Impalement (heraldry)

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Impalement in heraldry: on the dexter side of the escutcheon, the position of greatest honour, are placed the arms of the husband (baron), with the paternal arms of the wife (femme) on the sinister. ImpalementDiagram.PNG
Impalement in heraldry: on the dexter side of the escutcheon, the position of greatest honour, are placed the arms of the husband (baron), with the paternal arms of the wife (femme) on the sinister.

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.

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.

Division of the field section of the field on an escutcheon

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. Shields may be divided this way for differencing or for purposes of marshalling, 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.

Shield item of armour carried to intercept attacks or projectiles

A shield is a piece of personal armour held in the hand or mounted on the wrist or forearm. Shields are used to intercept specific attacks, whether from close-ranged weaponry or projectiles such as arrows, by means of active blocks, as well as to provide passive protection by closing one or more lines of engagement during combat.



Courtenay of Devon.svg
Sir PeterCourtenayBrassEscutcheonExeter.JPG
Arms of the House of de Bohun.svg
Escutcheon from monumental brass of Sir Peter Courtenay (d.1405), KG, Exeter Cathedral, Devon, showing: dexter: Or, three torteaux a label azure (Courtenay) impaling Azure, a bend argent cotised or between six lions rampant or (Bohun). This impaled shield shows the arms of his father (Hugh de Courtenay, 2nd Earl of Devon) impaling the paternal arms of his mother, Margaret de Bohun, the daughter of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford

The husband's arms are shown in the dexter half (on the right hand of someone standing behind the shield, to the viewer's left), being the place of honour, with the wife's paternal arms in the sinister half. For this purpose alone the two halves of the impaled shield are called baron and femme, from ancient Norman-French usage. [1] Impalement is not used when the wife is an heraldic heiress, that is to say when she has no brothers to carry on bearing her father's arms (or, if her brothers have died, they have left no legitimate descendents) in which case her paternal arms are displayed on an escutcheon of pretence in the centre of her husband's arms, denoting that the husband is a pretender to the paternal arms of his wife, and that they will devolve upon the couple's heir(s) as quarterings. When a husband has been married more than once, the sinister half of femme is split per fess, that is to say horizontally in half, with the paternal arms of the first wife shown in chief and those of the second wife in base. The sinister side may thus be divided more than twice in similar fashion where required.

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 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.

Heraldic heiress

In English heraldry an heraldic heiress is a daughter of deceased man who was entitled to a coat of arms and who carries forward the right to those arms for the benefit of her future male descendants. This carrying forward only applies if she has no brothers or other male relatives alive who would inherit the arms on the death of the holder.

The use of impaled arms serves to identify with precision which member of the male line of a family is represented, if the identity of his wife is known, for example from a pedigree. Frequently impaled arms appear sculpted on ancient buildings, thus allowing architectural historians to identify the builder. Impaled arms also appear frequently on monuments in parish churches, and again facilitate identification of the person for whom erected. A convenient and descriptive term for "a heraldic escutcheon showing the impaled arms of a husband and wife" is "a match", and this word was used frequently by, amongst others, Tristram Risdon (d.1640) in his manorial history Survey of Devon. For example: "The north aisle of Swimbridge Church was built by Sir John Mules of Ernsborough, as the inscription in a window, and a proof there once fairly printed and guilded, with the arms and matches of that family, make evident". [2] Also: "(William Hankford) is pourtraited kneeling in his robes together with his own match and the match of some of his ancestors insculpt thereon in brass" [3] (in Monkleigh Church, Devon).

Tristram Risdon Antiquarian, topographer

Tristram Risdon was an English antiquarian and topographer, and the author of Survey of the County of Devon. He was able to devote most of his life to writing this work. After he completed it in about 1632 it circulated around interested people in several manuscript copies for almost 80 years before it was first published by Curll in a very inferior form. A full version was not published until 1811. Risdon also collected information about genealogy and heraldry in a note-book; this was edited and published in 1897.

Manor an estate in land to which is incident the right to hold a manorial court

A manor in English law is an estate in land to which is incident the right to hold a court termed court baron, that is to say a manorial court. The proper unit of tenure under the feudal system is the fee, on which the manor became established through the process of time, akin to the modern establishment of a "business" upon a freehold site. The manor is nevertheless often described as the basic feudal unit of tenure and is historically connected with the territorial divisions of the march, county, hundred, parish and township.

Swimbridge village in United Kingdom

Swimbridge is a village, parish and former manor in Devon, England. It is situated 4 miles (6.4 km) south-east of Barnstaple and twinned with the town of St.Honorine Du Fay in Normandy, France. It was the home of the Rev. John "Jack" Russell who first bred the Jack Russell Terrier.

For same-sex married couples, the College of Arms in 2014 decreed that male couples may impale their arms together but that each individual will have distinguished arms and crests of their own (i.e. the arms of a given partner will have his own arms on dexter and his partner's in sinister with his own crest; his partner's will be the opposite). Slightly different rules applies to female couples and heraldic heiresses. [4]

College of Arms British royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth countries

The College of Arms, also known as the College of Heralds, is a royal corporation consisting of professional officers of arms, with jurisdiction over England, Wales, Northern Ireland and some Commonwealth realms. The heralds are appointed by the British Sovereign and are delegated authority to act on behalf of the Crown in all matters of heraldry, the granting of new coats of arms, genealogical research and the recording of pedigrees. The College is also the official body responsible for matters relating to the flying of flags on land, and it maintains the official registers of flags and other national symbols. Though a part of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom the College is self-financed, unsupported by any public funds.


