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Alt Hist Issue 10 – the Last Issue of Alt Hist

Charges can be animals, objects, or geometric shapes. Apart from the ordinaries, the most frequent charges are the cross—with its hundreds of variations—and the lion and eagle. Other common animals are stags, wild boar, martlets, and fish. Dragons, bats, unicorns, griffins, and more exotic monsters appear as charges and as supporters.

Animals are found in various stereotyped positions or 'attitudes'. Quadrupeds can often be found rampant—standing on the left hind foot.

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Another frequent position is passant, or walking, like the lions of the coat of arms of England. Eagles are almost always shown with their wings spread, or displayed. In English heraldry the crescent, mullet, martlet, annulet, fleur-de-lis, and rose may be added to a shield to distinguish cadet branches of a family from the senior line. These cadency marks are usually shown smaller than normal charges, but it still does not follow that a shield containing such a charge belongs to a cadet branch. All of these charges occur frequently in basic undifferenced coats of arms.

The term charge can also be used as a verb; for example, if an escutcheon bears three lions, then it is said to be charged with three lions; similarly, a crest or even a charge itself may be "charged", such as a pair of eagle wings charged with trefoils e. Coat of arms of Brandenburg. So-called mobile charges are not tied to the size and shape of the shield, and so may be placed in any part of the field, although whenever a charge appears alone, it is placed with sufficient position and size to occupy the entire field.

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Common mobile charges include human figures, human parts, animals, animal parts, mythical creatures or "monsters" , plants and floral designs, inanimate objects and other devices. The heraldic animals need not exactly resemble the actual creatures. The escutcheon is a small shield. If borne singly in the centre of the main shield, it is called an inescutcheon, and is usually employed to combine multiple coats. It is customarily the same shape as the shield it is on, though shields of specific shapes are rarely specified in the blazon.

The lozenge is a rhombus generally resembling the diamonds of playing-cards.

A more acute lozenge is called a fusil. A lozenge voided i. The billet is a rectangle, usually at least twice as tall as it is wide; it may represent a block of wood or a sheet of paper. Billets appear in the shield of the house of Nassau, which was modified to become that of the kingdom of the Netherlands.

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The roundel is a solid circle, frequently of gold, though it can be of any colour. Roundels have their own special names depending on the colour, as shown below. An annulet is a roundel voided literally. The arms on the right are those of Courville-sur-Eure with ten annulets. Several other simple charges occur with comparable frequency. These include the mullet or star, crescent and cross. The mullet or mollet is a star of usually five straight rays, and may have originated as a representation of the rowel or revel of a spur although "spur-revels" also appear under that name.

Mullets frequently appear pierced. If unpierced, it is sometimes called a "star" in Scottish heraldry, and stars also appear in English and continental heraldry under that name often with six points. A star with usually six wavy rays is called an estoile from etoile, the French word for "star". The crescent, a symbol of the Moon, normally appears with its horns upward; if its horns are to Dexter it represents a waxing moon increscent , and with horns to sinister it represents a waning moon decrescent.

One of the most frequently found charges in heraldry, if not the most, is the cross, which has developed into, some say, varieties. When the cross does not reach the edges of the field, it becomes a mobile charge. The plain Greek cross with equal limbs and Latin cross with the lower limb extended are sometimes seen, but more often the tip of each limb is developed into some ornamental shape. The most commonly found crosses in heraldry are shown below. In English heraldry the crescent, mullet, martlet, annulet, fleur-de-lis and rose may be added to a shield to distinguish cadet branches of a family from the senior line.

It does not follow, however, that a shield containing such a charge belongs to a cadet branch. Humans, deities, angels and demons occur more often as crests and supporters than on the shield. The largest group of human charges consists of saints, often as the patron of a town.

Knights, bishops, monks and nuns, kings and queens also occur frequently. Greco-Roman mythological figures typically appear in an allegorical or canting role. Angels very frequently appear. Parts of human bodies occur more often than the whole, particularly heads, stylized hearts, hands, torso and armored limbs. A famous heraldic hand is the Red Hand of Ulster, alluding to an ancient myth. Because of this it was agreed that a boat race should take place and that "whosoever's hand is the first to touch the shore of Ulster, so shall he be made the king".

