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A transcript of the book A Grammar of English Heraldry, chapter 11



IT will probably be allowed that the obscurity of heraldic language could not be illustrated by a better example than that quoted at the end of the preceding chapter; and it is equally certain that what deters so many people from the study of heraldry is the mystifying blazon in which even the officials of to-day wrap up the description of quite simple arms.

Now heraldic language has not always been mystifying. That of the early rolls and records is quite clear, and when it began to be translated out of French into English in the fifteenth century it was equally easy to understand. It was owing to the decadence of heraldry during the Tudor period that the Elizabethan heralds, most of whom cared little and understood less about the subject, began to mask their ignorance with a needless elaboration of heraldic nomenclature which has been in vogue ever since. This terrifying jargon is not only unnecessary, but it can easily be replaced by simple terms. Take for example the arms lately granted to the Commonwealth of Australia. These could be expressed as correctly heraldically, and in half as many words, in this wise:

Six pieces: 1. silver a cross gules with a leopard and four molets gold; 2. azure the constellation of the Southern Cross with an imperial crown in the chief; 3. silver a Maltese cross azure crowned imperially; 4. gold an Australian piping shrike splayed upon a perch wreathed vert and gules; 5. gold a black swan swimming towards the right; 6. silver a lion walking gules: all within a border ermine.

To justify such a blazon as this, and to show how it may properly and logically he used to-day, the language of the early heraldry must be considered, and a beginning may be made upon that of the Great Roll.

When an ordinary is placed between charges or other ordinaries the roll declares this by simply using the word 'and'; for example:

de argent a une fesse de goules e iij papingais de vert (Fig. 143).
de goulys a un cheveron e iij eskallops de argent.
de sable a une cross e iiij cressauns de argent (Fig. 144).
de argent a une fesse e ij barres gimyles de goules.
de argent a une fesse e ij cheverons de goules.

When charges are placed upon an ordinary, 'and' is again used, and with equal clearness, since the rule against colour on colour, or metal upon metal, shows plainly what is meant. Thus:

de argent a une bende de azure e iij egles de or (Fig. 145).
de argent a une crois de goules e v flures de or.
de goules a un cheveron de or a iij flures de azure (Fig. 146).

Fig. 143. Twenge

Fig. 144. Bernham

Fig. 145. De la Mare

Fig. 146. Cobham

Sometimes the place of the charges is more particularly indicated. For example:

de goules a une crois de argent et v moles de sable en la crois.
de or a une bende de sable en la bende iij daufins de argent.

The addition of a label is also noted by 'and':

de goules a une crois patee de or e un label de sable.

TO mark the addition of a border or chief, 'with' (vel) was used:

de argent a un cheveron de goules od la bordure sable besante de or (Fig. 147).
de azure frette de argent od le chef de argent (Fig. 148).
de or od le chef de sable a ij moles de argent percees (Fig. 149).

Fig. 147. Peche

Fig. 148. Holteby

Fig. 149. Gentil

In this last example, which is typical of many such, there is no question as to the place of the molets.

Fig. 150. Pycot

Fig. 151. Sindlesham

Charges that are 'in chief' are always plainly so described:

de azure a ij barres de or en le chef iij rondels de or (Fig. 150).

When both field and ordinary were charged, the fact is stated by such a blazon as:

de argent a une fesse e iij escalops de goules en la fesse iij merelos de or (Fig. 151).

In the Boroughbridge Roll, which is a little later than the Great Roll, the descriptions are marked by a frequent use of 'with' ( ove ), e.g.:

dargent ove ij barres de gules ove iij pelotz de gules en chiefe ove un bordure endente de sable.
de gules ove j bende dargent ove iij croiz pate de sable.

The usual formula of the Stacy-Grimaldi Roll, which also dates from early in the fourteenth century, is:

Conan de Ask port dor ove trois barres dazure.
Richard Oysell port dargent ove une sautour engrelee et quatre choughes de cornewaille de sable;

but charged ordinaries take this form:

Robert Ingram port de Ermyne une fess de goules et trois cokels dor en le fees.
Roald de Burgh port dargent ove un sautour de sable et syncque cignes dargent en le sautour.
Rauf de Camoys porte dor ove chief de gules et trois torteaux dargent en le chief.

