Shield, (Anglo-Sax. Scyld): from the earliest times no doubt the shield borne on the arm to protect the bearer in battle was ornamented with various devices, one object of which was that the bearer should be recognised by his friends in the midst of the fight; and to the devices on these shields there can be no question armorial bearing chiefly owe their origin. The fact that the devices were afterwards pourtrayed on the mantles and on the surcoats, on the trappings of the horses, or on flags and pennons, does not militate against this origin, since such were later developments. The crest on the helmet, however, may perhaps be considered in theory to have as early an origin as the device on the shield, but throughout the middle ages it was the device on the shield which marked the man, and afterwards his family, far more than the crest.
From the much more frequent occurrence on the earlier arms of the simpler devices, such as the fesse, the bend, the chevron, &c., it may reasonably be presumed that these had their origin in the structure of the shield itself, i.e. from the bars of wood, or more probably of metal, which passed athwart the shield to strengthen it. The example so frequently referred to as an early device, namely, the escarboucle, (q.v.), is essentially such as a thirteenth-century armourer would adopt to strengthen woodwork, and a similar device is not unfrequently found on doors of churches. It was not originally deemed a charge but merely an ornament, like diapering was. Cf. old fr. bouclier, and English synonym buckler.
Concurrently with the plain devices(which have in systematic heraldry received the name of ordinaries, see Synoptical Table), devices derived from the animal, and perhaps in a few cases from the vegetable, kingdom were adopted, and since these gave far greater variety they tended to supplant, as well as to supplement the others. The Lion, as the emblem of strength and courage, was of course the favourite device amongst animals, as the Eagle amongst birds, and the Dolphin amongst fishes.
The shield, in its practical sense, was pourtrayed in sculpture and in stained glass throughout the middle ages for the purpose of containing the device; and though the outline was frequently modified--particularly in later years--to harmonize with the architectural details surrounding it, the shield form, ending in a point, was nearly always retained. The various modifications of the outline, as found carved on monuments, or engraved on brasses, or painted in glass of windows, or outlined on the seals, &c., at different periods is an interesting study, but beyond the limits of a glossary. In some cases, though rarely in England, a circle is adopted on Seals instead of a shield, but there is no evidence that this was due to anything but the fancy of the artist, since ecclesiastics and laymen, warriors, and religious or municipal communities, have sometimes the shield, sometimes the circle.
Women of all ranks(the sovereign alone excepted) are now supposed to bear their arms or lozenge-shaped figures rather than on shields(see Achievements), but formerly all ladies of rank of bore shields upon their seals.
Shields in more rare instances are themselves borne as armorial bearings, usually blazoned as Escutcheons, q.v. In one modern case the mythical shield of Pallas is named, and a plain shield is the crest of FORTESCUE.
Azure, on a chevron sable, a gauntlet of the first between two pairs of swords in saltire of the last, hilts and pommels or; on a chief of the second, an oval shield of the field charged with a cross gules encircled with a carved shield of the third, between two peer's helmets proper garnished gold--Company of ARMOURERS, incorporated temp. HEN. VI.
Argent, on a mount in base the trunk of an oak tree sprouting out two branches proper with the Shield of Pallas hanging thereon or, fastened by a belt gules--BOROUGH, co. Derby.
The target may be reckoned amongst shields, occurring as it does in the feudal coat of the Lordship of ROTHSCHILD. An archery Target seems also to have been adopted.
Gules, a target between three antique crowns or--GRANT, Ballindalloch, co. Elgin.