Heraldic Design: Its Origins, Ancient Forms and Modern Usage

Heraldic Design: Its Origins, Ancient Forms and Modern Usage

by Hubert Allcock

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Through the ages, as warfare and competitive rituals became more elaborate, heraldry evolved into an exact art and science. Used to denote accomplishments as well as the genealogies of outstanding individuals and families, these symbols survived the way of life that created them.
This remarkably rich sourcebook of royalty-free designs describes the origins and ancient forms of heraldic devices, shields, and trademarks. Over 500 black-and-white drawings trace the history and meaning of the coat, shield, crests, helmets, blazonry, and "attitudes and attributes" of symbols, with considerable attention given to devices such as beasts, monsters, and human and part-human figures. American, British, French, Russian, and other coats of arms are displayed, as are insignias of the Pope and clergy, state seals, and emblems of many modern institutions. In addition to personal, commercial, and family arms, chapters also provide information on the use of heraldry in advertising, brand-labeling, and related fields.
A valuable visual reference for anyone interested in genealogy, these handsome images will add a touch of class to a variety of art and craft projects.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486153940
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 06/26/2012
Series: Dover Pictorial Archive
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 985,700
File size: 23 MB
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Heraldic Design

Its Origins, Ancient Forms and Modern Usage, with Over 500 Illustrations

By Hubert Allcock

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15394-0


A Complete Armorial Achievement

A good example of an American armorial device, redrawn from the seal of the Ohio Company. The tilting helmet is correctly proportioned to the "heater"-shaped shield. The supporters are authentically costumed, easily identifiable as (dexter) a Plains Indian and (sinister) a Five Nations Indian. The beaver crest symbolizes industry; beaver was also a principal trade item. Three stags statant reguardant form a simple and easily recognizable arms. The motto states the Company aims – Peace and Commerce. (Note that the torse and mantling, as shown, are not part of the original seal. They have been added here only for the sake of completing the components of an achievement.)

The Ohio Company was formed in 1748 by London businessmen and Virginia planters led by Thomas Lee. Chartered in 1749 by George II, it was granted 500,000 acres west of the Appalachians and south of the Ohio, with the stipulation that 100 families be settled and a garrison maintained. Between 1749 and 1754 many storehouses were built and the surrounding country explored. The French and Indian War caused the settlers to flee in 1756 (the Five Nations were allies of the French) and an otherwise successful venture was abandoned.

After the Revolution another company – the Ohio Company of Associates – was formed to purchase the land between the Ohio and Lake Erie. Congress voted the sale of 1,500,000 acres to the company and granted additional plots free. The company was unable to pay in full, but a large tract was bought for nine cents an acre. The town of Marietta, Ohio was settled in 1788 and colonization and development proceeded at a rapid pace. This second company was headed by Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper, both of whom were New Englanders.

Components of a Complete Achievement


The Shield

The shield is the heart of any armorial bearing and – with its tinctures, charges, and ordinaries – makes up the basic arms. The stylized heraldic shield is the surviving counterpart of the actual weapon of defense traditionally carried on the left arm by warriors through much of human history.

Battle shields were originally of wood, metal, or of hide stretched over a wooden or wicker frame. Phoenicians, Trojans, Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Saracens, Crusaders, and Highland Scots were among those who used the round shield first developed in the Bronze Age. Roman legionaries carried the oblong, convex wood-and-leather shield called scutum – the word from which escutcheon is derived.

So far as we know, the kite-shaped Norman shield was the earliest bearer of heraldic cognizances; a representation at Le Mans of Geoffroi Plantagenet (ca. 1150) shows him with a shield of this type that displays golden lions on a blue field. The Norman shield was shortened after 1200 and the rounded upper corners squared – a shape that, as a result of the elasticity of its curves, became the best form for the display of heraldic arms.

Widespread use of the crossbow made shields useless as protection; after about 1360, warriors began to discard them as battle equipment, although tilting shields continued to be used in tournaments and pageants, reshaped according to function or the whim of the bearer. Armorial artists, too, began to reshape the shield to fit architectural or decorative requirements and to follow the style of the time; by the Rococo period they were often scarcely more than decorative plaques, far removed from their military ancestors.

The nineteenth-century revival of romantic interest in chivalry led the Victorians back to the "heater" shape, so called because of the general resemblance of this shield to the outline of the flat irons then used in the laundry. Since that time the trend in heraldic design has continued, at least in shield outline, to keep the Gothic simplicity – evidenced even in commercial emblems (see pp. 40 – 42).

A woman, incidentally, does not properly display her arms on the shield forms used by men; the code prescribes the oval (more rightly, the lozenge) to show her paternal arms (if unmarried) or her husband's and those of her father (if married or widowed).



Tincture is an important term in heraldry; for simplicity, consider that it covers colors, metals, and furs. Color is essential in armory, particularly in bearings and flags; designs that are similar in black and white may be quite different in their correct heraldic tinctures.

