[Question:] Dear heraldists, we need your input: How did you learn to blazon?

Dear heraldists, dear fellow researchers,

As a part of my studies, I am looking at concepts of ‚proper‘ blazon in general, and differences and parallels between the English, French, and German systems and traditions of blazoning in particular. For example, I plan to do some work on the ways in which heraldic ordinaries and charges are categorised and the rationale behind these categorisations.

In this context, I am curious to find out how you learned to blazon correctly, and which textbooks you have used or are using when it comes to questions of blazon. Or, if you have acquired a particular style by practice, I should be most grateful if you could explain to me the principles on which you blazon and how you have acquired it. I would be delighted if some of you were able to provide me with advice or references to literature that you consider relevant to this matter or that you even consider as the standard textbook for blazoning!

I am looking forward to your responses in the comments section of this blogpost (in English, French or German)!

Cite this blog post
Julia Ziegler (2017, April 19). [Question:] Dear heraldists, we need your input: How did you learn to blazon? Heraldica Nova. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/pi0p

46 Responses

  1. F.-D.Frhr.v.Recum says:

    About 1939 I began to realize that I’m surrounded by arms on all sorts of objects big and small, collected by generations in different countries and showing ancestors. In churches I visited epitaphs with many arms. In the forties I began “reading” Siebmacher’s. Starting 1968 I developed and “filled” military data bases on an IBM 360/20 and thought about using it privately as soon as one could acquire a computer which happened in 1980 in the pre Microsoft times.

    A friend helped to create a program and I started using it, later I switched to WINDOWS and various dbf formats, ending up with Visual FoxPro 9.0.

    The task was to create a data base, import the older files and fill it with blazons found in printed books. This was the time that I noticed blazoning as a way of describing arms and that every source had a different method for that.

    Since I had incorporated English, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and many different German collections I decided to develop a new common blazon structure on a sql query friendly German language basis. To reach that I created automatic transformation for above languages (including resolving the English way to number tinctures) into a different field (to always keep the original). A lot of corrections had to follow and are still going on..

    There is now a data base of some 500.000 entries in daily use to identify arms on objects reported to the HEROLD office at Berlin-Dahlem or asked in some fora. It will finally be property of the Herold for internal use only.

    During which I learned that thousands of H.R.E. arms have never been published, are therefore untraceable and that I have to be very careful in my judgement that the arms in question might be invented or fake.

    By the way a great portion of questions asked are very simple to answer : copied from Siebmacher’s or alike and actually belonging to a noble family by a similar name.

    In short I do not blazon I’m re-blazoning every entry into my-way.


    Herold zu Berlin

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. v. Recum,

      I want to thank you for sharing your experiences with me! Especially your explanations regarding the evolution of your database are a fascinating topic! May I ask a question: Although the database is for internal use only, I would be delighted if you could give me some further infomation about how you structured it in detail, which problems and challenges you have encountered while bulding the final database with the different language-related problems and according to which parameters you constructed it, especially regarding the amount of included coats of arms. If you are interested, you can share your experiences with me via mail as well!

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

      • F.-D.Frhr.v.Recum says:

        Dear Mrs. Zimmer,
        here you are : the structure of my data base is very straight forward along my General Rule (GR)
        “field tincture, number of charges, charges tincture, charges, position”
        i.e. “r. 2 s. Schwerter schragenw.”

        A) shield, crest, mantling, supporters, mottoes
        1) shield:
        a) partitions (marshalling, if applicable)
        b) the inescutcheon : GR, same as fields below. (can be at the end)
        c) first (and fourth) field: field tincture, number of charges, charge tincture, charges, positions, between number tincture charges…, label, chief, border etc. (GR)
        d) second (and third) field : same
        e) further fields : same

        2) crest and mantling:
        a) first helmet : crest tincture, crest, mantling
        b) second helmet : same
        c) further helmets

        3) supporters : same

        4) motto : as is

        B) examples (with lots of my own abbreviations):
        – b. 1 g. Greif, a.d.Hals 1 r. TK. (Barrile)
        – b. 1 g. sl-Balken, bel.m. 3 r. nat.Rosen, zw. 2 g. Sterne; D: b.-g.; Hz: 3 r. nat.Rosen an gr. Stängel, zw. off.Flug b.-g. (Voigt 1776)
        – get: 1: b. 1 g. Greif, a.d.Ganz. 1 r. TK; 2: g. 3 gr. Berg, zw. ob. 1 r. Rose. (Barrile)
        – gesp: 1: get: 1: w.Wp. gev: 1+4: r. 1 Stockfisch ohne Kopf g. pfahlw. 2 Kronen g.; 2: g. 1 r. Balken; 2: get: b. a.n.Meer 3 s. Blumen überdeck. b.-s. 1 r. Balken, zw. 3 gr. Kleeblätter; 2: s. 3 #. Berge 1 r. Balken üb. (halbget+gesp) (Irgens-Bergh)
        – gev+HS: 1+4: b. 3 n. Türkenköpfe her-seh. Turbane r.-g.; 2: get: 1: r. 1 s. halb.Hirsch a.d.Teilg. s. 3 n. Berg n.d.Figur gr.; 3: get: 1: r. 1 g. halb.Hirsch a.d.Teilg.; 2: g. 3 n. Berge n.d.Figur gr.; HS: get: 1: b. 1 g. schreit.Löwe(ll); 2: g. 1 r. Haus. (Leuhusen)

