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Mediaeval Heraldry, Terence Wise

Mediaeval Heraldry, Terence Wise


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Mediaeval Heraldry, Terence Wise

Mediaeval Heraldry, Terence Wise

This well illustrated short book does not pretend to be a guide to the complex subject of mediaeval heraldry or coats of arms but is a basic introduction to the heraldry used in 14th and 15th century Europe. It is book for those interested in military history and wargaming rather than for finding your family coat of arms. That said it is well illustrated with 7 pages of colour plates and loads of black and white diagrams and photos showing crests and shield marking etc. It is a good easy to read intro and if that’s what you are looking for this book is for you.

Author: Terence Wise
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 48 pages
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 1992



ISBN 13: 9780850453485

Coats of arms were at first used only by kings and princes, then by their great nobles, but by the mid-13th century arms were being used extensively by the lesser nobility, knights and those who later came to be styled gentlemen. In some countries the use of arms spread even to merchants, townspeople and the peasantry. From the mundane to the fantastic, from simple geometric patterns to elaborate mythological beasts, this fascinating work by Terence Wise explores the origins and appearance of medieval heraldic devices in an engagingly readable style accompanied by numerous illustrations including eight full page colour plates by Richard Hook.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

Packed with specially commissioned artwork, maps and diagrams, the Men-at-Arms series is an unrivalled illustrated reference on the history, organisation, uniforms and equipment of the world's military forces, past and present.

It is not the aim of this book to describe in precise detail the rules of heraldry, but rather to introduce the reader to the role of heraldry and to provide examples of how it was used in the 14th and 15th centuries.

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Medieval heraldry

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The Shield

Because the shape and construction of the shield so clearly played an important part in the development of heraldic designs, it is necessary to take a brief look at the types of shields used in Europe during the period 1150–1550. The kite-shaped shield always associated with the Normans remained in use throughout the 12th century, when heraldry was evolving, but soon after the middle of the century the curved top was replaced by a straight one. Infantry continued to use this type of shield in Italy until as late as the 15th century. The kite shield was not flat, as it appears in books on heraldry, but semi-cylindrical, ‘so as to embrace the person of the wearer’. This meant that not much more than half the shield could be seen from any one angle, and this greatly influenced the way in which insignia were placed upon the shield, since a man might need to be identified in battle or at the tourney by only half of his coat of arms.

At the beginning of the 13th century the kite shield was shortened to form what is now called the heater shield, so named in the 19th century because it resembled the base of the flat iron or heater then in general use. This shield, Fig 1, 13th century, and Fig 2, 14th century, also curved round the body for greater effectiveness. The heater was the commonest type of shield in most parts of Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries, but was unknown in Spain and Portugal. In these two countries shields were more rectangular, with a curved base, Fig 3, and this so influenced the number and placing of insignia in medieval times that the arms used in these countries often had their charges arranged in a completely different manner to other parts of Europe.

arms and legs, and in the following century they were employed less frequently by mounted men as the use of plate armour increased. Thus the all-enveloping plate armour of the 15th century made shields obsolete for knights at least, and in the 1360–1400 period the shield gradually went out of use by knights in battle. By the 15th century knights rarely used the shield except for display purposes in parades and at tournaments. As a consequence the shields of the 15th century had more fanciful shapes, as shown by Figs 4 and 5. Fig 4 shows a typical 15th-century tournament shield, called à bouche, the notch on the right side being for the lance. Fig 5 shows a purely decorative shield of the same century. Late 15th- and early 16th-century shields were of a similar design but often had a central ridge or a number of flutings at top and bottom. These more decorative shields became popular for ornamental purposes, particularly in architecture but the simple lines of the 13th- and 14th-century shields remained popular for the display of heraldic art, and are still used in heraldry to this day.

In heraldry the face of the shield, on which the arms are painted, is known as the field or ground. In order to determine exactly whereabouts on the field the various colours and devices should be placed, and to be able to blazon a coat of arms correctly (that is to describe it verbally) the field is divided into a number of points. It is necessary here to know only that the top part of the field is called the chief, the central area the fesse, and the bottom the base. Because the shield is always viewed as seen from the position of the bearer, the dexter (right) side of the shield is that which coincides with the right side of the bearer, and the sinister (left) side is that which coincides with the left side of the bearer.

Although I have already stated that it is not the intention of this book to describe the rules of heraldry, it is important that the reader be able to distinguish between those rules and practices which were particularly applicable in medieval times, and those which were not in use at this early stage. The next headings therefore provide brief summaries of the basics of heraldry as used in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The field of the shield and all devices painted upon it are coloured, and the different colours employed in heraldry are referred to as tinctures. In the medieval period the designs on shields were simple and the colours employed were bold, the aim being to create arms which were clearly visible and identifiable at a distance. The principal tinctures used are divided into metals (silver and gold), colours (red, blue and black), and furs, ermine (Fig 6) and vair (Fig 7). Both the furs were based on furs in use at the time, ermine being the white winter coat of the stoat, with the black tips of the tails sewn on, and vair (from the Latin varus, various or varied) being the name given to squirrels’ fur, much used for the lining of cloaks, which was bluish-grey on the back and white on the belly. As the coats of western European stoats do not normally turn white in winter, these skins had to be imported from as far away as Muscovy, at great expense, and were consequently used only by the great nobles, such as the Dukes of Brittany, whose coat was ermine.

