Heraldic Charges

   The coat of arms, or heraldic "achievement," consists of six basic parts: 1) the shield, without which nothing else can exist, and often just called the "arms"; 2) the helmet; 3) the mantling or lambrequin; 4) the wreath; 5) the crest; 6) the motto. By reason of rank and honor, other parts of the heraldic achievement may include: 7) a cap of maintenance, or chapeau; 8) a crest coronet; 9) supporters; 10) a compartment; 11) a slogan; 12) a standard or ensign; 13) a coronet of rank (for peers); 14) the insignia of orders of chivalry; 15) a badge. They look like this:

   There are literally hundreds of different symbols (or charges) that can appear on coats of arms. The colors that are chosen and even the shape of the shield itself can have significance for the Family, Clan or Sept that was to bear the arms.
   The explanations below are offered as the general interpretation of what this symbolism signifies. It is true though, that an individual coat of arms may have a history to it that far exceeds the meanings given here and that further investigation may be necessary. Still, there is broadly assigned significance to the symbols, shown below.

Color Meaning Image
Or (Gold) Generosity        
Argent (Silver or White) Sincerity, Peace  
Purpure (Purple) Justice, Sovereignty, Regal  
Gules (Red) Warrior, Martyr, Military Strength  
Azure (Blue) Strength, Loyalty  
Vert (Green) Hope, loyalty in love  
Sable (Black) Constancy, Grief  
Tenne or Tawny (Orange) Worthwhile Ambition  
Sanguine or Murray (Maroon) Victorious, Patient in Battle  
Name Meaning Image Example
Nebuly Line Clouds or Air
Wavy Line Sea or Water Crompton
Embattled Line Fire, Town-Wall Emery
Engrailed Line Earth, Land Berger
Invecked Line Earth, Land Berger
Indented Line Fire  
SHIELDS ON COATS OF ARMS (ORDINARIES): An ordinary is considered to be a charge, or bearing, of simple form. The ordinaries, or as they are called by the majority of heraldic writers, honorable ordinaries, are thought to be nine in number as follows:
Name Meaning Image Example
Chief Dominion, authority, wisdom, achievement in battle Steele
Pale Military strength, fortitude Wagner
Bend Representative of a Knights scarf - signifies Defence Sanderson
Fess Signifies the Military Belt - represents Honour Hause
Chevron Represents the roof of a house - signifies Protection, faithful service Raymond
Cross Christian, one who had served in the Crusades March
Saltire St. Andrew's cross, signifying Resolution, Resolve Prince
Pile represents wood used in bridge-building - signifies construction, building  
Canton (Quarter) Representative of a flag 'added' to the arms, and may contain a charge granted by a Sovereign  
Bordure Represents Honour, as used to differentiate between family members Munyon
HERALDIC BEASTS: There are several rules and guidelines in medieval heraldry concerning the display of animals on a device. First, the head of an animal was considered the most honored part, and often held the same virtues as the whole. Second, combinations of animals or parts of animals with a cross or crosses indicates service during the crusade involving the courage or virtue symbolized by that animal. And finally, always display the creature facing dexter, or to the left side of the shield, unless two animals are displayed facing each other in combat or counter-passant. Facing dexter means to face or advance toward a foe. Thus, facing sinister, or to the left, would and does imply cowardice -- at least in English and French heraldry.
Name Meaning Image Example
Lion Deathless courage; a valiant warrior. It is said to be a lively image of a good soldier, who must be "valiant in courage, strong of body, politic in council and a foe to fear."