        C) queries :
        *1 ?. Greif*Dreiberg*i.d.*Schwert*
        result : 9 entries, for example:

        – #. 1 g. Greif a.gr.Dreiberg, i.d.Re.Kralle 1 Schwert (Staiger)
        – 1x-gesp:2x-get: b. 2 ab-gek. g. Streitsensen; 2: b. 2 s. Flügel (v. Nippenburg), 3+6: #. 1 g. Greif a.gr.Dreiberg einw-gek., i., i.d.Re. 1 Schwert; 4: r. 1 Panzerarm … (Bissingen-Nippenburg)

        The queries start very simple and become more and more detailed to reduce the hits.

        E) This structure is close to the French, much less to the English and completely different from all the many, many different German ones.

  2. alskd says:

    Like everyone in Vienna, I took courses given by Georg Scheibelreiter who published this rathe useful book: Heraldik. Oldenbourg, Wien/München 2006. 2. Auflage. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, München 2013, ISBN 978-3-486-59124-8.
    Additional courses by Andreas Zajic put some things in perspective and gave more insight into non-German literature. Since I am not particularly interested in heraldry and only learned about it a part of a broader education in auxiliary sciences, I never really tried to blazon in other languages.

  3. Hobbyherold says:

    I learnt it, too, from reading blazons, first on the internet, later in books. A great resource is Dr. Peter’s website, especially http://www.dr-bernhard-peter.de/Heraldik/seite55.htm for hints as to how to blazon well in German.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Thank you for your advice! In the past I visited Dr. Peter’s website a few times, but I will have a closer look at it.

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  4. Maurizio Carlo Alberto Gorra says:

    Dear Julia,
    I agree with Jon when he wrote (20.4.17 at 19:32) that “it is very hard to determine differences from the different languages, if you don’t speak the languages”.
    I’m Italian, I’ve learned to blazon beginning in 1979 by reading Crollalanza and Tribolati (principally the rich Introduction written by the first to the “Grammatica araldica” of the second).
    During these years I became convinced that blazonry is an art, not only a science, in which the good heraldist needs to blazon with perspicuity, conciseness, accuracy and completeness.
    The caracteristics of the different languages must sometimes nearer one or more of them “four requisites”.
    English, German, perhaps Dutch, and mostly Latin, are concise.
    But too much, I think.
    For me, neolatin languages represent a good balance within all the “four requisites”.
    In any case (and in any language, but mostly in neolatin ones) I think that very important is the possibility to “play” among the possible synonyms of the individual terms, in order to achieve the best balance between the correctness of the content and the harmony of the expressive form.
    In blazonry, form is substance.
    A blazon well written (or well said, that’s the same) may be quite a poetry, and sure is a pleasure for the mind and the ears, and also the better way to teach to appreciate heraldry and (why not?) even to teach it.
    That’s what I try to do when I blazon, especially in my native language.
    And that’s why I think that only speaking a language you must completely understand all the subtle differences between a just-enough blazon and a very-well-drafted one.

  5. Alex Maxwell Findlater says:

    PLEASE DISREGARD MY PREVIOUS MESSAGE AND DELETE IT IF POSSIBLE. I placed the blazons in paratheses and they completely disappeared!!

    Here it is again:

    Dear Julia

    I am sorry to have delayed responding to your blog. As an anglophone, my first introduction to blazon was Fox-Davies. But even before that I was aware of heraldry and blazon, coming from an armigerous family. Our coat of arms was around the house and I knew the blazon certainly when I was say 12 years old, but probably long before that. I found that Fox-Davies was very prescriptive, and when I came across Oswald Barron, I was delighted. After I left University, my time was taken up by work, and so I experienced no continuous increase in heraldic knowledge.

    I had no real exposure to ‘foreign’ heraldry, and certainly not to blazon in foreign languages until I was undergoing my ‘heraldic renaissance’ which must have been from about 1994. However I had schoolboy French and German, and I had dictionaries of those languages and so managed to stumble through. I have not made comparisons with French and German styles of blazon, nor have I done very much blazon in Latin, although I think that it would be very useful to see whether customs in Latin are the basis of modern blazon, or whether the different traditions of blazon ‘back-translated’ into Latin when they felt they needed to.