The following table shows the colours, their heraldic name, and the abbreviation normally found on drawings of arms:

Tincture Heraldic name Abbreviation

Silver or white argent Arg or Ar*

* These contractions are normally used for tricking: see under Blazon.

† There was an antipathy towards green until well into the 15th century and although it occurs in arms as early as the 13th century, it was not in common use until the late 15th century. So far as purple is concerned, there was no distinction made between it and red in early medieval times and therefore we are not really concerned with it here.

As heraldry became established, more coats of arms were recorded and it became necessary to increase the tinctures in order to avoid duplication of arms. Thus by the 15th century tenne (orange) and murrey (a mulberry or reddishpurple colour) had been added to the colours. These new colours were mainly confined to continental heraldry, though they do occasionally appear on English flags or liveries for example the livery colours of the House of York were murrey and azure, while the pages of the Earl of Nottingham wore tenné edged with sable during the reign of James I. The colour russet is also found on rare occasions in continental heraldry from the 15th century on, and appears in English heraldry on the flags and livery of the great Percy family.

The number of furs was also increased in the 15th and 16th centuries by depicting ermine and vair in different colours: ermines, white tails on black erminois, black tails on gold pean, gold tails on black. Vair was termed vairié if colours other than argent and azure were used: for example, vairié of or and gules.

Divisions of the Shield

In addition to the tinctures there are also several methods of dividing the field by a single line in order to increase the number of coats of arms possible without duplication. A field thus divided is described as ‘parted’ or ‘party’, although the word party is often omitted in blazon. There are eight main divisions of this nature: per pale, fess, bend (dexter and sinister), chevron, saltire, quarterly, and gyronny. These divisions have been illustrated for clarity and appear in the order listed: Figs 8– 15. In the early days of heraldry ‘party’ meant simply the division of the field per pale, and other division lines had to be named in full.

Continental, and particularly German heraldry contains many other field divisions unknown in England. One of the divisions most commonly used, especially in Italy and Germany, is a tripartite division of the field by two lines running horizontally, vertically, diagonally from top left, or diagonally from top right, across the shield. These are referred to as tierced in fess, pale, bend and bend sinister respectively. Fig 16 illustrates tierced in fess, the arms of the Venetian family of Franchi and Fig 17, tierced in bend, the arms of the Amici family, also Italian. Another variant of this style is tierced in pairle, best described by the illustration of the arms of the Saxon family of von Briesen, Fig 18. Another curious partition, unique to Germany, is that of tierced in gyron gyronnant, known in German heraldry as Schneckenweise. This is illustrated by the arms of the von Megenzer family, Fig 19.

The divisions known in English heraldry are also occasionally employed in a different form on the Continent. Quarterly, for example, sometimes appears as a most curious arrangement, best described b y Figs 20 and 21, the arms of the Brunswick family of von Tule and the Löwenstein family respectively. Party per fess in German heraldry sometimes has a left or right ‘step’, known as mit linker stufe. This is illustrated by the arms of the Aurberg family of Bavaria, Fig 22. Other continental partition lines are difficult to blazon in English, nor can they really be categorized. Examples of these unusual divisions are shown in Figs 23–27, the arms of Lang von Langenau, Stauffeneck, Marshalck von Stuntsberg, Kirmreitter, and Altorf.

Varied fields are made by further divisions which always consist of an even number of pieces, for example, barry, bendy, paly, per pale and barry, paly wavy, chequey, lozengy, and fusily, illustrated in that order by Figs 28–35.

So far it has been assumed that all the lines dividing the field are straight, but in fact irregular partition lines were soon introduced to provide scope for more coats of arms. In the very earliest Rolls of Arms only three such variations are listed: Engrailed, Indented or Dancetty, and Undy or Wavy, and of these Engrailed was by far the most common. Fig 36 illustrates the use of an engrailed line: Or, a cross engrailed sable, the arms of John de Bohun, temp. Edward I. Fig 37 is Or, a chief indented azure, the arms of John Butler, Earl of Ormond, killed at Tewkesbury in 1471. Nebuly and Embattled (or Crenelle) were added later, within the period which concerns us here: Fig 38, Barry nebuly of 8, or and sable, the arms of Sir Humphrey Blount, 1422–77 and Fig 39, per fess embattled or and azure, the Barons von Preysing.

