International Heraldry & Heralds

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Heraldry is the practice of devising, granting, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and heraldic badges. Officers of arms (Kings of Arms, Heralds and Pursuviants) practice heraldry and also rule on questions of rank or protocol.

The origins of heraldry stretch back into ancient times. Warriors often decorated their shields with patterns and mythological motifs. Army units of the Roman Empire were identified by the distinctive markings on their shields (see left). These were not heraldic in the medieval sense, as they were associated with military units, not individuals or families.

Truly heraldic devices seem to have been first used in Carolingian times. Seals and banners confirm that they were being used in the Flemish area of Europe during the reign of Charlemagne (768–814 AD).

The emergence of heraldry as we know it today was linked to the need to distinguish participants quickly and easily in combat. Distinguishing devices were used on surcoats ("coats of arms"), shields, and caparisoned horses, and it would have been natural for knights to use the same devices as those already used on their banners and seals. A formal system of rules developed into ever more complex forms of heraldry to ensure that each knight's arms were unique (at least within the same jurisdiction).

The system of blazoning arms that is used in English-speaking countries today was developed by the officers of arms in the Middle Ages. This includes a stylised description of the escutcheon (shield), the crest, and, if present, supporters, mottoes, and other insignia. The language is an anglicised version of Norman French and does not always match modern heraldic French: for example the colour green is called Vert in heraldic English, but sinople in heraldic French.

Although heraldry is nearly 900 years old, it is still in use. Many cities and towns in Europe and around the world make use of arms. Personal heraldry, both legally protected and lawfully assumed, has continued to be used around the world.

Certain heraldic rules apply, the most important of which is the Rule of Tincture. This prohibits certain colour combinations, as described below. Understanding these rules is a key to the art of heraldry. Rules and terminology differ from country to country. Several national styles had developed by the end of the Middle Ages, but some aspects carry over internationally.



The Arms of Luxembourg


The Arms of Canada

Page Links
Shield and Lozenge
Divisions of the Field
Ordinaries & Subordinaries
Heraldic Charges
Torses (Wreaths)

Heraldic Supporters
Marshalling Arms

Augmentations of Honour
Canting Arms
Development of Heraldry
National Heraldry Styles
Rolls of Arms
Modern Heraldry
Attributed Coats of Arms
Assumed Coats of Arms

Shield and Lozenge



In heraldry, an escutcheon, or scutcheon, is the shield displayed in a coat of arms. The escutcheon shape is based on the Medieval shields that were used by knights in combat. The shape varied from region to region and over time.

The shield is used in heraldry not only for men but corporate bodies: city corporations, universities and schools, companies, churches and for various official offices.



As women did not go to war, they did not bear a shield. Instead, their arms were shown on a lozenge — a rhombus standing on one of its acute corners or a cartouche. This continues in much of the world, though some heraldic authorities, notably Scotland, uses ovals for women's arms. In England, Scotland and Ireland, women may, in certain circumstances, display their arms on a shield. In Canada, the restriction against women's bearing arms on a shield has been abrogated. Noncombatant clergy also have used the lozenge and the cartouche or an oval for their armorial display.





The Arms of
Robert Courtney JP
Or between three torteaux a chevron
conjoined to a bordure sable
charged with eight fusils Or.

The Arms of
Mrs Robert Courtney
Or between three torteaux a chevron conjoined to a bordure sable
charged with eight fusils Or.


Arms reproduced by kind permission of Robert Charles Hearson Courtney JP, and Geoff Kingman-Sugars of the International Association of Amateur Heralds


The following are the points of the shield used in blazons to describe where a charge should be drawn:


1 - Dexter Chief
2 - Middle Chief
3 - Sinister Chief
4 - Dexter Base
5 - Middle Base
6 - Sinister Base
7 - Honour Point
8- Fess Point
9 - Nombril Point










An inescutcheon is a smaller shield that is shown within or superimposed over the main shield. This may be used for heraldic style, in pretence (to bear another's arms over one's own), to bear one's own personal arms over the territorial arms of one's domains, as an augmentation of honour, or as a simple charge.

Inescutcheons may also be used to bear another's arms in "pretence", In English Heraldry the husband of a heraldic heiress - a woman without any brothers - may place her father's arms in an escutcheon of pretence in the centre of his own shield as a claim ("pretence") to be the head of his wife's family. In the next generation the arms would then be quartered. (Normally the arms of the wife would be impaled with those of the husband a convention known as Baron and Femme).

In similar fashion, one may bear one's own arms inescutcheon en surtout over the territorial arms of his/her domains, such as in the arms of the Danish Royal Family, the greater coat of arms of Sweden, or the arms of the Commonwealth of England 1649-1660.

On the right are the arms of George IV His arms, when King, were: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an inescutcheon tierced in pairle reversed (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen); on that another inescutheon Gules, Charlemagne crown Or (Elector of Hanover); the whole inescutcheon surmounted by a crown.

Inescutcheons also appear in personal and civic armory as simple common charges, such as in the arms of Portugal or the Swedish Collegium of Arms which bears the three crowns of Sweden, each upon its own escutcheon within the field of the main shield

The arms of Uganda on a traditional Ugandan shield


Arms of the Earl Spencer
(artwork courtesy of Wikipedia)


The arms of Lady Diana Spencer - before her marriage to Prince Charles - displayed on a Lozenge


A new coat of arms was granted to Kate Middleton's father shortly before her marriage to Prince William in 2011. Up until her marriage both Kate and her sister were entitled to bear a version of the arms shown below, the lozenge shows that the arms belong to a woman and the blue ribbon indicates that she was then unmarried. The formal "blazon" is Per pale Azure and Gules a Chevron Or cotised Argent between three Acorns slipped and leaved Or.


Per Pale means that the Shield is divided vertically with one half blue (Azure) and the other half red (Gules). A Chevron Or means the gold chevron across the centre of the Shield. There are cotises either side of the chevron which are white (Argent). Slipped means "with a stalk" so the final part of the blazon means three acorns with gold stalks and leaves.


This curved octagon is a lozenge adapted to provide an area in which it is easier to arrange the charges


The original arms of Baroness Thatcher: Per chevron, Azure and Gules.  A double key in chief between two lions combatant; a tower with portcullis in base, all Or.. Crest. A Baron's coronet. Motto:.Cherish Freedom. Supporters: Dexter:  An admiral of the British Navy. Sinister:  Sir Isaac Newton, both proper.


The Arms of the State of Alabama in the USA incorporating the emblems of the five governments that have held power over Alabama. In the first quarter (pre-Revolutionary) France, in the second the arms of castile and Leon representing Spain, in the third the United Kingdom, and in the fourth the Confederacy with an inescutcheon representing the United States. The shield is supported by bald eagles. The crest is a ship, like the ones used by the French colonists who settled near present-day Mobile. The motto, written on a yellow ribbon at the bottom, reads, "Audemus jura nostra defendere." - " We Dare To Defend Our Rights"



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Tinctures are the colours and patterns used in heraldry. In heraldic terms they are divided into standard "colours", "metals", and "furs". The Petra Sancta method was created in 1638 to render colors in black and white images of coats of arms: tinctures are indicated by a hatching convention as shown below, where the dexter half of the shield is coloured and the sinister half hatched to denote the same colour.







Two "metals" are also used:Or and Argent.

A new colour, Bleu-celeste, was introduced in the twentieth century







Furs: Certain patterns called "furs" appear in coats of arms. They are defined as tinctures, not patterns. The two common furs are ermine and vair. Ermine represents the winter coat of the stoat, which is white with a black tail. Vair represents a kind of squirrel with a blue-gray back and white belly. Sewn together, it forms a pattern of alternating blue and white shapes.




Vair and Potent are common: Countervair and Counterpotent relatively rare.

A number of other colours, called stains are used, but are much less common, notably,

Sanguine (blood-red)
Murrey (mulberry)
Tenné (burnt-orange)


These are only occasionally found, typically for special purposes - for example many air forces use Bleu-celeste (sky blue).

Heraldic charges can be displayed in their natural colours. The depiction of charges in their natural colours or "proper" are also regarded as tinctures. Many natural items such as plants and animals are described as proper in this case. A mermaid proper will therefore have a flesh coloured upper body and scaly lower body - as on the left.

Proper charges are very frequent as crests and supporters.


The Rule of Tincture

Heraldry is essentially a system of identification, so the most important convention of heraldry is the rule of tincture. To provide for contrast and visibility, metals must never be placed on metals, and colours must never be placed on colours.

Where a charge overlies a partition of the field, the rule does not apply. In fact it does not apply in many specific cases (arms divided per pale, impaled arms, brisures). Nor does the rule apply to furs.

There are also special exceptions to the rule of tinctures - generally for powerful individuals who wish to emphasize that ordinary worldly rules do not apply to them - usually using the two "metals" - for example the arms of the medieval kingdom of Jerusalem, consisting of gold crosses on a silver background (left) or the arms of the State of the Vatican City (above). Arms attributed to Satan also break the rule of tincture by having green frogs on a red background.

Example of a simple blazon, just one word "Ermine",
the arms of Brittany
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The King of Jerusalem wearing his coat of arms
gold on silver - breaking the Rule of Tinctures


Winstanton, vel Wistaston
Ermine, three escallopes Argent
An example illustrating that
the rule of Tincture does not apply to furs

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).



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Divisions of the Field


The simplest possible arms consist of a plain field. One example are the arms of Termes family in the Languedoc, whose arms were plain red - in heraldic language the full blazon is "Gules". As there are clearly a limited number of possibilities for such arms, many include charges to "difference" them.

Another way of creating more variations is to vary the field. The field can be divided into more than one tincture. Many coats of arms consist simply of a division of the field into two contrasting tinctures. These are considered divisions of a shield, so the rule of tincture does not apply. For example, a shield divided Azure and Gules would be perfectly acceptable.

party per pale party per fess quarterly
party per bend sinister party per bend per saltire
tierced per pall tierced per pall reversed tierced per pale
party per chevron gyrony of 8 gyrony of 12


A line of partition may be straight or it may be varied. The variations of partition lines can be wavy, indented, embattled, engrailed, nebuly, or other forms.

per fess embattled per fess nebuly per fess engrailed
per fess potenty per fess dovetailed per fess invected
per fess wavy   per fess indented


Arms of Jean Lovell de Tichmersh
Barry nebuly of six Gules and Or
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of William de Ferrers,
Earl of Derby , Count of Ferrers
Vairy Or and Gules
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)



Arms of the Swiss Canton of Soleure


The Arms of the Swiss Canton of Friburg


The Arms of Malta


The Arms of Robert de Vere,Earl of Oxford
Quarterly Or and Gules
in the first quarter a mullet Argent
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Variations of the field

The field of a shield, or less often a charge or crest, is sometimes made up of a pattern of colours, or variation. A pattern of horizontal (barwise) stripes, for example, is called barry, while a pattern of Vertical (palewise) stripes is called paly. A pattern of diagonal stripes may be called bendy or bendy sinister, depending on the direction of the stripes. In each case, there are always an even number of stripes, half of one colour and half of the other. (cf palets, bars and bendlets)

Other variations include chevrony, gyronny and chequy.

  paly of 6 paly of 8
Barry of 4 Barry of 8 Barry of 10
chequy lozengy fusilly
bendy of 6 fretty Goutty (Semé of Gouttes)
Semé of roses Semé of fleur de lys Semé of fleur de lys


Most small charges can be depicted as semé, e.g. semé of roses, semé of estoiles, and so forth. In English heraldry, several types of small charges have special terms to refer to their state as semé:

semé of cross-crosslets: crusily
semé of fleurs-de-lis: semé-de-lis
semé of bezants: bezanté
semé of plates: platé
semé of billets: billeté
semé of annulets: annulletty
semé of sparks: étincellé;
semé of guttae: gouttée.
semé of torteaux (roundels gules): tortelly

In European heraldry fields are sometimes blazoned as Papelonny, which represents fish scales. The term may be written Papelonne, Papilone, or Pampillettée.

Papelonny d'Argent
Sable and Argent    
Papelonny reversed
Gules and Argent


Other rare variations of the field include

  • A field "masoned" shows a pattern like that of a brick wall. This can be "proper" or of a named tincture. The tincture of the stones is named first, then that of the cracks between the stones: a wall of red bricks with white mortar is thus gules masoned argent.
  • A field Plumeté is covered in a pattern representing feathers.
  • A field tapissé of wheat is entirely covered by an interlocking stylised pattern looking like a wheat field
  • A Honeycomb field consisting of hexagons.

Or masoned Gules
the lower part of the field
is tapissé of wheat


Variations of the field are sometimes combined to produce patterns of barry-bendy, paly-bendy, lozengy and fusilly Semés, or patterns of repeated charges, are also considered variations of the field.




The Rule of tincture applies to all semés and variations of the field.


