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How to read a Coat of Arms

using the Arms of Duncan of Ardownie as an example.

 
 

The “Blazon” (heraldic description) of the Arms is; Gules, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same, tipped and garnished Azure, three buckles of the third. (1698)

[Where the term “of the same” is used it refers to the previously mentioned colour (tincture) or metal; similarly where the term “of the second” (or third etc) is used it refers to the second mentioned colour/metal.]

 
 

Gules - The very first word always describes the colour (tincture) or metal of the shield. NOTE this is called a shield, NOT a crest. The crest is the device that sits on top of the shield (on a helmet in the full achievement).

 

 
 

Gules, on a chevron - We now know that upon the shield is a chevron. To find out what colour the chevron is we must go to the next mentioned colour - in heraldry all things mentioned BEFORE a colour are of that colour. We note that the next mentioned colour is Argent (Silver - more often illustrated as White) so that is what we paint the chevron. We also note that the words “on a chevron” means that eventually there will be something or some things (charge or charges) on the chevron itself.

 
  3 Cinquefoils  
 

Argent, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent - From this we know that the chevron is between three cinquefoils and that the cinquefoils are in chief (at the top of the shield) and of the colour (tincture) Argent (White).

 

 
 

Argent, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same - This tells us that in the base of the shield is a hunting-horn and that it is the same colour as that last mentioned (Argent).

 
 

Gules, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same, tipped and garnished Azure - This tells us that the hunting- horn is garnished Azure (the decoration on the horn is blue).

 
 

So - this is what it looks like so far but don’t forget we are still waiting for something to go on the chevron itself (Remember the “on a chevron bit?)

      

 
 

Gules, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same, tipped and garnished Azure, three buckles of the third.

So we place our three buckles onto our chevron and the of the third tells us that the colour of the buckles is Azure (Blue).   

 
  And it all adds together to produce: Gules, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same, tipped and garnished Azure, three buckles of the third.  
 

Let us now deal with the CREST - remember what we said earlier - this is the device that sits on top of the helmet. It is NOT the shield.
The Duncan of Ardownie Crest is described (blazoned) thus:
A grey-hound issuing from the wreath, proper, collared Or.

 
 

The blazon for the Crest starts with the words: On a Helm with a Wreath Argent and Gules This tells us that we have a helmet and upon the helmet is a Silver and Red Wreath.

 
 

The wreath fits on top of the helmet and it "holds" the device called the Crest onto it.

 
  [Not mentioned in the blazon but almost always drawn is the "mantling". This is the cloth used to shade the wearer from the sun. It is sometimes drawn shredded and sometimes drawn whole.]  
 

A grey-hound issuing from the wreath, proper = This is fairly straight forward, what we have is a greyhound of natural colour (proper) issuing from the wreath (coming out of the wreath). 

 
 

A grey-hound issuing from the wreath, proper, collared Or. This tells us that the grey-hound is wearing a collar and that the collar is Or (Gold).

 
 

Putting it all together we get the full achievement:
Arms:
Gules, on a chevron between three cinquefoils in chief Argent and a hunting-horn in base of the same, tipped and garnished Azure, three buckles of the third.


Crest: On a Helm with a Wreath Argent and Gules
A grey-hound issuing from the wreath, proper, collared Or.

 
 

 
    by Martin Goldstraw of Whitecairns, FSA Scot.
 

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