ARMORIAL GOLD HERALDRY SYMBOLISM LIBRARY
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SABATONS (Solleret): Armour for the foot, usually consisting of articulated plates ending in a toecap. Plate Sabatons seem to have made their appearance in the middle of the 14th century, remaining in common use throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. In the early 14th century, the foot was defended by chain mail.
SADDLE: A symbol of the martial men that serve on horseback in the field for that by the means, and of the stirrups affixed, they may be able to sustain the shock of their adversary, as also the more forcibly to encounter him.
SALADE (Sallet, Salet): A helmet that rested entirely upon, and generally covered only the top half of, the head, and the rear of which tapered to a point and projected behind the head; a common helmet of the 15th century. Denotes wisdom and security in defence.
SALAMANDER: Fabled to live in fire. Francois I. of France adopted it as his badge and his motto is roughly translated to mean 'I nourish the good and extinguish the bad'; a symbol of bravery, purification, protection, immortality and survival. It is said that the word comes from the Persian for lizard.
SALMON: From the Latin, salmo, to leap; the leaping fish. The sacred Salmon represents the ancient sanctity of water, its power to destroy and create. At another level it may stand for the troubled human soul, in its perpetual struggle to reconcile itself to itself; a symbol of perseverance. Legend states that the magic Salmon gained the power of wisdom by consuming the hazelnuts that dropped into sacred springs. Betoken on one of wisdom, knowledge and constancy. See Hazel
SARACEN: A Bedouin tribe from Sinai, the term was more generally applied to Arabs and Muslims during the Crusades and the device is generally in commemoration of the wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th centuries to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Pope Urban II received Alexius' call for assistance, but decided to use that call to advance a more ambitious plan. Jerusalem, on the East coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the modern nation of Israel, is considered holy land to Christians, Jews and Muslims, but in 1095, the city was controlled by Muslims. The message from Alexius presented Urban with an opportunity to retake the holy lands from the Muslims. The pope called for a "War of the Cross," or Crusade, to retake the holy lands from the unbelievers. The Crusaders were ultimately unable to reclaim their holy lands, but the wars had another effect. Western Europeans had left their homes to fight in a distant war. The stories of the returning Crusaders encouraged their countrymen to look beyond their own villages for the first time. Saracen is from the Arabic sharakyoun or sharkeyn (the eastern people), as opposed to Magharibë (the western people- i.e. of Morocco). Any un-baptized person was called a Saracen in medieval romance; in the Greek language, they are called Surakenos, and in Spain they are referred to as 'moors'.
SAVAGE: Indifferently termed, the Wild-man, or Woodman, the Savage is a large man wreathed about the head and loins with leaves, and generally carrying a club. The Savage, in heraldry, represented the forest and the wild, remote from human residence and improvements; the Savage, although uncultivated, was nonetheless feared and as such, was often used to denote protection. He is the icon of the untamed and the unpolished but he is fierce, ferocious and of savage spirit. The emblem is also a reminder that Christianity can tame the savage. The Savage represented one uncorrupted by the vices of civilized men and signified truth, fidelity and gratitude to their friends. The bearer was attempting to allude that even the feared Savage was at his disposal and would fight to defend his honour. The Savage was usually depicted as a very large almost Herculean man and the club was his defence. It is also important to note that the bearer also may have used the Savage as an emblem to allude to his family name.
SAVIN TREE: Refers to the ancient juniper tree. In Lothian, in medieval times, giving birth under the savin tree was a euphemism for miscarriage or juniper-induced abortion; symbol of female virtue and a religious symbol of protection and of life.
SCALES: The scales of justice, order and balance have been symbols of righteousness since early times. Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice (Greek Themis), Rashnu, the Persian angel of justice and Nemesis the goddess of divine justice and vengeance, are all associated with the scales.
SCEPTRE: A staff used by the ancient Pharaos as a symbol of kingship and is also a religious symbol of temporal power; throughout the ages borne to represent sovereignty and dominion.
SCIMITAR: A Curved Turkish sword. The Scimitar was Mohameds ensign and then it was changed to a crescent which has been the symbol of Islam ever since. When borne in heraldry, it usually represents an expedition and possibly a battle or conquest of an enemy whose principal weapon was a scimitar; emblem of battle and conquest.