Diapering (covering areas of flat colour with a tracery design when depicting arms) is not considered a variation of the field; it is not specified in blazon, being a decision of the individual artist. A coat depicted with diapering is considered the same as a coat drawn from the same blazon but depicted without diapering. (Although there are Scottish examples where the diapering is included in the blazon)

William de Bishopstone
Bendy of six Or and Sable
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)


The Arms of Monaco: Fusily Argent and Gules
supported by two armed and bearded monks


The Arms of Saxe


Theobald de Verdun
Or fretty Gules


Piers de Coudray
Gules billetty Or
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)


Roger la Zouche
Gules bezanty
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)


Hugh de Escot
Sable semy of escallops Or
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)


John de Lillebon
Per pale Argent and Sable a chevron counterchanged
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)


Ordinaries & Subordinaries


In the early days of heraldry, very simple bold rectilinear shapes were painted on shields. These could be easily recognized at a long distance and could be easily remembered. They therefore served the main purpose of heraldry—identification. As more complicated shields came into use, these bold shapes were set apart in a separate class as the "honourable ordinaries."

Some heraldic writers distinguish between "honourable ordinaries" and "sub-ordinaries". While some authors hold that only nine charges are "honourable" ordinaries, exactly which ones fit into this category is a subject of constant disagreement. The remainder are often termed "sub-ordinaries", and narrower or smaller versions of the ordinaries are called diminutives.

One herald says: "The first Honourable Ordinary is the cross," the second is the chief, the third is the pale, the fourth is the bend, the fifth is the fess, the sixth is the inescutcheon, the seventh is the chevron, the eighth is the saltire, and the ninth is the bar, while stating that "some writers" prefer the bordure as the ninth ordinary.


cross chief pale
bend bend sinister fess
inescutcheon saltire chevron


They act as charges and are always written first in blazon. Unless otherwise specified they extend to the edges of the field. Other ordinaries are shown below

Most of the ordinaries have corresponding diminutives, narrower versions, most often mentioned when two or more appear in parallel. In English heraldry they have different names such as pallets, bars, bendlets, and chevronels.

two pallets Gules
four pallets Gules
a bendlet Gules
two bars Gules
three bars Gules
two bendlets Gules
two bars Argent
three bars Argent
three bendlets Gules
three chevronels Gules
three bendlets Argent
four bendlets Gules



French blazon makes no such distinction between these diminutives and the ordinaries when borne singly. Unless otherwise specified an ordinary is drawn with straight lines, but each may be indented, embattled, wavy, engrailed, or otherwise have their lines varied.

An easy mistake is to confuse arms featuring pallets, bars or bendlets with (respectively) paly, Barry and bendy arms. The former always have an odd number of stripes and the latter an even number. The former are stripes of one colour on top of a field of another colour. The later are alternating coloured stripes.

two bars Gules
    Barry of 4
Argent and Gules
four pallets Gules
    paly of 8
Argent and Gules
three bendlets Gules
    bendy of 6
Argent and Gules



"Azure, a bend Or"
Arms over which the families of Scrope and Grosvenor fought a famous legal battle which established that arms must be unique within a jurisdiction
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Rossillon
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Savoie


Arms of John de Mohun
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Neville
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Ralf Stafford
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Fenton Of That Ilk
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Vavassor
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Cardinal Richelieu

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There is a separate class of charges called sub-ordinaries which are of a geometrical shape subordinate to the ordinary.


pall Pall Reversed flaunches
a quarter a canton a pile
a 5 point label a lozenge a pile reversed
a gyron A rustre ente en pointe
An orle a tressure a double tressure
a fillet pile a fillet pile reversed  


The quarter is a rectangle occupying the top left quarter of the field, as seen by the viewer. The canton is a square occupying the left third of the chief (sometimes reckoned to be a diminutive of the quarter).

The bordure is a border touching the edge of the field. The orle may be considered an inner bordure: a reasonably wide band away from the edge of the shield, it is always shown following the shape of the shield, without touching the edges. The tressure is a narrower version of the orle, rarely seen except in the double tressure flory and counter-flory, an element of the royal coat of arms of Scotland and of many other Scots coats.

The fret originally consisted of three bendlets interlaced with three bendlets sinister; Other depictions form the outer bendlets into a mascle through which the two remaining bendlets are woven.

Flaunches, flanches or flasks are regions on the sides of the field, bounded by a pair of circular arcs whose centres are beyond the sides of the shield.

A label is a horizontal strap, with a number of pendants (called points) suspended from it; the default is three, but any number may be specified. The label is nearly always a mark of cadency in British and French heraldry, but is occasionally found as a regular charge.



"Or, a lion rampant within a double tressure flory counter-flory Gules" - the blazon of the arms of Scotland.
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The coat of Arms of the village of
Rennes-le-Château in France
Azur a bordure Or
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)

The coat of Arms of the village of Rennes-le-Château in France

Roger Pichard
Argent three lozenges Sable
(reproduced here by courtesy of Brian Timms)

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A charge is any object or figure placed on a heraldic shield or on any other object of an armorial composition. Any object found in nature or technology may appear as a heraldic charge in armory. Charges can be animals, objects, or geometric shapes.

Apart from the ordinaries, the most frequent charges are the cross—with its hundreds of variations—and the lion and eagle. Other common animals are stags, wild boar, martlets, and fish. Dragons, bats, unicorns, griffins, and more exotic monsters appear as charges and as supporters.

Animals are found in various stereotyped positions or 'attitudes'. Quadrupeds can often be found rampant—standing on the left hind foot. Another frequent position is passant, or walking, like the lions of the coat of arms of England. Eagles are almost always shown with their wings spread, or displayed.

In English heraldry the crescent, mullet, martlet, annulet, fleur-de-lis, and rose may be added to a shield to distinguish cadet branches of a family from the senior line. These cadency marks are usually shown smaller than normal charges, but it still does not follow that a shield containing such a charge belongs to a cadet branch. All of these charges occur frequently in basic undifferenced coats of arms.

The term charge can also be used as a verb; for example, if an escutcheon bears three lions, then it is said to be charged with three lions; similarly, a crest or even a charge itself may be "charged", such as a pair of eagle wings charged with trefoils (e.g. Coat of arms of Brandenburg).

So-called mobile charges are not tied to the size and shape of the shield, and so may be placed in any part of the field, although whenever a charge appears alone, it is placed with sufficient position and size to occupy the entire field. Common mobile charges include human figures, human parts, animals, animal parts, mythical creatures (or "monsters"), plants and floral designs, inanimate objects and other devices. The heraldic animals need not exactly resemble the actual creatures.

The escutcheon is a small shield. If borne singly in the centre of the main shield, it is called an inescutcheon, and is usually employed to combine multiple coats. It is customarily the same shape as the shield it is on, though shields of specific shapes are rarely specified in the blazon.

The lozenge is a rhombus generally resembling the diamonds of playing-cards. A more acute lozenge is called a fusil. A lozenge voided (i.e. with a lozenge-shaped hole) is a mascle; a lozenge pierced (i.e. with a round hole) is a rustre.

The billet is a rectangle, usually at least twice as tall as it is wide; it may represent a block of wood or a sheet of paper. Billets appear in the shield of the house of Nassau, which was modified to become that of the kingdom of the Netherlands.

The roundel is a solid circle, frequently of gold, though it can be of any colour. Roundels have their own special names depending on the colour, as shown below.

three bezants   three plates   three hurts   three torteaux
three pellets   three pommes   three golpes   three fountains


A fountain is a roundel Barry wavy Argent and Azure.

An annulet is a roundel voided (literally. a little ring). The arms on the right are those of Courville-sur-Eure with ten annulets.

Several other simple charges occur with comparable frequency. These include the mullet or star, crescent and cross.

The mullet (or mollet) is a star of (usually five) straight rays, and may have originated as a representation of the rowel or revel of a spur (although "spur-revels" also appear under that name). Mullets frequently appear pierced. If unpierced, it is sometimes called a "star" in Scottish heraldry, and stars also appear in English and continental heraldry under that name (often with six points).

Five mullets of six points Or
pierced of the field

a rustre

3 mascles

A star with (usually six) wavy rays is called an estoile (from etoile, the French word for "star").

The crescent, a symbol of the Moon, normally appears with its horns upward; if its horns are to Dexter it represents a waxing moon (increscent), and with horns to sinister it represents a waning moon (decrescent).

One of the most frequently found charges in heraldry, if not the most, is the cross, which has developed into, some say, 400 varieties. When the cross does not reach the edges of the field, it becomes a mobile charge. The plain Greek cross (with equal limbs) and Latin cross (with the lower limb extended) are sometimes seen, but more often the tip of each limb is developed into some ornamental shape. The most commonly found crosses in heraldry are shown below.

greek cross cross-moline cross-patonce
cross-flory cross pommee cross-crosslet
cross-potent saltire cross voided
cross fourchee cross pattee maltese cross
  cross bottony  


In English heraldry the crescent, mullet, martlet, annulet, fleur-de-lis and rose may be added to a shield to distinguish cadet branches of a family from the senior line. It does not follow, however, that a shield containing such a charge belongs to a cadet branch. All of these charges occur frequently in basic (undifferenced) coats of arms.

Humans, deities, angels and demons occur more often as crests and supporters than on the shield. When humans do appear on the shield, they almost always appear affronté (facing forward), rather than toward the left like beasts. The largest group of human charges consists of saints, often as the patron of a town. Knights, bishops, monks and nuns, kings and queens also occur frequently. .

Greco-Roman mythological figures typically appear in an allegorical or canting role. Angels very frequently appear.

Parts of human bodies occur more often than the whole, particularly heads, stylized hearts, hands, torso and armored limbs. A famous heraldic hand is the Red Hand of Ulster, alluding to an ancient myth. According to one version, the kingdom of Ulster had at one time no rightful heir. Because of this it was agreed that a boat race should take place and that "whosoever's hand is the first to touch the shore of Ulster, so shall he be made the king". One candidate so desired Ulster that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore — thus winning the kingship. The hand is most likely red to represent the fact that it would have been covered in blood. According to some versions of the story, the king who cut off his hand belonged to the Uí Néill clan, which apparently explains its association with them - the red hand is the ancient arms of the O'Neil and appears as an escutcheon on the arms of Ulster.

Plants are common in heraldry and figure among the earliest charges. Trees also appear in heraldry; the most frequent tree by far is the oak (drawn with large leaves and acorns), followed by the pine. Apples and bunches of grapes occur very frequently, other fruits less so.

The most famous heraldic flower (particularly in French heraldry) is the fleur-de-lis, which is often stated to be a stylised lily, though despite the name there is considerable debate on this. The "natural" lily, somewhat stylised, also occurs, as (together with the fleur-de-lis) in the arms of Eton College. The rose is perhaps even more widely seen in English heraldry than the fleur-de-lis. Its heraldic form is derived from the "wild" type with only five petals. The thistle frequently appears as a symbol of Scotland.

The trefoil, quatrefoil and cinquefoil are abstract forms resembling flowers or leaves. The trefoil is always shown slipped (i.e. with a stem), unless blazoned otherwise. The cinquefoil is sometimes blazoned fraise (strawberry flower), most notably when canting for Fraser. The trillium flower occurs occasionally in a Canadian context, and the protea flower constantly appears in South Africa, since it is the national flower symbol, the South African cricket team sometimes being called the Proteas.

Wheat occurs in the form of "garbs" or sheaves and in fields , though less often as ears- all of which are shown unwhiskered. Ears of rye are depicted exactly as wheat, except the ears droop down and is probably best shown as whiskered. Barley, maize and oats also occur.

Few inanimate objects in heraldry carry a special significance distinct from that of the object itself, but among such objects are the escarbuncle, the fasces, and the key. The escarbuncle developed from the radiating iron bands used to strengthen a round shield, eventually becoming a heraldic charge.

The fasces (not to be confused with the French term for a bar or fess) is emblematic of the Roman magisterial office and has often been granted to mayors. Keys (taking a form similar to a "skeleton key") are emblematic of Saint Peter and, by extension, the papacy, and thus frequently appear in ecclesiastical heraldry.

The sun "in his splendour" is a disc with twelve or more wavy rays, or alternating wavy and straight rays, as shown on the left. It appears in the arms of Brady (also shown left): . "Sable, in the sinister base a Dexter hand couped at the wrist proper pointing with index finger to the sun in splendour in Dexter chief Or".

The moon "in her plenitude" (full) sometimes appears, distinguished from a roundel Argent by having a face; but crescents occur much more frequently. Estoiles are stars with six wavy rays, while stars (when they occur under that name) normally have five straight rays, being the same as the mullet. Clouds often occur, though more frequently for people or animals to stand on or issue from than as isolated charges. The raindrop as such is unknown, though a drop of fluid (goutte) is known. These occasionally appear as a charge, but more frequently constitute a field semé (known as goutté).

The oldest geological charge is the mount, typically a green hilltop rising from the lower edge of the field, providing a place for a beast, building or tree to stand.. Natural mountains and boulders are not unknown, though ranges of mountains are differently shown. An example is the arms of Edinburgh, portraying Edinburgh Castle atop Castle Rock. Volcanos are shown, almost without exception, as erupting, and the eruption is generally stylised. In the 18th century, landscapes began to appear in armoury, often depicting the sites of battles. For example, Admiral Lord Nelson received a chief of augmentation containing a landscape alluding to the Battle of the Nile.

The most frequent building in heraldry is the tower, a tapering cylinder of masonry topped with battlements, usually having a door and a few windows. The canting arms of the Kingdom of Castile are Gules, a tower triple-towered Or (i.e. three small towers standing atop a larger one). A castle is generally shown as two towers joined by a wall, though sometimes as a wall with two towers; the doorway is sometimes blazoned to be shown secured by a portcullis. The portcullis was used as a canting badge by the Tudors ("two-doors"), and has since come to represent the British Parliament.

