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Heraldry Symbols & What They Mean

See below for the fascinating hidden meaning behind heraldry symbols. Just click the letter of your choice to find out more. Want to order a printed scroll displaying the earliest coat of arms for your name? Click here!

Plus, we have lots of blog articles all about heraldry here

Heraldry Dictionary

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W

A

Acorn, Allocamelus, AmphiptereAmphisboena, Anchor, Annulet, Ant, Antelope, Antique Crown, Anvil, Ape, Apples, Apre, Arrow

Acorn

The sign of the acorn in heraldry has traditionally been used to indicate independence in its bearer. It can be found slipped and leaved; the acorn-sprig is not uncommon as a crest and acorn-cups are represented alone.

The acorn is usually vert (green) but it can also be other colours.

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Allocamelus

An allocamelus is a creature with the head of a donkey joined to the body of a camel. It is extremely uncommon in heraldry.

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Amphiptere

An amphiptere is a winged serpent found very rarely in heraldry, though it does exist as a supporter and as a charge on a shield occasionally.

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Amphisboena

An amphisboena is a winged serpent with two legs and a head at both ends of its body; however the drawing of this creature does not strictly follow this description.

It is very uncommon in heraldry.

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Anchor


The anchor is the emblem of salvation and hope. It is also an appropriate device for the coat of arms of a family with a seafaring tradition. It is a common figure in the English armour, which is not surprising given that Britain is an island.

It was even a device that was once born by King Richard I.

Maritime devices are found less often on the continent where many countries are essentially landlocked, but Cosmo de Medici, the Duke of Etruria is an example of a Spanish noble who bore two anchors on his shield.

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Annulet

The annulet is a plain ring. As a closed circle, it is symbolic of continuity and wholeness. The Romans are said to have worn a ring as a sign of knighthood and rings are still used at some coronations and in the institution of knighthood.

The annulet may have been borne to indicate that the bearer had the superior qualities of a knight. In some circles an annulet represented riches.

On English arms, an annulet was a mark of cadency signifying the fifth son.

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Ant


The symbol of the ant traditionally signified one who was a strong labourer, wise and provident in all his affairs.

The ant is not a very common symbol in heraldry, but when depicted the ant is usually accompanied by a drawing of an anthill.

The ant may also be referred to as an emmet.

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Antelope

The antelope which is also referred to as an ibex or a springbok has three main symbolic meanings in heraldry.

It represents someone who is skilful at music and a lover of harmony, someone with a keen mind for politics and the ability to foresee times and opportunities well, and lastly, a person who is unwilling to assail his enemies rashly, who would prefer to stand his ground than risk harming another wrongfully. Thus the antelope signifies harmony, polity and peace.

The antelope has also been used occasionally as an emblem of purity and fleetness.

Early representations of the antelope did not look much like the real animal, as they were likely drawn from descriptions. That figure is now referred to as a heraldic antelope, as opposed to the later version, which has a more natural aspect.

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Antique Crown

The crown is an emblem of victory, sovereignty, and empire. It is a visible sign of success, thus the term ‘crowning achievement’, and its significance as the decoration of the ultimate level of rank and power, makes bearing the crown a great honour. Crowns are also symbols of God, as he is considered by some to be the ‘King of all’. The word crown, blazoned without any additional details, usually implies a ducal coronet without a cap.

The eastern or antique crown has a gold rim with eight sharp, triangular rays, only five of which are seen.

 It is given to British subjects who have distinguished themselves in service in the East and it is also often born by merchants, the association being that they are like the magi.

Towns where these merchants had had a long-standing trade also often adopted eastern crowns into their arms.

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Anvil

The symbol of the anvil borne on a shield or coat of arms indicates that the first bearer was a smith. It is rarely found in heraldry.

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Ape


In heraldry, the ape is a symbol of sin, malice, craftiness and lust. It is thought to have indicated a moral obligation on the part of the bearer to conquer all sins, and been a reminder of one’s morals, ethics and religion.

The ape is not a very common symbol in heraldry but when it is found it is usually ‘collared and chained’, with the collar encircling its waist rather than its neck. It is found as a charge on shields and crests, and also as a supported in coats of arms.

 A story exists that centuries ago, Thomas, the infant son of Maurice Fitzgerald, was snatched from his cradle by a tame ape, carried to the edge of the battlements at the top of the castle and safely retuned to his cradle. The Fitzgerald crest commemorates this even with the image of an ape.

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Apples

Apples signify liberality, felicity, peace and salvation. Fruit of all kinds was considered to be evidence of God’s kindness and a symbol of the goodness of providence.

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Apre

The apre or après is an imaginary creature with a body that resembles a bull and the tail of a bear. It is extremely uncommon in heraldry.

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Arrow

 The arrow is said to be a weapon ‘destined for avengement’. In heraldry, Arrows and arrowheads alone symbolize martial readiness.

In the case of Polish armoury, bows and arrows signify a man resolved to challenge himself to the utmost in battle, and who has prepared himself to the fall in the fight.

The pheon is as specific type of arrowhead of ancient origin, made of fine steel. It is a cleverly designed weapon that was very dangerous since it has a barbed inner edge that makes extraction difficult.

It symbolizes dexterity and nimbleness of wit, as people with these traits are able to penetrate and understand complicated problems.

Arrowheads without barbs, but still having space between the shaft and the arrow itself, are termed ‘broad arrows’ and this distinction is very stringently adhered to.

Devices associated with warfare and military defence are frequently found in heraldry.

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B

Badger, Bagwyn, Balance, Barrel, Banner, Bars, Bat, Battering Ram, Battle Axe, Beacon, Bear, Beaver, Bee, Bell, Bend, Bezant, Billet, Boar, Books, Bordure, Bucket, Buckle, Bull

Badger

The badger is an animal noted for his fierceness and courage in fighting to defend his home. The image of the badger is a symbol of bravery, perseverance and protection.

It is not a common symbol in heraldry; however, it is a typically English one.

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Bagwyn

The bagwyn is an imaginary animal with a head drawn like a heraldic antelope, the body and tail of a horse and the horns long and curved backwards. It is not commonly found in heraldry.

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Balance

Balances have traditionally been a symbol of justice. They are still used today in heraldry as a symbol of an unbiased court system.

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Banner

The banner is a sign of victory and self-assertion. Banners borne on the shield or as a crest are often references to a special military action where a flag was captured, otherwise an indication of gallant service.

Banners may also indicate that a member of that family was once a standard-bearer. There are very specific guidelines on the size of a banner designated for each rank, though it is doubtful whether they were followed very closely.

The principle distinction between a banner and a flag, standard of pennon etc, is that a banneris always square while the others are elongated.

As a charge in heraldry the banner is usually hung from the battlements of a castle or carried by the figure of some creature, such as the paschal lamb (a holy lamb with a halo), which is nearly always depicted with a banner.

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Barrel


Barrels, casks or tuns were used to hold beer or wine. In heraldry, it is probably borne on arms to indicate that the original bearer was a vendor of beer or wine, or an innkeeper.

It is usually figured lengthways, but if blazoned a hogshead or a tub it should maybe be drawn upright.

It is often used as a pun on names ending in ‘ton’, for example the crest of ‘Hopton’ depicts a lion hopping on a tun.

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Bars

A bar is the diminutive of a fesse, which is a wide horizontal stripe in the centre of a shield.

The rules of heraldry strictly state that there cannot be more than one fesse on a shield so if two charges with this character occur they are called bars and a single bar is narrower than a fesse.

Narrow, horizontal bars across a shield is said to be an appropriate device for one ‘who sets the barsof conscience, religion, and honour against angry passions and evil temptations.’

The diminutive of the bar is the barrulet, which is almost always born in a pair of two barrulets, placed close together, referred to as one bar gemel.

Bars gamel were awarded for acts of particular bravery in times of war,  and a field composed of an even number of bars between four and eight is described as ‘barry’, with the exact number specified; with en or more it is called ‘barruly’.

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Bat

The bat was an intimidating heraldic symbol used to inspire fear in enemies.

In heraldry, it is usually represented displayed, with wings open and facing the observer.

It is sometimes blazoned by the old name rere-mouse.

Quoted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, ‘Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings.

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Battering Ram

 

The battering ram is an ancient war machine that is a symbol of determination, especially in war. The image of the battering ram may have also been granted to someone, who was greatly skilled it its use, or who was in charge of it during wartime.

It is not a device found frequently in heraldry and it does not resemble a real battering ram either.

It consists of a ram’s head on the end of a log, with ropes encircling it and hooks attached to them, presumably to hold it up.

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Battle Axe

 

The battle-axe is a symbol of authority and of the execution of military duty. The battle-axe denoted a warlike quality in its bearer.

The battle-axe was a veering introduced to heraldry as a token of the crusades, which began shortly after the rise of heraldry itself.

Though other axes are used as devices in heraldry, the battle-axe is distinct because of its blade that it firmly mounted on the shaft and penetrates though it to the other side. It is a common symbol on a crest.

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Beacon


The beacon or cresset was an alarm signal placed on high hills, church towers or city gates. On crests it is drawn as an elevated basket overflowing with flames. It was the watchman’s duty to fire it if he saw that the next nearest had been fired. Thus the warning of an enemy’s approach was conveyed inland from the coast with great rapidity.

In heraldry, the beacon signifies one who is watchful, or who gives the signal in times of danger.

The hand beacon or pitch pot and the lantern are also symbols that represent spiritual illumination.

The metaphorical association is derived from the fact that the light was used for finding one’s way in the dark. It may also indicate that the bearer was in charge of warning beacons.

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Bear

The bear was thought to possess diplomacy equal to its great strength and it is the emblem of ferocity in the protection of kindred.

In heraldry, a bear is also a symbol of healing and personal health, strength and bravery.

Bears are often in the arms of names that sound somewhat like the animal such as Baring and Barnes. The bear is usually muzzled but not always.

Bears’paws are also often found as crests or symbols on shields.

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Beaver

The beaver denotes industry, perseverance and determination. It was officially adopted as Canada’s national symbol in an Act passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1975, and is often found in arms granted to families connected in some way to Canada.

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Bee

In heraldry, the bee is a sign of industry, creativity, wealth, diligence and eloquence. The Egyptians used it as a symbol of regal power. In armoury, it is used to represent well-governed industry.

The Emperor Napoleon gave the bee considerable importance in the French armoury by adopting it as his personal badge. They also appeared on the mantle and pavilion around the armorial bearings of the empire, as well as on his coronation mantle.

The bee is undoubtedly the most popular insect found in heraldry, and even the beehive occurs often as a crest.

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Bell

Bells signify the supposed power of church-bells to disperse evil spirits in the air and their invocation of guardian saints and angels.

A hawk’s bell would denote one who feared not to signal his approach in either peace or war.

A Canterbury bell is a sign of pilgrimage.

A bell is assumed to be a church-bell unless it is blazoned otherwise.

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Bend

The bend is a broad, diagonal band across the shield representing either a scarf worn like a sash, or the shield suspender of a knight or military commander.

It has often been granted to those who have distinguished themselves as commodores.

The bend signifies defence or protection, and is a bearing of high honour. Unless it is specified otherwise the bend is assumed to go from the upper right corner of a shield to the lower left.

The bend sinister follows the opposite diagonal.

