Heraldry is the art and science of blazoning coats of arms. Heraldry is used by the royalty and nobility as a sign of status, and as such is an important part of the feudal society of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
- 1 Heraldry in Westeros and in the real world
- 2 Heraldic homage
- 3 House Words
- 4 Quotes
- 5 See also
- 6 Software
- 7 References
Heraldry in Westeros and in the real world
Most noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms have their own designs, and variants of these designs are adopted only by members of the house. The arms of a house belong to that family, as in Germany and Italy, and may be used by all trueborn descendants of that house. Bastards may sometimes use the arms of their father's house with an added distinction.
Coats of arms are commonly used by knights in tourneys and on the battlefields as a way to identify allied from enemy soldiers in the heat of battle. Heraldry is thus often displayed on shields, surcoats, and banners, and the vassals of a lord are known as bannermen. Conversely, mystery knights that want anonymity use blank or unknown coats of arms.
The heraldry of important individuals can be collected in a roll of arms. Most of the Seven Kingdoms use escutcheon-shaped coats of arms, but Dornish houses favor circular coats of arms that are not widely seen anywhere else. Come-into-my-castle is a game which teaches courtesy and heraldry to highborn children. Heraldry was not practiced by the dragonlords of the Valyrian Freehold.
Heraldry in the Seven Kingdoms serves largely the same purpose as in medieval Europe, but the Westerosi heraldry of author George R. R. Martin is significantly less formalized. In this regard, Westeros resembles early medieval or Dark Age societies, before the rules of heraldry were properly developed and widely accepted. While real-world heraldry makes extensive use of words and jargon specific to blazonry, Westerosi arms are mostly described in standard English.
Traditional real-world heraldry limits the number of tinctures to two metals (argent for white and or for gold), five colours (gules for red, sable for black, azure for blue, vert for green, and purpure for purple), and two furs (ermine and vair), and limits how these tinctures can be placed together. Westeros instead uses a much larger palette, makes no distinction between metals and colours, and describes tinctures using simple English words instead of heraldic vocabulary. Real-world heraldry follows the rule of tincture, which dictates that "metals" may not be placed over other metals, and "colours" may not be placed over other colours. While this rule is sometimes broken in real-world heraldry, it is altogether absent in Westeros and many houses have arms that would violate the rule of tincture:
Furs are also used in Westeros heraldry:
In traditional heraldry no distinction is made between white, silver and light grey, which are all named "argent". Likewise, both gold and yellow are called "or". In Westeros, white, grey, and silver are treated as distinct tinctures and can be used together on a coat of arms:
Pale grey, a double tressure white (House Slate)
A grey iron greathelm on white (House Pyle)
A field of silver caltrops on black (House Footly)
Many of the available blazons of Westerosi coats of arms are notable in their lack of detail; for instance the blazon for the coat of arms of House Blanetree (maple leaves, green and brown, strewn on a field of yellow) fails to tell us how many maple leafs the shield should have, and gives only the vaguest indication of how they should be placed. In some cases the blazons manifest in quite poor designs rendering them of little use for recognition on the battlefield, for example:
For practical reasons, traditional heraldry uses a very limited set of tinctures; it was not always practical or possible to reproduce subtler color variations in the numbers and time constraints found. Besides, coats of arms are meant to be recognizable from far away and are often employed in shields and other pieces of equipment that are subject to abuse, neglect and disrepair. Even today, many pigments show some degree of color degradation, often severe, when consistently exposed to sun rays, rain and other influences. This limited palette is not the case in the Seven Kingdoms, where heraldic descriptions include ambiguous or subtle colors such as:
'sunset' (eg. Duncan the Tall)
'oak' (House Sparr)
very variable tones such as 'grey' (House Volmark)
'grey-green' (House Reed)
The use of physical material descriptions like 'oak', 'masonry' or 'sand' in Martin's heraldic descriptions also complicates matters because it is uncertain whether these refer to a specific shade or to an attempt to actually represent these materials pictorially, such as painting the grain of the oak or the bricks of the masonry. Such detail would seem difficult to render on fabric surfaces such as flags, surcoats or the livery of men-at-arms or servants. This however reflect the real world use of the tincture "proper".
