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The science of heraldry; a practical introduction thereto online

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The Compiler acknowledges his indebtedness to the
following Works : —

'•^ A Display of Heraldry:' GuiLLlM. 1678.

" The History of Heraldry P T. ROBSON. 1830.

" A Guide to the Study of Heraldry."

J. A. Montague, B.A. 1840.

'''•An hitroduction to Heraldry :' Hugh Clark. 1845.




Chapter Page

I. — The Definition and Antiquity of Coats of

Arms i

II. — The Varieties of Arms : —

Arms of Dominion 7

,, Pretension, Community, Patronage, and Family lo
,, Alliance, Adoption, Office, Concession, and

Canting Arms II

III. — The Integral Parts of Arms : —

The Shield 12

The Points of the Escutcheon ; Tinctures, description of 13

Furs 14

Divisions of the Shield 15

IV. — Charges in Blazonry : —

1. Honorable Ordinaries... 17

2. Subordinate Ordinaries 19

V. — Some of the Varieties of the Cross and

Border 22

VI. — Descriptive Terms used in Blazoning : —

1. In respect to Position 24

2. In connection with Charges 25

VII. — Of the Laws of Heraldry , 36

VIII. — Marshalling 40

IX. — Distinction of Houses : or Modern

Differences ... 43

X. — The External Ornaments of the Shield :-



Mitres, Helmets, Mantlings 46


Chapeau, Wreath 51

XL — Dictionary of Charges 52

XII. — Hatchments 78




Feontispiece : — Crowns, &c.

Plate I. — The Points of the Escutcheon.

Metals and Colors. Lines of Partition.

do. II. — Drops. Furs. Divisions of the Shield.

do. III. — Ordinaries. Distinction of Houses.

do. IV. — Position of Charges.


This work is not an ambitious one. It does not attempt to
go into the historic aspects of heraldry, or its connection
with architecture, except where it has been found necessary
to confirm a statement, or to use an illustration, by so doing.
These aspects of the science must ever prove to students
sources of great attraction ; even more so, perhaps, than the
comprehension of the rules and terms of blazoning, and the
charges in vogue. Our national history is intimately bound
up with heraldry ; and by its aid light can be thrown upon
many interesting epochs of the past, and the personal charac-
teristics of many of the great bygone. The cathedrals and
abbeys of our land are in their detail sealed enigmas without
its knowledge ; for the prating guide may talk, but does not
enlighten ; whereas the student of history, with a knowledge
of heraldry, can with ease endue the stiff stone memorials
with the interest of life ; and save, perhaps, the memory of
some of the great ones of the past being lost by the neglect
and contempt of a utilitarian age.

Many persons are to be found who sneer at heraldry. It is
treated by them as mouldy and unmeaning ; a remnant of the
feudal system ; inconsistent with progress, and mentioned in
other contemptuous terms. Without being in any degree
desirous of placing it in the foremost of sciences, or of
treating it with that extreme amount of veneration and
enthusiasm which its literary votaries in various times have
displayed — yet, as one of the links of the past with the
present, we are bound to respect it, even as we respect the
literary works of antiquity and the achievements of the
sculptors and painters of past ages.


It is a matter of regret that the vast amount of manuscript
bearing on this subject in the British Museum, the Herald's
College, and kindred institutions, should be so little known
to the general public ; while their very existence seems likely
to become matter of doubt, if the students of this science
should become rarer as years pass by — as of late they have
undoubtedly become. In the same way, also, the scarcity
of the works of former researchees, with the action of Time —
that great destructor, as well as creator — on the monuments
and relics of the past, will render heraldry gradually to
become more difficult of accurate definition, if it should
loosely be held as a worthless study, unworthy of our schools,
and puerile for all.

To ignore the past is to defame the present ; for they both
are parts of one continuous whole ; and the components of
our present greatness as a nation must not be laid to present
greatness individually. The rugged lives of our crusaders,
our warrior-kings, and valiant nobles, — tyrants though some
may have been — brought out the true metal of the Anglo-
Saxon race, and stamped the nation with a character.

It is not generous, then, to this heroic past to forget our
obligations to it ; for it has helped to make us what we are,
and the martyrs to political conviction and honest purpose,
in our past political and military history, are as deserving of
our grateful memories, as the men for whom the Smithfield
Memorial is now set up.

With these few remarks on the historic past of heraldry,
we come to our purpose of defining heraldry as it is, or
rather as it has been handed down to us. It is not a science
that opens a field for progress, innovation, or improvement ;
on the contrary, the merit due to all compilers has been pro-
portionately awarded according to their labour in research,
and of the harmony obtained from conflicting evidence, and
the eduction of facts from amongst a deal of uncertainty.
Originality of conception, therefore, cannot be claimed for
this, or for any other work of a like intent.

Flcite ] .


Shield .

