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Glossary

caduceus

caduceus

The caduceus is a traditional representation of a staff encircled by one or two snakes, sometimes with wings or a winged helmet on top. It symbolized the search for wisdom, power, diligence and peace.

caltrap / caltrop

caltrap / caltrop

The term `caltrap' comes from the French chausse-trape, and signifies a spiked weapon which was used thrown on the ground and used to disable horses. It signifies intelligence (cunning), as it allowed a soldier to best a more powerful foe, and warrior spirit.

canting arms

Appearing frequently in modern heraldry but dating back to the late Middle Ages, canting arms are designed by heralds so as to create a pun or rebus on the bearer's name. An instance was the coat of arms of the kingdom of Castille, which was charged with a castle.

carbuncle

carbuncle

The carbuncle was initially a term designating the ornamental knob at the centre of a shield, but later on, it was used as a name for a red precious stone, which frequently appeared as a charge. It symbolized honour, grace, comfort and joy.

cat

cat

Although not as frequently encountered as the lion or the other large predatory animals, the cat held an important position in medieval thought and heraldry. It symbolized vigilance, warrior spirit and courage.

cat (gentle)

cat (gentle)

The cat, or cat-a-mount, usually represents a wild cat in the older heraldry. It appears mainly in Irish or Scottish arms. The wild cat always appeared guardant, either sejant, erect or passant. The domesticated cat also appears in 16th century arms from Brussels, blue on red, sejant facing with a rat in its mouth. The heraldic image of a ratter under a crown also appeared in a printer's mark from Venice. The distinction between wild (mean) and domesticated (gentle) is ancient. The Egyptians had gentle Bastet the cat goddess and fierce Sekhmet the lion goddess. These two were sometimes seen as two faces of the same goddess. The domesticated cat is usually represented passant, though the wild cat is always guardant. When it appears rampant, it is scared. It can also appear with its back up (herissonée). Occasionally, a specific breed (Himalayan) or gender (female) is specified. A tabby cat appears as a supporter opposite a sea-horse for the arms of the Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council in Cheshire, England. The Bobcat appears on the badge for one of the special troops battalions in the U.S. Army. Cats are popular in SCA heraldry. The cat, "mean" or "gentle," represents clairvoyance, courage, farsightedness, ingeniousness, liberty, observance, and vigilance.

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cat (mean)

cat (mean)

The cat, or cat-a-mount, usually represents a wild cat in the older heraldry. It appears mainly in Irish or Scottish arms. The wild cat always appeared guardant, either sejant, erect or passant. The domesticated cat also appears in 16th century arms from Brussels, blue on red, sejant facing with a rat in its mouth. The heraldic image of a ratter under a crown also appeared in a printer's mark from Venice. The distinction between wild (mean) and domesticated (gentle) is ancient. The Egyptians had gentle Bastet the cat goddess and fierce Sekhmet the lion goddess. These two were sometimes seen as two faces of the same goddess. The domesticated cat is usually represented passant, though the wild cat is always guardant. When it appears rampant, it is scared. It can also appear with its back up (herissonée). Occasionally, a specific breed (Himalayan) or gender (female) is specified. A tabby cat appears as a supporter opposite a sea-horse for the arms of the Ellesmere Port and Neston Borough Council in Cheshire, England. The Bobcat appears on the badge for one of the special troops battalions in the U.S. Army. Cats are popular in SCA heraldry. The cat, "mean" or "gentle," represents clairvoyance, courage, farsightedness, ingeniousness, liberty, observance, and vigilance.

