10 Key Facts About Medieval Heralds

In the medieval world, heralds played a pivotal role in the realm of communication, diplomacy, and the establishment of heraldic traditions that continue to influence our culture today.

These figures were more than just messengers; they were the keepers of genealogies, announcers of important events, and symbols of authority.

Let’s delve into 10 key facts about medieval heralds and their fascinating history.

1. Origin of the Term “Herald”

The word “herald” finds its roots in the Old High German word “herold” and the Old French term “heraut,” both of which mean “messenger” or “announcer.” Heralds were responsible for conveying messages, proclamations, and other important information, often with a touch of ceremonial flair.

Medieval Herald

2. The Heraldic Connection

Medieval heralds played a crucial role in the development of heraldry, the system of symbols and designs used to identify knights and noble families. They assisted in the creation, registration, and enforcement of coats of arms, which were integral in identifying knights on the battlefield.

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3. Their Distinctive Attire

Heralds were easily recognizable by their distinctive clothing, which featured elaborate and colorful coats emblazoned with the arms of their lord or the monarch they served. These coats, known as tabards, helped identify their affiliation.

4. The College of Arms

In England, the College of Arms was established in 1484 and remains the official authority for heraldry in the country. Heralds from the College played a crucial role in organizing and officiating at events like tournaments, jousts, and royal ceremonies.

5. Heralds at Tournaments

Medieval tournaments were not just about chivalry and combat; they were also showcases of heraldic splendor. Heralds would announce the participants, display their coats of arms, and ensure that the rules of chivalry were followed during the jousts and melees.

Bavarian Herald

6. Royal Announcements

Heralds were responsible for announcing important royal decrees, proclamations, and the arrival of monarchs to towns and cities. This duty showcased their role as official messengers of the crown.

7. Diplomatic Envoys

Heralds often served as diplomats, negotiating treaties and agreements between different kingdoms and noble houses. Their presence added an air of formality and authenticity to such negotiations.

8. The Language of Heralds

Heralds used a specialized jargon known as “blazon,” which was a precise language used to describe the various elements of a coat of arms. This ensured that coats of arms were accurately recorded and reproduced.

Medieval Shields and Heraldry

9. The Heralds’ Handbook

The “Herald’s Handbook,” also known as the “Herald’s Manual” or “Herald’s Guide,” was a reference book that contained rules and guidelines for heraldic practice. It was essential for ensuring consistency and accuracy in the world of heraldry.

10. Modern Legacy

While the role of heralds has evolved over time, elements of their traditions continue to exist in the modern world. Heralds are still employed in some countries for state ceremonies, and heraldry remains a vibrant and cherished aspect of cultural identity for many noble families and institutions.

Medieval heralds were not only messengers and announcers but also custodians of a rich and colorful tradition that continues to captivate us today.

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Their role in shaping the world of heraldry and their influence on the medieval courts and tournaments make them an intriguing part of our historical tapestry.