According to old theorists the bend should occupy one third of the surface of a shield, though it is usually drawn slightly more narrowly than this.

A charge half the width of a bend is termed a bendlet, and if six or eight of these pieces occurs on a shield it is termed ‘bendy’, though the mark of illegitimacy though the number must be specified.

The bend sinister has been used occasionally as a mark of illegitimacy though this is not commonly the case. More often a bendlet sinister is used, or a baton sinister, which is a bendlet that does not extern to the very edges of the shield.

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Bezant

The bezant was the coin of Byzantium.

It is represented by a gold roundel, a roundel being a general name applied to any circular charges of colour or metal. It is thought that the bezant, also sometimes called a talent, was introduced into armoury at the time of the Crusades.

It is the emblem of justice and of equal dealing among people. In heraldry, the sign of the bezant is borne by those deemed worthy of trust and treasure.

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Billet

The billet represents a letter folded for transmission. It has the form of a plain rectangle and it occurs more frequently when a field of a superior charge is described as billette or seme, which means that there are many small billets distributed over it, alternating in the pattern of bricks.

In heraldry, it may indicate that the man granted a coat of arms with this charge was a man whose words and deeds were deemed trustworthy. It has also been suggested that lawyers and men of letters often adopted the sign of the billet.

The best-known instance where this charge was used was in the shield borne overt he arms of England during the joint reign of William and Mary.

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Boar

The boar and its various parts are frequently met with in heraldry. The boar is the symbol of intrepidness.

A champion among wild beasts, he encounters enemies with nobility and courage, and has thus come to signify the traits of bravery and perseverance.

The boar is a fierce combatant when at bay and never ceases to resist, even when cornered. This device was given only to those considered fierce warriors.

A wild boar is referred to as a sanglier though there isn’t actually any difference from a domestic boar in the way that it is drawn.

A Boar may be drawn whole in various different positions or couped.

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Books

If open, as in the arms of the University of Oxford, the book signifies manifestation.

If it is closed, as in those of the University of Cambridge, it signifies counsel.

Books are also a general symbol of learning in heraldry.

The bible is frequently mentioned as the book represented in the crest or arms, though it would not appear any differently than a regular book. Books may also have clasps or seals that must be mentioned in the blazon.

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Bordure

The bordure is, as it sounds, a fairly wide border around the outside of a shield. Except for in more modern grants where the bordure is an original part of the shield, there is little doubt that the bordure is either a mark of cadency, displaying the status of a younger son or brother, or a mark of illegitimacy.

In heraldry, the bordure is no longer used for these purposes; except for in England where a bordure wavy is still a mark of illegitimacy and the bordure compony serves the same purpose in Scotland.

This is by no means a mark of dishonour though; it is merely a heraldic tradition carried over from the days when it was necessary to distinguish the rightful heirs from others who might have some claim to the family title and fortune.

The orle is the diminutive of a bordure and looks like the frame of a shield within the shield rather than a border. It is about half the width or a bordure. When charges are placed around the outside of it they are said to be ‘in orle’.

It was used as a mark to distinguish the arms of one branch of a family from those of another, and in some cases the orlewas used as a symbol of honour.

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Bucket

Though their appearance is quite different, the function and symbolic meaning of a water-bouget and a bucket are similar in heraldry.

A water-bouget is a bag made from the skin of a goat or sheep what was used for carrying water on military expeditions. The apparatus looks like a yoke with two large bags hanging down from it and a stick that goes through both attachments to form handles on either side.

The drawing evolved over time and its latest form is more symbolic than realistically drawn.

Water-bougets and buckets were conferred on those who had supplied water to an army of a besieged place. The bucket is merely the more modern way of transporting water. The common well bucket is usually the type born in arms, but they can also be hooped or have feet.

They are also sometimes blazoned dossers, a term that indicates two buckets hooked to a loop and carried over the back of a pack animal.

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Buckle

The buckle signifies self-defence and protection, as well as victorious fidelity in authority. The buckle appears quite often in heraldry, sometimes oval shaped, circular of square; they are most often shaped like a heraldic lozenge, though, or a diamond with sides of equal length, especially in the armoury of the continent.

A buckle occurs in the arms of the Prussian Counts of Wallenrodt, and it is used as a badge by the Earls of Yarborough and Chichester.

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Bull

A bull in a coat of arms, on a crest or a shield, represents valour and magnanimity, bravery and generosity. The horns represent strength and fortitude.

Oxen, and cows also appear on some crests and arms, although rarely and more often as a pun on a names such as Oxford or the town of Cowbridge.

Calves are more common in heraldry. The calf is an ancient heraldic symbol traditionally associated with the characteristics of patience, submissiveness and self-sacrifice.

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C

Caltrap, Camel, Camelopard, Castle, Cat, Celestial Crown, Centaur, Chains, Chaplet, Chess-Rook, Chevron, Chief, Chimera, Cloud, Cock, Cockatrice, Cockfish, Column, Comb, Cottise, Crab, Crane, Crescent, Crocodile, Crown, Crown Vallary, Cup, Cushions

Caltrap

A Caltrap or gal trap, and sometimes a cheval trap, was an ancient military instrument with four points, arranged so that when it was thrown on the ground, it always landed on three of the four points, with the fourth pointing up.

Caltraps were scattered in the path of an enemy to impede and endanger the horses. The emblem of the Caltrap in heraldry indicates a fierce warrior in battle.

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Camel

The camel signifies temperance, patience and perseverance. In ancient times it may have been used as a sign of royalty and dignity.

The camel is blazoned on very few arms.

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Cameleopard

The medieval name for an ordinary giraffe was a cameleopard. It was a widely held belief that crosses between animals existed, just as the mule existed and was a cross between a horse and a donkey.

The camel and the leopard were well known animals at that time and it was likely that a crusader in the east saw an unknown animal and either he accounted for it this way or it was theorized far away at home, that the giraffe was the creature that was begotten by a leopard and a camel.

The scarcity of these animals was further explained by the knowledge that such hybrids, like the mule, can not reproduce.

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Castle

In heraldry, the castle has often been granted to one who has faithfully held a castle for his sovereign, or who has captured on by force or stratagem.

The castle signifies spiritual power and vigilance on the watch as well as home and safety. The tower is very similar to this and is an emblem of grandeur and society.

It is a symbol of defence and of a steadfast individual.

The visual difference between a tower and a castle is that a tower is a single column topped by a turret, and a castle usually has two towers joined by a wall with a door in it. This was a distinction that was rarely observed in ancient days, but now it is faithfully adhered to. When smaller towers surmount either a castle or a tower it is called ‘triple-towered’.

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Cat

A symbol of a great cat, or a cat-a-mountain, which refers to a wildcat, signifies liberty, vigilance and courage in heraldry.

Cats can be in many different positions like the lion, but they are most often blazoned passant, walking with right forepaw raised.

A cat-a-mountain is supposed to always be guardant, or on guard, with the head completely facing the observer. Cats are most common in Scottish or Irish arms.

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Celestial Crown

The crown is an emblem of victory, sovereignty, and empire in heraldry. It is a visible sign of success thus the term ‘crowning achievements’ and its significance as the decoration of the ultimate level of rank and power, makes bearing he crown a great honour.

Crowns are also sometimes symbols of God, as he is considered by some to be the ‘King of all’. The word crown, blazoned without any additional details, usually implies a ducal coronet without a cap.

The celestial crown closely resembles and eastern crown, having eight sharp, triangular rays, only five of which are seen m, with the addition of a five-pointed star on each ray. It was an ornament that frequently represented the achievements of deceased ladies and it was also often given to people or institutions connected with the church.

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Centaur

Centaurs are well known creatures that are half man and half horse.

A centaur carrying a bow and arrow is called a Sagittarius.

Both the Sagittarius and the centaur are quite common in heraldry, especially on the continent.

King Stephen is said to have assumed the symbol of Sagittarius because the sun was in that sign when he ascended the throne.

The centaur is a symbol of virility and one who has been eminent in the field of battle.

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Chains

Chains are a symbolic representation of reward for acceptable and weighty service. They are frequently met with in continental heraldry, particularly in southern France and Spain, and they are also accessories to more common charges, for example the portcullis.

They are often accompanied by crowns and collars, meaning that the owner of that symbol is chained by a sense of obligation to the people that he serves or rules. For this reason, chains and collars are also marks of honour for sheriffs and mayors, and formerly, for knights.

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Chaplet

A chaplet is a wreath without stems or ribbon, made of oak, laurel or other leaves, and carrying flowers, usually roses. In heraldry, it is a symbol of fame and is frequently part of a crest.

There is also a chaplet that looks like a plain, broad circlet, charged at four regular intervals with stars, roses or other objects.

A chaplet of oak and acorns is called a civic crown, but more frequently the chaplet is synonymous with wreath or garland, which is commonly made of laurel and roses.

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Chess-rook

A chess-rook is also called a castle, and may have been granted to those who had captured or defended castles.

It may also have denoted one who was skilful in influencing others to act to his own benefit, as the chess player moves his pieces in the game.

It is an ancient bearing in heraldry and it also occurs quite frequently. It is a device used by the Earls of Rochford.

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Chevron

The chevron occurs very frequently in British and French heraldry, and is comparatively rare in German heraldry.

The chevron represents the foot of a house, derived from the French work ‘chevron’ meaning rafter. It signifies protection.

The chevron was granted to those who had participated in some notable enterprise, had built churches or fortresses, or had accomplished some work requiring faithful service.

The chevron used to almost reach the very top of the shield and then more nearly attained the 1/3 of the surface of the shield that was allotted to it by the guidelines of heraldry. Now it is drawn lower and with a less acute inner angle to allow more devices to be represented more attractively, and an artist may draw the chevron at the height and angle that will best suit the accompanying charges.

The chevronel, is a diminutive of the chevron and is much narrower. Chevronels may be stacked on top of each other or side-by-side at the same height, which is termed, interlaced or braced. A field composed entirely of an even number of chevrons is called ‘chevronny’.

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Chief

The chief is a broad band across the top of the shield that stands for authority and domination of will.

The chief has often been granted as a special reward for prudence and wisdom, as well as for successful command in war.

The chief theoretically contains the upper 1/3 of the shield, although it rarely actually does.

The chief is never surmounted by any other ordinary (a simple background symbol) except for in very exceptional cases.

A chief is also never couped (cut off before reaching the edges of the shield) or cottised (surrounded closely by smaller bars), and it has no diminutive.

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Chimera

The chimera is a very odd looking creature in heraldry with the head abreast of a woman, the forepaws of a lion, the body of a goat, the hind-legs of a griffin (the legs of a lion and claws of an eagle), and the tail of a dragon. It is not found it heraldry very often and is not unlike the sphinx in many ways.

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Cloud

The cloud, the symbol of the ethereal heights of heaven, represents the quality of higher truth.

They are very seldom used as bearings on arms but quite frequently arms are represented as issuing from them, particularly in French arms.

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Cock

As the herald of the dawn, the cock is symbolic of the sun. It is also a bird of great courage in battle that will fight, if necessary, to the death. Therefore, in heraldry, it is an emblem of vigilance and courage.

