a curved, undivided end, whereas those of the rank of knight and above have split, swallow-tailed ends.


Grants of honorary arms to American citizens

American citizens may be granted honorary arms. They must meet the same criteria for eligibility as subjects of the Crown, and in addition must record in the official registers of the College of Arms a pedigree showing their descent from a subject of the British Crown. This may be someone living in the north American colonies before the recognition of American independence in 1783, or a more recent migrant.


Corporate arms

The use of arms spread in the Middle Ages from individuals to corporate bodies such as cities, towns and abbeys. On 10 March 1439 William Bruges, Garter King of Arms, granted arms to the Worshipful Company of Drapers, a London guild. Grants have been made continuously since then to livery companies, merchant companies, civic bodies, charities and hospitals. More recently, banking, shipping, insurance and other commercial companies have been given the right to bear arms.

The applicant body must be registered or situated in England or Wales, or in another territory or country of which The Queen is Head of State, e.g. New Zealand. (The exceptions are Canada and Scotland which have their own heraldic authorities). It must be well established, of sound financial standing, and be a leading or respected body in its field. It may be incorporated by Act of Parliament, by Royal Charter, or under the Companies Acts, and could be a commercial enterprise, local authority, school, university, or charity. Similar bodies in the USA may also have arms 'devised' for them. Professional associations governed by a constitution are also eligible.




The College of Arms still awards arms to Australian citizens, although there is a movement for the creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority. See


New Zealand

On February 6, 1978, HM Queen Elizabeth II established the office of New Zealand Herald of Arms to provide liaison between the English College of Arms and New Zealanders seeking grants of arms. New Zealand Herald has no authority to grant arms on his own authority, but rather handles the details of processing grants that are actually issued to New Zealanders by the English kings of arms with the approval of the Earl Marshal.


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



The Lord Lyon King of Arms is empowered under Scottish law to grant arms to “virtuous and well-deserving” persons. Lord Lyon interprets his jurisdiction to include anyone domiciled in Scotland, as well as any person domiciled in the United Kingdom or in an overseas realm of the Commonwealth who is of scottish descent.

By virtue of his power to grant arms posthumously upon petition of a deceased person’s heirs, Lyon can also grant arms to anyone who can prove descent in the direct male line from someone living within a previous Lyon’s jurisdiction.

In such cases arms are granted in memory of an ancestor; this route usually requires that the arms also be matriculated for the applicant’s own use for an additional fee.

Armorial bearings are protected by law in Scotland much more conscientiously than anywhere else in the world, and it is illegal to use arms there unless they have been granted by Lord Lyon or matriculated in Lyon Court.



The Canadian Heraldic Authority's principal objective is to ensure that all Canadians who wish to use heraldry will have access to it. It also encourages good heraldic practice in Canada by working to the highest standards of the art form and by developing research and registration procedures that are consistent with an international level of excellence.

The Authority's major activities include:

  • granting of new armorial bearings (arms, flags and badges) and native symbols;
  • registration of recognized existing arms, flags and badges;
  • approval of military badges, flags and other insignia of the Canadian Forces;
  • registration of genealogical information related to the inheritance of arms;
  • provision of information on correct heraldic practices;
  • provision of information on heraldic artists who work in various media
  • and development of, and involvement in, national and regional heraldic ceremonies.

Requests for new arms or registrations of existing arms take the form of a "petition" addressed to the Chief Herald of Canada, who must assess and approve the request before a warrant for the grant can be signed by the Herald Chancellor or the Deputy Herald Chancellor. A herald then works with the petitioner to create a design, which is then rendered artistically, in two separate stages, by an artist assigned by the Authority. Completed grant or registration documents are recorded in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada, and the notice of the grant or registration is published in the Canada Gazette.

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Southern Ireland - The Republic of Ireland


In the Republic of Ireland, matters armorial and genealogical come within the authority of an officer designated the Chief Herald of Ireland. .