SCORPION: The Scorpion is the symbol of both wisdom and self-destruction. The Scorpion's sting could also be directed at enemies and so amulets in the form of Scorpions were worn in many cultures as a protection against evil. It was thought that the Scorpion produced both venom and anti-venom. In some areas this made it an emblem of resurrection and constancy. Selket, the Egyptian goddess and protectress of the dead had the head of a scorpion.
SCRIP: Refers to a Palmers purse used to carry one ration of food for one day's pilgrimage. The first bearer was likely a palmer and the symbolism of the scrip suggests that God will always provide, and his that faithful servants will never go hungry.
SCYTHE (sickle): A hand tool traditionally used for cutting grasses and grains, consisting of a long, curved blade sharpened on one edge. The sickle is virtually the same but with a short handle. As with all farm implements and other instruments of husbandry these signify the hope of a fruitful harvest. It is said that the sickle, (and later the scythe), was a symbol of the cruel, unrelenting flow of Time, which in the end cuts down all things.
SEAL: Usually only the paw or the head of the Seal is found borne. This sea animal was known throughout antiquity. The Seal was a regular inhabitant of the Greek coast at that time and regarded as a good omen and harbinger of promise. Seal-calf milk was prized as a remedy for the 'falling sickness'.
SEAX: A Saxon sword much like the Turkish Scimitar but with a circular notch on the back of the blade. There is much dispute as to the purpose of this notch. It is said by some that the notch lightened the blade without losing strength, while others are of the opinion that the notch made for a more devastating weapon. Still others maintain that since the seax is both weapon and tool, the notch aided the bearer to accomplish some non-military task. Regardless of these mixed opinions Heralds are united in their view that the seax, as with all swords, are representative of justice and military honour. See Sword.
SECRETARY BIRD: The Secretary bird is a bird of prey, but unlike other raptors it has long legs, wings and a tail. The single species of its family, the bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens 19th century office workers used to tuck behind their ears…so it is said. As a premier snake (the devil) hunter, the Secretary bird, as a symbol, was used to ward off evil.
SEMY or SEMEE: Refers to a regular pattern of charges in staggered rows. They should look as if the shield was cut from a piece of patterned cloth with partial charges at the edges of the shield. The Number of the charges on the shield in this fashion is not relevant. As far as symbolism is concerned, the "semy" has no particular symbolism but the individual charge does. For example, A SEMY DE LIZ, would have the symbolism associated with the "fleur de lis". Semee's were generally adopted and used to emphasize the particular charge, and of course for artistic impression and distinctiveness.
SERAPH (seraphim): An order of angels distinguished for fervent zeal, unconquerable will, and religious ardour and vivacity. It is said the word Seraph comes from the Hebrew verb saraph ('to burn'). They are depicted with three pairs of wings. One pair of wings is for flying, one for covering their eyes (for even they may not look directly at God), and one for covering its feet.
SERPENT (snake, asp): A popular symbol in heraldry the Serpent has always been a symbolical Deity, because it feeds upon its own body. It's been used since antiquity as a symbol of healing because when old, it has the power of growing young again, by shedding its skin. It was sacred to Aesculapius, and was supposed to have the power of discovering healing herbs. The ancient Greeks and Romans revered the symbol as a guardian spirit; a noted symbol of wisdom, cunning and sagacity.
SEXTANT: An Instrument used primarily for measuring the altitude of the sun and which enabled ancient mariners to determine their geographical position. The mariner's most prized possession was often his sextant. This measuring instrument was indispensable to all navigators, and long symbolized adventure and the discovery of new horizons; an emblem of direction, watchfulness, guidance and protection. The sextant is also closely associated with progress, because it expands the boundaries of knowledge and extends the limits of understanding.
SHACKLEBOLT (manacle, fetterlock): See Fetterlock.
SHAG: See Cormorant.
SHARK: In some cultures the Shark is a demon, both worshipped and feared as the ruler of the seas. It is symbolic of persistence and perseverance because Sharks have no swim bladder and must swim perpetually to keep from sinking to the bottom.
