Written By: David Pavek
History is a reflection of the people who have come before us. Armorial history focuses on what we call a “Roll of Arms.” These rolls of arms referred to various coats of arms. What did having a coat of arms mean?
Think of armorial history as taking a picture of who was relevant and important at a certain point in time. These images of shields were not just used by knights for battle purposes. Rather, the coats of arms, which were sewn, painted or drawn on armorial rolls, were artistic renderings of something more important. Kings, all the way down to bourgeois families, with the Church and the militarily strong families would create a coat of arms.
Armorial rolls served as a system to place those who were in control at the top of the roll. This roll of arms, a written document that had engravings or drawings of the various coats of arms, descended in order, from the most important to the least.
It was not enough to simply have a coat of arms. Rather, it was a matter of improving the position of the coat of arms from one generation to another, further and further up the level of importance. This “picture taking event” defined the people of power at that point in time.
These armorial rolls started in the 13th century. A roll entitled the Dering Roll likely dates from around this time. It is generally believed to be the earliest surviving English roll of arms, listing 324 coats of arms. As usual, it starts with the most important, God, then moves to the Church and then descends through heraldry through the various important houses at the time.
The Fojnica Armorial describes the Balkan heraldry with 139 coats of arms. A Dutch version of a “picture taking event” is the Gelre Amorial, created near 1370 to 1440 and containing 1,700 coats of arms. See also http://kbr.be/catalogues/catalogues_en.html, the Royal Library of Belgium.
If one is of Germanic descent, look to the Hyghalmen Roll, created near 1447 to 1455. Individuals who are Bavarian by ancestry can consult the Wernigerode Armorial, which dates back to around 1486 to 1492 and contains 524 pages, 477 pages of which have several illustrations on them. For more information, see http://en.cyclopaedia.net/wiki/Weringerode-Armorial. In all instances, one will be viewing a list of the who’s who at that point of time.
Those who have an interest in the Holy Roman Empire, and its Duchies of Kleve, Geldem and Liegnitz, or the Holy Roman Catholic Church (for Papal Arms), France, including the Dauphin, England, Brittany, Granada, Spain, Scotland, Aragon, Italy, Burgundy, Milan, Naples, Byzantium, Persia and the Hapsburgs, will find many times in their histories when a picture was taken in the form of a roll of arms.
These sites also provide other examples of rolls of arms:
The Imperial Eagle, http://www.armorial.ru/imperial_m.htm
Latin Empire Coats of Arms, http://www.houseofnames.com/latin-coat-of-arms
The Jerusalem Cross, http://www.godweb.org/jerusalemcross.htm