Blazoning a device

Order Of Blazoning, or Reading A Blazon:
How Do I Know It Is A Secondary (Tertiary, Etc)?
What If You Have Something Blazoned Like “Three Mullets Between Three Lozenges Or”?
Where Does The Charge Go?
Can I Put A Charge On That?
Semy (Semé) Of Charges
Putting it all together


Order Of Blazoning, or Reading A Blazon:

The order of blazoning is primary, then secondary, then tertiary, from of the center of the armory out. This is after the field divisions have been described. The very first thing in a blazon is “What color is the background?” A quick list below shows common divisions and the order in which the tinctures are mentioned

Per pall = top, left, right
Per pall inverted = top left, top right, bottom
Per bend = top right, bottom left
Per bend sinister = top left, bottom right
Per saltire = top/bottom, left/right
Quarterly = upper left/lower right, upper right/lower left.
Gyronny = start with the part that connects to dexter chief like a per bend division would.

Primary charges – occupy the center of the field. The central ordinary is going to be the primary charge if the device has one. These are bend, bend sinister, pale, fess, chevron, saltire, pall, and pile. If none of these are present then the primary charge is the charge or group of charges in the center of the field, like lions, maunches, or barrels.

Secondary charge – charges that surround the primary charge on the field or are at the edge of the field. Ordinaries that are peripheral fall under this: chief, bordure, base, orle, flaunches (have to be two…), chausses (always two), and tierce.

Tertiary charges are charges placed on other charges, not the field.

Some examples:

Argent, a lion sable. The lion is the primary.
Argent, a bend gules. The bend is primary.
Argent, a bend azure between three lions sable. The bend is primary.
The lions are secondary since they don’t occupy the center of the field and the ordinary has “right of way”.
Argent, a chief azure. This has no primary charge and is field primary armory. The chief is a peripheral ordinary and can’t be a primary charge.
Argent, on a bend gules between three lions sable, a sword argent. The bend is primary, the lions secondary, and the sword tertiary.
Argent, a lion sable between three mullets gules. Lion is the primary and mullets are a secondary group. Three items by default will be 2 and 1 in arrangement
Argent, a lion and a mullet sable. Both charges form a primary group with two charge types.
Since no other position info is given, the charges are side by side not one on top of the other. Any other arrangement of the charges will need to be blazoned specifically

How Do I Know It Is A Secondary (Tertiary, Etc)?

* Between: Generally shows the blazon going to the secondary charge(s).
* On: If something is on something else, this is generally a charge on a charge, therefore the blazon is going to a tertiary charge. “Charged with” will also indicate a tertiary.
* “Environed of” or “within” are tricky keywords. They could be going to secondary, or tertiary OR the joining phrase of a [same level] charge group
* Conjoined: Depending on the size, it could be the same group or it could be small enough that it could be considered a maintained charge or large enough to be a sustained charge. Size does matter. I think, however, that if it says conjoined, it will most often be same level grouping as a single charge [group].
* Cotised: If an ordinary is cotised (has two narrow lines one on either side of it), the cotises are secondary charges with the ordinary being primary as started before. This does not change between. It just means there are two secondary charge groups. “Argent, a pale cotised between two billets sable” has as its primary a pale (vertical line) and two secondary charges: 1) the cotises, 2) the billets
Overall: It quite literally counts as its own charge group. Adding or removing an overall charge is worth 1 clear difference (CD). Changes to type, posture, tincture, and orientation of the overall charge when compared with other overall charges are worth 1 CD. Overall charges can be a very powerful tool:

Consider these two blazons
Gules, a pale argent and overall a lion rampant Or
Gules, a lion rampant Or

They would get three DCs: One for change of primary (pale to lion), one for removal of overall (lion), and one for change of tincture of primary charge (argent to Or).

* “Throughout”: The charge is touching all edges of the device blank (whatever that may be). A fess is by definition throughout, so you don’t ever need to say that. A pile, however, by definition extends to almost-but-not-quite touch the bottom of the device; a pile throughout would have its lower point touching. A chevron throughout is much steeper, with its top point touching the top of the device. This then is a description of a charge, usually an ordinary, and does not point to a change in “level”.