As an ordinary chess-rook would be indistinguishable from a tower; the heraldic chess rook, instead of battlements, has two outward-splayed "horns".

Civic and ecclesiastical armory sometimes shows a church or a whole town, and cities, towns and Scots burghs often bear a mural crown (a crown in the form of a wall with battlements or turrets) in place of a crown over the shield. Ships of various types often appear; the most frequent being the ancient galley often called, from the Gaelic, a lymphad. Also frequent are anchors and oars.

The maunch is a medieval lappeted sleeve, some highly stylized, and looking quite unlike a sleeve and more like a fancifully-written letter M; in French blazon it is said to be called manche mal taillée ("a sleeve badly cut") though modern French blazons seem to be quite happy with plain manche. Spurs also occur, sometimes "winged", but more frequently occurring is the spur-rowel or spur-revel, which is said to more often termed a "mullet of five points pierced" by English heralds.

Crowns and coronets of various kinds are constantly seen. The ecclesiastical hat and bishop's mitre are nearly ubiquitous in ecclesiastical heraldry. The sword is sometimes a symbol of authority, as in the royal arms of the Netherlands, but may also allude to Saint Paul, as the patron of a town (e.g. London) or dedicatee of a church. Other weapons occur more often in modern than in earlier heraldry. The mace also appears as a weapon, the war mace, in addition to its appearance as a symbol of authority, plain mace. The globus cruciger, also variously called an orb, a royal orb, or a mound (from French monde, Latin mundus, the world) is a ball or globe surmounted by a cross, which is part of the regalia of an emperor or king, and is the emblem of sovereign authority and majesty.

Books constantly occur, most frequently in the arms of colleges and universities, though the Gospel and Bible are sometimes distinguished. Books if open may be inscribed with words.

Birmingham University


Words and phrases are otherwise rare, except in Spanish and Portuguese armory. Letters of the various alphabets are also relatively rare. Arms of merchants in Poland and eastern Germany are often based on house marks, abstract symbols resembling runes.

Musical instruments commonly seen are the harp (as in the coat of arms of Ireland), bell and trumpet. The drum, almost without exception, is of the field drum type.

Animals, especially lions and eagles, feature prominently as heraldic charges. Many important differences exist between an animal's natural form and the stylized form given to it in heraldic displays. Many of these differences are apparent in the conventional attitudes (positions) into which heraldic animals are contorted; additionally, various parts of an animal (claws, horns, tongue, etc.) may be differently coloured, each with its own terminology.

Most animals are broadly classified, according to their natural form, into beasts, birds, sea creatures and others, and the attitudes that apply to them may be grouped accordingly. Beasts, particularly lions, most often appear in the rampant position; while birds, particularly the eagle, most often appear displayed. While the lion, regarded as the king of beasts, is by far the most frequently occurring beast in heraldry, the eagle, equally regarded as the king of birds, is overwhelmingly the most frequently occurring bird, and the rivalry between these two is often noted to parallel with the political rivalry between the powers they came to represent in medieval Europe.

Other beasts frequently seen include wolf, bear, boar, horse, bull or ox, stag. The tiger (unless blazoned as a Bengal tiger) is a fanciful beast with a wolf-like body, a mane and a pointed snout. Dogs of various types, and occasionally of specific breeds, occur more often as crests or supporters than as charges. The unicorn resembles a horse with a single horn, but its hooves are usually cloven like those of a deer. The griffin combines the head (but with ears), chest, wings and forelegs of the eagle with the hindquarters and legs of a lion. The male griffin lacks wings and his body is scattered with spikes.

The bird most frequently found in coat armory, by far, is the eagle in its various forms, including the ubiquitous eagle displayed, eagles in other poses (such as statant or rising), the demi-eagle (an eagle displayed, shown only above the waist), the double-headed eagle of imperial fame, and a few other forms . Eagles and their wings also feature prominently as crests. The double eagle gained its fame in the arms of the Byzantine, Holy Roman, Austrian, and Russian empires.

The martlet, a stylized swallow without feet, is a mark of cadency in English heraldry, but also appears as a simple charge in undifferenced arms.

The category of sea creatures may be seen to include various fish, a highly stylized "dolphin", and various fanciful creatures, sea monsters, which are shown as half-fish and half-beast, as well as mermaids and the like. The "sea lion" and "sea horse", for example, do not appear as natural sea lions and seahorses, but rather as half-lion half-fish and half-horse half-fish, respectively. Fish of various species often appear in canting arms, e.g.: pike, also called luce, for Pike or Lucy; dolphin (a conventional kind of fish rather than the natural mammal) for the Dauphin de Viennois. The escallop (scallop shell) became popular as a token of pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela. The sea-lion and sea-horse, like the mermaid, combine the foreparts of a mammal with the tail of a fish, and a dorsal fin in place of the mane. (When the natural seahorse is meant, it is blazoned as a hippocampus.) The sea-dog and sea-wolf are quadrupeds but with scales, webbed feet, and often a flat tail resembling that of the beaver.

Reptiles and invertebrates occurring in heraldry include serpents, lizards, salamanders and others, but the most frequently occurring of these are various forms of dragons. The "dragon", thus termed, is a large monstrous reptile with, often, a forked or barbed tongue, membraned wings like a bat's, and four legs. The wyvern and lindworm are dragons with only two legs. The salamander is typically shown as a simple lizard surrounded by flames.

Animals' heads are also very frequent charges, as are the paw or leg (gamb) of the lion, the wing (often paired) of the eagle, and the antlers (attire) of the stag. Sometimes only the top half of a beast is shown; for example, the demi-lion is among the most common forms occurring in heraldic crests.

Heads may appear cabossed (also caboshed or caboched): with the head cleanly separated from the neck so that only the face shows. On the arms on the left are three bulls' heads cabossed.

Alternatively they may be erased: with the neck showing a ragged edge as if forcibly torn from the body. The arms on the right feature three griffons'; heads erased.

Finally heads may me couped, with the neck cleanly separated from the body so that the whole head and neck are present. The arms on the right feature three boars' heads couped.

While cabossed heads are shown facing forward (affronté), heads that are couped or erased face Dexter unless otherwise specified for differencing. Heads of horned beasts are often shown cabossed to display the horns, but instances can be found in any of these circumstances.



In heraldry, an attitude is the position in which an animal, fictional beast, mythical creature, human or human-like being is emblazoned as a charge, supporter or crest.

The attitude, or position, of the creature's body is usually explicitly stated in English blazon. When such description is omitted, a lion can be assumed to be rampant, a herbivore passant.

By default, the charge faces Dexter (left as seen by the viewer); this would be forward on a shield worn on the left arm. In German heraldry, animate charges in the Dexter half of a composite display are usually turned to face the centre.

Certain features of an animal are often of a contrasting tincture. The charge is then said to be armed (claws and horns and tusks), langued (tongue), pizzled (penis), attired (antlers or very occasionally horns), unguled (hooves), crined (horse's mane or human hair) of a specified tincture.

Many attitudes apply only to predatory beasts and are exemplified by the beast most frequently found in heraldry — the lion. Some other terms apply only to docile animals, such as the doe. Other attitudes describe the positions of birds, mostly exemplified by the bird most frequently found in heraldry — the eagle. Birds are often further described by the exact position of their wings.

The term naiant (swimming), is usually reserved for fish but may also apply to swans, ducks or geese.

One attitude, segreant, is reserved for mythical winged quadrupeds known as griffins. It denotes an attitude which for other beasts is denoted by the term rampant.

Additionally, there are positions applying to direction, to indicate variations from the presumed position of any charge. Animals and animal-like creatures are presumed to be shown in profile, facing Dexter (the viewer's left), and humans and human-like beings are presumed to be shown affronté (facing the viewer), unless otherwise specified in the blazon.

To sinister or contourné is said of an animal or being that is turned to face the viewer's right.

Guardant indicates an animal with its head turned to face the viewer.

Regardant indicates an animal with its head turned backward, as if looking over its shoulder.

Many attitudes commonly met with in heraldic rolls apply specifically to predatory beasts, while others may be better suited to the docile animals.

Also worth note is that a lion or other beast may additionally be described in terms of the position of its head, differently coloured parts (such as teeth, claws, tongue, etc.), or by the shape or position of its tail. A beast may be "armed" (horns, teeth and claws) or "langued" (tongue) of a tincture, while a stag may be "attired" (antlers) or "unguled" (hooves) of a tincture. A lion (or other beast) coward carries the tail between its hind legs. The tail also may be forked (queue fourchée) or doubled (double-queued).

A beast rampant (Old French: "rearing up") is depicted in profile standing erect with forepaws raised. The position of the hind legs varies according to local custom: the lion may stand on both hind legs, braced wide apart, or on only one, with the other also raised to strike; the word rampant is sometimes omitted, especially in early blazon, as this is the most usual position of a carnivorous quadruped. Rampant is the most frequent attitude of quadrupeds, and as supporters they are rarely seen in any other attitude.

lion rampant lion rampant guardant lion rampant regardant
lion coward lion tail fourche lion tail saltire


A beast courant (also at speed or in full chase) is running, depicted at full stride with all four legs in the air, as on the right.

A beast salient (Latin: saliens, "leaping" or springing) is leaping, with both hind legs together on the ground and both forelegs together in the air, as shown on the left.. This is a very rare position for a lion, but is also used of other heraldic beasts. The stag and other docile animals in this position are often termed springing. Certain smaller animals are sometimes blazoned as saltant rather than salient.

A beast passant (Old French: "striding") walks toward the viewer's left, with the right forepaw raised and all others on the ground. A "Lion of England" denotes a lion passant guardant Or, used as an augmentation. For stags and other deer-like beasts of chase, the term trippant is used instead of passant. Interestingly, French heralds have long held that any lion in a walking position must necessarily be a "leopard" which accounts for the three lions of England being referred to as the leopards of England although this is not the practice of English heralds.

Lion passant lion passant guardant lion passant regardant


A beast statant (Old French: "standing") is "standing" (in profile toward Dexter), all four feet on the ground, usually with the forepaws together. This posture is more frequent in crests than in charges on shields - see for example the UK's Royal crest on the right.

In certain animals, such as bears, this is sometimes said to refer to an upright, bipedal position (this position usually referred to as statant erect). While statant is used in reference to predatory beasts, the more docile animals when in this position are sometimes blazoned at bay, though this term hardly, if ever, appears in any reliable source. Stags statant guardant are said to be at gaze.

Lion statant lion statant guardant lion statant regardant


A beast sejant or sejeant (Middle French: sejant, "sitting") sits on his haunches, with both forepaws on the ground.. A beast sejant erect is seated on its haunches, but with its body erect and both forepaws raised in the "rampant" position (this is sometimes termed "sejant-rampant").

The royal arms of Scotland feature an unusual lion sejant erect and affronte as shown on the right. The crest is blazoned as "Upon the Royal helm the crown of Scotland Proper, thereon a lion sejant affronté Gules armed and langued Azure, Royally crowned Proper holding in his Dexter paw a sword and in his sinister a sceptre, both Proper"

lion sejant lion sejant erect  


A beast couchant (Old French: "lying down") is lying down, but with the head raised. Lodged is the term for this position when applied to the 'docile' animals and most commonly of stags which are not necessarily to be thought of as 'docile' even if herbivorous. A beast dormant (Old French: "sleeping") is lying down with its eyes closed and head lowered, resting upon the forepaws, as if asleep.

Lion couchant lion dormant  


Some attitudes describe the positioning of birds. Birds, without an attitude specifically blazoned, is by default shown as close - ie at rest with wings against the body.

A bird displayed is shown affronté with its head turned to Dexter and wings spread to the sides to fill the area of the field. The symbolic use of eagles in this position was well established even before the development of heraldry, going back to Charlemagne. Wings displayed are spread to the sides to fill the area of the field. The eagle is so often found displayed in early heraldry that some people claim that this position came to be presumed of the eagle unless some other attitude is specified in the blazon. The arms of Germany shown on the right feature an eagle displayed.

Wings addorsed are raised as if about to take flight, so that only the top of the bird's right wing shows behind the fully displayed left wing. Wings elevated are raised with the wing tips pointing upward. Wings inverted are raised with the wing tips pointing downward.

A bird rising or rousant faces Dexter with its head upturned and wings raised, as if about to take flight. A bird rising may have its wings described as either displayed or addorsed, and the wings may be further described as elevated or inverted.

A bird trussed, close, or perched is at rest with its wings folded - though trussed is much more rarely found than the other terms, of which 'close' is by far the most common.

One peculiar attitude among birds, reserved only to the pelican, is the pelican in her piety (i.e. wings raised, piercing her own breast to feed her chicks in the nest). This symbol carries a religious meaning, and became so popular in heraldry that pelicans rarely exist in heraldry in any other position. A distinction is observed, between a pelican "vulning herself" (alone, piercing her breast) and "in her piety" (surrounded by and feeding her chicks).

Several terms refer to the particular position of the wings, rather than the attitude of the bird itself. A bird in nearly any attitude, except trussed, may have wings displayed, addorsed, elevated or inverted.