    My view is that blazon, as used now, is in something of a melting pot, the UK Heralds tenaciously upholding a tradition which is not so different from Fox-Davies, while on the wildest fringes people are developing arms which are almost impossible to blazon, and really need to be described in great detail, in a sense not so different from the F-D style. But this might lead to a discussion of what constitutes heraldry! My own interest being in medieval armory, I feel that the language really needs to be simple or simplified. So for me the ‘langued and armed’ type of detailed description has not much to do with heraldry, but more to a wish to be absolutely clear, and is a fairly pedantic approach. We even have a King of Arms seriously discussing whether it should be ‘ bull’s heads’ or ‘bulls’ heads’, and criticising the culprit who dared to do it the ‘wrong’ way. Of course in this expression, there is a conflict between singular and plural in a grammatical sense, but the grammatical correctness has no relevance to heraldry.

    I have now been writing essays and books on heraldry for some years, and when I blazon, I try to do two things, (1) to see the ‘essential coat’, and to blazon it first and then add in the ‘extras’, ie the differences, but also (2) to write the blazon in an order which would make it possible for someone to do a quick sketch while I am reading it out.

    Examples of (1) are that in Scotland a chevron, and less often a bend and a fess, has often been added to an existing family coat to difference it. The traditional rule, as no doubt adumbrated by my King of Arms above, would be that, eg, a chevron, as being an ordinary has to be blazoned first, but that would cut across the integrity of the coat, and if used in an Ordinary of Arms, would make the members of this family appear in different places, rather than together. Additionally the rule that the central charge on a shield should be blazoned first creates the same problem, as many ancient coats in Scotland are of a simple charge triplicated, eg Azure three stars Argent (Murray), Azure three boar’s heads Or (Gordon), or Or three crescents Gules (Seton). Murray cadets can have a chevron or a fess as a difference, the most famous Gordon cadet, Lochinvar, has a bend, and most Seton cadets have a difference at fess point. The most obvious peculiarity is in Arbuthnot which when blazoned ‘traditionally’ is Azure a crescent between three stars, but, when considering it from a cadet view, Azure three stars Argent a crescent of the last for difference. Here I have purposely not blazoned it ‘at fess point’ because that is so obviously that it need not be said.

    This last ties in with my point (2), if you were sketching the Arbuthnot arms from my dictation, you would effectively place the three stars in a notional circle, and the crescent would obviously belong in the middle. The other ramification is that it is helpful to state the position of the charge before describing it, because otherwise you have to store up the detail of the charge until you eventually find out where to put it, so ‘in chief a maunch Gules’ is much better than ‘a maunch Gules in chief’. This becomes even more vital when there are a number of charges whose position is important, eg, to imagine something quite complex, Argent a saltire Azure cantoned by in chief a star of six points Azure, in base a crescent surmounted of a cross crosslet fitchée Vert, in the dexter flank a pick-axe, the head Sable and the shaft proper, and in the sinister flank a hunting-horn contournée Gules garnished and stringed Azure. Of course I have overstated my case, but the underlying rationale is evident.

    My historical and non-prescriptive approach I believe makes the understanding of the heraldry easier, and the blazon is simpler and so more user-friendly. Of course this requires a certain understanding of the conventions, but we all have conventions in other things. Unless we have the conventions, heraldry ceases to be easy and fun and becomes a boring, pedantic exercise. Blazon is where the pedantry grows quickest.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Findlater,

      I am pleased to read your story about how you have learnend blazonry and the detailed description of your personal practice! Looking at your observations and similar experiences from the other researchers commenting on my post, it seems that between the various concepts of blazonry and the practical experiences of the artists often differ from another, or to formulate it into a question: Which challenges emerge from this problem for both sides, the conceptual and practical dimension of blazonry?
      Your mention of the difficulties in blanzonry shows me furthermore, that “rivaling” concepts and ideas of how to blazon in the best way are still today in a vivid discussion.
      So, if I understood you correctly, you created a quite non-prescriptive concept for your own use which brings theory and practice as close as possible to each other? If so, then this might be a precious discovery for me and my studies, because your concept allows differences between concepts or even languages without trying to force an “artificial” harmony. This is at least for me a very helpful and practicable attempt.

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  6. Nathan Kowalsky says:

    I learned to blazon by reading Boutell’s Heraldry (updated by J.P. Brooke-Little, as I recall) when I was roughly fourteen years old. It was in my school library, and it’s still my favourite heraldry book.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Kowalsky,

      thank you for your advice. I see, that Boutell is an important author for learning heraldry.

