Heraldry evolved in 12th-century Western Europe, probably in response to the growing difficulty of recognizing men in armor as that armor became heavier and more enveloping. At Hastings, when a rumor spread among the Norman's that WILLIAM I (THE CONQUEROR) had been killed, he had only to tilt his helmet back as he rode among them for all to see that he was alive. Two hundred years later such a feat would have required considerable exertion and the help of a squire. Men in armor could by now only distinguish one another by devices on their shields or on the surcoats worn over their armor. Noblemen's devices were used by their followers as badges on their own shields and coats, and in the feudal army men were accustomed to muster under the banner of their lord, which was marked with his coat of arms. Crests, which were also distinguishing marks, came later.
Heraldic devices became hereditary as first the son then the more remote descendants of the original feudal lord retained the original device so as to guide their followers in battle. The devices outlived the use of armor, however, and by the 17th century were being widely used in nonmilitary ways. By now the granting and use of coats of arms in England had come under the supervision of a body of heralds called the College of Arms, which had been set up under royal authority in 1483. In Scotland the Lyon Office, later Lord Lyon Office, supervised the use of arms.
Although coats of arms are granted to individuals, and the descendants of that person, and not every person of the same name; there is no stopping any individual from owning a copy of any coat of arms. Citizens of the United States, may assume the use of any coat of arms without the permission of the College of Arms of the particular country associated with those arms.