* Semy/semé: Semy of [item] is (per Pimbley’s Dictionary of Heraldry) “A field or charge powdered or sprinkled with small charges, such as stars, crosses, etc…” Basically this one charge, rather small, is thrown all over the field or the charge it is on The color of the field/charge/etc is the background color stated. “Argent semy of hammers sable” means the color is argent and that is what is used to conflict and color check. The hammers sable are small and there are more than six on the field. With an item it is as many as the items would hold I guess. If on the field, the semy can be primary or secondary. If a charge is “semy of [item]”, the [item] is a tertiary charge. What does this make ermine or erminois? Nothing. These two are field tinctures, not strewn charges of ermine spots, and have nothing to do with semy.

What If You Have Something Blazoned Like “Three Mullets Between Three Lozenges Or”?

Are the mullets primary and the lozenges secondary?
There are three choices:

  • If the mullets are bigger: (assumed) since they are listed first, they are assumed to be drawn bigger and primary with the lozenges secondary.
  • If the mullets and lozenges are the same size: Together they would be a single charge group.
  • If the mullets are smaller than the lozenges: It would more than likely be returned for redraw or ‘Non-Period Style’ or NPS for short

Only seeing the actual emblazon would allow corrections to the blazon if necessary.

Where Does The Charge Go?

Starting in the center based on the number of items and the way the field is divided, there are default positions for each number of items. 1 is in the center. 2 has no default, 3 is in a triangle (two and 1), 4 is 2 and 2.

Unless the blazon actually says where the charge goes this is assumed, with some exceptions based on the tincture rule. Since one cannot have a color on color or metal on metal, an argent (white) charge cannot be placed on an argent or Or field. So, if the field was divided vertically (per pale) and the dexter side was argent and the sinister gules (red), the argent charge would go on the sinister and vice versa if gules. A major exception to this is creating a neutral field. The field above divided argent and gules is considered neutral. Even though a white or red charge could not be placed in the center, any other color or metal can. So, if that charge was Or (gold), it could, and would as a default, be right in the center, no problem. Other partitions that can be defined as neutral when using a color and a metal are “per fess” (horizontally divided), “per saltire” (divided by an ‘X’) and “quarterly” (divided into four squares).

This also goes for those fields such as vair, potent (both furs and neutral), gyronny (rays from the center), and checky (like a checkerboard). These fields cannot be anything but neutral due to this precedent: [Gyronny sable and purpure] The device violated RfS VIII.2.b(iv) “Contrast Requirements — Elements evenly divided into multiple parts of two different tinctures must have good contrast between their parts.” A gyronny field must have good contrast between its parts. [Brendan of Dormansford, 09/00, R-Ealdormere] They are also so “skinny” that the default placements will not be changed. Again, the two tinctures used in making those fields cannot be used as charges.

What does this mean for something like Per pall, or Per pall inverted? With three partitions, it is either color/color/metal, or color/metal/metal. This is definitely NOT neutral. Charges would go in the center only if contrasting with most of the field. If mostly metal, the main charge, if a color, would go in the center AS LONG AS it is not the same color as the third partition, and vice versa for a metal on two color fields. Otherwise, the order in which the charges are listed would default to the partitions…
Example: Per pall argent, gules, and azure, a hurt (roundel azure) and a mullet Or would in this case default to a pale orientation (top to bottom). If a third item were added, say instead two mullets Or, the default locations in this case would be one and two (with each mullet on its own color).

Can I Put A Charge On That?

Is there any ordinary, peripheral, or other charge that another charge cannot go on? Yes. A tertiary charge cannot have another charge on it. There are peripherals that cannot have charges on them, like chaussés. The diminutive ordinaries cannot unless the charge is an overall charge. Example, “Sable, on three bendlets Or, an eagle gules” will not work (in the SCA one diminutive cannot be done, there must be two or more of the same). It would have to be blazoned “Sable, the bendlets Or, overall an eagle gules.” Other than that, a charge or semy of charges can go on anything.

