The ability to blazon accurately is an essential
tool of the armorist.
It enables him or her to record armorial devices quickly and accurately,
to make effective use or ordinaries, armorials, peerages, etc., and to
communicate with other armorists. The objectives of blazon are brevity
and precision. An accurate blazon is unambiguous and from it an achievement
of arms which is correct in every detail may be painted (emblazoned).
The conventions of blazon are well established but not inflexible, and
current practice is nearer the spirit of the medieval heralds than the
prescriptive heraldic manuals of the last century, in which tautology was
described as mortal sin, and clarity sacrificed for pedantry. All the well
known heraldic books contain the technical minutiae of blazon, but it is
recommended that the novice concentrate on perfecting his or her understanding
of the basics before concerning himself or herself with technicalities.
Once the conventions are understood the terminology will come with practice
and a few hours spent browsing through an illustrated peerage.
Blazons are unpunctuated, except that the tinctures and charges begin
with a capital letter. Adjectives (other than quantitative) follow the
nouns they qualify, the tincture coming last: e.g. three Griffins segreant
If a shield is impaled, the dexter coat is blazoned first. In a quartered
shield the quarterings are numbered, beginning with that in dexter chief
(the paternal arms) and working across the shield and down, as with lines
of print. If, as often happens, the last quartering is a repetition of
the first, the blazon would commence Quarterly 1st and 4th, Quarterly Ist
and 8th and so on, depending on the number of quarterings borne. When quarterings
are themselves quartered they are described as grandquarters, each coat
of which they are composed being a sub-quarter. In such cases the grandquarter
is blazoned, sub-quarter by sub-quarter, before moving on to the next quartering.
A shield containing several quarterings may also be surrounded by a bordure.
This should always be blazoned last, together with any charges placed upon
Crests, supporters and badges are blazoned as though they are charges
on a shield. Armorial banners are blazoned in precisely the same way as
shields of arms. Standards and other livery flags are blazoned from hoist
to fly. The arms or national flag in the hoist is first mentioned -- usually
in the simple form In the hoist the Arms -- followed by the field and the
charges placed upon it, the motto bends and lettering, and lastly the fringe.
A number of conventions in blazon are worthy of note:
- The blazon of a parted or varied field always begins with the tincture
of the partition or division in the 'senior' position, i.e. dexter
- The position of a principal charge is assumed to be the center of
the shield, unless otherwise specified.
- The position of individual charges may be blazoned by reference to
the parts and points of the shield, e.g. in base, in dexter chief, in honour
- Where three similar charges are placed on a shield it is assumed
that two are in chief and one is in base, unless otherwise specified.
- Where several dissimilar charges are depicted, each of apparently
equal importance, that in dexter chief is blazoned first, followed by that
in sinister chief, dexter base and sinister base.
- The disposition of a number of minor charges may be indicated by
the use of numbers, e.g. six Martlets three, two and one - three in the
top row, two in the center row and one in the base of the shield.
- The disposition of minor charges may also be indicated by reference
to the geometry of an ordinary, e.g. five Oval Buckles in fess, four Eagles
in cross, five Estoiles in saltire, etc.
- When no indication is given in the blazon as to the disposition of
minor charges, they are so arranged as to accommodate the principal charge
without being defaced, e.g. a Lion rampant Argent between seven Cross-crosslets.
- The attitude of a charge (i.e. the geometrical indication) may be
indicated by reference to the geometry of an ordinary, e.g. a Sword bendwise,
two Arrows chevronwise, two Tilting Spears saltirewise, etc. (This is not
necessary if a charge is obliged to follow the geometry of the ordinary
on which it is placed, or if it is blazoned in such a way as to make its
position clear, e.g. a Lion rampant is always upright.)
- When a charge is surrounded by a number of minor charges it is said
to be between. (Also between a pair of flaunches.)
- When a charge is encircled by minor charges it is said to be within.
(Also within an Orle or Tressure.)
- When a specified number of charges is immediately followed by a
similar number of other charges the words as many may be used, e.g. Argent
on a Chevron Gules between three Leopard's Faces Sable as many Castles
Or (de Sausmarez).
- Beasts are normally armed and langued Gules - that is, they have
red claws and tongue (azure if the field or beast is itself red). The tincture
of claws and tongue need be blazoned only if it differs from the convention.
- The crest should be blazoned Upon a Helm with a Wreath...... or
Within a Wreath..... and not On a Wreath...... The tinctures are then specified,
beginning with the dexter 'twist', the terms of the colours or (even worse!)
of the liveries being ambiguous.
- The mantling is blazoned, e.g. Vert doubled Or or Gules and Sable
doubled Argent, the inner lining always being described last. The convention
is that the outer lining of the mantling is the principal colour and the
inner lining is the principal metal. However, Party Gules and Sable doubled
Argent is also acceptable for mantlings of more than two tinctures. The
outer lining of the mantling can also be powdered with charges, e.g. Gules
semee of Roses Argent barbed and seeded proper doubled Or (Brennan of Leeds,
- The position of supporters is said to be on either side for a matched
pair, or on the dexter/sinister side if they are dissimilar, the dexter
being blazoned first. A pair of supporters which differ only in their attributes
may be blazoned, e.g. on either side a Griffin segreant Sable that on the
dexter side gorged with an Ancient Crown Or and that on the sinister side
holding a Key erect Gules.
- If a special compartment has been devised this should also be
blazoned, beginning with the whole upon a Compartment of..... or on a
Compartment composed of......
The sequence of blazoning a coat of arms
- The Field
Parted: division of the shield by lines of partition
Varied: geometrically patterned shapes
Tincture: armorial metals, colours and furs
Semy charges: Small charges scattered over the field
- The Ordinary Identity Lines, variations of The Field (as above)
- The Principal Charges Position (if necessary) Identity Attitude(s)
and/or disposition The Field of the charge (as above) Attribute(s)
- The Secondary Charges As 3 above
- Charges borne upon the Ordinary or Principal Charge As 3 above
- The Sub-ordinaries As 2 above
- Charges borne upon the Sub-ordinaries As 3 above
- Any Ordinary or Charge borne over all As 2 or 3 above (blazoned
- The Coronet or Chapeau (Scotland) of rank (if appropriate)
- The Helmet according to rank
- The Wreath, Crest Coronet or Chapeau
- The Crest (as for the Principal Charge above)
- The Mantling Supporters (if appropriate) Blazoned as the Principal
Charge above The Motto (In Scotland this follows the Crest) The Badge Blazoned
as the Principal Charge above