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Heraldry, Coats of Arms and Crests


The Royal Coat of Arms outside the College of Arms in London

bronze and cast iron - 50"x 60" approx


Heraldry, with its Coat of Arms and Crests although viewed by many as an ancient art form, is an exciting picture language in colour with its heraldic signs and symbols often incorporate a glorious mêlée of golden crowns and coronets, lions, eagles, fabulous beasts and mythological creatures, birds, fishes, flowers and busts of men and women. Heraldry is often seen as much of a science as an art and often refers to the design of the Achievements for a particular surname which is also often linked to a specific place or occupation. It emerged at a time during the mid-12 century when fighting men became unrecognisable inside their suits of armour to both friend and foe alike. It soon emerged that by decorating the shield with a design that was unique to that particular person it could also be seen from a distance. Heraldry began to grow into a science of heraldry with its own unique language and system of laws to regulate and record it accurately.

With common names like Smith, there are many different designs of Arms for the same surname with each of these designs often represent a completely different locality and lineage. Coats of Arms often also vary according to the generations, as in most countries the original design of Coat of Arms were handed down from father to the oldest son. The succeeding son's Arms were can also be slightly modified to reflect his own individual achievement. This has resulted in several different designs  for descendants of the same family gradually being developed over a period of many generations.

It is therefore important when following the rules of Heraldry, when anyone is attempting to have a coat of arms produced that is associated with their own particular surname and they can therefore prove direct descent in the male line from the original bearer of the arms. This will insure that the design of the coat of arms is in fact directly linked to their own particular family and not simply someone who is unrelated, but happens to share the same surname as their own; for details about how individual Coat of Arms or Crests are produced in wood or bronze; please click this link.




A small selection of the variety of topics covered on this Heraldry page   

The Early History of Heraldry :-

Heralds :-

The Age of Chivalry and Knights in Armour :-

The Royal Arms :-

Prince William and Prince Harry's Coat of Arms :-

A selection of carved Coat of Arms and Crests :-

European Heraldry :-  






The Early History of Heraldry. 

The word Herald is said to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word here meaning an army and wald meaning strength, although it is thought it originated from the German word Herold. Many heralds were originally minstrels who after tournaments or battles extolled the deeds of the victors. In those days, Kings, Dukes and Knights would employ men in their households called heralds, the dual role as minstrel and messenger led the herald to then recount the deeds of his master and as time went by his master’s ancestors. 

Heralds were originally appointed to organize and make the announce at tournaments, to act as diplomats and to record the various insignia borne by the individuals and to carry as a non combatant messenger, messages from place to place, as well as to make declarations of war. In the early Middle Ages the Chief herald was called the Marshal. In those days when it was the custom for the King himself to go to war, it was therefore the marshals’ duty to 'marshal' the army in groups with their banners and 'coats of arms'.

Heraldry originated within the military during the 12th to 13th Century Crusades. Large men were under arms, covered from head to foot with in armour. The large varieties of colours and easily recognised symbols and designs were required to distinguish not only friend from foe but also so each recognise their own men in the battle field. These symbols were painted on the Knights banners and shields and also worked onto the light coloured coats worn over the Knights armour which protected the wearer from the elements; hence coat of arms.

Although early references to heralds dating from the twelfth century were invariably connected with tournaments the first generally accepted references to heralds date from around 1170 when Chretien de Troyes writes of a barefoot herald clad only in a shirt running to identify the arms of Lancelot in the King Arthur Legend.  Ironically he fails to do so.


Heralds in procession during the annual Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle wearing their mediaeval uniforms.


The Heralds tabards have its coat embroidered on the front, back and sleeves with the Royal Arms. Coat of Arms was originally a light tunic which was decorated with symbols and worn over the knight’s battle armour. These colourful symbols identify the wearer as the member of a particular family or group. The term heraldry however has a wider significance, covering all the functions of a herald, or officer concerned with arms, genealogy, ceremonies, and precedence, these ceremonial duties include attending the Most Noble Order of the Garter and The Most Honourable Order of the Bath services and Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey along with being part of HM The Queen’s royal guard of honour at the State opening of Parliament.

In the middle Ages during the age of Chivalry the coat of arms were both practical and also served a function as a form of identification during pageants and in tournaments. In the confusion of battle the knight clad in Armour from head to toe, with his great war helmet covering his face, wearing his 'chain mail' which was uniformly worn, it was difficult to distinguish between friend and foe alike. However identification of each individual knight began to improve, especially from a distance when the Knights insignia began to be painted on his shield and later with their coloured crests placed upon their helms.

The regulation of distinguishing the various coats of arms evolved according to a hereditary system, which also required the Heralds especially of the English royal household to keep records both of arms and family descents. As a token of their office they began to wear the coats of arms of the leaders they served. Today, the heralds continue the tradition of collating and recording family history to ensure the unique collection of records dating back many centuries are preserved for the future.

The word achievement in Heraldry does not mean that something has been accomplished; it is in fact the name given to a completed display of a coat of arms. The achievement is firstly composed of the Shield which the most important part of the design, has the charge painted upon it. Some achievements or coats of arms only consist of the shield.

The type of Helmet which rests on the shield denotes the rank of the owner. The Mantling is the swirling drapery fitted around the helmet; this material protected the knight’s head and neck from the sun and was particularly popular during the Crusades in Palestine. The Wreath or Torso was usually made of a twist of material mostly silk which kept both the mantling and The Crest in position, these Crests were particularly popular at the time with the knights during tournaments.

The Supporters generally belonged to Royal or ducal coats of arms, they can be both animals and people. The Compartment where the supporters stand is usually earth or water. The Motto is usually in the form of a scroll with wording often written in Latin, although. not all achievements have a motto.



