Animals on coats of arms- More than just decoration

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When looking at a coat of arms or a seal, one thing that many people notice is that there are animals or birds worked into the design. The animals and birds are normally found in one of two locations. The first is on the shield itself. The second is not on the shield, but standing off to one side of it. These are known as supporters because their paws or other body parts support the shield as it stands upright. Supporting animals usually have different meanings than the animals on the shield itself. When checking the meaning of the animals or birds it is important to take note of where the creature appears and, in some cases, which way it is facing.

Animals on shields

In some cases, animals on coats of arms may have started out as mascots or other images of significance to a family. If, for example, a family earned income from the sale or husbandry of cows, sheep or pigs, these animals may have been worked into their coats of arms. Certain animals also had specific qualities attributed to them. These animals were placed on a crest or coat of arms to show that an individual or family also possessed the same qualities.

Animals reserved for royalty

Some animals cannot be used on a coat of arms unless the family or individual has been granted the right to do so or they meet specific criteria. A specific style of lion, for example, tended to be reserved for high-ranking members of the nobility or for members of a royal family. This is often true of the animals that are being used as supporters as well as the animals that are used on the shield itself. If an individual performed a great service to the nobility or monarchy, they may have been granted not only the right to bear arms, but also to have a lion on their crest or coat of arms.

Supporting animals have meaning too

If you look at a national coat of arms or crest you will typically find a pair of supporting animals holding up the shield or device in the middle. Animals acting as supporters can either be real (such as a lion or bear) or imaginary (such as the unicorn that appears on the coat of some countries or provinces). For example, the Australian coat of arms has both a kangaroo and an emu acting as supporters. These are two animals that are unique to the region and so were chosen because of their uniqueness.

How to find your coat of arms

If you do not have a coat of arms which has already been determined as the right one for your family you are not automatically out of luck. You may be able to have your crest or coat of arms researched. There are many companies available who are capable of performing this service. You may also want to do the research yourself although this can be expensive and time consuming to do. Just make sure you work with a reputable company so that you know you will end up with an accurate and attractive end result.

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