Semy (Semé) Of Charges

There is a way of counting the number of heraldic charges on a field or charge in the SCA: one, two, three, four, five, six, semy. Generally semy is eight of more charges put randomly over a field, they can be shown as whole on the field only, or they can look like the field was cut out of cloth and partials shown on the edges too. What happened to seven? I don’t really know. If you want seven, I would suggest going to semy anyway, making them a little smaller and going for eight. “Semy of X” is a charge. It is called a strewn charge, but it follows all the rules for a regular charge. The only exception to this is the fur tinctures. Although ermine, erminois, pean, and counter-ermine all look like a strewn charge of [tincture] semy of ermine spots [tincture], they aren’t and as such are considered a tincture and NOT a charge. Why would this matter for anything? See “Can I put a charge on that?” above.

Putting it all Together

Here is a complex, convoluted blazon. Per pall Or, vair, and gules, on a bend between two roundels sable three billets argent.

  1. First, what does the field look like? _____, _______, and _______
  2. Is there a primary charge (group)? __________
  3. Is there a secondary charge (group)? ___________
  4. Is there a tertiary charge (group)?__________
  5. What are their tinctures? ______, _______, ________, ________, _______
  6. If there are tertiaries, what are they on? __________

Now, the blazon for a similar device… How is it different? Per pall Or, vair, and gules, a bend between on two roundels sable three billets argent.
Alternatively, that blazon would be Per pall Or, vair, and gules, a bend between two roundels sable charged with three billets argent.


  • Borek (Ansteorra Heralds group) (charge level description – overall, throughout, conjoined))
  • Magnus (Ansteorra Heralds group) (charge level description)
  • Pendar the bard (Outlands Heralds group) (overall)
  • Emma de Fetherstan (Ansteorra Heralds group) (throughout)
  • Blaise de Cormeilles (Outlands Heralds group) (overall)
  • THL Sorcha MacLeod (Outlands Heralds group) (neutral divided fields)
  • His Excellency Modar the unknown (Outlands Heralds group) (semy, ermine)

SCA glossary of terms
SCA Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory

What is heraldry, or who IS that gentle?

Heraldry is both a science and an art form. Developing out of the emblems and insignia born upon shields and banners during battle, heraldry as a profession encompasses not only the devising, granting, and blazoning of arms(for more info on this, read my post upcoming, on blazoning), but also the tracing of genealogies, and determining and ruling on questions of rank or protocol. (1) Mundanely, all of this is done. In the SCA, however, heraldry encompasses only developing of emblems and devices born upon shields, etc. our gentles may use, be it banners, clothing, or the shields previously mentioned and avoids ANY reference of a genealogical nature. This means that nothing that says, “these were my father’s and mother’s arms and now they are mine” can be registered. SCA Standards forbids the appearance of marshalling (two or more armories split and put together as a new whole). *NOTE: Marshalling as a display of two people’s devices, showing marriage or, perhaps “tagging and identifying” children is allowed, simply the registering of armory denoting such a relationship is not. The nature of heraldry, then, is first a system of personal devices appertaining to an individual. It is also an art. The proper delineation of coats of arms can achieve a high art form; the animals, objects and charges being highly stylised.(5) It is this stylised, bold, simple artform that we strive to recreate.

Is it big enough?

Big and bold and butch: the basic idea of a charge is that it can be seen and recognized from a distance. “A corollary to this is that the main details of the charge are important, and not the little details. The shape and attitude of a lion is more important than shading and drawing individual hairs and wrinkles. While the latter may be artistically pleasing, it isn’t going to be noticed from ten or fifteen feet away! (3)

If a device gets too complex, it will not get registered. What is too complex? RfS [A.3.E.2] states, ” We require that any submission not exceed a certain “complexity count,” measured by adding the number of types of charges to the number of tinctures. Items with a complexity count of eight or less receive no penalty for complexity from this rule.” If the items are all reasonably simple, or there’s no special field division like bendy or embattled, or counter-changing of colors on the charges it could pass. This also means that if the basic arrangement is at all fairly common in period heraldry, it could still pass.(2)


What do you mean, too deep?