Few attitudes are reserved to the rarer classes of creatures, but these include segreant, a term which can only apply to winged quadrupeds; naiant and hauriant, terms applying principally to fish; glissant and nowed, terms applying to serpents. Serpents also sometimes appear in a circular form, biting their own tail, but this symbol, called an Ouroboros, was imported ready-made into heraldry, and so it has no term of attitude to describe it, being blazoned as 'disposed circleways' or something similar.

Creatures combatant are shown in profile facing each other in the rampant or segreant position, always paired and never appearing singly. Nearly any creature can be rendered combatant, although this term is usually applied to predatory beasts and mythical creatures; herbivorous animals in such a position are usually, but not always, blazoned as respectant.

Creatures or objects addorsed or endorsed are shown facing away from each other. As with combatant, charges addorsed can only appear in pairs. One also frequently finds keys addorsed (placed in parallel, wards facing outward).

An animal or creature naiant is swimming. This term is typically applied to fish (when shown in a horizontal position), but may also apply to other sea creatures and, occasionally, water fowl (i.e. swans, ducks or geese). A dolphin blazoned as naiant is always shown as embowed, unlike any other sea creature or monster, even though the blazon may not specify this.

A fish, dolphin, or other sea creature hauriant is in a Vertical position with its head up. On the right are the arms of the Dauphin of France.

A serpent glissant is gliding along horizontally in a waved or wavy way.

Serpents, and the tails of other beasts and monsters, may be nowed or knotted — often in a figure 8 knot.


The Arms of England with the three lions of England
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Dudley
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Thomas de Beauchamp
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Baldwin Wake
Two bars Gules in chief three torteaux
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Grey de Rotherfield
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of the Corporation of Dudley, featuring a salamander in the base


Arms of Daubeney
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)

Arms of Renaud de Cobham
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of de la Torre


Medieval attributed arms of the King of Morocco
Azure, three chess rooks Or
(Click for more on Chess Rooks)

The coat of arms attributed to the King of Morocco in an early roll of arms

Arms of Earl Mountbatten of Burma: Quarterly: first and fourth, Azure, a lion rampant double queued Barry of ten Argent and Gules, armed and langued of the last, crowned or, within a bordure compony of the second and third; second and third, Argent, two pallets Sable charged on the honour point with an escutcheon of the arms of the late Princess Alice (namely, the Royal Arms differenced with a label of three points Argent, the centre point charged with a rose Gules barbed Vert, and each of the other points with an ermine spot Sable). Crests – First, out of a coronet or, two horns Barry of ten, Argent and Gules, issuing from each three linden leaves Vert, and from the outer side of each horn four branches barwise, having three like leaves pendant therefrom of the last (Hesse); second, out of a coronet or, a plume of four ostrich feathers alternately Argent and Sable (Battenberg). Supporters – On either side a lion double queued and crowned all or.


Arms of the Duke of Argyll:


Educational establishments often use the arms of their founders. These are the arms of Cardinal Wolsey and of Christ Church College Oxford which he founded (this version is used by the college - though it is not clear why the hat is black and not red)


Banner of the arms of Cardinal Wolsey as Archbishop of York. His arms on the sinister (viewer's right) impale those of his office.


Detail from Sampson Strong's portrait of Cardinal Wolsey at Christ Church (1526).


Arms of the Isle of Mann: Arms: Gules a Triskele Argent garnished and spurred Or And for the Crest ensigning the Shield of Arms An Imperial Crown proper and for the Supporters Dexter a Peregrine Falcon and sinister a Raven both proper together with this Motto Quocunque Jeceris Stabit. The motto "Quocunque Jeceris Stabit", translates literally as "whichever way you throw me, I will stand"


The arms of Sir Isaac Newton: Sable, two shinbones in saltire Argent  (the Dexter surmounted of the sinister)


The Arms of the Duke of Edinburgh. Escutcheon: Quarterly: first, the arms of Denmark, consisting of three blue lions passant and nine red hearts on a yellow field; second, the arms of Greece, a white cross on a blue field; third, the arms of the Mountbatten family, two Vertical black stripes on a white field; and fourth, the arms of the City of Edinburgh, a black and red castle. Supporters: The sinister Hercules from the Greek royal coat of arms; the Dexter a golden lion (a traditional British symbol) wearing a ducal coronet and gorged (collared) with a naval crown.


The Cross of Toulouse :
Arms of the medieval Counts of Toulouse


French arms before 1376
(France ancienne)
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


French arms after 1376
(France moderne)
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Roger de Clifford
Checky Or and Azure a fess Gules
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms Lucy (Lucy is an old name for a pike, so the arms show three "Lucies"
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Dacre
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms used by Richard I
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Longespee
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Courville-sur-Eure
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Washington


The Arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury


The arms of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke


The Arms of Joao II of Portugal


Mouldsworth of Wincham
Argent, on a bend Sable three pheons of the first.
(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).





In heraldry, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image. A coat of arms is primarily defined not by a picture but rather by the wording of its blazon ( flags are in modern usage are more precisely defined using geometrical specifications). Other objects, such as badges, banners, and seals may be described in a blazon.

The word Blazon also refers to the specialized language in which a blazon is written, and, as a verb, to the act of writing such a description.

Because heraldry developed at a time when English clerks wrote in French, many terms in English heraldry are of French origin, as is the practice of placing most adjectives after nouns rather than before.

The blazon of armorial bearings follows a rigid formula. It begins by describing the field (background). In a majority of cases this is a single tincture; e.g. Azure (blue). If the field is complex, the variation is described, followed by the tinctures used; e.g. Chequy Gules and Argent (checkered red and white). If the shield is divided, the division is described, followed by the tinctures of the subfields, beginning with the Dexter end (viewer's left) of the chief (upper) edge; e.g. Party per pale Argent and Vert (left half silver, right half green), or Quarterly Argent and Gules (clockwise from top left: white, red, white, red).

Next the principal charge or charges are named, with their tinctures; e.g. a bend Or.

The principal charge is followed by any other charges placed around or on it. If a charge be a bird or beast, its attitude is described, followed by the animal's tincture, followed by anything that may be differently coloured; e.g. An eagle displayed Gules, armed and wings charged with trefoils Or.

Any accessories present, such as crown or coronet, helmet, torse, mantling, crest, motto, supporters and compartment, are then described in turn, using the same terminology and syntax.

A composite shield is blazoned one panel at a time, proceeding by rows from chief (top) to base, and within each row from Dexter (the right side of the bearer holding the shield) to sinister; in other words, from the viewer's left to right. A divided shield is blazoned "party per [line of division]" in English heraldry or "parted per [line of division]" in Scottish heraldry, though the word "party" or "parted" is often omitted (e.g. "Per pale Argent and Vert, a tree eradicated counterchanged").

The term "counterchanged" is applied to a charge that straddles a line of division when it is tinctured of the same tinctures as the divided field, but reversed, as in the example on the right (party per pale Sable and Or a bend counterchanged)

In Victorian times the name of a tincture was often replaced by "of the first", "of the second" etc. to avoid repetition of tincture names; these terms refer to the order in which the tinctures were first mentioned. This practice was never that easy to follow. It is less common now, but occasionally still seen.

The shape of the shield is almost always immaterial.

The visual depiction of a coat of arms or flag has considerable latitude in design as a blazon specifies only the essentially distinctive elements.

Some blazons contain puns on the family name, not always obvious because the punning word may not now be widely used. For example the name Newton has been represented by a "new tun" ie a new barrel (see below). Again bendlets on the arms might suggest the name Bently (see right).


The arms of Camilla, Princess of Wales, and Duchess of Cornwall (the title she more usually uses). The arms of Major Shand, used in the sinister (right hand side of the shield when viewed from the front; the right hand side is the Dexter and considered superior to sinister) half of the Duchess' shield, are blazoned: Azure (armorial tincture blue) a Boar's Head erased behind the ears Argent (armorial metal silver) armed and langued (describing the tongue of a creature) Or (armorial metal gold) on a Chief (a broad horizontal band covering the uppermost portion of the shield) engrailed (decorate or mark the edge of with small curves) Argent between two Mullets (star with 5-points) Gules (armorial tincture red) a Cross crosslet (a plain cross with each of its four limbs also terminating in a cross) fitchy (pointed at the foot) Sable (armorial tincture black). The sinister supporter is blazoned with a Boar Azure armed and unguled (describing the hooves of an animal) Or langued Gules and gorged (encircled around the throat) with a Coronet composed of crosses formy and fleurs-de-lys (armorial charge in the form of a stylized lily) attached thereto a Chain reflexed (curved backwards) over the back and ending in a ring all Or.


The arms of Sir Paul McCartney: Escutcheon: Or between two Flaunches fracted fesswise two Roundels Sable over all six Guitar Strings palewise throughout counterchanged.
(Reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)



The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Helms, Crests, Torses (Wreaths), Coronets and Mantling



In heraldic achievements, the helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets.



Open-visored or barred helmets are typically reserved to the highest ranks of nobility, while untitled nobility and burghers typically assume closed helms. While these classifications remained relatively constant, the specific forms of all these helmets varied and evolved over time. The evolution of these heraldic helmets followed the evolution of combat techniques and tourneying in the Middle Ages.

The practice of indicating rank through the display of barred or open-face helmets did not appear until around 1615, long after the practice of heraldry had been established.

In some traditions, especially German and Nordic heraldry, two or three helmets (and sometimes more) may be used in a single achievement of arms, each representing a fief to which the bearer has a right. For this reason, the helmets and crests in German and Nordic arms are considered to be essential to the coat of arms and are never separated from it.

As jousting with lances was supplanted by tourneying with maces, the object being to knock the opponent's crest off his helmet, the fully enclosed helmet gave way to helmets with enlarged visual openings with only a few bars to protect the face.

The direction a helmet faces and the number of bars on the grille have been ascribed special significance in later manuals, but this is not a period practice. A king's helmet, a golden helmet shown affronté with the visor raised, crowned with a royal crown, became adopted by the kings of Prussia. In ecclesiastical heraldry, bishops and other clergy use a mitre or other rank-appropriate ecclesiastical hat in place of a helmet.

Historically the helmet was not specifically granted in an achievement of arms, but was naturally assumed by appropriate rank as a matter of "inherent right", so a helmet with torse and mantling would not be misplaced even above a shield which had no crest to place above it.

When multiple crests need to be depicted, practice in English heraldry is to draw the crests above a single helmet, each being separated from it. The example on the right is an exception.

In German heraldry, where multiple crests appear frequently after the 16th century, each crest is always treated as inseparable from its own helmet and turned in agreement with the helmet.

In continental Europe, multiple helmets were usually turned inward, with the centre helm (if an odd number) turned affrontê, while in Scandinavian heraldry the helmets were usually turned outward.


The Crest

A crest is a component of an heraldic display, so called because it stands on top of a helmet rather like the crest on a bird's head.

The earliest heraldic crests were apparently painted on metal fans, and repeated the coat of arms painted on the shield, a practice which was later discontinued. Later they were sculpted of leather and other materials.

Originally, the crest was often continued into the mantling, but today the crest normally stands within a wreath of cloth, called a torse, in the principal tinctures of the shield (the liveries). Various kinds of coronet may take the place of the torse, though in some circumstances the coronet sits atop a torse, and is either defined as all or part of a crest.

The most frequent crest-coronet is a simplified form of a ducal coronet, with four leaves rather than eight. Towns often have a mural crown, i.e. a coronet in the form of embattled stone walls.

Objects frequently borne as crests include animals, especially lions, normally showing only the fore half; human figures, likewise often from the waist up; hands or arms holding weapons; bird's wings. In Germany and nearby countries, the crest often repeats the liveries in the form of a tall hat, a fan of plumes in alternating tinctures, or a pair of curving horns.

Some armigers used their crest as a personal badge, leading to the erroneous use of the word "crest" to describe a shield or full coat of arms. Such badges are often used by members of Scottish clans. These Scottish crest badges can be used where clan members, who are not armigerous, wear a badge consisting of a clan chief's crest and motto/slogan encircled by a belt and buckle. These crest badges are often erroneously called "clan crests". Even though clan members may purchase and wear such badges, the crest and motto/slogan remain the heraldic property of the clan chief.

Today, the crests of new Knights of the Garter and Bath are carved from lime wood by the Orders' official sculptor, These carved insignia are displayed above the knights' assigned choir stalls in the Orders' respective chapels: St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (Garter) and the Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey (Bath).

In most heraldic traditions, a woman does not display a crest, though this tradition is being relaxed in some heraldic jurisdictions, and the stall plate of Lady Marion Fraser in the Thistle Chapel in St Giles, Edinburgh, shows her coat on a lozenge but with helmet, crest, and motto.

German heraldry has examples of shields with numerous crests, as this arms of Saxe-Altenburg featuring a total of seven crests. Some thaler coins display as many as fifteen.

Crests are occasionally humorous. On the left is the crest of Beet of Chester
A lion's gamb erect grasping a dragon's head erased proper. (Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw and reproduced here with his kind permission).

Clergy now refrain from displaying a helm or crest in their heraldic achievements. Members of the clergy may display appropriate head wear. This often takes the form of a bishop's mitre or a small crowned, wide brimmed hat (a galero) with the colours and tassels denoting rank; or, in the case of Papal arms an elaborate triple crown known as the papal tiara.