The Dexter

or Ri^t hand side
of the

Shield .

Points of the Shield Expuinld
A "Die dexhr chief point .
B Hie precise middle chief.
C The sinister chi^.
D The honor point.

The Sinister

orLeft hand side
of the

E Thfyjessepoim.

Y The nomhrdjjoint;.

Or The dexter base.

H The, middle hose.

I The sinister base.


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The Definition and Antiquity of Coats of Arms.

Arms, Armorial Bearings, or Coajts-of-arms, are hereditary
emblems of honor and descent, composed of certain figures,
colors, and metals, assumed or granted by authority, to
distinguish persons, families, and communities.

Arms are the proper object, of which heraldry is the
science, for the emblazoning in proper terms of all that is
connected with coats-of-arms, and to dispose in proper order
various arms on one field, or surface of the escutcheon.

The antiquity of the practice of bearing arms — if the first
rude distinctive emblems of nations, tribes, and individuals,
may thus be designated — is very great. It appears, indeed,
that immediately upon the disseverance of the first human
family, and the aggregation of its descendants into distinct
nations and tribes, the want was soon felt of some national
insignia, easily to be understood by friend as well as foe.
Several old writers, whose zeal in the endeavor to prove the
antiquity of heraldry as a science, often outran their common
sense, — insist that Joseph's coat of many colors was a pro-
perly emblazoned coat-of-arms, and deduce the fact of the
patriarch Jacob, when he blessed his sons, associating each
with a symbolic emblem, — as proof of the practice being
general of families and tribes bearing their insignia at that

Many of the heroes of Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, are quoted
as having emblematic figures on their shields, helmets, and
elsewhere ; and it is on record that Alexander the Great
bestowed on his subalterns marks of distinctive honor, which
they bore on their armor, pennons, and banners.



Saxons, who bore a White
Horse, (now borne in the
Brunswick Aims.)
Persians, who bore a Bow,
with arrows, &c.

Amongst the nations of antiquity who betook national
ensigns, we find —

The Egyptians, who bore an Ox. The
„ Athenians, „ „ Owl.
„ Goths, „ „ Bear.

„ Romans, „ „ Eagle,
Minotaur, and other devices.
„ Franks, who bore a Lion. I

Heraldic insignia, however, as a science, applied to in-
dividual hereditary bearings, and guided by laws and rules
definitely laid down and adhered to, cannot be said to have
had an extensive (if any) existence, till the 12th century.
The Bayeaux Tapestry, generally ascribed to the wife of the
Conqueror and her maidens, does not give any evidence of an
intimate knowledge of the subject, which undoubtedly would
have been the case had the science been a general one ; the
rank of the workers being a guarantee that they would have
had the best opportunity of becoming acquainted with it.
Egbert, one of our Saxon kings
(a.d. 800), certainly has a
shield of arms ascribed to him :
'' azure, a cross patonce, or,"
and so has Edward the Con-
fessor, ''azure, a cross patonce
between five martlets, or."
These, of course, must have
been invented long after their time ; but the latter arms are
of some historical importance, as they have been assumed by
several kings, and borne as one of the Royal standards ; and
the quartering of them by a private individual, having, in
the reign of Henry VIIL, been punished as treason.

The celebrated Camden, with whom most writers on the
subject have agreed, when treating of the antiquity of heredi-
tary arms, and heraldry as a science, says : —

"Shortly after the Conquest the estimation of arms began,
" in the expeditions to the Holy Land ; and afterwards, by
" little and little, became hereditary, when it was accounted
" an especial honour to posterity, to retain the arms which
" had been displayed in the Holy Land, in that holy service


" against the professed enemies of Christianity ; and that we
*^ conceived at that time the hereditary use of them ; but
"that the same {i.e., their hereditary character) was not
*' fully established until the reign of Henry III." He then,
in support of this statement, quotes instances of three
Earls, just prior to that date, whose arms differed from their
sires, showing that their personal bearings were matters dic-
tated by individual caprice, and not by hereditary dictum.

It is, therefore, not easy to trace, upon true and warrant-
able grounds, the constant lineal bearing of coats-of-arms in
a line of unchanged descent, before the time of Henry III.

The Crusades and Tournaments were undoubtedly the
foundation of the methodised system of bearing arms, and
gave a vast impetus to the practice of their being engraved,
depicted, and embossed, on shields, garments, banners, and

The connection of heraldry with tombs and monuments,
evidently dates from the commencement of the science ; as
the insignia which distinguished the living was perpetuated
on the tombs of the dead. The Roman nobility had a custom
of preserving the memory of the deceased by statues of
different materials, dressed in the respective garments of
rank, with the various other emblems of the position of their
originals. These statues were exhibited on solemn occasions,
and carried before the corpse of any other member of the
family at funerals, to declare their status to all.

