Rolls of arms- records of coats of arms throughout history

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When individuals are researching their family crest or coat of arms, there are many documents that can be examined in order to find out what theirs may look like. For some individuals who come from old families with long histories, they may be able to find information on their crest in a document known as a roll of arms. This document is also known as an armorial.

A roll of arms often is made up of images, written descriptions (known as blazons) or even a combination of images and text. They illustrate or describe many different coats of arms. Some documents are quite old. There are mediaeval examples that date from as early as 1254 but most date from the 1300s, when heraldry was more well-established.

Types of Armorials

There are several different types of armorials. Six separate types have been identified by heraldists. Some were created in order to show the coats of arms of a particular region. In the 14th century, for example, these rolls were created to show the coats of arms of England on a county by county basis.


Another type of armorial or roll of arms would have been created if a special event was taking place. If a tournament was being planned, the knights or nobles that were part of the tournament would have been recorded. Also, expeditions and sieges would often have their own rolls of arms created as a record of what was taking place.

Some religious and chivalric organizations also had their own rolls of arms. They would record the founders of the order, as well as the members that were a part of these organizations. Some would be quite long and would record the membership that took place over the decades or even centuries.

Online records

Now many societies that would have kept paper armorials have placed their records online. If you know that an ancestor or a member of your family was part of a specific society it may be possible to find information on a coat of arms via the internet.

It can be helpful to know which organizations your family may have been a part of or which historical events they may have taken part in. This can help you find any crests or coats of arms that were associated with your family much more quickly than you could if you had to search through all of the coats of arms that exist.


Some rolls of arms have been published as parts of various collections. Others may be kept in museums and archives around the world and may be more difficult to look through. Many of the armorials or rolls of arms that have been created through the ages can still be viewed if one knows where to look. They can provide a fascinating glimpse into mediaeval and renaissance history. Even if your familys coat of arms is not part of a particular roll of arms it can still be fascinating to look through and find out who took part in famous battles, tournaments and other exciting events that may have taken place centuries ago.

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