In heraldry and heraldic vexillology, a blazon is a formal description
of a coat of arms, flag or similar emblem, from which the reader can
reconstruct the appropriate image. The verb to blazon means to create
such a description. The visual depiction of a coat of arms or flag has
traditionally had considerable latitude in design, but a verbal blazon
specifies the essentially distinctive elements. A coat of arms or flag
is therefore primarily defined not 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
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. This language has its own vocabulary, grammar and
syntax, or rules governing word order, which becomes essential for
comprehension when blazoning a complex coat of arms.
Other armorial objects and devices – such as badges, banners, and
seals – may also be described in blazon.
The noun and verb blazon (referring to a verbal description) are not
to be confused with the noun emblazonment, or the verb to emblazon,
both of which relate to the graphic representation of a coat of arms
or heraldic device.
2.1 French vocabulary and grammar
4 See also
6 External links
The word blazon is derived from French blason, "shield". It is found
in English by the end of the 14th century.
Formerly, heraldic authorities believed that the word was related to
the German verb blasen, "to blow (a horn)". Present-day
lexicographers reject this theory as conjectural and disproved.
Blazon is generally designed to eliminate ambiguity of interpretation,
to be as concise as possible, and to avoid repetition and extraneous
punctuation. English antiquarian
Charles Boutell stated in 1864:
Heraldic language is most concise, and it is always minutely exact,
definite, and explicit; all unnecessary words are omitted, and all
repetitions are carefully avoided; and, at the same time, every detail
is specified with absolute precision. The nomenclature is equally
significant, and its aim is to combine definitive exactness with a
brevity that is indeed laconic.
However, John Brooke-Little, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, wrote in
1985: "Although there are certain conventions as to how arms shall be
blazoned ... many of the supposedly hard and fast rules laid down in
heraldic manuals [including those by heralds] are often ignored."
A given coat of arms may be drawn in many different ways, all
considered equivalent and faithful to the blazon, just as the letter
"A" may be printed in many different fonts while still being the same
letter. For example, the shape of the escutcheon is almost always
immaterial, with very limited exceptions (e.g., the coat of arms of
Nunavut, for which a round shield is specified).
The main conventions of blazon are as follows:
Every blazon of a coat of arms begins by describing the field
(background), with the first letter capitalised, followed by a comma
",". In a majority of cases this is a single tincture; e.g. Azure
If the field is complex, the variation is described, followed by the
tinctures used; e.g.
Chequy gules and argent (checkered red and
If the shield is divided, the division is described, followed by the
tinctures of the subfields, beginning with the dexter side (shield
bearer's right, but viewer's left) of the chief (upper) edge; e.g.
Party per pale argent and vert (dexter half silver, sinister half
green), or Quarterly argent and gules (clockwise from viewer's top
left, i.e. dexter chief: white, red, white, red). In the case of a
divided shield, it is common for the word "party" or "parted" to be
omitted (e.g., Per pale argent and vert, a tree eradicated
Some authorities prefer to capitalise the names of tinctures and
charges, but this convention is far from universal. Where tinctures
are not capitalised, an exception may be made for the metal Or, in
order to avoid confusion with the English word "or". Where space is at
a premium, tincture names may be abbreviated: e.g., ar. for argent,
gu. for gules, az. for azure, sa. for sable, and purp. for purpure.
Following the description of the field, the principal ordinary or
ordinaries and charge(s) are named, with their tincture(s); e.g., a
The principal ordinary or charge is followed by any other charges
placed on or around it. If a charge is a bird or a beast, its attitude
is defined, followed by the creature'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
Counterchanged means that a charge which straddles a line of division
is given the same tinctures as the divided field, but reversed (see
the arms of
A quartered (composite) shield is blazoned one quarter (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; in other words, from the viewer's left to right.
Following the description of the shield, any additional components of
the achievement – such as crown/coronet, helmet, torse, mantling,
crest, motto, supporters and compartment – are described in turn,
using the same terminology and syntax.
A convention often followed historically was to name a tincture
explicitly only once within a given blazon. If the same tincture was
found in different places within the arms, this was addressed either
by ordering all elements of like tincture together prior to the
tincture name (e.g., Argent, two chevrons and a canton gules); or by
naming the tincture only at its first occurrence, and referring to it
at subsequent occurrences obliquely, for example by use of the phrase
"of the field" (e.g., Argent, two chevrons and on a canton gules a
lion passant of the field); or by reference to its numerical place in
the sequence of named tinctures (e.g., Argent, two chevrons and on a
canton gules a lion passant of the first: in both these examples, the
lion is argent). However, these conventions are now avoided by the
College of Arms
College of Arms in London, and by most other formal granting bodies,
as they may introduce ambiguity to complex blazons.
It is common to print all heraldic blazons in italic. Heraldry
has its own vocabulary, word-order and punctuation, and presenting it
in italics indicates to the reader the use of a quasi-foreign
Azure, a bend or. A coat made famous by the medieval court case Scrope
Party per pale argent and vert, a tree eradicated counterchanged. Arms
Argent, an eagle displayed gules armed and wings charged with trefoils
Or. Arms of Brandenburg.
