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Armies have always used symbols to identify their own warriors. When armour made it even more difficult to see who was who, these symbols became much more organised and defined. This was important in mediaeval European armies when each lord would inherit or create a design for himself and his followers. These smbols became organised and codified at the the end of the period i.e. when they were no longer required on the battle field. The coat of arms would include a shield, a helm (the helmet on top of the shield), supporters on either side of the shield (mythical animals or people) and a motto. In England the College of Arms controls the inheritance and use of these coats of arms. When important people from two important families married, a new coat of arms for their offspring would be created from merging the arms of the two familes. As time went on (the 16th to 19th centuries) this continued amalgamation produced very complicated coats of arms with many 'quarterings' i.e elements from several earlier achievements. 'Achievement' is another word for a coat of arms. Countries have their own coats of arms and national flags - that of the United Kingdom is made of elements from the several countries in the British Isles. The red and white stripes on the American flag comes from the Washington family coat of arms.

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Q: What is the definition of the coast of arms?
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