Self-Representation in Heraldry
The Field of a Shield and the Heraldic Tinctures
Common Terms and Conventions
A coat of arms must consist of at least one thing -- the "field." This is equivalent in ordinary words to the colour of the ground of the shield. There are many coats which have no charge, the distinctive device consisting of the partition of the shield in some recognised heraldic method into two or more divisions of different tinctures. The colour of the shield is termed the field when it consists of only one colour, and when it consists of more than one colour the two together compose the field.
Arms and the charges upon arms, have been divided into many fantastical divisions. The classification system has selected a certain number of charges, and has been pleased to term them ordinaries. One of the foremost rules is that an ordinary must contain the third part of the field.
is a broad band going from the dexter chief corner to the sinister
is a broad perpendicular band passing from the top of the shield to the
is a broad horizontal band crossing the shield in the centre.
is the same shape as a gable rafter.
is a triangular wedge issuing from the upper party of the shield.
is also known as the Cross of St. Andrew.
is a broad band across the top of the shield containing the uppermost third
of the area of the field
A single quarter
was drawn to contain the full fourth part of the shield.
is supposed to occupy one-ninth of the field.
is a shield appearing as a charge upon the coat of arms.
is simply a border round the shield.
is a narrow bordure following the exact outline of the shield, but within
it, showing the field between the outer edge of the orle and the edge of
is an orle divided into two narrow ones set closely together, the one inside
or shakefork is considered to have a heraldic status of an
ecclesiastical charge upon an official coat of arms.
for which the additional names of "flasks" and "voiders" are sometimes
found, is the segment of a circle of large diameter projecting into the
field from either side of the shield, of a different colour from the field.
There are nearly
four hundred varieties of the heraldic cross known.
Other Components of the Coat of Arms
A crest is a three-dimensional device affixed to a helmet and is so depicted in the arms of male members of a family. Twelfth- and thirteenth-century crests were simple fan-like projections, the sides of which were painted with heraldic devices similar to those on the shield. The ornate tournament crests of the high Middle Ages were moulded in light materials (pasteboard, cloth or boiled leather over a wooden or wire framework or basketwork) and these were fastened to the helm by means of laces or rivets, the unsightly join concealed by a wreath or coronet or by the material of the crest itself, the lower edge of which formed a mantling, often in the form of a beast's fur or feathers. It would appear that, up to the late fifteenth century, crests were considered to be the prequisites of the knightly class - those who possessed both the rank and the resources which enabled them to participate in tournaments where crests were used.
In the Middle Ages crests were hereditary and could be transmitted through
heiresses, but it was not possible for them to be marshalled for display
in the manner of quarterings and consequently there are many instances
of crests acquired through marriage, being adopted in preference to paternal
ones, often to mark the acquisition of a superior seigniory. For this reason
many medieval crests appear to be entirely unrelated to the devices depicted
on the shield.
The mantling is a protective cloth affixed to the helmet and, in a coat
of arms, is depicted as flowing from beneath the crest, sometimes terminating
in tassels and scalloped or slashed in stylised form. Almost certainly,
the mantling originated in the Holy Land where it was worn by crusading
knights to absorb the sun's heat, thereby preventing the helmet from becoming
The Motto or Slogan
A motto is an aphorism,
the interpretation of which is often obscure but may allude to a charge
in the arms, to the crest or to some event in a family's history. Mottoes,
accompanying signatures, may be found in medieval documents and manuscripts
and first appear in heraldry in the fourteenth century, though they were
not in general use until the seventeenth century when coats of arms became
stylised. It seems likely that some early mottoes were used, perhaps in
abbreviated form, as cris-de-guerre, to rally troops in the field of battle.
This appears to have been the practice in Scotland where the slogan is
the battle cry of the chief of a clan or house. Significantly, mottoes
also appear on standards, the great medieval flags at which military levies
were mustered. In Scotland, the slogan is depicted on a scroll above the
crest and on the belt and buckle of a crest badge, while English practice
is to depict it beneath the shield. In England, though not in Ireland and
Scotland, mottoes may be changed at will and are therefore unreliable,
and provide only a tentative starting point for research.
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