There is a widespread misconception, due in part to Victorian stationers' marketing of engraved letterheads, that a crest and a coat of arms belong to everyone with the same family name; but usage by persons not descended from the original grantee constitutes usurpation. Bogus "family crests" continue to be sold to the gullible by heraldic bucket shops.


Torses & Coronets

The crest is usually found on a wreath of twisted cloth and sometimes within a coronet. It normally has six twists of material with the metal and colour alternating from Dexter to sinister and with the metal first.

Crest-coronets are generally simpler than coronets of rank, but several specialized forms exist; for example, in Canada, descendants of the United Empire Loyalists are entitled to use a Loyalist military coronet (for descendants of members of Loyalist regiments) or Loyalist civil coronet (for others).

If the armiger has the title of baron, hereditary knight, or higher, he may display a coronet of rank above the shield. In the United Kingdom, this is shown between the shield and helmet, though it is often above the crest in Continental heraldry.

Other crowns include ancient crowns, mural crowns for walled cities and naval crowns for Naval institutions (shown right).

Another addition that can be made to a coat of arms is the insignia of a baronet or of an order of knighthood. This is usually represented by a collar or similar band surrounding the shield. When the arms of a knight and his wife are shown in one achievement, the insignia of knighthood surround the husband's arms only, and the wife's arms are customarily surrounded by an ornamental garland of leaves for visual balance.



Mantling or lambrequin is drapery tied to the helmet above the shield. It forms a backdrop for the shield. It is a depiction of the protective cloth covering (often of linen) worn by knights from their helmets to stave off the elements, and, secondarily, to decrease the effects of sword-blows against the helmet in battle, from which it is usually shown tattered or cut to shreds as if damaged in combat, though the edges of most are simply decorated at the emblazoner's discretion.


It is sometimes shown as an intact drape, principally in those cases where a clergyman uses a helmet and mantling (to symbolise that the clergyman has not been involved in combat, although this is usually the artist's discretion). More often clergymen do not use the helm, torse and mantling though if they inherit their arms they will be inherited by their heir. (Helm, torse and mantling are usually included in new grants of arms to clergymen because their descendants might use them even if the grantee does not)

Typically in British heraldry, the outer surface of the mantling is of the principal colour in the shield and the inner surface is of the principal metal, though there are exceptions, with occasional tinctures differing from these, for example just one colour, or three or four colours, or two furs. Peers in the United Kingdom use red and ermine standard colourings regardless of rank or the colourings of their arms (though in practice, some prefer to use their own colours).

The arms of the United Kingdom and those of Emperor Akihito of Japan are both or, lined ermine, such a mantling often being held to be limited to sovereigns.

In the early days of the development of the crest, before the torse (wreath), crest coronets and chapeaux were developed, the crest often "continued into the mantling" if this was feasible (the clothes worn by a demi- human figure, or the fur of the animal, for instance, allowing or encouraging this). This still holds true frequently in Germany.

There are rare examples where the mantling is blazoned to compliment the armiger's coat of arms, mimicking the ordinaries and charges on the escutcheon. When charges occur, they are usually displayed as semy.

Arms of HM Queen Elizabeth II - the monarch has a unique gold helm and crown, and gold and ermine mantling


Arms of the Corporation of Manchester, England


Arms of the Duke of Montrose - without helm and mantling


Hurlton of Picton - with multiple crests
Arms: Quarterly - 1 & 4 Argent, a cross of four ermine spots ( the heads meeting in the centre) Sable. 2 Argent, two bends engrailed Sable, the lower one couped at the upper end [Wagstaff] 3 Argent, a chevron between three cross-bows Sable [Hurlston]

1. Crest: A goat's head erased Argent, attired Or, charged on the neck with a cross of ermine spots, as in the arms.
2. Crest: A cross-bow erect proper, the stock Or.
3. Crest: An Ermine passant

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).


The Arms of Gera in Germany showing how the earliest heraldic crests would have looked


In early arms the crest often continued into the mantling as in this elegant modern example of the arms of Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
The swan feathers of the swan's neck continue into the manteling giving a pleasing unity to the achievement.
(Image reproduced by courtesy of Andrew Jamieson)


The Arms of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge with the Arms of Cambridge University in Chief


The Torse and Mantling are remnants of the Middle Eastern head dress (keffiyeh) adopted by crusaders in the Holy Land, at the very birth of Heraldry. This cloth headgear prevented their helms and armour heating up in the sunlight. The cloth is held in place by a rope circlet known as an agal (the equivalent of the torse). Below are a couple of modern keffiyeh wearers, Lawrence of Arabia and Yasser Arafat


The arms of the Baron of Prestoungrange. These Scottish arms are shown on a red and ermine canopy.
Canopies are usually associated with continental royalty and senior nobility who use a canopy instead of mantling.
(Reproduced here by courtesy of Andrew Jamieson)





An armorial motto is a phrase or collection of words intended to describe the motivation or intention of the armigerous person or corporation. This can form a pun on the family name as in Thomas Nevile's motto "Ne vile velis."

Mottoes are generally changed at will and do not make up an integral part of the armorial achievement.

Mottoes can typically be found on a scroll under the shield. In Scottish heraldry where the motto is granted as part of the blazon, it is usually shown on a scroll above the crest, and may not be changed at will. A motto may be in any language.





Supporters are figures placed on either side of the shield and generally depicted holding it up. These figures may be animal or human, real or imaginary. In rare cases plants or inanimate objects.

Supporters can have local significance, such as the fisherman and the tin miner granted to Cornwall County Council, or an historical link, such as the lion of England and unicorn of Scotland on the two variations of the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom.


There is usually one supporter on each side of the shield, though there are some examples of single supporters placed behind the shield, and the arms of Congo provide an extremely unusual example of supporters issuing from behind the shield.

While such single supporters are generally eagles (City of Perth, Scotland) with one or two heads, there are other examples, including the cathedra in the case of some Canadian cathedrals. At the other extreme and even rarer the Scottish family Dundas of that Ilk, had three supporters; two conventional red lions and the whole supported by a salamander. The coat of arms of Iceland even has four supporters.

Animal supporters are by default as close to rampant as possible if the nature of the supporter allows it (this does not need to be mentioned in the blazon), though there are some blazoned exceptions. An example of whales 'non-rampant' is the arms of the Dutch municipality of Zaanstad.

In some traditions, supporters have acquired strict guidelines for use. In the United Kingdom, supporters are typically an example of special royal favour, granted at the behest of the sovereign. Hereditary supporters are normally limited to hereditary peers, certain members of the Royal Family, chiefs of Scottish clans, and Scottish feudal barons whose baronies predate 1587.

Non-hereditary supporters are granted to life peers, Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter and Order of the Thistle, and Knights and Dames Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Order of St Michael and St George, Royal Victorian Order, and Order of the British Empire. Knights banneret were also granted nonhereditary supporters, but no such knight has been created since the time of Charles I. Supporters may also be granted to corporations which have a Royal charter.

In Canada, Companions of the Order of Canada, people granted the style "the Right Honourable", and corporations are granted the use of supporters on their coats of arms. Further, on his retirement from office as Chief Herald, Robert Watt was granted supporters as an honour.

Knights Grand Companion and Principal Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit are granted the use of heraldic supporters.

On the European continent, there are often fewer restrictions on the use of supporters.



Supporters and arms of the King of Morocco


The arms of Carmarthenshire


The Arms of Canada


The arms of the Kingdom of Spain with the Pillars of Hercules as supporters
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)



A hatchment is a distinctive rendering of a dead person's arms, represented on a lozenge (not lozenge shaped arms, but arms painted within a lozenge shaped frame). This feature is enough to indicate that the rendering is a funeral hatchment, but there are often other clues. The crest may be replaced by a skull and the motto by the word "Resurgam" (I shall arise).

The background is black or in some cases black and white - in some countries the pattern of black and white conveys information about whether the man is dead, or the woman is dead, or both are dead, which can get complicated when there have been remarriages..

Sometimes symbols of time, such as a sand-timer or arrows, may be shown on the background.

Hatchments have now largely fallen into disuse, but many hatchments from former times remain in parish churches, especially in England.

Hatchments were usually placed over the entrance of the armiger's residence, at the level of the first floor (=US second floor), and remained there for from between 40 days and twelve months, after which they were removed to the local parish church.

The practice developed in the early 17th century from the older custom of carrying an heraldic shield before the coffin of the deceased, then leaving it for display in the church. In medieval times, helmets and shields were sometimes deposited in churches and a few examples may still be seen in English parish churches.

At the universities of Oxford and Cambridge it was usual to hang the hatchment of a deceased head of a house over the entrance to his lodge or residence. There is a fine collection of such hatchments at All Souls College in Oxford - the Wardens' arms each being impaled with the arms of the college.

Colours and military or naval emblems are sometimes placed behind the arms of military or naval officers.

Click on the following link for more on hatchments in different countries >>>


A Saltmarsh hatchment.

The family motto is replaced by the word Resurgam ("I shal rise again" - an affirmation of Christian belief.

The black and white background conveys additional information - the whitebackground to the sinister side of the arms tells us that the armiger's wife survived him.


Another Saltmarsh Hatchment.

This hatchment is a little different - there is no crest, torse or lambrequin - just some decoration and a cherub. The arms represented on a lozenge, so we can assume that these the arms of the first wife.




To marshal two or more coats of arms is to combine them in one shield, to express inheritance, claims to property, or the occupation of an office. This can be done in a number of ways.



Dimidiation combines the Dexter half of one coat with the sinister half of another. This method was not satisfactory for a number of reasons - it can create ambiguity between, for example, a bend and a chevron since they are identical in one half of the shield. Another problem is the creation of odd combinations - as for example in the arms of Great Yarmouth shown on the right.



Using impalement the field is divided per pale and one whole coat of arms is placed in each half. Impalement replaced the earlier dimidiation. By convention certain borders are dimidiated even when impalement is used - see for example the arms of Isabella of Scotland shown on the right, where the Scottish double tressure is dimidiated.

In German heraldry, animate charges in combined coats usually turn to face the centre of the composition.



A more versatile method is quartering, division of the field by both Vertical and horizontal lines. This practice originated in Spain after the 13th century.

As the name implies, the usual number of divisions is four, but the principle has been extended to very large numbers of "quarters".

Quarters are numbered from the Dexter chief (the corner nearest to the right shoulder of a man standing behind the shield), proceeding across the top row, and then across the next row and so on.

When three coats are quartered, the first is repeated as the fourth; when only two coats are quartered, the second is also repeated as the third.

The quarters of a personal coat of arms correspond to the ancestors from whom the bearer has inherited arms, normally in the same sequence as if the pedigree were laid out with the father's father's ... father on the extreme left and the mother's mother's ... mother on the extreme right.

The Scottish and Spanish traditions resist allowing more than four quarters, preferring to subdivide one or more "grand quarters" into sub-quarters as needed.



A fourth mode of marshalling is with an inescutcheon or escutcheon, a small shield placed in front of the main shield.

The Prince of Wales bears the quartered arms of Wales in escutcheon on his own quartered arms, as shown on the left.

In Britain this is most often an "escutcheon of pretence" indicating, in the arms of a married couple, that the wife is an heraldic heiress (that is, she inherits a coat of arms because she has no brothers).

In continental Europe an inescutcheon (sometimes called a "heart shield") usually carries the ancestral arms of a monarch or noble whose domains are represented by the quarters of the main shield.


On the right are the Royal Arms of the UK 1816-1837. Over the basic arms is an escutcheon of pretence representing the Kingdom of Hanover (This escutcheon was dropped on the accession of Queen Victoria because, under Salic Law, she did not inherit the Kingdom of Hanover.


The dimidiated arms of Great Yarmouth


Impaled arms of Isabella of Scotland
(impaling Brittany and Scotland)
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Quartered arms of Trotter, with separate crests facing inwards, each crest with its own mantling.
The quarters are Trotter of Kettleshiel and Brown of Horton Manor
(reproduced here by courtesy of Andrew Jamieson)


The quartered Arms of the United Kingdom. Quarter 1: England; Quarter 2:Scotland ; Quarter 3: Ireland; Quarter 4: England again
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Differencing and Cadency


Cadency is any systematic way of distinguishing similar coats of arms belonging to members of the same family. Cadency is necessary in heraldic systems in which a given design may be owned by only one person at once. Because heraldic designs may be inherited, the arms of members of a family will usually be similar to the arms used by its oldest surviving member (called the "plain coat"). They are formed by adding marks called brisures, similar to charges but smaller. Brisures are generally exempt from the rule of tincture.

In heraldry's early period, uniqueness of arms was obtained by a wide variety of devices, including change of tincture and addition of an ordinary. Systematic cadency schemes were later developed in England and Scotland. While in England they are voluntary (and not always observed), in Scotland they are enforced through the process of matriculation.

The English system of cadency involves the addition of these brisures to the plain coat:

  • for the first son, a label of three points (a horizontal strip with three tags hanging down)—this label is removed on the death of the father, and the son inherits the plain coat;
  • for the second son, a crescent (the points upward, as is conventional in heraldry);
  • for the third son, a mullet (a five-pointed star);
  • for the fourth son, a martlet (a kind of bird);
  • for the fifth son, an annulet (a ring);
  • for the sixth son, a fleur-de-lys;
  • for the seventh son, a rose;
  • for the eighth son, a cross moline;
  • for the ninth son, a double quatrefoil.