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  7. I learned – as much as I did – the English basics from the Art of Heraldry of Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, the French ones from Rietstap, then from Fr Claude-François Ménestrier SJ and Fr Jehan Scohier, the medieval practice from published sources and the publications of Dr Gerard J. Brault. The further learning was eclectic and occasional.
    In the case of my native language (Russian), I was obliged to deal with distinct, contrasting practices, namely the largely experimental and vivid language of the grants of the XVIII century (roughly prior to 1780), the messy language of the later documents until the 1850-ies, the decently developed but slightly artificial language of the grants made afterwards (until recently almost unknown to the public but lavishly present in the archival sources) and the terms suggested by Yury Arsenyev and the other authors of treatises (usually based on more or less successful translations of foreign blazons). Later, as an officer of arms, I was obliged to create a synthetic language based on these three traditions, forming the official jargon de blason.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Medvedev,

      your experience and your oblidge to create an official heraldic jargon as a synthesis out of all those historical developements and practices is a vivid example, in my opinion, how one person should create an overall “concept” for such a complex and multilayered phenomenom as heraldry and blazonry. I have to admit, that I have no experience with the russian blazoning traditions, though my focus lies on german, french and english blazonry. But your experience in translating and transferring specific heraldic terms and phrases into russian, figuring out how to harmonize the russian blazonry with other language-related difficulties and then create an overall “synthetic” concept out of this, is extremely interesting for me. How did you solve this task and which challenges did you encounter? Where were the difficulties between the practical and the theoretical dimension of blanzonry?

      I would be delighted, if you would share your experience with me!

      Best wishes
      Julia Ziegler

  8. Jon says:

    In response to your next question, it is very hard to determine differences from the different languages, if you don’t speak the languages. In my case (like a lot of my English speaking colleagues, we ask for assistance from those that speak the language or I go to dictionaries and now online translators to help. For instance with German, I find a lot of times, it doesn’t translate correctly or at all, so that’s when I will ask for help. I have over quite a few years had to elicit help from some friends, specifically Steen Clemmenson, Klaas Padberg, Frans Rekem, and Martin Knock, just to name a few. It’s not always comfortable to ask for others help, but they have always been very wonderful about it! I started myself first by translating the different blazons. English, French and Norman French have a lot of similarities but are subtly different (ie, vert versus sinople, or gules versus gueules, etc. Now I have slowly over time started picking up some of the other languages, but only probably 1% of 1% in regards to general things like tinctures, and a few devices, animals, or divisions, etc. Recently there has been a colleague of a lot of us building a database. He is German and has had a hard time with some of the early French blazon. He asks for the different folks help on our IH Facebook page, about certain ways a particular coat-of-arms is blazoned. There are some really odd blazons (with words that sometimes don’t translate), and don’t make a lot of sense, so sometimes you have to go to another source to see how it’s blazoned or depicted. People from our different Heraldic Facebook pages are really knowable collectively, which is a wonderful way to work through difficult blazons. In this modern world with everyone designing their own coat of arms, the blazons can be very tricky, so with help from others we/they try and steer folks towards the “convention” of blazoning. In other words, don’t just slap a bunch of symbols on a shield and call it good. Recently I posted some examples of color on color coat of arms. I was just showing that even though the conventions says you shouldn’t do this, it has been done in the past. New folks sometimes have a hard time with this believe it or not. They design coat of arms, not really considering the convention and put color on color, until other members explain the reasoning behind not doing it. One of our members always asks the new prospects to give us the blazon for their respective coat of arms. What that does, is encourages them to blazon and learn about their new own coat of arms. Then there is course all the differences between English, French, German, Italian, Spanish general design and layout of arms. I don’t think you can necessarily do direct comparisons from one language to the next. I have been told that sometimes words or descriptions don’t exist that mirror what they see in our English language. Of course English and French blazons are very similar and for the most part are easily compared (other than Norman French, which has a enough differences to make a little harder to translate).

  9. Joseph McMillan says:

    As an American, I learned from the most widely available English texts, Boutell’s Heraldry (in the 1970 edition edited by J. P. Brooke-Little) and Fox-Davies’ Complete Guide to Heraldry. But my eyes were opened on the whole subject of blazonry by reading Oswald Barron’s essay “Heraldry Revived” in his magazine The Ancestor (1902), where he demolishes much of the over-complication of English blazonry, which I’d spent so much effort to master, and shows that early early modern blazonry in England was (a) much cleaner and (b) much more English and less “Norman-French” than it later became. Who would have known from reading Boutell et al that Tudor heralds called gold “gold” and not “or?” That “Gules three leopards gold” was just as adequate a blazon of the arms of England as “Gules three lions passant guardant in pale or”?

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. McMillan,

      thank you very much for the advice regarding Barron’s essay! As your given example out of this essay demonstrates, the “evolution” of english blazonry is not that coherent, as it might seem first. My previous state of knowledge was, that the english blazon emerged from the french one, and that the english blazonry preserved various terms and phrases which do no longer occur in french, which induces a steady, but increasingly independent developement, that might be a questionable topic. Of course, I have to study this essay closer, but since it points out such interesting arguments, it might become a very valuable and discussable source for my studies regarding the historical evolution of the prominent blazoning traditions! If you have further essays or advices regarding this topic, I would be pleased, if you would give me the titles.

