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Journalists' &
Authors' Guide to Heraldry and Titles



Coat of Arms

Heraldic Achievement


Metals, Furs and Colours

Clans, Badges and Tartans

Differencing a.k.a. Cadency

Chapter One (continued)

The label is the difference or cadency brisure most often encountered today, usually at full size, as here on the shield on the right, but sometimes very much smaller, as shown on the second shield immediately below right (Gules three primroses Argent and in chief a label of three points Or). Arms of the Master of Angus
This second shield bears the arms of Lord Claud Hamilton (1542-1621), the Lay Abbot of Paisley who was raised to the Peerage as Lord Paisley. He was the 5th son of the Earl of Arran (of whom the 3rd son was created Marquess of Hamilton). Lord Claud bore his father's arms differenced by this small gold label while, presumably his elder brother, his father's heir, bore a larger label of a different tincture. There is no record but there is suspicion that it was of ermine.
Arms of the 1st Lord Paisley
Label of John of Gaunt The ermine label shown here on the left has longer points (the points are the vertical strips) and is as borne by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (ancestor of Elizabeth II through both English and Scottish lines), 4th son of Edward III.
The points of a label may be given a dovetail shape, illustrated here on the left, but this has no heraldic significance.
Label of three (dovetailed) points
The minor brisures for the first six sons are as follow. The tinctures applied here have no significance, and it should be noted that where a brisure's tincture is ignored in the blazon, it may be chosen to distinguish it clearly from the other tinctures (following, for example, the principle that metal should not be placed on metal, nor colour on colour).
Crescent Mullet
Label of three points
1st son
2nd son
3rd son
4th son
5th son
6th son
Here on the left is an example of the use of a minor brisure in the arms of Captain Robert Paterson. His father and subsequently his elder brother, Lairds of Dunmure, bore Argent in three nests Vert as many pelicans feeding their young Or. His blazon in Lyon Register was the same but continued "a crescent for difference". Note that no tincture is given for the crescent, nor is its position defined. As shown here, his arms could be blazoned Argent in three nests Vert as many pelicans feeding their young Or, at the fess point a crescent for difference Gules ~ but they are not. His descendants would continue to bear the crescent, so that it would become the sign of a cadet branch, not just of a second son.
Arms of Captain Robert Paterson
Sometimes a poor artist will paint a minor brisure too large, so that it appears to be a charge. The interpretation must then be resolved by reference to the blazon, the Laws of Heraldry insisting that in cases of doubt the blazon is to be preferred to the painting. If the crescent in Captain Paterson's arms had been much larger and correctly so (assuming for the moment it was not in fact a minor brisure), then the blazon would have been Argent a crescent Gules between three pelicans feeding their young Or in as many nests Vert.
Reliance cannot be placed on minor brisures remaining with the arms forever, nor on them accurately defining seniority within a family. Sometimes they have been used haphazardly to indicate only that the coat is not that of the senior branch of the family. A label of three points, in theory the sign of the eldest son, has been used at times to indicate other sons. The arms (shown above) of Lord Claud Hamilton, 1st Lord Paisley, the 5th son of his father, is one example of many, and although the label was transmitted to his son, who was created Earl of Abercorn, it was discarded in 1651 when the heir male of the family, the 2nd Duke of Hamilton, descendant of Lord Claud's eldest surviving brother, was mortally wounded at the Battle of Worcester and the dukedom went to his niece, Duchess Anne, the heir of line.

The next chapter in this series will examine differencing by change of tincture and by geratting.

Click here to go to page 1 for the introduction to this subject

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