Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Heraldry 101, part 8 - strictly for the birds

If you remember, back in part 6 we covered the basic postures for quadrupeds, with specific reference to that favourite of heralds, the lion.

I did comment at the time that birds and fishes are a whole different kettle of... erm... birds and fish, and that I'd dedicate another post to them, or at least the commonly-used ones. Unfortunately, it turns out that birds are nearly as complicated as quadrupeds, so we'll just do birds this time out, OK? Note, I'm also going to start blazoning my examples, just to keep you on your toes.
Sable, an eagle
displayed or.

There are a few special cases which I'll cover at the end, but birds' postures are one of a few general variants, along with assorted changes in wing position. First up is displayed, which is wings and legs splayed. This is pretty much reserved for the heraldic eagle, and seen on lots of imperial German arms.

Azure, six martlets close
in pile or.
The next most common is close, which is the classic sideways on, wings furled pose that most non-raptors are drawn in. The English cricket fans among you may recognise the arms on the left as those of Sussex, and you might also note that the bird has no feet! This is the rather odd heraldic bird, the martlet, which for reasons lost in the mists of time has... no feet.

Owls are almost always depicted as close guardant (sometimes close affronté), in which guardant has exactly the same meaning as with quadrupeds: looking at the viewer.
Argent, an eagle rising
gules, armed or.

The other common posture is rising, often of falcons and other lesser raptors, sometimes of eagles. This is the one that tends to have the range of variant wing positions, such as:

  • addorsed - wings back to back
  • displayed - one wing either side of body
  • elevated - wingtips up, usually used with one of the above
  • inverted - wingtips down, usually used with one of the above
Ermine, a martlet
volant vert
Lastly among the ones common to multiple birds is volant, which means (for those of you whose French isn't equal to the task) flying.

Then we get on to the oddities:
  • A peacock is almost invariably blazoned as in its pride, which is the obvious peacock pose with tail feathers displayed, close guardant.
  • A crane is usually blazoned in its vigilance, which for some long-lost mythical reason means, wait for it, close, standing on one leg holding a rock in its upraised claw. 
  • Best of all, a pelican is legendarily supposed to feed its chicks on its own blood, and is blazoned either vulning itself or more often in its piety, both of which mean tearing at its breast with its beak. 
As you've probably figured by now, birds in heraldry are plain strange!

Next up, fish. And heads. Roly poly fish heads!

1 comment:

  1. Very informative! I knew 'displayed' and that was about it. Years ago, when building an army ostensibly for my (then) little daughter, I coined the heraldic device 'Ursus Theodorus' (Teddy Bear) which is most easily depicted as 'displayed' on its battle flags. Of course, the T. Bear is not really a quadruped...

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