Arms may be granted, at the discretion of the Chief Herald of Ireland, and subject to guidelines laid down from time to time by the Committee on Genealogy and Heraldry and the Board of the National Library of Ireland, to

  • A citizen of Ireland or a person who has an entitlement to become a citizen.
  • A person resident in the State for at least the five year period immediately before the date of the application.
  • A public or local authority, corporate body or other entity which has been located or functioning in Ireland for at least five years.
  • An individual, corporate body or other entity not resident or located in Ireland but who or which has substantial historical, cultural, educational, financial or ancestral connections with Ireland

The Chief Herald of Ireland also grants arms to those with a connection to Ireland. Irish ancestry in either the male or female line is considered a sufficient connection for the granting of arms.


Making an application for a Grant of Arms

An application for a grant of arms should be made to the Chief Herald, on a prescribed form, setting out, in the case of a personal application, basic personal information and accompanied by supporting certificates or other appropriate documents. For a grant of arms to a corporate body or other entity, the application should include information about the legal status (if any) of the organisation, its structure, its activities and business, the length of time during which it has operated and, if relevant, information about membership. Where appropriate, a certified copy of the resolution of the Council, Board, or other controlling body should be submitted.

If an application appears to be in order the matter is considered in detail by a herald of arms who will consult with the applicant about possible designs. A preliminary painting is then made for the approval of the applicant who will also be shown a draft of the Letters Patent. The final document is issued on vellum and includes a hand-painted exemplification of the arms. The grant of arms is recorded in the Register of Arms and is a matter of public record.

For a schedule of fees please contact the Office of the Chief Herald at

More information at


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



In order to become legally registered and protected under Swedish law, an official coat of arms must first be registered with the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV), and is subject to approval by the National Herald (Statsheraldiker) and the bureaucratic Heraldic Board of the National Archives of Sweden.

Heraldic arms of common citizens (burgher arms) are recognized by inclusion in the annually published Scandinavian Roll of Arms.

Heraldry is still used extensively by Royalty and also used by corporations and government offices. The last person to receive a charter of nobility was the explorer Sven Hedin who received his in 1902,. The 1974 constitution proclaimed that no person can be granted nobility - so this route is no longer available.

In practice, anyone in Sweden may freely adopt arms of his or her own devising, provided they do not usurp the arms of others. Several private organizations register such arms, but they are not legally protected in Sweden unless registered as logos under copyright laws:

The Stiftelsen Skandinavisk Vapenrulla (Scandinavian Roll of Arms Foundation) is a private organization that registers inherited arms and designs and registers new arms, and publishes them in the Skandinavisk Vapenrulla. Its services are available to all persons of Scandinavian origin, whether living in Scandinavia or not. The current registration fee is approximately 4,000 Swedish kronor.

See for more information in English.

The Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen (Swedish Heraldry Society) publishes newly adopted arms free of charge in its magazine Vapenbilden, and is reportedly considering the establishment of a new Swedish heraldic register.





Private heraldry is not legislated. State heraldry and the heraldry of the nobility is regulated by the High Council of Nobility.




There is no formal system of officially granting arms in Denmark, although the monarch still has the power to do so.

Arms were formerly granted to those who were ennobled by the monarch and, on rare occasions, to non-nobles. No new nobles have been created in Denmark, other than noble titles conferred on members of the royal family, for a century.

Non-noble arms have always been self-assumed. Personal arms could formerly be registered in the privately maintained Danske Herold, but the keepers of this register are now deceased and no new entries are being accepted.

Danes, like all persons of scandinavian extraction may record their arms in the Skandinavisk Vappenrulla (see Sweden).





Belgians who are granted noble status as an honor from the King concurrently receive a new grant of arms or have their previously used arms recognized as noble by the Council of the Nobility (Conseil de Noblesse).

Official recognition of non-noble arms is within the jurisdiction of the three linguistic communities, French, Flemish (Dutch), and German. Private assumption of arms is entirely legal, and arms that have been openly used or published can be defended in the civil courts against misappropriation.

For more on assuming arms in Belgium, see below





French law recognizes arms as a form of property and “a cognizance accessory to the family name to which they are indissolubly attached,”.

Ther is now is no state role in granting, authorizing, or certifying personal arms. In French law, a person’s right to a particular coat of arms and his ability to defend them against usurpation are based on his establishing that he was using them by a “date certain.”