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chape or crampet

chape or crampet

An integral part of the medieval warrior's paraphernalia, the chape (from Old French, meaning `hood') or crampet initially designated the decorative covering of a sword's sheath. As part of the sword, it symbolized chivalry and warrior spirit.

charges

The term `charges' encompasses all objects, wildlife, plants and extraordinary beings which can be depicted upon a shield. They can appear either on an ordinary or on the field (background) itself, and are generally positioned centrally, unless otherwise stated.

chequy

chequy

Another variation of the field which occurs frequently in heraldry is `chequy'. In this case, the field is divided into a combination of horizontal and vertical lines, thus creating a chequered pattern, reminiscent of the chessboard, a common symbol during the medieval period.

chessrook

chessrook

This chess piece, similarly represented to the tower with turrets, stands for protection, courage and strength.

chevron

chevron

The term `chevron' which describes this charge comes from architecture, where it describes the angular middle of a roof where the gables from each side meet.

chief

chief

The chief is similar to a fess, in that it is also a horizontal band drawn from one side of the shield to the other. It is distinguished by its position at the top of the shield.

cinquefoil

cinquefoil

The cinquefoil is a widely-used heraldic device, due to its aesthetic qualities, and appears frequently accompanied by the cross crosslet. It signified purity, hope and joy.

clapper

clapper

The striking part of the bell which is used to create the sound, the clapper can sometimes be emblazoned in a different tincture than that of the instrument itself. Similarly to the bell, it stands for the church's power, protection and guidance.

claymore

claymore

The claymore represents one of the types of sword depicted in heraldry. A broadsword originating in Scotland in the 15th century, the claymore is a heavy weapon and requires a skilled and strong warrior to wield it. It signifies warrior spirit, strength, and justice.

cock

cock

The cock frequently appears in heraldry as a hybrid like the cock-fish, or the cockatrice (the King of Serpents) of Greek myth. The cock is one animal that represents the Resurrection of Christ, because its crow heralds the dawn. It is a powerful symbol for light and good, due to the Christian belief that evil flourishes in the dark. In the Bible, Christ predicted that one of his disciples would deny him thrice before the cock had crowed. In Central European folklore, it was believed that the Devil would flee at the first sound of the cock's crow. In medieval heraldry, the cock represents a hero because it will fight to the death. It appeared on battle standards in South Asian myths. In the Middle Ages, the heraldic gamecock was used for cock-fighting. As with the bear and lion, it frequently appears, in a play of words, in the arms of those with names that include "cock," such as Handcock and Cockayne. It is more likely to appear as a crest than as a charge. The cock has the attributes of courage, vigilance and watchfulness (the cock that crows).

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cockatrice

The cockatrice is an imaginary creature, said to be the result of a chicken's egg which was hatched by a serpent. It is depicted with the head and legs of a cock and the body of a dragon. It inspired fear, but also symbolized strength, pugnacity, and power.

column

column

The pillar or column is one of the architectural elements which occur frequently in heraldry as charges. It symbolizes wisdom and fortitude.

combatant / respectant

combatant / respectant

The term `combatant' refers to the depiction of two animals or mythical beasts emblazoned facing each other, either as `rampant' or as `segreant'. When two docile animals are thus depicted, they are described as `respectant'. This attitude suggests warrior spirit and power.

comet

comet

Generally emblazoned as a mullet of six points with a tail extending to the side of the shield, the comet had a complex meaning during the Middle Ages. It was seen as both a positive and negative omen, but was generally associated with hope and prophecy.

concentric annulets

concentric annulets

This heraldic charge, sometimes referred to as a `whirlpool', appears for instance in the arms of the English family of Gorges, whose roots can be dated back to the Norman Conquest. It symbolizes strength, longevity and luck.

couchant

couchant

When depicted couchant, the lion is resting with its paws on the ground, but with its head elevated. This attitude denotes vigilance and power.

couchant guardant

couchant guardant

A beast described as `couchant guardant' is lying down as in the traditional `couchant' attitude, but faces towards the viewer. It signifies sovereignty, majesty and watchfulness.

counter potent

counter potent

A variant of the potent when it is emblazoned as a fur (that is, when it creates a recurring fur-like pattern on a shield) is the counter potent. These two instances are depicted with reversed tinctures and fields, and usually occur together to create the so-called potent counter-potent.

counter vair

counter vair

A variant of vair with the same tinctures (azure on field argent), in the case of the counter vair each second row of bell-shaped objects is reverted, so that the figures created resemble shields. This fur seldom occurs in heraldry.

courant

A beast described as `courant' is depicted as in motion, running at full stride, with both pairs of legs in the air. It is an emblem of swiftness, strength and enthusiasm.