Tiger Fierceness and valor, and dangerous when enraged to combat. One whose resentment will be dangerous if aroused. (Heraldic artists had never seen an actual tiger.) March
Wolf Valor and guardianship. Wolves were viewed as ferocious and merciless and it was thought that they could paralyze their enemies with a look. One who was a deadly enemy to have. Wagner
Leopard Valiant and enduring warrior Whiting
Horse The horse signifies readiness to act for one's king and country or a readiness for duty. It is also a symbol of speed, intellect and virility. Marsh
Bull Bulls' heads are perhaps more commonly found than the animal itself. Generally the horns are blazoned of a different tincture. Represents valor, bravery, and generosity. Larsen
Boar's Head Represents hospitality, or one who is hospitable. Walters
Lynx The lynx is an ancient heraldic symbol indicating that its bearer was possessed of particularly keen sight. Lynch
Dog Faithfulness and guardianship. A skilled hunter. Sometimes dogs were associated with priests since priests were watchdogs against the devil. Dogs of different names may appear on coats of arms. Sanderson
Squirrel The squirrel's habit of storing nuts to ensure a supply of food for the winter makes him a symbol of thrift, caution and conception, also a lover of the woods. Gilbert
Griffin Mythical creature, with the head, wings and talons of an eagle and the body and hind legs of a lion. It signifies valor, death-defying bravery, strength, vigilance, and perseverance.



Stag, Buck or Deer The stag can indicate someone who is a lover of peace and harmony. Or a person who foresees opportunities well -- one who will not fight unless provoked. Also an emblem of purity and fleetness.



Lamb Symbolizes gentleness and patience under suffering.
Unicorn Sometimes used as a symbol of Christ. The unicorn's horn has the power to heal sickness and purify water. It could only be tamed by a virgin. It would sense her purity and lay its head in her lap.
Wyvern Mythical beast with the upper part of a dragon, two legs and a body that curves into the tail of a serpent. It symbolizes valor and protection. It is also a symbol of vengeance or perseverance.
Name Meaning Image Example
Duck Ducks can elude their enemies in many ways, either by flying, running, swimming or diving; a symbol for a person of many resources. Referred to by many names such as drake, mallard, teal, moorhen, and sheldrake.
Eagle A man of action, occupied with high and weighty affairs. It was given to those of lofty spirit, ingenuity, quick wit, speedy in apprehension and judicious in matters of ambiguity.
Eagle - 2 Headed Symbolic of the protector . Also the joining of two forces.
Pelican The female pelican was believed to wound her breast with her long, curved bill, drawing blood to feed her young. A symbol of piety, self-sacrifice, and virtue. Symbolizes the duties of a parent or parental love.



Raven Symbol of knowledge. Also an emblem of divine providence. One who has become the architect of his own fortunes. It also represents one of an enduring constancy of nature.
Stork, Heron Emblem of filial duty and gratitude or obligation, and were believed to stand watch for each another. The stork is often shown holding a snake, while the heron often holds an eel. They represent vigilance.




Name Meaning Image Example

Apples, Pears, Fruit Apples symbolize liberality, felicity, peace, and salvation. All kinds of fruit were considered to be symbols of God's kindness and a symbol of the goodness of providence.
Fleur-de-lis French royalty, or conquering French royalty; Sixth son



Tree The tree is a symbol of antiquity and strength. Trees symbolize home or property, and they are also generally considered a symbol of life and strength.



Red Rose Hope and joy; it is first among flowers and expresses beauty and grace. With a red blossom, it is a symbol of grace, beauty, and sometimes martyrdom. It is also a sign of the seventh son.



Pine Apple (Pine Cone) The term pineapple, in heraldry, actually refers to a pinecone. It is symbolic of the inexhaustible abundance of life in nature.
Johan Christian Haus
Trefoil/Shamrock Perpetuity, longevity.
Cinquefoil Hope, Joy Lum
Thistle The thistle is an ancient heraldic emblem of pain and suffering. It is the royal badge of Scotland.
Name Meaning Image Example