The cock is also used as a Christian image of the resurrection. The gamecock in heraldry refers to a slightly different symbol of a cock without its comb and wattles, as was the case when birds were prepared for cockfighting. This symbol is less common, though, than a regular domestic cock.

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Cockatrice

The cockatrice is a fabulous king of serpents, with the head and legs of a cock, the wings of a dragon, and a scaly body, also like a dragon, that flows into a long barbed tail.

It can also be called a basilisk, of which legends say was produced from an egg laid by a nine-year-old cock, and hatched by a toad on a dunghill. Its breath and sight were so poisonous that they would kill all who came within range.

Thus, the cockatrice is a potent symbol of terror. The heraldic basilisk is supposed to have a tail that terminates in the head of a dragon, though if such an example exists, it is very uncommon in heraldry.

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Cockfish

The cockfish is drawn very much as it sounds with the head and upper-body of a cock terminating in the lower-body and tail of a fish. It is a very uncommon symbol in heraldry.

Column

Columns symbolize fortitude and constancy. It is a metaphorical heraldic device, implying that its bearer supports others who are weaker.

A serpent coiled round a column signifies wisdom with fortitude. Columns, also called pillars, commonly resemble ones of the Tuscan order bur are often otherwise specified. Plain Norman shafts with cushion capitals can also be found. The capital, the base and the pedestal are sometimes mentioned in the blazon.

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Comb

In heraldry, the comb is the common attribute of certain mythical female beings such as lamias, sirens, and mermaids, whose usual pose is with mirror and comb in hand.

It have sometimes been given to those who were said to have fought or resisted the temptations of such dangerous types, but heraldry the comb more often refers to a wool-comb or the combs used in the textile industry, which is not an uncommon heraldic device.

The comb with no other specification in the blazon is drawn like a capital ‘I’ on its side with teeth filling in both sides of the spine. The wool-comb, also called a jersey-comb or a flax-comb, looks like a small rake. Another type is the currycomb, though this is exceptionally uncommon and has no definite representation.

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Cottise

A cottise, or cottice, is a diminutive of an ordinary such as a bend, a pale or a fess, ¼ of the width of that ordinary. In heraldry, it never exists alone, but accompanies one of the ordinaries at all times.

An ordinary is said to be cottised when it is set between a pair of cotises and an ordinary may be double or treble cottised with two or three cotises on either side.

The cotises emphasize the significance of the ordinary and are usually applied to a bend.

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Crab

The crab is a symbol of great strength and power in gripping and holding. It occurs on the coats of arms of several families.

The sign of the lobster in heraldry is also a symbol of prodigious gripping and holding power in its bearer and the symbols of its claws occur in arms more frequently than its entire body.

Allied to these two charges is the crayfish, which is also referred to as a crevice.

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Crane

According to legend, cranes lived in a community in where individual members took turns standing watch.

The sentry crane held a stone in one claw so that if it dozed, the falling stone would wake the bird.

The crane is a symbol of vigilance, justice and longevity, but nevertheless, there are instances where the crane is depicted dormant (asleep) with its head under its wing, still holding its ‘vigilance’, as the stone is termed.

The stork and the heron, also called a herne, are very similar to the crane. Both birds were emblems of filial duty and gratitude or obligation, and like cranes, storks were believed to stand watch for each other.

All three birds are usually depicted with wings close, the crane in its vigilance and the stork holding a snake, while the heron often holds an eel.

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Crescent

The crescent stands for one who has been ‘enlightened and honoured by the gracious aspect of his sovereign’. It is also borne as a symbol of the hope of greater glory in heraldry.

Knights returning from the crusades introduced the crescent, the badge of Islam, into the language of heraldry. The heraldic crescent has a very deep base and curving horns that quickly sharpen to point close together.

Crescents also represent the moon that lights the night sky for travellers, though it does not resemble the shape of a crescent moon very closely. In English arms it’s was also a mark of cadency signifying the second son.

The reversed crescent is a crescent with the horns turned down. The term increscent indicates a crescent with the horns facing the observer’s left, and decrescent is a crescent facing the observer’s right.

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Crocodile

The crocodile was a mysterious and legendary beast to most people in ancient times and it was a powerful emblem of fury and power.

The uncertainty of the drawings means that in reference to the symbol in heraldry, the crocodile is frequently interchanged with alligator.

It occurs as a crest and a supporter but is, nevertheless, an uncommon heraldic charge.

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Crown

The crown is an emblem of victory, sovereignty, and empire in heraldry. It is a visible sign of success, thus the term ‘crowning achievement’, and its significance as the decoration of the ultimate level of rank and power, makes bearing the crown a great honour.

Crowns are sometimes a symbol of God, as he is considered by some to be the ‘King of all’.

The word crown blazoned without any additional details usually implies a ducal coronet without a cap.

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Crown Vallary

The crown is an emblem of victory, sovereignty, and empire in heraldry. It is a visible sign of success, thus the term ‘crowning achievement’, and its significance as the decoration of the ultimate level of rank and power, makes bearing the crown a great honour.

Crowns are sometimes a symbol of God, as he is considered by some to be the ‘King of all’.

The word crown blazoned without any additional details usually implies a ducal coronet without a cap.

A crown palisade is the name of a crown with palisades on the rim forming the spikes of the crown. This can either look like the pickets of a fence, or less correctly, like the silhouette of small houses side by side with every other one upside down, with the roof of each upside down one cut out of the metal.

The latter description is called a champagne border. It is said that Roman Generals awarded the crown palisado to the one who entered the camp of the enemy first after breaking thorough their outworks.

It is also called a crown vallary from the Latin vallus, which roughly translates to palisade.

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Cup

In the heraldic tradition, the vase and similar vessels are considered symbols of fertility in heraldry.

The cup, covered or uncovered, is also sometimes representative of the chalice used in the communion or the Mass.

On the other hand, the chalice used in the Eucharist may be symbolic of a layman’s interest in church government. It may also be used as a symbol of faith.

Other vessels in heraldry include, drinking glasses, bowls, a pitcher, and posts, such as a pot of lilies.

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Cushions

Cushions have been looked on as marks of authority in heraldry, and have been borne by several noble families. Cushions appear in heraldry more often that one might think. They actually appear to be quite ancient symbols, especially in Scottish heraldry.

The Earls of Moray bore cushions on their arms for example.

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D

Dog, Dolphin, Dove, Dragon, Duck

Dog

The dog is the emblem of faithfulness and guardianship in heraldry.

Dogs were considered loyal and temperate and the dog is a symbol of a skilled hunter. It was also associated with priests since priests were watchdogs against the devil.

There are several differently named dogs blazoned on coats of arms. The leverer or levrier is the oldest name; the Talbot is and English hound.

Also found are bloodhounds, greyhounds, mastiffs, spaniels and terriers.

Dogs are symbols of courage, vigilancy and loyal fidelity.

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Dolphin

The dolphin is an emblem of safe travel, as well as kindness and charity. Though the dolphin is now known to be a mammal and not a fish at all, older heralds considered it the king of fish, just as the lion was king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds.

From the 13th century onwards the dolphin was the badge of the county of Dauphine in France and was borne by the Dauphins who were styled lords of Auvergne.

In the 14thcentury the title of Dauphin was adopted as the title of the eldest son of the King of France, so the charge was frequently found in the arms of the royal heir.

The dolphin is always drawn curved or embowed, though a dolphin is in reality straight. It can be upright, swimming or ever swallowing a fish.

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Dove


The dove is a symbol of the soul and of the Holy Spirit. It signifies peace, gentleness and purity.

In armoury, the dove signifies loving constancy and peace.

In heraldry the dove has one interesting peculiarity: it is always depicted with a slight tuft on its head, possible to distinguish it from a woodpigeon, which is very much like it.

Many examples exist of a dove with an olive branch in its beak and an ordinary heraldic dove is represented with its wings close holding sprig. It can also be found, though, Volant and with its wings outstretched. The dove is frequently found in the arms granted to Bishops, and it was a symbol used by St. Edward the Confessor, and ancient high king of England.

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Dragon

The dragon is supposed to have a keen sight, which enables it to guard treasures well. It is also said to be the most valiant of creatures; therefore, the dragon is a symbol of a most valiant defender of treasure.

Dragons were perceived as powerful, protective, and with barbed tongues and have wings like bats with the ribs extending to the very edge of the skin.

In heraldry, great differences can be found in the way their ears are drawn and in almost all modern representations the tail is barbed, though the dragons of the Tudor period in England invariably had smooth tails.

The Chinese dragon is slightly different in that it has no wings; it is occasionally used in European coats of arms. Another creature called a hydra is a seven-headed dragon, which also appears in some instances.

Dragons also go by the German name of lindwurm.

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Duck

Ducks can elude their enemies in many ways, either by flying, running, swimming or diving for cover; therefore, they are a symbol for a person of many resources.

Ducks may be referred to by many names such as drake, mallard, teal, eider-duck, moorhen, and Sheldrake. They all refer to the same symbol, though, except for the shoveller or sholarde, which is distinguished by a tuft on the back of its head and its breast.

In addition, the gannet is a duck represented without beak or legs. Like the martlet, a footless swallow, the gannet is held to be a good bearing for one who is ‘prompt and ready in the dispatch of his business’.

The gannet may also represent one who has to ‘subsist bye the wings of his virtue and merit’ being unable to rest on land.

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E

Eagle, Elephant, Enfield, Escallop, Escarbuncle, Eye

Eagle

The eagle was a symbol born by men of action, occupied with high and weighty affairs. It was given to those of lofty spirit, ingenuity, speed in comprehension, and discrimination in matters of ambiguity.

The wings signify protection, and the gripping talons symbolize ruin to evildoers. The eagle is held to represent a noble nature from its strength and aristocratic appearance, as well as its association with the ancient kings of Persia, Babylon and the Roman legions, having been the official ensign of those empires.

Since then, other empires and nations have also adopted the eagle as their symbol, such as the German third reich and the empire conquered by Napoleon.

In heraldry, the eagle is also associated with the sun.

As a Christian symbol, the eagle represents salvation, redemption and resurrection.

The eagle has been represented over the centuries in a variety of different ways: wingtips pointed up or down, wings closed or rising or the eagle displayed from above with one or two heads.

Parts of the eagle such as the head, wings, legs or talons, are also often symbols in heraldry.

An interesting form of the eagle is the alerion, which is drawn without the beak or the legs. It is thought to represent a formerly great warrior who was seriously injured in combat and is no longer able to fight.

The osprey may also be classed with the eagle. It is always represented as a white eagle and is referred to in heraldry as a sea-eagle.

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Elephant

The elephant is a symbol of huge strength and stature, wisdom and courage. In heraldry, it is a very appropriate bearing for those who have distinguished themselves in the East.

The elephant’s head or tusks are more common that the whole elephant, but even this can be fund on some crests and in coats of arms.

Enfield

The enfield is a fictitious animal with the head of a fox, chest of a greyhound, forelegs of an eagle, body of a lion, and hind legs and tail of a wolf. It occurs often in Irish heraldry.

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Escallop

The escallop is one of the most widely used heraldic symbols in all countries. Before the days of heraldry the symbol was the emblem of St. James, the patron saint of pilgrims and consequently the escallop was introduced into armoury to signify a soldier who had make long journeys or voyages to far countries, borne considerable naval command, or gained great victories.

