Division of the field

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In heraldry, the field (background) of a shield can be divided into more than one area, or subdivision, of different tinctures, usually following the lines of one of the ordinaries and carrying its name (e.g. a shield divided in the shape of a chevron is said to be parted "per chevron"). Shields may be divided this way for differencing (to avoid conflict with otherwise similar coats of arms) or for purposes of marshalling (combining two or more coats of arms into one), or simply for style. The lines that divide a shield may not always be straight, and there is a system of terminology for describing patterned lines, which is also shared with the heraldic ordinaries. French heraldry takes a different approach in many cases from the one described in this article.

Heraldry profession, study, or art of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol

Heraldry is a broad term, encompassing 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 an shield, helmet, and crest, together with any accompanying devices, such as supporters, badges, heraldic banners, and mottoes.

Field (heraldry) background of a shield or flag

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.

Escutcheon (heraldry) main or focal element in an achievement of arms

In heraldry, an escutcheon is a shield that forms the main or focal element in an achievement of arms. The word is used in two related senses.


Common divisions of the field

Division of the field Divisions of the field.png
Division of the field
Chausse ChausseShield.png

Common partitions of the field are:

Dexter and sinister

Dexter and sinister are terms used in heraldry to refer to specific locations in an escutcheon bearing a coat of arms, and to the other elements of an achievement. "Dexter" means to the right from the viewpoint of the bearer of the shield, i.e. the bearer's proper right, to the left from that of the viewer. "Sinister" means to the left from the viewpoint of the bearer, the bearer's proper left, to the right from that of the viewer.

(In the above "left" and "right" are from the viewer's perspective, whereas the heraldic terms "sinister" and "dexter" are from the perspective of the person carrying the shield.) Nowadays, however, the 'party' is often omitted, even in 'official' blazons, e.g. in letters patent and extracts of matriculation.

A field cannot be divided per bordure (as, if this did exist, it would be indistinguishable from the bordure), but a bordure can. A bordure can be divided or counter-changed.

Bordure heraldic ordinary

In heraldry, a bordure is a band of contrasting tincture forming a border around the edge of a shield, traditionally one-sixth as wide as the shield itself. It is sometimes reckoned as an ordinary and sometimes as a subordinary.

Neither can a field (nor any charge) be divided per chief, for similar reasons; though both Canadian and Scottish Public Registers have official records of fields or bordures divided 'per chief'. The earliest such record in the Scottish Public Register is before 1677, "parted per chief azure and gules three skenes argent hefted and pomelled Or Surmounted of as many Woolf-heads couped of the third." [1] and a bordure per chief is shown in the arms of Roy, Canada. A chief is considered a charge in English heraldry and is considered layered atop the field.

Charge (heraldry) heraldic motif; an ordinary, common charge or symbol

In heraldry, a charge is any emblem or device occupying the field of an escutcheon (shield). This may be a geometric design or a symbolic representation of a person, animal, plant, object or other device. In French blazon, the ordinaries are called pièces while other charges are called meubles.

The Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, established in 1672, is an official register of Scottish coats of arms maintained by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records. As a public register, it can be seen by anyone on application, and on payment of a statutory fee.

Papal coat of arms of Benedict XVI is Gules chape ploye Or or "tierced in mantle" Coat of Arms of Benedictus XVI.svg
Papal coat of arms of Benedict XVI is Gules chapé ployé Or or "tierced in mantle"

Shields may also be divided into three parts: this is called tierced, as in tierced per pale, azure, argent and gules (though perhaps in English heraldry this is rarely if ever done,[ citation needed ] and the foregoing shield would be blazoned — as the pale is supposed to be one-third of the width of the field and is always so depicted under these circumstances — per pale azure and gules, a pale argent.[ citation needed ] but Scottish heraldry does use 'tierced in pale' (e.g. Clackmannan county (now Clackmannanshire) has Or; a saltire gules; a chief tierced in pale vert, argent, vert ...) [2] A particular type of tiercing, resembling a Y in shape (division lines per bend and bend sinister coming down from the chief, meeting at the fess point, and continuing down per pale), is called per pall (also per pairle). The arms of Pope Benedict XVI is "tierced in mantle" - as described in Vatican information pages, but the usual term in, for example South African heraldry, is chapé ployé (with arched lines, with straight lines: chapé (mantled)), which may be blazoned with three tinctures or just two - e.g. Okakarara Technical Institute: Gules, chapé Azure, on the partition lines respectively a bend and a bend sinister enhanced, in base a demi-cogwheel, Or, with a fountain issuant. Shields may also be divided into three parts by a combination of two methods of division, such as party per fess, in chief per pale. Another example is in the arms of Clive Cheesman: per pale and per pall. [3] This is to be distinguished from the essentially unique partition in the arms of the 2nd Weather Group of the United States Air Force, which is Dexter per chevron ployé and sinister per fess enhanced. [4]

