Symbolism of Heraldry

Symbolism of Heraldry

The meaning of colours and images on surname coats of arms (family crests) and shields

A listing with their meaning for some of the most commonly used images used in heraldry, appearing on surname coats of arms (or family crests), shields and crests (the smaller image above the helmet on a coat of arms), along with the heraldic colours (or tinctures) used.

Also see: What is a Coat of Arms?

This Page (1): Heraldic colours (tinctures), shields and ordinaries, heraldic lines used on shields and coats of arms (family crests).

Page 2: Heraldic symbolism used on shields, coats of arms (or family crests) and images.

Heraldry Tinctures (Colours) & Their Meaning

The two metallic colours are:

Silver (or White) (Argent or ‘Ar.’) Meaning: Peace and sincerity.
Gold (Or) Meaning: Generosity and elevation of the mind.

The five tinctures (or colours) are:

Black (Sable or ‘Sa.’) Meaning: Constancy or grief.
Blue (Azure or ‘Az.’) Meaning: Truth and loyalty.
Green (Vert) Meaning: Hope, joy, and loyalty in love.
Red (Gules or ‘Gu.’) Meaning: Magnanimity, warrior or military strength, and martyr.
Purple (or ‘Purp.) Meaning: Royal majesty, sovereignty, and justice.

The word proper is used to mean something in its natural or normal colour, so an eagle proper would appear with brown feathers, and a lion proper would be in its natural tan or yellow-gold colour.

Those above are the main and normal tinctures, but occasionally a few other colours may be used, these are:

Orange (Tawny or Tenne) Meaning: Worthy ambition.
Maroon (Sanguine or Murray) Meaning: Fortitude or victorious.


Heraldic Ordinaries Used on Shields (Escutcheons) | Coats of Arms (Family Crests)

Heradry Shield Fesse
Fesse or Fess
A horizontal band through the middle of the shield.
Military belt or girdle of honour – readiness to serve the public.
Heraldry Shield Fesse Wavy
Fesse (Fess) Wavy
A horizontal wavy band through the middle of the shield.
As fesse above but drawn like the waves of the sea.
Heraldry Shield Per Fesse
Per Fesse (Fess)
A horizontal line through the middle of the shield.
A shield divided per fesse.
A horizontal band along the top of the shield.
Dominion and authority – often used to signify prudence and wisdom or command in war.
Heraldry Shield Chevron
A V-shaped band inverted.
Builders who have accomplished work of faithful service, a military insignia indicating rank or length of service.
Heraldry Shield Per Chevron
Per Chevron
A shield with the base area filled with an inverted V-shape.
As a chevron above.
Heraldry Shield Bend
A diagonal band.
A scarf or shield suspender of a knight commander – defence or protection.
Heraldry Shield Per Bend
Per Bend
A shield divided into two with a diagonal line.
As a shield bend.
Heraldry Shield Cross
A cross expanding to the edges of the shield top to bottom and both sides.
Faith, Christianity, service in the Crusades.
Heraldry Shield Saltire
St. Andrew’s Cross expanding to all edges of the shield.
Heraldry Shield Per Saltire
Per Saltire
A shield divided into four filled sections using two crossing lines as seen with a cross saltire.
Heraldry Shield Pale
A vertical band centred from top to bottom of the shield.
Military strength.
Heraldry Shield Per Pale
Per Pale
A shield divided equally in two with a vertical line.
Pale: Military strength.
Heraldry Shield Paly
A shield divided equally into four or more pales of alternating tinctures.
Military strength.
Heraldry Shield Pile
A shield with a V-shaped wedge from the top down to a point.
Shaped wood used in building, also used on a pennon or flag.
Heraldry Shield Canton
A shield with a square normally in the upper dexter corner.
Reward from the sovereign for performance of eminent service.
Heraldry Shield Quartered or Quarterly
Quartered or Quarterly
A shield divided quarterly with a horizontal and vertical line.
Used to create four sections on a shield. Often used for double-barrelled surnames, with the first surname for the 1st and 4th quarters, and the second surname in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
Heraldry Shield Gyronny
A shield divided into gyrons, known as gyronny (of eight or more sections).
Heraldry Shield Chequy
A shield divided into squares of two tinctures.
Heraldry Shield Lozengy
A shield divided into lozenge-(diamond) shapes of two tinctures.
Honesty and constancy.
Heraldry Shield Vair
A shield with alternating variegated (bell) shapes.
Also known as a fur.
Heraldry Shield Ermine
Shield Ermine
A silver shield filled with ermine spots or marks.
Used as a mark of dignity.


Lines Used on Coats of Arms (Family Crest) Shields and Heraldic Images

Hereldry Lines EngrailedEngrailed (Meaning): Earth or land.

Heraldry Lines EmbattledEmbattled (Meaning): Walls of a fortress or town.

Heraldry Shield DancetteeDancettee (or Dancetty) (Meaning): Water.

Hereldry Nebuly or Nebulee LinesNebuly (or Nebulee) (Meaning): Clouds.

Heraldry  Lines Raguly or RaguleRaguly (Meaning): Difficulties encountered.

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