For more see below under assumed arms





Oversight of personal heraldry in Spain is entrusted to officials known as cronistas de armas, or "chroniclers of arms."

Under a 1951 decree, cronistas who have passed an examination and been certified by the Ministry of Justice are permitted to certify an individual's right to use a particular coat of arms. As interpreted by various cronistas, such a right may be acquired either by inheritance or by the adoption of a new armorial design. A chronicler's certification, which is valid only with the countersignature of an official of the Ministry of Justice, entitles the arms to legal protection under Spanish law, but has no official standing beyond that. Like notaries in civil law jurisdictions, chroniclers are personally responsible for the correctness of acts carried out in the performance of their duties. Under the terms of earlier decrees and regulations, each chronicler is authorized, at his own discretion, to certify arms for anyone living in any place that was ever under the dominion of the Spanish crown.

It is unlawful to bear arms in Spain without a chronicler's certification.

The last Chronicler King of Arms (Cronistas Reyes de Armas) appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Justice was Don Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent, who died in 2005.

The government of the autonomous community of Castile and León appointed Don Alfonso Ceballos-Escalera y Gil, Marques de la Floresta and Vizconde de Ayala as Chronicler of Arms for Castile and León. He also serves as personal heraldic officer to the King of Spain Juan Carlos I.

Formerly, everything that the Spanish Heralds did had to be approved by the Ministry of Justice. Recent legislation has established the Cronista de Castile and León as the modern equivalent of the Spanish King of Arms with the authority to make grants of arms to citizens of Spain and individuals from families associated with its former colonies without reference to the Ministry of Justice.




Portuguese King of arms: Rei de Armas Portugal or Portugal Rei de Armas, also Rei de Armas Algarve and Rei de Armas Goa)

Bearing of arms by non-nobles was prohibited by royal decree in 1512, but both nobiliary privileges and official control of personal arms were abolished at the time of the revolution in 1910. It is now permissible for anyone in Portugal to assume and use arms, but there does not seem to be any formal procedures in existence to register or record them.





The Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic operates an official Heraldic Register (Heraldický register Slovenskej republiky) which includes not only civic, ecclesiastical, and organizational arms but personal arms as well.

Arms submitted for registration must conform to traditional rules of heraldic composition. The registrant receives a calligraphed certificate with a color illustration of the arms.

For further information, contact the Heraldic Register at:

Ministerstvo vnútra SR
Križkova 7
811 04 Bratislava, Slovakia
The telephone number is 421-2-52496051



South Africa.


The National Herald (formerly State Herald) of South Africa

The South African Bureau of Heraldry registers and publishes newly adopted arms for applicants of whatever national background or domicile. The registration of new arms with crest is currently priced at 5060 Rands. This includes an illuminated certificate with a full-color depiction of the arms. Registrations are published in the Government Gazette and recorded in both a bound register and in a publicly accessible electronic database. Although there are no restrictions on the use of personal heraldry in South Africa, only arms registered with the bureau enjoy legal protection there.



The Vatican State


As a sovereign monarch, the pope is entitled to issue honours such as titles and coats of arms.

In the past popes retained a proper knowledgeable heraldic authority to act on his behalf, but this seems to have fallen into desuetude since the college of cardinals stopped electing Italian nobles to the Holy See. Unfortunately the system for awarding of arms is now a bit of a mess, undocumented and secret.





Assumed Arms in Unregulated States


States that do not have an heraldic authority (or states in which the heraldic autority restricts itself to royal, noble or civic heraldry) generaly allow anyone to adopt any arms. Some will make some legal provision to protect existing arms, and some will protect newly assumed arms under certain conditions.

Many of these countries have voluntary clubs or societies which make some attempt to regulate usage, providing a register, advising on good practice and declining to register usurped arms.



The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online



Private assumption of arms is legal, and arms that have been openly used or published can be defended in the civil courts against misappropriation.