It is an emblem of safe travel and is found on the shields of many families during the time of the crusades. Because its shells, once separated, can never be rejoined, the escallop is also an emblem of fidelity.

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Escarbuncle

The escarbuncle is a symbol of supremacy in heraldry and it is an interesting example of a charge developed by the evolution of the shield itself. In ancient warfare iron bands stemming from the centre and radiating outwards were used to strengthen the shield for better protection in battle.

Over time the pattern made by these brands was adopted as a charge and called in heraldic terms an escarbuncle. However, it is also accepted as a representation of a brilliant gem.

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Eye

In heraldry, an eye signifies the providence in government.

F

Fasces, Falcon, Feathers, Fer de Moline, Fesse, Fetterlock, Fish, Flames, Flaunches, Fleam, Flint, Fly, Fountain, Fox, Fret, Fusil, Fylfot

Fasces

The Roman fasces, or lictors’ rods is a bundle of polished rods bound around a battle-axe.

AW lector was a civil officer who attended and carried the faces before a Roman consul, both to indicate his status as an important person and to clear a way through the crowds.

Thus, it indicated a superior magistrate, but it also symbolized the power over life and death that he might have, for example, as a judge.

In heraldry, this symbol of magisterial office was often included in grants of arms to Mayors and Lord Mayors.

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Falcon

In heraldry, the falcon or hawk signifies someone who was hot or eager in the pursuit of an object much desired. It is frequently found in the coats of arms of nobility, form the time when the falcon played an important social role in the sport of kings and nobles.

It is found as a heraldic bearing as early as the reign of King Edward II of England.

The falcon was also the badge of one of King Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and was later adopted by her daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

The falcon is frequently found ‘belled’, with bells on one or both of its legs. It may also be ‘jessed and belled’ meaning that the jess, the leather thong that ties the bell to the leg, is shown with the ends flying loose; or it may be hooded, which is how falcons were carried on the wrist until flown.

The falcon is indistinguishable, in heraldry, from the sparrow-hawk, goshawk, kite, or merlin, though they may be described that way in blazon.

The falcons’ head is a common symbol on a crest; it can also be found preying on something, which is termed trussing, rising or close.

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Feathers


Feathers are a very common charge in heraldry, which is not surprising considering that during a tournament helmets were more frequently ornamented with feathers than with family crests.

Consequently, the plume became the actual, inheritable family crest for many families. Feathers signify willing obedience and serenity of mind.

A plume is a term usually reserved for a grouping of five or more feathers. If they are arranged in two rows it is called a double plume, and in three a triple plume, etc.

The feathers commonly used were ostrich feathers, though on crests they can appear in many shapes and colours’ for example, the badge worn by John of Gaunt was an ermine ostrich feather.

Peacock continental heraldry feathers often adorn the sides of crests as well as appear as more central charges.

When a feather is crossed at the quill by a scroll of parchment it is called an escrol. The is the device that appears on the shields of the Edward the Black Prince, the son and heir of King Edward III, who bore three escrols on a field of black.

Three feathers encircled by a coronet is the current badge of the Prince of Wales, as it has been since the time of Henry VIII.

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Fer de Moline

A fer de Moline, or mill-rind is the iron clamp in the centre of a grindstone that provides support. It represents industry and purpose and may also have been used as the sign of a miller. The mill-rind is also symbolized by the Cross Moline, or ‘miller’s cross’.

Fesse

The fesse is a broad, horizontal band across the centre of the shield that represents the military belt and girdle of honour of the ancients. It signifies that the bearer must always be in readiness to act for the well being of the people. It is supposed to occupy a full third of the height of the shield, though it is seldom drawn this way, and it is subject to the lines of partition.

Its position is directly across the centre of the shield unless the fesse is described as enhanced or abased. There can only be one fesse on a shield. If more that one is present they are termed bars.

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Fetterlock

Some state that the fetterlock is a device for hobbling horses while others say that it is a handcuff or a prisoner’s bolt. Whatever the case, it is an emblem of victory.

The fetterlock is as honourable bearing in heraldry that may have represented someone in the middle Ages who had taken his enemy prisoner, or who could, by either his prowess or his charity, redeem any of his fellow soldiers ransomed in captivity. It is also referred to by the names of shacklebolt, shackbolt or manacle.

Sir Walter Scott represents King Richard I bearing the fetterlock as his device when proceeding to the release of Ivanhoe.

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Fish

Fish are held to be suitable marks for military families as they are symbols of prowess and fortitude. They are also symbols of the forces of industry and science, and emblems of the Christian faith of the bearer, especially in early coats of arms.

Though there are often specific names blazoned on crests and arms with fish, there usually isn’t any consistent difference between the way each fist is drawn in heraldry and often the names are intended as puns on the name of the bearer or are in reference to characteristics of the land owned by that family.

In ancient times the rolls only mentioned a few variations but later grew to include between thirty and forty different species, such as salmon, haddock, cod, herring, trout, eel, chub, ling, whiting, burbot, roach, and many more obscure types.

In early arms fish were only drawn upright, or hauriant, but now fish can be found in a wide variety of positions.

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Flames

Flames are held to signify zeal, as one may be consumed by zeal as by flames.

Flames are also a symbol of passion, spiritual energy, rebirth and purification.

Flames have often been used as a torture and therefore may signify one who has undergone severe trials, however flames on a coat of arms is often specific or without a particular symbolic meaning. For example, the phoenix and the salamander are always accompanied by flames, and the flaming sword is a device as well.

These flames do not likely have a separate symbolic meaning from the object they accompany; however, the flaming torch on the crest of Sir William Gull is probably an allusion to the skill with which he kept the flame of life burning in the Prince of Wales, while he was very seriously ill in 1871.

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Flaunches

Flanuches are segments of a circle with a large diameter, that project into the filed from either side of the shield. They are a different colour that the field and are referred to by the various names of flinches, flanks or flanques. They are always borne in pairs.

Flanunches were granted by sovereigns as a reward for virtue and learning, especially for services as an ambassador. Flasques are the diminutives of flaunches and do not project as far in to the shield. Vioders are ever smaller and are incapable of bearing a charge.

Square flaunches are drawn like two projecting triangles. The term in the flank, or in the flaunch, is used to signify at the side.

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Fleam

The fleam was the barber-surgeon’s knife used for bleeding people to let the poison out of their systems, so that they could maybe recover from whatever ailed them. It is an appropriate bearing in heraldry for a physician or surgeon and it is also closely connected with the occupation of a farrier, who would have bled horses to cure their illnesses as well.

A fleam may also be referred to as a fleme, flegme, or a lance.

Flint

Flint and steel were the ancient components necessary fro producing fire. In heraldry, they are borne as tokens of the bearer’s readiness for zealous service.

The furison, the instrument by which fire was struck from flint, is also a heraldic charge and would have a similar symbolic meaning. John, the Earl of Flanders used a flint stone and steel as a device, which was inherited by his son. His son, Phillip the Good founded the order of the Golden Fleece and the collar of this order bears flint stones and steels.

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Fly

The fly is a bearer of pestilence in heraldry, and may have been adopted as a symbol to ward off evil and pestilence.

With all of its variations it is not an uncommon charge found on crests and coats of arms. The word fly likely refers to a common housefly, but flies, bees and beetlesseem to often be confused in heraldic drawing.

The butterfly, however, is unmistakable and is usually drawn Volant en arriere, as seen from above with its wings open.

The harvest-flyis similar except that it only has two wings instead of four and its legs are prominently shown; what it represents in nature is impossible to say.

The gadfly, which is frequently blazoned as a gad-bee, is really a brimsey or a horsefly. The silkworm-fly also exists, as does a stag beetle, though they are rarely found in heraldry.

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Fountain

The heraldic fountain is a roundel or a circle, crossed with wavy bands of blue and white. It represents a pool or spring of pure water and was borne as a symbol of purification.

Other shields display realistic looking fountains rather than symbolic ones. The well is very similar to this as a symbol of purification and rebirth.

Fox

In heraldry, the fox was a common symbol for the devil during the middle ages.

One of the oldest tales about the fox describes it feigning death in order to trap fox.

This fox is a symbol of the devil tempting man’ therefore, it may be a reminder to the bearer to say alert and resist temptation.

The fox was also used to symbolise the struggle of the ordinary common folk against the feudal baron. It is therefore a symbol of one who will use all his shrewdness, against the feudal baron.

In heraldry, it is therefore a symbol of one who will use all his shrewdness, sagacity, wit or wisdom for his own defence.

It occurs quite frequently as a heraldic charge.

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Fret

The fret has been called the ‘heraldic true lover’s know’. It consists of a thin border of a diamond of equal sides, interlaced with a cross make of tow bendlets (thin bars), running from corner to corner in the form of a saltire (X).

The fret signifies persuasion in heraldry. In early days the charge was interchangeable with a quarter or a field fretty, which is simply interlacing bendlets going diagonally right and left. In fact, fretty was the original pattern.

The fretty pattern represents a net and signifies persuasion.

Fusil

The fusil represents a spindle formerly used in spinning, and it is an ancient symbol of labour and industry.

The fusil is a diamond drawn point up and more elongated than a lozenge, which is square, though in early times there was no distinction between a lozenge and a fusil.

In many cases fusils and lozenges have been used indifferently to best suit the shape of the shield that they were drawn on, though the distinction is not generally observed in heraldry.

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Fylfot

The fylfot was introduced to the world and therefore also into heraldry at a very early period. It was a symbol used constantly by the Greeks in their clothing, architecture and pottery.

The symbol resembles four Greek capital gammas united at the base and this is where its alternate name, gammadion, is derived from.

But it is also found in the Egyptian catacombs and is aid to have been known in China and India long before Christianity, yet it also appears on coins of the Saxon king Ethelred in England in the 9th century. The Sanskrit work for this symbol is ‘swastika’.

Many people, including the Romans, Celts, Franks, Hindus and Yacatans have used the fylfot as an emblem of felicity. Before it was appropriated and brought into disrepute by the Nazi party, the fylfot was a good luck charm.

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G

Gauntlet, Goat, Golpe, Grapes, Grasshopper, Grenade, Griffin, Gyronny,

Gauntlet

Gauntlets or armoured gloves symbolize a man arrived and ready to make war.

The ancient form of a gauntlet, at least in heraldry, was more like an armoured mitten, but it is now more often drawn with fingers, than not.

It is necessary to distinguish between a right and left gauntlet in the blazon of the arms, as these are very important details.

Goat

In heraldry, the goat is a symbol of practical wisdom and an emblem of a man who wins victories through diplomacy means, rather than by force, It may also represent own who is willing to work hard for high honours.

The goat was associated with Christ, since both were partial to high places and had sharp eyes. A man bearing this symbol was thought to have God on his side.

The goat is a symbol that is often found in armoury. It can be in the positions of passant (walking), statant (standing), salient (springing) or rampant (in the fighting position).

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Golpe

A purple roundel is called a golpe, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal. It is an ancient heraldic symbol representing a wound inflicted in battle.

 Grapes

Grapes are symbolic of good luck in heraldry. Though they are not easily distinguished from vines thy do appear in heraldry occasionally.

 Fruit of all kinds was considered to be evidence of God’s kindness and a symbol of the goodness of providence.

