This article is from the rec.heraldry FAQ, by Gordon Findlay (email@example.com) and Francois Velde (firstname.lastname@example.org) with numerous contributions by others.
Many people mistakenly call a shield bearing arms a crest, for example
in the phrase "my family's crest", which usually refers to the shield
itself, or perhaps a badge.
A full English coat of arms (an "achievement") consists of:
- a shield (with arms painted on it, obviously);
- above the shield, a helm or helmet;
- hanging from the helm, the mantling, which represents a piece of
cloth used for protection from the sun. The mantling is frequently
arranged in decorative swirls around the shield, suggesting a tattered
cloth hacked about in fighting;
- a torse, or wreath, being twists of cloth wound around the helmet;
- the crest, sitting on the torse.
There may also be, if the bearer is entitled to them:
- a supporter on each side of the shield (in some cases there may be
only one supporter);
- a compartment for the supporters to stand on;
- one or more collars of orders of knighthood surrounding the shield,
or symbols of office (eg batons) behind it.
Not all the elements have to be present; the essential part is the
shield. There may also be other bits and pieces, such as mottos, badges
or war cries.
Achievements in other countries frequently differ: for example the torse is
not very common on the continent, and coronets are commonly found in French
Any book should have illustrations of many different achievements, with
different selections of these elements.