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


Sources

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.

Sources

  • 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

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