In heraldry a Charge is an object placed upon a coat of arms. Pretty much anything that is a noun might find its way into armory. Some few charges are common, while exotic charges may only occur once or twice in 100,000 coats of arms. Many charges have special rules about their use and unusual considerations about their placement and way they are drawn. In an effort to help students of heraldry better understand how the Sword is used in heraldry, I have included remarks about the Sword from several of the most prominent heraldic scholars:
Sword: The martial nature of the sword and its likeness to the cross made it one of the most common and iconic charges in European heraldry.. The Sword is commonly met with in the arms of Europe. The picture of Sword above is A sword from A.C. Fox-Davies A Complete Guide to Heraldry.
A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry (1894) states:
Sword, (French. epée), or arming sword: the usual form is a long straight blade, with a cross handle, and it is borne is a variety of ways, so that its position should be distinctly stated. The sword in the insignia of the city of London is sometimes called the sword of Saint Paul, that apostle being patron of the city. The blade may be waved, embrued, etc. A sword is often represented piercing an animal or a human heart.
The hilt and pommel are also frequently named, as they are often of a different tincture from the sword itself. A sword proper is argent with hilt and pommel or.
There are different kinds of swords mentioned in blazon, e.g. the arming sword, the sword of state, the Irish sword, the Highlander’s Claymore, &c. Others also will be found already given under Sabre, q.v.
The sword may be sheathed, i.e. in its scabbard, the termination of which is called the crampet, chape, or boteroll, (fr. bouterol); and this termination is sometimes found as a separate charge
A.C. Fox-Davies noted about the Sword on page 286–287 of his masterwork, A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909):
Swords, differing in number, position, and kind are, perhaps, of this class of charge the most numerous. A single sword as a charge may be seen in the shield of Dick of Wicklow, and Macfie, and a sword entwined by a serpent in that of Mackesy. A flaming sword occurs in the arms of Maddocks and Lewis. Swords frequently figure, too, in the hands or paws of supporters, accordingly as the latter are human figures or animals, whilst they figure as the “supporters” themselves in the unique case of the French family of Bastard, whose shield is cottised by “two swords, point in base.” The heraldic sword is represented as Fig. 515, the blade of the dagger being shorter and more pointed. The scymitar follows the form depicted in Fig. 516. A Seax is the term employed to denote a curved scimitar, or falchion, having a notch at the back of the blade (Fig. 517). In heraldry the use of this last is fairly frequent, though generally, it must be added, in shields of arms of doubtful authority. As such they are to be seen, amongst others, in the reputed arms of Middlesex, and owing to this origin they were included in the grant of arms to the town of Ealing. The sabre and the cutlass when so blazoned follow their utilitarian patterns.
Below you can see a scimitar as used in heraldry from from A.C. Fox-Davies A Complete Guide to Heraldry, giving another example of the use of the Sword in heraldry.
Often the symbols or charges used in heraldry were chosen because they sound like some word that has relevance to the bearer of the arms, a name, nickname, deed or battle, a place they lived, or traveled to; this kind of use of charges is called punning or canting arms. Parker gave us the following examples, “Thus were the castle and lion for Castile and Leon, the fers de cheval of Ferrers, the corbeau or raven for Corbet, the herons of Heron, the falcon of Falconer, the swine’s head of Swinebourne, the hammers of Hammerton and the swallows (hirondelles) of Arundel.”
Despite this, there are some good many “traditional” meanings for charges too. In the case of Sword it can easily be seen to represent power and military honor.
W. Cecil Wade collected traditional heraldry metaphors in his work The Symbolisms of Heraldry (1898). On page 110 we find information on the Sword, stating, “The Sword, Guillim remarks, is a weapon fitted for execution and justice, and he holds that it is the true emblem of military honour, and should incite the bearer to a just and generous pursuit of honour and virtue in warlike deeds. When borne with a cross in the same field it would signify the defence of the Christian faith. Elsewhere he refers to the Sword as signifying Government and Justice. The Cross of St. Paul consists of a cross-hilted sword, and it may be this that is intended in the arms of London, which latter consist of a white or silver shield bearing the red Cross of St. George of England, and in the dexter chief is a sword, which probably represents the Cross of the Patron Saint of London. These arms are of great antiquity, and under this supposition would form another instance of armorial symbolism at the earliest period. In Mr. Hewitt’s “Ancient Armour” (London, 1860), reference is made to the London banner of the thirteenth century, which bore on it a sword as the emblem of St. Paul..”
The Sword can be found in following coats of arms:
- Braddyll :Gules, on a chief argent two swords in saltire azure
- Dick: Azure, a waved sword erect in pale proper, hilt and pomel or, between two mullets in fesse pierced argent
- Egerton: Gules, a fesse between three pheons argent on a canton or, a dexter gauntlet sable holding a broken sword erect of the second embrued in blood
- Menzies: Argent, a sword in pale azure, hilted or; a chief gules
- O’Davoren: Argent, a sword erect, point upwards; from the blade issuing drops of blood—Ireland
- Parsons: Azure, two swords in saltire, blades argent, hilts and pomels or, pierced through a human heart proper; in chief a cinquefoil azure.
- Spalding:Argent, a two-handed swords in pale azure—Scotland
- Symonstron: Gules, a two-handed sword bendwise between two mullets or
For more information see the original references:
- Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry.
- Parker, A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry
- Wade, The Symbolisms of Heraldry.
Originally posted 2015-05-01 15:32:03.