Very Basic Heraldry Part Two – Variations, Animals, Colors and Metals

Here’s some more heraldry basics. Sometimes shields had patterns on them. These patterns are called variations. A shield could have variations over the whole shield or only on part of it. The patterns are usually made with two colors. I chose not to have a pattern on my character’s coat of arms because I thought it would be easier for the illustrator. But here’s a list of the most common shield variation names:

  • Barry – horizontal (sideways) stripes
  • Paly – vertical (up and down) stripes
  • Bendy – diagonal stripes
  • Chequy – a pattern of squares, like a checkerboard
  • Lozengy – a pattern of diamonds, like a diagonal checkerboard
  • Chevronny – a stripe-like pattern of upside-down v-shapes

Historically, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable explanation for why certain designs or animals were chosen to be part of a coat of arms. It seems that the owner of the coat of arms just chose whatever they liked.  For example, one person could include a lion in their coat of arms and say that it stood for bravery and courage, while another person could have a lion on there and say that it stood for nobility and royalty. And both of them would be right.

The main colors used in coats of arms were gold/yellow, silver/white, blue, red, green, purple, and black. Gold/yellow and silver/white were considered metals. Blue, red, green, purple and black were considered colors…in the language of heraldry, colors are called tinctures.

For my character, I chose to include an eagle in the coat of arms, because I wanted the eagle to represent wisdom and quick-thinking and far-sightedness. So I decided to have a black eagle on a blue background. But when I did some more research, I discovered that I had broken the Rule of Tincture.

The Rule of Tincture states that you may not have a metal on top of a metal in a coat of arms or a color on top of a color (there are a few historical exceptions). This rule existed because the whole point of carrying a coat of arms on a shield was to allow others to identify a knight from far away. It can be difficult to tell the lighter metals (gold/yellow and silver/white) apart at a distance, just like it could be difficult to see a dark blue lion on a black background from far away. But it would be easy to recognize a gold lion on a black background from far away. The contrast between the dark and light colors helps.

Well, I learned my lesson, and my character now has a coat of arms that follows the Rule of Tincture with a silver/white eagle on a blue background. If you think it still looks a little incomplete, don’t worry. Stay tuned for the third and final part of my Very Basic Heraldry series where I will explain what ordinaries are.

About Don M. Winn

Creator and Author of the Cardboard Box Adventures series of books.
This entry was posted in childrens books, Kid Stuff, Knights, Medieval, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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