The heraldic language of the latter part of the fourteenth century, as shown by a few grants, shows no change; and the arms assigned by King Richard II to John de Kyngeston in 1389 are blazoned as 'dargent ove un Chapewe dazur ovesque une plume dostrich de goules,'

Many of the more important royal grants, both in the fourteenth and the fifteenth century, following the language of the grants themselves, describe the arms in Latin, but French continued to be the official language throughout the first half of the fifteenth century.

From at least 1443 onwards French was to a large extent displaced by English, and the blazons of the arms are also in that tongue. Typical examples are:

1443 John Kendal. 'Gowles iij egles of gold betwene a feesche chekke of gold and asure.'

1445-6 John Oxinden. 'Sylver iij oxen sabull armyd with gooldys a cheveryn of the same.'

1451 Barbers' Company of London. 'a felde sabull a cheveron bytweene iij flemys of silver.'

1455 Ironmongers' Company of London. 'silver a Cheveron of Gowles sette bytwene three Gaddes of stele of Asure on the Cheveron three swevells of golde with two lizardes of thiere own kynde (i.e. proper) encoupeled with Gowlys on the helmet.

1466 Carpenters' Company of London. 'a felde Silver a Cheveron sable grayled iij Compas of the same.'

1477-8. Robert, Thomas, and John Gyggs. 'Sable a fret ermyn a chefe chekke silver and of the felde.'

1482. Thomas Northland. 'Silver betwene iij lyonseux·upon a Cheveron Sable·iij·besauntes, The creast upon the helme half a lyon sable sett withunne a wrethe goold and gowles. The mantel Sable furred with hermyn.'

1485. Wax-Chandlers' Company of London. 'Asur thre morteres royal gold upon a Cheveron silver thre Roses goules seded golde. The creste upon the helme a mayden knelyng a monges dyvers ffloures in a Surcote cloth of gold ffurred with ermyn making a garlond being in her hand of the same ffloures sett withinne a wreth gold and goules. The mantell Asur furred wt ermyn.'

These examples show that certain technical terms, like the names of the ordinaries, continue in their old form, as well as the names of the colours, but or and argent have become 'gold' and 'silver,' and other words have been simply translated

Another point to be noted is the beginning of the practice now become chronic, of describing the contents of the shield in wrong order.

Thus the Kendal arms might more properly have run: 'gowles a feesche chekke of gold and asure and iij egles of gold,' and the Northland arms as: 'silver a cheveron and iij. lyonseux sable with iij. besauntes on the cheveron'; and similarly with the Oxinden and Wax Chandlers' arms. This would have been a following of the more logical order of the rolls, which almost invariably blazon the charges after the ordinary. By this means too, the differencing of arms through added features is made plain. Thus the Great Roll has such cases as:

Sire Thomas de Fornival de argent a une bende e vj merelos de gules.

Sir Robert de Wadesle de urgent a une bende e vj merelose de gules en la bende iij escallops dor.

Modern usage would describe the Furnival arms as 'a bend between six martlets' and the Wadsley arms as 'on a bend between six martlets three escallops'; thus emphasizing the scallops added for difference instead of the bend on which they are placed. The Northland blazon similarly exalts the minor besants above the more prominent lioncels,

The use of English as the language of grants has now been practically constant, but for some obscure reason the heralds have reverted to or and argent for gold and silver. Argent began to be used again for silver, and commonly with it, from 1559 onwards, and or for gold about 1590; but Camden and Segar in the seventeenth century continued the English forms.

Two other usages have also become current. In the older documents there is never any hesitation in repeating the name of a colour or a metal, and so late as 1561 a king-of-arms did not scruple to issue a grant in these terms:

Paly argent and vert on a pale gules a lyon passant gardant golde betweene two Spatters argent on eche a double rose gules and argent crowned golde.

To avoid repetition the latter part of this blazon would probably now run 'between two spatters of the first on each a double rose of the third and of the first crowned of the fourth.' To follow such blazons as this, or that of the grant to the Commonwealth of Australia, one must actually begin by writing down the colours in order before being able to interpret 'of the second,' 'of the fourth,' etc., which is of course absurd. Yet such wording began quite early. The expression 'of the felde ' occurs in a grant of 1477-8 cited above, and crops up again constantly in the sixteenth century. The use of 'of the first,' 'of the second,' can likewise be found in a grant of 1558 by William Hervey, Clarenceux : 'partye per Cheveron sables and argent a Lyon passant in chiefe of the second the point gowtey off the firste.'