English heraldry

English heraldry is the form of coats of arms and other heraldic bearings and insignia used in England. It lies within the so-called Gallo-British tradition. Coats of arms in England are regulated and granted to individuals by the English kings of arms of the College of Arms. An individual's arms may also be borne ‘by courtesy' by members of the holder's nuclear family, subject to a system of cadency marks, to difference those displays from the arms of the original holder. The English heraldic style is exemplified in the arms of British royalty, and is reflected in the civic arms of cities and towns, as well as the noble arms of individuals in England. Royal orders in England, such as the Order of the Garter, also maintain notable heraldic bearings.

Scottish heraldry

Heraldry in Scotland, while broadly similar to that practised in England and elsewhere in western Europe, has its own distinctive features. Its heraldic executive is separate from that of the rest of the United Kingdom.


A shield may also be party per chevron reversed (inverted), which is like party per chevron except upside down. A section formed by two (straight) lines drawn from the corners of the chief to the point in base is called chaussé (shod), which must be distinguished from the pile, the point of which does not reach the bottom of the shield. With arched or bent (French: ployé) lines it is called chaussé ployé. [5] [6]


The dimidiated arms of Sieradz County in Poland POL powiat sieradzki COA.svg
The dimidiated arms of Sieradz County in Poland

One common reason for dividing the field in heraldry is for purposes of combining two or more coats of arms to express alliance, inheritance, occupation of an office, etc. This practice, called marshalling, initially took the form of dimidiation, or splicing together two coats of arms split down the middle (or sometimes, though rarely, split across the centre per fess or quarterly) so that half one coat was matched up with the opposite half of the other. As this would sometimes yield confusing or misleading results, the practice was supplanted by impalement, which kept both coats intact and simply squished them into half the space. According to Fox-Davies (1909), the practice of dimidiation was short-lived and had already reached its peak in the early 14th century, while impalement remains in practice to modern times. One important remainder of the practice, however, is that when a coat of arms with a bordure is impaled with another coat, the bordure does not continue down the centre, but stops short where it meets the line of impalement. [7] Eventually quartering gained usage, and in the height of its popularity during the Victorian era, some coats of arms featured hundreds of "quarterings" (see the Grenville arms at right). More usually, however, a quartered coat of arms consisted of four parts, as the name suggests. The origin and underlying purpose of quartering is to express inheritance by female succession: when a female heir (who has no brothers, or whose brothers have all preceded her in death) dies, her son (only after her death) quarters her arms with those of his father, placing the father's arms in the first (upper left) and fourth (lower right) quarters and his mother's arms in the second (upper right) and third (lower left). [8]

The arms of Richard, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, claimed 719 quarterings Stowe Armorial.jpg
The arms of Richard, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, claimed 719 quarterings

In the UK heraldries, complex systems of marshalling have developed, and continue to thrive, around heraldic expressions of inheritance. In many cases of marriage, the shield is impaled with the husband's entire coat of arms placed on the dexter side and the wife's entire coat placed on the sinister side; if the wife is an heiress, however, her arms are placed in escutcheon over her husband's (such usage is almost entirely English, Scots marshalling being impaling like any other marriage arms). [9] If the husband is a knight of any order, however, the ensigns of that order belong only to him and are not shared with his wife. Two separate shields are then employed, the dexter shield bearing the husband's arms within the circle of his knighthood, and the sinister shield bearing the husband's arms impaled with the wife's usually encircled with a meaningless wreath of oak leaves for artistic balance. [9] A male peer impales the arms of his wife as described above, but including the supporters, coronet and helmet of the peer; if he is also a knight of any order, the two-shield method is used. [10] If a female peer marries a commoner, however, the husband places her arms inescutcheon, surmounted by a coronet of her rank, over his own, but the supporters of her rank cannot be conferred to him; the wife bears her arms singly on a lozenge with the supporters and coronet of her rank. [10] Volumes may be written on all the endless heraldic possibilities of this convoluted system of marshalling, but it may suffice here to say that for various purposes, arms may be marshalled by four basic methods: dimidiation by clipping and splicing two coats (usually per pale), impalement by dividing per pale and crowding an entire coat of arms into each half, quartering by dividing the shield into usually four (but potentially innumerable) "quarters", and superimposition by placing one coat of arms inescutcheon over another. It is also worth noting that one common form in German-Nordic heraldry is "quarterly with a heart" (a shield quartered with an inescutcheon overall). This may have stemmed from the continental practice of sovereigns placing their own hereditary arms inescutcheon over the arms of their dominions. [11]