covered cup

The covered cup was originally part of canting arms, alluding to the name of "Butler", in direct association with the office of king's butler. It therefore symbolized all the beneficial qualities that a bearer who held this office needed to possess: obedience, constancy, discipline, loyalty and faith.

coward

coward

The term `coward' refers to a lion (usually) or another beast depicted with its tail between its legs. Similarly to the `morne' and `disarmed' attitudes, it symbolizes obedience and temperance.

cramp

cramp

This instrument, also known as a `wolf-hook' or `Wolfsangel', was used during hunting in the Middle Ages, but also appears as a mark of medieval stonemasons. It is depicted in several ways in heraldry. Due to its association with the wolf, it stands for warrior spirit and power.

crane

crane

The crane has a rich symbolic history in the works of medieval exegetes, who drew on the ancient legend of the crane holding a rock in its foot to keep itself awake and associated it with watchfulness, vigilance, prudence and dutifulness, as well as Christian wisdom and foresight.

crescent

crescent

The crescent or the half-moon was introduced in heraldry probably after the crusades, and was initially a symbol of Islam. In English heraldry it was the mark of cadency of the second son. It symbolized enlightenment, courage and excellence.

crescent with human face

crescent with human face

Similarly to the sun with human face, the moon in its crescent form is frequently represented in heraldry, owing to ancient and medieval astrological beliefs which anthropomorphized the heavenly spheres. It stands for hope, peace and purity, due to its association in medieval iconography with the Holy Virgin.

crest

crest

The crest is an extremely significant element in heraldry, which stands on top of the helmet within a coat of arms. The crest may be almost any type of object, animal, bird, etc., and it is not always related to the bearer's coat of arms but can reflect his or her own personality and character.

cross

cross

Perhaps the most significant of the `honourable ordinaries', the cross has appeared on shields from the earliest times of heraldry. One of the medieval heroes who bore a cross gules on a field argent was Galahad, who discovered the Holy Grail. It signifies purity, sacrifice, sacredness and victory.

cross botony or trefly

cross botony or trefly

The cross botonny or trefly's is distinguished by the trefoil-like endings of its arms. Similarly to the cross flory and the cross Moline, it stands for victory over sin, glory and majesty.

cross couped or crosslet couped

cross couped or crosslet couped

The cross couped or its diminutive, the crosslet couped, is a bearing which does not extend to the edges of the shield, as a result of its limbs being `couped' or cut. It is a symbol of Christian faith, virtue and spirit.

cross cramponned

cross cramponned

The cross cramponned is characterized by its truncated limbs and is commonly known as a fyl-fot or a swastika. During the Middle Ages, its symbolism was different from its actual meanings. It suggests power, strength and virtue.

cross crosslet

cross crosslet

One of the many varieties of crosses employed in heraldry, it was distinguished by its endings: it can be seen as four Latin joined Latin crosses. It symbolized glory, spirit and victorious Christianity.

cross degraded

cross degraded

The cross degraded is a variant of the Cross of Calvary, each of its arms ending in three steps. As such, it is symbolic of faith (piety), hope and charity.

cross ending in crescents

cross ending in crescents

The cross ending in crescents is another variation of the cross which came to be adopted in heraldry during or after the time of the Crusades. It symbolizes military victory over Islam, as well as devotion and virtue.

cross ending in fusils

cross ending in fusils

This type of cross has its limbs terminated with fusils - diamond-like geometrical figures similar to the lozenge, but narrower and more elongated -, and stands for industriousness, loyalty and wealth.

cross fitchy

cross fitchy

This heraldic charge is characterized by the pointed ending of its lower arm, which resembles a sword. It thus shares the symbolism of the cross and that of the weapon, signifying virtue, warrior spirit and victory.

cross fleuretty / flurty

cross fleuretty / flurty

This type of cross had flowered ends, and, although many variations of it exist in both English and French heraldry, it generally stood for courage, victory and warrior spirit.

