Reading a Blason

The Basics of Blazon

To the uninitiated, reading the grammar of heraldic achievements may seem like some form of arcane witchcraft; however, the syntax of heraldry is surprisingly straightforward, and the lexicon of terms is something easily conquered with a good dictionary of heraldry. This article will attempt to take the reader through simple steps of blazoning a heraldic achievement to teach the basics of blazon. After going through these steps, you should be able to understand the basics of a coat of arms by reading the blazon, and may feel confident enough to emblazon (the process of taking the written text of arms and reproducing them in graphical form) a coat of arms all by yourself.

Order of the Blazon

Each blazon lists not only the ingredients of the coat of arms, but has a specific order to help the reader parse all the information. This order is:

  1. Field
    • a. Division
    • b. Tincture
    • c. Furs
    • d. Patterns
  2. Primary Charge
    • a. Ordinaries
      • i. (Position) – If in its typical position, it does not need to be mentioned.
      • ii. Tincture
    • b. Other Charges
      • i. Position and Number – If no position is mentioned then the charge will take the most prominent position in the middle of the field.
      • ii. Attitude – The position of the creature: running, sitting, etc. See article on Blazoning Creatures.
      • iii. Tincture
  3. Secondary Charges – Charges around Primary Charge
  4. Tertiary Charges – Charges on either Primary or Secondary Charges
  5. Peripheral Charges
  6. Tertiary Peripheral Charges – Charges on the Peripheral Charges
  7. Brisures – Marks of Cadency indicating the individual in the family bearing similar arms.
  8. Augmentations – Modification to the original coat of arms to denote some favor of the sovereign, often as a reward for some meritorious act.
Blason or Blazon? Both spellings are widely used depending mostly upon the time and place of the author. Feel free to use whichever you find more to your liking. I utilize both on these pages simply to aid with internet searches.

 

Example Blazon #1

In this example we will take a Blason (the written form) for a coat of arms and turn it into an Emblason (the graphic form). The text of our blason would read as follows:

Barry of thirteen gules and argent on a canton azure 13 mullets in annulo argent on a bend sinister azure 3 mullets or.

 

Putting it Together – Step One – The Field

The first thing listed in a blazon is the color of the field. If this is a simple one color field then in will be listed here. If there is a division of the field made of two tinctures both of those will be listed with the type of division used. The color which occurs in the very upper left portion of the field (as it is viewed) is the color listed first (in the case of diagonal divisions, top comes before left.

A Note about left and right. Since the designs of coats armor are meant to be worn upon shields and armor, the traditional directions used for left and right, sinister and dexter always refer to the shield as it would be held be the user, which is opposite from the direction relative to the viewer. The top of the shield is chief and the bottom is base.

Barry of 13, Gules and Argent

Barry of 13, Gules and Argent

In our example the field is: Barry of thirteen, gules and argent.
Barry is a division of the field where horizontal lines split the field, alternating between the two tinctures mentioned. As mentioned earlier, the color at the most chief (then) dexter point of the field is the color noted first.

Barry could be any number that looks good, but in our example, 13 bars are specified, therefore that is the number used. That is how a great many things in blazon work, details omitted are up to the interpretation of the heraldic artist emblazoning arms, but details included should be faithfully reproduced.

Putting it Together – Step Two – Primary Charge

Barry of thirteen, Gules and Argent, a Canton Azure

Barry of thirteen, Gules and Argent, a Canton Azure

Next we add the primary charge of the arms: a canton azure

The next part of the blazon mentions an ordinary, the canton. By default a canton goes in the dexter chief of the arms and the blazon lets us know that it should be or blue.

If the canton was said to be sinister it would be in the other upper corner of the field instead.

If you should get confused about what a position name means, please consult our page about Positions of the Field.

 

Putting it Together – Step Three – Secondary Charges

In our example there are no other charges around the field, if there were they would be listed in this position and emblazoned. We do however, have tertiary charges on the canton.

Putting it Together – Step Four – Tertiary Charges

Barry of thirteen, Gules and Argent on a Canton Azure a 13 Mullets in annulo Argent

Barry of thirteen, Gules and Argent on a Canton Azure a 13 Mullets in annulo Argent

on a canton azure 13 mullets in annulo argent

These charges appear on the primary charge, the canton, as we are informed by the word on. The mullet is a star in British heraldry. If it has more than 5 points, it will mention it in the blazon. The term in annulo refers to the position of the charges in relationship to one another, in this case, a circle.

The last portion is the word Argent, describing the color of the stars.

 

Putting it Together– Step Five – Peripheral Charges

Charges or groups of charges which can be found toward the edges of the coat of arms and are significantly smaller than other charges of the field are called Peripheral Charges. Most coats of arms do not have a peripheral charge, excepting the popular Chief, the stripe of color at the top of a coat of arms, which is often charged with charges of its own. In our first example there are no peripheral charges.

Putting it Together– Step Six – Tertiary Peripheral Charges

Just like the regular Tertiary Charges, the Tertiary Peripheral Charges inhabit the space of a greater charge, in this case the peripheral charge(s).  In the example of a Chief on a coat of arms, one will often find these Tertiary Peripheral Charges decorating  it. In our example, there are no tertiary peripheral charges.

Putting it Together– Step Seven – Brisures Charges

 

Putting it Together– Step Eight – Augmentations Charges

 

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