A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII

THE RULES OF BLAZON

The word "Blazon" is used with some number of meanings, but practically it may be confined to the verb "to blazon," which is to describe in words a given coat of arms, and the noun "blazon," which is such a description.

Care should be taken to differentiate between the employment of the term "blazon" and the verb "to emblazon," which latter means to depict in colour.

It may here be remarked, however, that to illustrate by the use of outline with written indications of colour is termed "to trick," and a picture of arms of this character is termed "a trick."

The term trick has of late been extended (though one almost thinks improperly) to include representations of arms in which the colours are indicated by the specified tincture lines which have been already referred to.

The subject of blazon has of late acquired rather more importance than has hitherto been conceded to it, owing to an unofficial attempt to introduce a new system of blazoning under the guise of a supposed reversion to earlier forms of description. This it is not, but even if it were what it claims to be, merely the revival of ancient forms and methods, its reintroduction cannot be said to be either expedient or permissible, because the ancient practice does not permit of extension to the limits within which more modern armory has developed, and modern armory, though less ancient, is armory equally with the more ancient and simpler examples to be found in earlier times. To ignore modern armory is simply futile and absurd.

The rules to be employed in blazon are simple, and comparatively few in number.

The commencement of any blazon is of necessity a description of the field, the one word signifying its colour being employed if it be a simple field; or, if it be composite, such terms as are necessary. Thus, a coat divided "per pale" or "per chevron" is so described, and whilst the Scottish field of this character is officially termed "Parted" [per pale, or per chevron], the English equivalent is "Party," though this word in English usage is more often omitted than not in the blazon which commences "per pale," or "per chevron," as the case may be.

The description of the different colours and different divisions of the field have all been detailed in earlier chapters, but it may be added that in a "party" coloured field, that colour or tincture is mentioned first which occupies the more important part of the escutcheon. Thus, in a field "per bend," "per chevron," or "per fess," the upper portion of the field is first referred to; in a coat "per pale," the dexter side is the more important; and in a coat "quarterly," the tinctures of the 1st and 4th quarters are given precedence of the tinctures of the 2nd and 3rd. The only division upon which there has seemed any uncertainty is the curious one "gyronny," but the correct method to be employed in this case can very easily be recognised by taking the first quarter of the field, and therein considering the field as if it were simply "per bend."

After the field has been described, anything of which the field is semé must next be alluded to, e.g. gules, semé-de-lis or, &c.

The second thing to be mentioned in the blazon is the principal charge. We will consider first those cases in which it is an ordinary. Thus, one would speak of "Or, a chevron gules," or, if there be other charges as well as the ordinary, "Azure, a bend between two horses' heads or," or "Gules, a chevron between three roses argent."

The colour of the ordinary is not mentioned until after the charge, if it be the same as the latter, but if it be otherwise it must of course be specified, as in the coat: "Or, a fess gules between three crescents sable." If the ordinary is charged, the charges thereupon, being less important than the charges in the field, are mentioned subsequently, as in the coat: "Gules, on a bend argent between two fountains proper, a rose gules between two mullets sable."

The position of the charges need not be specified when they would naturally fall into a certain position with regard to the ordinaries. Thus, a chevron between three figures of necessity has two in chief and one in base. A bend between two figures of necessity has one above and one below. A fess has two above and one below. A cross between four has one in each angle. In none of these cases is it necessary to state the position. If, however, those positions or numbers do not come within the category mentioned, care must be taken to specify what the coat exactly is.

If a bend is accompanied only by one charge, the position of this charge must be stated. For example: "Gules, a bend or, in chief a crescent argent." A chevron with four figures would be described: "Argent, a chevron between three escallops in chief and one in base sable," though it would be equally correct to say: "Argent, a chevron between four escallops, three in chief and one in base sable." In the same way we should get: "Vert, on a cross or, and in the 1st quarter a bezant, an estoile sable;" though, to avoid confusion, this coat would more probably be blazoned: "Vert, a cross or, charged with an estoile sable, and in the first quarter a bezant." This example will indicate the latitude which is permissible if, for the sake of avoiding confusion and making a blazon more readily understandable, some deviation from the strict formulas would appear to be desirable.

If there be no ordinary on a shield, the charge which occupies the chief position is mentioned first. For example: "Or, a lion rampant sable between three boars' heads erased gules, two in chief and one in base." Many people, however, would omit any reference to the position of the boars' heads, taking it for granted that, as there were only three, they would be 2 and 1, which is the normal position of three charges in any coat of arms. If, however, the coat of arms had the three boars' heads all above the lion, it would then be necessary to blazon it: "Or, a lion rampant sable, in chief three boars' heads erased gules."

