Very Basic Heraldry Part Three – Ordinaries

When knights first started using designs on their shields, the designs were very simple. The only purpose of the designs was to identify the knight carrying the shield. So simple shapes and only two colors on the shield were enough to do the job. These basic shapes are called ordinaries.

Here are a few of the most common ordinaries:

  • Bend – one wide diagonal stripe across the shield
  • Pale – one wide vertical (up and down) stripe down the middle of the shield
  • Fess – one wide horizontal (sideways) stripe across the middle of the sheild
  • Chevron – One big upside-down V in the middle of the shield
  • Saltire – A big X shape across the whole shield
  • Chief – one wide horizontal (sideways) stripe across the top of the shield

Later on in history, when shield design got much more complicated with animals and other elements included, these basic shapes were still used as part of the more complicated designs.

I decided to use a kind of fess in the coat of arms for my character, so the silver/white eagle is inside of a wide horizontal stripe across the middle of the shield. I did break tradition a little and instead of using a solid stripe, I just used an outline for the stripe (in silver/white) and left most of the shield blue. It’s a little different from historical shields, but I decided I have a really good reason for doing it. The outline of the fess on my character’s shield actually depicts some unique tools that are going to be important elements in the story.  Stay tuned over the next few months and find out why!

Parents and kids, try making your own coat of arms. Make it as personal as you can…something that really shows who you are!