Imperial Coat of arms of Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Emperor (German: Römisch-Deutscher Kaiser, or "Roman-German Kaiser") is a term used by historians to denote a Middle Ages ruler, who as German King had in addition received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope of the Holy Roman Church, and after the 16th century, the elected monarch governing the Holy Roman Empire, a Central European union of territories in existence during the Medieval and Early Modern period.
Charlemagne of the Carolingian Dynasty was the first to receive papal coronation as Emperor of the Romans. Charles V was the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope. The final Holy Roman Emperor-elect, Francis II, abdicated in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars that saw the Empire's final dissolution.
The standard designation of the Holy Roman Emperor was "August Emperor of the Romans" (Romanorum Imperator Augustus). When Charlemagne was crowned in 800, his was styled as "most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire," thus constituting the elements of "Holy" and "Roman" in the imperial title. The word Holy had never been used as part of that title in official documents.
The word Roman was a reflection of the translatio imperii (transfer of rule) principle that regarded the (Germanic) Holy Roman Emperors as the inheritors of the title of Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, a title left unclaimed in the West after the death of Julius Nepos in 480.
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A coat of arms, more properly called an armorial achievement, armorial bearings, or often just arms for short, in European tradition, is a design belonging to a particular person (or group of people) and used by them in a wide variety of ways. Historically, they were used by knights to identify them apart from enemy soldiers. In Continental Europe, commoners were able to adopt burgher arms. Unlike seals and emblems, coats of arms have a formal description that is expressed as a blazon. In the 21st century, coats of arms are still in use by a variety of institutions and individuals (for example several universities have guidelines on how their coats of arms may be used and protect their use).
The art of designing, displaying, describing and recording arms is called heraldry. The use of coats of arms by countries, states, provinces, towns and villages is called civic heraldry.
In the heraldic traditions of England and Scotland an individual, rather than a family, had a coat of arms. In those traditions coats of arms are legal property transmitted from father to son; wives and daughters could also bear arms modified to indicate their relation to the current holder of the arms. Undifferenced arms are used only by one person at any given time. Other descendants of the original bearer could bear the ancestral arms only with some difference: usually a color change or the addition of a distinguishing charge. One such charge is the label, which in British usage (outside the Royal Family) is now always the mark of an heir apparent.
Because of their importance in identification, particularly in seals on legal documents, the use of arms was strictly regulated; few countries continue in this today. This has been carried out by heralds and the study of coats of arms is therefore called "heraldry". Some other traditions (e.g., Polish heraldry) are less restrictive — allowing, for example, all members of a dynastic house or family to use the same arms, although one or more elements may be reserved to the head of the house.
In time, the use of arms spread from military entities to educational institutes, and other establishments. According to a design institute article, "The modern logo and corporate livery have evolved from the battle standard and military uniform of medieval times".
In his book, The Visual Culture of Violence in the Late Middle Ages, Valentin Groebner argues that the images composed on coats of arms are in many cases designed to convey a feeling of power and strength, often in military terms. The author Helen Stuart argues that some coats of arms were a form of corporate logo. Museums on medieval armory also point out that as emblems they may be viewed as precursors to the corporate logos of modern society, used for group identity formation.
Note that not all personal or corporate insignia are heraldic, though they may share many features. For example, flags are used to identify ships (where they are called ensigns), embassies and such, and they use the same colors and designs found in heraldry, but they are not usually considered to be heraldic. A country may have both a national flag and a national coat of arms, and the two may not look alike at all. For example, the flag of Scotland (St Andrew's Cross) has a white saltire on a blue field, but the royal arms of Scotland has a red lion within a double tressure on a gold (or) field.
The Great Seal of the United States is often said to be the coat of arms of the United States. The blazon ("Paleways of 13 pieces, argent and gules; a chief, azure") is intentionally to preserve the symbolic number 13.
Most American states generally have seals, which fill the role of a coat of arms. However, the state of Vermont (founded as the independent Vermont Republic) follows the American convention of assigning use of a seal for authenticating official state documents and also has its own separate coat of arms.
Many American social fraternities and sororities, especially college organizations, use coats of arms in their symbolism. These arms vary widely in their level of adherence to European heraldic tradition. Organizations formed outside the United States with U.S. membership also may have a coat of arms. Roman Catholic dioceses and cathedrals have a coat of arms.
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