Heraldic Glossary

Abased: describes ordinaries borne in a lower than usual position; charges born in a lower position are said to be in base

Abatement: mark of disgrace attached to arms to indicate dishonourable behaviour of the bearer

Accompanied: in between

Accosted: describes charges accompanied by other charges on each side or two animals walking side by side

Achievement: a full heraldic composition with shield, crest, motto etc.; particularly applied to funeral escutcheons showing rank and family of the bearer, which is placed in front of his house at his death

Addition: mark of honour added to arms (opposite: abatement)

Addorsed: used to describe figures, particularly animals, placed back to back

Adpotive: arms gifted or consented to another person by the original bearer

Adumbration: a charge painted in outlines only or the shadow of a charge painted in the same colour as the surrounding field but in darker tint; families who had lost their possessions occasionally chose to bear their hereditary arms adumbrated rather than relinquishing them

Affrontant: two animals facing each other (opposite: addorsed)

Aislé: winged, only used for animals naturally without wings

Alberia: a plain shield without ornaments or armourial bearings

Allumé: describes eyes of beasts when the eyes are painted red

Allusive arms: also called canting arms, arms which suggest and symbolize the bearer´s name

Ambulant: walking

Anchor: used as a charge or crest, the anchor symbolizes hope in heraldry

Anchored cross: also called cross moline; a cross with bifurctaed ends, symbolizes hope through the Cross of Christ

Animé: describes wild animals breathing fire, also called incensed

Annodated: bowed or S-shaped

Annulet: a small ring; when used as a charge generally two or three are depicted; also used as a mark of cadency (difference) for the fifth son

Appointé: pointed; also used to describe charges whose points meet (e.g. swords or arrows)

Aquilated: adorned with eagles´ heads

Argent: the tincture silver, generally depicted as white

Armed: describes beasts depicted with teeth, claws, beaks etc.

Arms: in strict heraldry only those armorial bearings that are depicted on the shield; also used for coat of arms; some common arms are:

Ascendant: describes upwards rising rays, flames or smoke

Aspect: the position of an animal; full aspect is full-faced, passant is sideways, trian aspect is between full-faced and sideways

Aspersed: strewn or powdered with small charges

Attire: the single horn of a stag; plural attires stag´s attires

Augmentation: additional charges to the family arms granted by the sovereign as a mark of honour

Azure: bright blue, represented by horizontal lines in engravings

Badge: or cognizance, mark of distinction, not worn on the helmet nor placed on a wreath; usually borne on banners or the sleeves of servants

Bar: an ordinary which crosses the field horizontally; similar to a fess but occupies only one of the field (fess: one third)

Barrulet: diminutive of the bar, one twentieth of the field, never borne singly

Base: the lower part of a shield

Baton: or correctly baton sinister; a diminutive of the bend sinister, usually denotes illegitimacy (bastardy); of metal in the case of royalty; of colour in all other cases

Bearing: ancient; any charge within the shield

Bend: one of the most common ordinaries; two lines from the dexter corner to the sinister base point of the shield; usually one fifth of the field

Bend sinister: a bend extending from the sinister corner to the dexter base point

Bendlet: diminutive of bend; generally half a bend´s width

Bendy: a field divided by a series of diagonal stripes of alternate tinctures

Black: in heraldry called sable

Blazon: to describe a coat of arms in words or scripture using heraldic terms; derived from the German word blasen (to blow) in the sense of to announce

Blazonry: the art of blazoning

Blemished: having an abatement

Blood colour: sanguine; dark red colour

Bloody: gules; red colour

Bordure: border; occupies one fifth of the field, usually the mark of a younger branch of the family

Caboshed: also: cabossed; when the head of a full-faced beast is cut off behind the ears so that no part of the neck is visible

Cadency: marks of cadency, also differences; marks added to family arms to distinguish (members of) differnt branches of the family and their relation to the head of the family

Canting arms: see allusive arms

Canton: a square of two thirds the size of a quarter in the upper dexter corner; augmentations are often borne in a canton

Cantoned: also: cantonée; a cross placed between four charges is said to be cantoned

Carnation: the tincture flesh-coloured

Charge: anything borne on a coat of arms whether on the field, an ordinary or another charge; positions other than in the centre of the field (the fesse-point) must be blazoned

Chequy: also: checky; a field or charge divided into small squares of alternate tincture

Chevalier: a horseman in complete armour

Chevron: an ordinary issuing like the inverted letter V, occupying one fifth of the field

Chief: ordinary, the upper third of the shield; a charge in this part of the shield is said to be "on chief"

