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A Brief History of Heraldry

Since time began, man has been fascinated with symbolism. From ancient cave paintings; Egyptian hieroglyphics; Indian totems; every part of man’s history is full of symbols. Modern company logos; jockey’s colours; football strips; military insignia are some of the usages of symbols in modern times that enjoy instant recognition. All of these have a commonality with that gentle & colourful art & science that flourished with the feudal systems of Europe , and still enlivens our modern lives in all its glorious colour and panoply — heraldry!


With its distinctive aspects, heraldry appeared in France and Britain early in the 12th century and its popularity was evidenced by the speed with which it spread throughout Western Europe . Colourful banners and shields distinguished nobles and knights one from the other in tournament or battle, which, as the use of encasing armour grew, became an important aspect of medieval warfare. The use of devices on the loose coat worn over the armour gave rise to the expression “coat of arms” and it was not long before these devices and symbols were to be seen marking, beautifying, and identifying on seals, tombs, textiles, stone, ceramics and glass.


The fact that these devices were principally displayed on shields; that they were hereditary; and were regarded as ensigns of honour, is the way in which heraldry differed from other forms of symbolism, and as the special mark of a free warrior and leader, their use was systematic and controlled. Those to whom this responsibility fell were the heralds. In fulfilment of their many duties, these ceremonial officers and messengers had particular need to know the devices that identified individuals, and consequently the study of “coats of arms” has been popularly termed “heraldry”.

Heraldry, or Amory, as it is alternatively known, in all its glorious colour is a noble science, a fascinating art form, a most useful reference in the study of genealogy and family history, and the basis of a most interesting and absorbing hobby.


The “Leeds Heraldry Society”, was formed to encourage knowledge about the science, and the study of all its aspects through meetings, lectures, visits and publications. The Society grew and prospered and taking the wider outlook, became “The Yorkshire Heraldry Society” in 1987.


Members from all walks of life enjoy the varied programme of lectures, discussions and outings arranged throughout the year — based on a season beginning in September and ending in May. Visitors are very welcome at a nominal charge of £2.


Should you be willing to enjoy a flirtation with such an accessible part of our nation’s heritage, please see our membership page for details of how to join us.


Details of our regular meetings, lectures, visits and functions will then be sent to you, with a warm welcome to meet with us to delight not only in the very rich heraldic legacy of a bygone era, but also the continuing heraldic traditions that brighten our modern times.