Portal:Heraldry

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Welcome to the Heraldry and Vexillology Portal!

Flags of the Nordic countries
A herald wearing a tabard

Vexillology (from the Latin vexillum, a flag or banner) is the scholarly study of flags, including the creation and development of a body of knowledge about flags of all types, their forms and functions, and of scientific theories and principles based on that knowledge. Flags were originally used to assist military coordination on the battlefield, and have evolved into a general tool for signalling and identification, particularly identification of countries.

Heraldry encompasses all of the duties of a herald, including the science and art of designing, displaying, describing and recording coats of arms and badges, as well as the formal ceremonies and laws that regulate the use and inheritance of arms. The origins of heraldry lie in the medieval need to distinguish participants in battles or jousts, whose faces were hidden by steel helmets.

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Selected coat of arms

The 22 cantonal coats of arms in the stained glass dome of the Federal Palace of Switzerland (ca. 1900)

There are 26 modern cantons of Switzerland, each of which has an official flag and coat of arms.The history of development of these designs spans the 13th to 20th centuries. With the exception of Lucerne, Schwyz and Ticino, the cantonal coats of arms are simply arrangements of the cantonal flags in a shield shape. This fashion originates in the 15th century. (more...)

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The Raven banner (in Old Norse, Hrafnsmerki; in Old English, Hravenlandeye) was a flag, possibly totemic in nature, flown by various viking chieftains and other Scandinavian rulers during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries CE. The flag, as depicted in Norse artwork, was roughly triangular, with a rounded outside edge on which there hung a series of tabs or tassels. It bore a resemblance to ornately carved "weather-vanes" used aboard Viking longships.

Scholars conjecture that the raven flag was a symbol of Odin, who was often depicted accompanied by two ravens. Its intent may have been to strike fear in one's enemies by invoking the power of Odin. As one scholar notes: "The Anglo-Saxons probably thought that the banners were imbued with the evil powers of pagan idols, since the Anglo-Saxons were aware of the significance of Óðinn and his ravens in Norse mythology." (more...)

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The shield blazoned Azure, a Bend Or, which was the subject of Scrope v. Grosvenor

Scrope v. Grosvenor was one of the earliest heraldic law cases brought in England. The case resulted from the fact that two different families were using the same undifferenced coat of arms. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the composition of coats of arms was very simple. Most shields consisted of only one charge and two tinctures, and there were times when two families bore the same coat of arms in the same jurisdiction. In the fourteenth century, though, cases of two unrelated families bearing the same coat of arms became less tolerated. When this happened, the monarch was usually called on to make a decision. (more...)

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A town hall in Flanders displaying heraldic banners

The town hall of Dendermonde, a city in Flanders, displaying heraldic banners.

Did you know...

Gadsen flag

  • ...that the flags hoisted by the Finnish icebreaker Tarmo on 3 March 1918 included a large white tablecloth?

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