 Grasshopper

The grasshopper has been used as an emblem of nobility and of wisdom in heraldry. It is only occasionally found in coats of arms.

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 Grenade

The symbol of the grenade in heraldry was bestowed on those who had endured terror whiled under siege or in battle.

Visually, it is not unlike that bombshell, though the grenade appears to have several fuses.

The bombshell is a hollow cannon ball, with a round hole at the top through which the shell is stuffed with a tallow-soaked fuse and ignited.

It also may signify that the first bearer was an artilleryman, or that he had survived the danger of bombshells in battle. The cannon is a figure in more recent grants of arms with the same symbolic meaning.

Griffin

The griffin is a mythical creature, with the head, wings and talons of an eagle and the body and hind legs of a lion. It is thus composed of the most royal of the birds and the beasts.

The griffin was thought to find and guard mines of gold and hidden treasures. It is a distinctive feature of the griffin is that it has ears, which are large and stand up from its head.

This is the only feature that differentiates a griffin’s head from an eagle’s. In heraldry, the griffin can be found in all sorts of positions but a female griffin’s wings are never closed.

A male griffin, for some reason, does not have wings’ instead it is adorned with spikes at various points on its body and the male griffin is seldom found.

In the middle ages hybrids such as this one were assumed to be possible and to actually exist, just as a mule, which is a cross between a horse and a donkey. Mules were known to not be able to reproduce though, so it seemed logical that a hybrid like a griffin would not be able to either. This explained why griffins were so rare and hardly ever seen.

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Gyronny

The gyronny is a decorative pattern that stands for unity in heraldry.

A gyron, sometimes also called an esquire, is a line that divides a square compartment of a coat or arms from corner to corner.

 Gyronny refers to the entire shield being divided this way, first in a cross and then per saltire (diagonally), so that the shield is divided into eight compartments.

 Less commonly a shield may be specified to be gyronny of six, ten, twelve or more pieces.

 The compartments are usually tinctured with two alternating colours beginning with the upper left compartment of the shield.

The origin of the word is from the Spanish ‘gyron’, a triangualr piece of cloth sewed into a garment. A shield gyronny is frequent in Scottish arms.

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H

Hammer, Hare, Harpy, Hawk's Lure, Heart, Hedgehog, Hippogriff, Holly, Horse, Hourglass, Hurt

Hammer

The hammer is a symbol of force and dominance in heraldry. It is an honourable symbol, since iron is a very useful metal and it was therefore more precious to people, in early times, than gold. For this reason the hammer may be born crowned.

The martel was a military hammer used in conflict, and the hammer can be found under this name in ancient rolls. It is even still borne by some French families of Martel.

The double-headed hammer was the chief emblem of the Norse god Thor. The hammer is also one of the chief emblems of a smith, which may indicate that the first bearer of the arms was also a smith.

Hare

The hare was probably introduced into heraldry as a symbol for one who enjoys a peaceable and retired life and the rabbit likewise. Also, since rabbits and hares reproduce prodigiously, they have become symbols for lust and great fertility.

The Hare is much less common than the rabbit, which is also called a coney.

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Harpy

In Greek mythology, the harpy was the spirit of the wind, particularity the hurricane. It is represented by a virgin’s face, neck and breast, the body of a lion and the wings and talons of a vulture or an eagle.

The harpy is a symbol of ferocity under provocation. It is particularly found in German heraldry, though it can also be found elsewhere, and the German name for it is jungfraunadler.

Hawk’s Lure

Hawk’s lures in heraldry indicate one who was fond of noble pursuits, such as hunting and falconry. The lure was constructed using a pair of wings, fashioned to resemble a bird. It was thrown up into the air to help retrieve the falcon, or hawk when it had flown too far afield after the quarry. It symbolizes a signal used to recall the absent from afar.

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Heart

The ancients regarded the heart as the mark of a person of sincerity, who spoke the truth.

It is sometimes used in heraldry in this sense, bur more often as an emblem of kindness and charity.

On the shield of Douglas, the heart alludes to the well-known attempt by Sir James Douglas to carry the heart of Robert the Bruce to the Holy Land in 1328.

The heart may also be flammant or crowned; the flaming heart stands for ardent affection.

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Hedgehog

The hedgehog, which usually referred to as an urcheon in heraldic terms, is found in a number of coats of arms. It is an ancient heraldic symbol signifying a thoughtful provider. It is sometimes mistakenly blazoned a porcupine.

Hippogriff

A hippogriff has the head, wings and fore-claws of a griffin (which are really those of an eagle except that a griffin has large pointed ears) attached to the hind end of the body of a horse.

Holly

Holly was used to adorn temples and sacred palaces and its name is derived from the word holy. Holly is also an emblem of truth in heraldry.

Holly branches are emblazoned sheaves of holly or holly branches of three leaves. The term ‘branch’ is actually a bit of misrepresentation, though, because the ‘branch’is actually just three leaves tied together.

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Horse

Horses are considered very spirited, powerful and beautiful animals. They were thought of like brave warriors: highly skilled fighters who loved victory and were miserable when conquered.

The horse signifies readiness to act for one’s country. In heraldry, it is also a symbol of speed, intellect and virility.

As a result the horse will be found in arms as rampant or salient (in a fighting position), courant (running), as well as passant (walking) and trotting. It may be drawn saddled and bridled, with a rider or without.

Horses are also often found as supporters of a crest.

Hourglass

The hourglass is a symbol of the flight of time and is a reminder of man’s mortality. Also called a sand-glass, this is a very uncommon charge in heraldry.

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Hurt

A blue roundel, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal, is called a hurt. It is an ancient heraldic symbol signifying injury or loss.

I

Imperial Crown, In Escutcheon, Instruments 

Imperial Crown

The royal or imperial crown is an emblem of empire and sovereignty in heraldry. It has a studded rim with alternating crosses and fleurs-de-lis, and it is capped, with four bands of metal meeting in the centre at a small cross, mounted on a ball.

The imperial crown may also refer particularly to the crown of the German Emperor, though, which is very unique and only appears in a few crests.

In escutcheon

When borne as a charge on an actual shield, the image of a shield signifies defence.

More formally, a shield on a shield is termed an in escutcheon and strictly, if more than one appears on the shield they should be referred to as escutcheons.

When an in escutcheon appears on a shield it should conform to the shape of the shield on which it is placed.

In German and Scottish armoury the in escutcheon bears the heart of the arms, or the paternal side, but in English heraldry it is used to carry the arms of an heiress wife.

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Instruments

Musical instruments are heraldic symbols that, in general, signify festivity and rejoicing. The clarion is an ancient brass instrument that is held in one had and blown over like a flute.

The bearer of this sign may have been a musician or ceremonial trumpeter and like the trumpet it would signify the call to battle, or the mustering call for a crusade.

They are suitable heraldic bearings for someone who would bravely follow such a sound into battle, thoughtfulness, and gently pursuits.

The hunting horn, or bugle was adopted as a symbol of the chase in heraldry and it generally indicated a man fond of high pursuits. The chase was considered the most noble of employments next to war.

More specifically, the hunting horn was the sign of a hunter. There are other instruments used as charges as well, such as pipes, tabors and others, though their specific symbolic meanings are not certain.

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K

Key

The key is a symbol of knowledge and of guardianship in heraldry. Two keys crossed in saltire is the emblem of St. Peter who held the keys to the gates of heaven, and this emblem is part of the insignia of His Holiness the Pope.

They occur in many ecclesiastical coats of arms but also in the arms of regular families.

L

Label, Ladder, Lapwing, Laurel, Leopard, Lily, Lion, Lizard, Lozenge, Lynx

Label

The label was a decorative piece of fabric, usually silk. It was a popular trimming for dress and décor during the Middle Ages.

In heraldry, it is represented by a narrow band across the top of the shield, edged by another band from which three short bars hand down. Lately the bars have been drawn more like dovetails, like triangles inserted point first into the lower band.

In English arms a label was a mark of difference indicating that the bearer was the eldest son and heir. Some labels on coats of arms can be traced to this origin.

Ladder

The ladder was a symbol of fearlessness in attack as the scaling of walls with ladders was an extremely dangerous tactic used in laying siege to a castle. It is also a symbol of resolution in heraldry.

The scaling-ladder, that is one with hooks on the ends to go over the edge of a wall so that the ladder is not merely leaning against the castle, may be a reminder to stand carefully on guard.

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Lapwing

The lapwing bird is symbolic of strategy in heraldry because it outwits hunters by leading them away from its nest.

Those who bear the sign of the lapwing are shrewd strategists. The lapwing also goes by the alternative names of peewhit, plover, and tyrwhitt.

Laurel

In ancient times, Laurel leaves were thought to be remedies against poison, as well as tokens of peace and quiet.

Laurels were also symbol of victory in heraldry, first given to the winners in the early Olympic Games and later born by the conquerors such as Julius Caesar. They are symbolic of triumph and fame, especially when it is gained after a long, inner struggle.

Sprigs of laurel and laurel branches are also common heraldic symbols.

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Leopard

In heraldry, the leopard is a symbol of a valiant warrior who braves dangers with force and courage. In early heraldry leopards were often represented passant guardant and there were often no less that two on a shield, while lions were usually rampant and usually no more than two.

Therefore it could probably be more correct for the lions of England to be blazoned leopards’; probably, though, the same animal was intended but different names were given to each position. In later times, both animals were called lions.

The leopard’s head jessant is a leopard swallowing a fleur-de-lis. Edward III is said to have conferred the device during his wars in France, as a reward to leaders who served under him in his victorious campaigns. The idea behind the symbol is that he leopard of the English arms is swallowing the lily of the French coat.

Lily

The lily is the emblem of purity and innocence in heraldry. It is also a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Though it is usually represented by the fleur-de-lis, the lily can also be in its natural form, which is not uncommonly found in heraldry.

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Lion

The lion has always held a high place in heraldry as the emblem of deathless courage, and, hence, that of a valiant warrior.

It is said to be a lively image of a good soldier, who must be ‘valiant in courage, strong of body, politic in council and a foe to fear’.

Through the somewhat dubious legend of their compassion, lions also came to symbolize Christ. As one medieval author asserted ‘they prey on men rather than women, and they do not kill children except when they are very hungry’.

The lion, with such repute of its noble nature and having the position and title of king of the beasts, is naturally one of the most common heraldic symbols on the continent of Europe.

In ancient times when animals were defined in by the position that they were in, the lion held the position of rampant. A walking cat was originally called a leopard, so the lions of England can probably be more accurately called leopards, but the popularity of the lion led to its acquiring many more positions, and thus the development of a terminology was necessary to describe them all.

In addition to all of the positions a lion is found in, it can be found crowned or collared with two tails or two heads.

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Lizard

The lizard is an ancient heraldic symbol signifying good luck.

It is not common in coats of arms, and its proper tincture is green, or in heraldic terms, vert.

Lozenge

The lozenge is a symbol of honesty and constancy and it is also a token of noble birth.

It has four sides of equal length and is positioned point up, so that it resembles a diamond rather than a square.

A lozenge throughout is a lozenge that has all four points touching the sides of the shield. The arms of a lady, as a maid or a widow, are always displayed on a lozenge.

