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Art and science of devising, displaying, and granting armorial insignia and of tracing and recording genealogies. The use of heraldic symbols as a means of identification spread throughout the European nobility in the 13th century. The principal vehicle for displaying the heraldic devices is the shield; in the full armorial achievement, the shield is augmented by the helmet, crest, mantling, crown, wreath, motto, compartment (base), and supporters. Arms are hereditary; all male descendants of the first person to whom they were granted bear the arms. As insignia of honour, they are protected by law in the European monarchies, Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. See also coat of arms; ecclesiastical heraldry.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on heraldry, visit Britannica.com.