Arrow Arrows symbolize martial readiness. In the case of Polish armory, bows and arrows signify a man resolved to challenge himself to the utmost in battle, and who is prepared to fight to the death. Stoldt
Bouget A water-bouget is a bag made from the skin of a goat or sheep that was used for carrying water on military expeditions. Thus it is a symbol for one who carried water to an army or to a besieged place Ketcham
Escallop Shell Successful commander who has made long journeys, or gained great victories. It is an emblem of safe travel. It is also an emblem of fidelity because its shells, once separated, can never be rejoined. Brookes
Feathers Willing obedience and serenity of mind. Helmets were more frequently ornamented with feathers than with family crests. So the plume (five feathers) became the actual, inheritable family crest. Hause
Fountain Sincerity, truthfulness, charity Brunner
Heart The ancients regarded the heart as the mark of a person of sincerity, who spoke the truth. It is sometimes used in heraldry in this sense, but more often as an emblem of kindness and charity  
(Flaming) Heart Signifies ardent affection.  
Hand Faith, sincerity, justice
Red Hand This is the mark of a Baronet. In Ireland the open red hand is often a symbol of the Province of Ulster.
Arm Arm - bare (naked) represents an industrious person, one who believes in and engages in hard work.  
Arm with armour Represents a person who has served as a leader or has the qualities of leadership. A person fit for high deeds Ketcham
Finger Ring or Annulet A plain ring. It's symbolic of continuity, wholeness, and fidelity. It also signified that the bearer had royal favor and protection. Also, on English arms an annulet was sometimes a sign of the fifth son. Sanderson
Mascle The links of chain armour and signified persuasiveness. A piece on which armor was fastened, and to represent a mesh of a net or the links of chain armour. Signifies honesty, constancy, noble birth. Henning
Bucket Conferred on those who had supplied water to an army or a besieged place. The common well bucket is usually the type born in arms, but they can also be hooped or have feet. Lischer
Catherine Wheel The emblem of one who is prepared to undergo great trials for the Christian faith, in honor of St. Catharine of Alexandria. Mueller
Shell Signifies protection of providence. Gardenier
Portcullis A great, barred, iron gate with spikes on the bottom, suspended over the main gate of a castle to be dropped before enemies could invade the castle. The bearer is a great defender in an emergency.
Label A decorative piece of fabric, usually silk. In heraldry, a narrow band edged by another band from which three short bars hang down. In English arms, it indicates the eldest son and heir. Loescher
Jessant de lis A fleur de lis shooting out of the mouth of a leopard (lion). The leopard (lion) represents England while the fleur de lis represents France, signifying the dominion of England over France. Cooley
Mullet (5-pointed Star) Divine quality bestowed by God. Sign of the third son. Bailey
Sun Glory, splendor and brilliance. It is also a symbol of authority. It represents happiness, life and spirituality. The rising sun is a symbol of hope. One ray of the sun signifies "by the light of heaven."
Crescent "Enlightened and honored by the gracious aspect of his sovereign." Hope of greater glory. In English arms it was also a mark of cadency signifying the second son. Munyon
Hunting Horn A person of high or noble pursuits Burt
Spear An emblem of knightly service and devotion to honor and chivalry. The broken spear is a symbol of peace. Said to represent dexterity and nimbleness of wit in matters of the highest consequence. Mammel
Maunch/Sleeve A lady's sleeve. Symbol for a man whose heart had been captured by a maiden. It is a symbol of devotion, and it also symbolizes victory in tournament. Gildersleeve
Buckle The buckle signifies self-defense and protection, as well as victorious fidelity in authority. Buckles may be square, round, or rectangular in shape. Lutte
Bell Bells signify the power of church-bells to disperse evil spirits in the air and their summoning of guardian saints and angels. Porter
Thigh bones Denotes mortality.
CROSSES: The armorial sign of the cross is unique in Christendom. It is the first common sign under which the West gathered. The cross became an established standard after Constantine's victory over Mantius in A/D/ 312. The use of the cross on arms belong to the time of the first crusades, in which the principal nations of Christendom are said to have been distinguished by crosses of different colors: and it is naturally found to be most frequently employed in the insignia of religious foundations. The fact that the Crusaders embarked on the western coast of the Mediterranean is marked by the presence of the cross in many of the coats of arms which are found there.
Name Meaning Image Example