Devices and charges
Charges are objects or figures placed on a shield. Many of the devices and charges used in the heraldry of Westeros derive directly from traditional sources and include creatures such as lions, stags and birds, and symbols such as stars, weapons and ships. There are some notable differences in Martin's designs though:
The use of seven-pointed stars to represent the Faith of the Seven. Seven-pointed stars are rare in traditional heraldry and vexillology, with a notable exception being the flag of Australia. Examples include:
The use of very detailed pictures, particularly humanoid figures, such as:
The flayed man of House Bolton
The drowned man of House Sunderly
The silk-swirled dancing maiden of House Piper
The fool of House Falwell
In reality, these figures would be difficult to render on shields and flags with any accuracy or consistency.
The use of detailed creatures and figures on the shield that would normally only appear as supporters in traditional coats of arms, such as:
The use of fauna and flora specific to Westeros, such as:
Some charges with simple geometric shapes are so common that they are often classified separately as ordinaries. These include:
|a horizontal band
|a vertical band, meaning an upright stake, whence "palisade"
|diagonal band, from dexter chief to sinister base. "Sinister" and "dexter" mean left and right respectively, but they are from the point of view of someone holding the shield, so they are reversed from an observer's viewpoint.
|The bend sinister goes the other way, from sinister chief to dexter base.
|a broad band across the top of the shield; "chief" also describes a location near or towards the top of the shield.
|meaning always an upright cross; a very common ordinary in European heraldry (with an obvious religious meaning), but seems to be less common in the Seven Kingdoms.
|a diagonal cross
|roughly equilateral triangle with the top edge of the shield as its base
|a Y shape
|an upside-down Y shape
House Flint of Flint's Finger
|a border parallel with the edge of the shield; called simply border in the books
|a shield-shaped ring - similar to a bordure but does not reach the edge of the shield, leaving a small gap of the main field tincture.
|a thinner orle
|two tressures, one inside the other.
|a horizontal band with a kink in the middle, so that it slopes upwards towards both edges of the shield.
It is a mirrored version of real-world chevrons, which slope downwards.
|a square in dexter chief
|The arms of the House Mollen has a pile: A snow covered pine tree on a pile light green on a white.
|Some pieces like the pall or chevron may be oriented in different ways, thus, the image of the House Jast has an inverted pall between three lion's heads, yellow on black.
|All the ordinaries can also undergo various changes in size or edge, for example the bend that loads the arms of House Goodbrook is "wavy": A blue wavy bend on gold.
|Finally, an ordinary can load another ordinary, so the arms of House Bolling feature a canton charged with a bend: Vairy orange and blue; upon a black canton, a golden stag beneath an orange bend sinister.
Variations of the field
The field of a shield, is sometimes made up of a pattern of colors, or variation. A pattern of horizontal (barwise) stripes, for example, is called barry, while a pattern of vertical (palewise) stripes is called paly. A pattern of diagonal stripes may be called bendy or bendy sinister, depending on the direction of the stripes. Other variations include chevrony, gyronny and chequy. For further variations, these are sometimes combined to produce patterns of barry-bendy, paly-bendy, lozengy and fusilly. Semés, or patterns of repeated charges, are also considered variations of the field.
Divisions of the field
The field of a shield in heraldry can be divided into more than one tincture, as can the various heraldic charges. Many coats of arms consist simply of a division of the field into two contrasting tinctures. These divisions are considered to lie next to each other rather than on top of each other and thus the rule of tincture can be ignored. For example, a shield divided azure and gules would be perfectly acceptable. A line of partition may be straight or it may be varied. The variations of partition lines can be wavy, indented, embattled, engrailed, nebuly, or made into myriad other forms.
