Journalists' &
Authors' Guide to Heraldry and Titles



Coat of Arms


Origins of
the English Peerage

Metals, Furs and Colours












































New pages will be added monthly to the Journalists' & Authors' Guide.

Watch for details in the
Feudal Herald

Slughorn (warcry) or motto
Wreath (or torse)
Helm (helmet)
Coronet (here it is an earl's)
Dexter supporter
Mount or Compartment

The Components of an Heraldic Achievement

THE SLUGHORN (or slogan or cri de guerre) is the warcry used by the clan or family to which the owner of the achievement belongs. Its appearance above the crest is typical of Scottish heraldry, but it will be found elsewhere. Scottish achievements with no warcry usually feature the motto here. In England, where the motto is traditionally placed beneath the shield, a second motto may appear above the crest. Warcries are short, meaningful and easy to distinguish aurally. Mottoes can be relatively long.

THE CREST is not a coat of arms. Nor is it an heraldic achievement. Nor is it a badge. The Crest is the device placed on top of the helmet. Here it is a forearm grasping a spur and, as such, could have been modelled for use in a mediaeval tournament. The invention of crests (mainly during the last three centuries) that could never have been fastened to the top of a helmet is a decadent development that has no place in classical heraldry. Sometimes more than one crest may be displayed, but this is much more frequent in continental heraldry than in the heraldry of the British Isles.

THE WREATH around the base of the crest secures it to the helmet and is depicted as six twists of cloth in the principal colours, usually, of the arms displayed on the shield (the livery colours). Sometimes a coronet (a crest coronet) is used instead of a wreath, and the crest then rises out of the centre of the coronet.

THE MANTLING (or lambrequin) is the representation of the cloth cape that hangs from the wreath and down the wearer's back to protect it from the sun's heat. Early heraldic illustrations depicted the mantling whole and untorn, but artists subsequently painted it as having been slashed in battle, and during the worst periods of grotesque heraldry it resembled seaweed. In this illustration it is highly stylised in a typical late-19th century fashion, but is not quite as ugly as is some of that period. The colours of the mantling are those of the wreath.

THE HELM (the helmet) is used to indicate rank - that of a peer, as here, having a golden grille. Much 18th and 19th century heraldry produced helmets which would have been quite impossible to wear. The one shown here copies the style of the late-19th century and is not too bad an example, but a moment's examination reveals that its grille is very far out of proportion.

THE CORONET of a peer is always displayed below the helm. In British heraldry only a peer has a coronet, but in continental Europe, where the definition of a peer is different and where nobles who are not peers may have coronets, the customs vary.

THE SUPPORTERS have two origins attributed to them. It is said that they were first used to carry a peer's shield at a tournament, and were men disguised as animals. It is said also that when a shield had been carved onto a signet, the space around it was used to depict fabulous animals. In the British Isles supporters may be used only by peers and knights of the most senior rank (Knights Grand Cross and Knights of the Garter and of the Thistle) plus, in Scotland, certain heads of considerable families who are not peers.

THE SHIELD is the principal component of the heraldic achievement. It bears the arms - the same device or group of devices that was once borne on a knight's surcoat (the cloth coat that covered his armour) and originated the phrase "coat of arms". If the achievement is that of a lady, a lozenge (a diamond shape) is used instead of a shield.

THE MOUNT or COMPARTMENT is the feature on which a shield may rest. It is almost always used only with Supporters.

THE MOTTO may appear on the Mount or on a scroll. (In tenebris lux - light in the darkness - is a motto often associated with the Scott family.)

OTHER FEATURES may be incorporated into an achievement. These may include the insignia of orders of chivalry, the symbols of ancient offices, badges, and weapons and banners. But the components discussed above are those that will be met most often in the achievement of a peer.


© 1998 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates

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