Since the Tudor period a large number of other terms have been invented, familiar enough to those whom heraldry concerns, but not in the least 'understanded of the people.'

Now there is nothing to be gained by clinging to such terms, or to the cumbrous official blazon, when tho same things can be described heraldically equally well and more plainly in ordinary language, and if heraldry is ever to become popular the time has come for reformation.

The matter can perhaps best be put on a practical basis by following the old English ways of blazoning arms.

Begin by stating the metal, colour, or fur of the field, or whether it is barry, paly, checky, and so forth.

Describe simple charges shortly in plain English and do not trouble about technical terms. There is no need to describe three running dogs, or three fish swimming, as 'in pale,' when such are always drawn one above another, or to state that three tripping stags or three roses are '2 and 1,' or ten besants or six fleurs-de-lis are '4, 3, 2, 1,' or '3, 2, 1.'

If there be a principal ordinary like a pale, fesse, or cheveron, name it after the field, and if it has charges about it, begin the description of these with , and': e.g. 'azure a fesse and three eagles gold.'

Should an ordinary itself be charged, use 'with' or 'and' as the linking word and add 'on the fesse,' , on the cross, 'etc, as the case may be. For example:

Barry of six pieces silver and sable with a bend gules and three gold fleurs-de-lis on the bend.

Gules a cheveron gold with three scallops sable on the cheveron. Ermine a fesse and three eagles vert with three besants on the fesse,

Silver a cross sable and four roses gules with five silver lilies on the cross,

Add 'in' or 'within' if there be a border, and if a label, 'and' or 'with.' For example: Gold a cheveron gules in a border sable with a label azure.

Be not afraid to repeat the colour or metal, or the number of charges, and do not say 'of the field,' 'of the second,' or 'as many' roses.

In blazoning animals instead of

accosted say side by side
addorsed back to back
attired with horns
couchant lying down
courant running or galloping
dormant sleeping
regardant looking backwards
respectant facing each other
salient leaping
sejant sitting
statant, or standing
vulned wounded

Do not say 'ducally gorged,' or 'gorged with a ducal coronet (or collar)'; even the Elizabethan heralds authorize the plainer use of 'with a crown (or collar) about his neck.' Chains or lines were often attached to such crowns or collars.

There is no need for retaining the word 'proper' for a charge 'in his proper colour,' as the late Tudor heralds liked it, or 'of theire owne kynde ' as an earlier grant has it, when there is no doubt about the natural colour of a popinjay, a peacock, or a chough, or of an Australian piping shrike, a kangaroo, or an emu.

Certain time-honoured conventions may be borne in mind. 'A ramping and a roaring lion' as the psalmist calls him, aptly describes the characteristic attitude of the king of beasts, and the old heralds then called him simply' a lion, 'and only occasionally 'a lion rampant.' He has an open mouth, and shows his teeth, and has a red tongue and claws ; but if painted on anything red, the tongue and claws then become blue. A lion is sometimes sleeping, lying down, walking, or leaping, in which case he must be so described; but his normal aspect is ramping across the shield and looking before him.

When a lion, instead of being side-faced, looks out of the shield full-faced, he straightway becomes heraldically 'a leopard'; not the spotted beast of that name, but merely a lion who looks at you. Tho leopard is sometimes 'rampant' like a lion, but his characteristic attitude is passant or walking with catlike tread, full-faced, and it is then enough to call him 'a leopard.' The old blazon of the arms of the King of England was 'gules three leopards of gold,' and not 'lions passant gardant in pale.' The' lion's face' of some of the books is of course 'a leopard's head.'

A lion was often shown 'with a forked tail,' which was sometimes likewise knotted, as in several instances in the Great Roll.

The normal attitude of horses and bulls, boars, sheep and goats, is standing or walking, while the deer tribe are usually 'tripping' along. Running deer are also to be met with; also running greyhounds and galloping colts or horses.

