Sure, shields and armor are about protecting you from battle wounds and death and all that, but let’s be honest…aren’t they also about showing off what a blue-blooded, war-heroic hotshot you are? Men of the Middle Ages certainly seemed to agree, as many made a point of emblazoning their gear with symbols to signify who they were and what they were about.
During the days of the knights, the use of the “coat of arms” on shields and armor became common – this design was unique to the individual and helped to make him identifiable in battle. After all, it’s hard to stick out from the crowd when everyone on the battlefield is donning the same clunky metal helmets. Originally, the coat of arms could be adopted by anyone in any social class, but later, certain states began to regulate them, turning the coat of arms into a signifier of rank.
King Richard I initiated the practice of passing down a coat of arms as a hereditary mark. This King, nicknamed “The Lionheart,” used a coat of arms featuring three identical golden lions walking and facing the observer, all arranged in a column atop a red field. Originally, King Richard used a single lion rampant, but if there’s anything better than one lion, it’s two lions – so he made the adjustment. But soon good ole Richie reasoned with himself and determined that if there’s anything better than two lions, it’s three lions! But the King stopped there because, come now, four lions would just be overkill, don’t you think?
King Richard’s successors used the three lions until 1340 when Edward III ascended to the throne. To assert his right to inherit the French throne, Edward divided his coat of arms into four quarters, two featuring the English coat of arms, two featuring the French arms with its field of fleurs-de-lis. Possibly for the first time in art history, lions and lilies were together at last! Though if Monet had been a fan of the King of the Jungle, he could’ve given that coat of arms a run for its money…
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