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TATTOO DESIGNS & SYMBOLS - FAMILY CREST TATTOOS

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Tattoo designs - F >> Family Crests

Family Crest Tattoo Meanings - (Coat of Arms Tattoos, Clan Tattoos, Heraldry Tattoos)
From the names of Patrick O'Flanagan to Robert Smith, one of the most popular ways for people to celebrate their family ties and heritage has been to get tattoos of their family crests, coat of arms and other symbols that recognize their family surname and genealogical history. In Great Britain, whether you are English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh and in most of the countries of Europe individuals can often trace their family history and surname to a particular stylized design that at one time would have decorated shields and banners as a method of identifying individuals going into battle.

The term 'Coat of Arms' derived from the practice of the medieval knight or nobleman wearing an embroidered garment over his metal armor -- a coat bearing the crests or symbols of his rank and personage. Prior to this innovation, one armored knight looked much like the next, so by his 'coat of arms' he could be identified to his followers in the heat of battle, no less to his enemies. Of course, the preferred method of battle was to capture your enemies and then negotiate a handsome ransom for their safe return.

Your enemies were worth more alive than dead and for hundreds of years, such practices were the backbone of knightly chivalry in Medieval Europe.

Family Crest tattoo designs and symbolsIn the 11th Century, William the Conqueror was believed killed during the famous Battle of Hastings. To prove to his men that he was still alive, he had to remove his helmet and show his face. Historians theorize, then, that it was the Normans who formalized this kind of heraldry, making it a military necessity for a knight to recognize and be recognized when in full armor. The practice of "family identification", however, was in effect in Northern Europe prior to the Battle of Hastings, and spread to England with the Norman Conquest. It is believed that the first example of a Coat of Arms applied to a shield was that of Henry I of England, in 1127 A.D. At this time, many northern European nobles, Saxons in Germany and Vikings in Denmark, Norway and Sweden were tattooed with marks that identified them as belonging to particular families and alliances.

With the increasing popularity of 'the tournament', the Coat of Arms became the mark of noble status. The tournament was the training ground where knights practiced their skill and military prowess. By 1400, the bearing of a Coat of Arms was the only ticket into the tournament, without which no knight could participate. These events grew more elaborate in pageantry and display, for it was here that the aristocracy and nobility gathered to watch their knights do mock battle, sometimes to the death, establishing their reputations as champions.

For many years, the individual knight or nobleman could take a Coat of Arms for himself, but later it could only be granted by the Monarch. Subsequently, it could be passed down through heredity. The family name alone, however, did not bestow the right for those bearing that name to own the Coat of Arms. The emblems were guarded as heirlooms and the private property of specific individuals.

The earliest Coats of Arms were simple designs, but with time became increasingly more complex and ornate. They included crests, supporters and mottos, even incorporating the arms of other families through marriage. The military significance of the Coat of Arms on a shield eventually gave way to heraldry based on family pride, since many holders never went near a battlefield.

In the days of the tournament, a trumpet would be sounded and the herald would announce (describe) the various symbols shown on the shield of the knight being introduced. The term heraldry came to refer to the description and placement of these symbols on the shield. When the heraldic artist came to depict symbols on a shield, exact and precise knowledge of each symbol was critical. The symbols were recorded in a special register, and no symbol could be duplicated, according to Royal Law. To this day, these records are saved for posterity by Heralds of the Royal Courts. Over the centuries, however, many of the 'Rolls of Arms' have been lost, and with them the rightful claims of their legitimate heirs.

Reading a Coat of Arms is a study in itself. The term "blazon of arms" refers to the official, written description of the actual Coat of Arms -- its shield, colors, supporters, mottos and crests. A layperson confronted with the blazon would be mystified by what appears to be a code language, some of which goes back to the original French. An artist in heraldry needed to be an expert in reading and interpreting the description in the blazon, because contrary to popular belief, Coats of Arms were not usually recorded visually.

The most important component of the Coat of Arms was the shield. On this was placed the unique colors, symbols, and perhaps a motto pertaining to the individual's history and family. The heraldic color itself had a special meaning. Gold, silver or white, blue, red, green, black, purple, orange, and maroon are all referred to in the blazon in French, and each color describes a particular quality or meaning.

