A brief Explanation of Heraldic Terms

Gules = red; azure = blue; argent = white; or = yellow; sable = black; purpure = purple; vert = green; these colors are all strong clear vivid ones. Proper means in a thing's own natural colors--a tree proper would have green leaves and a brown trunk; anything else would have to be specified.

Animals may appear in any of a number of positions. Statant = standing; courant = running; walking is trippant or passant, depending on the animal; rampant = rearing with one hind leg on the ground, the other slightly raised (used only of fabulous or warlike beasts: lions, boars, tigers, unicorns, dragons, etc.; griffins rampant are blazoned as segreant); salient = rearing with both hind legs on the ground; gorged = collared with something (a crown of some sort, usually); unguled = hooved; attired = antlered or horned.

In chief means at or in the top third of the shield, in base means at or in the bottom third; per pale means a shield divided by a vertical line down the middle, per fess means divided by a horizontal line across the middle (both of these are often used when two colors are present in a background). On a pale = something shown on a vertical center stripe; in pale or palewise = something or things vertical and centered (like a sword or spear, or a row of apples); on a fess = something shown on a horizontal center stripe; fesswise = something arranged centrally horizontally, without the stripe; on a chief = something on a horizontal stripe at the top part of the shield.

Two and one means three things arranged two in the top row, one in the bottom. Cabossed means cut off straight below the chin, erased means the neck ends in little decorative curls. Semé means strewn over the whole shield, as flowers or snowflakes (but if you're strewing blood or tears, the word you want is goutté, as in goutté de larmes, tears, or goutté de sang, blood); diapered means a decorative overall regular pattern, usually something rich-looking, like paisley or brocade, completely covering the surface of the shield, like a tablecloth, with other charges arranged on top of it.

Dexter means the right-hand side of the shield AS IT WOULD BE IF YOU YOURSELF WERE BEHIND IT, the shield's own right; therefore, the shield half to the viewer's left as you are looking at it. Sinister, or left, is the other side, to the viewer's right. I know it's confusing. Think of stage right and stage left, if that's easier.

The first color mentioned is the color of the shield's background; then the main charge is described, then the little details and attitudes; so Argent, a lion rampant gules, regally gorged or = On a white shield, a red lion, rearing on one hind leg with forelegs extended as if to claw, collared with a gold crown.

Of the same means of the same color as the color just mentioned; of the last or of the first means of the same color last mentioned, or the same color first mentioned.

There is endlessly more detail. A lion, for instance, can be rampant = rearing with one hind leg on the ground, salient = rearing with both hind legs on the ground, couchant = lying down, with feet tucked under, but alert and with head up, dormant = sleeping, statant = standing, passant = walking past, gardant = looking at you, regardant = looking back over its shoulder, sejant = seated; and any combination of these--couchant gardant = lying down and looking out at you; rampant regardant = rearing with one hind leg on the ground and looking back over its shoulder--right down even to how the lion's tail is disposed and the color of its tongue and claws; while the equivalent terminology for stags, say, is very different (a stag looking at you is said to be at gaze, a stag walking is trippant; where other animals would be couchant a stag is lodged).

Then there are labels (not words, but artistic elements--bars, stars, hearts--used on a shield to distinguish various members of a royal or noble house), borders and tressures, various classes of charges (a charge is anything that appears on the shield; the simplest ones are called ordinaries and sub-ordinaries--stripes, circles, chevrons, wedges, crosses, etc., with fancy names for all of them; things like animals, trees and weapons belong to a different class), the extra hoo-ha's that accompany the shield (crests, crowns or coronets, helms, torses, supporters, mantling, mottos, compartments);




Page Last Updated: December 10th, 2017

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