Our Warren coat of arms has given inspiration to our family. Not the type of inspiration that you would expect. The colours on the shield are blue and yellow and my father in law took that as a sign to paint his home in those colours. I love the meaning of the colours; blue for truth and loyalty and yellow representing gold and generosity. There is something grand and somewhat romantic about thinking that your family harked back to a honourable time of knights. However over time I did come across the real origins of a coat of arms.
A knight would go into battle covered from head to toe in chain mail. The endless wave of grey steel, made identifying who was against who half the battle. The problem was also that battles were not always won by sheer numbers or tactics but by the inspiration to fight for a leader. But in the heat of battle, it was difficult to know whether the leader you fought for was still alive. If they weren’t, then a hasty retreat was made. To combat this confusion shields started to be painted in colours and coat of arms was granted by the king to his knights. This meant that the coat of arms was given to an individual, not a whole family.
The first recorded coat of arms was in 1127 Henry 1 gave his son-in-law Geoffrey of Anjou a blue shield with golden lions. Over the next three centuries, knights went into battle with their painted shields, embroidered banners and helmets fixed with their colours. They also had their coat of arms on their signet rings that they wore under their heavy chain mail. The signet ring gave legitimacy to the documents they signed with the ring pressed into wax. (Although knights were known and wealthy from their battles, not many were actually able to sign their name.) In the 15th century, the style of battle changed with the advent of gunpowder. The need for a coat of arms on the battle field took a step back and was now used for those men that had built their fortunes on the wars. Heraldry become more important on paper.
I guess the confusion in whether a whole family and surname can use a coat of arms may come from two places. The fact that although the coat of arms could be handed down from father to son. However the original coat of arms, generally had to be changed in some way to note that it was not used by the original owner. Also during the 16th Century may heraldic shops, ”bucket shops” in London would do up coat of arms for people to use to gain some status. They were based on coat of arms that had been granted by the College of Arms but changed and at a small cost. These fake coat of arms were used to gain social status to secure good marriage and employment prospects.
Initially a coat of arms was granted by the King and the King of Arms designed the arms and the heralds recorded the line of descent. However during the 16th century, many people claimed rights to coat of arms. Through this time heralds would visit towns throughout England and Wales enquiring and demanding proof to the right to bear those arms. Some people got off with a payment and others got a dressing down in the market place. The worst was knocking down of funeral monuments in churchyards due to unproven heraldry. This is changed today however. As the College of Arms has modernised. Since 1997, women are allowed to bear a coat of arms based on her fathers or husbands coat of arms. Today, the standards for getting a coat of arms aren’t as high as going to battle. You still need to prove that you are a worthy receipt and that you can afford the price tag. But after jumping through a few hoops the College of Arms is may be willing to take your money and design a coat of arms for you. The most famous celebrities have been Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney.
I love history and even if I don’t get my family tree all the way back to William de Warrenne, the first Earl of Surrey, I will still enjoy my Warren coat of arms. I enjoy it for the unity it gives. The story of the brave knight that it was given to and for inspiration of values that can be missing today. I like having faith, loyalty and generosity as values that define the Warren family coat of arms. Values that I can pass on to my own children and keep in family members to come. So next time you visit my home and see a hint of blue and yellow, you will know that it isn’t just a colour scheme but a way of life. Lol.