SHEARS: Weavers shears; used in the process of dressing cloth and may be emblematic of the bearer's trade. The Greek goddess Clotho, the Spinner, spun the thread of life; Lachesis, the Dispenser of Lots, decided its span and assigned to each person his or her destiny; and Atropos, the Inexorable, carried the dread shears that cut the thread of life at the proper time.
SHELDRAKE: A waterfowl somewhat larger than the ordinary duck. A Canting arms as it is said that this bird was introduced into English heraldry to accommodate Sheldon, Lord Mayor of London in 1676. He bore three Sheldrakes on his shield. See Duck
SHOT (chain shot): A chain-shot was two cannon balls joined by a chain which when fired from a cannon revolved upon the shorter axis and were hence effective for mowing down masts and rigging. There were also other forms of shots including the bar shot which was a bar attached to two mortars and also the mysterious chain-shot shown in the margin, sometimes called the star-shot because of its shape.
SHAMROCK (trefoil): The word shamrock comes from the Gaelic seamrag for three-leafed. The trefoil pattern has been discovered in Mesopotamia and also on the royal couch of Tutankhamen (of the ancient Pharaohs). It was a symbol of three sun disks fused together to represent the unity of the gods of the sun, water and earth. The trefoil is also the national symbol of Ireland. According to legend, Saint Patrick planted shamrock in Ireland because the three small leaflets represented the Holy Trinity. The trefoil in Arabia is called shamrakh and in Iran it was a sacred emblem of the Persian triads. Denotes omnipotence, providence and perpetuity.
SHAKEFORK: See Pall. A bearing resembling a pall couped and pointed, and is almost entirely confined to Scotch families..
SHEAF: May refer to a sheaf of arrows called a quiver or a sheaf of wheat or corn also called a garb.
SHIP: Bearings of ships are often met with in Heraldry. They symbolize some notable expedition by sea, by which the first bearer had become famous. The single-mast Galley and the Lymphad or Lymphiad seem to be the most prevalent. There are also full sailing ships, pirate ships, Viking ships and much more. If a ship is borne without a mast it is said to denote tragedy at sea. The ship was also an early symbol of the church as a place where the voyagers of faith could gather and sail over the rough areas of life to the good destination God had for them. Other cultures believed the ship was like a planet or star revolving around its centre, it is the earth and the image of life. Man is navigating the ship as a symbol of life, determining both its centre and its course. See Boats
SHRIKES: They are avid hunters and generally get what is sought. They are symbols of determination and successful endeavours. The Woodchat or European Shrike falls in to this category.
SHUTTLE: The shuttle is a simple stick on which the crosswise or weft yarn is wound. Associated with the Egyptian goddess Neith who was the patroness of weaving. The deceased received her divine power by means of the mummy's wrappings, for the bandages and shrouds were considered gifts of Neith. The bearer or an ancestor was likely a weaver; the shuttle has come to signify swiftness of action and destiny.
SKULL: Privateers used the symbol to intimidate the enemy and their flag was designed to conjure up fear and dread. The ancients used the skull on burial sites to indicate that the debt to nature had been paid; a symbol of mortality and dissolution; fear and intimidation.
SNAFFLE-BIT: That part of a horses bridle usually jointed in the middle, with a ring at each end to which a rein and cheek strap are attached; symbol of horsemanship denoting control, influence and jurisdiction.
SNAIL: Snails were eaten by primitive man and raised for food by the Romans. In heraldry, it is a rare device signifying deliberation and steadfastness. The Snail shell was the Egyptian symbol of infinity.
SNIPE (sandpiper, curlew): An Old World bird of the sandpiper family with a distinctive 'piping' call. It was emblematic of a beacon announcing imminent danger or representative of an experience or expedition of a periculous nature. The Snipe and others in the species 'pipe' when rising to flight and are generally silent when at rest.
SOLE (flatfish): Seen occasionally in heraldry, the sole may be a symbol of plenitude, liberality and charity. The fish symbol has been used for millennia worldwide as a religious symbol associated with the Pagan Great Mother Goddess, and was also a noted symbol of early Christians.
SPADE: A tool of agriculture and construction denoting subsistence, production and creation; symbol of honest labour.
SPANCEL: A noosed rope or wooden leg harness with which to hobble a horse and control its gait; used in Chivalry by knights to train horses for tournaments and other tasks. It has no specific symbolism other than its definition and is not borne as a separate device.
