The Origins of Heraldry part 6

Geoffrey Plantagenet
We have only to compare the designs in the Bayeux Tapestry with those seen in the Luttrell Psalter to see how much over the course of 300 years the quality of the artwork progressed from the crude Norman and Saxon drawings. Fortunately we are able to bridge the gap with earlier illustrations prior to 1340. There is an interesting enamel which has the portrait of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, the son-in-law of Henry 1.This shows the arms used on his shield that were given to him by Henry 1 on the occasion of his marriage in 1127. Four Gold Lions appear on the shield , and as Geoffrey was the ancestor in the male line of the Plantagenets who were the first kings of England to use coats of arms these gold lions may in a sense be the forerunners of the lions on the royal arms used to this day. This enamel dates from 1136 and it is the earliest example of an heraldic shield in existence.

Next to the enamel we have the evidence of the seals, which in the period from 1135 to 1155 show the use of heraldic designs. Seals were used not only in the Middle ages but much earlier to authenticate documents for those that could not read. In ages when few were literate there had to be some sign that men could easily understand to show that the person who was supposed to have produced the document had actually done so. The seal which was attached to the document had to have something that identified the user of the seal. There is evidence of the use of seals as early as the Babylonian and Assyrian empires, and the practice was brought to Europe long before writing became commonplace. Thus though we often speak of King John having signed the Magna Carta in 1215, what we really mean is that he sealed it, for it is his seal and not his signature which is shown on the document. Apart from the enamels I quoted earlier from 1136 the seals of arms constitute our earliest physical evidence of the appearance of coats of arms.
Seal of Edward III

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