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The Ordinary Charges

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The writers upon armory have given name of Ordinaries to certain conventional figures commonly charged upon shields. Also they affect to divide these into honorable Ordinaries and Sub-Ordinaries without explaining reason. Disregarding such distinctions, may begin with the description of the Ordinaries most commonly to be found.

From the first the Cross was a common bearing on English shields, "Silver a cross gules" being given early to St George, and under St George's red cross the English would fight. It is more important to define those forms in use during the middle ages, and to name them accurately after the custom of those who bore them in war, a task which the heraldry books have never as yet attempted with success.

The cross in its simple form needs no definition, but it will be noted that it is sometimes borne "voided" and that in a very few cases it appears as a lesser charge with its ends cut off square, in which case it must be clearly blazoned as a plain Cross.

  • Andrew Harcla, the march-warden, whom Edward II. made an earl and executed as a traitor, bore the arms of St George with a martlet sable in the quarter.
  • Crevequer of Kent bore: Gold a voided cross gules.
  • Newsom (14th century) bore: Azure a fesse silver with three plain crosses gules.”
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Next to the plain Cross may be taken the Cross pate of old rolls of arms. It has several forms, according to the taste of the artist and the age. So, in the 13th and early 14th centuries, its limbs curve out broadly, while at a later date the limbs become more slender and of even breadth. Each of these forms has been seized by the heraldic writers as the type of a distinct cross for which a name must be found. But the true identification of the various crosses is of the first importance to the antiquary, since without it descriptions of the arms on early seals or monuments must needs be valueless. Many instances of this need might be cited from the British Museum catalogue of seals, where, for example, the cross paty of Latimer is described twice as a “ cross flory,” six times as a “cross patonce,” but not once by its own name, although there is no better known example of this bearing in England.

  • Latimer bore: Gules a cross paty gold.

The cross form follows the lines of the cross paty save that its broadening ends are cut off squarely.

  • Chetwode bore: Quarterly silver and gules with four crosses formy countercoloured - that is to say, the two crosses in the gules are of silver and the two in the silver of gules.

The cross flory or flowered cross is, like the cross paty, a mark for the misapprehension of writers on armory, who describe some shapes of the cross paty by its name. Playing upon discovered or fancied variants of the word, they bid us mark the distinctions between crosses, although each author has his own version of the value which must be given these precious words. But the facts of the medieval practice are clear to those who take their armory from ancient examples and not from phrases plagiarized from the hundredth plagiarist.

  • Mill-rinds Swynnerton bore: Silver a flowered cross sable

The mill-rind, which takes its name from the iron of a mill-stone - fey de moline - must be set with the crosses. Some of the old rolls call it croiz recercele, from which armorial writers have leaped to imagine a distinct type. Also they call the mill-rind itself a cross moline keeping the word mill-rind for a charge having the same origin but of somewhat differing form. Since this charge became common in Tudor armory it is perhaps better that the original mill-rind should be called for distinction a mill-rind cross.

  • Willoughby bore: Gules a mill-rind cross silver.

The crosslet, is a cross whose limbs, of even breadth, end as trefoils or treble buds. It is rarely found in medieval examples in the shape of a cross with limbs ending in squarely cut plain crosses - which it took during the 16th-century decadence. As the sole charge of a shield it is very rare; otherwise it is one of the commonest of charges.

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  • Brerelegh bore: Silver a crosslet gules.

Within these modest limits we have brought the greater part of that monstrous host of crosses which cumber the dictionaries. A few rare varieties may be noticed.

  • Dukinfield bore: Silver a voided cross with sharpened ends.
  • Skirlaw, bishop of Durham (d. 1406), the son of a basket-weaver, bore: Silver a cross of three upright wattles sable, crossed and interwoven by three more.
  • Drury bore: Silver a chief vert with a St Anthony’s cross gold between two golden molets, pierced gules.
  • Brytton bore: Gold a patriarch’s cross set upon three degrees or steps of gules.
  • Hurlestone of Cheshire bore: Silver a cross of four ermine tails sable.
  • Melton bore: Silver a Toulouse cross gules.
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The crosses paty and formy, and more especially the crosslets, are often borne fitchy, that is to say, with the lower limb somewhat lengthened and ending in a point. In the14th century rolls the word potent is sometimes used for these crosses fitchy, the long foot suggesting a potent or staff. From this source modern English armorists derive many of their crosses potent, whose four arms have the T heads of old fashioned walking staves.

