Many people throughout the world recognize the terminology Coat-of-Arms, but what they do not know is that it is officially called The Achievement. Achievements were an early designated, artistic representation of a King, or any ruler, and his kingdom. This artistic form is not as prominent as it was back before the Revolutionary war here in the United States of America. The United States of America used to have a bureau to designate such an insignia to a family with a particular surname, but as time progressed this art form became a lost art to most of the world. It seems that anyone who begins to research their family’s history will eventually come across an Achievement and want to know more about it.
What one would call the coat-of-arms anymore really refers to the shield within the achievement. The shield is just a small part of the grand design. An achievement is composed of many parts. These parts are the crest, torse (wreath), helm (helmet), mantling, shield, supporter(s), compartment, and motto. Each of these parts can be an array of colors and designs thus yielding an enumerable variety of what they may look like. Just the coat-of arms can be designed in so many fashions.
Most achievements don’t have the supporter(s) or compartment, and there are still more that don’t even have a motto. To start from the ground up, you will first pick a motto that will represent either what you live by, or something that would describe you. Above the motto, and under the shield and supporter(s), is where you will find the compartment. The shield is usually in the center of the design, with the supporter(s) on one side or both. Resting on top of the shield is the helmet or helm as it is called in its blazon. Then on top of the helm is the torse, which as some call the wreath. Above the torse is the crest that has its own interpretation, and if a second motto is in the design, the second motto will be above the entire coat-of-arms.
The motto is usually written in Latin. Caveat Emptor, “Seize the day,” is just an example of what you might see. The King of Scotland back in 1014 had the last name of Duncan, and one of his brothers had the motto “Dice Pati” emblazoned on his achievement. I know this because I am a descendant of theirs. Usually, but not always, the background of the motto is designed to look like a ribbon with a sideways v cut in it at both ends. It was not common practice to write as printing was easier to read for those who could read at the time.
Compartments are usually either grassy or watery looking. Some look like a rocky landing, while others have a sandy look to them. The compartment was not a popular feature to the commoner who would take on the last name of their ruler. Therefore, they would have it removed to have their own design. As time went on, compartments were completely done away with, thus the use for a supporter shortly followed. A compartment would now be a sign of importance as it was then since they are not used that much anymore.
The shield is the most common part of a coat-of-arms since it has the family history to it. One can divide it in half, quarters, eighths and so on. Just remember that it doubles each time to represent the generation before. To make it more complicated, the shield is usually designed differently for a woman than it is a man. Then there are the colors. The common metals used in any design are gold and silver, but not together. The common colors you will find on a shield are red, blue, yellow, green and purple. Brown is sometimes used, but not all that often. Then there are the designs, which can range from stripes to animals to bordered shields.
Mentioned earlier were the supporters. These unknowns are really a unique part of the overall design of an achievement. The Queen of England has a lion on the right side and a unicorn on the left side. Left means the achievement’s left, not yours. Many people like to choose animals as supporters for one reason or another. King George V granted an achievement to the state Victoria in Australia, which has two women on either side of the shield. This goes to show you that you may pick about anything you want as a supporter, and you really don’t need one on both sides of your shield.
Helms, or helmets, did not have such a wide range of design as they do now, and it was detrimental in knowing the sides of an achievement to know the proper placement for one. The left side is called the Sinister, and the right side is called the Dexter. Okay, just the sound of the first one makes me want my helm facing to the right. How about you? To face a helm forward is supposed to mean that you are a person of good character and have good judgment. The majority of helms are depicted as being made of iron or silver. Very few, and mostly those of royalty, use gold as the metal in the design. Helms have been known to be replaced with actual human heads, but that should not be a common practice as it could be misconstrued.
A torse, also known as a wreath, rests on top of a helm, and keep the crest in place. The common practice when using a torse is to have no more or less than six knots in them. Some people call it braids, but let us keep to the knot verbage for now. Why six? I have no idea. I am sure there was a reason for it. The first, third and fifth knot reflect the color of the metal represented in the shield, while the second, fourth and sixth knots reflect the main color in the shield. In an actual war, a king would wear their helm with the torse and the crest upon it. That is until someone knocked it off, and if he so chose, he would have someone put it back upon his helm. The torse’s main goal is to keep the crest in tact upon a helm.
The crest later on became known as a badge. We all know what a badge is. Police officers wear badges. Retail workers wear badges to identify them with their name upon it. What would you call someone wearing a badge with a design of an anvil and a mallet? You would probably either call them Smith or Smythe. So it would seem that the crest has come a long way into our everyday lives. When crests were first designed they would sometimes rest within a crown on top of the torse. Some crests are animals, others are people, and then others could be some type of inanimate object such as a hand holding a star. How would you design your name into a crest?
Mantlings are an odd design that adds much flavor to an achievement. There are some that are represented by a cape, but the most common type is a leafy looking design you see almost every day. Take a look at one of your bills in your wallet. See all that scroll type leaf design in it? That design you are looking at came from the design of achievements. Some mantlings are an ivy design, while others can be just about anything you can imagine in that wonderful mind of yours.
This day and time you would have to register an achievement with England’s College of Arms. You need quite a bit of money to register one, too. They have to research the entire world to make certain you are not duplicating someone else’s coat-of-arms. This is not something to take lightly. If you have the time to research your family’s heritage, you may find that you have many achievements that you never knew about. From those various coat-of-arms you have the choice to incorporate all or none of them into your own achievement.