The Heraldry Division of the (Flemish) Royal Commission for Monuments and Sites (Afdeling Heraldiek van de Koninklijke Commissie voor Monumenten en Landschappen) grants arms to Belgians resident in the Dutch-speaking region or Brussels. Such arms are then legally protected under Belgian law. As of 2001, the fee to register arms was €500, with additional fees charged depending on the elaborateness of the certificate recording the grant or registration.

It was announced in November 2010 that the Council on Heraldry and Vexillology of the French Community of Belgium (Conseil d’héraldique et de vexillologie de la Communauté française de Belgique) would begin providing the same service to Belgians resident in the French-speaking region or Brussels. The fee is €500 for an initial registration, or €150 to transfer arms from one of the unofficial registries described below. The Council can be addressed in care of the Service général du Patrimoine culturel et des Arts plastiques boulevard Léopold II 44, 1080 Brussels.

Two private organizations involved in recording personal arms in Belgium have been accorded official recognition by law, in that people who have registered arms with them may transfer the registration to the official community heraldic councils at a reduced charge during the initial set-up period of the community councils.

The Royal Belgian Genealogical and Heraldic Office (Association royale Office Généalogique et Héraldique de Belgique) has registered the family arms of its members since 1954. The arms registered were published in the association's journal, Le Parchemin. While the OGHB is not a government agency, it enjoys royal patronage and government subsidies and is therefore seen as having a status somewhat greater than a purely private organization. According to the society’s website, this registration service has been terminated as of 2011 owing to the establishment of the two official heraldic registries serving the vast majority of the country.

The Heraldic College of the Flemish Genealogical Society (Heraldisch College van de Vlaamse Vereniging voor Familiekunde), registers both pre-existing and newly assumed arms and publishes them in its journal, Vlaamse Stam. The price is €175 for members of the society and €275 for non-members.



Czech Republic


Civic arms in the Czech Republic are governed by the Parliament's Heraldic Committee, but personal arms are completely unregulated. Two private organizations operate unofficial registers of personal arms:

Czech Genealogy and Heraldry Society in Prague. In addition to providing an educational and publishing program, the Czech Genealogy and Heraldry Society in Prague, founded in 1969, maintains a register of personal arms that is available on-line (in Czech only) at the society's website. It also publishes the periodical Genealogicke a heraldicke listy.

The Academy of Heraldic Sciences of the Czech Republic, founded in 2004, is primarily a research organization, but it also registers coats of arms, seals, flags, and insignia. Its register is also available on-line in Czech at the academy's website. An English-language summary of the academy's activities is linked from the same page.





There is no formal system of officially granting arms in Denmark, although the monarch still has the power to do so. Arms were formerly granted to those who were ennobled by the monarch and, on rare occasions, to non-nobles. However, no new nobles have been created in Denmark, other than noble titles conferred on members of the royal family, for nearly a century.

Non-noble arms have always been self-assumed. Personal arms could formerly be registered in the privately maintained Danske Herold, but the keepers of this register are now deceased and no new entries are being accepted.

Danes and persons of Scandinavian extraction can record their arms in the Skandinavisk Vappenrulla (see Sweden).





The Finnish Riddarhus (House of the Nobility) maintains a register of the arms granted to noble families before 1919. Since that date, no new nobles have been created and no new grants of arms have been issued, although the old titles and arms are still officially recognized by the Republic.

Outside the nobility, Finns are free to adopt and use arms of their own choosing with no official restrictions, registration, or protection.

The Heraldry Society of Finland (Suomen Heraldinen Seura/Heraldiska Sällskap i Finland) registers arms of anyone permanently resident in Finland, whether of Finnish or foreign nationality, as well as those of Finnish citizens living elsewhere. The rules of the society's registry permit the registration of the arms of non-citizens living abroad under special circumstances. .

It is also possible to record one's arms in an heraldic archive maintained by the Collegium Heraldicum Fennicum, an organization of heraldic artists, craftsmen, and researchers. The CHF provides a painted diploma stating that particular armorial bearings have been entered in its archives.




French law recognizes arms as a form of property and “a cognizance accessory to the family name to which they are indissolubly attached,” but there is no state role in granting, authorizing, or certifying personal arms.