As with lions and leopards, the tongues and claws of beasts of prey are generally red or blue; while the horns and hoofs of other creatures are often gilded. Stags and bulls need not be described as 'armed' or 'attired' nor full-faced heads called 'caboched.' A head shown sideways is either torn off or 'rased,' or 'cut off at the neck.'

The king of birds with the old heralds was simply 'an eagle' and he was always drawn erect and with wings, tail, and feet spread out so as to cover as much space as possible. Sometimes he was then called a splayed eagle, and also drawn with two heads. 'A pelican' was always drawn 'billing her breast' to draw blood to feed her young, but if standing over them in the nest she was 'a pelican in her piety.' Similarly a peacock with his tail spread out came to be described as 'in his pride.'

Birds other than eagles are usually 'with folded wings' when standing or swimming, but open when 'rising' from the ground, and of course when flying: There is no need to describe them as 'close,' 'naiant,' or 'volant.'

Butterflies and bats are always shown with their wings splayed.

Fishes are generally 'swimming' one above another; or 'breathing,' that is, rising perpendicularly to the top of the water as if for air, in which case they are drawn side by side as in the punning arms of the Lucys, The modern heralds call this supposed breathing 'haurient.'

Snakes or serpents are shown gliding along; also at rest and 'coiled' or 'knotted' as in the Cavendish crest. Frogs and toads and crawling snails occur in late heraldry.

Of fabulous creatures the mermaid was borne quite early as a badge by the Berkeleys; and the wiver and the griffin, delightful winged and long-tailed dragons with two and four legs respectively, were also early favourites. The fierce aspect of the wiver led to his adoption as one of the first animal crests, and the griffin was quite as soon painted upon shields. His normal form was ramping like a lion, pawing the air and with his wings raised behind him. In this wise some folk call him 'segreant,' but needlessly, since a qualifying word is wanted only when he is shown walking.

Another queer creature, the cockatrice, and likewise the basilisk are to he found in later heraldry.

A growing tree is ordinarily with leaves, but may be 'with acorns' if an oak, or 'with grapes' if a vine. The books like to say 'fructed.'

A woodstock or tree stump, or a tree torn up by the roots, should be so called.

Fig. 152. Darcy
( Silver three red

Certain flowers like roses and daisies are shown without stalks (Fig. 152), while lilies, and some leaves like trefoils, normally have short stalks. These need not be called 'slipped' since that applies to flowers that have been plucked with their stalks, like a rose with its leaves, or to a branch that has been torn off a plant or tree.

The sun in his splendour need only be 'a sun.' The moon is generally a 'crescent' with horns upwards; hilt if shown sideways it is a 'waxing' or a 'waning' moon according as its horns face to the dexter or the sinister (Fig. 153), and not the 'increscent' or 'decrescent' moon of the books. Stars (which need not be called 'estoiles') are usually drawn with six or eight rays, either wavy, or alternately wavy and straight-sided (Fig. 154). A comet or blazing star may be found in late heraldry.

A molet (incorrectly spelt mullet) is a star, usually of five points, all straight-sided. When pierced with a round hole it is a rowel (Fig. l55).

Fig. 153. Gobioun
( A bend and two
waxing moons

Fig. 154. A star

Fig. 155. A rowel

The confusion between lozenges and mascles in early blazons may be settled by calling a 'lozenge.' the form now known as such, and describing the mascle as a false- or voided-lozenge, for which there is ancient precedent. This will get rid of the word mascle.

As regards the cross, heraldic writers have gone mad, and from the few simple crosses of pre-Tudor days there have been evolved scores of fantastic forms for which it would be difficult to find instances outside the heraldry books, In the Glossary of Heraldry , published in 1847, upwards of fifty varieties are enumerated, and there are other modern works in which they exceed two hundred!

As a matter of fact the forms of crosses that have actually been used are quite few. The simple form seen in the arms of St George (Fig. 156) of course comes first, and it is also common with the edges engrailed as borne by the Uffords and others (Fig. 39), and sometimes it is of the ragged form, as in the arms of Colchester.