Click to enlarge

Knights of the Bath Banners displaying the Knights Arms in Westminster Abbey, beneath the Banners, the Knights Crests carved by sculptor Ian G Brennan.  


The designs of the Arms evolved during the Middle ages before most men and women could read or write.  Heraldry's awesome visual power of colour and images are as strong today as they were during this period. Their striking geometric designs frequently borrowed and later turned into successful modern logos and trade marks.

In 1555, the Heralds were granted Derby Place which is near St Paul's Cathedral in London to be the site of the College of Arms, however the Great Fire of London in 1666, destroyed the original building. The present College of Arms was consequently built on the same site in 1670. This building now houses the Heralds offices and contains a unique library of official records of granted Arms dating back many centuries. This library contains a diverse collection of resources old and new, which includes original parchment manuscripts, ancient seals, books and periodicals.

The College of Arms in England is the official repository for coats of arms and pedigrees of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Commonwealth families and their descendants. Official copies of records of the Ulster King of Arms are also kept  within the Colleges collection. Scottish documents are held at the Lyon Office in Edinburgh.

Often the Heralds working at the College are involved with clarifying the rights to assume an existing coat of arms or work directly with the client on individual requests for grants of new arms. Coats of arms are granted by Letters Patent from any the three Kings of Arms who are the most senior heralds. These Grants may be made to both individuals and corporations. Anyone may apply to the College of Arms in London and provided they are worthy persons and have no criminal record, they are rarely refused an original coat of arms although there will obviously be a fee charged for their services. Many coats of arms have belonged to the same family and have been handed down from father to son for generations; Kings and princess were the first to have heraldic coats of arms.


HM Queen Elizabeth II processing towards St George's Chapel  in Windsor Castle for the annual Garter Service 



The Earl Marshal is one of the two Great Officers of State and the office is hereditary in his family with particular powers of supervision over the heralds and the College of Arms in London.  The College of Arms is now the oldest existing such College in the World with its heraldic court being one of the few remaining heraldic courts in Western Europe.

Over the years many of the ceremonial duties of the heralds have largely disappeared, although the arrangement of State funerals and the monarch's Coronation in Westminster Abbey,  fall under the jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal, with the heralds being responsible for the organisation of these Great State Ceremonies, which also include the State Opening of Parliament held in November, the service of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath and the procession and service of the Sovereign and Knights Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter held in  St Georges Chapel Windsor Castle in June, which is still carry out each year organize by the heralds.


The Royal College of Arms as seen from Queen Victoria Street in London.

(Click to enlarge)


  Earl Marshal's Court  at the College of Arms  -    The carved Crest for Sir Winston Churchill


To mark the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, the Earl Marshal's Court at the College of Arms had an wonderful exhibition of many carved Crowns, Coronets and Crests for former Knights of the Garter these included Crowns for a variety of European Kings and Queens and the Crests for the former war-time Leader Sir Winston Spencer Churchill and the Duke of Windsor (sometime Edward VIII ).

The origin of the Knight was to be found not in the Roman Army who although having light cavalry was essentially comprised of Infantry, but amongst the barbaric hoards the Goths and Huns during the Dark Ages.  The Goths first demonstrated the method of cavalry to great effect in the defeat of the Romans at Adrianople in 378, but it was the adaptation of the horses stirrup most likely developed in China during the fifth century which provided the mounted soldier with not only a firm seat, but also enabled him to use his weapons especially the heavy lances which were often used with great effect.

The word knight was said to come from the Old English word cnight, which means a household retainer. The English used the word to describe the French mounted soldiers when they came to England in 1066 after the Norman Conquest. These soldiers were in fact just warriors who were trained to fight on horseback in the service of his liege-lord. This mounted warrior a great advantage on the battlefield as they could use both their speed and momentum during a charge to trample the rider's enemies; the riders could also use the long lance they often carried to injure their enemies while remaining out of reach of their weapons.

In the fifteen century the position of the knight was well established throughout Europe. Most typical villages in England had their gentleman or 'Knight' bearing for civilian use, his shield showing his coat of arms. The design of the crests which were included into the armorial bearings, were also borne upon his signet ring and often used pressed into the melted sealing wax to seal important documents. 

Although warfare and elegances form the bedrock of the concept of knighthood other factors also play a part as the knight in essence is a mounted warrior,  the possession of a horse would obviously be rather important as it is a little difficult to be chivalric without one. The cost however of owning a horse, armour, weapons and the training required to use them effectively was rather expensive, which would preclude most people other than the more well established families and landowners. 

Shields were made from wood or metal and were covered with cloth or fur. In heraldry the shield is a very important item as it carries the charge or special design, these special designs or 'charges' are the figures or bearings placed upon his shield. These can be imaginative, natural or purely artificial objects although they usually have some connection with the bearer of the arms.

Carved, painted and gilded lime wood Arms


A selection of coats of arms carved, painted and gilded by sculptor Ian G Brennan

Originally there six colours or tinctures used in painting the shield. Red -gules; Blue - azure; Black - sable; Green - vert; Purple - purpure; The metals are Gold - or; Silver - argent; Later on other colours were added with the growth of Heraldry these additional tinctures should also include the furs, the original two being vair and ermine.One of the most important rules of Heraldry is that a metal should not be laid on metal, nor a colour on a colour any arms which disobeys this principal is said to be false, however, at times as Heraldry grew and composite arms develop this rule was occasionally broken.  