In French law, a person’s right to a particular coat of arms and his ability to defend them against usurpation are based on his establishing that he was using them by a “date certain.” The most highly respected French heraldic association, the Société Française d'Héraldique et de Sigillographie (French Heraldry and Sigillography Society), advises that the best way to establish a date certain for newly devised arms is to go to a notary's office and execute a legal document before witnesses asserting claim to the arms. The notary will retain a copy of the document for his official archives, which are then regularly transferred to the archives of the department in which his office is located. The notary will charge a fee for preparing, witnessing, and filing the document.

A date certain can also be legally established by the arms’ appearance in a publication deposited in the copyright registry. Several private organizations and enterprises offer such a publication service for newly composed arms. One of these, the French Council of Heraldry (Conseil Français d'Héraldique) registers and publishes such arms in its Armorial du XX° siècle et du III° millénaire. The registration fee, including the issuance of a brevet d’armoiries (certificate of arms) and publication in color in the council’s armorial, is presently 115€. The council’s services are available to persons of French descent.The Council is not an official agency of the French Republic.




There are no restrictions on the assumption of personal arms in Germany. Personal arms that have been published enjoy legal protection under section 12 of the Code of Civil Law (Bürgerlich Gesetzbuch).

While it is possible to design and publish one’s own arms, most Germans adopting new arms or claiming a right to existing arms work through various private non-profit heraldic organizations which are licensed by the governments of the various Länder (states) to certify, register, and publish claims to inherited as well as newly adopted arms. These societies may recommend changes to ensure compliance with the customary rules of heraldry and to avoid duplication of existing arms, and may refuse to register arms that do not comply. There are also several for-profit companies that legally devise and publish arms, including

Der Herold,” Verein für Heraldik, Genealogie und Verwandte Wissenschaften (“The Herald” Association for Heraldry, Genealogy, and Related Sciences), in Berlin, publishes arms in the Deutsche Wappenrolle Bürgerlicher Geschlechter. Registration is open to persons “in the German cultural area,” which the association defines as families who have lived in a German-speaking area for three generations as well as those who are German by descent or affiliation.

Heraldische Verein “Zum Kleeblatt” (“The Cloverleaf” Heraldry Association), in Hanover, publishes the Niedersachsisches Wappenrolle. The registration fee is €130.

“Der Wappen-Löwe” Heraldische Gesellschaft (“The Armorial Lion” Heraldry Society), in Munich, publishes arms in Der Wappen-Löwe. The society’s website does not mention criteria as to who may register arms through the society.

Hessische Wappenrolle, sponsored by the Hessian Family History Association (Hessische familiengeschichtliche Vereinigung) registers both old and newly devised arms of people in Hesse or of Hessian ancestry. The arms registered are published in the quarterly journal Hessische Familienkunde and in the bound volumes of the Wappenrolle.

Heraldische Gemeinschaft Westfalen (Westphalian Heraldry Society) publishes the Offene Wappenrolle der HGW. The HGW registers arms for citizens of Germany as well as for persons living outside Germany who have links to any area formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire. The fee starts at €260 and includes a full color bound certificate (Wappenbrief) of the registration. More elaborate certificates are available for additional charges.

The Historischer und Kultereller Förderverein Schloß Alsbach (Historical and Cultural Research Association of Alsbach Castle), publishes the Rhein-Main Wappenrolle. The fees run from €350-€650 for registration and publication plus additional charges for preparation of the artwork if it is not provided by the applicant.

Ostdeutsche Wappenrolle (East German Roll of Arms) was founded in Braunichswalde in 2005 and focuses on residents of the five Länder (states) comprising the territory of the former German Democratic Republic.




No one seems to know!





While there is no prohibition against the assumption of personal arms in Lithuania, there is also no tradition of the use of armorial bearings by non-nobles.

Traditionally, arms have been either inherited, granted in connection with ennoblement, or (before 1605) extended to new nobles throughy a process of heraldic adoption similar to that in Poland.

As in Poland, some Lithuanian arms are common to a number of noble families claiming a common ancestry or affiliation as a heraldic clan.

A private society, the Lithuanian Royal Union of Nobility, maintains a register of the arms of the nobility. There is no provision for registration of assumed non-noble arms.





