Excerpts from the book





          Written and illustrated by

          Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.


          Copenhagen 1973


          Internet version edited by   Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.







Tinctures, Divisions and Border Lines

(pp. 183-185 and 23 - 26)



The oldest escutcheons were as a rule very simple and bore only two tinctures, a 'colour' and a 'metal'. The charges were chosen and designed as simply as possible, since the purpose of the device was to be recognised and identified, even at a distance. For this reason most of the oldest family coats of arms are uncomplicated in design, in contrast with the majority of the arms which have been designed since the Renaissance (see pp. 51, 110, 137).


In many cases however the original simple beauty of the coat of arms has been marred by the marshalling of several devices on a single shield or by augmentations (see p. 54). Ruling princes often combined on the same shield their family arms with the arms of the countries or territories where they held sway, or even of countries they did not possess but merely considered they had a right to, or had once had a right to (until 1801 the royal arms of Great Britain contained the lilies of France, which had been included as a quartering since 1340. The three crowns of Sweden are still included in the Danish royal arms, p. 134). Such divided and redivided shields were copied by people not of royal birth who believed that many divisions in a shield indicated noble ancestry. In the end coats of arms were often composed of several divisions from the very start (pp. 109 and 110). As an example of this nearly all the arms of Swedish counts included quarterings and an inescutcheon (Fig. 766).


The simplest coats consist merely of a shield divided up by one or more lines into fields of two or more different tinctures. The most important divisions and lines are shown on pp. 24-26 but the possibilities are virtually limitless. Each different charge can be further varied by the tinctures used. With merely two tinctures in a coat of arms it is possible to combine the two 'metals' silver and gold and the four 'colours' red, blue, black and green in sixteen different ways. Charges based on the commoner divisional lines are called honourable ordinaries and have their own names: the chief, the bar, the pale, the bend, the chevron, the canton, the flaunches etc. (see pp. 24 and 25). The eight divisions as shown on p. 26, Figs 77 and 80, also have their own concise terminology. (Fig. 77: lozengy, checky, chevrony, paly. Fig. 80: paly bendy, barry bendy, barry parted per pale, dancetty).



77. A field can be partitioned in many ways. For these four examples see the terms on p. 184


78. Decorative treatment of the surface of a shield

is called diaper.



79. Another example of diaper (see Fig. 78).

80. Other methods of dividing the field. See p. 184



The tinctures of heraldry include the colours red, blue, black, green and sometimes, but rarely, purple, and the metals silver and gold. For convenience, white may be substituted for silver and yellow for gold (see also p. 207). In heraldry of a more recent date it is also possible to meet with charges in 'proper' colours, as for example a flesh-coloured arm.






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There are as well a number of patterns called 'furs', ermine and miniver or vair being the most usual (see p. 23). The black tufts in ermine can be combined in various ways; they represent the black tails of the ermine or stoat. The white and blue fields in vair are probably a stylised version of the light-coloured fur on the belly of the grey squirrel and the darker fur on its back. These patterns in fur ^probably go back to shields which in the infancy of heraldry were covered with real fur. See also Figs 293 and 466.



61 and 62. (above) Gold and silver are called metals and blue, red, green, purple and black are called colours. Ermine and vair are called furs. In good heraldry colour must not be superimposed on colour nor metal on metal, but metal and colour should alternate. The system of indicating the tinctures with the aid of shading (or hatching) was developed in the seventeenth century. There are however other systems than the one shown here, so care is necessary when interpreting early blazons.



As far as tinctures in heraldry are concerned the rule is that colour should not be superimposed on colour, but only on metal, and vice versa (see p. 23). But there are some exceptions. The rule is for example not applicable to details such as the claws of animals, hoofs, horns, tongues etc. Fur is 'amphibious* and may be superimposed on either colour or metal. On occasions the rule is deliberately broken, the best known example being the shield of the Crusaders' Kingdom of Jerusalem: on a field argent a cross potent between four plain crosslets or. But that there is some sense in the rule can be seen e.g. from the arms of the city of Bonn (Fig. 529), in which the red lion on a blue field is much less distinct and aesthetically pleasing than it would have been if the rule had been regarded. See also Figs 588 and 622.


The distinction between certain divisions and certain ordinaries (p. 24) may seem a little involved. If for example a shield is divided twice vertically and the outer areas of the fields are of the same tincture, the field in the middle is called a 'pale' and the whole is described for example as 'on a field argent a pale sable' (Fig. 67c}. If the outer areas are of different tinctures, the middle figure is not necessarily con-sidered an independent charge but the shield can be described as being 'tierced in pale' (divided twice vertically into three separate sections) (Fig. 66b, second example).







The cross (p. 25) is one of the most common charges in heraldry and is used in many different forms, only a selection being shown in this book. A plain, simple cross is found frequently in Italian municipal heraldry; some examples can be seen on p. 133. The famous eight- pointed Maltese cross occurs in the achievement of the Order of Malta (Fig. 278) and appears behind the shield, in the crown, and hanging from the chain beneath. It can also be seen in the municipal arms of localities which were once possessions of the Order or in which some of its properties were situated, as in the arms of Neukoelln, Fig. 522. The coat of arms of Switzerland is a white Greek cross on a red field (Fig. 593). The principal shield of the Swedish royal house is divided into four quarters by a yellow cross, and the Danish royal arms by the cross of the Order of the Dannebrog (Fig. 723).


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