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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 Two

The development of differences during the later mediaeval centuries is the story of the early development of heraldry. In the first chapter we described how the distinguishing colours of the armies of Western Europe were used as a background (a field) on which objects (charges) could be placed, that initially the charges chosen signified seniority in a family, and that the code was discarded as the number of those bearing arms grew (and brought back in a modified form some centuries later). We looked at the code in detail. Now we shall return to the early years and examine how the various types of differencing were introduced.

The first of the early principles to be abandoned was the principle of specific combinations of colours signifying specific loyalties (and, indirectly, geographical origins). The expansion in number of those bearing hereditary arms (hastened by two events, the Crusades and the spread of Flemish influence into France, England and Scotland) required very much greater flexibility.

Differencing with a Change of Tinctures

For heraldry to provide a reliable system of identification it is necessary also for all male members of a family to have unique arms. With the abandonment of the strict colour code used in Greater Flanders, the birthplace of heraldry as we now know it, greater emphasis could be placed on the principal charges, and thus within the family, when the principle charge or charges were to be retained, a change of colour was the simplest difference.

Arms of the Baron de Roteslakie Arms of 4th son of Count de Arescot Arms of 5th son of Count de Arescot
Arms of Count Arnulf de Aarschot Arms of the Baron de Wosemale
These are the arms of the Aarschot family in use from 1120 (Jurisprudentia Heroica de Jure Belgarum circa Nobilitatem by John Baptista Christyn). Count Arnulf Aarschot and his eldest son bore Or three fleurs de lys Sable; the second son, the Baron of Wosemale, bore Gules three fleurs de lys Argent; the third son, the Baron of Roteslakie, bore Argent three fleurs de lys Gules; the fourth son bore Argent three fleurs de lys Sable; and the fifth son bore Gules three fleurs de lys Or.

The Hay family, originally from Greater Flanders, offer good examples in Scotland ~

Arms of Hay of Erroll
Early arms of Hay of Yester Arms of Hay of Boyne Arms of Hay of Broxmouth
Arms of Hay of Leys
These are the arms used by different branches. The first, Argent three escutcheons Gules, is the chiefly line, Hay of Erroll, represented today by the Earl of Erroll, Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland. The next are the old arms of Hay of Yester, Azure three escutcheons Argent, but after a marriage with a Gifford heiress the line reverted (shown right) to using the chiefly arms in the 1st and 4th quarters and quartered Gifford in the 2nd and 3rd, this quartering being considered sufficient difference (a subject to be examined in a later chapter). The arms in the centre are Hay of Leys, Ermine three escutcheons Gules; next are the arms of Hay of Boyne, Gules three escutcheons Argent; and last are the arms of Hay of Broxmouth, Argent three escutcheons Vert.
Arms of Hay quartering Gifford
Hay of Yester
Differencing with Geratting

As, with the continuing growth of heraldry, the search expanded for yet more ways of systematically differencing arms, the next development appears to have been the use of a multitude of small charges scattered across the field. This acquired the name of geratting, and the blazons most commonly used the word semé ~ thus if roses were scattered, then the blazon describe the arms as semé of roses. However, heralds began to invent specialist words for the more frequently used geratting ~ semé of fleurs de lys became fleuretté, and semé of crosses patée (or formée) became crusilly.

The Berkeley family offers some good examples. The English branch tended to retain a red field, but the branch that went to Scotland (subsequently spelt Barclay) tended to use blue. So after differencing the Scottish branch from the English by change of tincture, the next development was geratting.

Arms of Maurice de Berkeley early arms of Barkeley in Scotland Arms of Berkeley family in Leicestershire Arms of Sir Thomas de Berkeley
Arms of Thomas fitz Maurice
The first Berkeley arms were Gules a chevron Or, but these were changed for difference by a change of tincture of the type discussed above, the chevron becoming silver. Thus the first arms in this line are Gules a chevron Argent, as borne by Maurice de Berkele in the 13th century. Thomas fitz Maurice, who died 1322, differenced these by geratting, Gules semé of crosses patée and a chevron Argent (or Gules crusilly a chevron Argent). In Scotland where there were several branches of the Berkeley/Barclay family, the crosses patée appeared also powdering the field, Azure crusilly a chevron Argent. In later years the small charges became ten in number and neatly located, but in the early days they could be any large number and scattered untidily. The fourth shield above, Gules semé of cinquefoils and a chevron Argent, bears the arms of a branch of the Berkeleys that settled in Leicestershire and powdered the field with cinquefoils, the principal charge of their overlords the Earls of Leicester. The fifth shield is that of Sir Thomas de Berkeley in the early 14th century, Gules semé of roses and a chevron Argent.
In Scotland the principal arms of the family remained Argent and Azure, but the crosses patée were soon reduced in number to three, so the field was no longer powdered or semé and the blazons were changed to read "a chevron between three crosses patée". As the centuries passed and the number of variations was required to grow, other charges were added and some were substituted for one or more of the crosses. Occasionally there were also changes of tincture, first the chevron being sometimes of gold instead of silver, and then eventually the field itself being changed back to red. The arms here on the right are those of Barclay of Cairness in the 18th century, Gules on a chevron between three crosses patée Argent three hearts of the field. Arms of Barclay of Cairness
Barclay of Cairness 18th Century
The next chapter will discuss differencing with the addition of an ordinary.

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