Fig. 156. St George

Fig. 157. Latimer ( Gules
a cross paty gold

There is also the form which has been variously termed the cross patonce, flory, fleury, and a score of other names. The old heralds knew it by another name altogether. To them it was simply a 'cross paty' because the ends were splayed or widened out; they were also generally split into three sections. Such a cross paty occurs in the arms ascribed to St Edward (Fig. 101) and in the well-known arms of Latimer (Fig. 157); and its other names have been invented, quite unnecessarily, from attempts to specify the various ways in which the medieval artists chose to draw or carve a cross paty.

There is another old form, the so-called cross moline, which has had names piled upon it (Fig. 158). It was originally called in French fer-de-moline , or in English a 'millriud,' and represents the iron bearing fixed in the middle of a millstone. The old way of drawing it was a cross with forked ends, which were sometimes coiled round, and it was then called a

Fig. 158. Le Brun ( Azure
a mill-rind cross gold

Fig. 159. The crosslet

'cross recercelée,' but it still remained a millrind, It was borne ermine on a red field by Anthony Bek bishop of Durham and patriarch of Jerusalem, and on his death in 1310 there passed to his cathedral church divers vestments 'cum una cruce de armis ejusdem intextis quæ dicuntur ferrum molendini': and on his seal of dignity the bishop is shown wearing a chasuble with this device.

Two other crosses were also used, chiefly for powdering the field of a shield, namely the crosslet and the cross formy. The crosslet (Fig. 159) is that with the crossed ends familiar to us in the arms of Beauchamp; but the modern squared form is not found in old examples, which have the projections rounded off buttonwise. It was perhaps for this reason that the heraldry books call it a cross 'bottonnée.' The cross formy was a cross paty with flat

Fig. 160. Chetwode ( Quarterly
silver and gules four crosses
formy countercoloured

Fig. 161. A crosslet fitchy

ends, as in the arms of Chetwode (Fig. 160), but if the ends were squared like a modern crosslet it was called a cross potent.

Both the crosslet and the cross formy sometimes had a spiked foot, and were then described as fitchy, because they could be fixed in the ground (Fig. 161). There are also ancient examples of a cross formy sprouting with fleurs-de-lis, This was apparently the cross 'flowered at the ends' of the early rolls, which has come to be called wrongly a cross fleury (Fig. 162).

A few other early forms, like the tau or St Anthony's cross (Fig. 163), and the double-barred cross borne before a patriarch, explain themselves.

There are still very many heraldic words that can be replaced by better. A thing hanging down need not be 'declinant' or 'dejected,' or a cross on steps be 'degraded,' or a bloody hand 'embrued,' or an uprooted tree 'eradicated.' A limb can be 'bent'

Fig. 162. Siward ( Sable a silver
cross flowered at the ends

Fig. 163. The tau or
St Anthony's cross

instead of 'embowed' or 'flexed,' and 'cut off' rather than 'couped.' A maiden's head with golden hair should be so described instead of 'crined or .' There is also no reason for calling a ring an 'annulet,' a star an 'estoile,' a sheaf a 'garb,' or a paw a 'jamb'; or to burden the memory with names for coloured roundels. Why should a blue roundel be a hurte, a black one an ogress, or a purple one a golpe? 'Roundel azure,' 'roundel sable,' and 'roundel purpure are much clearer to the mind and eye. The only roundel with a specific name is the gold one which has always been called a besant, but silver besants occur too in old blazons.

Many other official words call be replaced by better. 'Compony' has an older form in gobony, 'compony-counter-compony' is but checky, 'potent-counter-potent' is only a form of vair, and wavy is quite as expressive as 'undy.' A field or charge powdered with billets, or with drops, or with fleurs-de-lis may surely be so described, in preference to 'replenished with' or 'seemy of' billets, etc. or as 'billety,' 'gutty,' 'fleuretty,' or 'fleur-de-lise.' There is no such thing as a bar sinister, and the so-called diminutives are but a modern invention.

In conclusion it will be seen that the grammar of heraldry can be reduced to such simple terms as may be learned without difficulty by anyone, and that there is no need to burden the memory with a vocabulary of unnecessary words, or to continue the cumbrous methods of modern blazonry.

Freed from such shackles, heraldry will appear in quite a different light to the student, who will find that instead of being a dry and repellent subject, it is one full of interest and meaning, and the handmaid of history and art.