Bronze sculpture by Ian G Brennan currently in progress is of a Knight at tournament

21 inches high (53cm)

In hot weather the chain mail became so hot a sleeveless garment or surcoat (over-coat) began to be worn over it, during the thirteen century the style of this surcoat became shorter and as it was by now the custom to also bear the individuals emblems upon the surcoat the expression 'bearing of arms' soon began to commonly be used. To protect the wearers head from the sun, the Knights helmet was covered by a scarf called a contoise mantling which again in battle was frequently being torn, as this torn mantling was considered to be honourable it was soon to be found in the achievements of arms, cut up into flame like shapes.

These Knights surcoats or mantles were also frequently torn off in the rigours of battle so the Crest which was unique to the individual Knight or in the case of a King a Crown was attached to the Knights helm. For centuries these Royal Crowns and Knights Crests were carved and painted by the artist and sculptor of the day and often were made from wood or occasionally leather. Today and for the past two decades the artist now commissioned by the Royal Household to produce all these unique and ornately carved and gilded Royal Crowns, Coronets and Knights Crests is sculptor Ian G Brennan.

Although Ian still carves these Crowns and Crests from wood and other suitable materials nowadays they are no longer used in the battle field battle but are now affixed to the Knights helms (helmets) and placed in the historic Royal settings of St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle and Henry V11, Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.  For further details of the over eighty Knights Crests and Royal Crowns produced by sculptor Ian G Brennan for Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey;  Bath Crests ; Garter Crests

During the middle ages military commanders pitted their skills against each other on the tourney field. This rough and often dangerous military 'play' would often so closely resemble real battle conditions that it often resulted in serious injures or worse. These tournaments were a series of contest enacted by the higher ranks of the military. This 'melee' was the event that most closely copied the style of fighting that the combatants usually encountered on a real battle field. Any number of men would fight with swords, maces and various other hand held weapons, however the most noble and prestigious of all these sports on the tourney field was jousting. 

Tournaments were held in the midst of big cities to train young Knights for battle and the Heralds were there to see fair play. The jousting grounds in London was in a large open space at Smithfield, now more famous today for the meat market, a tournament attracted huge crowds very much like a modern cup final with the Knights jousting each other. Galleries were placed alongside the fighting space called the lists and were the accommodation for important spectators which included the Sovereign along with the tournament Queen. Other less noble spectators watched the match from the raised banks.

The tournaments often began with trumpets being sounded; the Heralds in their colourful tabards announced the rules and then shouted loudly out the contestants names and titles. For jousting the first six Knights with lances raised ride up to the challengers pavilion and each in turn touched a Challengers shield with the tip of his lance. The challenge once having been accepted each opposing mounted Knight would take up their positions at each end of a low wooden barrier (the tilt) which ran down the centre of the lists which were around 200 metres long. Once again a fanfare was sounded and the Knights would furiously gallop towards each other either side of the barrier.   

The Knights with a mighty thrust of his lance would try to win the best of three lances by breaking his lance against his adversary's shield, crest or if possible unhorse the rider to win the match. The Knights lances were usually hollow and not pointed but tipped with Cornell's which blunts them so as to reduce the chance of serious injury to the opponent.. The clash of men and weapons riding at maximum speed on their horses would be most dramatic and the knights despite being mounted in their suits of armour in a high backed saddle would if hit often were catapulted into the air by the force of his opponents lance. Only Knights of Noble birth over at least three generations would be allowed to ride at tournament.


A Crest carved by Ian placed above the Knight of the Bath, Lord Craig of Radley stall in Westminster Abbey; The Crest depicts a Medieval Knight celebrating winning a point at tournament shown by the Knights broken lance


One point is made by breaking the lance between the waist and neck of the opposing Knight. Two points we made by breaking the lance on the helm of the opponent, this was more difficult to do as the head sweeps back with the force of the blow which would often leave the lance unbroken. Three points would be made by breaking the lance and also bringing the rider to the ground. The victor on this occasion would also win the defeated knights horse. If all the opposing Knights were defeated others rode to meet the Challenger until only one Knight were to remain mounted and was then proclaimed Tournament Champion. This Knight would then be crowned with flowers by the Tournament Queen and presented with his prize, these were often magnificent objects made from gold and covered in jewels; frequently the Tournament Champion also received as his prize, a fine noble steed.  


The first Crest Ian G Brennan carved was placed upon a Knights of the Baths helm in Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey


The armoured knight and his force formed the backbone of the medieval European army and when disciplined could turn the tide of battle, often the mere sight of the armoured cavalry could be enough to cause the enemy to flee without any fighting. However without battle to keep the men in fighting mood they could become bored and a possible liability to the ruler, his people or even the church, therefore a set of ethics were introduced now called the 'code of chivalry' which gradually refined into a loose set of rules of the time and helped curb the semi-legitimised vandalism of marauding knights.

Another important aspect of medieval knighthood was the adherence to a knightly code, virtues Goals which was considered a Knight should aspire included certain qualities such as prowess, loyalty, generosity, courtesy, gentlemanly conduct and also owing allegiance to his King or Prince. All such virtues that once inspired the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

King Edward III, it was thought inspired by the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table devised a high honour as a reward for loyalty and for military merit to bring together in close companionship the Sovereign and twenty five of the most outstanding military leaders of the country at that time, as a means of marking and securing alliances; This the highest order of chivalry namely The 'Most Noble Order of the Garter' was founded in 1348 with the first of these Garter Knights being the Prince of Wales, the 'Black Prince'. 

Few of these original  Knights were much over the age of 30 and four were under the age of 20, the other founder-knights had all served in the French campaigns of the time, including the battle of Crécy and three were foreigners who previously had sworn allegiance to the English king, making twenty six Knights in all. 


