The shield is only part of a coat of arms – often the shield is at the bottom of a ‘stack’ – there may be a helm above the shield followed by a crest and a motto. The coil or wreath between the helm and the crest even has its own name – a torse – not a horse as the spell check insists that I actually mean. Fabric draped from the torse down around the helm is called mantling – mantling can be subdued or full on drapery with twiddly bits – see left.
Just to confuse matters the motto, placed on a scroll, can either go at the top of the coat of arms or at the bottom beneath the shield. The latter tends to occur if the arms is being held by two supporters – one on either side of the arms as in the lion and unicorn supporting the royal arms. The other thing that might appear beneath the shield is a ribbon or collar from which decorations may be hung – no not Christmas decorations! – medals and suchlike.
The images on the shield are called charges- I will be coming back to them.
Crests can sometimes appear on the torse above the shield without the helm just to help identify the owner. Crests often appear on retinue badges or in Scotland on clan badges. So how did that all come about? In the medieval period, the thirteenth century, it was acceptable to wear an actual crest made from a light wood or even boiled leather on top of the helmet usually for tournaments and jousts rather than real warfare – not sure how long that phase lasted as it sounds fairly silly to me – but that’s just me opinion. The mantle had a more practical use – it helped keep the sun off the back of the armour and was kept in place by the torse – so at least the knight wouldn’t fry.
This week’s quiz is to identify the crests belonging to towns, cities or counties – one or two have cropped the edges just to make it that little bit more tricky but it wasn’t a deliberate act on my part! The Telegraph had a competition to guess the coats of arms of 25 cities quite recently – I’m not a subscriber so that was as far as I got. Instead here are 12 crests for you to identify – some will be easier than others. Answers next week.