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Honourable ordinaries are the original marks of distinction bestowed by sovereigns on subjects that have become eminent for their services, either in the council or the field of battle. Volumes have been written upon the origin and form of the honourable ordinaries. These long and tedious inquiries can only be interesting to antiquaries: it is sufficient for the tyro in heraldry to know that they are merely broad lines or bands of various colours, which have different names, according to the place they occupy in the shield; ancient armorists admit but nine honourable ordinaries—the chief, the pale, the bend, the bend sinister, the fess, the bar, the chevron, the cross, and the saltier.

The chief is an ordinary terminated by an horizontal line, which, if it is of any other form but straight, its form must be expressed; it is placed in the upper part of the escutcheon, and occupies one third of the field.


Ex. Argent, on a chief, gules, two mullets, sable .

Any of the lines before described may be used to form the chief.


Ex. Argent, a chief, azure, indented .

The chief has a diminutive called a fillet ; it must never be more than one fourth the breadth of the chief.


Ex. Or, a chief, purpure, in the lower part a fillet, azure .

This ordinary may be charged with a variety of figures, which are always named after the tincture of the chief.

It may be necessary to inform the reader that, in describing a coat of arms, the general colour of the shield or the field is first described, then the honourable ordinaries, their tinctures, then the object with which they are charged. We shall have to remark more particularly on the order of describing ordinaries, tinctures, and charges on coats of arms, when we treat of the rules of heraldry; but the student might have been confused if this brief direction had been omitted, as we shall have to describe every shield of arms in the same order.

The pale is an honourable ordinary, consisting of two perpendicular lines drawn from the top to the base of the escutcheon, and contains one third of the width of the field.


Ex. Azure, a pale, or .

The pale may be formed of any of the lines before described; it is then called a pale engrailed, a pale dancette , &c.

The pale has a diminutive called the pallet , which is one half the width of the pale.


Ex. Argent, a pallet, gules .

The pale has another diminutive one fourth its size; it is called an endorse .


Ex. Argent, a pale between two endorses, gules .

The pale and the pallet may receive any charge; but the endorse is never to be charged with any thing.


The bend is an honourable ordinary, formed by two diagonal lines drawn from the dexter chief to the sinister base, and contains the fifth part of the field if uncharged; but if charged with other figures, the third part of the field.


Ex. Argent, a bend, vert .

The bend has four diminutives, viz. the garter which is half the breadth of the bend.


Ex. Argent, a garter, gules .

The cotice which is the fourth part of the bend. Cotices generally accompany the bend in pairs; thus a bend between two cotices is said to be cotised.


Ex. Gules, a bend, argent, coticed of the same .

The riband , which is one third less than the garter and the bendlet , must never occupy more than one sixth of the field.


Ex. Argent, a riband vert .


Ex. Gules, two bendlets, engrailed, argent .

The bend sinister is the same breadth as the bend dexter, and is drawn from the sinister to the dexter side of the shield.


Bend sinister

Ex. Argent, a bend sinister, purpure .

The scarpe is the diminutive of the bend sinister, and is half its size.


Ex. Argent, a scarpe, purpure .

The baton is the fourth part of the bend, and, as before mentioned, it is a mark of illegitimacy, and seldom used in Heraldry, but by the illegitimate descendants of royalty.


Ex. Gules, a baton, sable, garnished, or .


The fess is formed by two horizontal lines drawn above and below the centre of the shield. The fess contains in breadth one third of the field.


Ex. Argent, a fess, azure .

The bar is formed in the same manner as the fess, but it only occupies the fifth part of the field. It differs from the fess, that ordinary being always placed in the centre of the field; but the bar may be placed in any part of it, and there may be more than one bar in an escutcheon.



Ex. Gules, two bars, argent .

The closet is a diminutive of the bar, and is half its width.


Ex. Argent, two closets, azure .

The barrulet is half the width of the closet.


Ex. Gules, two barrulets, argent .

The annexed example is to illustrate the word gemels , which is frequently used to describe double bars. The word gemels is a corruption of the French word jumelles , which signifies double.


Ex. Azure, two bars, gemels, argent .

When the shield contains a number of bars of metal and colour alternate, exceeding five, it is called barry of so many pieces, expressing their numbers.


Ex. Barry of seven pieces, argent and azure .


The figure of the chevron has been described as representing the gable of a roof. It is a very ancient ordinary, and the less it is charged with other figures the more ancient and honourable it appears.


Ex. Argent, a chevron, gules .

The diminutives of the chevron, according to English Heraldry, are the chevronel , which is half the breadth of the chevron.


Ex. Argent, two chevronels, gules .

And the couple-close, which is half the chevronel.


Ex. Gules, three couple-closes interlaced in base, or .

Braced is sometimes used for interlaced. See the word in the Dictionary.


This, as its name imports, was the distinguishing badge of the Crusaders, in its simplest form. It was merely two pieces of list or riband of the same length, crossing each other at right angles. The colour of the riband or list denoted the nation to which the Crusader belonged. The cross is an honourable ordinary, occupying one fifth of the shield when not charged, but if charged, one third.


Ex. Or, a cross, gules .

When the cross became the distinguishing badge of different leaders in the Crusades, the simple form given in the preceding example was not generally adopted. Some bordered the red list with a narrow white edge, others terminated the arms of the cross with short pieces of the same colour, placed transversely, making each arm of the cross have the appearance of a short crutch; the ends of these crutches meeting in a point, make the cross potent. There is so great a variety of crosses used in Heraldry that it would be impossible to describe them within the limits of this introduction to Heraldry. The reader will find a great number of those most used in English Heraldry described and illustrated in the Dictionary. He of course will understand, if a coat of arms comes under his notice where this ordinary is described as a cross engrailed, a cross invected, that the form of the cross is the same as that in the last example, but that the lines forming it are engrailed, invected, &c. Small crosses borne as charges are called crosslets.

See the words CROSS , CROSSLETS , in the Dictionary.


The saltier was formed by making two pieces of riband cross diagonally, having the appearance of the letter X, or, speaking heraldically, the bend and bend sinister crossing each other in the centre of the shield. The saltier, if uncharged, occupies one-fifth of the field; if charged, one-third.


Ex. Gules, a saltier, argent .

Like the cross, the saltier may be borne engrailed, wavy, and the termination of the arms of the saltier varied; but there are not so many examples of the variation of the form in the saltier as in the cross.


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