Coat of arms of Novohrad-Volynskyi Zvyahel.png
Coat of arms of Novohrad-Volynskyi

The arms of Novohrad-Volynskyi, Ukraine, show an unusual form of marshalling quarterly with a heart, where one quarter is dimidiated while the others are not. [12]

Lines of division

Municipal arms of Ylamaa, Finland: Vert, a chief fir twigged argent. Ylamaa.vaakuna.svg
Municipal arms of Ylämaa, Finland: Vert, a chief fir twigged argent.
Municipal arms of Mullsjo, Sweden: Azure, a snow crystal argent a chief fir tree topped also argent Mullsjo vapen.svg
Municipal arms of Mullsjö, Sweden: Azure, a snow crystal argent a chief fir tree topped also argent

Divisions of the field, like the ordinaries, may follow complex line shapes. Most of these "sections" have developed conventional names in English, but modern artists, particularly in Finland, have developed new sections influenced by shapes found in the local flora. [13] Among the most common of these are engrailed, invected, indented, dancetty, wavy (also called undy), nebuly, embattled, raguly, dovetailed and potenty (pictured below). [14] Notable modern forms include the "fir twig section" (Finnish : havukoro) and "fir tree top section" (Finnish : kuusikoro). [15] These can be found in the arms of a number of municipalities in Finland, and the latter can also be found in the arms of Mullsjö Municipality in Sweden. [16]

Nirhakoro.svg Nyhakoro.svg Sahakoro.svg Hammaskoro.svg
Aaltokoro.svg Pilvikoro.svg Sakarakoro.svg Oksakoro.svg
Wavy (or Undy)NebulyEmbattledRaguly
Lohenpyrstokoro.svg Kahvakoro.svg

Other modifications

The arms of Eric of Pomerania as king of the Kalmar Union are quartered by a cross gules ... Erik av Pommern 2000px.png
The arms of Eric of Pomerania as king of the Kalmar Union are quartered by a cross gules ...

Besides the complex lines discussed above, divisions of the field may also be modified in other ways. Sometimes the division of the field may be fimbriated (lined) or, perhaps less properly, "edged" [17] of another tincture, or divided by some ordinary or its diminutive. The latter differs from a parted field that then bears the ordinary, in that if the ordinary thus dividing the field is between charges, the charges are not overlapped by the ordinary but the ordinary is between them. A famous example of this is the greater arms of Sweden, which is "quartered by a cross Or..." [18]

One division of the field (though it is sometimes described as a charge) is restricted to the chief: when the chief is divided by a bow-shaped line, this is called a chapournet or chaperonnet ("little hood"). [19] Rompu, meaning "broken", is often applied to a chevron, where the center is usually broken and enhanced (brought to a sharper point than normal). [20]

Unusual forms

See also


  1. "Skene of Newtyle", Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, vol 1, p. 417.
  2. "County of Clackmannan", Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, vol 27, p. 32.
  3. See image here Archived April 16, 2005, at the Wayback Machine ..
  4. "Arms of 2d Weather Group, United States Air Force" . Retrieved 2010-09-27.
  5. "Chaussé". West Kingdom College of Heralds. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
  6. "Chausse". Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry. 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2009-03-22.
  7. Fox-Davies (1909), pp. 524-5.
  8. Fox-Davies (1909), p. 543.
  9. 1 2 Fox-Davies (1909), p. 531.
  10. 1 2 Fox-Davies (1909), p. 532.
  11. Fox-Davies (1909), p. 541.
  12. See an illustration and description of the Novohrad-Volyns'kyi arms here.
  13. Neubecker (1976), p. 89.
  14. Mackinnon of Dunakin (1968), p. 48.
  15. Appleton, David B. (2002). New Directions in Heraldry .
  16. See fir twig lines of partition in the arms of the Finnish municipalities of Ylämaa, Siipyy, Varpaisjärvi, Karvia, Outokumpu and Joutsa. See tree top lines of partition in the arms of the Finnish municipalities of Taivalkoski, Puolanka, Rautjärvi and Pylkönmäki.
  17. See an example of this, termed "edged", here Archived May 3, 2006, at the Wayback Machine ..
  18. "Lag (1982:268) om Sveriges riksvapen". Swedish Code of Statutes (in Swedish). Sveriges Riksdag. 1982-04-29. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  19. "Chapournet". Probert Encyclopaedia of Heraldry. Archived from the original on 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  20. Neubecker (1976), p. 50.
  21. François Velde. "Illustration 51". www.heraldica.org. Retrieved 2009-03-22.

