The Grammar of Heraldry/Chapter 6

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266370The Grammar of Heraldry — BlazoningJohn Edwin Cussans


It was anciently the custom at jousts and tournaments, for heralds to proclaim the armorial bearings and achievements of the various competitors, before they were permitted to engage in the lists; while an esquire would blasen, or blow a horn, to attract attention to the ceremony. Blazoning has thus come to mean, in a general sense, a public proclaiming, and, more particularly, a description of armorial bearings according to the established rules of heraldry. Iden, after killing Jack Cade, is thus made by Shakespeare to apostrophise his sword:—

'I will hallow thee for this thy deed:
Ne'er shall this blood be wiped from thy point;
But thou shalt wear it as a herald's coat,
To emblaze the honour that thy master got.'

In blazoning, all tautology must be particularly avoided. Never repeat a tincture twice in the same blazon. Should it occur again, it must be described as of the first (or field), of the second, of the last, &c., as the case may be. At the same time, everything must be described with the utmost minuteness, so that a person, by reading the blazon, may be able to delineate the shield and its charges with unerring precision.

In blazoning a coat of arms, the tincture of the field must be first stated; and if it be not of a simple tincture, whether it be party of any of the ordinaries, then the principal object charged upon it, which lies next the shield; and if that charge be formed of any irregular lines, such as invected, ragulée, &c., it must be stated; if an inanimate object, and it be not in its usual position, it must be described as bar-wise, bend-wise, &c.; if an animal, rampant, couchant, &c., then its tincture; and, lastly, any peculiar features, such as armed, gorged, &c. Having described the principal charge (or that which occupies the centre of the shield), the subordinate charges, also lying on the shield itself, follow. Should any of the before-mentioned charges be themselves charged, the secondary charges so lying on them must not be mentioned until every object in direct contact with the field has been described.

Fig. 174.

By counterchanging is implied a reciprocal changing of a metal or fur for a colour, or vice versâ. Thus Fig. 174 would be blazoned, Party per pale, az. and arg.; a lion passant, counterchanged. In this example it will be seen that part of the lion tinctured azure rests upon an argent field and the part which is argent upon an azure field.

Instances of counterchanging are more frequently to be met with in foreign than in English Heraldry, though in the latter they are not uncommon. The arms of Wales are Quaterly, gu. and or; four lions rampant, contercharged. The arms borne by the Paumure and Lane families afford examples of counterchanging.

The accompanying diagram (Fig. 175) will, I think, sufficiently illustrate the principal rules to be observed in blazoning.

Fig. 175.

quaterly of four, or quaterly quatered

1. Arg.; on a chevron engrailed gu., between three crosses-crosslet sa., as many mullets pierced of the field.
2. Arg.; a sword bend-sinisterwise gu., pommelled and hilted az., within a bordure embattled of the last; on a canton or, a fleur-de-lys of the second.
3. Arg.; an eagle's head erased gu., beaked az., in chief two barrulets (or a bars gemelle) of the last.
4. Party per pale arg. and gu.; on a saltire between four herrings naiant, five billets, all counterchanged.

Surmounted by (or over all) an inescutcheon arg.,on which a cross humettée az., cantoned by four torteaux.

It will be seen that in blazoning this coat of arms, we first describe its distinctive feature, which is quaterly of four; we next proceed to blazon each quarter, as we would a separate shield. The field of the first quarter is argent, and the principal charge thereon is a chevron. Having sated its peculiarity of outline, engrailed, we specify the tincture. The three crosses-crosslet are the other charges on the shield, they therefore follow next; and in the last place come the mullets, which are charged on a charge. We do not say 'three mullets,' but 'as many,' the meaning of which is obvious; neither do we describe them as 'argent,' as that tincture has already been mentioned, and all tautology is to be carefully guarded against. Of the first would have been as proper as of the field.

The second and third quarters require no exposition.

Charges, whether placed on, or in, an ordinary, always incline in the direction of that ordinary. It would, therefore, be incorrect to draw the four billets, in the fourth quarter, in the same manner as the centre one.

The Inescutcheon, or Shield of Pretence, being an extraneous addition or augmentation, and, consequently, the furthest removed from the surface of the shield, is always blazoned last.

In blazoning a shield, in which two or more charges of the same tincture immediately follow each other in the blazon, it is not necessary to mention the tincture, until all the separate charges have been specified. Thus, supposing that in the first quarter of Fig. 175, the chevron and the crosses-crosslet were gules, it would be blazoned as, Argent; a chevron between three crosses-crosslet, gules.

It is a fundamental law of heraldry, that metal should never be placed on metal, or colour on colour.[1] Thus a field azure charged with a lion gules, would be false heraldry. This rule, however, does not apply when charges are blazoned in their natural colours, termed heraldically, proper (ppr.). It would be therefore perfectly admissible to blazon a tree prorer on a field gules.

When the metals are used as colours, they must be expressed as or and argent; but in blazoning an object supposed to be made of one of these metals (such as the chain of the unicorn, the sinister supporter of the Royal arms), the words gold and silver must be used.

Disposition of small Charges.

When there are several small charges of the same kind blazoned on a shield, their disposition, as well as number, must be mentioned. The method of arranging them in an ordinary has already been noticed at page 22. They may likewise be’ disposed, as in the following blazons of arms:—

Fig. 176.
Argent; two bars between six annulets, three, two, and one, gules. Robinson.

Gules; a lion couchant between ten cinquefoils, four and two in chief, one, two and one in base, argent. Berkley.

Argent; ten escallops, four, three, two, and one, sable. Kingscote.

Azure; eleven billets, four, three, and four, argent. Lavardin.

Three charges are always to be arranged two and one, as at Fig. 140, unless some other disposition be specially mentioned in the blazon.

  1. For an exception to this rule, see the arms of Lane of Stafford in the Appendix.