.......Classical Heraldry .......

The Shape of the Shield (4)

In the previous three articles in this series we have looked at various shield shapes as they changed through the centuries and noted that the fuller, deeper shield developed to accommodate the large number of quarters that became fashionable. In this final article on the shape of the shield we shall re-examine the effect of impaling a wife's arms with those of her husband (already seen in the previous article with the arms of Pirie-Gordon of Buthlaw impaling Michel of Glassel).

Additionally, we shall look at the portrayal of a lady's arms.

Hay of Erroll
The arms on the left, Gordon of Abergeldie, can be quickly recognised as the arms of the Chief of Clan Gordon with a bordure quarterly Argent and Gules. The 1st quarter is Azure three boars' heads couped Or for Gordon of that Ilk; the 2nd is Or three lions' heads erased Gules for the feudal lordship of Badenoch; the 3rd is Or three crescents within a double tressure flory counter-flory Gules for Seton; the 4th is Azure three fraises Argent for Fraser. Quartering the heater shield always produces squeezed 3rd and 4th quarters, but here the result is not unpleasing, primarily because the double tressure in the 3rd quarter is drawn to parallel the boundaries of the quarter.
Alexander Gordon, 1st Laird of Abergeldie, married Lady Beatrice, daughter of William Hay, 3rd Earl of Erroll. The shield to the right illustrates the additional squeeze to the lower quarters when his wife's arms are impaled. Note that the bordure Argent and Gules is not continued all the way round the Gordon arms. If it were, the squeeze on all four Gordon quarters would be unacceptable.
Arms of Patrick Pirie-Gordon. 9th Laird of Buthlaw On the left Pirie-Gordon of Buthlaw impales Michel of Glassel (although the illustration, confusingly, could be of a shield described as quarterly of eight).
Note that in the 1st and 4th quarters of Michel of Glassel, the golden border continues all around the quarter, demonstrating that although it is conventional to excise the inner sector of the bordure of of an impaled coat, this convention applies only to the complete arms and not to individual quarters.
To conclude this topic we recommend to artists wishing to accept the disciplines of classical heraldry that they use the heater shield for pronominal arms (as illustrated by the Hay of Erroll shield at the top of the page), that when drawing arms of four quarters they drop the point at which curvature begins down to around the midpoint of the left and right edges, and that when including more quarters than four they drop the start of the curvature sufficiently beyond the midpoint to allow the lower quarters to be displayed without absurd distortion.
The Ladies
Sovereign ladies, of whom H.M. Queen Elizabeth II is the immediate example, bear their arms on a shield, just as a king would. (It is sometimes claimed that a Scottish lady who is chief of her clan should do the same, but that is not the usual practice today.) All other ladies bear their arms on a lozenge (usual in the British Isles), below left, or on a cartouche (more usual in Continental Europe) below right.
The lozenge can be very attractive when the arms are suited to its shape, but if instead of Gules three cinquefoils Argent and on a chief Or a boar's head Sable armed of the Second and langued of the First the blazon called for three boars' heads, then there would have been an ugly squeeze. A cartouche, more nearly the shape of a shield, offers the width to cope with blazons intended to be illustrated on shields (or on rectangular banners).

There is surely a case for the cartouche to be used more in the British Isles.

The logic underlying the custom of ladies not using shields is that as they do not go into battle they need neither shield nor crest. Ladies who are Scottish chiefs do bear a crest, and there have been occasions when they have commanded their clansmen in battle (and with the increasing presence of women on today's battlefields there may no longer be a justification for the distinction). In Continental Europe the cartouche is used by bishops and cardinals, and they display a mitre instead of a helmet and crest, but in mediaeval battles bishops sometimes did wear armour, bear a shield and wield a sword. So there is a logic that insists that ladies and clerics should be allowed shields, helmets and crests on the basis of the facts of history, but it would be sad for heraldry to lose the beauty of the lozenge and the cartouche.

Arms of Imperial Russia
The Shape of the Shield ~ Part One
The Shape of the Shield ~ Part Two
The Shape of the Shield ~ Part Three
The October-December Contents page
© 1999 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd
From the St Petersburg Collection