Arms may be freely assumed in Macedonia. The Macedonian Heraldry Society, a private society, established an unofficial heraldic register of both historic as well as newly devised arms in 2004.




Personal or family arms are freely assumable in the Netherlands. They may be registered and publicly documented through the following unofficial organizations, (Registration does not provide legal protection):

Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (Central Bureau for Genealogy) maintains records of both inherited and new arms, including those of persons of Dutch ancestry living abroad. The basic registration fee is €257.55 , with additional charges for hand painted certificates, etc. The CBG has maintained its Wapenregister since 1971, and published all new registrations in the Jaarboek van het Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie since 1972.

Nederlandse Genealogische Vereniging (Netherlands Genealogical Society) has maintained a registry of family arms through its heraldic section since 1994. Registrations are announced in the publications Gens Nostra and Heraldisch Tijdschrift, and the arms are published in the Register van Familiewapens NGV. Registration costs €72. The society also provides free advice on heraldry to those assuming arms, although a voluntary contribution of €25 is suggested.

The Fryske Rie foar Heraldyk (Frisian Heraldry Board), part of the Frisian Academy, designs and registers arms for families in Frisia and for Frisians abroad and publishes them in its Genealogyske Jierboek.

Drents Heraldisch College (Drenthe Heraldic College) registers both new and existing arms for families in the province of Drenthe.

Consulentschap voor Heraldiek in de Provincie Groningen (The Consultancy for Heraldry of the Province of Groningen) registers new arms and advises those adopting them about their design.




Poland has a Heraldic Commission established by the Ministry of the Interior, but it concerns itself only with state and civic arms.

Poland has a rich tradition of personal heraldry, but there has never been a Polish heraldic authority or any official procedure for granting, registering, or verifying personal armorial bearings.

The majority of Polish personal arms, and the ones which give Polish heraldry its distinctive character, are those of the ancient nobility, which were neither granted nor assumed but evolved from pre-heraldic clan identification symbols of obscure origin.

With few exceptions, there has been been very little scope in Polish heraldic tradition for the creation of new personal arms. The most significant exceptions were arms created incidental to the ennoblement of individuals by the king or parliament from the 15th to 18th centuries.

A number of wealthy patrician families in important mercantile cities adopted arms of their own devising.

Other than the arms of these merchant princes and those adopted by prelates of the Church in connection with their ecclesiastical offices, the concept of newly assumed arms has traditionally had no place in Polish heraldic custom, even though there was no actual legal prohibition against them.

In 2010 a private association called the Polish Heraldic Community (Polska Wspolnota Heraldyczna) was established with a focus on contemporary burgher (non-noble) heraldry. The association has taken over the registration of new coats of arms the Roll of Arms "Nova Heraldia," established in 2004.

Polish law does recognize established, historical arms as the inalienable property of the families to whom the arms pertain, and there is limited protection for such arms available through civil legal actions. It is not clear that newly assumed arms would be accorded the same protection by the courts.




Bearing of arms by non-nobles was prohibited by royal decree in 1512, but both nobiliary privileges and official control of personal arms were abolished at the time of the revolution in 1910.

It is now permissible for anyone in Portugal to assume and use arms, but there is no mechanism to register or record them.




In 1992, following the dissolution of the USSR, a Russian state heraldic service was established in the Presidential administration, now officially known as the Heraldic Council to the President of the Russian Federation (Geraldichskiy Sovet pri Prezidente Rossiiskoi Federatsiy). The institution has focused primarily on the design, approval, and registration of territorial, ministerial, and municipal arms, flags and emblems, although its statutes did not restrict it to these areas, and for a few years the Council did examine and confirm personal arms, upon request, for compliance with traditional Russian heraldic norms. However, as a matter of policy it is not now involved in personal heraldry..

Several of the Russian Federation's provinces and republics have heraldic commissions which will register personal arms under certain conditions. These include Sverdlovsk Oblast [Province] and the republics of Mari El, Tatarstan, and Sakha (Yakutia).