      Best wishes
      Julia Ziegler

  10. Jon says:

    Hope you don’t mind another post, but I wanted to mention that transcribing old armorial rolls is an art in itself. You not only have to understand the blazon, but be able to read it. The old rolls were written by so many different hands, and some are almost impossible to decipher. Some folks are very good at this and can make out the intended references (blasons, names, etc). I first have to determine what the alphabet looks like, so I can make out the correct lettering. Once I have done this, I can then start putting together a blazon that makes sense. There are works by J. Greenstreet, Michel Popoff, Michel Pastoureau for example that have looked at the old rolls, and put together some wonderful works, which include the blazoned coat of arms. Pictures are very helpful when learning how to blazon. I also found books on medieval seals helpful, since most have pictures of the seals associated with the associated (non tinctured blazon). M. Demay, H. Laing, Douët d’Arcq, W. de Gray Birch. Seals don’t have tinctures (colors) so you typically get the plain blazon (ie, “a lion rampant”).

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Jon,

      it seems to me, that especially the early armorial rolls are in various ways a big challenge for beginners and that some sort of visualisation, may it be on seals, coins, illuminations or other sources, is almost indispensable for the task of studying them. This confirms my assumption, that working with blazonry in general, and old armorial rolls in particular, always needs some sort of visualisation (and through this the urgend presence of practical knowledge) to really get the very idea of the exact coat of arms as Mr. Clemmensen already stressed in his comment.
      But this symbiosis between concept, tradition and practical knowledge is in most cases not existing, or to be more precise: it is up to yourself to figure out how to deal with the three dimensions of blazoning a coat of arms correctly. At least, this is by now, what I assume regarding all the other experiences and observations. Please correct me if I got too far with my assumption!

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  11. Steen Clemmensen says:

    One learns and improve bit by bit. Stalins: Vocabulaire, de Boos: Dictionnaire du Blason, Brault: Early blazon, Wappenbilderordnung are among the present classics. If you want to go back, try Menestrier, Bara and Bouton. Renesse and Rietstap are also classics. For practical use of ordinaries, you must analyse Papworth and the newer Dictionary of British Arms, not to mention my own Ordinary of medieval armorials (www.armorial.dk) and the index armorum in the newer editions of armorials. Please note that francophiles and anglophiles do it differently. The F’s begin with the colour of the principal figure, the A’s with the colour of the field when splitting the blazon into colour and figures. Essentially blason depends on what you want to do with it. You can almost fill a page describing a single achievement in all details or in a line or two, if you take for granted that the reader understands the basics, and can visualize it.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Clemmensen,

      thank you very much for you helpful reply. Your Ordinary is one of the most important sources for me. De Boos, Brault and the Wappenbilderordnung were one the very first books from which I started my studies. But Bara and Bouton were unknown to me so far. I will have a look at these books.
      And thank you for your advice regarding the difference between the french and the english way of blazoning. I am looking forward to find more of those peculiarities.

      Best Wishes
      Julia Ziegler

      • Steen Clemmensen says:

        Dear Julia, I did have a comment on this, but the censoring machine deleted is as doubling, so please contact me directly fro further discussion.

  12. Jon says:

    I started years ago by translating old blazoned tournament rolls. The “Tounoi de Mons 1310” was my first. I realized early that they were in Norman French so I needed to get books that helped me read the different blasons. I started by using Braults “Early Blazon” and a book called “Vocabulaire-Atlas Heraldique”. Of course since I didnt know or speak French I needed a English to French dictionary too. I went and found the oldest book I could find since it would have older uses of words in it.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Jon,

      your experience is very helpful for me for various reasons. And for that, I would be pleased, if I could ask you some further questions:
      Before you started your project to translate the “Tounoi de Mons”, did you had some heraldic experience? Or did you started your work with “learning by doing”?
      Another very important topic regarding this tournament roll is, that it is written in Norman French. I have read, that the english blazoning system roots from the french one and that the english blazoning preserved various french terms, which have disappeared in the modern french heraldry.
      The historical evolution of the french, english and german ways of blazoning are also a mayor toppic of my studies, and for that, I would like to hear about your experiences. Could these books give you the correct heraldic terms to blazon the displayed coats of arms? If not, what did you do to deal with the historical differences? And did you encounter problems with this historical evolution of the french and english blazoning systems?

      I would like to know about your particular experiences and want to thank you for your inspiring contribution.

      Best Wishes
      Julia Ziegler

  13. I am an heraldic artist and I write the blazons mainly in Castilian.
    I learned and continue to learn this language by the act of writing the blazons, I write what I already know how to write and I search on the internet and in books what I do not know how to write.
    It helps me in learning to have been creating my own style of writing, in a structured way, in many lines, as if they were poems.
    I also learned a bit how to write them in English, I learned it by having to translate the blazons from Castilian to English, the doubts I have in English I ask them in the heraldic groups of Facebook and almost always solve them.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Salmerón,

      your literary way of blazoning is, as far as my knowlegde reaches, a quite unique way to blazon coats of arms. Your case shows me, that the practical part of balzoning differs in some ways from the concepts presented in the prominent textbooks and furthermore, that each heraldist has his own way how to blazon. Until now, my view was, that the personal style only mattered in the process of drawing a coat of arms, but it appears, that even the written blazon is a matter of personal style. And, as a result from that, I would like to go so far to propose, that the concepts in guides and textbooks may vary in some parts from the actual practice of heraldic artist, in textual and pictorial ways.