Only so many layers are allowed. A charge on a charge on a charge on a field is too deep and the bottom charge has a good chance of not being recognizable. Lord Nelson’s device is a prime example. Lord Nelson - source: blazon for his device is “Or, a cross flory sable and overall on a bend gules another engrailed Or charged with three grenades sable flammant proper. For augmentation, on a chief wavy argent a palm tree between a disabled ship and a ruinous battery all issuant from waves of the sea all proper. For second augmentation (posthumous), on a fess wavy overall azure the word TRAFALGAR Or.” The bottom cross is not recognizable since only two of the four arms are seen, and then only at the ends. The first bend gules is also not able to be seen.
Lord Nelson’s armory with posthumous augmentation from “The Boast of heraldry, The Pomp of Power” by BRLSI


see Dice in heraldry from Wikipedia (
Unless it was drawn in perspective in the middle ages, items are to be drawn in profile or straight on only. And the direction they are drawn should be recognizable. For example, a die would be shown with three sides of pips, while a face would only be profile or straight on, no 3/4 perspective as from a little off to the side. The die would not be recognizable as a delf argent (white square) charged with a pellet (black circle).


So, who is that?

Contrast and balance (or symmetry) go back to the big bold butch aspect of a device. If the colors on a device are too close together in color, an item may not be recognized. Therefore, no color on color or metal on metal is allowed. This does not, however, preclude two colors or metals on an equally divided field, as long as the pieces are no smaller than 1/4 of the field (quarterly or per saltire). If a field is not evenly divided (Say per pall or per pall inverted, this does not apply. Three colors cannot be used, and there are not three metals to be used. Therefore, within per pall [inverted], the color division would be two colors and one metal or two metals and one color. A very simple piece of armory showing this is Rivka Vladimirovna Rivkina’s blazoned “Per pall Or, vert, and sable”


A shield should be balanced, have symmetry. Not the mirror symmetry that is a modern invention, rather charges all being similar. Three bears standing facing dexter (two on top, one on the bottom) are symmetric while two bears standing facing one another are not. That is not to say they would not pass; they are just not as symmetric as the previous example.

SENA has a listing in its Appendix J: Documented and Forbidden Arrangements of Charge Groups on Armory which listed, well, currently documented arrangements. If the arrangement you are working on is not in that listing, (including the prohibited ones) then finding period examples of that arrangement in general will help with registration.

This device was returned in 1991 for an unbalanced arrangement. “Per pale argent and Or fretty vert, in dexter a leaved branch issuant from chief proper and <a charged chief>]” The LoAR 8/91 p.20 states, “The device has several problems. The first is the profound appearance of dimidiated arms, which the addition of the charged chief does not serve to diminish. The device is also right at the very edge of our complexity limits having four types of charge in four tinctures. Given the unusual arrangement and unbalanced design this is simply too much.” (4) Note how long ago this is, though. Again, documentation trumps all.

Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory

(1) University of Notre Dame Heraldic Dictionary
(2) Counting Complexity in Devices and Badges by by Dmitrii Volkovich
(3) Basic Blazonry by Lord Eldred AElfwald, Gordian Knot Herald
(4) Precedents of Da’ud ibn Auda (2nd tenure)
(5) The Origins of Heraldry at Camelot Village: Britain’s Heritage and History.


A Quick List of Standard Characteristics of Spanish, Italian, Islamic, and Polish Heraldry

At times there will be someone who wants their arms to be specific for one of these regions instead of for the more common English and German heraldry in the SCA. These bulleted lists below denote some of the more distinctive characteristics of various regions around the world.


