Blazon

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In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can reconstruct the appropriate image. The verb to blazon means to create such a description. The visual depiction of a coat of arms or flag has traditionally had considerable latitude in design, but a verbal blazon specifies the essentially distinctive elements. A coat of arms or flag is therefore primarily defined not by a picture but rather by the wording of its blazon (though in modern usage flags are often additionally and more precisely defined using geometrical specifications). Blazon is also the specialized language in which a blazon is written, and, as a verb, the act of writing such a description. Blazonry is the art, craft or practice of creating a blazon. The language employed in blazonry has its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax, which becomes essential for comprehension when blazoning a complex coat of arms.

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Other armorial objects and devices – such as badges, banners, and seals – may also be described in blazon.

The noun and verb blazon (referring to a verbal description) are not to be confused with the noun emblazonment, or the verb to emblazon, both of which relate to the graphic representation of a coat of arms or heraldic device.

Etymology

The word blazon is derived from French blason, "shield". It is found in English by the end of the 14th century. [1]

Formerly, heraldic authorities believed that the word was related to the German verb blasen, "to blow (a horn)". [2] [3] Present-day lexicographers reject this theory as conjectural and disproved. [1]

Grammar

Blazon is generally designed to eliminate ambiguity of interpretation, to be as concise as possible, and to avoid repetition and extraneous punctuation. English antiquarian Charles Boutell stated in 1864:

Heraldic language is most concise, and it is always minutely exact, definite, and explicit; all unnecessary words are omitted, and all repetitions are carefully avoided; and, at the same time, every detail is specified with absolute precision. The nomenclature is equally significant, and its aim is to combine definitive exactness with a brevity that is indeed laconic. [4]

However, John Brooke-Little, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, 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." [5]

A given coat of arms may be drawn in many different ways, all considered equivalent and faithful to the blazon, just as the letter "A" may be printed in many different fonts while still being the same letter. For example, the shape of the escutcheon is almost always immaterial, with very limited exceptions (e.g., the coat of arms of Nunavut, for which a round shield is specified).

The main conventions of blazon are as follows:

French vocabulary and grammar

Because heraldry developed at a time when English clerks wrote in Anglo-Norman French, many terms in English heraldry are of French origin. Some of the details of the syntax of blazon also follow French practice: thus, adjectives are normally placed after nouns rather than before.

A number of heraldic adjectives may be given in either a French or an anglicised form: for example, a cross pattée or a cross patty; a cross fitchée or a cross fitchy. In modern English blazons, the anglicised form tends to be preferred. [6]

Where the French form is used, a problem may arise as to the appropriate adjectival ending, determined in normal French usage by gender and number.

"To describe two hands as appaumées, because the word main is feminine in French, savours somewhat of pedantry. A person may be a good armorist, and a tolerable French scholar, and still be uncertain whether an escallop-shell covered with bezants should be blazoned as bezanté or bezantée". (Cussans) [9]

The usual convention in English heraldry is to adhere to the feminine singular form, for example: a chief undée and a saltire undée, even though the French nouns chef and sautoir are in fact masculine. [9] Efforts have however been made, for example by J. E. Cussans, who suggested that all French adjectives should be expressed in the masculine singular, without regard to the gender and number of the nouns they qualify, thus a chief undé and a saltire undé.

Complexity

Full descriptions of shields range in complexity, from a single word to a convoluted series describing compound shields:

Quarterly I. Azure three Lions' Heads affronté Crowned Or (for Dalmatia); II. chequy Argent and Gules (for Croatia); III. Azure a River in Fess Gules bordered Argent thereon a Marten proper beneath a six-pointed star Or (for Slavonia); IV. per Fess Azure and Or over all 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); 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); over all 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). [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Heraldry is a discipline relating to the design, display and study of armorial bearings, as well as related disciplines, such as vexillology, together with the study of ceremony, rank and pedigree. Armory, the best-known branch of heraldry, concerns the design and transmission of the heraldic achievement. The achievement, or armorial bearings usually includes a coat of arms on a shield, helmet and crest, together with any accompanying devices, such as supporters, badges, heraldic banners and mottoes.

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Division of the field

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Variation of the field Heraldic term

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Ordinaries in heraldry are sometimes embellished with stripes of colour alongside them, have lumps added to them, shown with their edges arciform instead of straight, have their peaks and tops chopped off, pushed up and down out of the usual positions, or even broken apart.