SPANIEL: A Spanish dog, from the Old French Espagneul. The Spaniel is thought to have originated in Spain and was perhaps introduced to ancient Britons by the Roman legions. They were outstanding hunters that were both submissive and servile to their masters but fierce adversaries if challenged; a symbol of the hunt signifying loyalty, integrity and trustworthiness.
SPARROW: Was a symbol of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of Beauty, Love and Pleasure who is fabled to have sprung from the froth raised by the genitals of Saturn, when cut off by his son Jupiter, and thrown into the ocean.
SPARROW HAWK: In ancient Egypt the keen-sighted Sparrow Hawk, was the symbol of the Sun and it is said that if one killed a Sparrow Hawk, you would be put to death. The Sparrow Hawk was revered by many cultures as a token and ensign of power and glory.
SPEAR: See Pike and Lance.
SPEAR-HEADS: See Pheons.
SPERVER: See Pavilion.
SPHERE (globe): May refer to the extent of a persons knowledge, interests, or social position; ones geographical domain or area of power, control, or influence; symbol of a fertile earth. The ancients attributed perfection to the spherical shape and considered the sphere as the symbol of perfection.
SPINDLES: An instrument of the weaver trade used to wind fibres in a continuous thread or yarn. In Europe from the 14th to the 16th centuries the distaff and spindle were gradually followed by the spinning wheel. It is said that the term Wife is from the verb to weave, the Saxon wefan, or German weben, and denotes one who works at the distaff or spindle. When a girl was spinning her wedding clothes she was simply a spinster; but when this task was completed and she was indeed married, she became a wife.
SPHINX: A mythical beast of ancient Egypt with the head of a man and the body of a lion, frequently symbolizing the pharaoh as an incarnation of the sun god Ra. The Sphinx was not peculiar to Egypt, as it was also a deity throughout the Middle East and Greece. The name 'Sphinx' (in fact) is derived from the Greek sphingo, which means, "to strangle". The legend states that if a man could not answer the riddle of the Sphinx, the Sphinx would then strangle him. In Greek mythology the Sphinx was a winged monster with the head and breasts of a woman and the body of a lion. In ancient Assyrian myths, the Sphinx usually appears as a guardian of temple entrances. The Sphinx is shrouded with mystery and secrecy and when the symbol is used in heraldry it usually denotes guardianship, divinity, and providence.
SPIDER: To Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, the Spider was symbolic of the fates that constantly wove at the web of each person's destiny. To the Christian, the Spider's web was representative of human frailty and the temporary nature of earthly existence and riches. In Greek mythology Arachne, challenged Athene, Zeus' daughter, to a weaving contest, and hanged herself when the goddess destroyed her web. Athene then changed her into a Spider, condemned for eternity to hang at the end of her thread. In heraldry the spider symbolizes tenacity of purpose, heedfulness, and cunning.
SPOONBILL: This striking wading bird fishes for its food by swinging its open bill from side to side in the water. Historically, this endangered bird has represented grace, freedom and humility.
SPUR: Attached to the heel by straps, the spur was one of the prominent tools a knight possessed as an equestrian, and they became one of the ascendant symbols of knighthood. Prior to the late 13th century "prick" type spurs were in wide use, but during the last two decades of the 13th century and into the 14th the "rowel" spur gained wide popularity. It is said that the mullet device represents the rowel but I must say that the mullet existed long before the spur. Said also to signify preparedness for military engagement or readiness for an encounter of consequence; impulsiveness. If shown with wings as in the margin it has the added symbolism of covertures or protection and wings are hieroglyphics of celerity.
SQUIRREL: The squirrel's common name can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, where Aristotle used the word "skiouros," skia meaning shade, while "oura" meaning tail. Thus the meaning "he who sits in the shadow of his tail" was recorded. It is said, centuries later, the French created a noun "esquirel" to describe this animal. From this the word "squirrel" was derived. It was a symbol of the 'soul' in Nordic myth and in medieval times it denoted one who was provident toward the future. It is also said that the first bearer was a lover of woodland, trustworthy and with a strong sense of duty. The squirrel's nest is called a 'holt' and the squirrel emblem may be an allusion to the family name of 'holt' as it appears in some of their arms.