Chief point: the upper edge of the shield, can be dexter, sinister or middle

Cinquefoil: a five pointed leaf, usually with pierced center and without stem

Close: applied to birds with folded wings or helmets with closed visors

Cockatrice: a winged monster with a serpents body, a cock´s head and feet and barbed tongue

Colours: in heraldry termed tinctures; there are the five basic colours red, blue, black, green and purple and the two metals silver and gold

Combattant: applied to two beasts facing each other as if in fight

Composed arms: the arms of a gentleman who has added parts of his wife´s arms to his own; the habit has been made obsolete by the introduction of marshalling i.e. the arranging of two or more coats on one shield

Coronet: a small crown worn by noblemen (but not the sovereign); often used synonymously with crown

Counter: opposite or in reverse position

Couped: cut off cleanly; beast´s heads may be couped; hands may be couped at the wrist

Coupe-close: a diminutive of the chevron borne in pairs inclosing the chevron

Courant: running at full speed

Couchant: applied to a beast lying down

Crescent: half moon with upward points; used as a mark of cadency to denote the second son

Crest: ornament on top of the helmet, originally only worn by commanders in battle

Cross: one of the earliest and noblest ordinaries; there are supposed to be several hundred varieties, some of the better known are:
latin cross: lower limb longer than the other three
cross cavalry: a latin cross raised on three steps
cross crosslet: a cross the limbs of which terminated in smaller crosses
maltese cross: a cross formed by four arrowheads meeting at the points
cross pattée: a cross the limbs of which spread out at the ends
cross patriarchal: a cross with two horizontal bars, the upper smaller than the lower bar

Crown: strictly speaking crowns are worn by the sovereign, all other noblemen wear coronets

Damasked: also diapered, intricately ornamented fields or charges; the name derives from richly patterned woven cloths for which the city of damascus was famous

Dexter: on the right side (from the bearer´s point of view)

Diapered: see damasked

Difference: marks of difference; see cadency

Distinction: marks of distinction; also marks of bastardy; show absence of blood relationship eg. in case of adoption

Dolphin: considered to be the king of fish (although it actually is a mammal) just as the lion is the king of beasts and the eagle is the king of birds; always shown embowed; the emblem of the french kings´ eldest sons (dauphins)

Eagle: a favourite charge; considered to be the king of birds; usually shown "displayed" i.e. with wings spread and the tips of the wings pointing outwards, or "displayed inverted" i.e. wings spread, tips pointing downwards

Emblazon: to draw a coat of arms in full and in correct colours; not to be confused with to blazon (to describe in heraldic language)

Embowed: bent or bowed, applied to a man´s arm or to dolphins; synonymously an arm may be flexed

Emerald: the colour green (vert) in the blazoning of jewels

Endorse: a sub-ordinary; diminutive of the pale, usually one eighth of the breadth of the pale, always shown in pairs, one endorse on each side of the pale

Enhanced: applied to an ordinary shown above its normal position

Ensign: correct term for the armorial bearings of a kingdom, an office, a city etc.; in common language one usually speaks of arms

Ensigned: applied to charges with a crown or coronet, a cross or a mitre placed upon it

Ermine: the fur most frequently used in heraldry consisting of black ermine tails on white background

Ermines: reverse of ermine; white tails on black background

Erminites: same as ermine but with two red hairs in the tails

Erminois: black ermine spots on a gold field

Escutcheon: a shield borne as a charge; often more than one is shown e.g. three small shields on the field

Fess: also fesse; one of the most common ordinaries; a horizontal band across the center of the field, occupying one third of it

Fess point: the exact center of the shield

Field: the surface of the shield on which all charges are placed

Fitched: also fitchée or fitchy; pointed at the lower end; usually applied to crosses

Fleur-de-lis: a stylized lily; popular charge; essentially the royal emblem of france

Fourchée: forked; applied to crosses with forked limbs

Fur: amongst the oldest heraldic elements, deriving from the habit of decorating shields with fur and leather; the principal furs are ermine and vair, both existing in several variations

Gold: one of the two metals; blazoned as or

Green: one of the heraldic colours; blazoned as vert

Goutte: also gutte, a drop

Gouttée: also goutty or gutty; strewn with drops

Griffon: also "griffin" or "gryphon"; a mythical beast with the body, legs and tail of a lion and the head, breast and claws of an eagle

Gules: the colour (tincture) red

Gyron: a spanish sub-ordinary, derived from the spanish word for a triangular piece of cloth sewed onto garments

Gyronny: a field divided into (generally eight) gyrons

Habited: clothed

Hatchment: a corruption of the word achievement

Helmet: borne above the shield and beneath the crest; the kind of helmet denotes the degree of nobility; sovereigns´ helmets are of gold, shown full-face with six bars. helmets of the high nobility are made of steel with five gold bars and shown somewhat in profile. helmets of baronets and knights are made of steel, shown full-face and open.