Related Research Articles

The lines of partition used to divide and vary fields and charges in heraldry are by default straight, but may have many different shapes. Care must sometimes be taken to distinguish these types of lines from the extremely unusual and non-traditional use of lines as charges, and to distinguish these shapes from actual charges, such as "a mount [or triple mount] in base," or, particularly in German heraldry, different kinds of embattled from castle walls.

Variation of the field heraldic term

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.

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.

Ordinary (heraldry) basic geometric charge in 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.

Bend (heraldry) heraldic ordinary

In heraldry, a bend is a band or strap running from the upper dexter corner of the shield to the lower sinister. Authorities differ as to how much of the field it should cover, ranging from one-fifth up to one-third. The supposed rule that a bend should occupy a maximum of one-third of the field appears to exclude the possibility of three bends being shown together, but contrary examples exist. Outside heraldry, the term "bend sinister" is sometimes used to imply illegitimacy, though it is almost never true that a bend sinister has this significance, and a "bar sinister" cannot, by its nature, exist.

Chief (heraldry) ordinary in heraldic blazon; horizontal band at the top of a coat of arms

In heraldic blazon, a chief is a charge on a coat of arms that takes the form of a band running horizontally across the top edge of the shield. Writers disagree in how much of the shield's surface is to be covered by the chief, ranging from one-fourth to one-third. The former is more likely if the chief is uncharged, that is, if it does not have other objects placed on it. If charged, the chief is typically wider to allow room for the objects drawn there.

Impalement (heraldry)

In heraldry, impalement is a form of heraldic combination or marshalling of two coats of arms side by side in one divided heraldic shield or escutcheon to denote a union, most often that of a husband and wife, but also for unions of ecclesiastical, academic/civic and mystical natures. An impaled shield is bisected "in pale", that is by a vertical line.

Rule of tincture

The most basic rule of heraldic design is the rule of tincture: metal should not be put on metal, nor colour on colour. This means that Or and argent may not be placed on each other; nor may any of the colours be placed on another colour. Heraldic furs as well as "proper" are exceptions to the rule of tincture.

In English law, baron and feme is a phrase used for husband and wife, in relation to each other, who were accounted as one person by coverture. Hence, by the old law of evidence, the one party was excluded from giving evidence for or against the other in civil questions, and a relic of this is still preserved in criminal law.

Quadrate (heraldry)

In heraldry, an ordinary is described as quadrate when it has a square central boss.

Coat of arms of Namibia coat of arms

The coat of arms of Namibia is the official heraldic symbol of Namibia. Introduced at the time of independence in 1990, it superseded the earlier coat of arms used by the South African administration of the territory.

Coat of arms of Napoleonic Italy Coat of Arms

The coat of arms of Napoleonic Italy was the coat of arms used by the Kingdom of Italy (1805–1814) during the reign of Napoleon as King of Italy.

Coat of arms of Bradford

The Coat of arms of Bradford City Council was granted in 1976. The present City of Bradford was created in 1974 by the Local Government Act 1972 and is one of five metropolitan boroughs of West Yorkshire. The 1976 arms are based on those of its predecessor, the county borough of Bradford.

Blazon art of describing heraldic arms in proper terms

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. 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, which becomes essential for comprehension when blazoning a complex coat of arms.


In heraldry, dimidiation is a method of marshalling two coats of arms.

Pile (heraldry) heraldic charge

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.

Bar (heraldry) ordinary consisting of a horizontal band across the shield in heraldry

In heraldry, a bar is an ordinary consisting of a horizontal band across the shield. If only one bar appears across the middle of the shield, it is termed a fess; if two or more appear, they can only be called bars. Calling the bar a diminutive of the fess is inaccurate, however, because two bars may each be no smaller than a fess. Like the fess, bars too may bear complex lines. The diminutive form of the bar is the barrulet, though these frequently appear in pairs, the pair termed a "bar gemel" rather than "two barrulets".

Orle (heraldry) heraldic ordinary

In heraldry, an orle is a subordinary consisting of a narrow band occupying the inward half of where a bordure would be, following the exact outline of the shield but within it, showing the field between the outer edge of the orle and the edge of the shield.