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Planning Retirement Online


What motto would you put on your Coat of Arms?


February 2019

Coat of arms
The design of a Coat of Arms is hugely complex

Just under a year ago, details were released of the coat of arms designed for Megan, Duchess of Sussex. With a lion and a songbird and a California’s state flower, it is indeed a pretty coat of Arms that appears highly suitable for our new American member of the Royal Family.

What is less known is that you don’t have to marry a Prince to obtain a coat of Arms. Arms and crests are granted by a senior herald, one of the Kings of Arms, and actually anyone can apply for one.

For instance, a grant of Arms was made to Esther Rantzen last year, which included the wonderful motto: if not now, when; although in the design of the heraldic shield, sadly for British grammar, a question mark could not be included!

However, predictably, there are more problems than just deciding on the motto for most people before being awarded a grant of Arms. While there are no fixed criteria of eligibility, you have to have rather an exceptional background and cv for an application even to be considered. Then, even if you have adequate awards, honours, degrees, qualifications, public or charitable service records and other aspects which help you stand out, there is a question of fees. These start from £6,400 for a personal grant of arms and crest up to an eye watering £19,850 for a coat of arms for commercial use.

In Scotland there are slightly different criteria, with the Lord Lyon King of Arms enforcing the law of arms under criminal jurisdiction. In the rest of the UK, the use of arms is a matter of civil law and regulated from the College of Arms and the Court of Chivalry.

The official College of Arms, based in London, has lots of information about all this.  It seems there are various Officers of Arms, including three Kings of Arms, six Heralds and four Pursuivants, all helping with general areas of heraldry and genealogy, some ceremonial duties, and all paid salaries from the Crown. Interestingly, there are a number of vacancies in these key positions, but before you try and apply or get too worked up at the potential for any unnecessary government spending, the yearly salary for the Kings of Arms is £20 and for the four pursuivants just £13.95p!

The coats of Arms are so called because of their origins…they date back to the 12th century when they were worn as designs on a cloth tunic over armour in battle and in tournaments so that opponents could quickly identify friend or foe. Then they were added to banners and shields for even quicker identification. Today of course their main usage is on top of letterheads or on other personal items.

Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage says that today the social significance of holding a coat of Arms is very low and many people, even if they appear to have the right background and criteria, do not bother to apply. However, there is increased interest in historical coats of Arms, especially with people carrying out family history research, and it can be exciting to suddenly find your family might have had a coat of arms and if so, whether there is a right to Arms by descent, meaning it could be claimed by a modern descendant.

There is lots of information on the website of the College of Arms.

An excellent website with lots of information about the whole area of heraldry is

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