In the Middle Ages, knights put cloth coats over their armor to keep the sunlight from making the metal too hot. On each knight’s cloth coat was sewn an original design which was a symbol of important events in the knight’s life, outstanding qualities he possessed, or a pictorial representation of his name.
Designs included birds, flowers, animals, and mythical beasts. These designs became his Coat of Arms, and were also painted on the shield of the knight and on the coats and shields of his soldiers.
Coats of Arms also served another purpose. Since men in armor all looked alike, it was difficult to tell one’s enemies from one’s friends in battle. So the Coats of Arms also helped identify friend from foe.
Coats of Arms were passed down in families from father to son, and were often carved into decorations on doors and gates of knights’ manor castles, painted onto their dishes, and woven into cloth for drapes and rugs.
Even when armor was no longer used, Coats of Arms remained a popular tradition among nobles who were proud of their rich ancestry. Many families of Western European origin have Coats of Arms. Maybe your family has one too!
Because many nobles in the Middle Ages could neither read nor write, a seal bearing their Coat of Arms was accepted on legal documents in place of a signature!