Heraldry is the fusion of fact and fancy, myth and manner, romance and reality. It is an exuberant union of family, art, and history

CHARLES BURNETT

Heraldry

Three leopards on my shirt


In the medieval period, the three animals depicted on the King of England’s arms  – and which now adorn the badge on England’s football strip – were called leopards, not lions.
 
Medieval heraldry did have lions, though the term applied to the side facing lion, standing on its hind legs roaring, with claws at the ready. Modern heraldic convention refers to both types as lions with the distinction that the former are ‘lions passant guardant' and  the latter is a ‘lion rampant’.

The current arms of England are the same Plantagenet arms as used by Richard the Lionheart from 1198 and formally described as ‘Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure’. Which, when translated into English, means 'three identical gold leopards with blue tongues and claws, walking and facing the observer, arranged in a column on a red background'.

While they are not used in any official capacity on their own, the lions do feature prominently in the royal arms of the United Kingdom along with the ‘lion rampant’ which represents Scotland.
 

 

‘Mullet’ is a heraldry term, meaning neither haircut nor fish, but ‘star'.

Bend sinister


The diagonal bar from bottom left to top right of a shield is a ‘bend sinister’, which often denoted illegitimacy. One monarch who made use of the bend sinister was Charles II – for the five children by his mistress Barbara Palmer. All of them also went by the name Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the King’, another way of proclaiming Royal parentage. Henry Fitzroy, the present Duke of Grafton, is descended from one of them and still uses the baton sinister (a ‘baton’ is like a ‘bend’, but doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the shield) on his arms. The bend sinister as a mark of illegitimacy was rarely used outside the Royal family, though some historical fiction (following Sir Walter Scott’s lead) has suggested it was.
 
Badly behaved knights could have blood red or orange ‘abatements’ added to their coat of arms. These colours, not used in heraldry for other purposes, were known as ‘stains’ (from which we get the expression ‘a stain on one’s character’).  It wasn’t compulsory to wear your coat of arms and shamed knights probably wouldn't have bothered. Nobles executed for treason were made to wear tunics with their coats of arms upside down.

Erasmus Darwin’s family crest contained the motto E conchis omnia ‘everything from shells’, reflecting his belief in evolution.
JEAN COCTEAU (1889-1963)

Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered. How much blood, how many tears in exchange for these axes, these unicorns, these torches, these seedlings of stars and these fields of blue!

The Royal Society's coat of arms has the inscription nullius in verba – ‘take no man's word for it’.

MARK TWAIN

The coat-of-arms of the human race ought to consist of a man with an axe on his shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone.