Notes on Heraldry
by Joseph C. Wolf

Heraldry is a system of signs and symbols which originated
in the Middle Ages as a means of recognizing warriors on
the battlefield. Since armour or coat of mail was invariably
worn, there was no difficulty distinguishing friend from
foe even at some distance, for each man bore a shield of
a unique design.
The armour or coat of mail often became hot and a long
sleeveless garment called a surcoat was worn over it as
protection from the sun.
By the XIIIth century the surcoat had become short, and
many knights wore their emblems (also called bearings or
arms) on their surcoats as well as their shields. Thus
originated the expression "coat of arms". In the XIVth
century an even shorter surcoat was worn, called a jupon.

The Knight’s head was protected by a helm covered with a
cloth called a contoise or mantling or lambrequin, used
to shield it from the sun. The helm was distinguished
further by mounting a unique crest upon it. The crest was
fashioned from leather or wood and often took the shape of
men, beasts or monsters.

The traditional method of displaying arms is called an
achievement of arms
and consists of six basic parts:

1. Crest - Some arms exist without a crest.
2. Wreath
3. Mantling
4. Helm
5. Shield
6. Motto - Often nonexistant.


The mantling may take any shape save that it shows both
top and underside. It most often appears "slashed" as
from battle.


Blazoning is the heraldic term for describing a coat of
arms. The rules of blazon are remarkably simple and
precise. The correct sequence of describing arms is as
follows: first give the color of the field (background),
or colors if it be parted; second, name the objects on
the field, all in their proper order and with regard to
their relative shapes, colors and positions.



Colors in heraldry are called tinctures and comprise two
metals, seven colors and various furs. Colors and metals
can be depicted in black and white by a system of hatching.

As a general rule in heraldry, a color may not be placed
upon a color nor a metal upon a metal.

There are nine points on the shield by which objects may be
specifically located., they are: A. Dexter chief, B. Middle
chief, C. Sinister chief, D. Honour point, E. Fess point,
F. Nombril point, G. Middle base, H. Dexter base,
I. sinister base.


The shield may be divided by straight lines described by
specific heraldic terminology. Such fields are termed
party or parted. The eight most common divisions are
illustrated below.



Lines used in dividing the shield or outlining objects
placed upon it are not always straight and may take
various forms, some of which are:



Charges are devices placed upon the shield and fall into
three groups: ordinaries, sub-ordinaries and common
. There are nine ordinaries:


and sixteen sub-ordinaries, some of which are:

Common charges comprise the last group and by far the
largest. Any object, either animate or inanimate, might
constitute a charge: animals (both real or imaginary),
celestial bodies, tools, weapons, men, fish, trees, the
list is endless.


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