The proper uses of armorial bearings
They are numerous and limited only by your imagination!
However a few rules should be observed. As a matter of honesty you should not use: armorial bearings which do not belong to you or external ornaments belonging to the nobility if you can’t prove a filiation. Orders or knighthood as well shall not be displayed if you have not been received in the order. In France golden fleur-de-lis on a azure (blue) field must not be used because they belong to the house of France (the Bourbon family). In pre-revolutionary France granting golden fleur-de-lis on a azure (blue) field was the privilege of the king. It was very seldom used and only when cities or people displayed the greatest valour as a token of appreciation. I always remind my clients that armorial bearing do not grant nobility to non-noble families.
Each European country, even the provinces of these countries, has its own legislation, specific uses and heraldic styles. For example, a good heraldist who interprets or creates armorial bearings for a Portuguese client must know and hold account of the various parameters that apply in Portugal.
"Registering armorial bearings" in France
Neither the French State registers armorial bearings of the citizens, nor any official organization.
Thus there are only three solutions to protect armorial bearings from a possible usurpation, according to the legal principle of the "date of recording" :
Registration of a copyright by any publication of the arms;
Having a solicitor record your arms also establishes a legal date of registration. Solicitors records are regularly compiled with the departmental records on which they depend;
Private agreement: the easiest and cheapest way to register armorial bearings is to send to yourself a registered letter and to keep it unopened. This letter must contain the emblazonment of the arms with a copy of the rendition of arms and of course your full identity. In case of usurpation, this mail will be brought as an evidence before the courts.
According to French customs and laws, a customary use of ancient armorial bearings (e.g.: arms dating back to the "Ancien Regime") holds property. Please note that most French Coat of Arms were self assumed; Coat of Arms given and registered by the French Crown were extremely rare.
In France, many associations of 1901 will propose to record your arms for a fee. They just publish your arms in their publication subject to the registration of a copyright... It is important to remember that no association can be relied upon to be an official authority (even if its name leads you to believe so), nor of the moral authority of a prince, or an applicant to the throne... Likewise, there haven’t been any official armorials since the end of the Ancien Regime in France.
NB: The National Patent Office (INPI) is not qualified to "register" armorial bearings.
Usurpation of armorial bearings
To use the armorial bearings of others unduly can be very expensive! French law regards armorial bearings as an inalienable accessory of the patronymic, noble or not. To avoid any problem, submit your creations of arms to a qualified professional or entrust him to responsibility to create them.
Usurpation of titles and crowns of nobility
It is absolutely contrary with the ethics of a true heraldist to add a crown of nobility to non-noble armorial bearings. Know in addition that, in France, no title of nobility can legally be sold or bought. Titles of nobility are also regarded by law as an insoluble accessory of the patronymic. Just like a name, a title of nobility is not to be bought. L’Association d’Entraide de la Noblesse Francaise and its equivalent in various European countries also takes care that these kinds of offences are known and punished.
Fleurs de lys
Moral property and symbol of the royal house of France, la fleur de lys d’or sur fond d’azur should not be reproduced on French armorial bearings, except if a sovereign duly conceded it before 1830.
False orders of knighthood
The orders of knighthood that are not recognized by the French State by the means of la Grande chancellerie de la Legion d’honneur (by decree or implicitly) are prohibited on French territory; their leaders and members can be prosecuted. The purpose of certain false orders of knighthood is only to get money from their members (when they do not mask a punishable or sectarian activity).
Illicit use of decorations
The illicit use of decorations still continues and penal sanctions are designed to punish their use. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from displaying your decoration like the Legion d’honneur or l’Ordre national du Merite as an external ornament, under the shield with your arms but do not forget that decorations are not hereditary. Therefore, you cannot decorate your armorial bearings with awards of your grandfather, even if he were a hero of the First World War... It is the same with regard to decorations for the preceding modes and foreign countries.
Although a related field of Heraldry, Genealogy is a technique which requires specific competences. This is why I do not handle any genealogical file. I support my research on the work of genealogist colleagues. A good genealogy is the base of any serious search for armorial bearings. The opposite being also true, a genealogist is not inevitably qualified into heraldry.
Hermetism and symbolism
Certain romantic spirits of the 19th century in Europe saw in armorial bearings and their language (blazon) mysterious and esoteric symbols... They analyzed armorial bearings according to the values of their own century, without researching historical sources and failing to take into account the historical values. Had they done so, that would have shown them how much they were misled. In addition to the great symbols, one can see in armorial bearings what his own sensitivity inspires because they are also a vector of dream. But from there to make doctrines of it, there is a step that an objective spirit cannot cross.
Professional competence and pretences
The occupation of a heraldist in France, and in a majority of European countries, is not subject to obtaining a diploma or any specific qualification recognized by the State, nor submitted to any professional code of ethics. One can only regret this established fact because it has opened the way to far too many abuses that undermine the credibility of a profession in search of recognition...
Moreover, the membership of a trade association (in fact, an association law of 1901) is alas neither a moral guarantee nor a certificate of competence. Be very vigilant!