Daughters have no special brisures, and use their father's arms on a lozenge. This is because English heraldry has no requirement that women's arms be unique.

In England, arms are generally the property of their owner from birth - subject to the use of the appropriate mark of cadency. In other words, it is not necessary to wait for the death of the previous generation before arms are inherited.

The eldest son of an eldest son uses a label of five points. Other grandchildren combine the brisure of their father with the relevant brisure of their own, which would in a short number of generations lead to confusion (because it allows an uncle and nephew to have the same cadency mark) and complexity (because of an accumulation of cadency marks to show, for example, the fifth son of a third son of a second son). However, in practice cadency marks are not much used in England and, even when they are, it is rare to see more than one or, at most, two of them on a coat of arms.

Although textbooks on heraldry agree on the English system of cadency set out above, most heraldic examples ignore cadency marks altogether. Oswald Barron, in an influential article on Heraldry in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, noted:

"Now and again we see a second son obeying the book-rules and putting a crescent in his shield or a third son displaying a molet, but long before our own times the practice was disregarded, and the most remote kinsman of a gentle house displayed the "whole coat" of the head of his family."

Cadency marks have rarely been insisted upon by the College of Arms.

Arms of the Eldest Son of Robert Courtney
note the blue label in the chief of the shield

Arms of the second son of Robert Courtney
note the gold crescent in the centre of the shield

Arms of the third son
of Robert Courtney
note the gold mullet in the centre of the shield

Arms reproduced by kind permission of Robert Charles Hearson Courtney JP, and Geoff Kingman-Sugars of the International Association of Amateur Heralds


Branches of the same family often retain common features, the oldest branch retaining the simplest form. For example the modern arms of Courtney retain the essential features of the arms of Courtenay, Counts of Boulogne

 The arms of the Count of Boulogne
Or three torteaux
These arms now belong to
Hugh Rupert Courtenay,
18th Earl of Devon


The Arms of
Robert Courtney JP
Or between three torteaux a chevron
conjoined to a bordure sable
charged with eight fusils Or.


Courtney arms reproduced by kind permision of Robert Charles Hearson Courtney JP, and Geoff Kingman-Sugars of the International Association of Amateur Heralds





The system is very different in Scotland, where every male user of a coat of arms must have a personal variation, appropriate to that person's position in their family, approved (or "matriculated") by the Lord Lyon (the heraldic authority for Scotland). This means that in Scotland no two men can ever simultaneously bear the same arms, even by accident, if they have submitted their position to the Scottish heraldic authorities (which, in practice, in Scotland as in England, not all do). To this extent, the law of arms is stricter in Scotland than in England.

Scotland, like England, uses the label of three points for the eldest son and a label of five points for the eldest son of the eldest son, and allows the label to be removed as the bearer of the plain coat dies and the eldest son succeeds. In Scotland (unlike England) the label may be borne by the next male heir to the plain coat even if this is not the son of the bearer of the plain coat (for example, if it is his nephew).

For cadets other than immediate heirs, Scottish cadency uses a complex and versatile system, applying different kinds of changes in each generation. First, a bordure is added in a different tincture for each brother. In subsequent generations the bordure may be divided in two tinctures; the edge of the bordure, or of an ordinary in the base coat, may be changed from straight to indented, engrailed or invected; small charges may be added. These variations allow the family tree to be expressed clearly and unambiguously. Illustrated below is a system advocated by Mr Stodart and known as the Stodart system.

Because of the Scottish clan system, only one bearer of any given surname may bear plain arms. Other armigerous persons of the same family have arms derived from the same plain coat, though (if kinship cannot be established they must be differenced in a way other than the cadency system mentioned above).



Canadian cadency generally follows the English system. However, women bear their arms on a shield. Since a coat of arms must be unique regardless of the bearer's gender, Canada has developed a series of brisures for daughters. These brisures are unique to Canada

  • for the first daughter, a heart;
  • for the second daughter, an ermine spot;
  • for the third daughter, a snowflake;
  • for the fourth daughter, a fir twig;
  • for the fifth daughter, a chess rook
  • for the sixth daughter, an escallop (scallop shell);
  • for the seventh daughter, a harp;
  • for the eighth daughter, a buckle;
  • for the ninth daughter, a clavichord.


Royal Cadency

There are no actual "rules" for members of the Royal Family, because they are theoretically decided ad hoc by the sovereign. In practice, however, a number of traditions have developed. At birth, members of the Royal Family have no arms. At some point during their lives, generally at the age of eighteen, they may be granted arms of their own. These will always be the arms of dominion of the Sovereign with a label Argent for difference; the label may have three or five points.

Since this is in theory a new grant, the label is applied not only to the shield but also to the crest and the supporters to ensure uniqueness. Though de facto in English heraldry the crest is uncharged (although it is supposed to be in theory), as it would accumulate more and more cadency marks with each generation, the marks eventually becoming indistinguishable, the crests of the Royal Family are always shown as charged.


Brisures used in cadency (shown in red) used for sons in the English system. In practice the brissures are much smaller.


The Arms of Saltmarsh - with a red label for the eldest son


The gyrony Arms of one of the Campbell septs.
(Reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Campbell of Lawers
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Campbell of Inverneil
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of the Duke of Argyll
(a cadet branch of the Campbell clan)


The Arms of Charles, Prince of Wales, the arms of the sovereign in right of the United Kingdom with the arms of Wales as an escutcheon, and with a label for difference


The Arms of Prince William of Wales
with a silver three-point label
(including a red shell from the
arms of his mother's family)
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Arms of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester


Augmentations of Honour


An augmentation is a modification or addition to a coat of arms, typically given by a monarch as a mark of favour, or a reward or recognition for some meritorious act.

The best known is that awarded to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk to commemorate his role at the battle of Flodden Field: He was awarded a an amended form of the arms of Scotland with an arrow through the lion's mouth, as shown below.

The Arms
of Scotland
The"Howard Augmentation" Arms the 2nd
Duke of Norfolk
Arms of the present Duke of Norfolk


.Because the First Duke of Marlborough left no surviving son, the title was allowed to pass to his eldest daughter in 1722 and then (in 1733) to the son of his next daughter, who had married Charles Spencer, Third Earl of Sunderland. The Fifth Duke (1766-1840), who had been born a Spencer, was authorised in 1817 to take and use the additional name of Churchill, in order to perpetuate the name of his illustrious great-great-grandfather. At the same time he was empowered by Royal Licence to quarter the arms of Churchill with his paternal coat of Spencer.


The Duke of Marlborough also has an Augmentation of honour. In 1705, in recognition of his victory over the French and Bavarians at Blenheim the previous year, the First Duke had been granted the Manor of Woodstock, which was transferred to him from the Crown by Act of Parliament.

The magnificent palace we know as Blenheim Palace was built there.. When the Fifth Duke's arms were quartered in 1817, a further augmentation of honour was added to his achievement. This incorporated the bearings on the standard of the Manor of Woodstock and was borne on a shield, displayed over all in the centre chief point, as follows: Argent a Cross of St George surmounted by an Inescutcheon Azure, charged with three Fleurs-de-Lys Or. (This inescutcheon represents the royal arms of France.)



The quartered arms, incorporating two augmentations of honour, have been the arms of all subsequent Dukes of Marlborough - together with both crests. Subsequently, the Seventh and Ninth Dukes, as Knights of the Order of the Garter, were able to encircle their arms with the Garter (as could the First, Third and Fourth Dukes of Marlborough before them.

Admiral Nelson started off with a simple coat of arms which acquired two separate augmentations of honour which rather destroyed its simple elegance.




The Lane coat of arms was per fesse or and Azure, a chevron Gules between three mullets counterchanged.

In recognition of the courage and services of Jane Lane, after the battle of Worcester in 1651, King Charles II granted an augmentation to the Lane coat of arms.

The augmentation was a canton with three lions, as shown on the right



The Duke of Wellington was given an augmentation of the Flag of the United Kingdom in the form of a shield.

Blazon: Quarterly, I and IV Gules, a cross Argent, in each quarter five plates; II and III, Or, a lion rampant Gules. For augmentation, an inescutcheon charged with the crosses of St. George, St. Andrew, and St. Patrick combined, being the union badge of the United Kingdom.
(Reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


It is from the time of the Fifth Duke of Marlborough that the familiar design of Churchill quartering Spencer originates. It would be normal in these circumstances for the paternal arms (Spencer) to take precedence over the maternal (Churchill), but because the Marlborough dukedom was senior to the Sunderland earldom, the procedure was reversed in this case.



Canting Arms


Arms often make more or less obvious references to the name of the family to which they belong. Canting arms (armes parlantes in French) are common.

In medieval times, arms were a form of visual identification in a world of limited literacy, and it was perfectly natural for someone to use as his emblem a device which recalled his name.



The arms of Newton of Pownall
Vert, a tun in fess Or

This is a rebus (a visual pun): New Tun › Newton

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).


Arms: Argent, three bendlets Sable.

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).

A less obvious example.
An old name for the fish now called a pike was a "lucy",
The arms of the de Lucy family featured three lucies




The Arms of Bowes-Lyon - featuring bows and lions.
These arms are used by the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, who is also inter alia Viscount Lyon and Baron Bowes
The rule of tincture is not breached by placing golden bows on an ermine field.
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


Guy VIII, Count of Vienne, had a dolphin on his coat of arms and was nicknamed le Dauphin. The title of Dauphin de Viennois descended in his family (the Le Vieux Princes of Ivetot) until 1349, when Humbert II sold his seigneurie, the Dauphiné, to King Philippe VI on condition that the heir of France assumed the title of le Dauphin. Le Dauphin's arms were France quartered with the the Dauphiné
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Shakespeare
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Arms of Castile and León
featuring castles and lions


The Development of Heraldry


Systems of distinctive identifying devices have existed since early times and are sometimes classified as proto-heraldry. An essential feature of true heraldry as we now know it is that these identifying devices are inherited. Successive generations use identical, or at least similar, devices.

Heraldic devices seem to have been first used in Carolingian times. Seals and banners confirm that they were being used in the Flemish area of Europe during the reign of Charlemagne (768–814 AD). Their use continued over successive generations and slowly spread more widely.

The emergence of heraldry as we know it today was linked to the need to distinguish participants quickly and easily in combat. Distinguishing devices were used on surcoats ("coats of arms"), shields, and caparisoned horses, and it would have been natural for knights to use the same devices as those already used on their banners and seals.

The Bayeux Tapestry captures modern heraldry in development in the eleventh century. Heraldry is shown in use on the Norman side - the side more closely linked to the old Carolingian empire. Significantly, the tapestry shows only the Flemish contingent of William’s army using hereditary heraldic devices. The arms of Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, are already recognisable as the modern arms of Courtnay.

English heraldry can be found in the account in a contemporary chronicle of Henry I of England, on the occasion of his knighting his son-in-law Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, in 1127. He placed to hang around his neck a shield painted with golden lions. The funerary enamel of Geoffrey (died 1151), dressed in blue and gold and bearing his blue shield emblazoned with gold lions, is the first recorded depiction of a coat of arms and those gold lions still appear on the British royal achievement of arms. The tomb of Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (died 1151) is the first recorded example of hereditary armoury in Europe. The same shield shown here is found on the tomb effigy of his grandson, William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury.

By the middle of the 12th century, coats of arms were being inherited by the children of armigers (persons entitled to use a coat of arms) across Europe. Between 1135 and 1155, seals representing the generalized figure of the owner attest to the general adoption of heraldic devices in England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. By the end of the century, heraldry appears as the sole device on seals.

Family arms occasionally changed over the centuries, perhaps because of inaccurate copying or misunderstood blasons. On the right are two versions of the arms of Hayes of Litley. The lion's heads were gold in 1424 but silver by 1505. In the example below the arms are clearly intended to be the same, but the later blazon results in a more pleasing achievement.


Wright of Bickley
Barry of six Azure and Argent, in chief three leopards' faces of the last.

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).


Wright of Bickley
The Visitations of 1580 describes these arms as: Argent, two bars Azure, on a chief of the second three leopards' faces of the first

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).


In England, the practice of using marks of cadency arose to distinguish one son from another; it was institutionalized and standardized by John Writhe in the early 15th century.

In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, heraldry became a highly developed discipline, regulated by professional officers of arms. As its use in jousting became obsolete, coats of arms remained popular for visually identifying a person in other ways — impressed in sealing wax on documents, carved on family tombs, and flown as a banner on country homes. The first work of heraldic jurisprudence, De Insigniis et Armis, was written in the 1350s by Bartolus de Saxoferrato, a professor of law at the University of Padua.

Different branches of the same family might use the same basic arms but with different colours. These arms belong to different branches of the Deincourt family.


From the beginning of heraldry, coats of arms have been executed in a wide variety of media, including on paper, painted wood, embroidery, enamel, stonework and stained glass. For the purpose of quick identification in all of these, heraldry distinguishes only seven basic colours and makes no fine distinctions in the precise size or placement of charges on the field. Coats of arms and their accessories are described in a concise jargon called blazon. This technical description of a coat of arms is the standard that is adhered to no matter what artistic interpretations may be made in a particular depiction of the arms.

