In heraldry
Heraldry is the profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms. Heraldry comes from Anglo-Norman herald, from the Germanic compound harja-waldaz, "army commander"...

 and heraldic vexillology
Vexillology is the scholarly study of flags. The word is a synthesis of the Latin word vexillum, meaning 'flag', and the Greek suffix -logy, meaning 'study'. The vexillum was a particular type of flag used by Roman legions during the classical era; its name is a diminutive form of the word velum...

, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

, flag
A flag is a piece of fabric with a distinctive design that is usually rectangular and used as a symbol, as a signaling device, or decoration. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.The first flags were used to assist...

 or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image. The visual depiction of a coat of arms or flag traditionally has considerable latitude in design, while a blazon specifies the essentially distinctive elements; thus it can be said that a coat of arms or flag is primarily defined not by a picture but rather by the wording of its blazon (though often flags are in modern usage additionally and more precisely defined using geometrical specifications). Blazon also refers to the specialized language in which a blazon is written, and, as a verb, to the act of writing such a description. This language has its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

, or rules governing word order, which becomes essential for comprehension when blazoning a complex coat of arms.

Other objects, such as badge
A badge is a device or fashion accessory, often containing the insignia of an organization, which is presented or displayed to indicate some feat of service, a special accomplishment, a symbol of authority granted by taking an oath , a sign of legitimate employment or student status, or as a simple...

s, banner
A banner is a flag or other piece of cloth bearing a symbol, logo, slogan or other message. Banner-making is an ancient craft.The word derives from late Latin bandum, a cloth out of which a flag is made...

s, and seal
Seal (device)
A seal can be a figure impressed in wax, clay, or some other medium, or embossed on paper, with the purpose of authenticating a document ; but the term can also mean the device for making such impressions, being essentially a mould with the mirror image of the design carved in sunken- relief or...

s may be described in blazon.


The blazon of armorials follows a rigid formula:
  • Every blazon of a coat of arms begins by describing the field
    Field (heraldry)
    In heraldry, the background of the shield is called the field. The field is usually composed of one or more tinctures or furs. The field may be divided or may consist of a variegated pattern....

     (background). In a majority of cases this is a single tincture
    Tincture (heraldry)
    In heraldry, tinctures are the colours used to emblazon a coat of arms. These can be divided into several categories including light tinctures called metals, dark tinctures called colours, nonstandard colours called stains, furs, and "proper". A charge tinctured proper is coloured as it would be...

    ; e.g. Azure
    In heraldry, azure is the tincture with the colour blue, and belongs to the class of tinctures called "colours". In engraving, it is sometimes depicted as a region of horizontal lines or else marked with either az. or b. as an abbreviation....

    (blue). If the field is complex, the variation
    Variation of the field
    In heraldry, variations of the field are any of a number of ways that a field may be covered with a pattern, rather than a flat tincture or a simple division of the field.- Patterning with ordinaries and subordinaries :...

     is described, followed by the tinctures used; e.g. Chequy gules and argent (checkered red and white). If the shield is divided
    Division of the field
    In heraldry, the field of a shield can be divided into more than one area of different tinctures, usually following the lines of one of the ordinaries and carrying its name...

    , the division is described, followed by the tinctures of the subfields, beginning with the dexter end (shield bearer's right, but viewer's left) of the chief (upper) edge; e.g. Party per pale argent and vert (dexter half silver, sinister half green), or Quarterly argent and gules (clockwise from top left: white, red, white, red).
  • The principal charge
    Charge (heraldry)
    In heraldry, a charge is any emblem or device occupying the field of an escutcheon . This may be a geometric design or a symbolic representation of a person, animal, plant, object or other device...

    (s) are then named, with their tincture(s); e.g. a bend
    Bend (heraldry)
    In heraldry, a bend is a coloured band running from the upper right corner of the shield to the lower left . Writers differ in how much of the field they say it covers, ranging from one-fifth up to one-third...