The colors in heraldry are illustrated here; common names follow the heraldic ones. (The traditional names are medieval French; blazonry [see page 29] never uses the modern equivalents.) Purpure, seldom used on shields, appears on crowns and mantlings. In black-and-white reproduction, as here, an arbritrary system of hatching represents each color – a scheme which tradition attributes to a Jesuit priest.

Heraldic metals are or (gold) and argent (silver). When a blazon calls for gold or silver, flags substitute yellow or white; artists often substitute in similar fashion. (Aluminum is used instead of silver on permanent hand renderings, because it does not tarnish. Gold does not tarnish, therefore either gold leaf or pure gold water color can be used. Gold-bronze with a tempera or lacquer base soon turns brown and so is useful only temporarily. )

Furs in heraldry are traced to the covering of shields with the skins of beasts. Common furs include ermine and its derivatives, vair, counter-vair, and potent (the Chaucerian word for "crutch") – which may have developed from badly drawn vair.

A universal rule of good heraldry is that color shall not be laid upon color, nor metal upon metal – a heritage from the days when instant identification of individual arms was vital on the battlefield. Therefore the shield whose field (background) is a tincture must have upon it an ordinary or charge that is metal, and vice versa.



Shields were originally plain or of one tincture; then they were divided by vertical, horizontal, or diagonal lines intersecting the center. The resulting sections were of contrasting tinctures. This limited the variety of possible combinations, so charges (figures or designs) were overlaid – "charged" – on the shield to create new and distinctive arms. Charges are of a tincture or metal different from that of the field. The simplest charges are bands or stripes, called ordinaries, following the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal divisions. Ordinaries have their own diminutives half their width: bendlet, chevronel, bar, palet, and saltorel. A shield divided into six bars is a barry of six, into six palets a paly of six.

Use of the cross in arms became popular during the Crusades; only a few of the many varieties that were developed are shown here. The cross of Lorraine is also known as the patriarchal cross, the tau as the cross of St. Anthony, the saltire as the cross of St. Andrew, and the saltorel as the cross of St. Patrick.

Tinctures reversed on either side of a partition line are said to be counterchanged. The counterchanged shield shown to the right is described as per pale argent and sable, a chevron counterchanged (see Blazonry, p. 29).

At times rulers grant an augmentation to existing arms as a reward or honor. The bend on the Howard arms bears a shield resembling that of Scotland (see p. 31) awarded for slaying the Scottish king, except that the lion here is a demi-lion.

Scottish sovereigns have granted the royal tressure to families (including the Kennedys) and cities (among them Perth).

There exists among the ordinaries a large group all of which tends toward greater complexity than is normally found in the common ordinaries. These are called by some the subordinaries. Of the frequently found patterns, only a very few are illustrated here.

In many ancient arms, it was the practice to try to relieve the plain surfaces of the field by covering them with a repeated ornament. This process is called diapering, a process that is to be found in many other areas of decoration and adornment, from wallpaper and textiles to parquetry and metalwork. In heraldic usage, this serves the purpose of surface decoration only and can never properly be employed in contrasting tincture or in any other manner that would allow it to be mistaken for a charge.

It is not always the case that the lines of partition that divide various portions of the shield are rendered straight. Eleven of the many kinds of line commonly used for this purpose are shown and named in the box at the lower left.

In describing arms, there is a standard scheme that is followed for division of the shield. In determining left-and-right designation correctly, this pattern is based on the shield as seen from behind – that is, from the position of the warrior who held it. Accordingly, the dexter (right) of the shield is always to the left as we look at it. Conversely, the sinister (left) of the shield is to the observer's right.



Boasts and Monsters

Shield divisions and ordinaries make up the simplest arms, but the many possible variations of these were far from exhausted when knights added to their own arms other devices, the so-called common charges that include, among hundreds of others, the examples shown and described on pp. 18-24. Animals, particularly the lion, were displayed by the earliest bearers of heraldic arms.

During the Crusades some real monstrosities stalked into this bestiary; these exotic creatures are still seen in heraldry.

The heraldic antelope and tiger are both particularly remote from their living prototypes. The antelope here resembles a stag with straight horns, short nose tusk, tufts of hair on chest and neck, and a leonine tail. It is statant – standing on four feet. The boar was, in contrast, well known in Europe and hunted for sport, so part sufficed for all, and the boar's head here is cabossed or caboshed (Fr. caboche, head, cabbage) or "headed" to the onlooker, no neck visible. The bear is a popular city and family emblem in Europe. Two bears (or other animals) may be addorsed, turned back to back.

The cockatrice, shown erect (upright), was a monstrous serpent with head, legs, and wings of a cock, and a "death-dealing eye." The deer at gazestatant looks straight at us, regarded from the next shield by an English dragon, a ferocious monster with scaled body, wings, claws, long barbed tongue and tail. (French dragons look like the English wivern.) Beasts of prey and monsters are usually shown reared up on hind legs, right foreleg uppermost; unless otherwise blazoned, the term rampant is assumed.

The griffin is a monster with forepart of an eagle and hindquarters of a lion. A rampant griffin is termed segréant. The fox's head is characteristically erased, torn from the body – apparent from the jagged neck. Heraldic fleece is the full pelt of a ram – head, horns, hooves, and all.

