Crest, (fr. cimier): a figure anciently affixed to the helmet(fr. casque) of every commander, for his distinction in the confusion of battle, and in used before the hereditary bearing of coat armour: it is not unfrequently confounded with the badge or cognizance, which is a different thing. The word timbre includes the crest, helmet, wreath, &c., in short every-thing which is above the shield.
Crests do not appear to have been considered as in any way connected with the family arms until the fourteenth century, when Edward III. conferred upon William of Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, the right to bear an eagle.
The earliest representations of a crest in mediæval times in this country upon any authentic record is perhaps that on the great seal of Richard the First, on which a lion appears figured on the helmet. It does not, however, seem to be a separate attachment, but to be a part of the helmet, and also appears in old illustrations to have been attached to the head of the horse as well as to that of the rider.
The royal crest of England--a lion upon a cap of estate--appears for the first time during the reign of King Edward III., upon one of his great seals. It continues the same to the present day, but is now generally placed upon the royal crown. The following are early instances of family crests:--
Quarterly; first and fourth barry of six or and azure, on a chief of the first, two pallets between as many esquires based of the second, over all an inescutcheon argent--MORTIMER. Second and third or, a cross gules--DE BURGH. Crest, out of a ducal coronet proper, a plume of feathers azure. Supporters, two lions guardant argent, their tails coward and reflected over their backs--Seal of Edmund MORTIMER, Earl of March[who died in 1424].
A plume of seven feathers in one height, ermine, placed upon a ducal coronet gules, is the Crest of Sir Simon de FELBRIGGE, K. G. [upon his stall-plate at Windsor].
Le timbre sur le heaulme ung teste morien, &c.--Grant of Arms to Alan TROWTE, 1376,
Ancient crests were, for the most part, the heads of men, or of birds, or of animals, of plumes of feathers. Such inappropriate figures as rocks, clouds, and rainbows, were never used for crests while heraldry was in its purity, The list of the varieties of crests found on arms at the present time would fill several pages, but it may be observed that heads and portions of men and animals are still found to be the most frequent.
Unless the contrary be expressly mentioned, a crest is always to be placed upon a wreath, and such was, in general, the most ancient practice, nor was it until the time of COOKE, Clarenceux, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, that the ducal coronet and the chapeau(which is also proper to a duke) were indiscriminately granted. Mural and other crowns are occasionally used in the same way.
Though corporate bodies may bear the arms of their founders just as the founders themselves borne them, it is scarcely in accordance with principle for them to bear helmets and crests(as many of the mercantile companies of London do). The oldest mercantile crest, perhaps, is that of the TALLOW-CHANDLERS, with the Head of S.John the Baptist in the charger, q.v.