The Sverdlovsk Commission on Symbols will register arms without any nationality or residency requirements. Registration is free, but the applicant must pay the costs of the heraldic painting included on the certificate.

Tatarstan requires proof of Tatar descent or some kind of significant link to the republic. Mari El's requirements are similar, while Yakutia registers arms only for persons who have already received other honors from the republic.

Besides these official bodies, there is a private organization, the Russian College of Heraldry (Russkaya Geraldicheskaya Kollegiya/Collegium Heraldicum Russiæ) founded in 1991 for the purpose of creating, producing, registering, and publishing armorial bearings. These services are available to anyone, anywhere, whether of Russian heritage or not. Fees vary depending on the complexity of the design and the emblazonments prepared. Despite its name and its claim to patronage by members of the former Russian imperial family, the CHR is not an organ of the Russian state but a private body.




The “White Eagle” Serbian Heraldry Society (Srpsko Kheraldichko Drushtvo “Beli Orao”) is a private organization authorized by its charter to design and register new arms and, along with the affiliated Serbian Genealogical Society, to certify the hereditary right to pre-existing arms.




Oversight of personal heraldry in Spain is entrusted to officials known as cronistas de armas, or "chroniclers of arms."





Anyone in Sweden may freely adopt arms of his or her own devising, provided they do not usurp the arms of others. Several private organizations register such arms, but they are not legally protected in Sweden unless registered as logos under copyright laws:

The Stiftelsen Skandinavisk Vapenrulla (Scandinavian Roll of Arms Foundation) is a private organization that registers inherited arms and designs and registers new arms, and publishes them in the Skandinavisk Vapenrulla. Its services are available to all persons of Scandinavian origin, whether living in Scandinavia or not.

See for more information in English.

The Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen (Swedish Heraldry Society) publishes newly adopted arms free of charge in its magazine Vapenbilden, and has talked about the establishment of a new Swedish heraldic register.




Arms in Switzerland have always been freely assumed without official control, and the use of heraldry by burgher and farming families is probably more widespread in Switzerland than in any other country.

Many cantonal or municipal archives maintain collections of the arms of local families, although a few that formerly did so have privatized these collections, placing them in the custody of local residents with an interest in heraldry, as a budgetary measure.

Some of the cantons accept the addition into these collections of newly adopted arms or newly discovered arms used by families from the canton in the past. Recording arms in these collections does not constitute official registration of the arms. The cantonal government does not thereby vouch for the validity of the arms or any genealogical evidence submitted with them, and recording the arms does not offer any legal protection against their misuse.

Among the cantons whose websites state that they are accepting new arms for recording are Basel-Land, Lucerne, and Vaud (Basel-Land and Lucerne in German, Vaud in French). A number of the cantons have digitized their collections and placed them on-line.

Several private and quasi-private organizations in Switzerland will help applicants design new arms and assist them in preparing the necessary documentation to enter them with the appropriate cantonal and local archives. In addition, some of these organizations maintain arms registries of their own, including:

  • Wappenkommission der Zünfte Zürichs (WAKO ZZ – Armorial Commission of the Zurich Guilds) registers arms for members of the Zurich guilds, private persons in Switzerland, and those able to document Swiss ancestry. The fee for the design and registration of new arms with a crest is 500 Swiss francs.
  • The Swiss Heraldic Society registers the arms of its members (shield only) for a fee of 110 Swiss francs. Membership is 90 Swiss francs a year.





The USA is a classic example of a nation that has almost no useful law regulating the use of arms.

Arms have been used extensively since indeopendance, by states, corporate bodies, universities and individuals. All are free to assume arms.

The US army and Air Force exercise some authority over the use of heraldry in their own domains.

  • United States Air Force--Guide to Heraldry
  • United States Army--The Institute of Heraldry

As elsewhere it is widely recognised that there is some need to regulate usage and a number of unofficial bodies exist to advise against usurpation, encourage good practice and provide registers. Some of these organisations are:

  • The American College of Heraldry
  • Civic Heraldry in the United States
  • The College of Arms Foundation
  • The Augustan Society, Inc.
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society Committee on Heraldry
  • The U.S Heraldic Registry


The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online
The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online




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