By the term, the language of heraldry, I am referring to the words that describe the heraldic design. This language of heraldry, or blazon, like language in general, includes nouns (which name the various things illustrated in the heraldic achievement), adjectives (which describe and clarify the nouns), and verbs (which note some action undertaken by the nouns).
An example of the way heraldic language describes an heraldic design can be found in the coat of arms I used for the icons on this webpage, one of which appears at the beginning of this sentence. The primary subject (i.e. noun) is a swan. Its position in the coat of arms (i.e. adjective) is in the center, and as such, does not require description. The swanís activity (i.e. verb) is that of sitting on its nest in which also sit a number of baby swans. The swan is not shown in a perched, stationary position, though; it has its wings raised together, with the tips pointed upward. Therefore, in the language of heraldry, the swan is said to be rising with its wings elevated and addorsed.
The names of the elements, armorial bearings and so forth used in the language of heraldry are stated primarily in French, though a few terms come from Latin.
The word, blazon, refers to.the written description of the armorial bearings used on the heraldic achievement. It should not be confused with the word 'emblazon' which simply refers to coloring.
The term, armorial bearings, refers to the various objects represented or depicted in the design of the heraldic achievement. The surface of the shield, or coat of arms, is called the field, and the armorial bearings which are depicted on the field are called charges.
The points of the shield used to denote the positioning of bearings, or charges are shown in the following image.
|A: dexter chief; B: middle chief; C: sinister chief; D: honour point;
E: fess point; F: nombril point; G: dexter base; H: middle base; I: sinister base.
The shield may be partitioned into a number of partitions. The primary purpose of doing so is to provide spaces for a number of arms to be represented on a single shield. The shield of an individual who first receives the heraldic achievement will be simple and unpartitioned. Descendants who claim and utilize that individual's arms need to have the shield partitioned so that their own arms can be included.
The nine images below illustrate the various partitioning conventions or ordinaries. Please note that these are depicted here simply by the use of thin, straight lines so that their appearances and positions might be more easily understood. The form of the ordinaries, as they are generally represented in an actual coat of arms, would be that of a bar, the width of which is approximately one-third the length or width of the shield. An example of the way the ordinary called per bend, would actually be represented on a shield follows:
Having such width, the bar(s) that form the ordinary may then be utilized to hold tinctures, charges, and so forth in addition to the spaces partitioned by the ordinary. The edges of the bar(s) which form(s) the ordinary may be represented as any of the various types of line (see below) to provide additional differencing capability.
|per chief per fess per pale per quarterly per bend per bend sinister per chevron per pile per saltire|
The images displayed above are what are known as honourable ordinaries. They are named as such because they were the first ones used in defining the field of a coat of arms. There are other ordinaries or partitioning conventions that are known as the subordinate ordinaries. There are fourteen of the subordinate ordinaries and include: billet, bordure, canton (or quarter), flanche, fret, fusil, gyron, inescutcheon, lozenge, mascle, orle, roundel, rustre and tressure.
Lines which divide a shield into partitions may be varied according to established ornamental effects. The following images are illustrations of some of the types of lines.
Wavy / Unde
Various metals and other materials related to the armour and clothing of knights are represented in heraldic achievements by drawn textures known as tinctures. They include the following:
|Or means gold. The color of gold is represented in heraldry by a field covered with dots or points as shown in the following image.|
|Argent means silver. The color of silver is represented in heraldry by a field that is plain and has no texture.|
|Gules means red. The color of red is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by vertical lines drawn from the chief to the base of the shield and perpendicular to the chief.|
|Azure means blue. The color of blue is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by horizontal lines drawn from the dexter to the sinister side of the shield and parallel to the chief.|
|Vert means green. The color of green is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by diagonal lines drawn from the dexter to the sinister side of the shield.|
|Purpure means purple. The color of purple is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by diagonal lines drawn from the sinister to the dexter side of the shield.|
|Sable means black. The color of black is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by vertical lines drawn from the chief to the base of the shield and perpendicular to the chief crossed by horizontal lines drawn from the dexter to the sinister side of the shield and parallel to the chief.|
|Tenne means orange or tawny. The color of orange is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by vertical lines drawn from the chief to the base of the shield and perpendicular to the chief and crossed by diagonal lines drawn from the sinister to the dexter side of the shield.|
|Sanguine means dark or blood-red. The color of blood-red is represented in heraldry by a field that is covered by diagonal lines drawn from both directions which cross each other. The ancient armorists sometimes included a third stain which they called murrey, which was a purplish-red, but it is currently represented the same as saguine.|
There are a number of furs represented in heraldry by drawn textures or tinctures. In heraldry, furs are primarily used to denote rank and dignity of the owner.
There are basically three types of bearings referred to as furs represented in blazon: ermine, vair and potent. The various types of Ermine are intended to represent the texture of the fur of the animal called the weasel. The various types of Vair are intended to represent the texture of the fur of the underside of the animal called the squirrel. The various types of Potent are intended to represent the shape of a crutch; it is traditionally included in the fur group rather than constitute a grouping of its own.
