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A transcript of the book A Grammar of English Heraldry, chapter 2



INASMUCH as nearly all early heraldry is displayed upon shields it is of them that mention must first be made. Banners, and painted or embroidered surcoats or coats-of-arms, occur almost equally early, but as the heraldry upon them is the same as upon the shields, they need not be dealt with until later.

The most notable feature of all early heraldry is its simplicity. Some shields are merely divided into two plain colours by a line down or across the middle, or quartered by a use of cross lines. Others are painted checkerwise, or in bands or stripes of alternate colours. Others again are crossed by single bands with birds or beasts or flowers of some kind disposed above and below. Or one, two, three, or more such objects by themselves may be represented, like the three leopards in the arms of the King of England and the six eagles of Piers Gaveston.

Another noteworthy feature is the simplicity of the colouring. The so-called primary colours, red, yellow, and blue, were most in use, but white and black are nearly as common. Of the secondary colours green, oddly enough, is comparatively rare, as is purple; while orange was not used at all in medieval times, apparently because no stable pigment for it was known. Of these tinctures, five were reckoned as colours: red, blue, black, green, and purple. Yellow was usually represented, as might be expected, by gold, and white similarly by silver, and both were accordingly reckoned as metals. Two furs also occur in early heraldry: the familiar black tails on white, known as ermine (Fig. 5); and an alternating arrangement of blue and white patches, imitated from a series of grey squirrels' skins and called vair, from an old French word meaning a skin (Fig. 6). Vair is also often found in other colours, such as black and white, or gold and blue, and was then called vairy, A treatment of ermine with white tails upon black (sable ermined silver) came into being in the fifteenth century; and later still were invented 'gold ermined sable' and its reverse, 'sable ermined gold.'

Fig. 5. Ermine

Fig. 6. Vair

Since the simple divisions of the shield possibly gave rise to what are now called the ordinaries, these must now be described.

Shields were divided vertically, or horizontally, or into quarters by a combination of both lines; and described accordingly as 'party' (Fig. 7), 'party fessewise' (Fig. 8), and 'quarterly' (Fig. 9).

Fig. 7. Party

Fig. 8. Party fessewise

Fig. 9. Quarterly

A division aslantwise from the upper right-hand corner of the bearer was 'party bendwise' (Fig. 10), or if from the left-hand corner, 'party bend wise sinister' (Fig. 11). A combination of both lines formed 'party saltirewise' (Fig. 12); and the lower quarter only of this was 'party cheveronwise' (Fig. 13), or 'enty' as it was called in the fifteenth century.

Fig. 10. Party<

Fig. 11. Party

Fig. 12. Party

Fig. 13. Party
or enty

By substituting stripes or bands for these lines there are produced the ordinaries after which they are named: the pale (Fig. 14), the fesse (Fig. 15), and the cross (Fig. 16); the bend (Fig. 17), the bend sinister (Fig. 18), the saltire (Fig. 19), and the cheveron (Fig. 20).

Fig. 14. The pale

Fig. 15. The fesse

Fig. 16. The cross

Fig. 17. The

Fig. 18. The
bend sinister

Fig. 19. The

Fig. 20. The

To these must be added the chief or head of the shield (Fig. 21), and the pile (Fig. 22); but in early heraldry there was practically no difference between a chief and party fessewise.

Multiples of the ordinaries produced further divisions. Thus an even number of pales gives 'paly' (Fig. 23), and a fesse when multiplied becomes 'bars,' or 'barry' when the number is even (Fig. 24). A number of bends form 'bendy' (Fig. 25), and of cheverons 'cheveronny' (Fig. 26), though this is rarely found. Paly with barry form 'checky' (Fig. 27), and the crossing of the bendys 'masculy, or 'lozengy' (Fig. 28), while the conjunction of quarterly and party saltirewise produces 'gyronny' (Fig. 29).

Fig. 21. The chief

Fig. 22. The pile

Fig. 23. Paly

Fig. 24. Barry

Fig. 25. Bendy

Fig. 26.

Fig. 27. Checky

Fig. 28. Lozengy

Fig. 29. Gyronny

Gyronny was, however, sometimes drawn of six, ten, or even twelve, instead of the more usual eight, pieces, as its divisions were called. Paly, barry, and bendy were also drawn to a limited number of pieces. This was usually six, but if the shield were a large one the early heralds did not hold themselves to any rule on this point. The number, however, was always even, and should be stated in the blazon if it is more or less than the normal six. 'Buruly' is an old term for apparently an indefinite number of bars.

