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Heraldry is a living survival of the great medieval world of European chivalry. First introduced as a means of identification in battle and tournaments, it gradually spread to society as a whole.  

Heraldic plate from a medieval iluminated manuscriptOriginally, a knight was free to choose his own device, but by the 15th century, the multiplication of arms resulted in the complete systemization of the practice, and heraldry became an exact science. All armorial bearings came to be granted by the King, and all arms, both the recently granted and those established by right of ancient usage, were registered with the College of Arms, if English, or with similar agencies in continental countries.

Heraldic plate from a medieval iluminated manuscriptEven the heraldic terms used became exact and a coat of arms was not described, but was blazoned. Terms for partition lines were developed such as engrailed, nebuly, inverted, dancety, embattled, etc. Charges (figures in the field) were of three kinds: the Ordinaries (chief, pale, bend, fess, chevron, cross, saltire, bar, baton, etc.), the Subordinaries (roundels, fusils, orle, annulets, cinquefoil, etc.) and the Common (hand, fish, lions, bears, birds, mullets, etc.). The colors used were: two metals: gold (or) and silver (argent): and five colors: red (gules), green (vert), blue (azure), black (sable) and purple (purpurs).

The need for this means of identification declined with the passing of chivalry, but the custom was anchored in antiquity and had a definite appeal of its own.

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Rampart of red and yellow shields

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Rampart of black and yellow shields