The science of describing armorial bearings. Heraldry developed in the West during the twelfth century and evolved along with concepts of nobility and chivalry during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Military identification symbols had been known in antiquity, but their systematic use emerged as an adjunct to medieval feudalism, serving to identify knights in full armor. Heraldic devices were employed by secular society, by the Church, and by guilds and corporations. By the fourteenth century, strict rules concerning the significance of different components of a coat of arms were in full force. The language of heraldry is largely derived from French. There is an elaborate vocabulary for the blazoning (or describing) of a shield, involving its tinctures (color), charges (geometric patterns, called ordinaries, or the figures or objects depicted), and the way in which the arms are 'differenced' to indicate collateral branches. Helmets, crests, and supporters (figures such as the lion and the unicorn, supporting the shield) also obey complex rules and nomenclatures. Many illuminated genealogies, pedigrees, and heraldic manuals were produced during the later Middle Ages. The occurrence of heraldic devices within manuscripts also yields valuable evidence concerning ownership. See also Emblem and Motto.
Michelle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the British Library, c1994).