In general, if the field is divided and every segment has to be blazoned (e.g. each has a different charge on it), they are blazoned in the following order: dexter to sinister, then chief to base. In the case of "party per cross" or "quarterly", the four segments are typically numbered in this order.
|Thus, the arms of House Stark is a shield plain, a term that generally can not be transcribed: A direwolf gray on pristine white snowfield.
|The arms of House Tarth is a shield "party per cross", usually blazoned "quarterly": Quarterly, first and fourth a yellow sun on a rose field in the second and third a white crescent on a blue field.
|The arms of House Swann is "party per pale": Two swans fighters, black and white from one to the other, beaked and hung with gold and white field advantage black.
To marshal two or more coats of arms is to combine them in one shield, to express inheritance, claims to property, or the occupation of an office. This can be done in a number of ways, of which the simplest is impalement: dividing the field per pale and putting one whole coat in each half. Impalement replaced the earlier dimidiation – combining the dexter half of one coat with the sinister half of another – because dimidiation can create ambiguity between, for example, a bend and chevron. "Dexter" (from Latin dextra, right) means to the right from the viewpoint of the bearer of the arms and "sinister" (from Latin sinistra, left) means to the left. The dexter side is considered the side of greatest honour.
|The arms of Joffrey Baratheon are per pale the arms of his paternal and maternal families.
A more versatile method is quartering, division of the field by both vertical and horizontal lines. This practice originated in Spain after the 13th century. As the name implies, the usual number of divisions is four, but the principle has been extended to very large numbers of "quarters"; the largest number recorded being the arms of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, featuring a total of 719 "quarters".
Quarters are numbered from the dexter chief (the corner nearest to the right shoulder of a man standing behind the shield), proceeding across the top row, and then across the next row and so on. When three coats are quartered, the first is repeated as the fourth; when only two coats are quartered, the second is also repeated as the third. The quarters of a personal coat of arms correspond to the ancestors from whom the bearer has inherited arms, normally in the same sequence as if the pedigree were laid out with the father's father's ... father (to as many generations as necessary) on the extreme left and the mother's mother's ... mother on the extreme right. A few lineages have accumulated hundreds of quarters, though such a number is usually displayed only in documentary contexts.
|The personal arms of Cleos Frey are quartered Frey and Lannister.
|The personal coat of arms of Big Walder Frey is made with the arms of House Paege (by his mother) and House Blackwood (by his grandmother). This helps distinguish it from the many other Walder Freys.
The third common mode of marshalling is with an inescutcheon, a small shield placed in front of the main shield. In Britain this is most often an "escutcheon of pretence" indicating, in the arms of a married couple, that the wife is an heraldic heiress (that is, she inherits a coat of arms because she has no brothers). In continental Europe an inescutcheon (sometimes called a "heart shield") usually carries the ancestral arms of a monarch or noble whose domains are represented by the quarters of the main shield.
|Arms of House Blackwood: A flock of ravens on scarlet surrouning a dead weirwood upon a black escutcheon.
Inheritance and Younger sons
In Westeros arms belong to a family, and any trueborn child may use the family arms. This is similar to the practice in German heraldry, and converse to the practice in British heraldry, where only the head of the family may use the family arms; other members of the family have to difference their arms in some way. In Westeros this is not compulsory, though many choose to adopt their own personal arms, usually a minor variation on the arms of their house. For example:
|The coat of arms of Prince Valarr Targaryen consists of House Targaryen with a red border.
|The coat of arms of Prince Maekar has four three-headed dragons on a black field because he is the fourth son of King Daeron II.
|The arms of Ser Loras Tyrell has three gold roses on a green field because he is the third son of Lord Mace Tyrell . Similarly, his older brother, Ser Garlan Tyrell, features two golden roses on his own personal coat of arms as the second son of the family.
Bastards do not have the right to use the arms of their families. Thus, a typical Westeros custom is that a bastard using a sigil (when knighted, for example) adds a distinction. This can be in the form of a color inversion of their family's coat of arms, or possibly with the addition of a red bend sinister.
|The arms of House Blackfyre, founded by a bastard of House Targaryen, has the colors reversed.
|The coat of arms of Walder Rivers, bastard son of Lord Walder Frey, has the colors reversed and a red bend sinister.
|The coat of arms of Aegor "Bittersteel" Rivers, a bastard son of Aegon IV Targaryen, has combined the sigils of House Bracken (his mother's house) and House Blackfyre.