  • Howard bore: Silver a bend between six crosslets fitchy gules.
  • Scott of Congerhurst in Kent bore: Silver a crosslet fitchy sable.
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The Saltire is the cross in the form of that on which St Andrew Hurlestone. Melton. Howard. Scott suffered, whence it is borne on the banner of Scotland, and by the Andrew family of Northamptonshire.

  • Nevile of Raby bore: Gules a saltire silver.
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  • Nicholas Upton, the 15th-century writer On armory, bore: Silver a saltire sable with the ends couped and five golden rings thereon.
  • Aynho bore: Sable a saltire silver having the ends flowered between four leopards gold.
  • Restwolde bore: Party saltirewise of gules and ermine.
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The chief is the upper part of the shield and, marked out by a line of division, it is taken as one of the Ordinaries. Shields with a plain chief and no more are rare in England, but Tichborne of Tichborne has borne since the 13th century, Vair a chief gold. According to the heraldry books the chief should be marked off as a third part of the shield, but its depth varies, being broader when charged with devices and narrower when, itself uncharged, it surmounts a charged field.

  • Fenwick bore: Silver a chief gules with six martlets countercoloured.

In this case the chief would be the half of the shield. Fenwick, clinging to the belief that the chief must not fill more than a third of the shield, the heraldrybooks abandon the word in such cases, blazoning them as "party per fesse."

  • Hastang bore: Azure a chief gules and a lion with a forked tail over all.
  • Hilton of Westmoreland bore: Sable three rings gold and two saltires silver in the chief.

With the chief may be named the Foot, the nether part of the shield marked off as an Ordinary. So rare is this charge that we can cite but one example of it, that of the shield of John of Skipton; who in the 14th century bore: Silver with the foot indented purple and a lion purple. The foot, however, is a recognized bearing in France, whose heralds gave it the name of champagne.

The Pale is a broad stripe running the length of the shield. Of a single pale and of three pales there are several old examples.

Four red pales in a golden shield were borne by Eleanor of Provence, queen of Henry III. When the field is divided evenly into six pales it is said to be paly; if into four or eight pales, it is blazoned as paly of that number of pieces. But paly of more or less than six pieces is rarely found.

The Yorkshire house of Gascoigne bore: Silver a pale sable with a golden conger’s head thereon, cut off at the shoulder.

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  • Ferlington bore: Gules three pales vair and a chief gold.
  • Strelley bore: Paly silver and azure.
  • Rothinge bore: Paly silver and gules of eight pieces.

When the shield or charge is divided palewise down the middle into two tinctures it is said to be party. Such partings of the field often cut through charges whose colors change about on either side of the parting line. Thus Chaucer the poet bore: Party silver and gules with a bend countercoloured.

The Fesse is a band against the shield, filling, according to the rules of the heraldic writers, a third part of it. By ancient use, however, as in the case of the chief and pale, its width varies with the taste of the painter, narrowing when set in a field full of charges and broadening when charges are displayed on itself.

When two or three fesses are borne they are commonly called Bars. The field divided into an even number of bars of alternate colours is said to be barry, six pieces being the normal number. If four or eight divisions be found the number of pieces must be named; but with ten or more divisions the number is unreckoned and “burely” is the word.

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  • Colevile of Bitham bore: Gold a fesse gules.
  • West bore: Silver a dance (or fesse dancy) sable.
  • Fauconberg bore: Gold a fesse azure with three pales gules in the chief.
  • Cayvile bore: Silver a fesse gules, flowered on both sides.
  • Devereux bore: Gules a fesse silver with three roundels silver in the chief.
  • Chamberlayne of Northamptonshire bore: Gules a fesse and three scallops gold.
  • Harcourt bore: Gules two bars gold.
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  • Manners bore: Gold two bars azure and a chief gules.
  • Wake bore: Gold two bars gules with three roundels gules in the chief.
  • Bussy bore: Silver three bars sable.
  • Badlesmere of Kent bore: Silver a fesse between two gemels gules.
  • Melsanby bore: Sable two gemels and a chief silver.
  • Grey bore: Barry of silver and azure.
  • Fitzalan of Bedale bore: Barry of eight pieces gold and gules.
  • Stutevile bore: Burely of silver and gules.
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The Bend is a band traversing the shield aslant, arms with one, two or three bends being common during the middle ages in England. Bendy shields follow the rule of shields paly and barry, but as many as ten pieces have been counted in them. The bend is often accompanied by a narrow bend on either side, these companions being called Cotices. A single narrow bend, struck over all other charges, is the Baston, which during the 13th and 14th centuries was a common difference for the shields of the younger branches of a family, coming in later times to suggest itself as a difference for illegitimate children.