STAG: See Buck.
STANDARD: A flag or ensign. The ancient military standard consisted of a symbol carried on a pole. In medieval times the standard was not square like the banner but rather elongated, much larger, and featured a narrow, rounded and slit end (unless the standard belonged to a prince of the blood royal). The Royal standard, which ranged in size from eleven yards for an emperor to four yards for a baron, was usually divided into three portions. One containing the arms of the knight, another for his cognizance or badge and the other for his crest - these being divided by bands, on which was inscribed his war cry or motto, the whole being fringed with his livery or family colours.
STAPLE: It is said that the staple usually refers to a door staple and although this charge is borne frequently for the sake of the play upon the family name, such as Staples, Stapleton and the like... it is however borne in other instances. When this is the case, the staple signifies reunion, communication and coherence.
STAR: As a light shining in the darkness, the star is often considered a symbol of truth, the spirit and of hope; its meaning depends upon the number and sometimes the orientation of its points. It is the ensign of knightly rank; a star of some form constitutes part of the insignia of every order of knighthood. The star is the "presence of the divinity". It is a symbol of constancy, celestial goodness and a noble ensign. Many cultures throughout antiquity have used the star as a talisman or national insignia. In heraldry it's also known as a mullet star. See Mullet.
STAR FISH: In Christianity it represents Mary guiding the faithful through the storms of love. Seen in Europe as a symbol of the undying power of love.
STARLING: The word means small star. This common bird resembles a blackbird, but has triangular wings. Branwen was a Welsh Princess, mistreated by her Irish husband. She trained a Starling to take a message to her brother Bran in Wales. There followed a great war between Wales and Ireland in which Bran and all but seven of his men were killed. The Starling is associated with warriors due to its aggressive manner with other birds.
STAVE (pilgrims stave): See Palmers Stave.
STEEPLE (spire): From Old English 'stepel', tower; or German word 'staup' (high tower) representing the heights of human aspiration and sublimation, of the path towards God.
STORK: To many cultures a sacred bird and one lavished with symbolism. Storks are the sworn foes of snakes, hence the veneration in which they are held. Storks are also ancient fertility symbols and are typically associated with springtime and birth. In Germanic states, storks found human infants called "stork-children" dwelling in caves hidden in rocky steeps called "Adeborsteine" or "stork-stones," and carried them to their expectant parents. They are said to feed their elderly parents, therefore storks have long been symbolic of filial piety or gratitude. They are emblems of immortality and longevity, vigilance, contemplation, prudence, piety, meditation, and chastity. Aristotle taught that the jealous male bird would put an unfaithful mate to death for her transgressions. Christians regarded the stork as a symbol for Christ and His disciples because it was the terror of snakes that represented Satan and his demons.
STUMP (stock of tree): It is said that if the top or boughs of a tree be cut off, but the root is standing then there is hope of a new growth, a new beginning. When the root is plucked up there remains no hope of reviving and this was symbolic of fearful warning. A limb or bough of a tree was often used offensively to scale walls and also defensively to impede the besiegers.
STIRRUP: The adoption of the stirrup is commonly held to have caused a revolution in the use of the horse for war; a revolution that led to the feudal age and the dominance of the armoured knight mounted on a great warhorse. Noble symbol of the knight signifying gallantry, preparedness, horsemanship and conquest.
STOOL: Also known as a Trevet or Trestle in reference to its three tripod style legs. Amongst the heathens, Apollos priest was said to give answers from the oracle sitting on such a stool. Denotes wisdom, knowledge; hospitality.
STURGEON: In ancient times, they were both feared and worshipped; a symbol of the Greek goddess Aphrodite who was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility. The Romans considered Sturgeon the best tasting fish in the world and always served it on a bed of roses. The Sturgeon also known as the 'royal fish, was a favourite dish in medieval times. All catches were the property of the King, unless the rights had been granted to a local Lord and all catches should have been reported to the Coroner who would send the actual fish, or certainly the value of it, to the King. Denotes longevity, permanence and stability, and bestowed on one of Royal favour.
