In England during the reign of Edward I ( 1239 - 1307 ), the language spoken in his court was French. Words such as Argent ( Silver), and Azure ( blue) were part of common speech. What came to be known as the blazon, the language of Heraldry, is derived for the most part from the specialized language of artists. To describe a shield exactly required a scientific approach to the language used, and the artisans tasked with creating the coat of arms for the knight or nobleman developed the heraldic language as we know it today. This language was one which was very new in Edward I’s day and was full of inconsistencies. In the Rolls of Edward 1, the noted American heraldic expert Gerald J. Brault notes "it was a matter of indifference to the early compilers whether they blazoned a charge a bend or a baston, a canton or a quarter, an indented or an engrailed cross, a mullet or an estoile, a pale or a pile: I use only the first of these terms having the same meaning. Crosslets were arbitrarily painted in a variety of ways, botonny, cross crosslet, fitchy, paty, plain, etc.: I say crusily for all such semI fields. . . . Compony, which designates a single row of checkers in early as well as present-day heraldry, is used here, but the expression counter-compony for a double row is a later innovation and has been omitted in favor of the medieval term chequey."
To make their job easier, as the number of shield designs grew (by the end of the Middle Ages, Brault notes, there were 800,000 of them), heralds began to compile (or convinced the court clerks to compile -- it's not clear who did the actual work) the rolls of arms that form the basis of Brault's study. There are painted rolls, which show actual colored images of rows of shields, and blazoned rolls, where the shields are only described in the language of heraldry. Some are actual scrolls of vellum, up to ten feet long; others have been cut apart and rebound as books; still others are later copies in book form. About 350 of the original medieval armorials, or heraldic rolls are still in existence today and they contain about 80,000 coats of arms. Of these 350 rolls 130 are for England alone. Although rolls of arms were compiled in France and England by the mid 13th century, the reign of Edward I, with 18 rolls surviving was viewed as the golden age of Heraldry, not only in England but in all of Western Europe.