Quarterly 1st and 4th Sable a lion rampant on a canton
Argent a cross
Gules; 2nd and 3rd quarterly
Gules in the 2nd and 3rd
quarters a fret Or overall on a bend Sable three escallops of the
first and as an augmentation in chief an inescutcheon,
Argent a cross
Gules and thereon an inescutcheon Azure, three fleurs-de-lis Or. Arms
French vocabulary and grammar
Because heraldry developed at a time when English clerks wrote in
Anglo-Norman French, many terms in English heraldry are of French
origin. Some of the details of the syntax of blazon also follow French
practice: thus, adjectives are normally placed after nouns rather than
A number of heraldic adjectives may be given in either a French or an
anglicised form: for example, a cross pattée or a cross patty; a
cross fitchée or a cross fitchy. In modern English blazons, the
anglicised form tends to be preferred.
Where the French form is used, a problem may arise as to the
appropriate adjectival ending, determined in normal French usage by
gender and number.
To describe two hands as appaumées, because the word main is feminine
in French, savours somewhat of pedantry. A person may be a good
armorist, and a tolerable French scholar, and still be uncertain
whether an escallop-shell covered with bezants should be blazoned as
bezanté or bezantée.
J. E. Cussans recommended spelling all French adjectives in the
masculine singular, without regard to the gender and number of the
nouns they qualify; but believed that a more usual convention was to
adhere to the feminine singular form, for example: a chief undée and
a saltire undée, even though the French nouns chef and sautoir are in
Full descriptions of shields range in complexity, from a single word
to a convoluted series describing compound shields:
Arms of Brittany: Ermine
Azure, a Bend Or, over which the families of
Scrope and Grosvenor
fought a famous legal battle (see
Scrope v. Grosvenor
Scrope v. Grosvenor and image
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.
Hungary dating from 1867, when part of Austria-Hungary:
Quarterly I. Azure three Lions' Heads affronté Crowned Or (for
Dalmatia); II. chequy
Gules (for Croatia); III. Azure a
Argent thereon a Marten proper beneath a
six-pointed star Or (for Slavonia); IV. per
Fess Azure and Or over all
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
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); over all an escutcheon Barry of eight
Gules and Argent
Gules on a Mount Vert a Crown Or issuant therefrom a
Argent (for Hungary).
Arms of Brittany
Arms of Östergötland
^ a b "blazon, n.".
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford
University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK
public library membership required.)
^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th. ed., vol.11, p.683, "Heraldry"
^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Blazon". Encyclopædia Britannica
(11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ Boutell, Charles, Heraldry, Historical and Popular, 3rd edition,
London, 1864, pp. 8–9.
^ J. P. Brooke-Little: An
Heraldic Alphabet; new and revised edition,
p. 52. London: Robson Books, 1985.
^ a b c "
Blazon in CoA". CoA: The Coat of Arms. Retrieved 26 December
^ Boutell 1864, p. 11.
^ Courtenay, P. The Armorial Bearings of Sir Winston Churchill
Archived 2013-07-18 at the Wayback Machine.. The Churchill Centre.
^ a b Cussans, John E. (1874). The Handbook of
Heraldry (2nd ed.).
London: Chatto & Windus. p. 47.
^ Velde, François (August 1998). "Hungary".
Heraldry by Countries.
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.
The dictionary definition of blazon at Wiktionary
Media related to Illustrated atlas of French and English heraldic
terms at Wikimedia Commons
Heraldic Dictionary[dead link]
Heraldic Primer, by Stephen Gold and Timothy Shead, explaining the
terminology in detail
Grammar of Blazonry by Bruce Miller
Heraldic Blazon/Emblazon Knowledge, an SCA page with
a lengthy dictionary of blazon terms
Public Register of the Canadian
Heraldic Authority with many useful
official versions of modern coats of arms, searchable online
Heraldry of England and Wales, fully searchable with
Arms of members of the
Heraldry Society of Scotland, fully searchable
with illustrations of bearings
Arms of members of the
Heraldry Society (England), with illustrations
Members' Roll of Arms of the Royal
Heraldry Society of Canada, with
illustrations of bearings
Law of heraldic arms
Grant of arms
Officers of arms
King of Arms, Herald, Pursuivant
Private Officer of Arms
Conventional elements of coats of arms
Slogan (battle cry)
coats of arms
National coat of arms
Augmentation of honour
Sanguine (blood red)
Crowns and coronets
Mantle and pavilion
List of oldest heraldry
Heraldic flag (
Banner of arms)
Women in heraldry
1 Non-traditional, rarely used traditions in italic (typically
regional or modern, considered unheraldic by some)
Rule of tincture
1 Rarely used – mostly only in some regional traditions or as
relatively modern innovations – and considered unheraldic by