SURCOAT (surcote): A garment worn over the armour to protect it from sun and rain, and usually blazoned heraldically. During the 14th century they were gradually shortened from their 13th century lines. They started during the first quarter of the century ending at the knee, and ended the century ending at the edge of the hip. During the 15th century they were shortened further, and eventually abandoned in favour of a large tunic worn over the cuirass. The surcoat bears no particular symbolism that this writer could find other than the obvious symbolism associated with the arms or crests that may be embroidered on the surcoat.
SUN: Is usually borne in its glory, or splendour; associated with Helios, the young Greek god of the sun; revered by many cultures as a token and ensign of power, glory, illumination, vitality, and the source of life on earth. Symbolism also applies to a single sun ray.
SWAN: The male Swan is called a cob, the female a pen, a young Swan a cygnet. Like the peacock and pheasant, the Swan was an emblem of chivalry; every knight chose one of these birds, which was associated in his oath with God, the Virgin, or his lady-love. In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of a Swan to seduce Leda. The Swan has erotic associations as an emblem of Aphrodite/Venus. Swans drew the Chariot of Venus. The most famous belief about the Swan is that it only sings when it is about to die. The legendary Swan's song has caused this bird to represent music and poetry, especially that which is divinely inspired, passionate or tragic. The beauty and roundness of the Swan's body caused Nordic people to allude to it as the height of female grace and beauty. A Swan with a fish in its mouth represents the Devil snatching up and consuming the unwary Christian, and two Swans with their necks entwined stand for two lovers or friends united in a companionship. The Cygnet (young swan) sometimes occur; and a cygnet royal implies a swan gorged with a ducal coronet, having a chain affixed thereunto and reflexed over its back.
SWAN GOOSE: See both Swan and Goose.
SWALLOW: It is said that the Scandinavians believed the Swallow hovered over the cross of our Lord, crying "Svala! svala!" (Console! console!)…and was thereafter called svalow (the bird of consolation). The Swallow was sacred to the Penates (Roman deities of the household), and therefore to injure one would be to bring wrath upon your own house. The Swallow has always been regarded as a harbinger of spring, a symbol of abundant harvest and happiness.
SWEEP (swepe, balista): The engine anciently used for casting stones into fortresses. It was the more formidable engine of warfare, similar to the catapult or mangonel. As a heraldic device it was used to commemorate a siege that the first bearer was famous for and to warn enemies that they should be heedful; this most powerful of weapons also denoted military strength, resoluteness and courage.
SWORD: The sword symbolizes power, protection, authority, strength, and courage. It is a symbol of knighthood and chivalry. European Knights during the period of Crusades, used swords that were less bulky and blades tapering for thrusting as well as hacking. Swords of the Teutonic Knights featured downward quillons that first appeared around the 11th century. To them, swords were the symbols of truth and honour and were bestowed on one of stature. In heraldry, differentiation of the type of sword is rare; however, you will find reference to the scimitar, the seax, the sabre, the claymore, the rapier, Irish sword etc. The usual form in Heraldry is a long straight blade, with a cross handle. Quillons can be pointing downwards, upwards, 'S' shaped, with cruciforms (cross shaped), fleur-de-lis tipped and more. Pommels can be round, square, ring-shaped (like the Irish sword) or other shapes. A sword can also be blazoned wavy, which may be symbolic of the Christian flamed sword. The changes in warfare associated with the introduction of firearms did not eliminate the sword but rather proliferated its types. The discarding of body armour made it necessary for the swordsman to be able to parry with his weapon, and the thrust-and-parry rapier came into use. The advantage of a curved blade for cutting was early appreciated in Asia, where it was long used by the Indians, Persians, and others before its introduction to Europe by the Turks. The Turkish scimitar was modified in the West to the cavalry sabre. At the other extreme of Asia, the Japanese developed a long-bladed, slightly curved version with a two-handed grip, with which an elaborate duelling cult, as well as ancestor worship, became associated.
SYREN: see Mermaid
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Heraldry Symbolism Library by Armorial Gold Heraldry Services is provided as a free resource tool for Heraldry enthusiasts. The Heraldry Symbolism Library and the information contained therein, has been researched through original manuscripts and Armorial Golds own sources. The Heraldry Symbolism Library is provided as a free resource tool for Heraldry enthusiasts. Reproduction in any form is prohibited.