Lozenges cojoined to form a fesse of a pale are referred to as a ‘bend lozengy’ or a ‘fesse lozengy’, or a field may be describes as ‘lozengy’ when it is formed entirely of an indefinite number of lozenges.

A mascle is an open lozenge, or a lozenge voided, and it is merely a lozenge with a smaller one removed from the inside. It is said to be a piece on which armour was fastened, and to represent a mesh of a net.

In heraldry, it signifies persuasion, and comparatively rare, type of lozenge, pierced in the centre with a circle.

Lynx

The lynx is an ancient heraldic symbol indicating that its bearer was possessed of particularly keen sight.

It does not occur very often in heraldry except as a supporter, but is does occur in certain families on a crest.

It is nearly always depicted and blazoned ‘coward’ which simply means that its small tail is between its legs and not upright.

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M

Man-tiger, Martlet, Maunch, Mermaid, Mirror, Moon, Moorcock, Mural Crown, Musimon

Man-tiger

Manticora or mantegre are both names for a man-tiger, which has the body of a heraldic tiger and the head of an old man, with long spiral horns attached to its forehead. In heraldry, it is usually only found as a supporter for a coat of arms.

Martlet

The martlet, or heraldic swallow, is a bird perceived as swift and elegant and is a device for someone prompt and ready in the dispatch of his business. It may also represent one who has to subsist on the wings of his virtue and merit alone.

The martlet signifies nobility acquired through bravery, prowess or intelligence. On English arms it was a mark of cadency signifying the fourth son, for whom there was little doubt that there would be no land left for him to inherit.

Interestingly, this heraldic symbol was a perpetuation of the popular belief that the swallow has no feet. This is supported by the fact that one never does see swallow standing, but regardless.

The martlet is consistently drawn without feet in heraldry. If the feet are drawn the symbol becomes a swallow, which is less common than the martlet.

The swallow is a vanguard of spring and represents a bearer of good news.

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Maunch

The maunch is a lady’s sleeve of a very ancient pattern. It became used in heraldry from the custom of the knights who attended tournaments wearing their ladies sleeves, as ‘gages d’amour’ in the lists.

The maunch was the symbol suitable for a man whose heart had been captured by a fair maiden.

Mermaid

In heraldry and Coats of Arms, the mermaid or merman is a favourite symbol for seafarers or anything related to the sea. The merman was also referred to as a triton and siren was occasionally an alternate name for mermaid. Both are symbols of eloquence.

In heraldry the merman is usually found as a supporter and less often as a charge on a shield.

The mermaid is much more common and is generally represented with the traditional mirror and comb in her hands.

A melusine is a mermaid with two tails disposed on either side of her, commonly found in German heraldry.

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Mirror

The mirror is a symbol of the imagination and truth. It is seldom found in heraldry except for the round mirror held in the right hand of a mermaid, but it dies appear occasionally as a charge in a coat of arms or on a crest.

Moon

The image of the moon is a symbol of the goddess Diana and indicates, in its bearer, the serene power to endure mundane duties. It is also a symbol of the Virgin Mary.

The moon was said to have the sovereignty by night that the sun had by day. The moon ‘in her compliment’ signifies that the moon is full and no rays are ever drawn as with the sun.

A face is usually represented in a full moon and sometimes in a crescent moon, but this must not be confused with an ordinary heraldic crescent, as they are not similar.

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Moorcock

The Moorcock or heathcock is a curious bird that has the head and body of an ordinary cock united with either the flat tail of black game, or two or more large tail feathers at right angles to its body. Neither variation actually exists.

Mural Crown

The mural crown is plain gold circlet of battlements on a narrow rim. It is supposed to have been given by the Romans to the soldier that first mounted the breach in the walls of a town or fortress. In heraldry, it would also apply to the defender of a fortress or be an appropriate token of civic honour.

Musimon

A musimon is supposed to be a cross between a ram and a goat with the body and feet of a goat, the head or a ram, and four horns: tow straight like a goat’s and tow curved like a ram’s. It is also called a tityron and it is very uncommon in heraldry.

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N

Naval Crown

The naval crown is gold and uniquely ornamented with alternating topsails and stems of ancient galleys. This was legendarily awarded to the one who first boarded the enemy’s ship and now it is awarded, in arms, to distinguished naval commanders. Some heralds say that the Emperor Claudius invented it as a reward for service at sea.

 O

Oak leaves, Opincus, Orange, Ostrich, Otter, Owl

Oak Leaves

Oak leaves are religious symbols of faith and endurance in heraldry.

Opinicus

An opinicus is a very rare creature in heraldry. When it does occur it is described as similar to a winged griffin, which is the head, wings, front legs and claws of an eagle and the body, hind legs and tail of a lion, only an opinicus’s front legs are a lion’s and it has a short tail. Another description gives it the tail of a camel. It may also have the big ears of a griffin or just the head of an eagle, and sometimes the wings are omitted.

Orange

An orange is the name given to a tawny roundel, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal. It is supposed to represent a tennis ball.

Tennis was once a game played strictly by royalty and nobles and the orange indicates that the bearer was a member of that class; however, the orange is seldom met in heraldry.

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Ostrich

The image of an ostrich is symbolic of faith and contemplation in heraldry.

The ostrich is represented in heraldry in its natural form and is a very common charge; in fact it is one of the birds met with most often, after the eagle and the falcon.

Until recent times the ostrich was always depicted holding something in its beak such as a horseshoe or a key. Thee digestive capabilities of the ostrich have been fabulously exaggerated at times, and even now the ostrich has a popular reputation for being able to eat anything.

Early natural history books show it ingesting inedible food such as these metal objects, and it is possible that at one time ostriches were actually believed to eat these things. Even now an ostrich is seldom found without something present in its mouth.

Otter

The image of an otter denotes that its bearer possesses industry and perseverance, as well as an ability to return to moments of play.

Otters were formerly more abundant in streams that they are now and otter hunting was a once a common pastime, so they are born in the arms of several families and are also the supporters for some arms.

The otter is most often found as a symbol in Scottish and Irish coats of arms; however, it is by no meant restricted to them.

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Owl

The owl symbolizes on who is vigilant and quick-witted.

The owl is always depicted in heraldry with its face affronte, or facing the observer, though the body is not usually so placed.

P

Pale, Pall, Panther, Parrot, Passion Nails, Peacock, Pegasus, Pelican, Pellet, Phoenix, Pike, Pile, Pineapple, Plate, Pomegranate, Pomme, Portcullis

Pale

The pale is a vertical band down the shield denoting great defensive military strength. Protective railings were made of pales.

It has often been bestowed on those who have defended cities, supported the government of the sovereign, or stood strong for the country under stress.

The guidelines of heraldry instruct that the pale is to occupy on third of the width of the shield, though this is not always strictly followed. The pallet or palet is a diminutive of the pale. Numerous pallets are often found on a shield, and when the filed is striped vertically it is said to be ‘paly’.

Pall

As a device on a crest, the pall represents the ecclesiastical vestment called a pallium and is symbolic of archiepiscopal authority. It is the shape of a broad ‘Y’ with one end going to each corner and the end dropping almost to the bottom point of the crest or shield.

As a charge in heraldry, the end is always couped, meaning that it does not extend to the edge of the shield, and fringed. The pall, also called a pairle and a shakefork, is often found in the arms of archbishops and Sees.

The pall also occurs as an ordinary, a background symbol, especially in Scottish heraldry. Here it is usually borne with all three ends couped and pointed.

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Panther

The panther is said to represent a beautiful woman who is tender and loving to her young, and will defend them even with her own life in jeopardy. It is a symbol of bravery in defence of the weak.

It is difficult to know whether to class the panther with actual or mythical creatures in heraldry.

Often it is depicted flammant or incensed, with flames issuing from its mouth and ears. On the continent the panther is often depicted with the tail of a lion, horns, and the claws of an eagle on its forelegs.

Early armorial representations show a more natural representation, but they quickly disappear in favour of artistic creativity.

Parrot

The parrot or a popinjay, as it is termed in heraldry, is realistically drawn. Its image may signify distinguished service in a tropical country.

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Passion Nails

Passion nails are borne as a reminder of poignant suffering that the first bearer of the arms underwent.

For example, Sir R. Logan bore the shield of three black passion nails piercing a red heart, for accompanying James Douglas to Jerusalem with the heard of Robert the Bruce.

Peacock

In ancient times, it was believed that the flesh of the peacock would not decay. It was therefore used in heraldry as a symbol of resurrection and immortality.

The peacock represented in pride refers to a peacock observed from the front with its tail feathers splayed.

It is usually found in this position but there are also some occasions where its tail feathers are folded, particularly when it’s a supporter in a coat of arms.

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Pegasus

An image of Pegasus, the legendary winged horse, is said to signify exceeding activity and energy of mind, whereby one may mount to honour. It is also an emblem of fame in heraldry.

This beautiful horse of mythology is not an unusual symbol in heraldry and is used often as a crest.

Pelican

The female pelican was believed to wound her breast with her long, curved bill, drawing blood to feed her young.

The term for this is ‘vulning’ itself and there are some birds during the nesting season that grow red feathers upon their breast, which may be where the legend came from.

But for this noble act, the bird became a symbol of piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue associated with the Holy Eucharist.

The pelican in heraldry does not traditionally have the large pouched beak of the natural bird though modern representations have given it a more realistic appearance.

Also, when blazoned ‘proper’ (meaning in its natural colours) the pelican is traditionally given the colours and plumage of an eagle instead of its natural white.

The pelican will never be found ‘close’ with its wings folded; it is always drawn vulning itself, possibly surrounded by its young, but regardless, is a symbol of maternal solicitude.

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Pellet

A black roundel is given the various names of pellet, ogress and gunstone, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal. Black roundels represent cannon balls and bullets and may indicate that the first bearer was an artilleryman, or that he braved the dangers of these things in battle.

It may have been intended to appear globular on the shield, rather than flat like most other roundels, so an artist may shade it accordingly. Pellettee describes a shield strewn with pellets.

Phoenix

The phoenix is a symbol from Greek mythology, of immortality, rebirth and renewal. Legend states that at the end of its long life, this legendary bird built a pyre of spice-wood in the desert.

It ignited the pyre by fanning its wings in the heat of the sun, plunged into the fire and was burned to ashes. Then a rejuvenated phoenix rose out of the cinders, born again.

The phoenix is also a symbol of love in heraldry. It is often found as a symbol on a crest, accompanied by the flames that it rose out of renewed.

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Pike

The pike is a heraldic symbol for a military family and indicates prowess and fortitude in bearers of this charge.

This fish is also a symbol of the forces of industry and science and early Christians frequently used the pike as an emblem of their faith.

The pike is frequently found inn ancient arms though it may be referred to by the alternate names of lucy, luce, ged, geddes, pyke, jack, or the name of a pike of the sea, hake. It is distinguishable from other fish by its large head and long mouth. In early arms the pikeis always found hauriant, or upright, but this is not always the case anymore.

Pile

The pile is a large piece of wood used by engineers in fortifications and bridge construction. The image of the pile was granted to military leaders for significant deeds. Or to those who showed great ability in any kind of construction.

In heraldry a pile looks like an inverted triangle issuing, point invaders, from any point along the crest except the base. It may, if specified, issue from the base as well, if accompanied by piles issuing from other points of the escutcheon. They may terminate in fleurs-de-lis or crosses patee.