Banner of Cardinal Wolsey as Archbishop of York. His personal arms in sinister (to viewer's right) are impaled with the arms of the See of York in dexter (to viewer's left), the position of honour. Wolsey banner.jpg
Banner of Cardinal Wolsey as Archbishop of York. His personal arms in sinister (to viewer's right) are impaled with the arms of the See of York in dexter (to viewer's left), the position of honour.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, a bishop's familial arms are impaled with those of his diocese or see, with the dexter position of greater honour being occupied by the arms of the see, and the incumbent's arms in sinister.

Ecclesiastical heraldry

Ecclesiastical heraldry refers to the use of heraldry within the Christian Church for dioceses and Christian clergy. Initially used to mark documents, ecclesiastical heraldry evolved as a system for identifying people and dioceses. It is most formalized within the Catholic Church, where most bishops, including the Pope, have a personal coat of arms. Clergy in Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches follow similar customs, as do institutions such as schools and dioceses.

A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.

Diocese Christian district or see under the supervision of a bishop

The word diocese is derived from the Greek term dioikesis (διοίκησις) meaning "administration". Today, when used in an ecclesiastical sense, it refers to the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop.


Heads of educational establishments, for example of Oxbridge colleges, many of whom were historically former clergymen, traditionally impaled their personal and college arms, during their term of office. Likewise, this privilege extends to senior civic office holders, for example Mayors, Masters of Livery Companies, etc.

Oxbridge portmanteau of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge

Oxbridge is a portmanteau of Oxford and Cambridge, the two oldest, most prestigious, and highly-ranked universities in the United Kingdom. The term is used to refer to them collectively, in contrast to other British universities, and more broadly to describe characteristics reminiscent of them, often with implications of superior social or intellectual status or elitism.

Clergy leaders within certain religions

Clergy are some of the main and important formal leaders within certain religions. The roles and functions of clergy vary in different religious traditions but these usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman and churchman. Less common terms are churchwoman, clergyperson and cleric.

A term of office is the length of time a person serves in a particular elected office. In many jurisdictions there is a defined limit on how long terms of office may be before the officeholder must be subject to re-election. Some jurisdictions exercise term limits, setting a maximum number of terms an individual may hold in a particular office.


Escutcheon of King Richard II of England impaled by attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor Coat of Arms of Richard II of England (1377-1399).svg
Escutcheon of King Richard II of England impaled by attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor

A rare use of impalement is that where a mystical union is believed to exist between the two parties. Such was the case with King Richard II (1377-1399) who had a particular devotion to the saint King Edward the Confessor. Although the saint lived in the pre-heraldic era, his attributed arms were employed by King Richard in impaling his own royal Arms of Plantagenet, as an outward sign of such a mystical quasi-marriage. The Confessor's arms were shown in the dexter position of honour.


Arms of Brasenose College, Oxford Brasenose College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg
Arms of Brasenose College, Oxford

A rare form of impalement which allows for the juxtaposition of three armorials is tiercing . This is occasionally used where a man has married twice. It is also used in the arms of three Oxford colleges. In the arms of Brasenose College, Oxford the principal tierce shows the personal arms of one founder William Smyth, while the second tierce shows his position as Bishop of Lincoln; the third tierce shows the personal arms of the other founder Sir Richard Sutton. The arms of Lincoln College Oxford are similar, with the first two tierces representing the founder Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln, and the third tierce carrying the arms of Thomas Rotherham, a major donor who is considered as co-founder of the current college. At Corpus Christi College, Oxford the first tierce shows a pelican vulning herself representing the Body of Christ (Latin: Corpus Christi), which was adopted by the founder Richard Foxe as a personal symbol; the second tierce reflect's Foxe's position as Bishop of Winchester, while the third tierce shows the personal arms of the cofounder Hugh Oldham.

Example: institutional

The arms of Brasenose College, Oxford are: Tierced in pale: (1) Argent, a chevron sable between three roses gules seeded or, barbed vert (for Smyth); (2) or, an escutcheon of the arms of the See of Lincoln (gules, two lions of England in pale or, on a chief azure Our Lady crowned seated on a tombstone issuant from the chief, in her dexter arm the Infant Jesus, in her sinister arm a sceptre, all or), ensigned with a mitre proper; (3) quarterly, first and fourth argent, a chevron between three bugle-horns stringed sable; second and third argent, a chevron between three crosses crosslet sable (for Sutton).. [5]

Example: marital

Arms of Sir Arthur Northcote, 2nd Baronet (1628-1688), detail from ledger stone, King's Nympton Church, Devon, England SirArthurNorthcote 2nd BaronetArms 1707SlabKingsNympton.JPG
Arms of Sir Arthur Northcote, 2nd Baronet (1628-1688), detail from ledger stone, King's Nympton Church, Devon, England

The arms of Sir Arthur Northcote, 2nd Baronet (1628-1688), sculpted on his ledger stone in King's Nympton Church, Devon, England, UK, show a shield tierced per pale, the second (central) part showing his paternal arms of four quarters. The dexter part relates to his first wife Elizabeth the daughter of James Walsh of Alverdiscot in Devon, and shows the arms of Walshe (six mullets 3:2:1). The sinister part relates to his second wife Elizabeth the daughter of Sir Francis Godolphin of Godolphin in Cornwall, England, UK, and shows the arms of Godolphin (an eagle displayed double headed between three fleurs-de-lis ).

