Most are familiar with the tales of the outlaw Robin Hood and his band of merry men. Their deeds have remained legendary for centuries and been reproduced in film adaptations and books alike.
Robin Hood’s journey starts with him as a young man, killing one of the king’s deer, which makes him an outlaw. He survives with his ever-growing band of adventurers in Sherwood forest under the greenwood tree, demonstrating his excellent archery skills to constantly ward off the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
The infamous story takes place during the reign of King Richard I, or Richard the Lionhearted, and jointly, the Third Crusade. National Geographic remarks that the first Robin Hood appeared with the “publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in 1820. Set in 1194, Scott’s novel takes place in England,” placing it at the end of the Third Crusade.
During the time period of the Crusades, medieval Europe watched the rise of a growing class of knights and military orders such as the Templars and the Hospitallers. Each knight had a crest or coat of arms that was associated with his house.
A crest has several components: the shield, the crest and colors, and the motto. “Shield shapes vary and most designers select the shape that is distinctive of the geographical area where they or their ancestors were born” (Designing Family Crest). The shape of the shield determined where the elements of the crest would be placed. Here are some basic shield patterns.
For heraldic crests, the color scheme they had back in the day consisted of a small handful of hues, but each had a special meaning. Black stood for constancy or grief, blue for truth and loyalty, maroon for patience in battle, green for hope and joy, and red for military fortitude. The two metals used for crests were silver, which meant peace and sincerity, and gold, which meant power and splendor (Colors, Furs, Lines, Ordinaries).
However, undoubtedly the most important part of the crest is the crest itself. In heraldry, certain symbols meant certain things. Here are a few popular and interesting symbols with their meanings for you to get started if you plan on making your own.
Annulet or ring: symbolizes strength/Roman symbol of Liberty
Arrows or Quiver: symbolizes readiness
Axe, Cannon, and Halbert: symbolize military loyalty and service
Badger: symbolizes intelligence
Book, Parchment, Salmon, and Owl: symbolize learning and wisdom
Castle: symbolizes safety
Claymore (broadsword): symbolizes strength of arms
Cross and Fish: symbolize Christianity
Dove and Frog: symbolize peace
Eagle, Griffin, and Oak Tree: symbolize fortitude and valor
Eye: symbolizes providence
Goat, Ram, and Ox: symbolize persistence
Harp: symbolizes Ireland
Ivy: symbolizes eternal life
Knot: symbolizes love and faithfulness
Lily (regular variety of the flower): symbolizes purity
Mermaid: symbolizes eloquence
Pegasus: symbolizes fame
Phoenix: symbolizes resurrection
Raven: symbolizes Divine providence
Rose: symbolizes distinction
Swan: symbolizes harmony
Thistle: symbolizes Scotland
Tiger and Unicorn: symbolize courage
Whale: symbolizes patience and understanding
Wheat: symbolizes plenty
Yew tree: symbolizes hope
Lastly, most crests have a motto, which is displayed across a banner at the top of the shield. A banner across the bottom usually bears the family name. Mottos have meaning to specific families, and some family names have traditional mottos.
In some countries, created crests can be registered for your family if you make an especially good one, so have a blast creating a crest of your own!