      And concerning the second part of your post: Which difficulties did you noticed? What did you do, when the english heraldic vocabulary could not provide a suitable term or expression for the castilian term, and vise versa?

      I would like to hear your opinion regarding my theory!

      Best wishes
      Julia Ziegler

      • Dear Julia, thank you for your reply and I would try to answer you.
        a) About the writing style of blazons, I believe we will evolve towards a structured syntax that facilitates the parser, the storage and registration and an automatic translation with few errors.
        b) About the translation, I believe that every blazon in Castilian is translatable to English and vice versa.
        In cases where I have not been able to translate, I know I can find someone to help me translate.
        But there are, as in other translations certain difficulties, answering your question I could classified this difficulties into 6 types:
        1) A term in one language that does not exist in the other. The solution is to translate using several words. For example, “pean” in English that has no equivalent in Castilian, and would have to be translated by “de sable, armiñado de oro”.
        2) Sets of terms with different number of elements in one or another language. The solution is to add attributes. For example, the short set Castilian { bezante (all metals); roel (all colours) } and the long English set { { Bezant (Or); Plate (Argent) }; { Hurt (Azure); Torteau (Gules); Pellet (Sable); Pomme (Vert); Golpe (Purpure)}.
        3) Objects of a heraldic tradition that are strange in the other. The solution is to try to describe them. For example, in Castilian, the “banda engolada de dragantes”.
        4) False friends. For example, “motto” in English, it is not “mote” in Castilian, it is mainly “lema”. The “motto” in English is only “mote” in Castilian when it is cryptic or initiatory. The most common false friend I think is “surmounted by” used when a bearing is placed over another of a different tincture, while “surmontado” in Castilian means that it is above (nearer to the chief), but, very important, not over, they do not touch one another.
        5) Prohibited blazons, which are translatable, but incorrect in the other language. For example, the Castilian charges of words, numbers, letters or sentences are prohibited in the English blazons, although they are translatable.
        6) The structural ones are the worst, the most difficult to understand, and fortunately not very frequent. They happen when the concepts used in the blazon have different nature in each language. For example, “a bordure compony counter compony Or and Azure” is in Castilian “una bordura ajedrezada de oro y azur” and in this case the translation to “a bordure chequey (or chequy, or checky) Or and Azure” is wrong. This is because for the English mind the concept checky implies linear everywhere and always (thus a checky in a bordure is linear, not rounded), and for a Castilian mind the bordure concept implies rounded (thus a cheky in a bordure takes the curves naturally, probably because our large bordure tradition).
        Please, note this is only my humble opinion.
        Finally, a general difficulty is what do we do when the authors and the bibliography provide contrary opinions? In other areas of knowledge we use to consult ower teacher or master, but for lack of a master, I have defined 2 authors one in English [Parker, J., 1894] and another Castilian [Avilés, J .; 1725-1780] that as “primus inter pares”, in case of conflict among other authors, they make me decide for their opinion. My choice of these “primus” authors (J.Parker and J.Avilés) may not be the best (many heraldist think that J.Parker is no the best in English and I think J.Avilés is sometimes too “frenchy”), but it is important to have your own “primus” authors to resolve conflicts among other authors.
        Thank you.

  14. R. Mathis says:

    Reading on the Internet (on random sites, and then on Wikipedia) and courses at the Ecole des chartes

  15. I learned first in French the old-fashioned way, with a worn copy of C.F. Menestrier (written in Q&A form!) which I stll have. Years later, in the early 1990s and having changed continent and language, I discovered English heraldry through newsgroups, learning from others and with the classics (Boutell, Woodward, Parker). I prefer English blazon because of its tightness, although it can get a little precious at times. Of course I’ve used Stalins’ Atlas for other languages, which I’ve put online many years ago.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Velde,

      I am delighted to see your comment! Your website “heraldica.org” is a insdispensible help and source of knowledge for me, since I began my studies regarding the different blazoning systems. I would like to ask, how you dealt with ambiguities, differences and missing equivalents between the different languages while building the website. And another question, that I have, deals with your own personal experience: Since you first learned french blazoning and then switched to english, which differences and problems did you notice? Where are logical and conceptional differences, which are making it difficult to translate a blazon into another language? How did you deal with those problems? Were there difficulties to translate a historical coat of arms into modern blazoning? How do you deal with terms, which do not exist in the language you want to translate a blazon into? Do you use the closest term, which is nearly equivalent?

      I am looking forward for your response!

