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Reshaping the Charges
We have already looked at the simplicity and lack of precision in very early heraldry, and recently we have examined in the Journalists' and Authors' Guide (JAG) the development of ways of differencing arms so that they might retain a common theme for a family yet easily distinguish between the different members of that family. This article bridges those two subjects and suggests how early imprecise shapes could develop as differences.
Arms of Percy
The early arms of that famous brood from Northern England, the Percy family, could have been described as having a yellow horizontal band with jagged edges on a blue background (see right). A modern herald would have blazoned this as Azure a fess indented Or, and as such it is recorded in 1338, but it was probably in use much earlier.
The number of points would not be stipulated and the illustration on the left could be described with the same blazon (although those who use dancetty even when there are more than three points on the indented line might blazon this as Azure a fess dancetty Or ~ the two terms indented and dancetty being very similar, the former now being used for any number of indentations and the latter when the number of indentations is small).
Arms of Percy
Arms of Percy
The arms (see right) borne as a quarter by the Chief of the Percies, today the Duke of Northumberland, are blazoned Azure a fess of five lozenges conjoined Or, and that fess's relationship to the indented fess is easy to recognise. The lozengy fess in the Percy arms was recorded as long ago as circa 1192 in the Acre Roll, but whether or not it preceded the Percy indented fess is not known.
So the indented fess and the lozenges in fess were in use in the same family, distinguishing between two of its members. Either one could have been developed from the other. It is similar with the indented or dancetty chief and piles.
Arms of Basset Arms of Basset
The arms of Sir Rauf Basset, Knight Banneret, as borne at the 1308 Dunstable Tournament, are on the left. It should be noted that there is no rule restricting the width of the piles, so the same blazon, Or three piles meeting in base Gules, a canton Ermine, is valid for both these representations.
Arms of Basset
In the Acre Roll circa 1192 Astel de Basset bore Ermine a chief dancetty Gules (see right). If the points of the dancetty chief are pulled down, they become piles issuing from a chief (or piles surmounted by a chief). Auncel Basset bore the same with three pierced mullets Or of six points on the chief; Edmond de Basset bore three golden escallops instead of the mullets.
Here on the left are the arms of Rauf Basset, Or three piles Gules, as they appear on the arms of an undated Roll in the reign of Henry III (1216-1272), suggesting that the development of the differences may have been ~ from the chief dancetty to the palewise piles to the piles meeting in point. (The mediaeval Bassets were a large and moderately influential family, and a study of their different arms will well reward students of heraldry.)
Arms of Basset
Another example of an indented line or charge influencing or being influenced by piles may be found in the arms of Laing. This is an interesting Scottish family whose origins are subject to debate. The three shields below are from left to right ~ Laing (from Pont's MS of 1624) - Argent three piles conjoined in base Sable; Laing of Morisland (also from Pont's MS) - per pale Argent and Sable, a chief indented and counterchanged of the same; and Laing of that Ilk ((from the Workman MS of 1565-66) - Argent three piles Sable.
Arms of Laing Arms of Laing of Morisland Arms of Anstruther
In his comments on the arms of James Laing of Morisland (above centre), Alexander Nisbet (1722) states explicitly that the indentation was in place of piles. The arms above right are as once used in the second and third quarters by Laing of that Ilk (with the arms of Erskine (Argent a pale Sable) first and fourth. This was potentially confusing, because Argent three piles Sable are the arms of Anstruther of that Ilk. Were the Laings at that time indicating an ancient connection not only with the Erskines but also with the Anstruthers? That the tinctures of the three families are the same would reinforce any family tradition of a common beginning, possibly during the reign of David I, when William de Candela was made Lord of Anstruther and took its name. As Beryl Platts has indicated, piles are common charges in Flanders, where silver and black were the colours of Alost (Aalst in Flemish).

Piles are sometimes blazoned as passion-nails, the nails of the crucifixion, and where this term is used they are usually painted with a relatively narrow width.

Differencing ~ Chapter One
Early Blazon ~ Chapter One
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