Charges are the devices used upon shields. In the 14th century by far the commonest types of charges were those listed in all books on heraldry as Ordinaries and Subordinaries. The Ordinaries are known as the Chief, Fess, Pale, Chevron, Bend, Saltire, Cross, Pile, and Quarter or Canton. The Chief is rare in Spanish and Portuguese arms. Each of these Ordinaries is illustrated here by a coat of arms:

Megenzer: the upper part of the shield is gules, the lower is or. (20) Von Tule: upper dexter and lower sinister divisions are gules. (21) Lowenstein: sable and or. (22) Aurberg: argent and sable. (23) Lang von Langenau: a ‘chief’ or, lozengy argent and gules. (24) Strauffeneck: a ‘chief’ argent, barry argent and gules. (25) Marshalck von Stuntsburg: gules, a ‘chevron’ argent. (26) Kirmreitter: sable and or. (27) Altorf: sable and argent.

In modern heraldry the Chief, Fess, Pile, Chevron, Bend and Pile all occupy one-third of the area of the field, but during the period with which we are dealing they were somewhat smaller, unless they bore a charge, and the Fess of ancient heraldry would now probably be termed a Bar. The Canton occupies a third of the Chief, always on the dexter side, except in Spanish heraldry, where it appears on either the dexter or sinister side.

The Subordinaries include the bordure, in-escutcheon, orle, tressure, flanches, gyron, lozenge, fusil, mascle, rustre, fret, billet, annulet and roundels: these may be found illustrated in any book on heraldry.

The reverse of the sixth Great Seal of Edward III, used between 1340 and 1372, showing shield, surcoat and trapper bearing the quartered arms of England and France, and the lion crest of the kings of England.

Next in popularity after the Ordinaries and Subordinaries came what are known as the animate charges, the various animals, with the lion rampant well ahead of all others, followed at a considerable distance by the lion passant. Less popular still in our period was the eagle, which was the most common charge in the bird category, and was followed by a relatively few examples of martlets, popinjays, crows, swans and herons.


Medieval Heraldry

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Medieval Heraldry 1st Edition by Terence Wise and Publisher Osprey Publishing. Save up to 80% by choosing the eTextbook option for ISBN: 9781780966700, 1780966709. The print version of this textbook is ISBN: 9781841761060, 1841761060.

Medieval Heraldry 1st Edition by Terence Wise and Publisher Osprey Publishing. Save up to 80% by choosing the eTextbook option for ISBN: 9781780966700, 1780966709. The print version of this textbook is ISBN: 9781841761060, 1841761060.


Coats of arms were at first used only by kings and princes, then by their great nobles, but by the mid-13th century arms were being used extensively by the lesser nobility, knights and those who later came to be styled gentlemen. In some countries the use of arms spread even to merchants, townspeople and the peasantry. From the mundane to the fantastic, from simple geometric patterns to elaborate mythological beasts, this fascinating work by Terence Wise explores the origins and appearance of medieval heraldic devices in an engagingly readable style accompanied by numerous illustrations including eight full page colour plates by Richard Hook.

ebook,Terence Wise, Richard Hook,Medieval Heraldry (Men-at-Arms),Osprey Publishing,ANF History,GENERAL,Genealogy,Genealogy, heraldry, names honours,HISTORY / Europe / Medieval,Heraldry,Heraldry.,History,History - Military / War,History / Military / General,History/World,Local History, Names Genealogy,Medieval,Military - General,Modern period, c 1500 onwards,Other warfare defence issues,REFERENCE / General,Warfare defence,World history,c 1500 onwards to present day,HISTORY / Europe / Medieval,HISTORY / Military / Wars Conflicts (Other),History / Military / General,Medieval,Military - General,REFERENCE / General,History - Military / War,Heralds,Local History, Names Genealogy,Genealogy, heraldry, names honours,History,Other warfare defence issues,Warfare defence,World history

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Medieval Heraldry: 099

Part of the 'Men-At-Arms' series, this book looks at medieval heraldry.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

Terence Wise is one of Osprey's most popular authors. Terence has been a respected historical writer for more than 25 years. With numerous books and articles to his credit, he has contributed more than a dozen titles to the Men-At-Arms series, mainly on medieval subjects including studies of the military orders and the Wars of the Roses. Richard Hook was born in 1938 and trained at Reigate College of Art. After national service with 1st Bn, Queen's Royal Regiment he became art editor of the much-praised magazine Finding Out during the 1960s. He has worked as a freelance illustrator ever since, earning an international reputation particularly for his deep knowledge of Native American material culture and has illustrated more than 30 Osprey titles. Richard is married and lives in Sussex his three children Adam, Jason, and Christa are all professionally active in various artistic disciplines.

It is not the aim of this book to describe in precise detail the rules of heraldry, but rather to introduce the reader to the role of heraldry and to provide examples of how it was used in the 14th and 15th centuries.


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