See also

Related Research Articles

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.

Funerary hatchment

A funerary hatchment is a depiction within a black lozenge-shaped frame, generally on a black (sable) background, of a deceased's heraldic achievement, that is to say the escutcheon showing the arms, together with the crest and supporters of his family or person. Regimental Colours and other military or naval emblems are sometimes placed behind the arms of military or naval officers. Such funerary hatchments, generally therefore restricted in use to members of the nobility or armigerous gentry, used to be hung on the wall of a deceased person's house, and were later transferred to the parish church, often within the family chapel therein which appertained to the manor house, the family occupying which, generally being lord of the manor, generally held the advowson of the church. In Germany, the approximate equivalent is a Totenschild, literally "death shield".

Coat of arms of Namibia coat of arms

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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.

Coats of arms and seals of the County and Duchy of Cornwall, the Diocese of Truro, and of Cornish boroughs and towns.

John Chichester (d.1669) English politician

Sir John III Chichester of Hall was Member of Parliament for Lostwithiel in Cornwall in 1624.

Richard Fortescue English Member of Parliament and prominent land-owner

Richard Fortescue of Filleigh, North Devon was an English Member of Parliament and prominent land-owner and member of the Devonshire gentry, ancestor to the Earls Fortescue.

Robert Carey (died 1586) English Member of Parliament

Robert Carey, lord of the manor of Clovelly in North Devon, was Member of Parliament for Barnstaple, Devon, in October 1553 and served as Sheriff of Devon in 1555–56. He served as Recorder of Barnstaple after 1560. Along with several other members of the Devonshire gentry then serving as magistrates he died of gaol fever at the Black Assize of Exeter 1587. His large monument survives in Clovelly Church.

Hall, Bishops Tawton

Hall is a large estate within the parish and former manor of Bishop's Tawton, Devon. It was for several centuries the seat of a younger branch of the prominent and ancient North Devon family of Chichester of Raleigh, near Barnstaple. The mansion house is situated about 2 miles south-east of the village of Bishop's Tawton and 4 miles south-east of Barnstaple, and sits on a south facing slope of the valley of the River Taw, overlooking the river towards the village of Atherington. The house and about 2,500 acres of surrounding land continues today to be owned and occupied by descendants, via a female line, of the Chichester family. The present Grade II* listed neo-Jacobean house was built by Robert Chichester between 1844 and 1847 and replaced an earlier building. Near the house to the south at the crossroads of Herner the Chichester family erected in the 1880s a private chapel of ease which contains mediaeval woodwork saved from the demolished Old Guildhall in Barnstaple.

Devon heraldry

The landed gentry and nobility of Devonshire, like the rest of the English and European gentry, bore heraldic arms from the start of the age of heraldry circa 1200-1215. The fashion for the display of heraldry ceased about the end of the Victorian era (1901) by which time most of the ancient armigerous families of Devonshire had died out, moved away or parted with their landed estates.

William Huddesfield British lawyer

Sir William Huddesfield of Shillingford St George in Devon, was Attorney-General to Kings Edward IV (1461–1483) and Henry VII (1485–1509). He built the tower of St George's Church, Shillingford.

Parish church of St Giles, St Giles in the Wood

The large parish church of St Giles, which is in the village of St Giles in the Wood, Devon, England, came into being in 1309. When it was restored in 1862–3, many monuments were retained, including the monument and effigy of Thomas Chafe of Dodscott, three monumental brasses, of Alenora Pollard, Margaret Rolle of Stevenstone and a small brass of her husband John Rolle (d.1570). There are also 19th- and 20th-century monuments to the Rolle family.

Moor Hayes

Moor Hays is a historic estate in the parish of Cullompton in Devon, England. It is stated incorrectly to be in the nearby parish of Burlescombe in Tristram Risdon's Survey of Devon. The estate is not to be confused with Moor Hayes in the parish of Washfield, about 3 miles north-west of Tiverton, another ancient farmstead, which since 2005 has been the site of a large housing estate named "Moorhayes".


  1. Boutell, Charles, Heraldry Historical & Popular, London, 1863, p.102
  2. Tristram Risdon, Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, p.324
  3. Tristram Risdon, Survey of Devon, 1810 edition, pp.276-7
  4. College of Arms: The Arms of Individuals in Same-Sex Marriages, 29 March 2014.
  5. Oxford University Calendar 2001–2002 (2001) p.217. Oxford University Press ISBN   0-19-951872-6.