    Or (heraldry)
    In heraldry, Or is the tincture of gold and, together with argent , belongs to the class of light tinctures called "metals". In engravings and line drawings, it may be represented using a field of evenly spaced dots...

  • The principal charge is followed by any other charges placed around or on it. If a charge be a bird or beast, its attitude
    Attitude (heraldry)
    In heraldry, an attitude is the position in which an animal, fictional beast, mythical creature, human or human-like being is emblazoned as a charge, supporter or crest. Many attitudes apply only to predatory beasts and are exemplified by the beast most frequently found in heraldry — the lion. ...

     is described, followed by the animal's tincture, followed by anything that may be differently coloured; e.g. An eagle displayed gules, armed and wings charged with trefoils Or (see the coat of arms of Brandenburg
    Coat of arms of Brandenburg
    This article is about the coat of arms of the German state of Brandenburg.- History :According to tradition, the Märkischer Adler , or red eagle of the March of Brandenburg, was adopted by Margrave Gero in the 10th century. Gustav A. Seyler states that the Ascanian Albert the Bear was the originator...


Any accessories present — such as crown
Crown (heraldry)
A Crown is often an emblem of the monarchy, a monarch's government, or items endorsed by it; see The Crown. A specific type of crown is employed in heraldry under strict rules....

A coronet is a small crown consisting of ornaments fixed on a metal ring. Unlike a crown, a coronet never has arches.The word stems from the Old French coronete, a diminutive of coronne , itself from the Latin corona .Traditionally, such headgear is – as indicated by the German equivalent...

, helmet
Helmet (heraldry)
In heraldic achievements, the helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets...

, torse
In heraldry, a torse or wreath is a twisted roll of fabric laid about the top of the helm and the base of the crest, from which the mantling hangs....

, mantling
In heraldry, mantling or lambrequin is drapery tied to the helmet above the shield. It forms a backdrop for the shield. In paper heraldry it is a depiction of the protective cloth covering worn by knights from their helmets to stave off the elements, and, secondarily, to decrease the effects of...

, crest
Crest (heraldry)
A crest is a component of an heraldic display, so called because it stands on top of a helmet, as the crest of a jay stands on the bird's head....

, motto
A motto is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments...

, supporters and compartment — are then described in turn, using the same terminology and syntax.

A composite shield is blazoned one panel at a time, proceeding by rows from chief (top) to base, and within each row from dexter (the right side of the bearer holding the shield) to sinister; in other words, from the viewer's left to right. A divided shield is blazoned "party per [line of division]" or "parted per [line of division]", though the word "party" or "parted" is almost always omitted (e.g. "Per pale argent and vert, a tree eradicated counterchanged"). A tincture is sometimes replaced by "of the first", "of the second" etc. to avoid repetition of tincture names; they refer to the order in which the tinctures were first mentioned. "Counterchanged" means that a charge which straddles a line of division is tinctured of the same tinctures as the divided field, reversed (see Behnsdorf arms pictured above).

But as to the rigid formulae of blazoning, John Brooke-Little
John Brooke-Little
John Philip Rudolph Dominic Derek Aloysius Mary Brooke-Little, CVO, KStJ, FSA, FSG, FHS, FHG , FRHSC , FHSNZ, KM, GCGCO was an influential and popular British writer on heraldic subjects and a long-serving officer of arms at the College of Arms in London...

, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms
Norroy and Ulster King of Arms
Norroy and Ulster King of Arms is one of the senior Officers of Arms of the College of Arms, and the junior of the two provincial Kings of Arms. The current office is the combination of two former appointments...

, wrote in 1985: “Although there are certain conventions as to how arms shall be blazoned ... many of the supposedly hard and fast rules laid down in heraldic manuals [including those by heralds] are often ignored.”

