A Heraldic Helmet

by Guntram von Wolkenstein

(Documentation submitted with winning entry to Heraldic category, Arts and Sciences Competition, Shire Birthday XXXV)

Heraldry does not stop with shield or banner (ask your local herald if you do not believe me). A quick look at any heraldic achievement will show that the helmet and crest are given as much prominence as the shield, and sometimes even more. It was not some unexplained heraldic whim that added these accoutrements: as heraldry evolved and displays on the field become more and more ostentatious, the crest, wreath, and mantling became important parts of the knight’s image and were gradually adopted into the achievement.

A Heraldic Achievement

The Crest

The origins of the crest go back as far as classical antiquity, where its purpose was to make the warrior look taller and frighten the enemy. In the middle ages this function became less important and the crest turned into an ornament, usually made of leather or light wood. Initially, crests were changed on a whim and as the bearer desired; often a different crest was used for every tournament. Gradually the crests became fixed, and eventually formed part of the inherited arms.

Often, the crest mirrored the main charge of the arms (a famous example being the lion-crested helm of the Black Prince), but just as often a completely unrelated crest was used.

Arms mirrored in the crest
Note the lack of wreath

The Coronet

The coronet, which I have not reproduced (not being eligible for one), served as an indication of rank, and was fixed to the helmet below the crest. Instead of a coronet, a so-called ‘cap of maintenance’ was also used at times. In later period, the coronet or cap of maintenance was often used instead of a wreath.

Helm with coronet

The Wreath

The wreath (also known as crest-wreath or torse) is a twisted piece of cloth in two or more colours. Its purpose was simply to hold the mantling in place, and often also hid the spot where the crest was fastened to the helmet. The colours of the wreath generally reflect the main colours of the bearer’s arms.

The Mantling

The mantling, or lambrequin, began as a simple piece of cloth fastened to the helmet to protect it from the sun. The mantling was usually kept in two tincture, i.e. the main colour and metal of the arms. However, it could also be strewn with charges, and could even be charged with the arms themselves. In heraldic art, as the depiction of the mantling became more and more fanciful it became increasingly difficult to represent the mantling in anything other but the main colours, and this became the standard style.

Since my mantling is comparatively simple, I decided to charge it with my badge. Also, instead of attaching it to the helmet, I attached it to the torse so that it can be easily removed – I have no intention of getting my wreath and mantling chopped up during combat!

The finished A&S entry – helm, crest, torse, mantling


My gratitude to Lady Jehanne, without whose sewing I would have neither torse nor mantling!


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