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Heraldic Design - The Heraldry Society of Scotland


Page 2 Heraldic Design - The Basic Principles



That shield is, however, not very convenient for certain charges and becomes very difficult to use for quartered arms. l would therefore suggest that you try a variation which involves shorter radii for the arcs which form the curve of the base, the upper part of the shield consisting of a deeper rectangle.

Such a shield as I have drawn here (right) matches a rectangle which is 9 horizontally by 10 vertically - a very happy shape for a banner.

One thing I would mention in passing is that the curve of the base is a curve, preferably part of a circle; beware the shield with straight lines in the point - very ugly.

Any banner which is wider than it is high will relate to a shield of unsatisfactory proportions and, ipso facto, must involve some distortion of the heraldry it bears. The current British maritime flag, twice as long as it is high, is totally unsuitable for heraldic display. The stretching of the design (below, left) results in a gross reduction of the proportion of the charges to the field. The banner on the right resembles far more closely the arms shown in the centre; it will also fly much better, if you think about it.

The forms of the Royal Banner which are in current use also illustrate this perfectly; the lion of Scotland ramps tiny in acres of tressured gold and the leopards of England are each in desperate need of a rollerskate amidships before they require treatment at the nearest veterinary hospital. It is odd that people have been talking and writing about this for decades, yet nobody at the Palace has ever done anything about it.

Similarly, the banner which is too high in comparison with its width will also produce distortion, and I am not a subscriber to the opinion that a banner should be twice as high as it is wide. Examples of such ensigns do exist in medieval books of hours and other manuscripts, but often involve a distortion of the arms. Look at the shield to which it would relate, and you will see why.

There is one form of shield that I have not mentioned: that granted to ladies. The lozenge seems to passing out of favour, which is a pity, but it is frankly an impossible shape for many coats-of-arms. Quarters become either partly vacant or horribly distorted; and, if you try to draw a chevron between three charges on a lozenge, you will soon become convinced that the more popular ellipse gives more scope for good design. In either case, however, you will find that the "related" rectangle will be a help in your task.


Conformity to the Blazon

Passing now to consider the design we are going to place upon the shield or flag, let us make absolutely sure that we understand the blazon. It is more important to work from a blazon than from another drawing; such a drawing may be a poor example to copy: it may already contain errors, or we may introduce errors because we do not fully understand what we are copying.

This applies not only to charges which may have some special Feature (e.g. there is supposed by some authorities to be a difference between the croziers of an abbot and a bishop), but also to some divisions, ordinaries and sub-ordinaries. Errors have frequently occurred between a chief and a division per fess, or an inescutcheon and a bordure. The similarity between an orle and an inescutcheon voided has even given rise to a perpetual error, repeated in heraldic text-books for nearly a hundred years.

Never, therefore, accept a request to copy arms or make a flag without first seeing the blazon. If you cannot read a blazon, now is the time to start doing your homework.

Proportion within the shield

Having read the blazon carefully, we know which ordinaries, subordinaries or charges we have to put in our shield. We cannot change any of these but we have a certain artistic licence which begins when we start to dispose them over the available surface. The object of our efforts now is to produce something which has balance and is pleasing to the eye. I use the word balance advisedly because, whether or not the arms we are designing are symmetrical, we should aim to achieve an optical symmetry and an apparent equality of space in almost all cases. It is now that you will appreciate the rectangle related to the shield and also the squared paper. Let us look first at the divisions of the field. Per pale is nice and easy - straight down the mid-line of the shield. Per fess and per bend would be difficult to measure but our rectangle gives us both without any problem.


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The Heraldry Society of Scotland   last Update 05 Jun 2017