Shield with Coat of Arms

A coat of arms shield is a shield with distinctive heraldic design on a tunic used to cover and protect armour, but the term is more broadly applied to mean a full heraldic achievement which consists of a shield and certain accessories. In either sense, the design is a symbol unique to a person, family, corporation, or state. Such displays are also commonly called armorial bearings, armorial devices, heraldic devices, or arms.

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Shield with Coat of Arms

Historically, armorial bearings were first used by feudal lords and knights in the mid-12th century on battlefields as a way to identify allied from enemy soldiers. As the uses for heraldic designs expanded, other social classes who never would march in battle began to assume arms for themselves. Initially, those closest to the lords and knights adopted arms, such as persons employed as squires that would be in common contact with the armorial devices. Then priests and other ecclesiastical dignities adopted coats of arms, usually to be used as seals and other such insignia, and then towns and cities to likewise seal and authenticate documents. Eventually by the mid-13th century, peasants, commoners and burghers were adopting heraldic devices. The widespread assumption of arms led some states to regulate heraldry within their borders. However, in most of continental Europe, citizens freely adopted armorial bearings.

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