The meaning behind shield patterns on coats of arms

Published: 15th August 2011
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If you are looking through a book of coats of arms or family crests you will notice that they all include a shield in their design. This harkens back to the fact that crests or coats of arms were first painted on the shields of knights so that the men who fought alongside (or against) them could identify them quickly and easily.

Some shields are plain and may be painted a specific color. Others may have bands that break up the colored areas. As with the shape of the shield itself and the color of the different sections, the shape of the band can also signify important events in a personís history.

Common Shield Patterns and their Meanings

Some patterns are more common than others. A perfect example is the cross. This is a literal cross of a different color that is added to a shield. It represented a Christian or, more specifically, one who had fought in one of the Crusades to the Holy Land. Individuals who are watching historical movies about this time period will usually see this pattern repeated again and again on the shields of the knights who were involved in the fighting. A cross that has been turned so that its arms go from corner to corner is known as a St. Andrewís Cross. It represents someone with resolution or resolve.

Simple stripes can have a lot of meaning

There are many shields that have one simple stripe of color crossing the shield. A stripe across the top of the shield is known as a chief. It represents a personís achievements in battle. It also represents wisdom, or someone with authority or dominion. When the stripe is vertical and travels down the center of the shield, it is known as a pale. This represents fortitude and military strength. A bend is a stripe which goes from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. It represents defense and is meant to represent a knightís scarf. A band that passes horizontally through the middle of the shield is a Fess and this represents honor.

Other patterns have different meanings

Chevrons represent the roof of a house and stand for faithful service or protection. A chevron is made up of two diagonal lines that come up from the bottom of the shield and meet in the middle. A pile looks like an upside down triangle extending from the top of the shield. It indicates construction or building and is intended to look like the wood that is used to build bridges.

Shields that have small areas of different coloration at the top corner have been marked with a canton. This represents a flag that has been added on to the shield. Often this is made up of a charge (a picture of an item) that has been granted by the sovereign that a knight served. If the shield looks as if it has a border of a different color, it is known as a bordure and this represents honor. It is often used to indicate a difference between one or more members of a family.


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