The Bend Sinister, the bend drawn from right to left beginning at the “ sinister “ corner of the shield, is reckoned in the heraldry books as a separate Ordinary, and has a peculiar significance accorded to it by novelists. Medieval English seals afford a group of examples of Bends Sinister and Bastons Sinister, but there seems no reason for taking them as anything more than cases in which the artist has neglected the common rule.

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  • Mauley bore: Gold a bend sable.
  • Wallop bore: Silver a bend wavy sable
  • Ralegh bore: Gules a bend indented, or engrailed, silver.
  • Tracy bore: Gold two bends gules with a scallop sable in the chief between the bends.
  • Bodrugan bore: Gules three bends sable.
  • St. Philibert bore: Bendy of six pieces, silver and azure.
  • Bishopsdon bore: Bendy of six pieces, gold and azure, with a quarter ermine.
  • Montfort of Whitchurch bore: Bendy of ten pieces gold and azure.
  • Adam Fraunceys (14th century) bore: Party gold and sable bendwise with a lion countercoloured.
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The Cheveron, a word found in medieval building accounts for the barge-boards of a gable, is an Ordinary whose form is explained by its name. Perhaps the very earliest of English armorial charges, and familiarized by the shield of the great house of Clare, it became exceedingly popular in England. Like the bend and the chief, its width varies in different examples. Likewise its angle varies, being sometimes so acute as to touch the top of the shield, while in post-medieval armory the point is often blunted beyond the right angle. One, two or three cheverons occur in. numberless shields, and five cheverons have been found. Also there are some examples of the bearing of cheveronny.

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The earls of Gloucester of the house Of Clare bore: Gold three cheverons gules and the Staffords derived from them their shield: Gold a cheveron gules.

  • Chaworth bore: Azure two cheverons gold.
  • Peytevyn bore: Cheveronny of ermine and gules.
  • St. Quintin of Yorkshire bore: Gold two cheverons gules and a chief vair.
  • Sheffield bore: Ermine a cheveron gules between three sheaves gold.
  • Cobham of Kent bore: Gules a cheveron gold with three fleursde-lys azure thereon.
  • Fitzwalter bore: Gold a fesse between two cheverons gules.
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Shields parted cheveronwise are often blazoned as having chiefs "enty" or grafted. Aston of Cheshire bore: Party sable and silver cheveronwise.

The Pile or stake is a wedge-shaped figure jutting from the chief to the foot of the shield, its name allied to the pile of the bridge-builder. A single pile is found in the notable arms of Chandos, and the black piles in the ermine shield of Hollis are seen as an example of the bearing of two piles. Three piles are more easily found, and when more than one is represented the points are brought together at the foot. In ancient armory piles in a shield are sometimes reckoned as a variety of pales, and a Basset with three piles on his shield is seen with three pales on his square banner.

  • Chandos bore: Gold a pile gules.
  • Bryene bore : Gold three piles azure.

The Quarter is the space of the first quarter of the shield divided crosswise into four parts. As an Ordinary it is an ancient charge and a common one in medieval England, although it has all but disappeared from modern heraldry books. Like the other Ordinaries, its size is found to vary with the scheme of the shield’s charges, and this has persuaded those armorists who must needs call a narrow bend a bendlet. Writers of the 14th century sometimes give it the name of the Cantel, but this word is also applied to the void space on the opposite side of the chief, seen above a bend.

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  • Blencow bore: Gules a quarter silver.
  • Basset of Dralton bore: Gold three piles (or pales) gules with a quarter ermine.
  • Wydvile bore: Silver a fesse and a quarter gules.
  • Robert Dene of Sussex (14th century) bore: Gules a quarter azure ‘embelif,’ or aslant, and thereon a sleeved arm and hand of silver..

Shields or charges divided crosswise with a downward line and a line acrosst are said to be quarterly. An ancient coat of this fashion is that of Say, who bore (13th century) "Quarterly gold and gules" - the first and fourth quarters being gold and the second and third red.

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With the 15th century came a fashion of dividing the shield into more than four squares, six and nine divisions being often found in arms of that age. The heraldry books, eager to work out problems of blazonry, decide that a shield divided into six squares should be described as Party per fesse with a pale counterchanged, and one divided into nine squares as bearing a cross quarter-pierced.