Christian Cross Faith; service in the Crusades. Also known as the cross of St. George, it is one of the earliest crosses. It is sometimes referred to as a Greek Cross.
Cross Fillet Represents achievement in battle. Also dominion and authority.
Cross per Fess Represents readiness to serve the public. Tinctures chosen give additional meanings.
Cross per Pale Signifies defensive military strength. The tinctures chosen give additional meanings.
Cross Quartered Represents readiness to fight for Christianity. Tinctures chosen give additional meanings.  
Cross Gyronny Represents unity. The tinctures chosen give additional meanings.  
Cross Gyronny of Sixteen Represents unity. The tinctures chosen give additional meanings.
Cross Faceted Represents the many facets of Christianity.
Cross Counter-Compony Also described as Chequy. It symbolizes intellectual challenge. It is a frequent sign used on small inns. It is possible that this design gave the name to the game of chess.  
Cross Fretty Represents persuasion - as of the Christian message.  
Cross Double Voided Represents a knight of the Crusades. The tinctures chosen give additional meanings.  
Cross Fimbriated Most common in French arms. Represents one who faithfully served in the crusades. Most often found in ancient blazoning. The tinctures chosen give additional meaning.  
Cross Couped Faith; service in the Crusades. The white cross on the red ground was the symbol of the Holy Kingdom. The Order of the Knights Templar adopted the red cross on a white cloak as their symbol.
Saltire or
St. Andrew's Cross
Symbolizes resolution and persuasion. Most often found on Scottish Arms.
Passion Cross This is the basic Christian Cross. It is a long cross or Latin cross, meaning that is with the lower limb longer than the other three. Represents the passion of Christ.  
Patriarchal Cross Two horizontal bars instead of one. It is so named because it represents the ancient Patriarchs of Jerusalem that bore this kind of cross. After the Crusades it was borne by the Patriarch of Constantinople.  
Patriarchal Cross
with third bar
Cross adopted by the Pope of Rome. Symbolizes the church.  
Cross Formy Represents military honor. One example is found as early as Henry III.



Cross Pattee Concave Sign of a military leader who has accomplished great deeds. It is also said to be used as a mark of cadency in France.
Cross Potent The Cross Potent, written sometimes potence (fr. potencée): so called because its arms terminate in potents, or like crutches. Similar to the Jerusalem Cross, it symbolizes the five wounds of Christ. Cross
Jerusalem Cross So named from its occurrence in the insignia of the kingdom of JERUSALEM, established by the Crusaders, the crosses are believed to symbolize the five wounds of Christ.
Cross Crosslet Signifies the fourfold mystery of the cross. May also refer to families who engaged in the Crusades.  
Cross Moline Signifies the mutual converse of human society. Represents a millstone or a fer-de-moline. It is sometimes a mark of cadence representing the eighth son. It is also known as a Miller's Cross. Miller
Cross Maltese
(cross with eight points)
Represents blessings. The points are imagined to symbolize the eight beatitudes. If the cross is in white, it may represent the Military Order of Maria Theresa.
Cross Raguly Counter Raguly Difficulties encountered, perhaps in the name of Christianity Crabtree
Tau Cross or
Cross of St. Anthony
Represents a token of absolution with which the depraved are said to have been stamped on the hand. It should be drawn like a Greek Tau.
Egyptian Cross More currently known as the Ankh. It is believed to symbolize life.
Swastika Couped in Saltire 'Swastika' is the Sanskrit word for Fylfot. It is a symbol of felicity. If this is on your Coat of Arms, think about a quick redesign. Thankfully, nobody.
MARKS OF CADENCY: Just as the original intent of a Coat of Arms was to distinguish one knight from another (since they were in armor with a helm protecting and also hiding their features), it was also necessary to provide distinctive bearings for different members of a family all entitled to bear the paternal arms. This gave rise to the use of Marks of Cadency, or differences (called by the French brisure.) The eldest son (during the lifetime of his father) bears a label of three points; the second son, a crescent; the third, a mullet; the fourth, a martlet; the fifth, an annulet; the sixth, a fleur-de-lis. Some historical documentation carries that out to the tenth with the seventh bearing a rose, the eighth a cross moline, the ninth an anchor, and the tenth a double quatrefoil.
1st Son
2nd Son
3rd Son
4th Son
5th Son
6th Son