Blazon, (fr. Blason): a word which, whatever may be the derivation and original meaning, now signifies to describe a coat of arms in such a manner that an accurate drawing may be made from the description. In order to do so, a knowledge of the tinctures, ordinaries, charges, and points of the shield is particularly necessary.
1. In blazoning a coat of arms the first thing to be mentioned is the FIELD, whether it be of one tincture, as Gules; or parted, as Per fesse; Per pale; or Quarterly(and then add 'first,' or 'first and fourth'), &c.; or if it be of any of the patterns frequently used, as Checquy, Bendy, Fretty, &c.; or if the field be semé, or strewed with any small charges without regard to number(and they are to be named next after the field itself), always naming the tincture or tinctures.
Azure, semé of trefoils argent, a lion rampant of the last--HOLLAND.
2. The principal ORDINARY is next to be mentioned, with its peculiarities of form(if any) and tincture, as.
Gules, a saltire argent--NEVILL, Earl of Warwick.
Azure, a chevron or--D'AUBERNOUN, Surrey.
Argent, a bend engrailed sable--RADCLIFFE, Sussex.
Per saltire argent and azure, a saltire gules--GAGE, Hengrave, Suffolk.
Gules, a chevron between three mullets of six points, pierced, or--DANVERS, Northamp.
Or, a fesse between three lions rampant gules--BANNERTON, Salop.
Of the charges placed above, below, or beside the principal bearing, whether on sinister or dexter side; those in chief are named before those in base, and those on the dexter take precedence of those on the sinister.
Argent, two bars gules, in chief three torteaux--WAKE, Linc.
Gules, three hands holding respectively a crown a key and a purse or--arms ascribed to NIGELLUS, Bp. of Ely, 1133-69.
If there be no ordinary, the principal charge, or the charge or charges which cover the fesse-point, or are in the midst of the field, should first be named, and any charge whose position is not specially mentioned, or at least implied to be otherwise, is understood to be in the middle of the shield.
Azure, two organ-pipes between four crosses patée or--Lord WILLIAMS of Thame.
Sable, a lion passant guardant or, between three esquire's helmets argent--COMPTON, Northamp.
Azure, two trumpets pileways between eight crossed crosslets 3, 3, 2, or--TRUMPINGTON.
If there be no charges of the kinds already mentioned, whatever charges there may be must be named after the field, notice being taken of their position with regard to one another, as.
Sable, three ducal coronets in pale or--The see of BRISTOL.
Azure, ten estoils, four three, two, one, or--ALSTON, Beds.
Sable, fifteen bezants, five, four, three, two, and one--County of CORNWALL.
When three charges are borne two and one it is superfluous to say so, as they are always to be drawn in that position if no other be mentioned. Example:--
Or, three torteaux--COURTENAY.
Consequently the arms of England, when the three lions are one beneath the other, are not rightly blazoned, unless they are said to be in pale.
It is also highly necessary to describe the position of each charge individually, whenever there is the possibility of a mistake. It would of course be quite superfluous to describe a crescent or a billet as erect, because that is their natural position, but there are many charges which may be placed several ways with equal propriety: keys, for instance, may be in pale, (palewise in pale is implied), barwise in pale, bendwise in pale, palewise in fesse, and in many other positions which it would be useless to enumerate here. The wards need not be described as turned to the dexter, because that is their ordinary position, though they are often endorsed.
4. Next come charges upon the ordinary or central charge, as.
Argent, on a fesse sable, between three hawks rising proper, a leopard's face between two mullets or--STONEHOUSE, Radley, Berks.
5. The BORDURE and the charges thereon are next to be mentioned.
6. The CANTON or CHIEF with all charges upon them are to be emblazoned next.
Sable, on a cross engrailed argent, a lion passant gules, between four leopard's faces azure; on a chief or, a rose of the third, seeded of the fifth, barbed vert, between two Cornish choughs proper--The arms of Cardinal WOLSEY, now borne by CHRIST CHURCH, Oxford.
It often happens that one ordinary or charge is superimposed over some other or others, and this, if so, should be named last, and expressed by the term over all.
7. Lastly come the DIFFERENCES or marks of cadency, and the baronet's badge.
In blazon repetition should be avoided: the name of a tincture should never be used twice in describing the same coat. To avoid this it is customary to say of the third, of the field, &c., as in the arms of WOLSEY above. If the field be all of one tincture, a charge of the same may be said to be of the field, but otherwise of the first or second. Some heralds of the seventeenth century used the word gold to avoid the repetition of or. The word silver was, though less frequently, used for argent.
If two charges consecutively named are of the same tincture, the tincture mentioned after the latter serves for both, as in the arms of DANVERS and STONEHOUSE given above; but except in very simple cases it is better to name the tincture after the former, describing the latter as of the last.
The way to avoid the repetition of numbers may be shewn by the following example--
Sable, on a chevron or, between three estoiles of the second(or last), as many crosses pattée fitchée gules--Archbishop LAUD.
While conciseness in blazoning is sought after, it should never be forgotten that the best blazon is that which is the most perspicuous. Tautology and diffuseness in describing a coat of arms are undoubtedly faults, but ambiguity is a much greater one. In the choice of technical terms, English ones are in general to be preferred to French, and those whose signification is undisputed to those which have different meanings.
It may perhaps, be mentioned with greater propriety here than elsewhere, that every charge in which there is the distinction of front and back is ordinarily to be turned towards the dexter side of the escutcheon, unless directed to be placed otherwise(see Counter-couchant, &c.); but in banners the charges should be turned towards the staff, and upon the caparison of a horse towards his head. In the oldest plates remaining in the stalls of the knights of the garter, at S.George's Chapel, Windsor, all the shields and charges are inclined towards the alter, so that those on the north side are turned contrary to the usual practice.