One candidate so desired Ulster that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore — thus winning the kingship. The hand is most likely red to represent the fact that it would have been covered in blood. Plants are common in heraldry and figure among the earliest charges. Trees also appear in heraldry; the most frequent tree by far is the oak drawn with large leaves and acorns , followed by the pine.

Apples and bunches of grapes occur very frequently, other fruits less so. The most famous heraldic flower particularly in French heraldry is the fleur-de-lis, which is often stated to be a stylised lily, though despite the name there is considerable debate on this. The "natural" lily, somewhat stylised, also occurs, as together with the fleur-de-lis in the arms of Eton College.

The rose is perhaps even more widely seen in English heraldry than the fleur-de-lis. Its heraldic form is derived from the "wild" type with only five petals. The thistle frequently appears as a symbol of Scotland.

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The trefoil, quatrefoil and cinquefoil are abstract forms resembling flowers or leaves. The trefoil is always shown slipped i. The cinquefoil is sometimes blazoned fraise strawberry flower , most notably when canting for Fraser. The trillium flower occurs occasionally in a Canadian context, and the protea flower constantly appears in South Africa, since it is the national flower symbol, the South African cricket team sometimes being called the Proteas.

Wheat occurs in the form of "garbs" or sheaves and in fields , though less often as ears- all of which are shown unwhiskered. Ears of rye are depicted exactly as wheat, except the ears droop down and is probably best shown as whiskered. Barley, maize and oats also occur. Few inanimate objects in heraldry carry a special significance distinct from that of the object itself, but among such objects are the escarbuncle, the fasces, and the key.


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The escarbuncle developed from the radiating iron bands used to strengthen a round shield, eventually becoming a heraldic charge. The fasces not to be confused with the French term for a bar or fess is emblematic of the Roman magisterial office and has often been granted to mayors. Keys taking a form similar to a "skeleton key" are emblematic of Saint Peter and, by extension, the papacy, and thus frequently appear in ecclesiastical heraldry. The sun "in his splendour" is a disc with twelve or more wavy rays, or alternating wavy and straight rays, as shown on the left.

It appears in the arms of Brady also shown left :. The moon "in her plenitude" full sometimes appears, distinguished from a roundel Argent by having a face; but crescents occur much more frequently. Estoiles are stars with six wavy rays, while stars when they occur under that name normally have five straight rays, being the same as the mullet.

Clouds often occur, though more frequently for people or animals to stand on or issue from than as isolated charges. The raindrop as such is unknown, though a drop of fluid goutte is known.

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The oldest geological charge is the mount, typically a green hilltop rising from the lower edge of the field, providing a place for a beast, building or tree to stand.. Natural mountains and boulders are not unknown, though ranges of mountains are differently shown. Volcanos are shown, almost without exception, as erupting, and the eruption is generally stylised.


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  4. In the 18th century, landscapes began to appear in armoury, often depicting the sites of battles. For example, Admiral Lord Nelson received a chief of augmentation containing a landscape alluding to the Battle of the Nile. The most frequent building in heraldry is the tower, a tapering cylinder of masonry topped with battlements, usually having a door and a few windows. The canting arms of the Kingdom of Castile are Gules, a tower triple-towered Or i. A castle is generally shown as two towers joined by a wall, though sometimes as a wall with two towers; the doorway is sometimes blazoned to be shown secured by a portcullis.

    The portcullis was used as a canting badge by the Tudors "two-doors" , and has since come to represent the British Parliament. As an ordinary chess-rook would be indistinguishable from a tower; the heraldic chess rook, instead of battlements, has two outward-splayed "horns". Civic and ecclesiastical armory sometimes shows a church or a whole town, and cities, towns and Scots burghs often bear a mural crown a crown in the form of a wall with battlements or turrets in place of a crown over the shield.

    Ships of various types often appear; the most frequent being the ancient galley often called, from the Gaelic, a lymphad.