Armorial Achievements

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  • An armorial achievement (Also known as a Coat of Arms or simply Arms) is a personal design belonging to a person or a family, and is granted by the King through the College of Arms.
  • Almost every part of a Coat of Arms is symbolic, and is there to say something about the owner's personality, achievements and virtues.
  • Arms were usually given upon recieving a knighthood and/or a peerage (becoming a Baron/Viscount/Earl etc.), and uses strict rules regarding what it contains and the symbolism of the different parts.
  • Arms could also be granted to those of the social rank of Esquire.

Below follows a short tutorial on how to read simple Armorial Bearings. The heraldic language is incredibly vast and a complete understanding requires years of serious studying, something the writer of this article has not done. The following tutorial will enable you to easily read the basics of heraldry however.

The parts of a Coat of Arms:

COATutorial Seaborn Arms.png

The Shield:

COATutorial example shield.png

The most important part of the Arms is the Shield (also known as the Escutcheon). The pattern and colours of the Shield was historically used to distinguish the different knights and lords in medieval times, and is the part of the Arms that is a hundred percent uniqe to your person. The Shield contains two colours, geometrical shapes and symbols like animals or objects, and to all parts of the Shield there is a symbolism attached.

More information about the Escutcheon can be found further down on this page.

The Helmet:

COATutorial example helmets.png

Directly above the shield is the Helmet, which represents the rank of the owner.

  • An Esquire has a Helmet that is facing to its right, with the visor closed.
  • A Knight has a Helmet that is facing straight ahead, with the visor open.
  • All degrees of peerage below Marquess has a barred Helmet of silver that is facing to its right.
  • A Duke or Marquess (And also a Sea Lord, in the St. George Squadron) has a barred Helmet of silver and gold trim that is facing straight ahead.

The Mantle:

COATutorial example mantle.png

On each side of the Helmet are two sprouts of fabric called the Mantle. It is fastened on the top of the Helmet and runs down on each side of the Shield. It has the same two colours that the shield has, and is mainly there to flesh out the Arms with a stylish design.

The Torse:

COATutorial Example torse.png

Resting on the Helmet is a headband of twisted fabric called a Torse. It is there to hold the Mantle in place and is of the same colours as the Mantle and Shield.

The Crest:

COATutorial Example crest.png

On top of the Torse is the Crest, an animal or object that symbolizes a key part of the owner's personality or principles.

The Order Star:

COATutorial example order star.png

Directly at the lowest tip of the Shield is the Star or Badge of any Order that the owner has recieved.

The Motto:

COATutorial example motto.png

Below the shield (or above it on Scottish Arms) is the Motto, a line or a collection of words that the owner has himself chosen. The Motto can be written in any language, but usually in English or Latin.

The Coronet:

COATutorial example coronet.png

Atop the Shield and below the Helmet, if the owner is a peer, usually a Coronet is placed. The Coronet changes appereance according to the rank of the owner.

The Supporters:

COATutorial Example supporter.png

Is usually two animals (the same animal or two different animals) but can also be objects like flags, guns and mountains. Supporters were usually granted by the sovereign on very special occations and for special deeds or favours, and most Arms did not have them.

The Compartment:

COATutorial example compartment.png

Served as a platform for the Supporters to stand on and could be anything from a grassy mount, rocks, a landscape or waves. It is sometimes used to represent the land of the owner.

An example:

COATutorial Example COA.png

The Escutcheon:

  • The Escutcheon, or Shield, is the owner's most personal part of his Coat of Arms.
  • Like the Arms in general it follows certain rules of composition and colouring. These rules are highly complexed, and there are an incredible amount of different ways a Shield can be designed.
  • Below follows a simple decription of the basic parts of the Shield.

COATutorial example shield 2.png


The Shield can only have two colours, and these colours are called the Tincture. The colours are split into two categories:

  • The Metal
  • The Colour

This is a short list over the different kinds of Metal and Colour usually seen on British Arms, and the symbolism attached:

The Metal:

  • Yellow/Gold - Understanding, Respect, Virtue, Majesty, Generous
  • Silver/White - Clean, Wisdom, Innocent, Chastity, Joy, Peace

The Colour:

  • Blue - Fidelity, Steadfast, Strength, Loyalty
  • Red - Eagerness to serve ones country, Warrior, Martyr
  • Purple - Majesty, Justice, Sovereignty (Really only limited to royal families)
  • Black - Mourning, Constancy
  • Green - Freedom, Beauty, Joy, Health, Hope, Loyalty, in Love
  • Orange/Tan - Worthwile, Ambition (seldomly seen on English Arms)
  • Sanguine/Murrey - Victorious, Patient in Battle (seldomly seen on English Arms)


An Ordinary is a simple geometrical figure or shape used on the Shield. Like most other details on a Coat of Arms, each type of Ordinary comes with a certain symbolism:

  • Cross - Protection, Christian or Crusader
  • Pale - Military strength or fortitude.
  • Fess - Honour.
  • Bar - One who sets the bar of conscience, religion, and honor against angry passions and evil temptations.
  • Bend - Defense or protection, a knight's scarf.
  • Chevron - Protection, faithful service.
  • Saltire - St. Andrew’s Cross, resolution.
  • Chief - Dominion, authority, wisdom, achievement in battle.

COATutorial example ordinaries.png


Charges are animals or objects that are attached to a Shield to say something about the owner's personality, virtues and achievements.

The Seaborn Arms have for example the following Charges:

COATutorial example shield 2.png

  • Two Hunter's Horns - A person of high or noble pursuits and readiness for war.
  • A Ram - Authority and Leadership.

The Collister Arms have the following Charges:

COATutorial example shield 4.png

  • Two Falcons - Hot pursuit of a much desired object and one who doesn't rest until the objective is achieved.
  • Bay leaves - Skills as an Orator or Writer.

For a list of Charges and their symbolism, see here.


When Armorial Achievements are to be inherited by family members of the owner, certain rules of Cadency apply:

  • As long as the owner is still alive, he will have sole ownership of the Arms until he dies.
  • The first son of the owner is the only family member that will inherit the complete Coat of Arms.
  • The following sons will inherit the Shield only, marked with symbols indicating their place in the family hierarchy as second son, third son, etc.
  • Before the original owner dies, the first son will also only use the Shield, with a symbol indicating that he is the first son of the original owner.

Charges indicating Birth:

  • The first son - A horizontal strip with three tags hanging down (is removed on the death of the father as the son inherits the Arms).
  • The second son - A crescent (the points upwards).
  • The third son - A five-pointed star.
  • The fourth son - A martlet (a kind of bird).
  • The fifth son - A ring.
  • The sixth son - A fleur-de-lis.
  • The seventh son - A rose.
  • The eighth son - A cross moline.
  • The ninth son - A double quatrefoil.


If you recieve a peerage by the sovereign that comes with its own Coat of Arms (usually derived from the Arms of the medieval title holder), marry a holder of his/her own Arms or otherwise have the right to display two separate Arms, the Shields of these Arms are often merged together into one Shield. The merging two Shields into one makes them "inescutcheons", and is usually displayed "quartered": Placing one inescutcheon in the upper left and lower right part of the Shield, then placing the other inescutcheon in the upper right and lower left.

An example: The Arms of Lord Wilmore displays both his own personal Arms (With the blue cross) and the Arms of the Earl of Northumberland (the blue lion and three fishes) as he bears that title. The Northumberland inescutcheon is itself composed of two inescutcheons, the blue lion of Baron Percy and the three fishes of the Lucy Arms.

Wilmore Arms.png

Further Reading: