A herald, or a herald of arms, is an officer of arms, ranking between pursuivant and king of arms. The title is commonly applied more broadly to all officers of arms.
Heralds were originally messengers sent by monarchs or noblemen to convey messages or proclamations—in this sense being the predecessors of modern diplomats. In the Hundred Years' War, French heralds challenged King Henry V to fight. During the Battle of Agincourt, the English herald and the French herald, Montjoie, watched the battle together from a nearby hill; both agreed that the English were the victors, and Montjoie provided King Henry V, who thus earned the right to name the battle, with the name of the nearby castle.
Like other officers of arms, a herald would often wear a surcoat, called a tabard, decorated with the coat of arms of his master. It was possibly due to their role in managing the tournaments of the Late Middle Ages that heralds came to be associated with the regulation of the knights' coats of arms. Heralds have been employed by kings and large landowners, principally as messengers and ambassadors. Heralds were required to organise, announce and referee the contestants at a tournament.This practice of heraldry became increasingly important and further regulated over the years, and in several countries around the world it is still overseen by heralds. In the United Kingdom heralds are still called upon at times to read proclamations publicly; for which they still wear tabards emblazoned with the royal coat of arms.
There are active official heralds today in several countries, including the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and the Republic of South Africa. In England and Scotland most heralds are full-time employees of the sovereign and are called "Heralds of Arms in Ordinary". Temporary appointments can be made of "Heralds of Arms Extraordinary". These are often appointed for a specific major state occasions, such as a coronation. The Canadian Heraldic Authority has created the position of "Herald of Arms Emeritus" with which to honor long-serving or distinguished heraldists. In Scotland, some Scottish clan chiefs, the heads of great noble houses, still appoint private officers of arms to handle cases of heraldic or genealogical importance of clan members, although these are usually pursuivants.
In addition, many orders of chivalry have heralds attached to them. These heralds may have some heraldic duties but are more often merely ceremonial in nature. Heralds which were primarily ceremonial in nature, especially after the decline of chivalry, were also appointed in various nations for specific events such as a coronation as additions to the pageantry of these occasions. In the Netherlands, heralds are appointed for the Dutch monarch's inauguration where they wore their tabards until 1948; these heralds proclaim the inauguration ceremony to have been completed to those inside and outside the Nieuwe Kerk.
A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement, which in its whole consists of a shield, supporters, a crest, and a motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization, school or corporation. The term itself of 'coat of arms' describing in modern times just the heraldic design, originates from the description of the entire medieval chainmail 'surcoat' garment used in combat or preparation for the latter.
A tabard is a type of short coat that was commonly worn by men during the late Middle Ages and early modern period in Europe. Generally worn outdoors, the coat was either sleeveless or had short sleeves or shoulder pieces. In its more developed form it was open at the sides, and it could be worn with or without a belt. Though most were ordinary garments, often work clothes, tabards might be emblazoned on the front and back with a coat of arms (livery), and in this form they survive as the distinctive garment of officers of arms.
The Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the head of Lyon Court, is the most junior of the Great Officers of State in Scotland and is the Scottish official with responsibility for regulating heraldry in that country, issuing new grants of arms, and serving as the judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon, the oldest heraldic court in the world that is still in daily operation.
The College of Arms, or Heralds' College, is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realms. The heralds are appointed by the British Sovereign and are delegated authority to act on behalf of the Crown in all matters of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research and the recording of pedigrees. The College is also the official body responsible for matters relating to the flying of flags on land, and it maintains the official registers of flags and other national symbols. Though a part of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom, the College is self-financed, unsupported by any public funds.
An officer of arms is a person appointed by a sovereign or state with authority to perform one or more of the following functions:
A pursuivant or, more correctly, pursuivant of arms, is a junior officer of arms. Most pursuivants are attached to official heraldic authorities, such as the College of Arms in London or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. In the mediaeval era, many great nobles employed their own officers of arms. Today, there still exist some private pursuivants that are not employed by a government authority. In Scotland, for example, several pursuivants of arms have been appointed by Clan Chiefs. These pursuivants of arms look after matters of heraldic and genealogical importance for clan members.
King of Arms is the senior rank of an officer of arms. In many heraldic traditions, only a king of arms has the authority to grant armorial bearings and sometimes certify genealogies and noble titles. In other traditions, the power has been delegated to other officers of similar rank.
New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary is the officer of arms responsible for the regulation of heraldry in New Zealand. Although affiliated with the College of Arms in London, the New Zealand Herald lives and works in New Zealand, and is not a member of the College Chapter. The current New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary is Phillip Patrick O’Shea.
Sir Malcolm Rognvald Innes of Edingight was Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland from 1981 until 2001.
The law of heraldic arms governs the "bearing of arms", that is, the possession, use or display of arms, also called coats of arms, coat armour or armorial bearings. Although it is believed that the original function of coats of arms was to enable knights to identify each other on the battlefield, they soon acquired wider, more decorative uses. They are still widely used today by countries, public and private institutions and by individuals. The earliest writer on the law of arms was Bartolus de Saxoferrato. The officials who administer these matters are called pursuivants, heralds, or kings of arms. The law of arms is part of the law in countries which regulate heraldry, although not part of common law in England and in countries whose laws derive from English law.
A private officer of arms is one of the heralds and pursuivants appointed by great noble houses to handle all heraldic and genealogical questions.
Finlaggan Pursuivant of Arms is the private officer of arms of the Clan Donald in Scotland.
Heraldry in Scotland, while broadly similar to that practised in England and elsewhere in western Europe, has its own distinctive features. Its heraldic executive is separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
Elizabeth Ann Roads, is a former Scottish herald, an office from which she retired in 2021; in July 2018 she retired as Lyon Clerk at the Court of the Lord Lyon
Sir Alexander Colin ColeFRHSC (Hon) was a long serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. Eventually, he would rise to the rank of Garter Principal King of Arms, the highest heraldic office in England.
The Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society was formed as the result of the merger in 1957 of a previous Heraldic Society with the Cambridge University Society of Genealogists.
Charles John Burnett is a Scottish antiquarian and former officer of arms.
Thomas Hawley was a long-serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. He began his career of royal service as a groom porter to Queen Margaret of Scotland from her marriage in 1503 until 1508. Although he may have been made Rose Blanche Pursuivant in the reign of King Henry VII, his first permanent heraldic appointment came in 1509.
English heraldry is the form of coats of arms and other heraldic bearings and insignia used in England. It lies within the so-called Gallo-British tradition. Coats of arms in England are regulated and granted to individuals by the English kings of arms of the College of Arms. An individual's arms may also be borne ‘by courtesy' by members of the holder's nuclear family, subject to a system of cadency marks, to differentiate those displays from the arms of the original holder. The English heraldic style is exemplified in the arms of British royalty, and is reflected in the civic arms of cities and towns, as well as the noble arms of individuals in England. Royal orders in England, such as the Order of the Garter, also maintain notable heraldic bearings.
The Court of the Lord Lyon is a standing court of law, based in New Register House in Edinburgh, which regulates heraldry in Scotland. The Lyon Court maintains the register of grants of arms, known as the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, as well as records of genealogies.