The general emergence of the profession and study of heraldry occurred across Western Europe almost contemporaneously in the various European countries. Originally, heraldic style turned out to be very similar from country to country. In the course of time distinctive differences and specific rules considering the art of heraldry developed between the heraldic traditions of the respective countries. Of course there is also a series of other aspects that carry over internationally.
Strictly speaking there exist four main heraldic styles which developed over time within the Middle Ages: German-Nordic, Gallo-British, Latin, and Eastern. Furthermore it can be mentioned that national heraldic traditions, such as the South African and Canadian styles, have emerged in the 20th century. In spite of all there are of course distinctive characteristics and rules shared by each of the four main heraldic styles.
The characteristics of coats of arms in countries such as Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Scandinavia, the Czech Republic and Northern Switzerland do not change remarkably in the course of time. Consequently marks and signs of difference turn out to be bery rare within the traditions of the German-Nordic heraldry. One of the most distinctive charcateristics of this national style is represented by the treatment of the crest. Very often, exactly the design gets repeated in both the shield and the crest. Furthermore the use of multiple crests, instead of a special single one, is also common. Fact is that the crest can sometimes be seen as a sign of difference between various branches of a family.
Latin heraldry emerged in countries such as Southern France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. The style of Latin heraldry is characterized by a lack of crests, and uniquely-shaped shields. Although the practice of introducing words to the shield of arms and coats of arms is absolutely disallwoed within the British heraldry, Portuguese and Spanish heraldry however occasionally practise these rules and procedures. Strictly speaking Latin heraldry is characterized by an extensive and purposeful use of quartering, because of armorial inheritance across the male as well as the female lines. Furthermore it has to be stressed that Italian heraldry is actually determined by the Roman Catholic Church, featuring a series of shields and other important and distinctive achievements.
Central and Eastern European heraldry
Eastern European heraldry developed in countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Poland, Russia, Croatia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Hungary. The pronounced, territorial, clan system is a distinctive feature of the Central and Eastern European heraldry. Eastern coats of arms and general arms are characterized by such a system. It was common that entire villages or military groups were granted the very same coat of arms – no matter which family relationships the people had to each other. In Poland, approximately six hundred unrelated families are known to bear the very same Jastrzebiec coat of arms. The shields are generally characterized to be very simple having only one single charge.