Creating a Coat of Arms for Your Story | Part One

(To be technically correct, the term for that is achievement.) From time to time in my writing I would run across mention of the terms for the tinctures in heraldry: argent, or, tenne, vert, and once I even made mention of the colors. But I recently decided to sit down and create an achievement specifically for the Bertram family.

Really, it’s a fun and fascinating history project, whether you write historical fiction, fantasy, or another genre. I thought it would be helpful for other writers if I compiled the web of information I found for easy access.

So we’ll begin with the sides.

Dexter/Sinister

This refers simply to the sides of the shield, the center of the coat of arms. In the case that you want to impale, or combine, two coats of arms, (one from each side of a family), the Dexter is to the bearer’s right of the shield, as the right is the place of greater honor. The sign of the Baron, or male, goes on this side, which appears to the viewer’s left. The paternal coat of arms of the female, or femme, goes to the bearer’s left, but appears on the right.

dexter sinister photoshop

I did not care to do this, so the field of the shield was filled exclusively with the heraldic design belonging to The Earldom of Hathaway.

The Shield

This is the most complex part of the arms. It is also the part which will differentiate yours from every other one. There are hundreds of possibilities, ranging from the simple, like a flat color representing a metal or tincture, to a divided field, or one with a variegated pattern. It may feature fur, a pattern which stands for an actual type of fur, such as ermine or squirrel’s.

Divisions are an actual parting (party) of the field, while ordinaries are geometric decor. They are distinguished from charges, which do not touch the border of the shield. The honorary ordinaries are similar in design to the divisions. (I think they’re the same, but I can’t tell.) There are other kinds which I won’t list here, like diminutives. (If you’re game, go look it up yourself.) There are all sorts of variations on them as well, including decorative edges, which are called dividing lines.

Divisions:

  • party per fess – divided in half horizontally
  • party per pale – divided in half vertically
  • party per bend – divided diagonally from upper right to lower left
  • party per band sinister – divided diagonally from upper left to lower right
  • party per saltire – divided diagonally both ways (as in an X)
  • party per cross or quarterly – divided into four quarters
  • party per chevron – in a chevron pattern
  • party per pall – divided into three with a Y shape

Ordinaries:

  • Barry: horizontally striped
  • Paly: vertically striped
  • Bendy: diagonally striped from upper right to lower left
  • Bendy sinister: diagonally striped from upper left to lower right
  • Chevrony: (does this need explained?) always horizontally.
  • Chequy: checkered
  • Lozengy: checkered pattern turned on the diagonal (There are variations on this, but I won’t go into detail.)
  • Gyronny: a field divided per saltire and per quarterly, that is, diagonally, vertically, and horizontally creating alternate triangles, like rays. There can be six, eight, ten, twelve, and there is one instance of sixteen separate rays, and they usually alternate between two colors.
  • Chief: the upper portion of the field.

Other ordinaries. (Images borrowed from Wikipedia.)

Blason Marsal.svg Blason Jean Chandos.svg Pile reversed demo.svg Blason Anstaing 59.svg Blason ville fr Trémoulet (Ariège).svg Blason ville fr Le Born (Haute-Garonne).svg
Pall Pile Pile reversed Quarter Canton Bordure
Orle demo.svg Blason ville fr Cuxac-Cabardès (Aude).svg Blason-Drucat.svg Flaunches demo.svg Ecu d'argent à un lambel à cinq pendants de gueules.svg Gyron demo.svg
Orle Bars Fret Flaunches Label Gyron

The difference between divisions and ordinaries means that the field could be divided into two parts, say, per fess, the top part being barry and the lower bendy.

Charges:

These occupy the field. When charges decorate the entire field in a regular pattern it is known as semy. Crosses are common and vary in style. Shields used as charges are called inescutcheons. Fleur-de-lis are commonly known charges. Lozenges are diamond-shaped charges. Mascules are empty lozenges, ones with only a border. The rare Rustre is a lozenge with a circular hole in the center. Weapons, animals, botanical examples, castles, mountains, the ocean, and the sun and moon and stars are also used as charges.

Very helpful: this list of meanings in charges.

Cadence:

This is important. Cadency distinguishes a son or grandson’s coat of arms from his father’s or grandfather’s original one.

  • label of three points
  • crescent
  • mullet (star)
  • martlet (bird)
  • annulet (ring)
  • fleur-de-lis
  • rose
  • cross
  • octofoil (similar in appearance to a gear or a flower with eight petals)

In this order they represent the order of a son. The first son, therefore, would have the label of three points, the second a crescent, and so on and so forth. The label of three points in the center of the inescutcheon is the cadency of Lord Bertram.

Colors:

  • Or – gold
  • Argent – silver
  • Azure – blue
  • Gules – red
  • Sable – black
  • Vert – green
  • Purpure – purple

And a few more with special meanings or rare usage in the UK:

  • Bleu celeste – sky blue

(These three are known as stains)

  • Sanguine – blood-red
  • Tenne – tawny, yellow-orange
  • Murrey – mulberry, reddish purple

The names for the colors in English blazon come mostly from French, and they have special significance as well.

(via google and polyvore)

Note that you should not place a metal on a metal or a color on a color. The Arms of Jerusalem, (above) breaks this rule.

The coat of arms of the Earl of Hathaway is: Azure, a bend argent between two fluer-de-lys bendwise and two roundels in fess and two roundels in pale, all or. On an inescutcheon ermine, a wreath of laurel leaves vert overall two swords argent saltire. (At least, I think that’s right. There’s an art to putting it in words. You have to look at how other ones are worded to determine how you should write up your description.) Depicted below.

viscount Bertram shield
This is the viscount’s coat with the label of three points sable in the center of the inescutcheon. The pattern on the inescutcheon is that of the Barons Lyttelton, featured in the achievement of the higher peers.

What with the information overload, I’ll leave it at the shield today. Check back Thursday for part 2!

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