  • Warenne bore: Cheeky gold and azure.
  • Clifford bore: a fesse gules.
  • Cobham bore: Silver a lion cheeky gold and sable.
  • Arderne bore: Ermine a fesse cheeky gold and gules.

The scocheon or shield used as a charge is found among the earliest arms. Itself charged with arms, it served to indicate alliance by blood or by tenure with another house, as in the bearings of St Owen whose shield of Gules with a cross silver has a scocheon of Clare in the quarter. In the latter half of the 15th century it plays an important part in the curious marshalling of the arms of great houses and lordships.

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  • Erpingham bore: Vert a scocheon silver with an one
  • Davillers bore at the battle of Thoroughbridge: Silver three scocheons gules.

The scocheon was often borne voided or pierced, its field cut away to a narrow border. Especially was this the case in the far North. where the Balliols, who bore such a voided scocheon were powerful. The martlets in the shield of Erpingham, already described, may be called an orle of martlets or a border of martlets. This misnaming of the voided scocheon has caused a curious misapprehension of its form, even Dr Woodward, in his Heraldry, British and Foreign, describing the orle as a narrow border detached from the edge of the shield. Following this definition modern armorial artists will, in the case of quartered arms, draw the orle in a first or second quarter of a quartered shield as a rectangular figure and in a third or fourth quarter as a scalene triangle with one arched side. Thereby the original voided scocheon changes into forms without meaning.

  • Balliol bore: Guies a voided scocheon silver.
  • Surtees bore: Ermine with a quarter of the arms of Balliol.
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The Tressure or flowered tressure is a figure which is a narrow inner border of the shield. It is distinguished, however, by the fleurs-de-lys which decorate it, setting off its edges. The double tressure which surrounds the lion in the royal shield of Scotland, and which is borne by many Scottish houses who have served their kings well or mated with their daughters, is carefully described by Scottish heralds as “flowered and counter-flowered,” a blazon which is held to mean that the fleurs-de-lys show head and tail in turn from the outer rim of the outer tressure and from the inner rim of the innermost. But this seems to have been no essential matter with medieval armorists and a curious 15th-century enameled roundel of the arms of Vampage shows that in this English case the flowering takes the more convenient form of allowing all the lily heads to sprout from the outer rim.

  • Vampage bore: Azure an eagle silver within a flowered tressure silver.
  • The King of Scots bore: Gold a lion within a double tressure flowered and counterflowered gules.
  • Felton bore: Gules two lions passant within a double tressure flory silver.
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The Border of the shield when marked out in its own tincture is counted as an Ordinary. Plain or charged, it was commonly used as a difference. As the principal charge of a shield it is very rare, so rare that in most cases where it apparently occurs we may, perhaps, be following medieval custom in blazoning the shield as one charged with a scocheon and not with a border Thus Hondescote bore: Ermine a border gules.

  • Somerville bore: Burely silver and gules and a border azure witi golden martlets.
  • Paynel bore: Silver two bars sable with a border, or one, o martlets gules.

The Flaunches are the flanks of the shield which, cut off the rounded lines, are borne in pairs as Ordinaries. These charges are found in many coats devised by 15th-century armorists.

"Ermine two flaunches azure with six golden wheat-ears" was borne by John Greyby of Oxfordshire (15th century).

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he Label is a narrow fillet across the upper part of the chief, from which hang three, four, five or more pendants, the pendants being, in most old examples, broader than the fillet. Reckoned with the Ordinaries, it was commonly used as a means of differencing a cadet’s shield, and in the heraldry books it has become the accepted difference for an eldest sun, although the cadets often bore it in the middle ages. In modern armory the pendants are all but invariably reduced to three, which, in debased examples, are given a dovetailed form while the ends of the fillet are cut off.

The Fret, drawn as a voided lozenge interlaced by a slender saltire, is counted an Ordinary. A charge in such a shape is extremely rare in medieval armory, its ancient form when the field is covered by it being a number of bastons, -three being the customary number, interlaced by as many more from the sinister side. Although the whole is described as a fret in certain English blazons of the 15th century, the adjective is more commonly used. Trussel’s fret is remarkable for its bezants at the joints, which stand, doubtless, for the golden nail-heads of the “ trellis” suggested by his name. Curwen, Wyvile and other northern houses bearing a fret and a chief have, owing to their fashion of drawing their frets, often seen them changed by the heraldry books into three cheverons braced or interlaced.