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Pineapple

Unless the arms described were granted in connection with a pineapple growing country, the term pineapple, in heraldry, actually refers to a pinecone. It is symbolic of the inexhaustible abundance of life in nature.

The association is derived from the fact that the pine tree remained green in the winter when others appeared dead. But real pineapples also exist in the armoury.

Occasionally pineapples were granted as a symbol of distinguished service in a country where such fruit grew.

Plate

The plate is a white of silver roundel, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal. It represents a silver coin found in Spain during the Crusades. The name comes from the Spanish word ‘plata’ meaning silver or silver coin. The plate signifies generosity in heraldry.

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Pomegranate

In heraldry, the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility and abundance. The association is derived from the fact that the pomegranate is a fruit composed almost entirely of seeds and was thought to reproduce itself prodigiously because of this.

The pomegranate dimidiated with a rose, meaning that the two half charges are joined, was one of the badges of Queen Mary of England, who ruled from 1553-1558.

Pomme

Pomme or pomeis is the heraldic name given to a green roundel, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal.

The pomme represents an apple and signifies good luck. Most fruit was considered a token of good luck and symbolized the generosity of nature.

It may have been intended to appear globular on the shield, rather than flat like most other roundels, so an artist may shade it accordingly.

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Portcullis

A portcullis is a great, barred, iron gate with spikes on the bottom, suspended over the main gate of a castle to be dropped before enemies could invade the castle.

In heraldry, it signifies an effective protection in emergency, as it was used to guard the entrance to the fortress and could be suddenly lowered against a surprise attack, when there was no time to raise the drawbridge or close the weighty doors.

Borne on a shield, a portcullis usually indicates that the bearer is a great defender in an emergency. In some cases it indicates that the original bearer operated the portcullis in a fort. It is the well-known badge of the Royal House of Tudor. It is drawn points down with chains attached to its upper corners, though the disposition of the chains is a matter left to the artist.

 

Q

Quarter

The quarter alone is not particularly common in heraldry. It is a square in the right corner of the shield (or the left to the observer) that theoretically occupies ¼ of the shields surface area, though it is usually slightly smaller than this.

Of course it often occurs, though, as a division of a field blazoned quarterly, which is divided into four quarters. A canton is the diminutive of a quarter and occupies 1/9 of the field. It superimposes all other charges or ordinaries on a field and unless it is an origin charge, and not added later, it need not conform to the rule forbidding colour on colour, or metal on metal.

It is sometimes used as an augmentation of honour and it is also a mark used to distinguish the arms of one branch of a family from another, or that the name and arms of a family have been assumed where there is no blood descent.

A canton in the left corner of the shield may be used as a mark of illegitimacy.

R

Rainbow, Ram, Raven, Reeds, Rhinoceros, Rose

Rainbow

The rainbow is an ancient heraldic sign of peace, sage travel, and good luck. The rainbow has similar connotations of luck and peacefulness in many other cultures also. It is not often used as a charge on a shield but has been granted in crest since olden days. The proper colours of a heraldic rainbow are gold, red, green and silver.

Ram

The ram is a symbol of authority and leadership in heraldry. A person who bore such a device on his shield was supposed to possess all of the power and nobility that was attributed to the ram.

It is a very common symbol in a crest or a coat of arms, as is the symbol of a ram’s head. The ramis often rampant, or in the fighting position on a crest or coat of arms, though it is also found in the positions of passant, statant and couchant.

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Raven

As the collector of bright objects, the raven stands as a symbol of knowledge in heraldry. It is also an emblem of divine providence.

The raven is said to be a Danish device used as a heraldic symbol very early in history. Visually no differentiation is made between the symbols of a raven, a rook or a crow.

The symbol of the crow signifies that the bearer is someone who is watchful and vigilant for friends.

The Cornish chough is a bird that has been called the ‘King of Crows’. It may indicate that the bearer is crafty and strategic, to the disadvantage of his enemies. It also signifies vigilance in watching over friends.

According to Cornish legend, the spirit of King Arthur inhabited the chough. The chough distinguished from its counterparts by its red beak and legs.

Reeds

Reeds represent the just, who are said to dwell on the riverbanks of grace. The reed is also one of the symbols of Christ’s passion.

And because it clusters thickly and is a common plant, in heraldry bulrushes are symbolic of the multitude of faithful who lead a humble life and abide by the Christian teaching.

This symbol may also be granted to recall a memorable event that occurred near water where bulrushes were abundant.

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Rhinoceros

The rhinoceros fights with great ferocity when aroused, but never seeks combat. Borne on a shield, the symbol indicated the same characteristics in its bearer. It is a very uncommon charge in heraldry, observed in only a few instances.

Rose

The rose is a symbol of hope and joy; it is first among flowers and expresses beauty and grace. With a red blossom, it is a symbol of martyrdom. The white rose expresses love and faith and in Christian symbolism, it signifies purity.

The yellow rose is a symbol of absolute achievement in heraldry. The conventional form of a heraldic rose have five displayed petals that mimic the look of a wild rose on a hedgerow.

The famous Wars of Roses, between the red rose of the house of Lancaster and the white rose of the house of York, ended after the succession of the Tudors to the throne.

After this the heraldic rose developed a double row of petals which was obviously in effort to combine the rival emblems, although the element of increasing familiarity with the cultivated rosewas also present.

During the reign of the Tudors there was a more naturalistic trend in heraldry, and stems and leaves were added to the rose. Nevertheless, heraldry has accomplished what horticulture could not, and roses will be found tinted blue, black and green, in addition to more natural colours.

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S

Salamander, Satyr, Satyral, Sceptre, Scythe, Sea Horse, Serpent, Ship, Shuttle, Spear, Sphinx, Spur, Squirrel, Staff, Stag, Staple, Star, Sun, Sunflower, Swan, Sword

Salamander

The salamander signified a man of faith, and was also considered a sign of good luck. It is usually described as a dragon in flames of fire, and is sometimes represented this way, only without the wings.

More frequently, though, the symbol simply indicates the shape of a lizard. The salamander is best known as the personal device of Francis I, King of France, to which origin the arms of the city of Paris can be traced.

Satyr

In heraldry, a satyr is compose of a demi-savage, or half of a man with a few inhuman characteristics such as large pointed ears, united with the hind-legs of a goat so that he walks upright on tow hooves.

Satyrs are not found in coats of arms except for supporters and occasionally their heads are found used as charges.

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Satyral

A Satyral has the body of a lion, the face of an old man and the horns of an antelope. It is usually only used as a supporter in a coat of arms and is not particularly common in heraldry.

Sceptre

The sceptre is a symbol of justice and a chief emblem of royal authority. It is seldom borne alone. Frequently it occurs in the hand of a king or a saint, and it can also be found crossed, saltirewise, with a sword.

Scythe

The image of a sickle or a scythe, also sometimes termed a sned, expresses the hope of a fruitful harvest of things desired.

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Sea horse

In heraldry, the sea-horse is an emblem of safe travel, particularly by sea.

The heraldic sea-horse, however, does not resemble the natural seahorse at all. It is an imaginary creature with the head, chest and forelegs of a horse, webbed feet like a frog in place of its hooves and a scaled body that flows into the large powerful tail of a fish, which if properly drawn, circles around itself in a coil.

The mane may not be scalloped. It is a popular symbol found quite regularly in heraldry.

Serpent

The serpent is an emblem of wisdom and defiance in heraldry.

In Ireland, the serpent may be used as an emblem of St. Patrick, an association derived from the legend of St. Patrick clearing Ireland of snakes.

Serpents also represent knowledge. There is nothing to distinguish a serpent or a snake from any of the other names given to it in heraldry such as cobra, adder, or bis.

The serpent may be found in a variety of positions such as erect, gliding or fessways, or involved, meaning in a curly-queue.

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Ship

The ship is an emblem of joy, happiness and adventure in heraldry. It usually points to some notable quest at sea, by which the first bearer became famous, but in more ancient bearings the emblem may have simply been derived from a long-standing seafaring tradition.

In heraldic terms there are three basic ships that may be used as a device on a shield: The ship, the lymphad and the galley. A lymphad usually only has one mast and a galley has three but the main differences between them are found in the shape and style of the vessel.

Because there are so many different types of ships they must be carefully described in the blazon with respect to the number of masts and top-masts, the sails and the rigging.

There are also ships in the forms of an ark, yacht, and steamer in more recent grants of arms.

Shuttle

In heraldry the shuttle is a symbol of industry and productivity. Sometimes in blazon it is called a weaver’s shuttle and it is often found in arms with some connection to that trade.

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Spear

Though the spear, the spearhead and the broken spear are all very similar devices, they each have a distinct symbolic meaning in heraldry.

The spear, lance or tilting-spear is an emblem of knightly service that signifies devotion to honour and chivalry.

The broken spear is a symbol of peace.

On the other hand, the spearhead, or javelin, is a deadly device of ancient origin, first made of iron and later of fine steel. It is said to represent dexterity and nimbleness of wit, a person able to penetrate and understand matters of the highest consequence.

The spear is distinct form the lance, javelin and the heraldic tilting-spear, in that it is always drawn with a sharp point for warfare, instead of blunt, as it would have been for a tournament.

The arms of William Shakespeare were composed of a gold tilting-spear of the field on a black bend.

Sphinx

The sphinx, a mythological creature derived from the Egyptian figure is usually depicted with a lion’s body, legs and ail and a woman’s head and chest.

The sphinx may also at times be winged. It represents omniscience and secrecy in heraldry.

The sphinx is more often used in crests than in coats of arms.

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Spur

A crest or coat or arms with the device of a spur on it was awarded to men who had done magnificent deeds. The spur could appear more ornate if it was winged, or the simpler device of a spur-rowel or spur-revel might be used.

They are more often termed ‘mullets of five points pierced’ which translates to five pointed stars with a hole in the centre, or the part of the spur used to actually cut the horse. This was a dangerous implement, used by knights to stimulate their war-horses into action. It signifies preparedness for active service in heraldry.

Squirrel

The squirrel’s habit of storing nuts to ensure a supply of food for the winter makes him a symbol of thrift, caution and conception in heraldry. It occurs in many English coats of arms ant it is always depicted sejant (in a sitting position), though with a squirrel the arms are always raised, and very frequently, cracking a nut.

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Staff

In heraldry, the staff is a common symbol of office or authority.

The pastoral crosier is one type of staff that is an emblem of a shepherd’s watchfulness over his flock. It denotes Episcopal jurisdiction and authority.

Another is the palmer’s staff that is a symbol of the traveller, borne in reference to the early pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

Stag

The stag has a variety of symbolic meanings in heraldry. It can indicate someone skilful in music and a lover of harmony.

It may also indicate a person who foresees opportunities well. In the latter case it is a symbol used for one who is unwilling to assail enemies rashly, who would rather stand his own ground that harm another wrongfully, and one who will not fight unless provoked.

Harmony, polity and peace are particularly associated with the female deer, called a hind or a doe.

Antlers represent strength and fortitude.

The stag or hart is also an emblem of purity and fleetness.

The stag was associated with healing, for he knew which medicinal plants to take in order to shake off the hunter’s arrow. The person bearing this symbol was considered impervious to weapons.