Click on the images below to enlarge


St George's Chapel - Henry V11, Lady Chapel

A selection of the over eighty Crowns, Coronets and Crests carved, painted and gilded during the past two decades by Ian G Brennan for the Knights of the Garter and Knights of the Bath.

'The Most Noble Order of the Garter' was at the time and remains to this day the foremost Order of Chivalry and now is one of the oldest and most important of all such Orders throughout the world, followed by the premier meritorious Order of the Crown 'The Most Honourable Order of the Bath.'   Ian G Brennan has recently completed eight carved and painted Crests for the latest Knights of the Bath which were placed in Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey in time for the Instillation of the latest Knights Grand Cross of the Most Noble Order of the Bath. These carved Crests included Griffins, a pair of Labradors, a white horse and also a Knight in Armour riding at tournament. .
Also recently completed were three Crests the latest Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. These commissions were two carved Crests and a Coronet again all were carved from lime wood and then painted and gilded. They were the carved Stag for former British Prime Minister Sir John Major and a carved Griffin for Lord Bingham of Cornhill who was the former lord chief justice. The carved Coronet was produced for Lady Soames, the daughter of former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. In 2007 Ian also carved the two Royal Crests for HM Queen Elizabeth II two sons, Prince Andrew; The Duke of York and Prince Edward; The Earl of Wessex. which were also placed above the Royal Knights stalls (seats) in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. 


The carved Griffin Crest - St Georges’s Chapel Windsor

Special Video Feature!

   Creating a Griffin Crest for a Knight of the 'Most Noble Order of the Garter' to be placed in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

A series of short movies designed to be viewed with a Broadband speed of 2Mbs or better; showing in various stages how Ian carved a Griffin crest for a Knight of the Garter; from the lime wood log to the completed carved and painted crest being placed in position upon the Knights helm in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle. please click here



A small selection of these painted Coronets and Crests for Knights of the Garter and Bath carved by Ian G Brennan
for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle; sizes range between 12 - 27 inches high


Soon after the Crusades during the Middle Ages, many people began to feel the need for family names which would identify them more closely than the names they bore. The nobles who had joined the Crusades were aware of the value of surnames and were first to adopt them, usually from the names of the lands they owned.

Surnames of the workers upon these lands eventually evolved from their Christian names, which when the population increased was soon not sufficient enough to identify one John from another, this then gradually evolved into four basic categories. Pet and Nicknames, Local Surnames, Kinship Surnames and Occupational Surnames, from these names identification in the form of symbols and colours soon began to developed into the heraldry we know today.


 Various carved and painted Coats of Arms by heraldic sculptor Ian G Brennan

 for further details on having an individual coat of arms or crest produced, please click here; 


 A successful heraldic design understands the balance of proportion, colour and a disciplined boldness, with form and texture playing an important part in modern arms representation. The basic rule however is and always was to fill the space on the shield bodily so that the charges fit comfortably within its confines. The final decision of the design is usually left to the heraldic artist to base the artwork using both experience and a practiced eye.

Birds and beasts have featured prominently in heraldry from the earliest times, and any animal can and has been portrayed. They are usually drawn from the imagination of heralds and artists and some very fanciful designs have emerged over the centuries. English Heraldry now has a feast of wonderful and improbable creatures, which have all been accepted by the College of Arms providing they were distinctive and properly placed on official record. 


Since the first Knight of the Garter Edward, Prince of Wales ( the Black Prince ) was installed by King Edward III in around 1348, there have been 990 Garter Knights , the most recent being HM King Harold V of Norway.  There have been many famous Knights of the Garter installed during the HM the Queen's  present 50 year reign. Since 5th December 1953 the Queen who is the Thirtieth Sovereign has installed over eighty Knights into the Order which have included many of the most prominent figures in recent years from British public life, including former war time leader Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, as well as many foreign Royals. 

These also include other former British Prime Ministers, Heath, Wilson and Callaghan who all became Knights of the Garter, Baroness Thatcher was installed as a Lady Companion and HRH the Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Philip are Royal Knights. Juan Carlos, King of Spain, Carl Gustaf, King of Sweden and more recently King Harald V of Norway became extra Knights Companions, as is His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan, who was made a Garter Knight in 1998.

Each newly appointed Knight, or more recently Lady of the Order is assigned a stall in St George's Chapel Windsor from which their Banner displaying their coat of arms is hung. Beneath the banner is a Knights helm (helmet) on which is placed the carved and painted representation of the Knights Crown or Crest. In the case of Stranger Knights who are Sovereign, Princes or Princesses, instead of a carved Crest their carved and gilded representation of the State Crown is placed upon their helm. For Ladies Companion, who, as women by the rules of English Heraldry has right to a Crest, therefore a Coronet of rank if they are a peeress placed upon the helm. 

Crests today are an impressive colourful form of three-dimensional heraldry, and are often chosen to reflect in some way features of the wearers career or  perhaps a pun on his name, for example the crest for Lord Leverhulme KG  is a cockerel standing on a trumpet which both serves as a method of awakening from a sleep ; 'crowing and sounding 'Reveille'. ( In French 'Lever' is to  'get up' or 'raise'.) The Attendance at a Royal  'Levee' was once the duty of courtiers to assist the Sovereign to arise after a night's sleep.


The Lord Leverhulme and The Lord Butler Crests


A more recent example of a design of a Crest again being influenced by a pun on the name was for Lord Butler of Brockwell KG. The Crest recently carved by Ian has a Badger (or 'Brock' as the badger is otherwise known) incorporated in the design. This Badger Crest is one of the most recent commissions Ian has had placed in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.                                   

The heraldic description of The Lord Butler Crest which were designed at the College of Arms in London and granted on the 10 December 2003 is; On a wreath Or and Azure Out of a Well a demi Badger Azure the head Argent and eye-stripes Azure.

