Q:

What is the significance of a shield with a coat of arms?

A:

Quick Answer

In heraldry, the shield, known as an escutcheon, serves as the main ground on which the coat of arms is displayed. It can also serve as a charge, which is one of the symbolic emblems that appears in a coat of arms.

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Full Answer

The escutcheon derives from the shields carried by medieval knights, and so it has traditionally been reserved for the coats of arms of men, with women and clergymen using alternative shapes such as lozenges (diamonds) and roundels (circles). The shields used in heraldry come in a variety of shapes, usually depending upon the time period and geographic region in which they originated.

The coat of arms is only the shield and the designs on it, while the entire collection of shield and other devices is called an achievement of arms. The coat of arms is individualized through the application of various decorative devices, including colors (known as tinctures), partitions of the field (colored divisions of the whole shield), patterns and devices called ordinaries. These variations originally developed due to the need to distinguish between various participants in armed combat, as identities were often obscured by armor and other equipment. Heraldry has since been adopted by towns, countries and individuals, and it remains in use to this day.

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