Herald: the original duty of the herald was to organize and conduct tournaments but in times became the granting and regulating of armourial bearings and investigating genealogies. heralds kept records of the coats of arms and these rolls of arms laid the foundation to modern heraldry

Heraldry: the art or science of describing (blazoning), deciphering and recording coats of arms

Honour point: the point immediately above the center of the shield

Horned: only applied to animals with horns of a different tincture (colour) than the animal itself

Humettee: also humetty or couped; said of ordinaries with both ends cut off so that they do not reach the edges of the shield

Impaling: also empaling; the setting side by side two or more coats of arms in one shield; see also marshaling

Incensed: said of beasts issuing fire from their mouth or eyes

Increscent: showing a crescent with the horns toward the dexter side of the shield

Indented: notched likt the teeth of a saw

Inescutcheon: a single small shield borne on the main shield

Interlaced: also interfretted; linked together

Inverted: anything shown in contrary direction or upside down, e.g. wings pointing downwards

Irradiated: surrounded by rays

Issuant: a charge issuing from another charge; of animals represented as issuant only the upper half is shown

Jessant: shooting or giving forth; mainly used for plants, particularly to the fleur de lis; also applied to animals synonymously to issuant

Knight: a man holding the dignity of knighthood conferred to him by the sovereign; adressed as Sir, his wife as Dame but more often by common consent as Lady; the dignity of knighthood is not hereditary

Label: a charge resembling a strap with pendants representing collar and cape of a garment or, according to some, the strap across a horse´s chest; generally considered to be a temporary mark of cadency e.g. to distinguish the eldest son during the father´s lifetime

Lambrequin: 1) the mantle placed on a helmet; 2) the point of a label

Lampassé: see also langued; applied to the tongue of a beast or bird when depicted in a different tincture (colour)

Langued: applied to the tongue of a beast or bird when depicted in a different tincture (colour)

Legged: also and more common mebered; applied to legs of birds when depicted in a differen tincture (colour)

Lily: the second most frequently borne flower after the rose

Lion: the most popular beast in heraldry, mostly depicted rampant or passant

Lionced: adorned with lions´ heads

Lodged: applied to a stag when couchant

Lowered: applied to ordinaries abased from their normal position

Lozenge: a diamond shaped bearing

Lozengy: applied to a bearing or field entirely divided into lozenges of alternate tinctures

Lymphad: an ancient one-masted ship; common in scottish heraldry

Majesty: a crowned eagle holding a scepter is said to be "in his majesty"

Mantle: see also lambrequin; a cloak covering the helmet to protect it from sun and rain; sometimes large enough to include the entire arms

Marshaling: the act of arranging two or more coats of arms in one shield to denote the alliances of a family

Martlet: a bird similar to a swallow but with tufts of feathers instead of legs; used as a difference to denote the fourth son

Mascle: a perforated or voided (empty) lozenge

Massacre: a stags antlers attached to a (fragment of a) skull

Masoned: applied to a field or charge divided by lines resembling the lines of a stone or brick wall

Membered: applied to a bird with legs of a different tincture than the bird itself

Merchant´s marks: marks and bearings adopted by merchants, who generally were not allowed to bear arms; not strictly heraldic

Metal: there are two metals in heraldry, gold and silver; see also tincture

Mitre: also miter; the headdress of high episcopal offices; sometimes used as a charge

Mitry: charged with eight mitres

Moon: in heraldry always borne as a crescent; usually with upward points

Mooted: torn up by the roots

Morné: applied to a lion without teeth, tongue or claws

Motto: a word or sentence borne on a scroll, generally below the shield; mottoes were often derived from war cries; frequently mottoes refer to the bearer´s name or to a charge in the arms but most often mottoes express a sentiment or guiding principle

Mount: borne in the lower portion of the shield; tinctured vert; generally borne with a tree on it

Mounted: applied to 1) a horse bearing a rider 2) a cross raised upon steps

Naiant: swimming, describes fish swimming across the shield

Naiant counter-naiant: describes fish swimming in opposite directions

Nerved: a leaf with veins of different tincture

Nimbus: also halo, glory or circle of glory; the ring of light around the heads of Saints, the Holy Lamb et al.

Nowed: knotted, tied to a knot, chiefly applied to serpents or tails of beasts

Oak: tree frequently found in arms; sometimes only branches, sprigs or leaves are born; when blazoned "fructed" a few acorns of different tincture are depicted

Or: the metal gold; frequently represented by the colour yellow, in engraving represented by an infinite number of small dots.

