Helmet and Crest
Two important parts of a coat of arms are the helmet and the crest which rests on top of the former. The helmet, also called helm, is depicted above the shield and includes the torse and crest. The helmet and crest symbols are traditionally surrounded by a mantling which initially was a type of cloth fixed to the back of the helmet to protect the soldier from sunlight. Nowadays it is depicted as a drapery hanging from the helmet. The principal shield colour is used on the outside of the cloak, the principal metal is used for the inside.
The style of the helmet can vary according to rank and military helmets used at certain times. In German and Nordic heraldry especially, more than one helmet can be depicted. It is essential not to leave out any of these helmets because they represent lands to which the soldier has rights. Open and barred helmets are used by nobility while closed helmets are used for soldiers of lower rank. Also the direction a helmet faces can be of significance: In German heraldry, the multiple helms are all turned inward except the one at the centre which is affronté, while in Scandinavian heraldry the helmets are all turned outward.
Modern crests originated in the figures soldiers wore on their helmets to make them more easily distinguishable from afar. Crests can be found on wreaths of cloth called torses or within coronets. The torse is usually depicted in the principal tinctures of the shield. The crests of towns can have mural crowns representing the city walls. The most frequent objects on crests include animals such as lions and human figures or arms bearing weapons. German crests are often tall hats, plumes or horns.
Normally, crests can not be used by women or clergymen since they did not participate in tournaments or wars and therefore had no helm on which to wear a crest. Sometimes the term crest is used erroneously to mean the whole coat of arms. Another common misconception is that a crest belongs to everyone who has the same family name.