When a field is semé of anything, this is taken to be a part of the field, and not a representation of a number of charges. Consequently the arms of Long are blazoned: "Sable, semé of cross crosslets, a lion rampant argent." As a matter of fact the semé of cross crosslets is always termed crusilly, as has been already explained.

When charges are placed around the shield in the position they would occupy if placed upon a bordure, these charges are said to be "in orle," as in the arms of Hutchinson: "Quarterly, azure and gules, a lion rampant erminois, within four cross crosslets argent, and as many bezants alternately in orle;" though it is equally permissible to term charges in such a position "an orle of [e.g. cross crosslets argent and bezants alternately]," or so many charges "in orle" (see Fig. 60).

If an ordinary be engrailed, or invected, this fact is at once stated, the term occurring before the colour of the ordinary. Thus: "Argent, on a chevron nebuly between three crescents gules, as many roses of the field." When a charge upon an ordinary is the same colour as the field, the name of the colour is not repeated, but those charges are said to be "of the field."

It is the constant endeavour, under the recognised system, to avoid the use of the name of the same colour a second time in the blazon. Thus: "Quarterly, gules and or, a cross counterchanged between in the first quarter a sword erect proper, pommel and hilt of the second; in the second quarter a rose of the first, barbed and seeded of the third; in the third quarter a fleur-de-lis azure; and in the fourth quarter a mullet gold"—the use of the term "gold" being alone permissible in such a case.

Any animal which needs to be described, also needs its position to be specified. It may be rampant, segreant, passant, statant, or trippant, as the case may be. It may also sometimes be necessary to specify its position upon the shield, but the terms peculiarly appropriated to specific animals will be given in the chapters in which these animals are dealt with.

Fig. 60.—Arms of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke: "Baruly argent and azure, an orle of martlets gules." (From his seal.)

Fig. 60.—Arms of Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke: "Baruly argent and azure, an orle of martlets gules." (From his seal.)

With the exception of the chief, the quarter, the canton, the flaunch, and the bordure, an ordinary or sub-ordinary is always of greater importance, and therefore should be mentioned before any other charge, but in the cases alluded to the remainder of the shield is first blazoned, before attention is paid to these figures. Thus we should get: "Argent, a chevron between three mullets gules, on a chief of the last three crescents of the second;" or "Sable, a lion rampant between three fleurs-de-lis or, on a canton argent a mascle of the field;" or "Gules, two chevronels between three mullets pierced or, within a bordure engrailed argent charged with eight roses of the field." The arms in Fig. 61 are an interesting example of this point. They are those of John de Bretagne, Earl of Richmond (d. 1334), and would properly be blazoned: "Chequy or and azure, a bordure gules, charged with lions passant guardant or ('a bordure of England'), over all a canton (sometimes a quarter) ermine."

Fig. 61.—The arms of John de Bretagne, Earl of Richmond.

Fig. 61.—The arms of John de Bretagne, Earl of Richmond.

If two ordinaries or sub-ordinaries appear in the same field, certain discretion needs to be exercised, but the arms of Fitzwalter, for example, are as follows: "Or, a fess between two chevrons gules."

When charges are placed in a series following the direction of any ordinary they are said to be "in bend," "in chevron," or "in pale," as the case may be, and not only must their position on the shield as regards each other be specified, but their individual direction must also be noted.

A coat of arms in which three spears were placed side by side, but each erect, would be blazoned: "Gules, three tilting-spears palewise in fess;" but if the spears were placed horizontally, one above the other, they would be blazoned: "Three tilting-spears fesswise in pale," because in the latter case each spear is placed fesswise, but the three occupy in relation to each other the position of a pale. Three tilting-spears fesswise which were not in pale would be depicted 2 and 1.

When one charge surmounts another, the undermost one is mentioned first, as in the arms of Beaumont (see Fig. 62). Here the lion rampant is the principal charge, and the bend which debruises it is consequently mentioned afterwards.

In the cases of a cross and of a saltire, the charges when all are alike would simply be described as between four objects, though the term "cantonned by" four objects is sometimes met with. If the objects are not the same, they must be specified as being in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd quarters, if the ordinary be a cross. If it be a saltire, it will be found that in Scotland the charges are mentioned as being in chief and base, and in the "flanks." In England they would be described as being in pale and in fess if the alternative charges are the same; if not, they would be described as in chief, on the dexter side, on the sinister side, and in base.

Fig. 62.—Arms of John de Beaumont, Lord Beaumont (d. 1369): Azure, semé-de-lis and a lion rampant or, over all a bend gobony argent and gules. (From his seal.)