Ordinaries: certain basic geometrical charges, probably originating in bars of wood or iron used to strengthen the shield. There is some confusion about the number of the principal (honourable) ordinaries which are commonly used. Most heralds, however, agree on nine honourable ordinaries, namely cross, chief, pale, bend, bend sinister, fesse, bar, saltire and chevron.
Less commonly used charges, such as bordure, canton, quarter, pile et al. are reckoned sub-ordinaries

Orle: a bordure detached from (not reaching) the sides of the shield

Over all: also surtout; said of a charge superimposed over several other charges or over a particoloured field

Overt: also ouvert; open, applied to gates, doors et al. but also to birds with open wings

Pale: one of the honourable ordinaries; a broad vertical band in the center of the shield, usually occupying one third of its width

Paly: divided by perpendicular lines into an even number of equal parts; the first usually is of a metal, and the last of a colour

Panache: also plume; a fan or bank of three or more (usually ostrich) feathers. If more than three feathers are shown the number must be stated

Panther: always borne gardant (with its face turned towards the spectator) and incensed (with flames issuing from mouth and ears)

Passant: applied to beasts walking across with dexter fore-paw raised

Pelican: almost always shown with raised wings and vulning, i.e. wounding her breast with her beak. If shown vulning in her nest, feeding the young with her blood [which, of course, pelicans don't do! ] she is said to be in her piety

Pierced: applied to charges which are perforated so that the colour of the below shield shows through the hole.

Pile: a sub-ordinary consisting of a triangular wedge ususally but not always issuing from the top of the shield; may be long with its point almost touching the base of the shield or short resembling a chevron reversed. If more than one pile are shown, their points may be in point to differentiate them from those with points apart

Point (of the shield): points describe the position on the shield. English heralds recognise nine points






    1. Dexter chief point
    2. Middle chief point
    3. Sinister chief point
    4. Honour, or Collar point, not recognised by French heralds
    5. Fesse point
    6. Nombril point, not recognised by French heralds
    7. Dexter base point
    8. Middle base point
    9. Sinister base point

Proper: a charge shown in its natural colour is called proper

Quarter: a sub-ordinary occupying one quarter of the shield. If not otherwise stated, it is always in the dexter chief

Quartered: applied when the shield is divided into four or more squares depicting different coats of arms

Quarterly: applied when the shield is divided into four parts belonging to the same coat of arms

Rampant: commonest position of beasts in heraldry with all legs but the left hind leg fiercely waving around.

Reflected: also reflexed; bent back e.g. chains or lion´s tails

Regardant: also reguardant; looking back over the shoulder

Removed: applied to ordinaries which are not in their usual position

Respectant: applied to animals facing each other; if the animals are rampant respectant the term combattant is used

Roundel: also roundle; circle borne on the shield; these circles have different names according to their tincture. Most important are gold = bezant, silver = plate, red = torteau, blue = hurt, green (vert) = pomeis, pomey or pomme, black = pellet, ogress or gunstone

Sable: the tincture (colour) black

Salient: applied to beasts leaping at their prey

Saltire: an honourable ordinary consisting of a diagonal cross on the shield

Sejant: applied to beasts sitting with their forepaws on the ground, except squirrels which have the forepaws raised. Unless otherwise blazoned, body and head face the dexter.

Semé: also semy, strewn, aspersed, replenished, poudré or powdered; strewn or powdered with small charges

Shield: a defensive weapon; in heraldry the actual arms are diplayed on the shield. Click here for a history of the shield

Sinister: on the left side (from the bearer´s point of view)

Slip: a small twig with fewer leaves, usually two or three, than sprigs and branches

Statant: applied to animals standing with all their feet on the ground

Supporters: figures placed left and right of the shield to support it. Today their use is restricted to sovereignity, the peerage, Knights of the Garter and  Knights Grand Crosses of the Bath. Several cities and towns as well as the principal Mercantile Companies of the city of London have also been granted the right to bear supporters.

Targe: also target; a round shield with a center boss, also applied to the shield borne at a man´s funeral

Throughout: also entire; applied to charges reaching the edegs of the shield, that normally do not do so

Tierced: also tiercé or triparted; when a shield is divided into three parts per fesse, pale or bend

Tinctures: all the colours, metals and furs in heraldry

Traversed: facing the sinister

Undy: also undé or ondé; wavy

Vair: one of the two principal furs in heraldry, consisting of squirrel skins sewn together head to tail

Vert: the colour green

Vested: also habited; clothes

Volant: a bird flying is called volant

Vulned: wounded and bleeding

Wreath: the twisted band composed of two strips of gold or silver lace and silk where the crest is joined to the helmet; though some wreaths of the fifteenth century were of four tincture