Definition of heraldry noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary



BrE BrE//ˈherəldri//
; NAmE NAmE//ˈherəldri//
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the study of the coats of arms and the history of old families CultureheraldryHeraldry is the design and study of coats of arms. Many British upper-class families, as well as thousands of public institutions such as city councils and universities, have the right to their own coat of arms or shield. This is often printed on notepaper, used as a badge on uniforms and the sides of official vehicles, and put above the door of buildings. The heraldic devices (= designs) that can be used on a coat of arms are strictly controlled by the College of Arms in England, and the Court of the Lord Lyon in Scotland.The origins of heraldry lie in the decorated shields that were carried into battle by medieval knights. The designs painted on these shields were originally a means of identification. They then became family emblems which have changed little through the centuries. Sometimes the devices have been changed to combine the coats of arms of two families. A husband may impale his wife's family arms by dividing the shield vertically down the middle and putting his own arms on the dexter (= the wearer's right) side and his wife's on the sinister (= left) side.Heraldry uses many technical terms, mostly derived from Old French. The background of a shield is known as the field and its main colour the tincture. The heraldic designs on the field are known as charges. They may include a simple pale (= broad vertical band) or a fess (= thin horizontal stripe), or a more elaborate device such as an animal, a cross or a castle. Shields are often quartered (= divided into four quarters), with each quarter carrying a different design. On the royal arms, the quarters represent different countries. The first and fourth quarters are gules (= red) and each contains three lions passant (= walking) shown in or (= gold) to represent England. The second quarter contains a red lion rampant (= standing upright), the symbol of Scotland, within a tressure (= border) on a gold background. The third quarter is azure (= blue) and contains a golden harp with strings of argent (= silver) to represent Ireland. Wales is not included because it had its own heraldic device in the arms of the Prince of Wales before the quarterings for Scotland and Ireland were added to the royal arms.In most coats of arms the shield is surrounded by additional decorations, such as a pair of animal or human supporters (for instance, the lion and unicorn on the royal arms), a crown or helmet, and a motto. On the royal arms the motto is Dieu et mon droit, French for 'God and my right'.Many Americans whose families came from Europe try to trace their origins and identify their ancestors' coat of arms. They may then use it on objects such as drinking glasses, or hang a drawing of the coat of arms in their house. For many people a coat of arms provides a connection with the past and a way of expressing family pride.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: heraldry