Heraldry Terms

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Definition copied from Heraldry

Heraldry is the science and art of designing, displaying, describing and recording coats-of-arms (also referred to as "armorial bearings" or simply as "arms"). Its origins lie in the need to distinguish participants in battles or jousts and to describe the various devices they carried or painted on their shields. In Belegarth Heraldry is most often worn on a belt sash, garb, armor, or a Standard, or painted on a fighter's shield.
The following is a list of terms to assist you in blazoning your own arms. There are many, many sources to find this information, but one online dictionary can be found [here]


The Basics

The field is the background on which the coat-of-arms is set. For example, it would be the color of the shield if you displayed your coat-of-arms there.
A charge is anything that lies on the field of a coat-of-arms.


  • Dexter: The right of the field, the reader's left (confused?)
  • Sinister: The left of the field, the reader's right
  • Chief: Top
  • base: Bottom


  • Argent: silver, or white
  • Azure: blue
  • Gules: red
  • Or: gold, or yellow
  • Purpure: purple
  • Sable: black
  • Sanguine: blood-red
  • Tawny (or tenne): orange
  • Vert: green

A heraldric device may also be described as proper, indicating that the colors that would naturally be found on the object in question. This term is commonly used for animals on coats-of-arms.

Three furs, or patterns, also form field backgrounds:

  • Ermine: A white field with black dots that are supposed to represent ermine tails.
  • Ermines: The reverse: a black field with white dots.
  • Vair: A tesselation of sheild-shapes, checkered azure and argent. In other colors, it is described as a field, vairy azure and or (for example).

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne ends with this heraldric description: "On a field, sable, the letter, A, gules."

The Field

Partitioning the Field

Fields of multiple colors are divided in four main ways:

  • Parti per Pale: halved vertically
  • Parti per Fess: halved horizontally
  • Parti per Bend: halved diagonally from upper left (dexter chief) to lower right (sinister base)
  • Parti per Cross (or Quarterly: Divided both horizontally and vertically, forming four quarters.



The most basic charges are called ordinaries. There are nine honorable ordinaries.

  • Pale: A thick verticle line down the center.
  • Fess: A thick horizontal line across the center.
  • Bend: A thick diagonal line, from upper left (dexter chief) to lower right (sinister base).
  • Cross: Just how it sounds.
  • Saltire: a 'St. Andrew's cross<be>
  • Pile: A wedge, starting from the top corners and forming a point at the bottom tip of the field.
  • Cheveron or Chevron: A line across the center of the field, like an upside-down V.
    • For example The U.S. military insignia for a Private E-2 (PV2) is a Chevron.
  • Saltire: Two diagonal lines, like an X.
  • Quarter: A quartered segment, usually in the upper right of the field.

There are also many diminuitives and derivations of these ordinaries.

Some common Charges

Annulet: A ring, such as a chainmail link. Usually more than one appear on a single coat-of-arms.
Cinquefoil: A five-pointed flower.
Crescent: Generally shown with the ends pointing up.
Estoile: A six-pointed star with wavy rays.
Escallop: A scallop shell.
Fleur-de-Lys: St. Louis University uses a Fleur-de-Lys as its symbol, as do most places in St. Louis, MO or Louisville, KY (notice a trend?). I was going to upload it, but I can't get the upload page to work.
The Heraldric Rose: A five-pointed rose.
The Heraldric Sun: The heraldric sun is drawn with 16 short rays, alternatingly straight and wavy.
Mullet: A five-pointed star with straight rays (you're used to seeing this one).


Roundels are simply colored circles, but each has its own special name.

  • Bezant: Or, a coin
  • Torteau Gules
  • Plate: Argent
  • Hurt: Azure, a bruise.
    • Interesting tidbit: a ring of these makes a Hurts Donut, but someone already owns that coat-of-arms (I forget who).
  • Pellet or Ogress: Sable
  • Pome: Vert, an apple
  • Fountain: Actually not a color, but six alternating wavy lines of azure and argent.


As far as animals go, you are probably thinking of dragons and lions. Many other creatures are also featured on coats-of-arms, mammals, birds, and imaginary. Even some fish. What is particular to remember about the critters is the terminology for their positions:

Four-legged beasts:

  • rampant: raised with front claws forward in attack. The right front and back legs are generally higher than the left.
  • Passant: walking, one foreleg raised. Used for all animals except animals of prey (such as stags), who are described as trippant.
  • Gardant: Secondary descriptor as in rampant gardant. It signifies that the animals is facing outward, instead of in profile.
  • Sejant or Sejeant: sitting


  • Displayed: The body is in the center, with wings and legs spread.
    • Alterion: An eagle displayed without beak or legs.
  • Rising: A bird taking flight, leaving the ground with wings spread behind.


  • Niant: Swimming horizontally, facing dexter
  • Hauriant: Swimming upwards
  • Uriant or Urinant: Swimming downwards
  • Endowed or Embowed: Swimming horizontally, facing dexter, with back arched.

Relating Charges to Fields and other Charges

There are seven positions on the field used to describe charges that appear elsewhere but center.

  • In base: at the bottom point.
  • In pale: In a vertical line.
  • In chief: In a horizontal line across the top.
  • In fess: In a horizontal line through the center.
  • In bend: Diagonally from dexter chief to sinsister base.
  • In bend sinister: In diagonal, the reverse.
  • In orle: In a border around the field.

Counter-charged or counter-coloured is used to describe a situation in which a field is comprised of two colors, and the charges are colored oppositely.

Surmounted vs. Charged:
If one charge is surmounted by another, the second charged is placed over the first (over as in covering, not over as in nearer to the chief). If the second is placed over more than one charge it can also be said to be Over-All.
However, if one charge is charged with another, the second charge does not extend past the borders of the first charge.
Note the order of the charges in these blazons. A roundel charged with fleur-de-lys is a circle with a fleur-de-lys in the center. A fleur-de-lys charged with roundel is a fleur-de-lys with a dot in the center.
Also, a charge that is surmounted by an ordinary may be called debruised.

Supporting or sustaining is used to describe an animal holding another charge, as in lion rampant supporting a sword.

Issuant: arising from the bottom of the field, or top of the fess

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