The 'Badge' was similar to the flags and banners raised by the limited number of major contestants on the medieval battlefield, however even well known badges could become confusing during the melee, when in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, the Earl of Warwick confused the silver star or mullet of the Earl of Oxford with the white Yorkshire rose, attacked his own supporters and consequently lost the day.

Badges also proved to be of great practical military importance during such battles, these 'badges' were free standing devices used by the medieval magnate during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The badge was borne by the followers and retainers of those capable of sustaining sizeable levies of men, and as such became better known than individual arms and consequently played a vital part in battlefield identification.

More recent heraldic devices, generally reflects the life of the person concerned perhaps in the field of the, politics, commerce, armed services, or the Arts, for example Sir Paul McCartney the former Beatle, Knighted for his outstanding achievements in his musical career and charity work was recently granted his own coat of arms.

The design of Sir Paul McCartney's coat of arms granted in June 2001, not only incorporates his musical career, but also incorporates his Liverpudlian roots with the crest showing a Liver bird holding a guitar in its claw. The time he spent with fellow band members John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Star are also represented in Sir Paul's design by the four curved emblems on the shield which resembles 'beetles' backs, while the two black circles also shown on the shield symbolises records and CDs. The motto ' Ecce Cor Meum ' in Latin is Behold my Heart is the title of the oratorio Sir Paul wrote during his first wife's Linda's illness.

Sir Paul McCartney, Kt, M.B.E.  Coat of Arms 


The mantling or scrollwork around the shield on a coat of arms was adopted from the cloak worn by the Knight. Early Arms depicted the cloak more accurately than contemporary designs. The outer surface reflects the predominant colour of the arms with the inner lining indicating the predominant metal. The swirling  design originally represented the tears and slashes to the mantle which often occurred in battle, however through the centuries these original designs have changed to a more vine like effect.


Examples of wood carvings of Coats of Arms recently carved in lime wood by Ian G Brennan have completely contrasting designs, from the more complex medieval design to the less complicated but no less wonderful design depicting a carved and twisted cord on a Priests Coat of Arms, shown above. This perhaps compares to the more contemporary design of the mantling for the recently awarded Arms for Sir Paul McCartney

A play on words in heraldry known as 'canting' can also be shown in the design of a coats of arms, an example of canting can be found reflected in the arms of Lord Ashburton KG, his family name being Baring on his banner it shows the head of a bear with a ring in its nose - a bear ring. The design of Arms may also be reflected by the Sovereign at the time by some distinguished, gallantry or chivalrous act, these are called augmentations of honour. 

This relief carving of the Royal Arms was not required to be produced in a full three-dimension so on this occasion was produced in cast iron, before being painted and gilded. However the Royal Crest itself was required to be in a more three dimensional form, so sculptor Ian G Brennan, first carved the Royal Crest from wax which was then cast in bronze.


The Royal Arms placed above the Entrance of the Royal College of Arms in London.

cast iron and bronze -  65 inches high


The main element of the Royal Coat of Arms is the shield which is divided into four quarters. The three golden lions on a red background which occupy the first and fourth quarters symbolising England. A red lion rearing on its hind legs inside a red border are in the second quarter and are the Arms of Scotland, and the  golden harp with silver strings on a blue background  in the third quarter are the Arms of Ireland

The Royal Arms used today by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have evolved over nine centuries. The Royal Arms of England ( Gules, three Lions Passent Guardant Or) were first used by Richard the Lionheart and remained in use on their own until 1340 when King Edward III 'quartered' them with the ancient royal arms of France to symbolise his claim to the French throne.

In 1801, under the Treaty of Paris, George III renounced his title as King of France so the French quartering was removed. The Royal Arms of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is quartered with the Arms of England which occupied the first and fourth quarter, Scotland the second and Ireland the third. Wales had long been recognised by the creation of the Prince of Wales and was therefore incorporation in the Royal Arms before the emblems of Scotland and Ireland. 

The Hanoverian monarchs, who followed the house of Stuart, included in their arms heraldic references to their German possessions, which included the famous white horse of Hanover. Queen Victoria adopted a simplified form of the Royal Arms which have remained unchanged to this day. The belt surrounding the shield bears the motto of the Order of the Garter, "Hon Y Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" or "Shame to him who evil thinks." The motto below the shield bears the words; "Dieu et Mon Droit,"  which means "God and My Right."  HM The Queen is the only Lady in England who is entitled to bear her personal arms upon a shield along with her crest, rather than her Arms being placed on a lozenge.

The final significant change occurred when Victoria became Queen in 1837. As a woman she could not succeed to the throne of Hanover, so the shield of pretence was omitted from her Arms Apart from changes in the initials of the Sovereign, the Royal Arms have remained the same ever since.The supporters of the Royal Arms have over the years undergone many changes which have included white horses and lions, greyhounds, red dragons, falcons and the unicorn as in the design today, included in the Arms. The Crown being the symbol  of Sovereignty and has appeared in many styles in Royal Heraldry. Today's Crown on the Royal Arms is based on the St Edwards Crown which has been used for Coronations since the reign of King Charles II.  

The supporters of the Royal Arms have over the years undergone many changes which have included white horses and lions, greyhounds, red dragons, falcons and the unicorn as in the design today, included in the Arms. The Crown being the symbol  of Sovereignty and has appeared in many styles in Royal Heraldry. Today's Crown on the Royal Arms is based on the St Edwards Crown which has been used for Coronations since the reign of King Charles II.    