As changes in military technology and tactics made plate armour obsolete, heraldry became detached from its original function. This brought about the development of "paper heraldry" under the Tudors. Designs and shields became more elaborate at the expense of clarity. During the 19th century, especially in Germany, many coats of arms were designed to depict a natural landscape, including several charges tinctured "proper" (i.e. the way they appear in nature). This form has been termed "Landscape heraldry". The 20th century's taste for stark iconic emblems made the simple styles of early heraldry fashionable again.

Knights bearing shields as depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry


   Eustace II, Count of Boulogne 
holding his banner in 1066
with three circles placed 2 and 1

(from the Bayeux Tapestry)


   The arms of the Count of Boulogne
These arms now belong to
Hugh Rupert Courtenay,
18th Earl of Devon
(reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)


The Royal Arms with two Yales as supporters, suggesting the arms are those of Henry VII (whose mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort, whose family used them as supporters)


Hayes of Litley
Arms: Sable, a chevron Argent between three leopards' faces Or (Harl 1424)

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).


Hayes of Litley
Arms: Sable, a chevron Argent between three leopards' faces Argent (Harl 1505)

(Armorial Bearings in The Cheshire Visitations
exemplified by Martin S. J. Goldstraw
and reproduced here with his kind permission).

National Heraldry Styles


The emergence of heraldry occurred across western Europe almost simultaneously in the various countries. Originally, heraldic style was very similar from country to country. Over time, there developed distinct differences between the heraldic traditions of different countries. The four broad heraldic styles are German-Nordic, Gallo-British, Latin, and Eastern. In general there are characteristics shared by each of the four main groups.


German-Nordic Heraldry

Coats of arms in Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Estonia, Latvia, Czech lands and northern Switzerland generally change very little over time. Marks of difference are very rare in this tradition as are heraldic furs. One of the most striking characteristics of German-Nordic heraldry is the treatment of the crest. Often, the same design is repeated in the shield and the crest. The use of multiple crests is also common. The crest is rarely used separately as in British heraldry, but can sometimes serve as a mark of difference between different branches of a family. Torse is optional.


Gallo-British Heraldry

French and British heraldry are broadly similar - and described in detail above.


Latin Heraldry

The heraldry of southern France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy is characterized by a lack of crests and uniquely-shaped shields.

Portuguese and Spanish heraldry occasionally introduce words to the shield of arms, a practice disallowed in non-Latin countries heraldry as unspeakably vulgar.

Latin heraldry is known for extensive use of quartering, because of armorial inheritance via the male and the female lines. Moreover, Italian heraldry is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, featuring many shields and achievements, most bearing some reference to the Church.


Eastern European heraldry

Eastern European heraldry is in the traditions developed in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. Eastern coats of arms are characterized by a pronounced, territorial, clan system — often, entire villages or military groups were granted the same coat of arms irrespective of family relationships. In Poland, nearly six hundred unrelated families are known to bear the same Jastrzębiec coat of arms.

Marks of cadency are almost unknown, and shields are generally very simple, with only one charge. Many heraldic shields derive from ancient house marks. At the least, fifteen per cent of all Hungarian personal arms bear a severed Turk's head, referring to their wars against the Ottoman Empire.

The arms of von Ellrodt showing three crests the outer ones tuned inwards

(painting courtesy of Neil Bromley )


The Arms of Rome - The use of letters in Latin heraldry is regarded as acceptable, but would be regarded as a ghastly faux pas elsewhere.
(Reproduced here by courtesy of Wikipedia)



Rolls of Arms


A roll of arms (or armorial) is a collection of coats of arms, usually consisting of rows of painted pictures of shields, each shield accompanied by the name of the person bearing the arms.

A roll may also consist of blazons (verbal descriptions) rather than illustrations.

They typically fall into one of the following classes:

  • relating to a specific event such as an expedition, tournament or a siege - these can and often do cover a number of jurisdictions
  • associated with foundations, orders of religion or chivalry possibly compiled over many years.
  • collecting the arms of residents of a region; a practice peculiar to the English county rolls of the 14th century.
  • used to illustrate narratives or chronicles- these can and sometimes do cover a number of jurisdictions

Rolls may also be a combination such collections.

A number of modern societies maintain rolls of their members on line, and some individuals have posted rolls on line.


More on Rolls of Arms >>

A French international armourial: Armorial équestre de la Toison d'Or >>

A Portuguese international armourial: the Livro do Armeiro-mor >>

Extract from a Tudor Roll of arms,

attributed to Sir Thomas Wriothesley



Modern Heraldry


Heraldry flourishes in the modern world; institutions, companies, and private persons continue using coats of arms as their pictorial identification. The arms shown on the left are those of British Airways.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the English Kings of Arms, Scotland's Lord Lyon King of Arms, and the Chief Herald of Ireland continue making grants of arms. There are heraldic authorities in Canada, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden that grant or register coats of arms. In South Africa, the right to armorial bearings is also determined by Roman Dutch law, inherited from the 17th century Netherlands.

The crest of the Open University: Unusual in that it takes the form of a shield of arms (different from the OU's shield of arms) and in that the bezant represents an 'O' and the shield a 'U'.Military heraldry continues developing, incorporating blazons unknown in the medieval world. Nations, provinces, states, counties, cities, etc. continue building upon the traditions of civic heraldry. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, and other Churches maintain the tradition of ecclesiastical heraldry for their high-rank prelates, religious orders, universities, and schools.

The arms of Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure


Heraldic Authorities


Heraltic authority ultimately resides with the crown, but most monarchs delegate powers to officers of arms. An officer of arms is a person appointed by a sovereign or state with authority to perform one or more of the following functions:

  • to control and initiate armorial matters
  • to arrange and participate in ceremonies of state
  • to conserve and interpret heraldic and genealogical records.

Traditionally, officers of arms are of three ranks: kings of arms, heralds of arms, and pursuivants of arms. Officers of arms whose appointments are of a permanent nature are known as officers of arms in ordinary; those whose appointments are of a temporary or occasional nature are known as officers of arms extraordinary.

The medieval practice of appointing heralds or pursuivants to the establishment of a noble household is still common in European countries, particularly those in which there is no official heraldic control or authority. Such appointments are also still made in Scotland, where four private officers of arms exist.

England and Wales. In England, the authority of the thirteen officers of arms in ordinary who form the corporation of the Kings, Heralds, and Pursuivants of Arms extends throughout the Commonwealth, with the exception of Scotland, Canada and South Africa. Officers of arms in ordinary who form the College of Arms in England are members of the royal household and receive a nominal salary. Heralds receive yearly salaries from the Crown - Garter King of Arms £49.07, the two provincial Kings of Arms £20.25, the six heralds £17.80, and the four pursuivants £13.95. These salaries were fixed at higher levels by James I but reduced by William IV in the 1830s.

Scotland. In Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, and the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records control matters armorial within a strict legal framework not enjoyed by their fellow officers of arms in London, and the court which is a part of Scotland's criminal jurisdiction has its own prosecutor, the court's Procurator Fiscal, who is however not an officer of arms. Lord Lyon and the Lyon Clerk are appointed by the crown, and, with the Crown's authority, Lyon appoints the other Scottish officers. The officers of arms in Scotland are also members of the royal household.



Kings of Arms

King of Arms is the senior rank of an officer of arms. In many heraldic traditions, only a king of arms has the authority to grant armorial bearings.

In England, the authority to grant a coat of arms is subject to the formal approval of the Earl Marshal in the form of a warrant. In jurisdictions such as the Republic of Ireland the authority to grant armorial bearings has been delegated to a chief herald that serves the same purpose as the traditional king of arms. Canada also has a chief herald, though this officer grants arms on the authority of the Governor General as the Queen's representative through the Herald Chancellor's direct remit. Scotland's only king of arms, the Lord Lyon, exercises the royal prerogative by direct delegation from the Crown and like the Chief Herald of Ireland and the old Ulster King of Arms needs no warrant from any other office bearer. In the Kingdom of Spain, the power to certify coats of arms has been given to the Cronistas de Armas (Chroniclers of Arms).

English and Scottish kings of arms are the only officers of arms to have a distinctive coronet of office, used for ceremonial purposes such as at coronations. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the kings of arms used a coronet trimmed with sixteen acanthus leaves alternating in height, and inscribed with the words Miserere mei Deus secundum magnum misericordiam tuam (Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; psalm 51). When this coronet is shown in pictorial representations, only nine leaves and the first three words are shown. Recently, a new crown has been made for the Lord Lyon, modelled on the Scottish Royal crown among the Honours of Scotland. This crown has removable arches (like one of the late Queen Mother's crowns) which will be removed at coronations to avoid any hint of lèse majesté.




Heralds were originally messengers sent by monarchs or noblemen to convey messages or proclamations - in this sense being the predecessors of the modern diplomats. In the Hundred Years' War, French heralds challenged King Henry V to fight. During the Battle of Agincourt, the English and the French herald, Montjoie, watched the battle together from a nearby hill; both agreed that the English were the victors, and Montjoie provided King Henry V, who thus earned the right to name the battle, with the name of the nearby castle.

Like other officers of arms, a herald would often wear a surcoat, called a tabard, decorated with the coat of arms of his master. It was possibly due to their role in managing the tournaments of the Late Middle Ages that heralds came to be associated with the regulation of the knights' coats of arms. This science of heraldry became increasingly important and further regulated over the years, and in several countries around the world it is still overseen by heralds. Thus the primary job of a herald today is to be an expert in coats of arms. In the United Kingdom heralds are still called upon at times to read proclamations publicly; for which they still wear tabards emblazoned with the royal coat of arms.

There are active official heralds today in several countries, including the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, and the Republic of South Africa. In England and Scotland most heralds are full-time employees of the sovereign and are called "Heralds of Arms in Ordinary". Temporary appointments can be made of "Heralds of Arms Extraordinary". These are often appointed for a specific major state occasions, such as a coronation. In addition, the Canadian Heraldic Authority has created the position of "Herald of Arms Emeritus", with which to honor long-serving or distinguished heraldists. In Scotland, some Clan Chiefs, the heads of great noble houses, still appoint private officers of arms to handle cases of heraldic or genealogical importance of clan members, although these are usually pursuivants.




A Pursuivant pursuivant of arms, is a junior officer of arms. Most pursuivants are attached to official heraldic authorities, such as the College of Arms in London or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. In the mediaeval era, many great nobles employed their own officers of arms. Today, there still exist some private pursuivants that are not employed by a government authority. In Scotland, for example, several pursuivants of arms have been appointed by Clan Chiefs. These pursuivants of arms look after matters of heraldic and genealogical importance for clan members.


Click for more on Officers of Arms

Thomas Hawley, Clarenceux King of Arms as depicted in the initial letter of a grant of arms to John Fennar in 1556.


the Arms of Lord Lyon, King of Arms


King of Arms in Tabard


The Most Noble Edward William Fitzalan Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk, Premier Duke and Earl of England, Baron Beaumont, Baron Howard of Glossop, Earl Marshal, and Hereditary Marshal of England. One of the great Officers of State in England, responsible for the organization of state ceremonies (though not 'royal' occasions such as weddings), hereditary judge in the Court of Chivalry, and ultimately responsible to the Sovereign for all matters relating to heraldry, honor, precedence, etc. The Earl Marshal has jurisdiction over the officers of arms, but is not a member of the corporate body of the College of Arms.


The Earl Marshal displays behind his shield two gold batons saltirewise, the ends enameled black with the royal arms at the top, and those of the Earl Marshal at the lower end. These batons represent the virga or marshal's rod, a symbol of office dating from the Norman period.



Attributed Coats of Arms


The medieval mind did not seem to countenance a time when things had been different. For medieval people the world had always been much the same as it was then. So it is that medieval art invariably shows biblical characters in medieval dress, living in medieval houses and carrying on medieval trades. (Paradoxically, a great deal of what we know about medieval life comes from medieval representations of biblical events).

Saint Margaret of scotlandSoon after the invention of heraldry, people were assuming that notable people from the past had born arms. So it was that the early kings of England were accorded a coat of arms shown on the left, and still borne today by University College, Oxford on the (questionable) grounds that the college had been founded by King Alfred the Great in 872. It can also be seen as the arms of westminster abbey and embedded in the arms of the city of Westminster and elsewhere (for example St Margaret of Scotland who hailed from a royal house of England)

In the Arthurian legends, each knight of the Round Table is often accompanied by a heraldic description of a coat of arms. Although these arms could be arbitrary, some characters were traditionally associated with one coat or a few different coats. King Arthur was assigned many different arms, but from the 13th century, he was most commonly given three gold crowns on an Azure field - arms later used for the Lordship of Ireland.



Attributed arms of the King of Armenia
No. 1301 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Gules a lion rampant gardant crowned a patriarchal cross issuant Or.

Attributed arms of the King of Morocco
No. 1284 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Azure three chess rooks Or.


Attributed arms of the King of Africa
No. 1286 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Azure crusilly three hearts Or

Attributed arms of the King of Africa
No. 1288 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Azure three leopards passant gardant Or.


