Label (heraldry)

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Label of three points azure, as may be seen for example on the ancient arms of the Courtenay Earls of Devon Label of three points Azure.svg
Label of three points azure, as may be seen for example on the ancient arms of the Courtenay Earls of Devon

In heraldry, a label (occasionally lambel, the French form of the word) is a charge resembling the strap crossing the horse's chest from which pendants are hung. It is usually a mark of difference, but has sometimes been borne simply as a charge in its own right.

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.

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.

Cadency System in heraldry to distinguish family members

In heraldry, cadency is any systematic way to distinguish arms displayed by members of the nuclear family of the holder of a coat of arms, when those family members have not been granted arms in their own right. Cadency is necessary in heraldic systems in which a given design may be owned by only one person at any time, generally the head of the senior line of a particular family. As arms may be used by sons or wives 'by courtesy' whilst their father or husband is still living, some form of differencing may be required so as not to usurp those arms, known as the undifferenced or "plain coat". Historically arms were only heritable by males and therefore cadency marks have no relevance to daughters, except in the modern era in Canadian and Irish heraldry. These differences are formed by adding to the arms small and inconspicuous marks called brisures, similar to charges but smaller. They are placed on the fess-point, or in-chief in the case of the label. Brisures are generally exempt from the rule of tincture. One of the best examples of usage from the medieval period is shown on the seven Beauchamp cadets in the stained-glass windows of St Mary's Church, Warwick.

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The pendants were originally drawn in a rectangular shape, but in later years have often been drawn as dovetails. The label is almost always placed in the chief. In most cases the horizontal band extends right across the shield, but there are several examples in which the band is truncated.

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.

As a mark of difference

Label on an escutcheon Pieza - lambel 2.svg
Label on an escutcheon

In European heraldry in general, the label was used to mark the elder son, generally by the princes of the royal house. Differencing, or cadency, are the distinctions used to indicate the junior branches (cadets) of a family.

In history and heraldry, a cadet branch consists of the male-line descendants of a monarch or patriarch's younger sons (cadets). In the ruling dynasties and noble families of much of Europe and Asia, the family's major assets—realm, titles, fiefs, property and income—have historically been passed from a father to his firstborn son in what is known as primogeniture; younger sons—cadets—inherited less wealth and authority to pass to future generations of descendants.

In British heraldry, a system of specific brisures or "marks of cadency" developed: The eldest son, during the lifetime of his father, bears the family arms with the addition of a label; the second son a crescent, the third, a mullet, the fourth, a martlet, the fifth, an annulet; the sixth, a fleur-de-lis; the seventh, a rose; the eighth, a cross moline; the ninth, a double quatrefoil. On the death of his father, the eldest son would remove the label from his coat of arms and assume the unmodified arms.

Crescent oblique phases of illuminated astronomical body; shape of a circular disc with a segment of another circle removed from the edge

A crescent shape is a symbol or emblem used to represent the lunar phase in the first quarter, or by extension a symbol representing the Moon itself.

Martlet heraldic charge

A martlet in English heraldry is a heraldic charge depicting a stylised bird similar to a swift or a house martin, with stylised feet. It should be distinguished from the merlette of French heraldry, which is a duck-like bird with a swan-neck and chopped-off beak and legs.

<i>Fleur-de-lis</i> stylized lily, heraldic symbol

The fleur-de-lis or fleur-de-lys is a stylized lily that is used as a decorative design or motif. Many of the Catholic saints of France, particularly St. Joseph, are depicted with a lily. Since France is a historically Catholic nation, the fleur-de-lis became "at one and the same time, religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic", especially in French heraldry.

The label's number of points did not necessarily mean anything, although the label of three points was supposed to represent the heir during the lifetime of his father; five points, during the lifetime of his grandfather; seven points, while the great-grandfather still lived, etc.

According to some sources, the elder son of an elder son places a label upon a label. However, A. C. Fox-Davies states that in the case of the heir-apparent of the heir-apparent "one label of five points is used, and to place a label upon a label is not correct when both are marks of cadency, and not charges".

Arthur Charles Fox-Davies British writer

Arthur Charles Fox-Davies was a British expert on heraldry. His Complete Guide to Heraldry, published in 1909, has become a standard work on heraldry in England. A barrister by profession, Fox-Davies worked on several notable cases involving the peerage, and also worked as a journalist and novelist.

As a charge

The label appears as a charge in the coats of arms of several families and municipalities, often having begun as a mark of difference and been perpetuated. It has also been used in canting arms. The number of pendants varies from three to seven (see examples below). There are also several examples of the pendants bearing charges, especially in the coats of arms of the British Royal Family (see examples below).

Canting arms

Canting arms are heraldic bearings that represent the bearer's name in a visual pun or rebus. The term was derived from the Anglo-Norman cant, meaning song or singing.

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Ordinary (heraldry) basic geometric charge in heraldry

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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.

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Rule of tincture rule of color composition

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Lymphad

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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.

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.

Heraldic labels are used to differentiate the personal coats of arms of members of the royal family of the United Kingdom from that of the monarch and from each other. In the Gallo-British heraldic tradition, cadency marks have been available to "difference" the arms of a son from those of his father, and the arms of brothers from each other, and traditionally this was often done when it was considered important for each man to have a distinctive individual coat of arms and/or to differentiate the arms of the head of a house from junior members of the family. This was especially important in the case of arms of sovereignty: to use the undifferenced arms of a kingdom is to assert a claim to the throne. Therefore, in the English royal family, cadency marks were used from the time of Henry III, typically a label or bordure alluding to the arms of the bearer's mother or wife. After about 1340, when Edward III made a claim to the throne of France, a blue label did not contrast sufficiently with the blue field of the French quarter of the royal arms; accordingly most royal cadets used labels argent: that of the heir apparent was plain, and all others were charged. Bordures of various tinctures continued to be used into the 15th century.

The Spanish monarchs of the House of Habsburg and Philip V used separate versions of their royal arms as sovereigns of the Kingdom of Naples-Sicily, Sardinia and the Duchy of Milan with the arms of these territories.

Coat of arms of the Prince of Wales Coat of arms of the Prince of Wales

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