The Crowned  Royal Lion of England is a the earliest Royal beast, and as the Lion the King of the Beasts it has been the most utilised of decorative devices in Royal history. The Lion  appears in the arms of Great Britain, Spain, Denmark and numerous other European countries and in 1127 Henry I used the lion as an ornament on a shield. The early English heralds often confused the lion with the leopard and although it was never drawn spotted as a real leopard, it was however described as leo-pard, or a lion as a leopard. Lions in medieval times were often associated with Christianity, representing justice and righteous power. King Richard I had three lions on his Royal Seal and subsequently this device came to be used as the Royal Arms of England.


The bronze Royal Lion of England by sculptor Ian G Brennan


The Unicorn which is in partnership with the Royal Lion of England on the Royal Coat of Arms originated in Scotland and is known today as a symbol of purity, chastity and innocence. The unicorn being a lunar emblem is thus balanced with the Royal Lion which has long been considered a symbol of the sun, both  representing balancing day and night in the supporting role on the Royal Arms. The unicorn is chained because in medieval times a free unicorn was considered a very dangerous beast and only a virgin could tame a unicorn.


Click here for more pictures
The Royal Unicorn limited edition bronze shown both coloured and with the bronze patina
37 inches ( 94cm) long - bronze

for further photographs of the Unicorn please click here.


The Celtic Welsh Dragon is the emblem of Wales the Red Dragon Dreadful' and it was blazed on King Arthur's helmet in battle. On the Royal Coat of Arms 'Labels' are added to the achievements by the members of the Royal family to distinguish their individual Arms, these labels are used to indicate relationships and can be seen in the coat of arms used by their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Kent and also in the design of the crest for The Duke of Gloucester carved by Ian in June 1998, now placed in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle.

On Coat of Arms white labels with distinctive features added to them are used so that the individual royal arms may be told apart, with the exception of The Prince of Wales, who as heir apparent uses a plain white label of three points, these achievements have either a three or five point label shown around the neck of the royal lion and unicorn, these labels indicates the son and grandson of a Sovereign.


The Prince of Wales during the Order of the Garter Procession outside St George's Chapel Windsor


Prince William of Wales, as second in line to the throne, like his father uses a white label of three points, however in reflecting Prince William's own wishes he has in addition a small red sea-shell (‘escallop’) added to the central point.  The red escallop shells, have been incorporated in his mother Diana Princess of Wales Spencer Arms since the 16th century.

Prince Henry of Wales ( Prince Harry ) has a five-pointed label which is also marked with red escallops on the first, third and fifth points. When Prince Henry becomes the son or brother of the monarch, his label will be then be reduced to three points, the two blank points will then disappear leaving three of the points, each of which will displaying a red escallop.

On 23 April in 2006, St George's day; HRH Prince Andrew The Duke of York and Prince Edward The Earl of Wessex were both made Royal Knights of the Garter by Her Majesty the Queen. The Duke of York and Prince Edward The Earl of Wessex were both appointed to this the most senior British order of chivalry amid a weekend of celebrations to mark Her Majesties 80th birthday. This high honour recognises their seniority with the Royal Family and join their father HRH Prince Philip, their brother HRH The Prince of Wales and sister The Princess Royal and more recently in 2008 HRH Prince William of Wales in the Order.  

The Royal Crests for HM Queen Elizabeth II two sons, Prince Andrew; The Duke of York and Prince Edward; The Earl of Wessex. To distinguish the two similar Royal crests each of the central points on the white labels around the Lions necks have there own individual design; the Tudor rose for The Earl of Wessex and an anchor for The Duke of York. Both crests by sculptor Ian G Brennan were completed in 2007 and placed above the Royal Knights stalls (seats) in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. 

The Royal Crests for The Duke of York and The Earl of Wessex which Ian carved during 2006 were then placed above the Royal Knights stalls in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle. To distinguish the two Princess crests each of the central points on the white labels around the Lions necks have there own individual design; an anchor for The Duke of York and the Tudor rose for The Earl of Wessex. 


Prince William’s Royal Arms

Prince William’s royal crest design on the royal coat of arms drawing shows the royal lion standing upon the top of an open ducal coronet, which as a drawing works very well, unfortunately the difficulties in producing exactly as originally designed, a three dimensional version with the lion standing around the top of the coronet has always been a problem since the middle ages as it is not possible to carve a lion in three dimensions in the correct pose, which would enable all four of the lions legs to fit on the top of the coronet; so many different solutions have been tried over the centuries without much real success. Compromises were made, such as the lion standing inside the open coronet; as for the Duke of Gloucester shown below and also the Lion straddled across the top of the coronet as with the royal crest for the Duke of Windsor.


The Duke of Gloucester Royal Crest The Duke of Windsor Royal Crest Prince Williams Royal Crest


Prince William’s Crest being made in Ian’s studio

When Ian was commissioned in 2006 to carve Prince Andrew and Prince Edward’s royal crest this long standing problem creating a lion sculpture standing around the top of the coronet once again materialise, so Ian suggested that he could set a thin ‘pole’ in the middle of the coronet for one of the lions legs to rest on, as this gilded pole would not be seen when viewed from below in the Chapel. This idea was approved for both Princes royal crests and two years later Ian used the same technique when he was commissioned to create Prince Williams’s royal crest.


Although when the Crowns and Crests are placed high upon the Knights helmets in St George’s Chapel in Windsor and Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey a lot of the detail cannot be seen from below, Ian still chooses to finely carve the Crowns and Crests so they could be viewed from any angle, including the top.

Beneath the Knights Crest in St George’s Chapel are placed the Knights swords; These swords have for centuries been carved from pine wood, a tradition Ian continued with when he was commissioned to produce some new swords in 2008 for the latest Knights, including Prince William sword which he also carved mostly from Scots pine.