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  16. Robert Schatz says:

    I am American and learned the basics of English-language blazon as a boy in the ’70s by initially reading Julian Franklin’s “Shield and Crest”, which I believe was first published in 1960, but is now out-of-print, and also (regrettably) not often mentioned. His writing style is both informative and witty, and therefore made it easy to comprehend basic terms and principles. Each chapter addresses a specific group of charges and their variations. Franklin also stressed that arms are three-dimensional, and explained how this affects blazon and 2-dimensional depiction and shadowing (a ready example would the difference between “tierced in fess Argent, Gules, and Or” and “per fess Argent and Or a fess Gules”). I also was a member of The Heraldry Society of London from boyhood through university, and learned a great deal more through articles in its journal “The Coat of Arms”, and then as well through the purchase of additional books of heraldry. As a young adult I met and became friends with Patric Dickinson, now Clarenceaux King of Arms at the College of Arms in London, and he was and is a ready reference for more obscure principles of English language blazon.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Schatz,

      the book you mentioned sounds very interesting to me, especially the author’s concept of coats of arms as three-dimensional objects. Personally, I never thought about coats of arms in this way. Like you explained, this way of looking at a coat of arms offers two different ways of blazoning. This shows, in my opinion, that the individual concept or view of the author is a crucial part when it comes to terms, how to blazon a coat of arms correctly.
      I also read a few articles from “The Coat of Arms”. This Journal and the provided articles were indeed very useful for my former studies.
      And thank you for mentioning Mr. Dickinson. I will do further research about him and his work. Would it be possible to contact him regarding deeper logical and conceptional problems and differences between english, french and german blazoning traditions?

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

      • Steen Clemmensen says:

        Dear Julia and Joseph McMillan, it is a good idea to keep blazon simple (the KISS principle) and to visualize it before one tries to translate it or transfer it from words to picture, vive-versa or between languages. When you do this, it becomes much easier to do – as I know from having done this a couple of thousand times. There are different traditions, especially between Anglo-French and Germanic regions. Joseph has mentioned some, e.g. barry / 5 times divided horizontally (how bad this sounds!). Another typical feature to master is that A-F typically use a chief, when G use per fess. Try going through a number of blazons of the same arms in various languages and from various sources, and you will find that the way one blazons a coat of arms is very personal. It is not unusual to find half a dozen terms for essentially the same figure (mostly the geometric type) – not mentioning that many people cannot count, so a striped field may have from 4 to 15 partition lines (not all representing the dame arms, but 4-7 and 7-14 are two typical forms barry or barully). Some armorists prefer to place great importance of the width or a bar, but I have only found very few arms, where this has any importance – even for recently created arms. The structure of the design usually determines the size of figures, their number and their places. You may have gironny of 6 or 8, but not of 4, because this would be per saltire. Coming back to regional differences, there are figure types that one only see in e.g. Germany or Poland. No dictionary can give you the right translation, so you use your imagination. I will stop here before getting into mis-copying in armorials and standard works – enjoy merlettes and molettes as well as cock and coquille. In a few weeks i will revise my list of basic terms with a lot of examples in most European languages – sleep well both before and during reading them.

        • Julia Ziegler says:

          Dear Mr. Clemmensen,

          as you outlined, it seems that some heraldists have a very strict opinion regarding the precise and correct appearance and definition of heraldic terms. I would assume, that they are looking for exact definitions of terms, though some of them might be just variations which occured in painted coats of arms. Those conceptualizations of blazonry might try to transform it into a more logical and systematical language than it is in everyday practical experience and thus tend to detach from it.
          And the fact, that the size is determined by the overall arrangement on the shield leads me furthermore to the assumption that specific charges could be isolated at some point of time and in a second step they got an own definition as a seperate heraldic term. Please correct me if this assumption is wrong!
          Your reply gave me many more aspects to think about and many clues where I should continue my research!

          Kind regards
          Julia Ziegler

          • Steen Clemmensen says:

            Dear Julia,
            I think you got the paragraph on ‘size’ and ‘separate term’ wrong. Allow me to repeat: numbers, size and position of charges (primary or secondary) are generally determined by deciding the composition (e.g. 3 lions passant and 9 hearts; or 3 escallops, a label and 6 martlets) .
            Essentially the structure of blazons is similar in all the languages I have encountered. Some may begin with the field, others with the main charge. The amount of details will vary with the purpose of blazoning and with the personal preference of the writer.
            The choice of actual terms for a given charge will vary among writers, also depending on personal choice, specifics needed or possible canting elements.
            Taking the Anglo-French tradition as the ‘normal’, one will encounter some odd local charges when leaving that area. The Polish (Hungarian-Silesian-Saxon) clan symbols (hrb) are the most impressive and difficult to handle. But one may also encounter charges that are almost impossible to interpret even for descendants of the owning family, e.g. a rammer / stamper for placing stones on roads (not a vat for making butter), a fire-iron (not a frying-pan), sawbuck (A-formed figure) or “3 helles faubies in chief”.
            Creating a coat of arms and blazoning it is fairly easy. The real problems arrive when interpreting a small size figure or unfamiliar words. For exercise and fun try comparing Rolland’s illustrations with Rietstap’s blazons or blazon the 1605 Siebmacher.
            As for learning lbazon, I began by reading other people’s blazon, then gradually looking at the writings of the prophets, first in Danish, then a Dane on French blazon before moving on to British and French authors. After a decade, I abandoned those for a system of my own, but I still use to 30-odd heraldic dictionaries as well as al editions for reference – with pleasure and often in need of enlightenment.
            Bon appetit,

  17. Yes that is a good comment.
    best wishes,

  18. I learnt by starting with my coat of arms Azure on a fess Or three lozenges rouge within a bordure engrailed Argent. I have passisted with both personal and corporate Petitions for grants and Petitions for Arms to The Lord Lyon.

