A blazon is a written description of a coat of arms.
While all blazons share common characteristics, some regions have their own style and variation.
Herein, I will use the British style of blazoning.
And before I go too far, let me freely admit I am a novice at heraldry and blazoning.
For a more authoritative understanding of this subject, please see my list of recommended websites at this article's end.
Coats of arms (also called "armorial bearings") and the art of describing them, called "blazoning," came in to being in the Middle Ages.
Traditionally, a coat of arms was borne by one man, not a whole family.
Nowadays, we think of them as family coats of arms. That's fine as long as we keep in mind what they were originally.
Centuries ago, when good paper and inks were rare and expensive, and everything was done by hand, it was impractical and costly to produce and store images (drawings)—especially in color.
Making copies of such illustrated documents would require the same arduous and expensive effort for every copy!
Thus, instead of imagery, descriptive words (blazons) were used to record men's official armorial bearings.
These descriptions could be more easily copied than could drawn images. (A book of blazons is called an "armorial.")
Thus, a particular portrayal (image) of a coat of arms is not as significant as its blazon. This is an important point to grasp!
The description (blazon) is what's "official," not the image of the coat of arms.
The same coat of arms can legitimately be depicted in myriad variations,
as the vagaries of artistic creativity are wont to do—so long as such depiction adheres to the wording of its blazon.
Think of it this way: The letter "g" can appear in slightly different ways
(g or g) but it is still the letter g.
Likewise, multiple drawings of the same coat of arms can be a little different and still correct.
For instance, the navigational compass in my coat of arms can be drawn in many different ways, so long as it is compass-like and Argent colored.
(I explain what "Argent" means in the "Tinctures" section.)
Likewise, the lion cannot be an image of another animal, say, a stag, because the blazon specifies that it is a lion.
Images of objects, geometric shapes, animals and plants are called "charges."
Ideally, charges are easily identifiable. Thus when illustrating a blazon,
all objects and animals should be drawn well enough to distinguish them from other objects and animals.
To help an artist achieve accurate depiction of a coat of arms from its blazon, some charges are defined more exhaustively than others.
In my coat of arms, the navigational compass can be depicted in many different ways, whereas in the case of the lion,
my blazon specifies exactly how the lion should be posed: passant.
I explain what that word (and other specialized words used in my blazon) means when I detail my coat of arms.
There are too many specialized words in blazons to attempt to explain every one here.
Coats of Arms
Coats of arms originated in medieval warfare.
In the turmoil of battle, a combatant had to decide quickly whether someone approaching was a friend or foe.
A colored and marked shield identified who was behind it.
Thus, armorial bearings, as they are known, came into being as a means of recognition.
For this to work, it required that no one copied another man's coat of arms. Thus began the regulation of coats of arms that continues to this day.
So distinctive were armorial bearings, the dead in battle were identified by them.
Coats of arms can consist of various elements, but as the foregoing suggests, the central and most important part is the shield (also called "escutcheon").
Please note that while the shield is very important, the shape of the shield is irrelevant!
It can be any shape at all. The blazon merely describes the colors and insignia on a shield, not its shape.
Other than the shield, everything else is optional. A helm (helmet) is often shown just above the shield, but need not be.
Indeed, blazons don't usually describe the helm, but there is a separate protocol
determining what the helm should look like (visor, no visor, visor open, visor closed, etc.) and how it should be shown (face-on, profile, etc.).
I won't go into all that here.
Above the helm is a wreath (also called a "torce"), typically appearing like a length of twisted fabric.
About the wreath is the mantle (a cloak-like depiction that over the years has become so stylized it can appear more plantlike than clothes-like.)
At the top of the coat of arms is the crest. This is often a portrayal of an animal, a weapon or some other object of special meaning to the bearer.
Remember, all elements other than the shield are optional. Many coats of arms have no crest at all.
There may be a motto or two above or below the shield. Rarely, a motto is incorporated into a shield.
On the sides of the shield, there may be figures of animals, people or other depictions; these are called supporters.
