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Medieval Shield Designs

Medieval life and Times

The Medieval Shield
Medieval Shields were developed to shield, or protect, a knight or soldier from the direct blows from the weapons of their enemies. Medieval shields were made of a variety of materials including Hide or animal skins (leather), Bark, Wood, Metal, Leather-covered wood and Wicker or basket work. The art of designing, displaying, describing, and recording arms is called heraldry. The Escutcheon (also called scutcheon) was the term used in heraldry for the shield which was displayed in a coat of arms.

Shields
Medieval Coat of Arms

Medieval Shield Designs - Purpose
Medieval shield designs were decorated with symbols which were used as a means to recognise a knight when they were jousting at tournaments and on the battlefield. This form of recognition via Medieval shield designs was necessary as the armor worn by a Knight included a visor which completely covered the face. The decoration and colors on a shield, or the shield symbols were therefore highly functional allowing knights to be easily recognised.

Meanings of Medieval Shield Designs
The were many personal meanings behind the Medieval shield designs and the symbols that were used to decorate them. The Knights Shield displayed an heraldic blazon which identified the Knight. The Shield and Spurs were symbols of Knighthood. A disgraced Knight had his spurs hacked off and his shield was hung upside down as a sign of dishonor. The most famous shield designs featured the cross which was adopted by the religious knights of the era including the Hospitallers and the Knights Templar who had fought during the Crusades. The Knights Templar order adopted the splayed red cross as their emblem. A common design on a shield was a pun on the family last name. For example, the coat of arms for . Some shields showed allegiance to one side in a battle by putting its symbol on their shields. The cross on a coat of arms often meant that the original bearer had been to the Crusades."

Medieval Shield Designs - Professions and Surnames
Many coats of arms feature indications of the profession or the surname. Common shield designs included a pun on the family name. The name Chandler indicated that the family profession was as candle makers and the name Frobisher was given to those who polished armor and swords and suitable symbols on Medieval shield designs would reflect these names. Surnames also create opportunities for animals to be shown such as Swynford (swine or boar).

Medieval Shield Designs - Symbols
A variety of symbols were used as representations in Medieval shield designs. Plants, animals, lines, and other objects all had special meanings for the owner of the shield.

  • Horse Shoe represented Good Luck
  • Chain represented Obligation
  • Helmet represented Wise Defence
  • Heart represented Sincerity or Charity
  • Crown represented Authority
  • Tower represented Society or Wealth
  • Sun represented Glory

Medieval Shield Designs - Line Symbols
A variety of line symbols were used as representations in Medieval shield designs. The lines had special meanings as follows:

  • Zigzag Lines represented Fire
  • Wavy Line represented Sea or Water
  • Bumpy Line represented Earth or Land
  • Crenulated Line represented a Town or Wall

Medieval Shield Shapes
There were many different Medieval Shield Shapes. The shapes and styles of the different shields changed as different types of body protection were developed with new ideas and technology. The different types of Medieval shield shapes included small. large, short, tall, round, oblong, rectangular, triangular, cylindrical and hexagonal.

Medieval Shield Symbols - Colors
The colors used with Medieval shield symbols were:

  • Yellow (Or)
  • White (Argent)
  • Red ( Gules)
  • Blue (Azure)
  • Black (Sable)
  • Green (Vert)
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