Fig. 30. Pily wavy

Fig. 31. The quarter

Fig. 30 represents an early shield of the arms of Gernon, which were pily wavy of six pieces silver and gules .

Five other ancient ordinaries were the quarter (Fig. 31), now often called a canton, and then drawn somewhat less than a quarter; the scutcheon (Fig. 32), or superposition of a smaller shield upon a larger; the orle (Fig. 33), false-scutcheon, or pierced-scutcheon; the border (Fig. 34); and the flanches, which were always borne in pairs (Fig. 35).

Fig. 32. The

Fig. 33. The

Fig. 34. The

Fig. 35.

Fig. 36. Vampage
( Azure an eagle and
a flowered tressure

Fig. 37. Scotland
( Gold a lion and
a double tressure

The curious narrow flowered and counter-flowered orle called the tressure (Fig. 36), which figures doubled so prominently in the arms of the King of Scots (Fig. 37), was seldom used south of the Tweed.

Further variations of the ordinaries were obtained by the use of other than straight lines, such as: indented (Fig. 38); engrailed (Fig. 39); and wavy (Fig. 40).

Fig. 38. A bend

Fig. 39. A cross

Fig. 40. Wavy or
barry wavy

Fig. 41. A fesse

Fig. 42. A
ragged bend

Fig. 43. A chief

Fig. 44. A bor-
der invected

But at first, indented and engrailed seem to have been practically the same, and the words interchangeable. Later on came in: battled (Fig. 41); ragged (Fig. 42); nebuly (Fig. 43); and invected (Fig. 44).

'Nebuly' is supposed to represent the edges of clouds, as drawn by the medieval artist, and 'invected' is the reverse of engrailed.

Since French was the 'vulgar tongue' of the Court when heraldry was invented, gold was called or , silver argent , green vert , black sable , and purple purpure . Red was gules , from the Arabic name 'gul' for a red rose. In the same way blue was azure , from the Arabic 'lazura,' the blue stone called lapis-lazuli.

There has never been any rule as to the tint of a colour, and so long as gules, azure, vert, and purpure can fairly be described as red, blue, green, or purple, the particular shade, whether light or dark, is immaterial.

In connexion with the metals and colours, care was always taken in English heraldry to avoid the placing of a gold object upon silver, or a silver one upon gold, or of a coloured object or bearing upon a coloured field. A few isolated exceptions occur that only serve to prove the rule, and these are so noteworthy from their rarity as to invite enquiry into their meaning. Perhaps this is why the Crusaders devized for the arms of Jerusalem one large and four little gold crosses upon a silver field.

The rule does not however extend to parti-coloured or quarterly fields, nor to fields that are checky, paly, barry, etc. Thus the Great Roll furnishes such examples as a red lion upon a field party gold and vert (Fig. 45), a silver leopard upon party gold and gules, and wavy red bars upon party gold and silver; likewise of 'quarterly of silver and sable a bend gold,' 'checky silver and gules a cross azure' (Fig. 46), 'paly of silver and azure a fesse gules' (Fig. 47), and 'buruly of silver and gules three lions of sable.' Other examples show that chiefs and quarters were also excepted from the rule, as well as borders and labels and other differences: 'paly of silver and azure with a chief gules and a golden leopard'; 'barry of six pieces silver and gules with a quarter gules and a molet of silver in the quarter' (Fig. 48) ; 'quarterly of gold and gules with a border of vair' (Fig. 49); and 'bendy of gold and azure and a label gules.' Arms like 'checky of gold and gules a fesse of ermine,' and 'vairy of silver and sable a fesse of gules,' show that the furs came under the same rule.

Fig. 45. The
Earl Marshal

Fig. 46. Robert
de Heydon

Fig. 47. John
de Chauvant

Fig. 48. William

Fig. 49. Richard

The shape of the shield, as will be shown presently, is a matter of indifference, and its many varieties of form are merely due to fashion without any heraldic significance; the ground of it is called the field.