Early Islamic Heraldry
Later Islamic Heraldry



Spanish / Portuguese(2)

  • _____ The charges shown on Spanish armorial bearings could depict historical events or deeds of war.
  • _____ They were characterized by a widespread use of orles and borders around the edge of the shield.
  • _____ Spain and Portugal marshalled arms more conventionally by quartering instead per pale.
    Out of thirty Arms listed in reference (1), ten were quartered with identical arms in 1/4 and 2/3 quarters.
  • _____ Spain and Portugal also marshalled arms per saltire, though it was more rare. Of the many in reference(8), three were marshalled per saltire.
  • _____ They allowed words and letters on the shield itself, a practice that was considered incorrect in northern Europe.
  • _____ If a field division was used, it tended to be more complex like per bend and barry, or per fess and checky.


  • _____ The majority of fields in Italian blazons were gules or azure
  • _____ Scaly, though unique to Italian heraldry, was rare.
  • _____ Almost without exception, natural charges, such as fauna and flora, were rendered “proper.”
  • _____ An ordinary or subordinary, though commonplace would rarely be the only feature of the device.
  • _____ Stars and comets were very common, usually metal, and of that usually Or. A comet or star proper in Italy was six rays.
  • _____ Other regular charges were the greyhound, hare, Neapolitan mastiff and serpent.
  • _____ The composition of many Italian coats of arms was almost pictorial with trees and dogs or birds.
    • This, however, is not allowed in SCA armory per SENA although with enough evidence, exceptions may be made as a compatible regional style exception(4).
  • _____ Based on empirical evidence of the royal houses of the italian free states (5), these appear to have been the most common charges:
    • The lion was usually rampant and usually Or or sable.
    • The eagle was usually displayed soetimes two-headed.
    • Roundels were either charged or not.
    • Fleur-de-lys


Early Islamic Heraldry

  • _____ A rosette with a varying number of petals was perhaps the most common charge
  • _____ The lion was almost always shown walking.
    One leg, usually the right, was raised and the animal had a curled tail.
  • _____ Occupational origins were emblazoned as people rose to the nobility.
    • Cup: The number of cupbearers was greater than any other group of pages therefore most common on blazons.
    • Pen-Box: Denotes a secretary. Variants include an inkwell, sand pot and starch paste pot, thread holder, and receptacles for reeds. The men of the pen could not pursue a military career, but were coming to dominate political life. The pen box was more common than the sword. (Could this have been a possible origin of “the pen is mightier than the sword”?)
    • Sword: Occured in a variety of forms, from a double-edged weapon to a scimitar (or even a dagger), either singly or in pairs. It signified the armor bearer.
    • Bow: either an armor bearer or a bowman. Sometimes arrows accompanied it.
    • Napkin: Either a delf or a lozenge. Usually it was a lozenge. Could this have been a cook or taster?
    • Table: Commonly round and might not have had supports. Maybe a another symbol for taster?
    • Polo-sticks: The polo master was an important court post as would make sense for a nation based on equestrian activities.
    • Saddle
    • Horns always appeared in pairs, and they seemed to be hollow.
    • Crescent: was possible symbol for the master of the stable or perhaps a mathematician.

Later Islamic Heraldry:

  • Due to Islamic prohibitions against figural representation, elaborate calligraphy came to replace heraldry.
  • Passages from the Koran and names of saints came to be used as symbols

Polish Armory(7)

  • _____ Divisions and partitions were very rare
  • _____ Animals, birds, buildings, human figures and plants were most popular
  • _____ Heraldic bests and monsters were used rarely
  • _____ Had distinct charges not seen in western heraldry whose western blazon is almost impossible.
    • _____ a bend couped curved at each end bent in chief basewise and in base chiefwise would be the closest description of what is called a krzywasn. It kind of looks like a backward, flattened “S-curved” ribbon.


(1) Francesc Tarafa’s Armorial of the Canons of the See of Barcelona

(2) Wikpedia Commons

      Al Sosa’s Spanish Heraldry was the original source but has since moved from here

(3) Medieval Italian Heraldry – Regalis

(4) SCA Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory

(5) Italian Peninsula and Western Mediterranian Royal Arms (in French)

(6) Introduction to Islamic Heraldry (This page has some actual emblazon examples.)

(7) Polish Nobility and Its Heraldry: An Introduction

(8) Heraldica Portugues