  • Huddlestone bore: Gules fretty silver
  • Trussel bore: Silver fretty gules, the joints bezanty.
  • Hugh Giffard (14th century) bore: Gules with an engrailed fret of ermine.
  • Boxhull bore: Gold a lion azure fretty silver.
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Another Ordinary is the Giron or Gyron— a word now commonly mispronounced with a hard g. It may be defined as the lower half of a quarter which has been divided bendwise. No old example of a single gyron can be found to match the figure in the heraldry books. Gironny, or gyronny, is a manner of dividing the field into sections, by lines radiating from a center point, of which many instances may be given. Most of the earlier examples have some twelve divisions although later armory gives eight as the normal number, as Campbell bears them.

  • Bassingbourne bore: Gironny of gold and azure of twelve pieces.

A pair of girons on either side of a chief were borne in the strange shield of Mortimer. An early example, shows that this shield began as a plain field with a ebony border.

With the Ordinaries we may take the Roundels or Pellets, disks or balls of various colors. Ancient custom gives the name of a bezant to the golden roundel, and the folly of the heraldic writers has found names for all the others, names which may be disregarded together with the belief that, while bezants and silver roundels, as representing coins, must be pictured with a flat surface, roundels of other hues must needs be shaded by the painter to represent rounded balls. Rings or Amulets were common charges in the North.

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  • Burlay of Wharfdale bore: Gules a bezant.
  • Courtenay, earl of Devon, bore: Gold three roundels gules with a label azure.
  • Caraunt bore: Silver three roundels azure, each with three cheverons gules.
  • Vipont bore: Gold six annelets gules.
  • Avenel bore: Silver a fesse and six annelets (aunels) gules.
  • Stourton bore: Sable a bend gold between six fountains.
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The Lozenge is linked in the heraldry book with the Fusil. This Fusil is described as a lengthened and sharper lozenge. But it will be understood that the Fusil, other than as part of an engrailed or indented bend, pale or fesse, is not known to true armory. Also it is one of the notable achievements of the English writers on heraldry that they should have allotted to the lozenge, when borne voided, the name of Mascle. This mascle is the word of the oldest armorists for the unvoided charge, the voided being sometimes described by them as a lozenge, without further qualifications. Fortunately the difficulty can be solved by following the late 14th-century custom in distinguishing between lozenges and voided lozenges and by abandoning altogether this misleading word Mascle.

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  • Thomas of Merstone, a clerk, bore on his seal in 1359: Ermine a lozenge with a pierced mulct thereon.
  • Braybroke bore: Silver seven voided lozenges gules.
  • Charles bore: Ermine a chief gules with five golden lozengel thereon.
  • Fitzwilliam bore: Lozengy silver and gules.

Billets are oblong figures set upright. Black billets in the arms of Delves of Cheshire stand for delves of earth and the gads of steel in the arms of the London Ironmongers’ Company took a somewhat similar form.

  • Sir Ralph Mounchensy bore in the 14th century: Silver a cheveron between three billets sable.
  • Haggerston bore: Azure a bend with cotices silver and three billets’ sable on the bend.

With the Billet, the Ordinaries, uncertain as they are in number, may be said to end. But we may here add certain armorial charges which might well have been counted with them.

First of these is the Molet, a word corrupted in modern heraldry to Mullet, a fish-like change with nothing to commend it. This figure is as a star of five or six points, six points being perhaps the commonest form in old examples, although the sixth point is, as a rule, lost during the later period. Medieval armorists are not, it seems, inclined to make any distinction between molets of five and six points, but some families, such as the Harpedens and Asshetons, remained constant to the five-pointed form. It was generally borne pierced with a round hole, and then represents, as its name implies, the rowel of a spur.

  • Harpeden bore: Silver a pierced molet gules.
  • Grimston bore: Silver a fesse sable and thereon three molets silver pierced gules.
  • Ingleby of Yorkshire bore: Sable a star silver.
  • Sir John de La Haye of Lincolnshire bore: Silver a sun gules.
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The Crescent is a charge which has to answer for many idle tales concerning the crusading ancestors of families who bear it. It is commonly borne with both points uppermost, but when representing the waning or the waxing moon - decrescent or increscent - its horns are turned to the sinister or dexter side of the shield.

  • Peter de Marines (13th century) bore on his seal a shield charged with a crescent in the chief.
  • William Gobioun (14th century) bore: A bend between two waxing moons.
  • Longchamp bore "Ermine three crescents gules, pierced silver.
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