Fig. 62.—Arms of John de Beaumont, Lord Beaumont (d. 1369): Azure, semé-de-lis and a lion rampant or, over all a bend gobony argent and gules. (From his seal.)

When a specified number of charges is immediately followed by the same number of charges elsewhere disposed, the number is not repeated, the words "as many" being substituted instead. Thus: "Argent, on a chevron between three roses gules, as many crescents of the field." When any charge, ordinary, or mark of cadency surmounts a single object, that object is termed "debruised" by that ordinary. If it surmounts everything, as, for instance, "a bendlet sinister," this would be termed "over all." When a coat of arms is "party" coloured in its field and the charges are alternately of the same colours transposed, the term counterchanged is used. For example, "Party per pale argent and sable, three chevronels between as many mullets pierced all counterchanged." In that case the coat is divided down the middle, the dexter field being argent, and the sinister sable; the charges on the sable being argent, whilst the charges on the argent are sable. A mark of cadency is mentioned last, and is termed "for difference"; a mark of bastardy, or a mark denoting lack of blood descent, is termed "for distinction."

Certain practical hints, which, however, can hardly be termed rules, were suggested by the late Mr. J. Gough Nicholls in 1863, when writing in the Herald and Genealogist, and subsequent practice has since conformed therewith, though it may be pointed out with advantage that these suggestions are practically, and to all intents and purposes, the same rules which have been observed officially over a long period. Amongst these suggestions he advises that the blazoning of every coat or quarter should begin with a capital letter, and that, save on the occurrence of proper names, no other capitals should be employed. He also suggests that punctuation marks should be avoided as much as possible, his own practice being to limit the use of the comma to its occurrence after each tincture. He suggests also that figures should be omitted in all cases except in the numbering of quarterings.

When one or more quarterings occur, each is treated separately on its own merits and blazoned entirely without reference to any other quartering.

Fig. 63.—A to B, the chief; C to D, the base; A to C, dexter side; B to D, sinister side. A, dexter chief; B, sinister chief; C, dexter base; D, sinister base. 1, 2, 3, chief; 7, 8, 9, base; 2, 5, 8, pale; 4, 5, 6, fess; 5, fess point.

Fig. 63.—A to B, the chief; C to D, the base; A to C, dexter side; B to D, sinister side. A, dexter chief; B, sinister chief; C, dexter base; D, sinister base. 1, 2, 3, chief; 7, 8, 9, base; 2, 5, 8, pale; 4, 5, 6, fess; 5, fess point.

In blazoning a coat in which some quarterings (grand quarterings) are composed of several coats placed sub-quarterly, sufficient distinction is afforded for English purposes of writing or printing if Roman numerals are employed to indicate the grand quarters, and Arabic figures the sub-quarters. But in speaking such a method would need to be somewhat modified in accordance with the Scottish practice, which describes grand quarterings as such, and so alludes to them.

The extensive use of bordures, charged and uncharged, in Scotland, which figure sometimes round the sub-quarters, sometimes round the grand quarters, and sometimes round the entire escutcheon, causes so much confusion that for the purposes of blazoning it is essential that the difference between quarters and grand quarters should be clearly defined.

In order to simplify the blazoning of a shield, and so express the position of the charges, the field has been divided into points, of which those placed near the top, and to the dexter, are always considered the more important. In heraldry, dexter and sinister are determined, not from the point of view of the onlooker, but from that of the bearer of the shield. The diagram (Fig. 63) will serve to explain the plan of a shield's surface.

Fig. 64.

Fig. 64.

If a second shield be placed upon the fess point, this is called an inescutcheon (in German, the "heart-shield"). The enriching of the shield with an inescutcheon came into lively use in Germany in the course of the latter half of the fifteenth century. Later on, further points of honour were added, as the honour point (a, Fig. 64), and the nombril point (b, Fig. 64). These extra shields laid upon the others should correspond as much as possible in shape to the chief shield. If between the inescutcheon and the chief shield still another be inserted, it is called the "middle shield," from its position, but except in Anglicised versions of Continental arms, these distinctions are quite foreign to British armory.

In conclusion, it may be stated that although the foregoing are the rules which are usually observed, and that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary tautology, and to make the blazon as brief as possible, it is by no manner of means considered officially, or unofficially, that any one of these rules is so unchangeable that in actual practice it cannot be modified if it should seem advisable so to do. For the essential necessity of accuracy is of far greater importance than any desire to be brief, or to avoid tautology. This should be borne in mind, and also the fact that in official practice no such hide-bound character is given to these rules, as one is led to believe is the case when perusing some of the ordinary text-books of armory. They certainly are not laws, they are hardly "rules," perhaps being better described as accepted methods of blazoning.