Other names for a deer include a brocket, which is a young stag, a buck, roe, roebuck, and a fawn.

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Staple

Although their exact meaning is not known, it is thought that staples were used as trade symbols.

It is sometimes referred to as a door-staple and it is usually used in heraldry as a pun on a name like Dunstaple, for example.

Staples are drawn boldly and angularly with wide bases sharpening severely to points.

Star

The star symbolizes honour, achievement and hope in heraldry.

In some cases, a star may represent a falling star and denote a divine quality bestowed from above, whereby men ‘shine in virtue like bright stars on the earth’.

Stars with wavy points are emblems of God’s goodness.

In England, mullets have five points unless another number is specified. In France, a mullet has no less than six points.

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Sun

The sun is an emblem of glory and brilliance in heraldry. It is also a symbol of authority. It represents happiness, life and spirituality.

The rising sun is a symbol of hope. The sun, when not rising, is always blazoned the ‘sun in splendour’. The rays are alternatively straight and wavy, which symbolize the head and light that we derive from them, and the heraldic sun usually has a human face though this is not strictly necessary.

Rays of the sun, also called beams, are sometimes borne singly as in the ancient rolls, bur more often they issue from other charges when described by one of the terms as radiant, rayonne or rayonnant.

One ray of the sun signifies ‘by the light of heaven’.

Sunflower

The sunflower signifies that just as the flower turns toward the sun, so the bearer turns to the light and glory, symbolized by the sun.

It may also be called a heliotrope in heraldic terms.

The marigold is an ancient heraldic emblem of devotion and piety, very close to a sunflower in shape and meaning.

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Swan

The swan is the ensign of poets and musicians. It symbolized perfection, beauty and grace in heraldry.

For a bearer of the swan it represents a lover of poetry and harmony, or a learned person.

The swan is a favourite symbol in heraldry, often found on crests and shields. It is most often drawn close, though it can be found in other positions as well and sometimes even swimming.

Sword

The sword is said to be the emblem of military honour and should incite the bearer to a just and generous pursuit of honour and virtue. In heraldry, it is symbolic of liberty and strength.

In the Middle Ages, the sword was often used as a symbol of the word of God. The sword (especially borne with flames) is also a symbol of purification. When borne with a cross in the same field, the sword signifies the defence of the Christian faith.

The usual form is a long straight blade with a cross handle, though the blade may also be waved or embrued. There are also specific types of swords that may be described such as the falchion or seax, which is a broad bladed, slightly curved sword with a semi-circular notch at the back of the blade.

Others include a scimitar, cutlass or sabre. A sword is often depicted piercing an animal or a human heart. Two swords crossed in saltire is an emblem of St. Paul.

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T

Thistle, Thunderbolt, Tiger, Torch, Torteau, Tortoise, Tree, Trefoil, Tressure

Thistle

The thistle is an ancient heraldic emblem of pain and suffering. Legend states that the thistle was chosen as the royal badge of Scotland as a result of the battle of Largs in 1262.

The Danish enemy, King Harco, had landed and was advancing inland under cover of darkness, when one of his barefoot followers trod on a thistle and gave aw howl of pain that raised the alarm.

The first appearance of the thistle as a royal badge was in 1474, when it was stamped on the back of the silver coinage of James III. Durning this period badges were so largely used that it is possible that the King chose the thistle with this legend in mind, though he would have done so mainly to vie with the neighbouring kingdom of England.

The heraldic thistle has a short stalk and two long leaves with the flowered head in the middle. Though it is usually represented proper it can also be found gold.

Thunderbolt

The thunderbolt is an ancient heraldic emblem of sovereignty, power and speed.

It is derived from the classic mythology in which the thunderbolt is ascribed to the Roman god Jupiter, or the Greek god Zeus. It occurs very seldom in heraldry and usually only in crests.

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Tiger

The tiger signifies great fierceness and valour when enraged to combat. In heraldry, it also symbolises one whose resentment will be dangerous if aroused. The tiger depicted in heraldry was the attempt of artist to portray an animal they had never seen and knew only by repute.

Consequently, the creature they drew bore little resemblance to the real animal.

Later the Bengal tiger was added to the armoury due to the influence of India and the Eastern lands. It looks considerably more like the real animal than the heraldic tiger.

The symbol of a tiger and mirror together refers to the medieval belief that after capturing a tiger cub, on could escape from its pursuing mother by throwing down a mirror in her path. She would believe the reflection to be her cub and try to rescue it, thus giving time for the hunter to escape.

Torch

The torch or firebrand signifies truth, knowledge, purification and love in heraldry.

The bearing of a torch in arms is granted to a zealous man who has performed some signal service. It is not a common heraldic symbol.

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Torteau

A torteau is the name given to a red roundel, a roundel being any circular charge of colour or metal. It represents the cakes of bread eaten by crusaders before long battles.

Tortoise

The tortoise signifies invulnerability to attack and is also symbolic of slow, but sure progress. In heraldry, it is usually blazoned displayed, from an above view with its legs extended to the sides; however, it can also be borne upright.

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Tree

The tree is a symbol of antiquity and strength in heraldry.

The oak tree was sacred to the ancient Greeks and the Celts; the lime or linden tree was sacred to the Germans and the ash tree was venerated by the Scandinavians.

Trees allude to home or property, and they are also generally considered a symbol of life and strength.

More types of trees that can be mentioned have been blazoned on shields, crests and coats of arms.

Usually these trees do not differ greatly in appearance, though, and the name was really only specified as either a pun on the name of the bearer or in reference to a characteristic of the land held by that family.

Sometimes a hurst of trees, or a wood is found on a shield. Also, a tree stump or tree trunk may be used as a symbol of regrowth and rebirth, especially when it is borne with branches spouting new leaves.

These symbols are not uncommonly found in heraldry.

Trefoil

A trefoil, or a symbol of a three-leafed clover, represents the past, present and future. It is also often used as a symbol of fertility and abundance in heraldry.

The trefoil is derived from the shamrock, which, according to legend, was chose sans an emblem of Ireland because it was used by St. Patrick to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity.

The shamrock also appears on some arms.

Quatrefoils are not the same as shamrocks, though they do have four leaves; the leaves of a quatrefoil are more circular and they appear without the stem of a trefoil, except for very rarely.

Architects placed this symbol on churches to signify that the gospel, the harbinger of peace and immortality, was preached there. In British rules of inheritance, the double quatrefoil signified the ninth son.

A cinquefoil follows the same guidelines but unlike the quatrefoil, is very common in coats of arms. Notably the cinquefoil was the personal badge of Simon de Montfort, the man who led the baronial revolts against the King of England in the 13thcentury.

He likely used the cinquefoil as a party badge that was worn by his followers and lead to its popularization. Narcissus flowers, primroses and ‘fraises’ or strawberries are also five-petaled flowers that fall under the category of a cinquefoil.

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Tressure

A tressure is tow small borders in the outline of a shield, set close together, one within the other. It is often decorated with flowers that look somewhat like the fleur-de-lis, inserted through the tressure. This is referred to as a tressure-flory-counterflory, and it is a device that is particularly associated with Scottish heraldry.

It is said that in heraldry, the charge commemorates the alliance of Charlemagne with Archalus, King of Scotland. In return for the services of the Scots, Charlemagne added the double tressure fleurs-de-lis to the Scottish lion to represent that the former had defended the French lilies and therefore the latter would surround the lion to be a defence to him.

However, this story is not very securely based on fact. It is more likely that the lion and tressure were derived from the arms of the Earls of Northumberland and Huntingdon, from whom some of the Scottish kings were descended.

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U

Unicorn

In heraldry, the unicorn is a mythical beast, said to be famous for its virtue, courage and strength.

Its horn was believed to be a powerful antidote against poison. According to legend, the unicorn could only be captured if a maiden was placed near a location the animal frequented. It would sense her purity and lay its head in her lap.

During the middle ages, this was taken as an allegory of Christ’s reincarnation, with the unicorn representing Christ and the maiden, his mother.

Unicorns symbolized purity, elegance and charm. Until the 17th century unicorns were believed to be real animals, there were even some unicorns’ horns in existence, though now they are recognized to be the horns of narwhales.

The heraldic unicorn has the body of a horse, that tail of a heraldic lion and the legs and feet of a deer. This beautiful symbol is a popular one in heraldry; sometimes the head alone is also found.

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V

Vulture

The vulture does not occur often in heraldry, likely because of its association with death in nature. It does however appear on ore or two crests and as a supporter.

W

Weasel, Whale, Wheat-Sheaf, Wheel, Wolf, Wyvern

Weasel

The weasel, stoat, martin, and the ermineare all very similar animals that can be found occasionally as heraldic symbols.

The ermine, which the most common furs in heraldry are based on, symbolizes purity. This association comes from the legend that this small white animal preferred death to defilement.

The martinet is the vanguard of spring and represents one who brings good news.

There is also a type of martin with a white throat, called a foine that is found in blazon.

Whale

According to legend, the whale was often mistaken for an island. Ships that anchored to its side were dragged down to destruction by a sudden plunge of the immense creature.

In this way, in heraldry, the whale came to be used as a symbol of the Devil, and the whale’s open mouth the open gates of hell. Perhaps this is the reason why the whale is an extremely uncommon symbol in heraldry.

French heralds are said to draw the teeth red and blazon the symbol fierte.

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Wheat-sheaf

The garb or wheat-sheaf signifies plenty and commendable hospitality in the bearer. It may also mean that the harvest of the bearer’s hopes is secured.

One of the earliest appearances of garbs in heraldry was on the seal of Ranulph, Earl of Chester who died in 1232.

Garbs became identified thereafter with the Earldom of Chester, though they also appear in the arms of other families, some with a distant connection to the Earls and some without, as well ass in armouries of other countries.

Wheel

In the heraldic tradition, the wheel is used as an emblem of fortune.

It figures occasionally on rests and coats of arms, but the real heraldic wheel is the Catherine-wheel.

According to legend, ST. Catherine of Alexandria publicly confessed to being a Christian at a feast held by the Roman emperor Maximus. When she refused to renounce her faith, she was beaten and imprisoned. An attempt was made to tear her apart on a spike wheel, but it fell apart and she was unhurt.

The Catherine-wheel is the emblem of one who is prepared to undergo great trials for the Christian faith.

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Wolf

The crest of a wolf has been granted to valiant captains who service loyally through long sieges or hard enterprises. It signifies valour and guardianship in heraldry.

Wolves were viewed as ferocious and merciless and it was thought that they could paralyze their enemies with a look before destroying them. The bearer of this symbol was a deadly enemy to have.

Early wolves were drawn very crudely and do not resemble the animal very closely so later representations are preferred.

The head of a wolf is particularly common in Scottish heraldry.

Wyvern

The wyvern or wivern is a mythical beast with the upper part of a dragon, two legs and a body that curves into the tail of a serpent. In heraldry, it is usually depicted resting on its legs and tail or just on the curve of its tail with its legs in the air, in a rampant position.

The wyvern was supposed to have a keen sense of sight, which enabled it to guard treasures. The bearer of this symbol may have been a keen defender, or was thought to have slain a wyvern.

Wyverns, like dragons, have the ability to breathe fire and can also be drawn vomiting flames.

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