Altogether, these various elements are called an "achievement of arms."
A good coat of arms will be simple, employing fewer rather than more tinctures and charges.
The Language of Blazons
Written descriptions needed to be concise in an age where paper was not cheap and everything was copied by hand.
Thus, a shortcut language (using English and Old French words) was created for blazons. It esteemed brevity.
Repetition of words—particularly colors—was shunned; even punctuation marks were eschewed!
Nowadays, such extremes are quaint; repetition is still avoided, but punctuation is commonly accepted.
Indeed, it's a useful construct to avoid ambiguities that occur in unpunctuated blazons of yore.
Before I describe my coat of arms, let me explain some fundamentals of blazoning.
The directional word "right" is known as "dexter" in blazonment.
Likewise, "left" has its name: "sinister."
Note: Dexter and sinister define directions as seen from the shield holder's point of view—not our point of view.
Just as there are special words to emblazon left versus right, so too are there special words to describe the materials from which shields were made.
These materials include metals, paints and sometimes animal hides (furs).
In heraldry, these various metals, colors and furs are called tinctures.
Each has a name used in blazoning. I will mention only some of the most common.
Or (gold or yellow)
Argent (silver or white/ivory)
Tenné (tan or orange)
Ermine (black spots on a white background or "field")
Ermines (white spots on a black background)
Erminois (black spots on a yellow background)
Pean (yellow spots on a black background)
*Although "Vert" comes from French, the tincture for green in French style blazoning is "Sinople."
This is one of those regional variations I referred to in my opening paragraph.
Recall that I employ the British style of blazoning.
As I mentioned, these are just a few of the tinctures, but they include the most common—including the tinctures I use in my coat of arms:
Argent, Gules, Vert and Erminois.
In my blazon (and in this document) I capitalize the names of the tinctures.
This convention helps distinguish these important words from the others and is particularly useful in the case of Or,
which otherwise might easily be confused (if un-capitalized) with the conjunction "or."
You may not see these words capitalized in other blazons.
The Rule of Tincture
Remember that coats of arms are first and foremost meant as means of identification.
Therefore, their coloring should be readily visible and obvious.
To this end there is "The Rule of Tincture" which states that a color should not be placed atop another color,
nor should a metal be placed atop another metal.
Doing so might make the coat of arms difficult to distinguish, especially in the heat of battle.
A red dragon, for instance, is easily seen when it's on a silver or gold background, not so on,
say, a blue or black background. This so-called rule is really more a suggestion than a requirement,
however, because there are numerous exceptions to it,
perhaps the most famous being the coat of arms of Jerusalem: a gold cross on a silver background.
Nonetheless, it's a good practice to follow The Rule of Tincture, lest someone
think your coat of arms is armes fausses (false arms), implying a mistake was made portraying it.
A kinder characterization may be armes à enquérir (arms of inquiry),
which presumes the coat of arms is correctly depicted and invites the viewer to inquire how such an oddity came to be.
ABOUT MY BLAZON
Blazons typically begin by stating the shield's color, especially when it has no other tinctures.
Few shields are so plain. My shield's color is red, but there is also a fur and a metal on it.
So without a dominant color, I begin my blazon describing its divisions.
My shield is divided horizontally at the bottom third.
Thus my blazon begins, "Per fess at the nombril point."
The term "Per fess" (or "fesse") means the shield is parted (divided) horizontally.
The qualifier "at the nombril point" means the parting occurs between the shield's midpoint and the bottom.
This is an uncommon place to divide a shield, but it works well for my coat of arms and makes it all the more distinctive, methinks.
Next I describe each of the shield's two partitions, starting (as is customary) with the topmost first.
Within the blazon, I signify the top and bottom partitions with a "(1)" and "(2)" respectively.
The top partition is subdivided (quartered) into four roughly equal rectangles,
which alternate between the fur (Erminois, which is a pattern of black spots on a yellow field) and the color Gules (red).
The term "quarterly" conveys that 4-square trait.
Thus, my blazon says "Quarterly Erminois and Gules..."
