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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 in modern usage flags are often 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. Blazonry is the noun describing the art, craft or practice of creating a blazon. The language employed in blazonry has its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax, 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.


The word blazon is derived from French blason, "shield". It is found in English by the end of the 14th century.[1]

Formerly, heraldic authorities believed that the word was related to the German verb blasen, "to blow (a horn)".[2][3] Present-day lexicographers reject this theory as conjectural and disproved.[1]


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:

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."[5]

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 (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, 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 counterchanged).
  • 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 bend or.
  • 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 Brandenburg below).
  • 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 Behnsdorf below).
  • 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 in London, and by most other formal granting bodies, as they may introduce ambiguity to complex blazons.[6]
  • It is common to print all heraldic blazons in italic.[6][7] Heraldry has its own vocabulary, word-order and punctuation, and presenting it in italics indicates to the reader the use of a quasi-foreign language.
  • Azure, a bend or. A coat made famous by the medieval court case Scrope v. Grosvenor.
  • Party per pale argent and vert, a tree eradicated counterchanged. Arms of Behnsdorf.
  • 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 Argent and 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 of Churchill.[8]

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 before.

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.[6]

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.

The usual convention in English heraldry is 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 fact masculine.[9] Efforts have however been made, for example by J. E. Cussans, who suggested that all French adjectives should be expressed in the masculine singular, without regard to the gender and number of the nouns they qualify, thus a chief undé and a saltire undé.


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

See also

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