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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 Chapter One

Differencing Chapter Two

Differencing a.k.a. Cadency

Chapter Three

In the last chapter we examined how, during the early days of heraldry, variations in tincture were used to distinguish between the arms of members of the same family. We move now onto the next development, which was the addition of an ordinary to the basic coat (the coat borne by the head of the family).
In the very early days of heraldry what we now call arms were borne on flags (not shields until a little later) and these arms tended to consist of a band or bands of colour spread across the surface of the flag. They were simple in shape and, perhaps because of their common usage, came to be called ordinaries.
Not all writers agree on what qualified for the term, but in general today the following are accepted as the ordinaries ~

Bar, Bend, Bordure, Chevron, Chief, Cross, Fess, Pale, Pall, Pile, Saltire.

Another series of simple devices are termed subordinaries, and these include such as the canton, the gyron and the label. Sometimes the bordure is included in this classification (although we treat it here as an ordinary).

Differencing with the Addition of an Ordinary

Hay of Park differenced the arms of his chief, Hay of Erroll, by the addition of a bordure. Differencing by bordure has since become a complex subject in itself and will be treated in a later chapter. It is today the principal cadency scheme used in Scotland, but in this early example we feature the added bordure as a simple difference by addition.

arms of Hay of Park
Arms of Hay of Erroll Here is a second Hay example. The undifferenced arms of the chief are on the left, and on the right are the arms of Hay of Fudie, the basic arms of Hay of Erroll differenced by the addition of a chevron Sable. That this was an unsatisfactory method of differencing is hinted here, for ordinaries take precedence, and seen for the first time this might be Argent a chevron Sable (Prideaux) differenced by three escutcheons Gules.
arms of Hay of Fudie
Arms of Grandison Arms of Grandison 3
Arms of Grandison 2
These are arms of the Grandison family. The undifferenced coat Paly Argent and Azure is differenced for one branch with the addition of a bend Gules, and offers us a far superior example of differencing with an ordinary. There is no ambiguity here ~ the paly field has precedence over the bend. Note that the bend can be used in later generations (as could also the chevron in Hay of Park above) to bear other differences, in this case three buckles Or.
arms of Oliphant of that Ilk arms of Okiphant of Bachilton arms of Oliphant of Prinlis
Beryl Platts has shown that the Oliphants in England were near neighbours of the Setons and has deduced a family relationship based on the similarity of their arms ~ Oliphant (here) Gules three crescents Argent and Seton Or three crescents Gules (later to bear also the royal double tressure flory counterflory). David Oliphant of Bothwell, whose arms are on the left, was one of the first twelve justiciars appointed by David I in Scotland (whose godson he was).
arms of Sir William de Hotot
Several Oliphant cadets differenced their arms with a bordure, but Oliphant of Bachilton (above centre) took a chevron and Oliphant of Prinlis (above right) a saltire. The saltire imposes a significant reduction in size on the crescents and makes the arms look more like a differenced Neville of Raby coat. Here on the right is another example of the difficulty mentioned earlier. Is this an Oliphant cadet differenced by change of tincture (previous chapter) and addition of an ordinary, or is this a stranger? It is a stranger, de Hotot, with no Oliphant connection.
The next chapter will discuss differencing with a change of charges.

Return to JAG Introduction
Chapter 1 - Minor Brisures
Chapter 2 - Geratting and Change of Tinctures
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