Prince Williams’s sword before and after painting gilding


Once the swords were carved they were then painted and gilded, Ian then spent several hours aging the swords so they would blend in with the other swords in the Chapel which were originally produced in the Middle Ages.


HRH Prince William’s carved Knight of the Garter Sword

When Ian was carving Prince Williams sword, he was also carving a the sculpture of HMS Victory from original oak removed from the lower gun deck of HMS Victory; so he decided to set into the hilt of the Prince’s sword a piece of original Victory oak from Lord Nelson’s Flagship, as Prince William being second in line to the British Throne; the future King of England will one day also be the Head of the Senior Service; The Royal Navy.

In Ian's work as a sculptor, particularly when he is sculpting Animals and Birds many different styles are required. Shown below are two different styles of sculptures depicting Swans. The 'Swan within a Naval Crown' was carved from lime wood by Ian in 1992 and is shown here placed in position at St George's Chapel Windsor Castle for the former British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, who was installed as a Knight of the Garter in the same year. Ian's work as a heraldic sculptor requires these crests to be rather more traditional in style, detail, colour and design.  


Sir Edward Heath's Swan Crest in St George's Chapel Windsor Castle


However, Ian's other wildlife sculptures for example the Swan and cygnets a limited edition bronze ( below ) are produced in a more natural pose, in much finer detail and therefore more realistic in style and composition..


Swan and Cygnets sculpture cast in Bronze 

34 inches wide (87cm) 27 inches high (89cm) 


Heraldry began with and have over the centuries continue to be used today as a specific mark of the fighting man with  their coat of arms being placed upon their fighting vehicle, This painted and gilded woodcarving of the starboard side entrance port that Ian has carved onboard  Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory (circa 1765) shows the Royal Crown symbol amongst the carved scrollwork.

A reminder perhaps to the sailors in Nelson's time in particularly the ' Pressed Men' of the ships crew that they fought in defence of the Crown. Nowadays most of the soldiers, sailors or airman wear a specific device upon there uniform which is heraldic in nature.


Starboard Side  Entrance Port on Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory carved by Ian during 1989/90

( 8 feet high X 10 feet wide )

For further information about Lord Nelson's Flagship HMS Victory please click this link


Coats of Arms and Crests however are not exclusive to the fighting man. Corporations, Churches, Clubs, Schools, University, City and Government Offices, as well as Private individuals all still proudly display their equivalent of a coat of arms in some form or another. The unifying quality of a coat of arms exists today as in they did  800 years ago with William the Conqueror  and  all the formidable rulers of the Middle Ages, which then offered a unique service in identifying and binding together groups and individuals serving one cause.


For details showing how individual Coats of Arms and Crests are produced in wood and bronze ; please click here. 


As per tradition on the 23 April, St George's Day the latest Knights of the Garter are officially announced from Buckingham Palace. On the 16th of June 2003 in glorious sunshine the pomp and splendour of the Garter procession could once again be seen as the latest Lady Companion and Knights of the Garter, along with the other previously installed Knights and Lady Companions of the Garter began the procession at Castle Hill walking down from the State Apartments at Windsor Castle  to the lower wards before entering St George's Chapel.
Each newly appointed Knight of the Garter, or more recently in the case of a Lady of the Order is assigned a stall in St George's Chapel Windsor and each Knight of the Bath assigned a stall in Henry V11 Chapel in Westminster Abbey, from which their Banner displaying their coat of arms is hung. Beneath the banner is a Knights helm (helmet) on which is placed the carved and painted representation of the Knights Crown or Crest.
In the case of  the 'Stranger Knights' of the Order of the Garter, who are a Sovereign, Princes or Princesses, instead of a carved Crest their carved and gilded representation of the State Crown is placed upon the Knights helm. For Ladies Companion, who as women by the rules of English Heraldry have no right to a Crest, a Coronet of rank, if they are a peeress, is placed upon the helm in St George's Chapel above were they are seated.
For over two decades Ian G Brennan has produced over eighty painted and gilded Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the Royal Household, which have then been placed in St George's Chapel Windsor and Henry V11, Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey for the latest Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Knights of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath which are mostly carved from lime wood which Ian then paints and gilds.
Ian receives detailed coloured pictures of the Crowns, Coronets and Crest to be used as an accurate source to replicate the design. Where appropriate the carved and gilded rims of the Crowns are individually set with carved and painted jewels and the golden arches placed above the crimson caps, fitted with rows of white or silver carved pearls.


Various carved Crowns, crests and coronets for St George's Chapel Windsor and Henry VII Chapel Westminster Abbey, including the crown for HM King Juan Carlos of Spain, a coronet for the Duchess of Norfolk and the crest depicting a Kiwi holding an ice axe for former Mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary.



A small selection of privately commissioned Coat of Arms and Crests in wood and bronze


 Commissioned Coat of Arms near completion,

Carved from Lime Wood 30 inches high x 26 inches wide



Carved and polished wood 



A lime wood carved, painted and gilded Arms     - The moulded and bronze replica  

       25 inches high ( 64 cm)   









The larger carved Arms were carved in wood; the smaller version cast in bronze  




Cast in bronze and then painted.

18 inches high.




The woodcarving of the Duke of Devonshire crest prior to its painting - now placed in St George's Chapel Windsor



To see the various stages of carving this crest, please click Here




Stained and polished wood  

( 22 inches high )











European Heraldry

European regional differences in heraldry tended to become more emphasised as medieval civilisations gave way to the growth of nationalism and the evolution of strong centralised monarchies which took upon themselves the control of armorial bearings and appointed their own heraldic authorities.

