SUPPORTERS, in heraldry, figures placed on each side of an armorial shield, as it were to support it. They seem to have been, in their origin, a purely decorative inven tion of medueval seal-engravers, often, however, bearing allusion to the arms or descent of the bearer; but in the course of time, their use came to be regulated by authority, and they were considered indicative that the bearer was the head of a family of eminence or distinction. The most usual supporters are animals, real or fabulous; but men in armor are also frequent, and savages (q.v.), or naked men, often represented with clubs, and wreathed about the head and middle. There are occasionally but rare instances of inanimate supporters. On early seals, a single supporter is not unfrequent, and instances are particularly common of the escutcheon being placed on the breast of an eagle dis played. The common rule, however, has been to have a supporter on each side of the shield. The dexter supporter is very often repeated on the sinister side, but the two supporters are in many cases different; when the bearer represents two different fami lies, it is not unusual for a supporter to be adopted from the achievement of each.
In England, the privilege of bearing supporters as now defined belongs to the sover eirm and princes of the blood, peers and peeresses, and the heads of a very few families, not of the peerage, whose right is based on an ancient patent, or very early usage. No. right is recognized by the college of arms as belonging to the sons of peers bearing cour tesy titles. 'Knights of the garter and knights grand cross of the bath are dignified wits supporters, which, however, are not hereditary. Supporters have also been assigned to the principal mercantile companies of London. In Scotland, the use of supporters is
somewhat less restricted. The distinction was much less wide than in England between. the greater and lesser barons (see MINOR BARONS), and the right to supporters was con sidered to belong to the latter, so long as the baronial status conferred a right to sit in parliament. The act of 1587, which finally excluded the lesser barons from the Scottish: parliament, and established a systematic parliamentary representation, was not held interfere with this armorial privilege, and it is yet the practice of the lord Lyon to grant or confirm supporters to the representatives of all minor barons who had full baronial' rights prior to that date. A limited number of heads of important families, the chiefs of the larger Highland clans, apart from considerations of barony, participate in the right to supporters. Lyon is also considered to have it in his power to confer them ex gratid, a prerogative which is but sparingly exercised, one of the instances of such departure from strict rule having been in favor of sir Walter Scott. Nova Scotia, baronets as such have no right to supporters, though many of them bear them in respect of the baronial qualification.
The lion and unicorn, familiar in the royal arms of the United Kingdom, were adopted, the former from the achievement of England. the latter from that of Scotland prior to the union of the crowns.
In the more modern heraldry, supporters generally stand either on an escrol, contain ing the motto, or, more properly, ou a carved panel of no definite form, which in Scot land is known by the name of a compartment.