Heraldic Helmet and Social Order

Helmshau from the "Wapencodex zu Müchen" late 15th Century

Once the Crest became an important part of the heraldic achievement, the helmet itself became an essential item to be included in a coat of arms.  The helm found atop most coats armor is generally indicative of the social rank of the bearer of those arms.  The exact meaning of various styles of helmets differs according to the country of origin, as well as the time period the coat of arms comes from.

The heraldic scholar Arthur Charles  Fox-Davies suggests that there were no social status implications for styles of helmets in until the Stuart Period (1603 AD – 1714 AD), when ironically the art of heraldry was in decline.  Until that time, the helms depicted in coats of arms where similar to the type of helmet actually employed at the time.  Mr. Fox-Davies has a very interesting chapter on the development of the chivalric helmet in his book The Complete Guide to Heraldry, which I wholeheartedly recommend to any serious student on the topic.  For our purposes here however, I will illustrate some typical helms found atop the coats of arms most met with in the United States.

In the British system

The Squire’s Helmsquireshelm

A simpler helmet in steel or grey, shown facing the viewer’s left. The squire’s helm is either shown visor down or a helm with no visor to raise, provided instead with only an eye slit.

Often the blocky Heumes style of helmet is also utilized for squires and gentlemen.

The Knight’s Helmknightshelm

Used by Knights and Baronets. The helm is of steel, shown afrontee, or facing the viewer, with the visor open.

The Peers Helmpeershelm

Used by nobles above the rank of Baronet, the Peer’s Helm is of silver, shown facing the viewer’s left, instead of the knight’s visor, the face of the helm is guarded by grilles.

kingshelmRoyal Helm

The helmet used by the King of the land is of gold, facing the viewer and again grilled.

In the German system

hohenzollernThe Visor Helm

Originally meant for the Briefadels or new nobles, created by patent, by the 15thcentury, the Open or Visor helm was being used only by the merchant class as the Briefadels had moved on to the Buckled Helm. The helms in German arms often continue the colors from the crest.

Illustration of the arms of Hohenzollern courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

bucklehelmBuckled Helm

The Open Helm or Buckled Helm has a grille instead of a visor and was originally restricted to the old noble families, but in later times came into the use of all nobles.


In German arms one may meet the Mauerkrone or Mural Crown used on the arms of towns and cities.  The number of towers on the crown general indicate the size of the municipality, with 3 being used for villages and 5 for the most important cities.  The Mauerkrone can be found in gold, silver, red or natural stone colors.

Arms of the Hertzog Lutzelstein from the Siebmacher Roll

Another peculiarity which may be met with in German heraldry is the use of multiple helms and crests upon a single heraldic achievement.  In the German system, the helm and crest are considered an indispensable element of the coat of arms, so when it would be appropriate to marshal the arms of various ancestors from whom armigerous rights have been inherited, it will also be appropriate to include the helms and crests of those arms as well.

The French system changed repeatedly and sometimes often, so at various times all manner of helms could be found attached to the arms of all manner of armigerous families, only to be later taken away and then sometimes restored.  If you are referencing a French coat of arms you will need to be very careful about when and where the emblazon is from.

Originally posted 2010-01-05 13:54:11.

Achaius and the Double Tressure

1 Comment

  1. If you are making a coat of arms of your own, it might be good to keep in mind the Arthur Clark Fox-Davies stated that originally the helms depicted on arms where much more free in their form, often depicting the actual helm style worn by the lord in question. It was only after helms stopped being used in warfare were rules put in place about the “style” of helmets depicted with coats of armor.


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