We cannot expect to find any records of heraldry on
tombs of an anterior date to that which is assigned for the
consolidation of the science itself — though much labor has
been bestowed on the subject by those who claim an earlier
date for the same than is g-iven above. There are numbers of
tombs existing of eminent persons who died before A. D.
1000, but there is not an instance of there being any heraldic
bearings carved or depicted on them ; one of the earliest
known being upon the monumental effigy of a Count of
Wasserburg, in the Church of St. Emeran at Ratisbon. He
is represented completely armed, with a surcoat, and at his
side a plain shield of his arms. It is inscribed with the date
of 1010 ; though some have the opinion that this monument

2 B


was erected by the monks connected with the abbey which
the Count had benefitted, some time after his decease.

It would be very interesting to give the rules anciently
observed in the erection of monumental effigies, as a means
of distinguishment, in the disposition and nature of the
armor, position of the limbs, &c. ; but as this would take up
some space, and the subject being somewhat distinct from
the plain practical purport of this work, the reader is referred
to those writers of archaeological authority and eminence,
who have thoroughly exhausted this aspect of the science.

Coins and seals have always been intimately connected
with heraldry, and are the best authorities, both in respect to
the antiquity of the science, and the individual bearings ' of
the persons whose names are attached to them.

The use of seals is of very ancient date. We are told in
the book of Daniel that " the kino^ sealed it with his own
signet, and with the signet of his lords," and again, in the
book of Kings, that " Jezebel wrote letters in Ahab's name,
and sealed them with his seal." Many other quotations
might be given — but the same remark may be made in
respect to the heraldic nature of seals, as to the martial as-
pect of the science at that period — that they both had reference
only to the first rude symbols of nationality and individuality,
but bore a very faint resemblance to modern heraldry.

The dates of existing seals, which may fairly be held as
having arms on them, in the proper sense — are not earlier
than the twelfth century, with but few exceptions — one being
that of King Louis the younger, whereon is engraved a fleur-
de-lis — and another that of Robert le Frison, Earl of Flan-
ders, dated 1072. M. de Courcelles quotes three seals
attached to deeds bearing dates, 1038, 1030, 1037, bearing
evident resemblance to heraldic bearings, as used in modern
blazon. These isolated instances prove the length of time
the science was in existence before it became a general and
thoroughly organised one. In the reign of Henry II., 1154-
89, we read of sums of money called " scutage," (from
scutum* a shield, which was then, with the monarch's arms

* Scutum, (lat.) the oblong shield generally adopted by the Roman


displayed thereon, first impressed on the reverse of the coin
of the realm) being paid by tenants of the crown in lieu of
military service ; — this measure being now regarded as the
first great blow to the feudal system. The old game of
^' cross and pile" (our ^ heads and tails,') derived its name
from the cross, and wedge-like shape of the shield upon some

The old honorable titles of Scutifer and Escuyr (modern
^' esquire ") were used to distinguish those who were entitled
to bear their arms on a shield.

Before the Norman Conquest, the Saxon method of attest-
ing deeds was by subscribing the attestors' names, commonly
adding the sign of the cross. William, however, introduced
the mode of sealing with wax, which gradually became
general. A very old writer — Ingulphus, the Abbot of
Crowland, says — " The Normans do change the making of
'' writings, which were wont to be firmed in England with
*' crosses of gold and other holy signs, into printing Wax."
Guillim says — " At this time — (soon after the Conquest) —
"' as Joh. Ross noteth, they used to grave in their Seals
" their own Pictures and Counterfeits, with a long Coat over
" their armours."

The term, "coats-of-arms," takes its name from the surcoat
or tabard, on which arms were embroidered or depicted,
worn by warriors over their armor, like the Roman "tunica
palmata." It is generally considered that this tabard is
only a continaation of the sagum, or short vest, which
was worn by the ancient Germans, and covered the
shoulders and breast. Du Cange expressly observes that
" the coat of arms was the ordinary dress of the ancient

infantry, instead, of the round buckler (clipeus), at the period when the military
ceased to serve without pay. It was about 4 feet long by 2\ wide, formed
out of boards, like a door, firmly joined together, and covered over with
coarse cloth, under an outer covering of raw hide, attached and strengthened
round the edges by a metal rim. The men of each legion had their shields
painted of a different color, and charged with distinctive symbols, as is
exhibited in the column of Trajan, at Rome : at the base of which are three
scuta, distinguished severally by the image of a thunderbolt, of a wreath, and
the same bolt with a pair of wings.

Ecu, from ecussons, (fr. ) a round buckler, designating the French crown,
or five-franc piece of the Bourbons.


Gauls, by them termed sagum, whence the French derive
their word ^' sa?/e,^^ " sayon.^^ On the authority of Tacitus,
we may state, that the sa^um was gradually improved by
spots, and ornaments of different fiu^s ; — and that it became
otherwise adorned, according to the rude fency of those
distant ages, is asserted by several authors. Tlie tabard is
still worn by Her Majesty's Heralds on state occasions.