See how few words are used to describe it? Brevity is the soul of blazonment.
Now that I have described the divisions and tinctures of the top partition of my shield, I need to describe any charges thereon.
To wit, a navigation compass. It is Argent (ivory), and the only qualifier I proscribe is that it be 8-pointed,
as opposed to 4-pointed, lest it be confused with an astronomical star (called a mullet).
Here's how I blazon it.
"...An 8-pointed navigational compass Argent." (Note that the color of the charge always appears after its identification.)
I call the compass "navigational" to distinguish it from a draftsman's compass.
Remember that all this brevity can cause ambiguity; nevertheless, a good blazoner will be brief without being ambiguous.
Now that the top partition is completely described, I go on to detail the bottom partition.
It's much simpler. "Argent a lion passant Vert," tells it all.
"Argent" describes the ivory color of the field. "Lion" describes the charge thereon.
"Passant," as I mentioned beforehand, describes what an animal is doing. In this case, it's running (with its head profiled).
One word, "passant," says all that. Here again brevity is manifest.
Were the lion running with its head facing the viewer, it would be "Passant Guardant."
Were its head turned back on itself, it would be "Passant Regrardant."
The most common lion charge is "rampant," showing the animal upright on its hind legs.
This fine detail is significant because there are myriad ways a quadruped (four-legged animal) might be posed on a shield—including bizarre
depictions like having two tails (called "queue fourchée") and missing a tail ("defamed").
You may have noticed that my blazon fails to indicate what direction the lion is facing.
That's because left—from the viewer's prespective—is always assumed, unless otherwise noted.
Lastly, I need to give the color of the lion. One word does that: "Vert" (green).
I do not need to note that the lion's tongue and claws are red (Gules).
In heraldry, tongues and claws are always colored red—unless the beast's color itself is red,
in which case convention calls for the tongue and claws to be blue (Azure).
Remember that characteristics and configurations must be blazoned exactingly, lest the coat of arms be incorrect!
With that, the shield—the most important part of a coat of arms—is fully blazoned.
But there is often more to an achievement of arms than its shield; this is certainly true of mine.
There is also a wreath on the helm. Traditionally the wreath is rendered (tinctured) in a color and a metal.
Here's how I convey that meaning: "A wreath Gules and Argent."
The mantle is almost never described because its shape can be any and its tinctures (colors) are assumed to match the wreath.
No assumptions, however, can be made about the crest.
That can be almost any image imaginable, from simple to intricate, and may have little association with the shield's tinctures and charges.
On my coat of arms, the crest is a green comet. "A comet sinsiter Vert."
Remember that sinsiter means the charge is "facing" (or in this case flying) left from the shield holder's point of view.
A parting word about the metal Or.
You may be wondering why you see so much yellow in my escutcheon but don't see the tincture "Or" (yellow) anywhere in my blazon.
That's because the yellow you see is not the metal Or but the fur Erminois, traditionally depicted as black spots on a yellow background.
This completes my blazon. Although I have a motto and include my surname in my coat of arms appearing hereon, traditionally,
neither of these elements is included in a blazon itself.
When they appear in a rendering of a coat of arms, typically they are shown as writing on a scroll, often in Latin or French, though any language may be used.
Beneath my blazon (remember, a blazon is the written description of a coat of arms, not the image of it),
I have provided supplementary information.
That includes a translation of my motto from Latin into English, an itimization and interpretation of the charges appearing on my shield and crest,
a list of the tinctures employed, and lastly a rationale for the design of my coat of arms.
As aforementioned, coats of arms are meant to be unique to one individual, like a signature.
Through considered design and execution, my imprimatur is manifest in these armorial bearings, and pleasantly so, methinks.
Below are symbols of the Enrick surname's Scottish roots as a sept (member) of the Gunn Clan. The motto "Aut Pax Aut Bellum" means "Ready in peace and in war."
The Surname Enrick belongs to the
Scottish Clan Gunn
whose badge appears above.
Tratan of the
Scottish Clan Gunn.