Fig. 50. Geoffrey de la Mare
( Gold a fesse and two
gemell-bars azure

Fig. 51. Thomas de Peres
( Vert a bend silver and
two cotises gold

An infinite number of arms has been formed by combinations of parti-coloured fields like barry, paly, or bendy with ordinaries, and of parti-coloured ordinaries, such as checkered cheverons or fesses, on plain fields. Bends and borders were often gobony, that is of an alternating series of pieces, or gobets, of a metal and colour, such as blue and silver, or gold and sable. Fesses were sometimes placed between pail's of very narrow bars, called gemells (Fig. 50), which also occur by themselves; and bends between a pair of similar narrow strips, called cotises (Fig. 51). These are often different in colour from the bend, which suggests that they may have originated in the one bend placed upon another to be met with in early rolls; but cotises are occasionally found with other ordinaries like the pale or the cheveron. When a bend was placed over the other charges in a shield, such as a chief or other ordinary, or a lion or like object, it was anciently termed a baston, and was often gobony: it was also usually drawn narrower than a bend (Fig. 52). A fesse that zigzagged across the field was called a daunce or dance, perhaps because its points 'danced' up and down (Fig. 53), and cotises were often drawn as zigzags or dancetty.

Fig. 52. John Mauleverer
( Gules a chief gold and a
baston gobony of silver
and azure

Fig. 53. Vavasour
( Gold a daunce sable )

The blank spaces about an ordinary were filled from the first by devices of every kind, known collectively as charges (Figs. 54, 55). A charge or number of charges was also placed on the ordinaries themselves, or both field and ordinary might be charged, or carry charges. Charges were also used alone or in multiple without ordinaries.

Fig. 54. Howard ( Gules
a bend and six crosslets
fitchy silver

Fig. 55. John de Pateshulle
( Silver a fesse sable and
three scallops gules

Fig. 56. Sable a cheveron silver and three silver owls . Burton

Fig. 57. Azure three roach swimming . Roche

Fig. 58. Azure three lions' heads rased gold . Sir Gawayne the good Knight

For these charges every conceivable creature and inanimate thing was drawn upon: birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, insects, and parts of them such as heads, limbs, tails, feet, and wings (Figs. 56-60); trees, flowers, fruits (Fig. 61), and leaves; the sun, moon, and stars; castles, buckles, shells (Fig. 63), chaplets (Fig. 64), sheaves (Fig. 66), sleeves (Fig. 67), crosses, crowns, fleurs-de-lis, horse-shoes, etc. Even the writer of the Book of St Albans has to say: 'Bot for to reherce all the signys that be borne in armys as Pecok Pye Ball Dragon Lyon & Dolfyn and flowris and leevys it war to longe a tariyng. ner I can not do hit: ther be so mony.'

Fig. 59. Silver three
forked tails of lions
sable. Pynchebek

Fig. 60. Gules a
pair of gold wings.

Fig. 61. Silver three
red apples. Apple-

Fig. 62. Silver three
fleure-de-lis sable.

Fig. 63. Sable a fesse
engrailed and three
whelk shells gold.

Fig. 64. Silver three
chaplets of red roses.

Fig. 65. Azue a
silver fleur-de-Lis.
John de Tykebi

Fig. 66. Azure three
gold sheaves. The
Earldom of Chester

Fig. 67. Gold a
sleeve or maunche
vert. Thomas de

A few of these charges like crosses, billets, fleurs-de-lis, scallops, trefoils, and drops, were often used in a diminutive form to powder the field around or about a larger charge (Fig. 68).

Fig. 68. Mounfort (Silver crusilly gules and a lion azure)

Arms with party fields were sometimes countercoloured, by interchanging the tinctures, so that the ordinary or charges (or parts of them) overlying the metal were of thc colour, and those over the colour of the metal. Several instances occur in the early roll c . 1300 called St George's. Thus John de Hudehovile bears 'party gold and azure a saltire countercoloured'; David ap Griffid, 'quarterly gold and azure four leopards countercoloured'; and Philip de Cerne, 'party fessewise silver and gules a lion and a border countercoloured: In the early rolls countercoloured is described as 'de l'un en l'autre.'

The choice of the devices in a shield was mostly quite arbitrary, the chief care being to see that one man's arms differed in some way from another's; but the selection was often made, where possible, so as to pun upon the bearer's name.

Fig. 69. Cockfield
(Silver three cocks

Fig. 70. Corbet
(Gold two corbies)

Fig. 71. Arundel
(Silver six swallows)

Fig. 72. Mortimer

Some of these selections are obvious at sight, like the cocks of Cockfield (Fig. 69), the swines' heads of Swinford, and the corbies of Corbet (Fig. 70). Others depend upon the French nomenclature of the rolls, like the hirondelles of Arundel (Fig. 71), the herises of Harris, and the pennes of Coupen. A few are of more recondite nature, such as the silver scutcheon in the arms of Mortimer, which clearly betokens the Dead Sea of the house de Mortuo Mari (Fig. 72). Any of the rolls of arms, pictorial or written, will furnish further examples (sec Chapter VI).