The bestowment of arms by the sovereign, in ancient
times, as marks of honor and dignity, was not confined
strictly to heroes of martial renown — for a notable instance
is quoted by Guillim,* (which we extract verbatim), who says
that one '' Bartholus, being a most expert man in the
^' Laws, and one of the Council of the said Charles the
" Fourth, received in reward for his arms from the said
" Empereur, this Coat-armour, viz. : or, a Lion rampant,
*' his tail forked, gules, which afterwards descended to his
*^ Children and Posterity. But Bartholus, (though he were
*' a most singular and perfect Civilian) because he was unex-
^' perienced in Martial Discipline, durst not at first assume
" the bearing of those Arms. But afterwards upon better
" advice he bare them, knowing how unfit it was to refuse a
'' reward from so potent an Empereur."

Arms are always emblazoned on a shield, and must not be
confused with the crest, supporters, or motto, which are
embellishments to arms proper, but different in their early
origin and use, and will be treated of separately in this work.
When arms are adjuncted with the exterior ornaments of
the shield — viz. : the mantling, crest, motto, ribbon, and
supporters — the same is termed an atchievement, though in
modern parlance the word is but seldom used to designate such.

The arms of ladies, however, are always borne in a lozenge;
those of widows being impaled with their late husband's.
Of this exception we shall speak more particularly when
treating specifically of the rules of blazoning.

* The edition of Guillim's Display of Heraldry, from which quotations are
made in this work, is that of 1679, being the fifth.

Dr. Berkham, Dean of Booking, is said to have composed this treatise, and
to have given his manuscript to J. Guillim, then pursuivant-at-arms, who
published it in his own name. See " Prince's Worthies of Devon," in the life
of that gentleman.



The Varieties of Arms.

Arms of Dominion

Are those which belono^ to sovereigns, princes, and heads
of commonwealths, in right of their sovereignty ; as the
three lions of England, the fleur-de-lis of France, the cross
of Savoy, &c., &c.

These arms cannot be said to be the personal bearings of
the sovereign, as they pertain to the nation rather than to
the individual, as an insignia of public authority, vested
in the reigning sovereign, and thus borne by successive
nionarchs, though of different race.

Those who ascend the throne by election, carry their arms
on an escutcheon placed in the centre of the arms of the
dominion to which they are elected ; as the Emperors of
Germany and Kings of Poland used to do. Thus, William,
Prince of Orange, placed his arms over those of England
and Scotland, as an elective king.

There is good evidence to believe that the present lions of
England have superseded leopards as the nation's arms in
olden time ; or that the two animals were depicted in an
identical manner. We are told that Henry the Second added
the single leopard of Aquitaine to his own two ; and the three
leopards are found on the seals of his sons, Richard the First
and John. This accords with the opinion of some of
the old French armorists, who maintained that lions should
never be depicted guardant, or full-faced, affirming that to
be proper to the leopard.* On the other hand, the Norman

* An ancient Latin writer says on this point, " The king of England has for
"his arms three leopards-gold on a red field — but whence this? (i.e. whence
they are derived the writer does not know) unless because he claims to be duke


Conqueror's arms have always been rendered by modern
writers as '^ Gules, two lions passant guardant," as also have
those of William the Second. Guillim quaintly terms
leopards '' a degenerate and bastard race, begotten between
" the adulterous lioness and the parde, which degenerate
*' brood of lions are called in Latin '' Imbelles Leones ; " or,
as Pliny says, " betw^een a lion and a she-panther, or
" between a lioness and a he-panther."

Porny, in his work on Heraldry (1777) also says, in speak-
ing of the leopard as a bearing, " The leopard's head is ahvays
*' represented with a full face, as in the arms of the Earl of
^' Strafford, with both eyes, which is never the case with the
^* lion's head, it being only represented sideways, with one
^^ eye only." How to make this rule accord Avith the present
arms of England is a difficulty ; but it w^ould almost appear
that the leopard and the lion, as above stated, were synonymous
in the olden time, as borne in the arms of our kings — in the
same w^ay as the method of blazoning their positions, is, with
one or two minor exceptions, identical now.

It would, indeed, be rather ludicrous if the far-famed
British Lion should turn out after all to be a leopard.

The origin of the dagger in the arms of London is
generally ascribed to the following incident in history : —
William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, when he went
with king Richard 11. to meet Wat Tyler, — who was a poor
laborer, but headed an insurrection, and even ventured to
the metropolis — was so exasperated at the affront to his
sovereign, that he struck him a violent blow on the head,

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Online LibraryR WillisThe science of heraldry; a practical introduction thereto → online text (page 1 of 7)