Attributed arms of the King of Tunis
No. 1287 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Argent a lion rampant azure armed and crowned Or.

Attributed arms of the King of the East
No. 1309 from the
Wijnbergen Armorial (1265 - 1270)
Gules a patriarchal cross Or.


The Arms of the City of Westminster. At the top centre of the shield is a cross surrounded by martlets the attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor, the first English King to live in Westminster.


The Attributed Arms of Saint Benedict


Medieval officers of arms attributed coats of arms to all notable historic persons. They even attributed arms to Jesus along with a banner and an improbable crest featuring items from his supposed "passion".
(Hyghalmen Roll, Circa 1450).


The attributed arms of the Holy Trinity


The attributed arms of Satan,
based on "three unclean spirits like frogs"
of Book of Revelation 16:13


Green frogs on a red background contravene the
heraldic Rule of Tincture - presumably deliberately


Assumed Arms & Bogus Arms


In jurisdictions where heraldic practice is governed by law there is a distinction between arms that have been formally granted and arms that are simply adopted by the user. In the past using adopted or "bogus" arms could invite legal action, and the heralds used to carry out visitations around the country to identify and destroy these bogus arms. In practice proof of continued use over a number of generations would qualify the users and the heralds would regularise the usage. Today only Scotland enforces the use of arms in a rigorous manner.

In some jurisdictions there are no rules about using coats of arms. In these jurisdictions people are free to adopt coats of arms. Although there are no rules it is still considered extremely poor form to use another person's arms, or to use symbols of authority which are unwarranted, such as insignia of office.

Even in jurisdictions where there are no formal rules for citizens, such as the USA, France and Australia, it is still useful, if perhaps a little artificial, to distinguish between "real arms" and "bogus arms". Real arms are registered with a competent authority who can at least ensure uniqueness and good heraldic practice.

Bogus arms can be difficult to spot, but more often they stand out as uninformed fantasy. They might break the rule of tincture or some other heraldic convention, or feature some item that the owner is not entitled to, such as supporters or an imperial crown an imperial eagle. Many have red, blue, yellow and green quarters sparated by a thin cross. Common charges are lions rampant, unicorns, fleurs-de-lys and letters of the alphabet. Lions are often placed symetrically. Supporters rarely stand on a "compartment" as they do on genuine arms. Thin crosses, bars or other ordinararies often divide the field.

There are firms that sell people coats of arms which they wrongly claim to belong to all members of a family with a particular surname, and will even produce quartered arms for couples getting married based on the arms falsely attributed to their two surnames.

Here are a few examples of bogus arms - note that most of the giveaway features are not heraldically impossible - just so unlikely that, especially in combination, you can be sure they are bogus:   


   A joke: these are the supposed arms of Hogwarts school, a clever parody of the bogus arms adopted by many schools, with a thin cross separating four quarters of four different colours, one with a charge (the bird) drawn partly outside the shield. The inescutcheon is a different shape from the shield - and features a letter. (The motto incidentally translates as "never tickle a sleeping dragon")




  Giveaways: fleur-de-lys as a crest. Two sets of mantling - one red, one gold and silver. Symetrical lions. Top left (Dexter) lion has a red tongue and claws on a red background. Pile of modern books looks odd - in heraldry one styalised book is enough.


  Spectacular  Giveaways: another fleur-de-lys crest. No helm but still has mantling. An imperial crown. More fleurs-de-lys. Unusual partition. Initials BC for Bell Charles. Name instead of motto.



   Giveaways: Broken rule of tincture: red on black. Mantling independent of the torse and helm. No visor on the helm. Pre-medieval charge - the Viking ship. Poor execution of the design. Motto is not a motto - just the Greek letters Alpha-Kappi-Psi


Giveaways: Cross of Jerusalem features on sufficiently few arms (eg claimants to the medieval Kingdom) that it stands out. Lion placed over the bend looks odd. Ermine too realistic, it is usually styalised. Unicorns. Even a discrete fleur-de-lys attached to the helm



This a very convincing coat of arms - even the helms facing each other are plausible. The "ancient" crowns are common enough to be real, and it's not too much of a coincidence that both of the quartered arms have them. The MacEwen arms seem to be missing their chief, but only people familiar with the arms would know that. Apart from that, these quartered arms could conceivable belong to someone - the eldest son of a deceased father who was the owner of the MacEwen arms and a mother who was the heiress of the owner of the MacKay arms.

These arms are not the arms of any old Mr MacEwen who happens to marry any old Miss MacKay - and in Scotland it would be illegal to pretend that they are.



Beware - features that indicate bogus arms in one jurisdiction might not in another. A red charge on a black ground in Scotland would be very suspicious, but the same arms in Germany would not be.





Giveaways: purports to be a family coat of arms. Red mantling, and red in the torse, but the main shield colours are black and gold. Unicorn supporters - in fact any supporters for people who are not noble or from very old families - are always suspicious. These supporters stand on thin air. The helm belongs to a monarch. The field features a single shield as a charge rather than an inescutcheon, and the motto is that of the British monarch.


Giveaways: the thin cross. Flags (almost as bad a giveaway as letters). Symmetrical charges in the lower quarters.


Giveaways: lots of gold on silver. Red manteling does not match the main colours of the shield. Monarch's helm, but not a monarch's crown. Royal supporters (unicorn & historic yale). Cross of Jerusalem, well known but rare outside a few select arms - here it suggests a claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Charge on the helm. Motto from Oxford University


Giveaways: An abbot's arms, but the hat is disproportionately large. The thin cross separating the four different quarters. The three stripes in the second quarter look odd, as does the Celtic cross in the third, and there is a letter in the fourth quarter. Crozier does not match the rank indicated by the hat.



For some reason tailors are particularly prone to creating bogus arms. This one is presumably a sort of joke as there cannot be a genuine intention to pass this off as a real acheivement of arms.


 Giveaways: fleur-de-lys crest. Two sets of mantling - one red. An imperial eagle. Name instead of motto.


Give-aways - The British Monarch's crown, helm and supporters. Helm but no mantling. Use of Letters. Gold letters on a silver background. Unidentifyable order around the shield. The motto reveals that this is probably intended as a joke "Notta Lotta Acres"




A pleasant fiction in heraldry is that just as their are augmentations of honour, there are also abatements of dishonour. According to heraldic writers there are seven dishonourable ordinaries as shown below. Sadly we know of no case where these abatements have been imposed on armigers (though there are a few cases where particular arms have been changed to reflect some dishonour)

Point Dexter, tenne: for boasting of a valiant act not really performed.

Point champain, tenne: for killing an adversary although asked for quarter.

Point-in-point, tenne: for committing an act of cowardice.


Gusset Dexter, tenne: for committing adultery.

Gusset sinister, tenne: for being an habitual drunkard

Delf, tenne: for challenging an adversary then revoking the challenge.

Inescutcheon reversed, tenne: for taking advantage of a maiden against her will or fleeing from the King's Banner in battle.


There are traces of real historical abatements. One was the entire reversal of the escutcheon in the ceremony of degradation following an attainder for high treason - after which the arms would cease to exist altogether.

A rare example of an apparently genuine historical abatement is mentioned by Sir George Mackenzie (aluding to Aymery of Pavia, a Lombard, governor of Calais in 1349, who bore Azure four mullets Or.): "And Edward the Third of England ordained two of six stars which a gentleman had in his arms to be effaced, because he had sold a seaport of which he was made governor."

In Scots Heraldry, Innes of Learney mentions abatements in marital situations: "The law of arms provides for abating the arms of an adulterer by two gussets sanguine, and where the bearing of arms is necessary this, and one gusset (they will be close-gussets) for non-adulterous divorcees, are, at least in Patents, applied in the case of divorcees." cf the gusset dexter shown above.

The French seem to have had the concept too. In French heraldry the term, diffamé is the term used to denote an animal whose tail is cut off. Literally, it means "deprived or its reputation" (fama=reputation in Latin) cf defamed in English. It is also said of arms which have been altered, either by the removal of a charge, the addition of a dishonorable charge, or the tweaking of an existing charge to signify loss of honor. An example is that of Jean d'Avesnes who insulted his mother, Marguerite Countess of Flanders in the presence of king Louis IX. He is supposed to have seen the lion in his arms diffamée, and made morné (ie with teeth and claws removed).

Some writers refer to other supposed marks of dishonour, including broken chevrons, and beasts turned towards the sinister, which are supposed by some heraldic writers to have been given as abatements. A lion with its tail between its hind legs is termed "couard" (coward), and has also been cited as a mark of infamy.

In the popular imagination a bend sinister is a dishonourable element on a coat of arms, denoting illegitimacy. This is wrong - possibly a distorted version of the fact that a baton sinister (not a bend sinister) denotes illegitimacy on British Royal Arms - without any suggestion of dishonour.

Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Grafton, was the 2nd illegitimate son of King Charles II by Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland. Born in 1663, Henry was created Baron Sudbury, Viscount Ipswich, and Earl of Euston in 1672 and Duke of Grafton in 1675, just before his 12th birthday. You can see his arms with a baton sinister on the right.

Arms of the Duke of Grafton : Quarterly: 1st and 4th, France and England, quarterly; 2nd, Scotland; 3rd, Ireland; over all a baton in bend sinister compony of six, Argent and Azure. Crest: On a chapeau, Gules turned up ermine, a lion statant guardant, or, crowned with a ducal coronet, Azure, and gorged with a collar, countercompony, Argent and Azure. Supporters: Dexter, a lion, guardant, or, crowned with a ducal coronet, Azure, and gorged with a collar, countercompony, Argent and Azure; Sinister, a greyhound Argent, gorged as in the Dexter

This Coat of Arms is the Royal Arms of Charles II debruised by a baton sinister showing that the 1st Duke was related by blood to the Sovereign but unable to succeed to the Throne because of being born out of wedlock.

During Charles II's exile under the Cromwell Protectorate, Charles lived in France and fathered several illegitimate children. Many of them were raised to the Peerage as Dukes, of which four remain today (Buccleuch, Richmond, Grafton, and St. Albans), and all of whom use the Baton Sinister or Bordure Compony to signify their relation to Charles II.




General Heraldry


Fox-Davies, A.C.. The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopedia of Armory.

Parker, James. A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry. Oxford: James Parker & Co., 1894 (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1970); see online version


United Kingdom

Boutell, Rev. Charles - Edited and revised by J. P. Brooke-Little, MVO, MA, FSA, FHS - one time Norroy & Ulster King of Arms (later Clarenceux King of Arms). Boutell's Heraldry. London and New York: Frederick Warne, 1983 - ISBN 0 7232 3093 5

Burke, Sir Bernard, C.B. LL.D., Ulster King of Arms. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time. London: Burke's Peerage, 1884 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967).

Dennys, Rodney. The Heraldic Imagination. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975.

Elvins, Mark Turnham. Cardinals and Heraldry (Illustrated by Anselm Baker, foreword by Maurice Noël Léon Couve de Murville, preface by John Brooke-Little). London: Buckland Publications, 1988.

Fairbairn, James. Fairbairn's Crests of the Families of Great Britain & Ireland. 2v. Revised ed. New York: Heraldic Publishing Co., 1911 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1986 in 1 vol.). Originally published 1800.

Humphery-Smith, Cecil. Ed and Augmented General Armory Two, London, Tabard Press, 1973.

Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, G., Scotland's Herauldrie: the Science of Herauldrie treated as a part of the Civil law and Law of Nations Heir of Andrew Anderson, Edinburgh, 1680

Nisbet, Alexander A system of Heraldry T & A Constable, Edinburgh, 1984, first published 1722

Innes of Edingight, Malcolm,(Marchmont Herald) revisor, Scots Heraldry (third edition) Johnston & Bacon, London, 1978

Paul, James Balfour (Lord Lyon King of Arms). An Ordinary of Arms Contained in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. Edinburgh: W. Green & Sons, 1903

Reid of Robertland, David and Wilson, Vivien, An Ordinary of Arms, volume 2 [1902-1973], Lyon Office, Edinburgh 1977

Moncreiffe of Easter Moncrieffe, Iain (Kintyre Pursuivant) & Pottinger, Don (Herald Painter) Simple Heraldry - Cheerfully Illustrated Thomas Nelson and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1953

Wagner, Sir Anthony R. Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms. London: HMSO, 1967.


Mainland Europe

Le Févre, Jean. A European Armorial: An Armorial of Knights of the Golden Fleece and 15th Century Europe. (Edited by Rosemary Pinches & Anthony Wood) London: Heraldry Today, 1971.

Louda, Jiří and Michael Maclagan. Heraldry of the Royal Families of Europe. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1981. Reprinted as Lines of Succession (London: Orbis, 1984).

Rietstap, Johannes B. Armorial General. The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1904-26 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967).

Siebmacher, Johann. J. Siebmacher's Grosses und Allgemeines Wappenbuch Vermehrten Auglage. Nürnberg: Von Bauer & Raspe, 1890-1901.

The coat of arms of the Duke of Cornwall, adopted in 1337 by the Black Prince, shows 15 golden bezants, the ransom paid in the Crusades for his ancestor King Edward I, then Earl of Cornwall. 


Arms of Princess Anne, the Princess Royal


Arms of Sarah Ferguson
(before becoming Duchess of York)







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