The lion is, with the cross, the most popular of charges. Lions are always shown rampant and dexter unless otherwise noted. A lion salient (similar to rampant but with both hind feet on the ground) has a nowed (knotted) tail. Two lions or monsters may be combattant, facing each other in fighting stance.

The Paschal lamb, a symbol of Christ, stands supporting with its right foreleg a staff in bend sinister from which hangs a white flag with a red cross.

Pegasus sprang from the body of the slain Medusa. Winged or not, a horse is often shown courant (running); any animal with a coronet about its neck is gorged.

The sea lion has head and shoulders of a lion, fins for paws, and the tail of a fish for a body. The sea horse is half-horse, half-fish. Any animal looking backward isreguardant; its head is thus turned toward sinister or contourné. Two animals facing each other but not combattant are respectant or regarding.

The long-eared, heavy-jowled talbot, probable ancestor of the bloodhound, is usually white. His head is not erased but couped, cut off in a straight line. The heraldic tiger (the Asiatic tiger is portrayed striped) has a natural tiger's body but the head of a dragon, although the tongue is not barbed. (Animals may be pictured sejant, sitting down with forelegs erect, or sejant erect, sitting on hind legs only with body erect and forelegs extended. A beast normally faces dexter. Facing the onlooker, it is said to be affronté. A tiger so shown in actual armory is unique; lions in this position are much more usual.)

The unicorn is portrayed as a small, vigorous horse with one horn in the middle of its forehead.

The wivern is a fierce cousin of the cockatrice and the dragon and appears a composite of the two.

Birds and a Bee

The crane, tradition says, lived in a community in which individual members took turns standing watch. The sentry crane held a stone in one claw; if it dozed, the falling stone would awaken the bird. A crane is thus commonly emblazoned "in its vigilance," right claw holding a stone.

The eagle, king of birds, rivals the lion for frequency of appearance as a heraldic charge and is usually shown displayed (wings spread). In this position, birds other than those of prey are said to be disclosed. Less frequently an eagle is rising (taking wing) or close (wings closed). Double-headed (bicapitated) eagles were both Sumerian and Hittite symbols. Theodoros Laskaris was the first eastern Roman emperor, Sigismund the first western to use two-headed eagles, a usage continued into the twentieth century by Austrian and Russian emperors.

The hunting hawk or falcon is traditionally shown close to avoid confusion with the eagle, which it resembles. Falcons are often belled with hawk's bells or belled and jessed and are also blazoned hooded. (Jesses are leather binding straps; a falcon hood is a tufted blindfold.)

Martlets, originally martins or swifts, are often shown without feet and sometimes without beaks. The owl has long been a symbol of wisdom. Heraldry's pelican is usually emblazoned as a mother bird standing over her nest and feeding her young with drops of blood plucked from her breast; she is thus termed "in her piety" (compare the Pennsylvania Dutch distelfink on p. 38). The phoenix of ancient lore, is shown as a demieagle issuant from flames.

Falconers fastened together a pair of wings as a training lure; wings are thus always emblazoned as conjoined in lure.

Symbolic of labor and thrift, the bee is no stranger to shields.

Vegetables and Fish

Differing from today's fighting man, knighthood often chose flowers – symbols of purity and beauty – in preference to lions or dragons.

Heraldic plants rarely appear complete on shields. The representation stresses some significant part; the leaf or flower shown from above reveals its components. The cinquefoil, for example, is the leaf of the Potentilla divided into five leaflets, a motif frequent in Gothic architecture. The garb is a sheaf of grain. Its binding cord and the "ears" may yary in tincture, but garb is usually gold over-all. Similar in origin to the cinquefoil, the quatrefoil has four cusps.

The rose is shown from above, only the bloom and its parts visible. Five fully opened petals are usually shown, barbed and seeded. Barbed and seeded proper, a rose has green barbs and gold seeds. Two branches of the Plantagenet (Sprig-of-Broom) family that ruled England adopted red (Lancaster) and white (York) roses as badges. The War of the Roses (1452 – 85), resulted in annihilation of the entire family and victory for the Welshman Henry (VII) Tudor; he combined the pretenses of both branches with the Tudor rose, five white petals inside, five red outside. This Tudor rose, slipped (stalk added) and leaved, became the plant badge of England.

In heraldry, the tree stump is a stock; it may be couped (cut off) and eradicated (torn up by the roots). A complete tree may be emblazoned on a shield, leaves and fruit drawn disproportionately large. It is thus fructed or (if in bloom) blossomed. The trefoil is a three-lobed leaf, possibly clover, of Gothic origin.

The dolphin is always shown embowed. The overlords of Dauphine used it as their emblem as early as A.D. 830; dauphine became their title and an embowed azure dolphin their arms. Fish have long appeared in heraldry; their usual positions are naiant and hauriant.


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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
A Complete Armorial Achievement,
The Shield,
The Crest,
Impalement of Arms,
Cadency: The Inheritance Line,
Your Own Personal or Commercial Coat,
A Sampling of Symbols,
Commercial Arms,

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