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Bleu celeste is a rarely occurring and non-standard tincture in heraldry. This tincture is sometimes also called ciel or simply celeste. It is depicted in a lighter shade than the range of shades of the more traditional tincture azure, which is the standard blue used in heraldry.

Ordinary (heraldry)

In heraldry, an ordinary is a simple geometrical figure, bounded by straight lines and running from side to side or top to bottom of the shield. There are also some geometric charges known as subordinaries, which have been given lesser status by some heraldic writers, though most have been in use as long as the traditional ordinaries. Diminutives of ordinaries and some subordinaries are charges of the same shape, though thinner. Most of the ordinaries are theoretically said to occupy one-third of the shield; but this is rarely observed in practice, except when the ordinary is the only charge.

Coat of arms of Toronto Official coat of arms of the City of Toronto

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In heraldry, sable is the tincture black, and belongs to the class of dark tinctures, called "colours". In engravings and line drawings, it is sometimes depicted as a region of crossed horizontal and vertical lines, or else marked with sa. as an abbreviation.

Rule of tincture Rule of color composition in heraldic design

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Lymphad

A lymphad or galley is a charge used primarily in Scottish heraldry. It is a single-masted ship propelled by oars. In addition to the mast and oars, the lymphad has three flags and a basket. The word comes from the Scottish Gaelic long fhada, meaning a long ship or birlinn. It usually indicates a title associated with islands, such as Lord of the Isles, specifically those on the west coast of Scotland, including the Hebrides - but is not limited to Scottish arms: prominent examples including the coats of arms of New Zealand and New Brunswick.

Componée

In heraldry, an ordinary componée,, anglicised to compony and gobony, is composed of a row of squares, rectangles or other quadrilaterals, of alternating tinctures, often found as a bordure, most notably in the arms of the English House of Beaufort.

Tricking Method for indicating the tinctures (colours) used in a coat of arms

Tricking is a method for indicating the tinctures (colours) used in a coat of arms by means of text abbreviations written directly on the illustration. Tricking and hatching are the two primary methods employed in the system of heraldry to show colour in black and white illustrations.

Finnish heraldry has a common past with Swedish heraldry until 1809 and it belongs to German heraldric tradition.

Pile (heraldry)

In heraldry, a pile is a charge usually counted as one of the ordinaries. It consists of a wedge emerging from the upper edge of the shield and converging to a point near the base. If it touches the base, it is blazoned throughout.

Cornish heraldry is the form of coats of arms and other heraldic bearings and insignia used in Cornwall, United Kingdom. While similar to English, Scottish and Welsh heraldry, Cornish heraldry has its own distinctive features. Cornish heraldry typically makes use of the tinctures sable (black) and or (gold), and also uses certain creatures like Cornish choughs. It also uses the Cornish language extensively for mottoes and canting arms.

Crosses in heraldry Cross symbols used in heraldry

A number of cross symbols were developed for the purpose of the emerging system of heraldry, which appeared in Western Europe in about 1200. This tradition is partly in the use of the Christian cross an emblem from the 11th century, and increasingly during the age of the Crusades. Many cross variants were developed in the classical tradition of heraldry during the late medieval and early modern periods. Heraldic crosses are inherited in modern iconographic traditions and are used in numerous national flags.

Roundel (heraldry) Heraldry term for a circular charge

A roundel is a circular charge in heraldry. Roundels are among the oldest charges used in coats of arms, dating from the start of the age of heraldry in Europe, circa 1200–1215. Roundels are typically a solid colour but may be charged with an item or be any of the furs used in heraldry. Roundels are similar to the annulet, which some heralds would refer to as a false roundel.

References

  1. 1 2 "blazon, n." . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th. ed., vol.11, p.683, "Heraldry"
  3. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Blazon"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  4. Boutell, Charles, Heraldry, Historical and Popular, 3rd edition, London, 1864, pp. 8–9.
  5. J. P. Brooke-Little: An Heraldic Alphabet; new and revised edition, p. 52. London: Robson Books, 1985.
  6. 1 2 3 "Blazon in CoA". CoA: The Coat of Arms. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  7. Boutell 1864, p. 11.
  8. Courtenay, P. The Armorial Bearings of Sir Winston Churchill Archived 2013-07-18 at the Wayback Machine . The Churchill Centre.
  9. 1 2 Cussans, John E. (1874). The Handbook of Heraldry (2nd ed.). London: Chatto & Windus. p. 47.
  10. Velde, François (August 1998). "Hungary". Heraldry by Countries. Retrieved 13 December 2007.
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