The Grammar of Heraldry/Chapter 7

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The Grammar of Heraldry
by John Edwin Cussans
Marks of Cadency, or Differences
266376The Grammar of Heraldry — Marks of Cadency, or DifferencesJohn Edwin Cussans


All the sons of a family being equally entitled to bear their paternal arms, some mark is required by which they may be distinguished from each other.

In the early days of heraldry, differences were effected by a variety of arbitrary methods, such as changing the tincture of the original coat, adding or suppressing some minor charge, enclosing the shield within a bordure, &c.; but as by this means much confusion and uncertainty were necessarily engendered, in the reign of Richard II. a simpler plan was devised, that of adding certain recognised devices to the paternal coat, styled differences, or marks of cadency. Thus the eldest son bears the same arms as his father, differenced with a label, or file, which may be either of three or five points, or lambeaux, but usually the former. Fig. 177.

The second son differences his arms with a crescent. Fig. 178.

Fig. 177.

Cussans-Fig. 177.png

Fig. 178.

Cussans-Fig. 178.png

The third son differences his arms with a mullet. Fig. 158.

The fourth son differences his arms with a martlet, which is a bird without feet or beak. Fig. 179.

The fifth son differences his arms with an annulet, or small ring. Fig. 176.

The sixth son differences his arms with a fleur-de-lys. Fig. 136.

The seventh son differences his arms with a rose. Fig. 137.

The eighth son differences his arms with a cross moline. Fig. 60.

Fig. 179.

Cussans-Fig. 179.png

Fig. 180.

Cussans-Fig. 180.png

The ninth son differences himself with a double quatrefoil. Fig. 180.

Should the eldest son himself have a son, he would bear his father’s arms differenced by a label, to show that he was of the first house; and on that label there would be charged another label, showing that he was the first son of that house. Again, the fourth son bears, as we have seen, a martlet for difference. His fifth son would, therefore, charge an annulet on his father’s martlet, thereby implying that he was the fifth son of the fourth house.

The members of the Royal family difference their arms with a silver label of three points, charged with some distinguishing mark specially assigned to them by the sovereign. Thus Prince Alfred bears on the first and third points of his label, an anchor az.; on the middle point, a cross gu. Prince Arthur, a cross gu., between 2 fleurs-de-lys az. The Princess Royal, a rose between 2 crosses gu, &c. The Prince of Wales, of course, bears his label plain.

As marks of cadency are merely accidental differences, and do not form an integral part of the arms, it is permissible to charge metal on metal, or colour on colour. A field gu., therefore, differenced with a label az., would not be considered false heraldry.

This method of showing the seniority of the different branches of a family was formerly, and still ought to be, strictly observed, though at the present day it is very much neglected.