cross flory / fleury

cross flory / fleury

The cross flory is similar to the cross fleuretty and Moline, and occurs frequently not only in heraldry but also in medieval art. It symbolizes glory, victory over sin and piety.

cross forked in base

cross forked in base

The cross forked in base is a variant of the cross fourchy, having only one of the limbs split in two. It shares its symbolic associations with this type of cross, signifying virtue, sacredness and hope.

cross formy of 5 arms

cross formy of 5 arms

This type of cross has its limbs flatted at the end and is generally depicted couped. Its five arms designate the five wounds of Christ, and are meant to inspire contrition and penance. It symbolizes piety and sacrifice.

cross formy, patty in base

cross formy, patty in base

The cross formy - with the ends of its limbs flattened - is usually designated as patty or pateé in French. It symbolizes military victory, warrior spirit and majesty.

cross frimbriated

cross frimbriated

The interior of the cross fimbriated is voided, only the outline of the actual charge being visible of the shield due to its different tincture from that of the field. It symbolizes sacrifice, resurrection and spirit.

cross maltese / cross of Malta

cross maltese / cross of Malta

This device was assigned to the Knights of Malta, previously known as the Knights Hospitaller, during the sixteenth century. This order's initial mission was to tend to the sick and injured in the Holy Land. The cross's eight points symbolize the eight beatitudes, and it stands for piety, sacrifice and protection.

cross moline

cross moline

The ends of the cross Moline were reminiscent of the shape of the mill-rind or fer-de-moline. It appears in English coats of arms as early as the reign of Edward II. Also used as a mark of cadency for the eight son, due to its endings, it stood for power, spirituality and hope.

cross moline or fourchy

cross moline or fourchy

A variety of the cross Moline, the cross fourchy is characterized by its forked ends. It signifies devotion to Christian values, virtue, as well as industriousness.

cross moline or recercely

cross moline or recercely

A variant of the cross Moline, when described as `recercely' or `recercelé' the endings of the limbs have a rounder shape are bent more than in the regular version. It symbolizes virtue, hope and spirit.

cross moline or scarcely

cross moline or scarcely

When a cross Moline is described as `sarcely', the endings of its limbs resemble anchors. It symbolizes loyalty, spirit and temperance.

cross of 4 ermine spots

cross of 4 ermine spots

This type of cross is created through the combination of four ermine spots, usually emblazoned sable (proper), and thus shares the symbolic associations of the ermine. It stands for chivalry, sovereignty, strength and sacredness.

cross of toulouse

cross of toulouse

The so-called `cross of Toulouse' is a symbol of the medieval French province of Occitania. It is voided, with flattened triangular endings adorned with small circles. Despite its association with the Cathar heresy, the cross itself does not share the symbolism of this heresy. It signifies purity, devotion and virtue.

cross patonce

cross patonce

This type of cross is very similar to the cross fleury, both ending in three curved points. Its arms are however curved, not straight. It shares its symbolic meaning with the cross fleury and the cross Moline, and stands for glory, victory over sin and piety.

cross pommely / pommeted

cross pommely / pommeted

The cross pommely or pommé has the endings of its arms terminated with circular shapes. It symbolizes strength and sacrifice.

cross potent throughout

cross potent throughout

The cross potent occurred most famously in the arms of Jerusalem during the Middle Ages. Its arms ended in so-called potents, and were similar to crutches. It symbolized faith and protection.

cross rayonnant

cross rayonnant

This type of cross is termed `rayonnant' due to the rays of sun (or Rays of Glory) which stem from its angles. It symbolizes glory and majesty.

cross repotencé

cross repotencé

A variant of the cross potent, the cross repotencé shares its symbolism. It stands for protection and strength.

cross tronconne

cross tronconne

The term `tronconne' describes a bearing that is `shivered' - broken or splintered. When applied to the cross, it denotes sacrifice and majesty.

cross wreathed

cross wreathed

When described as `wreathed', a cross is depicted circled by wreaths or garlands. Due to this vegetal element, the bearing may allude to the dual nature of the cross, as sign of rebirth and as reminiscence of the tree of knowledge, which brought about humanity's suffering and the sacrifice.