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Sub-Ordinaries of Heraldry

Border (Bordure) The bordure is, as it sounds, a fairly wide border around the outside of a shield. Except for in more modern grants where the bordure is an original part of the shield, there is little doubt that the bordure is either a mark of cadency, displaying the status of a younger son or brother, or a mark of illegitimacy. The bordure is no longer used for these purposes, except for in England where a bordure wavy is still a mark of illegitimacy and the bordure compony serves the same purpose in Scotland. This is by no means a mark of dishonour, though; it is merely a heraldic tradition carried over from the days when it was necessary to distinguish the rightful heirs from others who might have some claim to the family title and fortune. The orle is the diminutive of a bordure and looks like the frame of a shield within the shield rather than a border. It is about half the width of a bordure.

Orle (see border)

When charges are placed around the outside of it they are said to be "in orle." It was used as a mark to distinguish the arms of one branch of a family from those of another, and in some cases the orle was used as a symbol of honor.

Inescutcheon

When borne as a charge on an actual shield, the image of a shield signifies defense. More formally, a shield on a shield is termed an inescutcheon and it is stated by strict theorists that if more than one appears on the shield they are referred to as escutcheons, though this is not often adhered to. When an inescutcheon appears on a shield it should conform to the shape of the shield on which it is placed. In German and Scottish armory the inescutcheon bears the heart of the arms, or the paternal side, but in English heraldry it is used to carry the arms of an heiress wife.

Quarter

The quarter alone is not particularly common. It is a square in the right corner of the shield (or the left to the observer) that theoretically occupies 1/4 the shield’s surface area, though it is usually slightly smaller than this. Of course it often occurs, though, as a division of a field blazoned quarterly, which is divided into four quarters. A canton is the diminutive of a quarter and occupies 1/9 of the field. It superimposes all other charges or ordinaries on a field and unless it is an original charge, and not added later, it need not conform to the rule forbidding colour on colour, or metal on metal. It is sometimes used as an augmentation of honor and it is also a mark used to distinguish the arms of one branch of a family from another, or that the name and arms of a family have been assumed where there is no blood descent.

Canton

A canton (derived from the word canontée which means cornered) is in the left corner of the shield may be used as a mark of illegitimacy.

Chequey (Chequé)

The chequy pattern consists of a field divided into small squares of alternating colours, like a chessboard or the checkered cloth used as an abacus before the adoption of Arabic numerals. This pattern was likely derived from the Steward’s or "chequer" board and may indicate that the first bearer of the arms was a treasurer by profession, or an innkeeper, as his establishment traditionally displayed this symbol of an account board outside.

Billets

The billet represents a letter folded for transmission. It has the form of a plain rectangle and it occurs more frequently when a field or a superior charge is described as billetté or semé, which means that there are many small billets distributed over it, alternating in the pattern of bricks. It may indicate that the man granted a coat of arms with this charge was a man whose words and deeds were deemed trustworthy. It has also been suggested that lawyers and men of letters often adopted the sign of the billet. The best-known instance where this charge was used was in the shield borne over the arms of England during the joint reign of William and Mary.

Paile (pall)

As a device on a crest, the pall represents the ecclesiastical vestment called a pallium and is symbolic of archiepiscopal authority. It is the shape of a broad ‘Y,’ with one end going to each corner and the end dropping almost to the bottom point of the crest or shield. As a charge the end is always couped, meaning that it does not extend to the edge of the shield, and fringed. The pall, also called a pairle and a shakefork, is often found in the arms of archbishops and Sees. The pall also occurs as an ordinary, a background symbol, especially in Scottish heraldry. Here it is usually borne with all three ends couped and pointed.

Gyronny

The gyronny is a decorative pattern that stands for unity. A gyron, sometimes also called an esquire, is a line that divides a square compartment of a coat or arms from corner to corner. Gyronny refers to the entire shield being divided this way, first in a cross and then per saltire (diagonally), so that the shield is divided into eight compartments. Less commonly a shield may be specified to be gyronny of six, ten, twelve or more pieces. The compartments are usually tinctured with two alternating colours beginning with the upper left compartment of the shield. The origin of the word is from the Spanish "gyron," a triangular piece of cloth sewed into a garment. A shield gyronny is frequent in Scottish arms.

Pile

The pile is a large piece of wood used by engineers in fortifications and bridge construction. The image of the pile was granted to military leaders for significant deeds, or to those who showed great ability in any kind of construction. In heraldry a pile looks like an inverted triangle issuing, point inwards, from any point along the crest except the base. It may, if specified, issue from the base as well, if accompanied by piles issuing from other points of the escutcheon. They may terminate in fleurs-de-lis or crosses patée.

Lozenge

The lozenge is a symbol of honesty and constancy and it is also a token of noble birth. It has four sides of equal length and is positioned point up, so that it resembles a diamond rather than a square. A lozenge throughout is a lozenge that has all four points touching the sides of the shield. The arms of a lady, as a maid or a widow, are always displayed on a lozenge. Lozenges cojoined to form a fesse or a pale are referred to as a "bend lozengy" or a "fesse lozengy," or a field may be described as "lozengy" when it is formed entirely of an indefinite number of lozenges. A mascle is an open lozenge, or a lozenge voided, and it is merely a lozenge with a smaller one removed from the inside. It is said to be a piece on which armor was fastened, and to represent a mesh of a net. It signifies persuasion, and again, a field formed entirely of mascles is termed "masculy." A rustre is another, comparatively rare, type of lozenge, pierced in the center with a circle.

Fusil

The fusil represents a spindle formerly used in spinning, and it is an ancient symbol of labor and industry. The fusil is a diamond drawn point up and more elongated than a lozenge, which is square, though in early times there was no distinction between a lozenge and a fusil. In many cases fusils and lozenges have been used indifferently to best suit the shape of the shield that they were drawn on, though the distinction is now generally observed.

Fret

The fret has been called the "heraldic true lover's knot". It consists of a the border of a diamond of equal sides, interlaced with a cross made of two bendlets (thin bars), running from corner to corner in the form of a saltire (X). The fret signifies persuasion. In early days the charge was interchangeable with a quarter or a field fretty, which is simply interlacing bendlets going diagonally right and left. In fact, fretty was the original pattern. The fretty pattern represents a net and signifies persuasion.

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last updated on: April 3rd, 2017

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