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Heraldry Through History

Coat of arms of the Russian Federation

From the 16th century onward, heraldry became more fanciful as it detached from its military function. The Tudor period saw a drift away from nobility defined by military service toward nobility defined in other ways. Heraldic arms followed suit. Armies still used badges and insignia, but these went back to the old Roman idea of rank and allegiance to one's military group, rather individuals and families.

Heraldry expanded beyond its traditional regions. Russia began to use formal heraldry in the 17th century. 20 South Africa dates its heraldic practice to Dutch heraldry from the same century. Nations rose that had not existed in medieval times, as well as organizations like the Society for Creative Anachronism, which seeks to recreate medieval customs and cultures.

Heraldry also began to be used for more than purposes of identifying noble families.

As monarchies became constitutional and gave way to democracies, national arms became detached from noble families. They reflected national history rather than the history of one family. In addition, smaller units with a nation, even down to towns and villages, also made up coats of arms and badges. Some were even granted as far back as medieval times. 22 Similarly, institutions like universities, colleges and secondary schools took coats of arms. Paramilitary groups like police departments and intelligence branches of government took badges, as well.

Heralds as a class went into decline after the Middle Ages. German heralds had died out by the 18th century. 23 Professional heralds have been mostly replaced by amateur enthusiasts. However, colleges of heralds, like the British College of Arms, still exist. They have the authority to grant official coats of arms, as well as to give advice on how to continue inherited coats of arms 23

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