The shield might have 'supporters', which were the fierce animals, birds, or monsters -- often mythological -- stationed at either side of the shield and often portrayed in positions of combat. The word for the combative stance of the supporter is 'rampant'. Topping the Coat of Arms was the 'crest'.

Not all Coats of Arms came with a crest or a 'helm' (helmet). The crest was a part of the official blazon, but not the helm, which symbolized the particular century and social status of the owner. Other elements on the Arms were the 'wreath' and the 'mantle', neither of which are part of the official blazon, and are therefore open to the artist's interpretation.

Some of the more common animal symbols seen today are the lion, eagle, horse, unicorn, griffin, dragon, bear, swan and boar. Beasts could be adopted or dropped when the Coat of Arms passed through the legitimate male line of the nobility. A younger son, for example, might add a smaller image in the centre of the shield to distinguish himself from other sons. The eldest son would be obliged to maintain the family Coat of Arms without messing with it. When a woman married, her family Coat of Arms might be added to that of her husband's.

With the gradual disappearance of the tournaments and closed helmets, and the eventual dwindling of private armies, the military and sporting use of the Coat of Arms fell away. The use of heraldry increasingly became associated with the social pecking order and a 'Who's Who' of the nobility. They were seen as decorative display, carved over the doorways of the great houses of the day, or woven into tapestries and featured in stained glass windows of stately homes and their chapels.

Representatives of noble families, such as a Knight's Squire often wore part of the design of the Coat of Arms on their uniforms to show in whose employ they were retained and as a mark of prestige. Military units that were led or funded by a noblemen often incorporated part of a family or individuals Coat of Arms into the markings and Regimental Coats of Arms.

Interest in Coats of Arms and especially Family Crests has increased greatly in the last century. As personal interest in genealogy has grown, so has the 'discovery' of the Family Crest. Purists may insist that most people cannot claim such a thing, citing the tradition of Arms being granted solely by Royal Authority, with inheritance only through the legitimate male line. To the traditionalist, such honours are not up for grabs, willy-nilly, by those seeking to confirm their noble origin.

The Scots are particularly proud of their clan, their crests, and the Clan Coat of Arms. The term 'clan', itself, refers exclusively to those of true Scottish descent, and the clan system is a singularly Scottish phenomenon dating back to the times of chiefs and the prominent families and their lineage. If you want to be counted, you'll have to check in with the chief Scottish herald, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, because only he (and not the English College of Arms) has the necessary authority in these matters. If you're after what you believe is your Clan Badge or Family Tartan, the Lord Lyon King of Arms awaits your call!

Furthermore, only those descended from ancient families and feudal barons who were around prior to 1592 were granted supporters the animals shown on each side of the shield. Only in Scotland are the rules of heraldry backed by law, since England modified their rules in the 16th century.

For the Irish, Coats of Arms were referred to as the Arms of Irish Septs. ('Sept' means a family group of one locality.) Like the English and Scottish, Arms were originally granted to individual members of a sept. Those of same name had no claim to it unless they were included in the terms of the grant. There are a number of Irish Crests, however, granted to all members of a sept. The rules regarding heraldic rights are not as rigorous as in Scotland, and if satisfactory proof of descent is shown to the Chief Herald of Ireland, a Coat of Arms may be granted. For a small fee.

Although the term 'heraldry' may not be clearly understood by everyone, you see it everywhere, today. Banks, universities, colleges and schools, as well as military groups, cities and towns, and even sports leagues are proud of their Coats of Arms. Many legal documents still require fixing with a seal, a tradition harking back to the days when a knight would impress his seal (bearing the symbol of Arms) onto red wax. Genealogical services are mushrooming everywhere today, spawning a cadre of experts who are happy to delve into your family tree in search of that Coat of Arms or Family Crest that just may be yours.

After Captain Cook returned from the South Pacific in the eighteenth century where he and his crew recorded the tattooing practices of the peoples of Tahiti, Hawaii and the Maori in New Zealand, there was a renewed interest among Europeans in tattooing that was apparent even among the upper classes and aristocracy. King Edward VII of Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, and Czar Nicholas II of Russia, among other Royal Heads of State, were all tattooed - many of them with Royal Crests and Insignia.

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Tattoo designs - F >> Family Crests

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