The representations of furs include: White (plain field, similar to the metal, argent); Ermine (argent/silver or white field across which sable/black tufts are spread); Ermines (sable/black field across which argent/silver tufts are spread); Erminois (or/gold field across which sable/black tufts are spread); Pean (sable/black field across which or/gold tufts are spread); Vair (alternating bell and inverted bell shapes of argent/silver and azure/blue); Counter-Vair (bell shapes placed base to base and point to point of argent/silver and azure/blue); Potent (inverted 'T' or crutch shapes of argent/silver and azure/blue); Counter-Potent ('T' and inverted 'T' or crutch shapes which touch each other in the center of the shield of argent/silver and azure/blue).
The following images are illustrations of (from left to right) Ermine, Vair and Potent.
In heraldry, the armorial bearings granted to an individual are handed down from that individual to his descendants; each successive armiger in the same family does not receive unique bearings. Therefore, the arms of the various members of the same family must be differentiated in some way. The way that the arms of any two individuals or branches of the same family are differentiated is referred to as differencing or brisure.
Differencing is sometimes referred to as marshalling of arms. It should be noted, though, that the phrase marshalling of arms generally refers to the way two or more arms are conjoined in instances of intermarriage between armigerous families. The complexities involved in marshalling of arms will not be discussed here in order to conserve space. It should suffice to note that marshalling of arms is generally accomplished by either: dimidiation, impalement, quartering or superimposition.
The initial method of differencing is to add a border around the edge of the shield. In that way, the original arms may be retained exactly as they are, albeit with the loss of a small amount of space around the outside edge. The next step is to vary the inside edge of the border by use of any of the various types of line. The borderís inside edge of one of the differenced arms might be composed of embattled lines, while that of another arms might be composed of indented lines. The following is an example of an original shield represented with a field of argent (i.e. silver):
The following is an example of a shield differenced from the original by the addition of a border of azure (i.e. blue):
The next method of differencing is to partition the shield by use of one of the ordinaries as noted above. The following is an example of a shield differenced from the above original by the addition of the ordinary of bend:
Another method of differencing is to utilize the original bearings, such as the ordinary bend, with whatever charges appear on the original, and simply vary the edges of the ordinary itself by use of any of the various types of line. The original might consist of a bend with edges composed of straight lines, while the differenced arms would consist of a bend with edges composed of nebuly lines. The following is an example of an original shield which is represented as azure (i.e. blue), with the ordinary, bend, of argent (i.e. silver) color:
The following is an example of a shield differenced from the original by the change in type of line for the edges of the ordinary from plain to nebuly:
The purpose, ultimately, is to make each individualís arms different in a way that can be recognizable.
The final thing to be noted, for the visitor to have a basic understanding of the art of heraldry, is the marshalling of charges on the eschutcheon. This refers to the basic rules of order by which arms are blazoned.
There is a particular order to the way bearings are named in the blazon. The colour of the field is the first thing to be named; followed by the principal ordinary, along with the tincture and type of line which make up the ordinary; followed by any charges placed on the ordinary, along with tincture or other descriptive information.
For example: Argent, on a bend engrailed azure, a lion rampant proper.
This blazon describes arms which would have the overall color of silver (argent), which would be represented as plain white. On the plain white field, a bar that is one-third the width of the shield would be positioned at a diagonal starting at the top, left corner and extending to the bottom, right corner (bend). The bar would be blue colored, or rather represented by parallel horizontal lines (azure). The edges of the bar would be scalloped with the points aimed outward (engrailed). Within the space defined by the diagonal bar the image of a lion facing toward the left side, with three paws in the air and only one hind paw touching the 'ground' would be depicted. The lionís colours would be naturallistic golden browns.
4 4 4
When a principal bearing (charge, ordinary, etc) occupies the center of the shield, its position is not named; by the absence of a positional directive, it is understood that the bearing is to be placed at the center, or fess point.
An ordinary which is plain, or in its most basic form, is named simply as what it is. For example: bend. But if the edges of the ordinary are composed of any of the various types of line, the type of line must be named. For example: bend engrailed.
When a bearing, such as an ordinary or charge, is placed overtop another bearing, it is named after the bearing upon which it has been placed, with the words surout or over all.
Tinctures of like type (i.e. metal, colour, fur) may not be placed one on top of another. For example: A charge tinctured as Or (gold) may not be placed overtop a charge tinctured as Argent (silver).
Any charge to be represented in naturallistic colours is named as proper. For example: a swan proper.
Charges which possess specific attributes need not have those attributes named, except where the representation of the charge is intended to deviate from the original. For example: a star is composed of six rays, or mullets; if a seven pointed star is to be represented, the number of rays must be named. For example: a besant is a roundel of gold colour. The name specifies the colour, therefore it is not named in the blazon.
When more than one of the same charge is to represented, the number and positions in relation to one another must be stated. For example: three besants positioned in a diagonal line from the top, right corner of the shield and extending toward the lower, left corner of the shield would be named as three besants in bend sinister.
Please note: The images used for the graphics on this page
were derived from the book, A Display Of Heraldry,
by John Guillim, printed in London in the year 1679.