How to Blazon a Coat of Arms

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Conventions of Blazon

The ability to blazon accurately is an essential tool of the armorist. It enables him or her to record armorial devices quickly and accurately, to make effective use or ordinaries, armorials, peerages, etc., and to communicate with other armorists. The objectives of blazon are brevity and precision. An accurate blazon is unambiguous and from it an achievement of arms which is correct in every detail may be painted (emblazoned).

The conventions of blazon are well established but not inflexible, and current practice is nearer the spirit of the medieval heralds than the prescriptive heraldic manuals of the last century, in which tautology was described as mortal sin, and clarity sacrificed for pedantry. All the well known heraldic books contain the technical minutiae of blazon, but it is recommended that the novice concentrate on perfecting his or her understanding of the basics before concerning himself or herself with technicalities. Once the conventions are understood the terminology will come with practice and a few hours spent browsing through an illustrated peerage.

Blazons are unpunctuated, except that the tinctures and charges begin with a capital letter. Adjectives (other than quantitative) follow the nouns they qualify, the tincture coming last: e.g. three Griffins sergeant reguardant Gules.

If a shield is impaled, the dexter coat is blazoned first. In a quartered shield the quarterings are numbered, beginning with that in dexter chief (the paternal arms) and working across the shield and down, as with lines of print. If, as often happens, the last quartering is a repetition of the first, the blazon would commence Quarterly 1st and 4th, Quarterly Ist and 8th and so on, depending on the number of quarterings borne. When quarterings are themselves quartered they are described as grandquarters, each coat of which they are composed being a sub-quarter. In such cases the grandquarter is blazoned, sub-quarter by sub-quarter, before moving on to the next quartering. A shield containing several quarterings may also be surrounded by a bordure. This should always be blazoned last, together with any charges placed upon it.

Crests, supporters and badges are blazoned as though they are charges on a shield. Armorial banners are blazoned in precisely the same way as shields of arms. Standards and other livery flags are blazoned from hoist to fly. The arms or national flag in the hoist is first mentioned - usually in the simple form In the hoist the Arms - followed by the field and the charges placed upon it, the motto bends and lettering, and lastly the fringe.

A number of conventions in blazon are worthy of note:

  1. The blazon of a parted or varied field always begins with the tincture of the partition or division in the 'senior' position, i.e. dexter chief.
  2. The position of a principal charge is assumed to be the centre of the shield, unless otherwise specified.
  3. The position of individual charges may be blazoned by reference to the parts and points of the shield, e.g. in base, in dexter chief, in honour point, etc.
  4. Where three similar charges are placed on a shield it is assumed that two are in chief and one is in base, unless otherwise specified.
  5. Where several dissimilar charges are depicted, each of apparently equal importance, that in dexter chief is blazoned first, followed by that in sinister chief, dexter base and sinister base.
  6. The disposition of a number of minor charges may be indicated by the use of numbers, e.g. six Martlets three, two and one - three in the top row, two in the centre row and one in the base of the shield.
  7. The disposition of minor charges may also be indicated by reference to the geometry of an ordinary, e.g. five Oval Buckles in fess, four Eagles in cross, five Estoiles in saltire, etc.
  8. When no indication is given in the blazon as to the disposition of minor charges, they are so arranged as to accommodate the principal charge without being defaced, e.g.a Lion rampant Argent between seven Cross-crosslets.
  9. The attitude of a charge (i.e. the geometrical indication) may be indicated by reference to the geometry of an ordinary, e.g. a Sword bendwise, two Arrows chevronwise, two Tilting Spears saltirewise, etc. (This is not necessary if a charge is obliged to follow the geometry of the ordinary on which it is placed, or if it is blazoned in such a way as to make its position clear, e.g. a Lion rampant is always upright.)
  10. When a charge is surrounded by a number of minor charges it is said to be between. (Also between a pair of launches.)
  11. When a charge is encircled by minor charges it is said to be within. (Also within an Orle or Tressure.)
  12. When a specified number of charges is immediately followed by a similar number of other charges the words as many may be used, e.g. Argent on a Chevron Gules between three Leopard's Faces Sable as many Castles Or (de Sausmarez).
  13. Beasts are normally armed and langued Gules - that is, they have red claws and tongue (azure if the field or beast is itself red). The tincture of claws and tongue need be blazoned only if it differs from the convention.
  14. The crest should be blazoned Upon a Helm with a Wreath … or Within a Wreath … and not On a Wreath … The tinctures are then specified, beginning with the dexter 'twist', the terms of the colours or (even worse!)of the liveries being ambiguous.
  15. The mantling is blazoned, e.g. Vert doubled Or or Gules and Sable doubled Argent, the inner lining always being described last. The convention is that the outer lining of the mantling is the principal colour and the inner lining is the principal metal. However, Party Gules and Sable doubled Argent is also acceptable for mantlings of more than two tinctures. The outer lining of the mantling can also be powdered with charges, e.g. Gules semee of Roses Argent barbed and seeded proper doubled Or (Brennan of Leeds, W. Yorks.).
  16. The position of supporters is said to be on either side for a matched pair, or on the dexter/sinister side if they are dissimilar, the dexter being blazoned first. A pair of supporters which differ only in their attributes may be blazoned, e.g. on either side a Griffin segreant Sable that on the dexter side gorged with an Ancient Crown Or and that on the sinister side holding a Key erect Gules.
  17. If a special compartment has been devised this should also be blazoned, beginning with the whole upon a Compartment of … or on a Compartment composed of …

The Sequence of Blazoning a Coat of Arms

The Shield

  1. The Field
    Parted: division of the shield by lines of partition
    Varied: geometrically patterned shapes
    Tincture: armorial metals, colours and furs
    Semy charges: Small charges scattered over the field
  2. The Ordinary
    Identity
    Lines, variations of
    The Field (as above)
  3. The Principal Charges
    Position (if necessary)
    Identity Attitude(s) and/or disposition
    The Field of the charge (as above)
    Attribute(s)
  4. The Secondary Charges
    As 3 above
  5. Charges borne upon the Ordinary or Principal Charge
    As 3 above
  6. The Sub-ordinaries
    As 2 above
  7. Charges borne upon the Sub-ordinaries
    As 3 above
  8. Any Ordinary or Charge borne over all
    As 2 or 3 above (blazoned over all)

The Crest

  1. The Coronet or Chapeau (Scotland) of rank (if appropriate)
  2. The Helmet according to rank
  3. The Wreath, Crest Coronet or Chapeau
  4. The Crest (as for the Principal Charge above)
  5. The Mantling

Supporters (if appropriate)

Blazoned as the Principal Charge above

The Motto

(In Scotland this follows the Crest)

The Badge

Blazoned as the Principal Charge above

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