  19. Marc-Andre Laverdiere says:

    I learned by observation as well as by reading.

    Reading in English with the following:
    A GUIDE TO BASIC BLAZONRY by Kevin Greaves http://education.heraldry.ca/BLAZONRY_GUIDE_10.pdf
    A Complete Guide to Heraldry by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41617
    The Handbook to English Heraldry by Charles Boutell http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/23186
    For additional vocabulary, I read A GLOSSARY OF TERMS USED IN HERALDRY by JAMES PARKER.

    (As a sidenote, Scots Heraldry by Innes of Learney’s also covers that topic, but it is redundant with the others I mentioned)

    In French, I learned using Pastourneau’s books: Figures de l’héraldique and Traité d’héraldique

    I also learned by observation using the CHA’s Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges http://reg.gg.ca/heraldry/pub-reg/main.asp?lang=e

    Finally, I got to practice with other enthusiasts on the Google+ community, and we sometimes got in debates about how to properly blazon things. You can join us there! https://plus.google.com/communities/109584396642217278488

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Laverdiere,

      I am grateful for your helpful links and advices! I am looking forward to study those works and the Website. For me, Pastoureau was also one of the first authors for learning about french heraldry.

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  20. My first books concerning the blazon of heraldic devices was the “Wappenfibel” from the HEROLD association and Galbreath/Jéquiers “Lehrbuch der Heraldik”, but very early on I switched over to using the british way to blazon, which appealed to me as being more strict in its syntax and thus more logical. My first and central guidebook on this was Arthur Fox-Davies old Complete Guide to Heraldry, which was easy to acquire as a paperback reprint back in the 1990s.

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Mr. Röhrer-Ertl,

      thank you for your help! I began my heraldic research with those books, too. I will definitely have a closer look at Fox-Davies’ guide.
      It is interesting to hear about your reasons to choose the english blazoning system, because, among ohter topics, the language-related and logical differences are exactly what I am searching for. May I ask you, from your personal experience, to clarify some of the most crucial points where the german and british traditions of blazoning vary from another? Could you give me some examples?

      • Joseph McMillan says:

        When I first adopted my coat of arms, I asked colleagues in the rec.heraldry newsgroup to blazon it for me in their native languages. Three things that struck me about the differences between German and English:
        1. English usually starts with the main charge or ordinary, and then other charges generally working from top to bottom, dexter to sinister. German blazon often seems to work from the bottom of the shield up.
        2. When blazoning striped fields, etc., English describes them according to the number of alternating stripes (bars, pallets, bendlets). German describes them according to the number of partition lines. Thus, what an English blazon would call “barry of six”, a German blazon would call “fünfmal geteilt.”
        3. German often blazons parts of the shield as forward/front or rear/behind instead of dexter and sinister. It took me a while to figure out that these refer to the parts of the shield as seen being carried on the left arm of a mounted knight.

        • Julia Ziegler says:

          Dear Mr. McMillan,

          indeed it seems that there exist far more and deeper distinctions between the german, english and french blazoning traditions regarding the underlying concepts as it seems at the first sight (in this particular case how in a certain language and tradition the shield is looked at and furthermore in which order the shield is blazoned). I noticed your second observation as well at an early stage of my studies and I assumed at that point that this might be only one little aspect of the whole amount of differences between the existing systems and traditions of the three mentioned languages.

          Kind regards
          Julia Ziegler

  21. Charles says:

    Just by looking at coats of arms and trading their blazons. A bit like learning to read as a child!

    • Julia Ziegler says:

      Dear Charles,

      thank you for your quick reply! I am impressed that you have learned how to blazon only by practice and without any additional textbook, or other textual explanations as the blazons themselves. I would like to ask you a further question, based on your practical experience:
      Which ambiguities, differences, or even missing equivalents and phrases did you encounter when you wanted to blazon a coat of arms in a different language, such as french or german? How did you solved such a problem?

      Kind regards
      Julia Ziegler

  1. 22/04/2017
  2. 17/05/2017

    […] It goes without saying that we are always happy to invite our visitors to become contributors themselves. On Heraldica Nova, anyone interested in heraldry can present and discuss ideas, inform the international community about current events in the field, and keep track of recent publications, projects, and digital records. Recently, for example, this openness resulted in insightful and stimulating blog posts such as Christof Rolker’s exciting finds of previously unknown copies of Conrad Grünenberg’s armorial, and the lively discussion sparked by Julia Ziegler’s survey on the ways in which you learned to blazon. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search