In the 12th century, coats of arms could be seen on knights and minor feudal lords who went into battle. Within another century, families were using coats of arms to represent their entire clan. The families flew flags that carried the symbol above their castles and manors. But of course, this honor was not afforded to just anyone. Only the highest classes of people in medieval Europe used coats of arms, as they were the only ones with ancestors distinguished enough to be granted use by the king himself. Once a family started using a coat of arms, it was passed down through the generations.
It's interesting to note that each part of the coat of arms has a specific meaning. As most people were illiterate at that time, the coat of arms needed to convey in a glance the history, achievements and characteristics that the family valued. Animals or objects were used to describe personality traits - brave as a lion, for example. The colors were used as symbols of character, for instance, gold being generous, or blue as the color of loyalty.
Which animal would represent you? See if you can identify the animals on these coats of arms. You'll gain insight into how people centuries ago, viewed the wildlife around them. They even used mythical creatures to describe their personality traits! Find out more by taking this quiz.