s Lady Ariadna Montcada begins her great work cataloguing the Domains and Houses of our great kingdom I have endeavoured to put together a simplified heralds guide to Armorial Achievements, more commonly known as Coats of Arms.
((This piece is a mixture of RL convention, in-game mechanics, and some generic fantasy stuff. Enjoy))
What is an Armorial Achievement:
In its simplest form, an armorial achievement is a symbol of identity, an identifier on the battlefield and in civil life as to the House to which they are affiliated. Members of a dynasty all share the same armorial achievement and many powerful noble houses allow and encourage their vassals and servants to wear their arms. The Achievement itself is divided into several constituent parts that are granted in increasing complexity depending on the deeds and titles of the owner. Central to the achievement is the escutcheon which generally appears as a shield or lozenge upon which the arms of the house are displayed. This is the minimum that the achievement may display with many gentry and lesser aristocrats limited to just the escutcheon on their achievements.
Above the escutcheon is usually a helmet which may or may not have a crest. Most nobility will have a crest of one sort or another with the crests of dukes tending to be more ornate than the crests of counts and unlanded nobility. Noble Houses headed by a count or a duke will also have supporters, creatures both real and mythical that appear to ‘support’ the escutcheon. Dukes will also have mantling which drapes around the shield, this represents the protective cloth used by dukes to protect their helmets from the elements and to decrease the effects of sword blows. Mantling can be shown as shredded (the most common form representing the look of the cloth after it has been struck by several swords) or whole (usually for dukes that have never seen combat) though the symbology can often be forgone for the sake of appearance.
The Anatomy of the Escutcheon
The Escutcheon (often called the coat of arms) is the single most important part of the achievement. It is a unique signifier that identifies the House to which it belongs that like all achievements changes as the deeds of the House’s scions bring glory, or shame, to their ancestors. It is important therefore to understand what makes up an escutcheon. The base of the escutcheon is the field which can be considered to be the ‘background’ of the shield or lozenge the field can be one colour or more commonly be divided or varied to allow multiple colours to make up the background. On top of the field is placed a charge which may be an ordinary or a heraldic beast or item.
The colours of the field and the charges in heraldry are traditionally called tinctures and are generally divided into three subdivisions, the metals, the colours and the furs. In general, when combining these colours there is one rule that is more important than all others and that is to only put a metal on a colour and vice versa rather than a metal on a metal or a colour on a colour. This is so that the escutcheon may be seen from a great distance should it be placed on a surcoat or shield. Like most rules in heraldry, this is often honoured in the breach but is a good base for amateurs and pursuivants just starting their training. Each tincture has a common name and a heraldic name, the heraldic name is most commonly used in the blazon. It is important to note that despite common belief the tinctures have no special meaning in of themselves, though they often hold meaning for the bearer of the achievement and the heralds who issue it. The or that one person sees as a symbol of wealth could for another person mean unchangeability though strictly speaking both are incorrect the tincture is meaningless achievements are such a personal design that they are also both correct in their interpretations, in so far as it pertains to their design.
There are two commonly used metals:
There is a third metal that is rarely used but I include here for completeness:
There are five commonly used colours:
There are three further uncommonly used colours sometimes called ‘stains’
There are two furs:
Vair (representing squirrel fur)
Ermine (representing stoat fur)
Both vair and ermine have a number of variations. For ermine, the two most common variations are Ermines (where the sable and the argent are switched) and Pean (where the argent is replaced with or).
There are fourteen common divisions, the four most common simply divide two tinctures through the centre of the escutcheon.
Party per Fess
Party per Pale
Party per Bend
Party per Bend Sinister
Beyond this there are two ‘quartered’ divisions
Party per Cross
Party per Saltire
The remaining eight divisions are considerably less common:
Party Bendy Sinister
Party Per Chevron
Party per Pall
An ordinary is a simple geometric design used as a charge over a field. Some who serve as court heralds classify the less common of these as subordinaries but I tend not to do so as they still fulfil the same functions as an ordinary. In my examples below since an ordinary is a charge I follow the heraldic rule of metal over colour, in this case or over azure.
Bar. The number of bars is referenced so this example is Azure, two bars or.
Label (in this case of five points)
Roundel. Each tincture of roundel has a different name this roundel or is more properly known as a Bezant but that level of complexity goes beyond this article.
The above should in no way be considered a complete list of ordinaries but showcases the most common and some of the most interesting.
There are myriad of other charges including heraldic beasts, and almost any item or symbol that can be conceived by the herald. While pretty much any animal can be considered a heraldic beast when placed on an escutcheon heraldic beasts are usually presented in a certain set of poses called attitudes.
Most land animals have the following attitudes:
Sitting Erect/Sejant Erect
Note that all of these lions are facing left which is called dexter this is their typical facing and can be assumed unless the blazon tells otherwise. There are of course other attitudes the most common of which are shown below:
Erect facing right/Rampant in Sinister
Standing and facing forward/Statant Guardant
Walking and facing behind/Passant Reguardant
Facing forward with the whole body/ Affronte
Birds and other flying creatures have their own unique attitudes:
Underside of wings showing/Displayed
About to take flight/Rising
Fish and other aquatic animals also have special attitudes
While these attitudes are the most common they are by no means an exhaustive list.
Variations on Divisions and Charges
The lines of divisions and charges can be edited in different ways, the eight most common of which I present here:
The blazon is a simple way of describing an achievement using text. These are written formally and have their own grammar and syntax. The blazon begins by describing the field (background), with the first letter as a capital, followed by a comma. If the field is complex, the variation is described, followed by the tinctures used. If the shield is divided, the division is described, followed by the tinctures of the subfields, beginning with the dexter side, viewer’s left, of the chief, upper, edge. Tinctures are typically named only once in a blazon if there is a need to reference the tincture multiple times it is named by arranging all elements of like tincture together prior to the tincture name or its position in the blazon. The principal charges are then named with their tinctures. The principal charge is followed by any other charges placed around or on it. If a charge is a bird or beast, its attitude is described, followed by the animal’s tincture, followed by anything that may be differently coloured. The other parts of the achievement are then described. When presenting a blazon in text it is considered proper to render the whole in italics.
As an example here is the coat of arms for the Duchy of Asebe’ia Thunar ((I have to apologise that the bordure on the outside is hard to see on the page background)):
Azure, a Horse rampant in sinister argent with a bordure diminished the same.