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In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description of, most often, a coat of arms or flag, which enables a person to construct or reconstruct the appropriate image. A coat of arms or flag is therefore not primarily defined by a picture, but rather by the wording of its blazon (though often flags are in modern usage additionally and more precisely defined using geometrical specifications). Blazon also refers to the specialized language in which a blazon is written, and, as a verb, to the act of writing such a description.

Other objects, such as badges, banners, and seals may be described in blazon.


A blazon follows a rather rigid formula. First, the shield is described, beginning with the background colour:

  • Every blazon of a coat of arms begins by describing the field (background). In a majority of cases this is a single tincture; e.g. Azure (blue). If the field is complex, the variation is described, followed by the tinctures used; e.g. Chequy gules and argent (checkered red and white). If the shield is divided, the division is described, followed by the tinctures of the subfields in order from dexter (viewer's left) to sinister (viewer's right) or chief (top) to base (bottom), or for quartered shields the first and fourth (top left and bottom right) followed by the second and third quarters (followed by an inescutcheon en surtout, if any), as the case may be; e.g. Party per pale argent and vert (left half silver, right half green), or Quarterly argent and gules (clockwise from top left: white, red, white, red).
  • Next the principal charge(s) are named, with their tincture(s); e.g. a bend Or.
  • The principal charge is followed by any other charges placed around or on it. If a charge be a bird or beast, its attitude is described, followed by the animal's tincture, followed by anything that may be differently coloured; e.g. An eagle displayed gules, armed and wings charged with trefoils Or (see the coat of arms of Brandenburg).

After the shield has been described, the accessories, including the crown/coronet (if any), helmet, torse, mantling, crest, and motto or war cry (if any), are described. These are followed by the supporter(s) and sometimes the compartment, when these are appropriate (i.e. in royal or national arms, or in the arms of a member of a peerage). Each of these elements are described using the same grammatical structure as the charges on the shield (i.e. the thing is named, then described, then colour indicated, followed by any attribute that may be coloured differently).

A composite shield is blazoned one panel at a time, proceeding by rows from chief (top) to base, and within each row from dexter (the right side of the bearer holding the shield) to sinister (i.e. from the viewer's left to right). A divided shield is blazoned "party per [line of division]" in English heraldry or "parted per [line of division]" in Scottish heraldry, though the word "party" or "parted" is often omitted (e.g. "Per pale argent and vert, a tree eradicated counterchanged"). A tincture is sometimes replaced by "of the first", "of the second" etc. to avoid repetition of tincture names; they refer to the order in which the tinctures were first mentioned. "Counterchanged" means that a charge which straddles a line of division is tinctured of the same tinctures as the divided field, reversed (see Behnsdorf arms pictured above).

A given coat-of-arms may be drawn in many different ways, all considered equivalent, just as the letter "A" may be printed in many different fonts while still being the same letter. For example, the shape of the shield is almost always immaterial. (An exception can be seen in the coat of arms of Nunavut where the shield is specified as circular.)

Because heraldry developed at a time when English clerks wrote in French, many terms in English heraldry are of French origin, as is the practice of placing most adjectives after nouns rather than before.


Full descriptions of shields range in complexity, from a single word to a convoluted series describing compound shields:

  • Arms of Brittany, France: Ermine
  • Azure, a bend Or, over which the families of Scrope and Grosvenor fought a famous legal battle (see Scrope v. Grosvenor and image above).
  • Arms of Östergötland, Sweden: Gules a griffin with dragon wings, tail and tongue rampant Or armed, beaked, langued and membered azure between four roses argent.
  • Arms of Hungary dating from 1867, when part of Austria-Hungary:

    Quarterly, I azure, three lions' heads affrontés crowned Or (for Dalmatia); II chequy gules and argent (for Croatia); III azure, a river in fess gules bordered argent, thereupon a marten proper, beneath a six-pointed star Or (for Slavonia); IV per fess azure and Or, overall a bar gules, in the chief a demi-eagle sable displayed addextré of the sun in splendour, and senestré of a crescent argent, in the base seven towers three and four gules (for Transylvania); enté en point gules, a double-headed eagle proper on a peninsula vert, holding a vase pouring water into the sea argent, beneath a crown proper with bands azure (for Fiume); overall an escutcheon barry of eight gules and argent impaling gules, on a mount vert a crown Or, issuant therefrom a double cross argent (for Hungary).[1]

See also


  1. ^ Velde, François (August 1998). "Hungary". Heraldry by Countries. Retrieved 2007-12-13.  
  • Brault, Gerard J. (1997). Early Blazon: Heraldic Terminology in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, (2nd ed.). Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press. ISBN 0-85115-711-4.
  • Elvin, Charles Norton. (1969). A Dictionary of Heraldry. London: Heraldry Today. ISBN 0-900455-00-4.
  • Parker, James. A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry, (2nd ed.). Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Co. ISBN 0-8048-0715-9.

External links

  • A Heraldic Primer, by Stephen Gold and Timothy Shead, explaining the terminology in detail. URL last accessed May 8, 2007.
  • Luz Herald: free access to web versions of Burke's General Armory (incomplete, 1,500 British surnames) and Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry, as well as Blason des familles d'Europe, Grand Armorial Universel (15,000 European surnames) (in French)
  • A Grammar of Blazonry by Bruce Miller. URL last accessed May 8, 2007.
  • "Commonly Known" Heraldic Blazon/Emblazon Knowledge (an SCA related page with a lengthy dictionary of blazon terms)
  • Scottish Ensigns Armorial, the blazon of the Arms of the Baron of Kilmarnock.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BLAZON, a heraldic shield, a coat of arms properly "described" according to the rules of heraldry, hence a proper heraldic description of such a coat. The O. Fr. blason seems originally to have meant simply a shield as a means of defence and not a shield-shaped surface for the display of armorial bearings, but this is difficult to reconcile with the generally accepted derivation from the Ger. blasen, to blow, proclaim, English "blaze," to noise abroad, to declare. In the 16th century the heraldic term, and "blaze" and "blazon" in the sense of proclaim, had much influence on each other.

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