Fantasy Guide to Heraldry, Sigils and Coats of Arms
We love our banners and flags. They make a battle field bright, they light up a hall, they look great piled on a courtyard after being pulled down by one victorious lady and dashing bastard. Ah, the good old days.
These are my coats of arms, which technically I cannot have because I too am a bastard. But hey, I can dream. So lets get to it.
Major Divisions of the Field
These are the ways that different parts of the arms can be divided off from each other. Some banners and arms can contain multiple divisions depending on how many titles the person owns.
- Chequy : Checker squares
- Fess: horizontal stripe across the shield Pale: vertical stripe down the shield
- Bend: diagonal stripe
- Chevron: like a house gable, pointing upwards
- Cross: a plain cross
- Saltire: a ‘St. Andrew’s cross’
- Chief: bar across top edge of shield
- Bordure: border round edges of shield
- Pile: downward-pointing triangle
- Engrailed: with semi-circular bites taken out of the charge
- Embattled: shaped like battlements.
- Dancetty: larger zig-zags
- Wavy: undulations
- Nebuly: more pronounced waves
- Rayonné, rayonny: shaped the rays of the sun, sort of like the Karstark sunburst.
- Bevilled: with a single offset or bevel.
- Quartered: A section of the shield is a different colour to the others.
- Gyron: A triangular charge, half a canton.
- Flaunches or flanches: These are curved “bites” taken out of the sides of the shield.
- Canton: Like the quarter, it sections off some of the banner. But only one-ninth of the shield.
Or colours. In many fantasy novels, we have banners of different colours or thousands of shades. But in heraldry, there are certain colours and each have their own fancy French name.
- Silver / White : Or the proper name, Argent. Means truth, sincerity, peace, innocence and purity.
- Gold: Called Or. Stands for wisdom, generosity, glory, constancy and faith.
- Black: Called Sable. Means wisdom, grief, constancy and prudence.
- Green: called Vert. Means abundance, joy, hope and loyalty in love.
- Blue: Strangely not called bleu but rather Azure. Stands for loyalty, chastity, truth, strength and faith.
- Red: Another strange one. Referred to as Gules. Means magnanimity, military strength, warrior and martyr.
- Purple: Called Purpure and it means temperance, regal, justice, royal majesty, and sovereignty.
- Orange: is called Tenne / Tawny. Means ambition.
- Ermine: Black and white.
The one rule of Tincture is that you never even put two metal colours together. So no silver banners with gold.
Positions of the Heraldic Beasts
If your banners and arms feature a critter, than your creatures have to learn how to stand. There are many positions within the arms that the beast can take.
- Statant: all four feet on the ground
- Salient: The forelegs off the ground and the backlegs on the ground
- Rampant: Rearing with a single leg on the ground
- Passant: Standing with one foot raised
- Sejant Erect: Stop chuckling. The beast is sitting but has its forelegs raised
- Couchant: Lying down and head raised.
- Dormant: Lying down, asleep.
- Lodged : Lying, with the legs tucked under the body
- Trippant: Walking, with one foreleg slightly raised
- Courant: Running
- Springing: Leaping or jumping, with the hind legs on the ground (the term for a herbivore animal)
For the Birds
- Displayed: facing out from the shield, the wings fully extended
- Close: standing on the ground with the wings folded.
- Perched: perched on an object like a branch.
- Rousant: about to take wing.
- Soaring: Flying upwards.
- Volant: Flying more or less horizontally
You don’t need to have animals on your banners. Sometimes a good old shape will do.
- Bordure or border: runs round the edge of the shield; often it is used to difference arms, for instance for separate branches of the same family.
- Orle: is narrower than the bordure.
- Lozenge: Diamond shaped.
- Fusil: A narrower lozenge
- Tressure: A double orle treated as a single charge.
- Roundles: These are discs which can be of different colours, which each bring different terms.
Argent/ Plate: silver
- Annulets: are roundles with a hollow centre like rings.
- Fret: an interwoven design of six pieces.
The Laws of Heraldry
- Sometimes when the arms can change depending on who in the family is using the banner. They might add a certain symbol or even the shape of the banner to denote who that person is in the family. This is called cadency.
- Bastards and illegitimate children are not permitted to carry their parents arms. However they can have similar arms if the colours are reversed and there might even be a bend sinister on the shield.
- The main charge should cover its field
- Do not display a tincture on top of another tincture, or colour on colour; you cannot have vert on azure without a metal splitting them.