Sign in Sign up




The martlet is the heraldic form of the swallow or martin and is frequently depicted with a very short beak, long wings, and no legs or feet. In ancient Egypt, the swallow was associated with stars and the souls of the dead. In paintings from the time, the bird often appears perched on the prow of a boat, announcing the approaching dawn. In Egyptian love poetry, the swallow brings tidings of a new love. In ancient Rome as well as in China and Japan, swallows nesting on a house are symbols of good luck. Swallows are messengers, arriving from afar. They are also harbingers of spring and because of this the bird is associated with the resurrection in a Christian context. In heraldry, the martlet is the mark of cadency for the fourth son.


As the heraldic form of the swallow, the martlet is the mark of cadency for the fourth son and is often depicted without legs and feet. In this sense, the bird symbolizes advancement through one's own merit alone.


The swallow is a peaceful bird who is neither attacked nor preyed upon by larger predator birds. Swallows are usually welcome in and around human settlements because they control insect populations.


Swallows are associated with prophecy and they bring messages from afar. In Egyptian love poetry, the swallow tells of new love. The bird also brings news of the approaching spring, returning each year for the season.

martlet is also a symbol of promptness, domestic bliss and contentment, fidelity, maternal care, footlessness.

Example of known uses of martlet

The coat of arms of the Earls of Pembroke

The martlets that border the arms of the Earls of Pembroke suggest nobility and prowess. Their association with learning also made them an ideal emblem for the Cambridge University college that the second Earl of Pembroke's widow established in the 14th century.

Martlets Research

The martlet was chosen by this genealogical research company to symbolise its "determined and vigorous search for knowledge and learning". The bird is also the emblem of the south English county of Sussex, where the company was founded.

Shield of William de Valence

Nineteen red martlets trussed appear on the heraldic shield on the tomb for William de Valence, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1296, in Westminster Abbey. Martlets were a popular charge among the kings and high nobility of late medieval England.

McGill University in Montreal

Three red martlets appear against a white background, below two crowns and a book on a shield in the arms for McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Here, the martlets' footlessness represents an eternal search for knowledge and adventure.

Shield of the West Sussex Council in England

Six gold martlets on a blue shield represent the West Sussex Council in England. The arms were granted c.1974. Most of the Sussex arms have gold martlets because of a legend that the early medieval Kingdom of South Saxons used this symbol.

Air Lines swallows

Currently, the company logo of Air Algérie is a swallow as it was for BOAC, the British airline.

Schwalbe Tires

If you are a marathon bicyclist you will be familiar with the Schwalbe tires and their highly stylized logo; the word schwalbe means swallow in German.


McGill University and the University of Victoria also use the martlet emblem.

Different examples

The martlet appears for instance in the coat of arms of William de Valence, the first Earl of Pembroke, who played an important role in English politics during the 13th century and in the attributed arms (coats of arms attributed by posterity to legendary or important historical figures which predate rise of heraldry) to Edward the Confessor. These coats or arms have also been transmitted to the monastic foundations established by these figures: Edward the Confessor's five martlets appear on the standard of Westminster Abbey, while William de Valence's coat of arms, also containing five martlets, appears in the heraldic shield of Pembroke College, Cambridge.