Holland and Switzerland stood unrivalled in there widespread use of heraldry, Burgher arms which date from the late Middle Ages are characterised by the absence of helmets.

Italian heraldry reflects its troubled history, with successive German, French, Spanish and Austrian invaders all living their mark but despite these foreign interventions, Italian heraldry has developed certain characteristics distinct to itself, in particular the use of almond-shaped horse head-shaped shields. Central Italian heraldry has been much influenced by the church, by incorporating papal insignia into their arms, most notably the papal tiara and the cross keys.

Hungarian heraldry is closely akin to that of Austria and Germany, Poland separates itself from the rest of Europe by virtue of its pre-heraldic runic signs which were later absorbed by heraldry and came to constitute its principal feature.

In France the French revolution of 1789 saw the abolition of heraldry, which was replaced some fifteen years later by a new Imperial Heraldry. This was predictably characterised by weapons and items of war reflecting Napoleonic campaigns.


For further information about Ian's work, please contact :-

Photographs taken at St George's Chapel Windsor Castle are used with the kind permission of The Deans and Canons of Windsor, permission for further use of these images must be sought from the Chapter Office, The Cloisters, Windsor Castle. SL4 INJ.  

Photographs taken at Henry V11 Chapel  Westminster Abbey used with kind permission of The Dean and Chapter of Westminster, permission for further use of these images must be  sought from the Chapter Office, Westminster Abbey , 20 Dean's Yard .London. SW1P 3PA


For more detailed information about the History and Art of Heraldry, notable publications include:



By Henry Bedingfeld, Rouge Croix Pursuivant (now York Herald), and Peter Gwynn-Jones, Lancaster Herald (now Garter) Casebound, 160 pages, with many illustrations in colour.
Published by Greenwich Editions, 1993 (ISBN 0-86288-279-6).
Price: £7.

Many of the illustrations in this large-format but surprisingly good-value book have never been published before.

The Art of Heraldry. Origins, Symbols, Designs

By Peter Gwynn-Jones, Garter Principal King of Arms.
Casebound, 128 pages, with many illustrations in colour.
Published by Parkgate Books, 1998 (ISBN 1-85585-5607).
Price: £6.99.

A personal account by the current head of the College of Arms of the evolution and present state of heraldic design in England and Wales. Richly illustrated with many new and recent examples, principally the author’s own designs, as well as older instances, some redrawn for this book.

The Most Noble Order of the Garter - 650 Years

By Peter J. Begent and Hubert Chesshyre, Clarenceux King of Arms and Secretary to the Order of the Garter, with a Foreword by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., and a chapter on the Statutes of the Order by Dr Lisa Jefferson.
Casebound, 470 pages, including 140 illustrations, mostly in colour, and 4 colour plates.
Published by Spink and Son Limited, 1999 (ISBN 1 902 040 20 1).
Price: £75

In this important new work, published to commemorate the 650th anniversary of the first Garter Feast held on St. George's Day, 23 April 1349, the authors concentrate on the foundation, statutes, procedures, ceremonies, personnel, robes and insignia of the Order rather than its political, sociological, biographical or art-historical aspects. It contains a list of all those appointed to the Order between 1348 and 1998, and as a valuable bonus it lists all the Officers of the Order for the same period, as well as shedding much new light on the origins and duties of their offices. The book breaks new ground in examining in detail the personalities and the skills of the individual craftsmen who have been responsible for the production of the banners, crests and stall plates for St. George's Chapel from the late Victorian era to the present day. It records the appointment of the first Lady Companion of the Order in 1990, and the fate of those who transgressed against the high standards of conduct required by the statutes. It is a work of unique interest and authority, which will appeal to a far wider readership than those interested primarily in the orders of chivalry.

Heraldry in National Trust Houses

By Thomas Woodcock, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, and John Martin Robinson, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary.
Casebound, 256 pages with many full colour illustrations and black and white line drawings
Published by The National Trust, 2000 (ISBN 0 7078 0277 6)
Price: £29.99

Heraldry can provide a fascinating insight into the history of a family and a house. At Blickling in Norfolk, visitors encounter the crest of the Hobarts, the bull, as soon as they reach the front door and the Egerton lion is so ubiquitous at Tatton Park, Cheshire that it even appears on the salt cellar in the kitchen. With the help of stunning photography and line drawings this book explores the many aspects of heraldry from recording marriages, honours and social status to dating historic buildings.

Rebels, Pretenders and Impostors

By Clive Cheesman, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, and Jonathan Williams, curator of Roman and iron-age coins in the British Museum.
Casebound, 192 pages, with 4 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations.
Published by British Museum Press, 2000 (ISBN 0 7141 0899 5).
Price: £17.99

Throughout history individuals have pictured themselves becoming emperor, king, queen or president. Some have proved successful, others not, while some were pure fantasists. Many produced coins, banknotes, stamps and heraldic devices as proof of the status they claimed. In exploring the issues surrounding political legitimacy, this book brings together evidence for an amazing variety of would-be sovereigns and phantom countries, rebel states and royal impostors, ranging from ancient to modern times and from the Orient to the New World.

Heralds of Today

By Hubert Chesshyre, Clarenceux King of Arms, and Adrian Ailes, with a foreword by the Earl of Arundel, Deputy Earl Marshal of England.
Paperback, 64 pages, with many heraldic line drawings and two black and white photographs.
Published by Illuminata Publishers, 2001 (ISBN 0 9537845 1 7).
Price: £7.99

A biographical list of the officers iof the College of Arms, 1987 – 2001, this book supplements and updates the same authors’ Heralds of Today (1986). Available from the College of Arms.


Further information regarding these publications can be found at ;



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