A given coat-of-arms may be drawn in many different ways, all considered equivalent, just as the letter "A" may be printed in many different font
In typography, a font is traditionally defined as a quantity of sorts composing a complete character set of a single size and style of a particular typeface...

s while still being the same letter. For example, the shape of the shield is almost always immaterial, a rare exception being the coat of arms of Nunavut
Coat of arms of Nunavut
The coat of arms of the territory of Nunavut was granted by a warrant of Roméo LeBlanc, Governor General of Canada, dated 31 March 1999, one day before the territory of Nunavut, Canada was created. The same document specified the flag of Nunavut.- Overview :...

, for which a round shield is specified.

Because heraldry developed at a time when English clerks wrote in French, many terms in English heraldry are of French origin, as is the practice of placing most adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s after noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s rather than before.

Several websites (cited below) give illustrations of coats of arms with blazons; these can give the reader a good practical feel for blazons and blazoning.


Full descriptions of shields range in complexity, from a single word to a convoluted series describing compound shields:
  • Arms of Brittany
    Brittany is a cultural and administrative region in the north-west of France. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany has also been referred to as Less, Lesser or Little Britain...

    : Ermine
  • Azure, a bend Or, over which the families of Scrope
    -Origin of name:The name may be derived from the old Anglo-Norman word for "crab" and that it began as a nickname for a club-footed illegitimate son of an English princess by a Norman knight. A crab moves sideways and so the name could fit a child with club feet...

     and Grosvenor
    Duke of Westminster
    The title Duke of Westminster was created by Queen Victoria in 1874 and bestowed upon Hugh Grosvenor, 3rd Marquess of Westminster. The current holder of the title is Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster....

     fought a famous legal battle (see Scrope v. Grosvenor
    Scrope v. Grosvenor
    Scrope v. Grosvenor was one of the earliest heraldic law cases brought in England. The case resulted from the fact that two different families were using the same undifferenced coat of arms. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the composition of coats of arms was very simple...

     and image above).
  • Arms of Östergötland
    Östergötland, English exonym: East Gothland, is one of the traditional provinces of Sweden in the south of Sweden. It borders Småland, Västergötland, Närke, Södermanland, and the Baltic Sea. In older English literature, one might also encounter the Latinized version, Ostrogothia...

    , Sweden
    Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

    : Gules a griffin with dragon wings, tail and tongue rampant Or armed, beaked, langued and membered azure between four roses argent.
  • Arms of Hungary
    Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...

     dating from 1867, when part of Austria-Hungary
    Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

    Quarterly, I azure, three lions' heads affrontés crowned Or (for Dalmatia
    Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

    ); II chequy gules
    In heraldry, gules is the tincture with the colour red, and belongs to the class of dark tinctures called "colours". In engraving, it is sometimes depicted as a region of vertical lines or else marked with gu. as an abbreviation....

     and argent
    In heraldry, argent is the tincture of silver, and belongs to the class of light tinctures, called "metals". It is very frequently depicted as white and usually considered interchangeable with it...

     (for Croatia
    Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...

    ); III azure, a river in fess gules bordered argent thereupon a marten proper beneath a six-pointed star Or (for Slavonia
    Slavonia is a geographical and historical region in eastern Croatia...

    ); IV per fess azure and Or, overall a bar gules in the chief a demi-eagle sable displayed addextré of the sun in splendour and senestré of a crescent argent in the base seven towers three and four gules (for Transylvania
    Transylvania is a historical region in the central part of Romania. Bounded on the east and south by the Carpathian mountain range, historical Transylvania extended in the west to the Apuseni Mountains; however, the term sometimes encompasses not only Transylvania proper, but also the historical...

    ); enté en point gules, a double-headed eagle proper on a peninsula vert holding a vase pouring water into the sea argent beneath a crown proper with bands azure (for Fiume); overall an escutcheon barry of eight gules and argent impaling gules, on a mount vert a crown Or issuant therefrom a double cross argent (for Hungary
    Hungary , officially the Republic of Hungary , is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is situated in the Carpathian Basin and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. The...


External links

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