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Blazonry

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An ill-service has been done to the students of armory by those who have pretended that the phrases in which the shields and their charges are described or blazoned must follow arbitrary laws devised by writers of the period of armorial decadence. One of these laws, and a mischievous one, asserts that no tincture should be named a second time in the blazon of one coat.

Blazonry

Thus if gules be the hue of the field any, charge of that color must thereafter be styled "of the first." Obeying this law the blazoner of a shield of arms elaborately charged may find himself sadly involved among "of the first," "of the second," and "of the third." It is needless to say that no such law obtained among armorists of the middle ages, The only rule that demands obedience is that the brief description should convey to the reader a true knowledge of the arms described.

The examples of blazonry given in that part of this article which deals with armorial charges will be more instructive than any elaborated code of directions. It will be observed that the description of the field is first set down, the blazoner giving its plain tincture or describing it as burely, party, paly or barry, as powdered or sown with roses, crosslets or fleurs-de-lys. Then should follow the main or central charges, the lion or griffon dominating the field, the cheveron or the pale, the fesse, bend or bars, and next the subsidiary charges in the field beside the ordinary and those set upon it. Chiefs and quarters are blazoned after the field and its contents, and the border, commonly an added difference, is taken last of all. Where there are charges both upon and beside a bend, fesse or the like, a curious inversion is used by pedantic blazoners.

The arms of Mr Samuel Pepys of the Admiralty Office would have been described in earlier times as: Sable a bend gold between two horses heads razed silver, with three fleurs-de-lys sable on the bend.

Modern heraldic writers would give the sentence as: Sable, on a bend or between two horses’ heads erased argent, three fleurs-de-lys of the first.

Nothing is gained by this inversion but the precious advantage of naming the bend but once. On the other side it may be said that, while the newer blazon couches itself in a form that seems to prepare for the naming of the fleurs-de-lys as the important element of the shield, the older form gives the fleurs-de-lys as a mere postscript, and rightly, seeing that charges in such a position are very commonly the last additions to a shield by way of difference.

In like manner when a crest is described it is better to say " a lion’s head out of a crown" than "out of a crown a lion’s head." The first and last necessity in blazonry is lucidity, which is cheaply gained at the price of a few syllables repeated.