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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 Chapter Three

Differencing Chapter Four

Differencing a.k.a. Cadency

Chapter Five

In the introduction to differencing we looked briefly at the label, an heraldic symbol used only to signify some aspect of a relationship and thereby to distinguish one man's arms from those of another to whom he is related. It may be found as a charge of modest size, sharing the space on a shield with other charges, as in the arms of Lord Claud Hamilton shown upper right, or, more usually, it can be found in larger size superimposed on the shield's charges and described as a "label overall" (shown lower right).

The exact shape of a label is at the discretion of the painter or the owner of the arms. The number of tails is usually three, but four, five, six and seven can be found and there is one case of just two (Howell de Monnemoth). The length of the tails is not fixed, and if they themselves are charged they can be lengthened substantially, especially in mediaeval heraldry.

To understand the various ways in which a label may be interpreted, it is necessary to consider its use in three different areas ~ modern times, ancient times, and in royal heraldry. The modern use is comparatively simple. The label of three points (tails) is borne by the eldest son during his father's lifetime, and the label of five points by the eldest son's eldest son during his grandfather's lifetime. In Scotland the label may be borne by the heir when this is not the eldest son.

arms of Lord Claud Hamilton
arms of the Master of Angus


The Label in Mediaeval Heraldry
In early times the use of the label as a mark of cadency was concurrent with the other systems of differencing already discussed. It did not replace them. Moreover, it was not used, as it was later, necessarily to indicate an eldest son. Nor did the number of tails have the significance of later times. These are important factors of which genealogists seeking clues among ancient heraldry must be aware.
arms of the Comte de Harcourt arms of Jehan de Harcourt arms of Roland de Harcourt
arms of William de Harcourt
de Harcourt
de Harcourt
de Harcourt
The Comte
de Harcourt
The Harcourt family in Normandy is listed in the Armorial de la Toison d'Or with several different five-pointed labels which have in themselves taken on the role of differencing, the labels varying in tincture and being used to bear small charges as if they themselves were shields.
arms of Olivier Mallet arms of Thomas Mallet
arms of Jehan Mallet arms of William Mallet
Thomas Mallet
Jehan Mallet
William Mallet
Olivier Mallet
The Mallet family provides another example from Normandy featured in the Armorial de la Toison d'Or. William and Olivier added blue labels, Olivier's further differenced with bezants, while Thomas chose to difference by change of tincture (as we discussed in an earlier chapter).
arms of the Duke of Orleans The arms on the left are those of the Duke of Orleans from the Armorial de Gelre. His label is of three points barry of Gules and Argent. On the right is a rare example from the Armorial de la Toison d'Or of a label of four points, borne by Jehan de Tilly le Jeune. His father, the Seigneur de Luzarches, bore the undifferenced coat, and le Jeune is assumed to have been the eldest son.
The Label in Royal Heraldry
In mediaeval times the Royal Family used the label in the then prevailing fashion. (Edmund Crouchback, second son of King Henry III and brother of Edward I, bears the royal arms with a label of four points on his effigy in Westminster Abbey.) In modern times royal heraldry has continued the custom of using the label without limitation for members of the Royal Family, and differences the labels so that each bearer can be identified.
arms of Prince William before he was 18
Until his eighteenth birthday Prince William's arms (pictured left) were those of the Queen, differenced by a label of five points to indicate his position as the elder son of the eldest son. (Sharp eyes will note that the label is repeated on the supporters and the crest.) This, of course, is modern usage. However, to mark his coming of age, the Queen granted him new arms in which the label is reduced to three points, the centre point being charged with a red escallop.

All the royal labels are Argent. Prince Charles's label, as heir apparent, is plain Argent. Prince Andrew's is differenced by a blue anchor. Princess Anne has a red heart at the centre point and a red cross couped on the dexter and sinister points. Princess Margaret had a thistle at the centre point and a Tudor rose on the dexter and sinister points.

Members of the Royal Family who are one more generation away from the Sovereign from whom they descend have silver labels of five points. On these five points the Duke of Kent, for example, bears a blue anchor on the outer and centre points, and a red cross on the inner points. The label of his brother Prince Michael reverses the order of these anchors and crosses. Their sister, Princess Alexandra, bears a red cross couped at the centre point, a red heart on the outer points, and a blue anchor on the inner points.
In the next chapter we shall look at differencing with a quarter or a canton.

Chapter 1 - Minor Brisures
Chapter 2 - Geratting and Change of Tinctures
Chapter 3 - Addition of an Ordinary
Chapter 4 - Changing Charges
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