Charges and Heraldry

Charges and Heraldry

Charges were the most highly regarded part of heraldry. They were the primary emblem on a shield and often represented people, animals, nature or object. 

After a charge was added, the shield was thought of as being ‘charged with’ the object which had been elected. It could be centred on a geometric pattern, but the higher ranking people in society desired something grander than a pattern, so chose a different selection of fearsome animals.

The lion in various positions was the most common charge. For example, the Royal Standard features a ‘lion passant’ - an animal standing on three legs with one in the air.  The shape of the shield was largely a governing factor in the manner in the way the lion was depicted. The old artists endeavoured to fill up as large a proportion of the space available as was possible, and consequently when only one lion was to be depicted upon the shield they very naturally drew the animal in an upright position, this being the one most convenient and adaptable for their purpose.

1st Duke of Somerset Edward Seymour’s coat of arms
1st Duke of Somerset Edward Seymour’s coat of arms

In heraldry, the tongue and claws of a lion would be painted red, but if the actual lion was red then its claws and tongues were painted blue.

It was also common for deer to be featured in charges - particularly a stag with full antlers. Dogs, boars and boars were used quite regularly too - if a boar’s head got included, there were rules to state how the neck should look. If the neck’s cut was smooth then this would be a ‘couped’ cut but a jagged cut would be known as erased.

Eagles were popular to use and they were usually shown as ‘displayed’ where its body faced the front, the head was turned to the side and the wings spread out with the tips facing upwards.

Mythical creatures also were included in charges - typically dragons, griffins, wyverns and unicorns. Each one had magic powers and strength and they were designed to be an association for those with charges.

Flowers were used as well, the two most frequent being roses and lilies. Though the lily was mostly linked with France it was also used as a representative of purity, and the rose was viewed as being the ‘true English flower’ even before the Tudor period.

See also: Heraldry and Medieval Towns

MLA Citation/Reference

"Charges and Heraldry". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.