Martin makes use of canting arms to represent some of the houses in his books. Canting arms are a type of heraldic pun, whereby the blazon of the shield makes a direct reference to the name of the family. Examples include:
The candles of House Waxley
The pitchfork of House Haigh (hay)
The bells of House Belmore
The black bar of House Blackbar.
In other houses the canting refers not to their name of the family, but to their ancestral seat. Examples include:
Some of the Houses and their blazons are Martin's tributes to other authors, or other real-world things. For example:
|The sigil of House Banefort is a reference to the comic book character Black Hood.
|The sigil of House Bettley is a reference to the comic book character Blue Beetle.
|The devices of House Costayne are a reference to author Thomas B. Costain and two of his novels, The Black Rose and The Silver Chalice.
|House Jordayne and its quill device is a tribute to author Robert Jordan, one of Martin's friends.
|The arms of Ser Patrek of King's Mountain are a tribute to the logo of the Dallas Cowboys, an American football team that is the favorite of Martin's friend Patrick St. Denis.
|House Peake can be seen as a tribute to Mervyn Peake, the author of the Gormenghast series. The history of House Peake and its sigil may refer to the three castles that the main character's family owned before it was left with only one.
|The arms of House Rogers can be seen as a tribute to Martin's friend, Roger Zelazny. The unicorn and maze device on that house's arms may represent of two of Zelazny's works: his short story "Unicorn Variation", whose plot was suggested to Zelazny by Martin, and his The Chronicles of Amber series. The Amber series has both a unicorn character and "The Pattern", a labyrinth-like mystical object that orders the multiverse. The nine unicorns are probably a reference to the first book of the series, Nine Princes in Amber. Furthermore, the arms of the main character, Prince Corwin, are black and silver, like the colors of the Rogers sigil.
|The sigil of House Sarsfield is a reference to the comic book character Green Arrow.
|House Tudbury and its turtle is a homage to one of Martin's own characters, the Great and Powerful Turtle from Wild Cards.
|Jack Vance is acknowledged in two houses, House Vance of Atranta and House Vance of Wayfarer's Rest. The use of dragons in both Vance houses' shields could refer to his Hugo Award-winning work, The Dragon Masters.
|In the Atranta branch, the tower could refer to Vance's Nebula Award-winning 1966 work The Last Castle.
|In the Wayfarer's Rest branch, the circle enclosing the pair of eyes could symbolize the title of The Eyes of the Overworld, from the Dying Earth series.
|House Willum's arms are a tribute to the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series of Martin's colleague Tad Williams. Three magical swords are important to the story, and the first book in the series is named The Dragonbone Chair.
|The black adder of House Wyl is a reference to the Blackadder television series.
In real world heraldry, there are family mottos that are often shown on a scroll under the shield in a coat of arms (except in Scottish heraldry where they are placed above the shield). In Westeros, these are called house words, and not displayed on the coat of arms.
I might mention ... that the rules of heraldry are a good deal more flexible in the Seven Kingdoms than they became by the late Middle Ages in the real world. There are no "laws" of heraldry per se, no college of heralds for enforcement, no formal regulations about cadency and differencing. So individual knights and lords have a certain amount of freedom to bear what shields they prefer and play around with their house sigils... or not, as the case may be.
Well, I have to admit I enjoy the heraldry just for its own sake, although I have played fast and loose with some of the real world heraldic conventions. A lot of bad Fantasy takes place in a sort of Disney Middle Ages, and that had no appeal to me, but I did not want to write thousands of pages about mud and lice and plague either. That would be just as false, in the other direction. The real Middle Ages had room for both plagues and pageantry, and I wanted both sides in my books as well -- heightened somewhat, since this is Fantasy.
Duncan: What book is that?
Aegon: A roll of arms, ser.Duncan: Looking for the Fiddler? You won't find him. They don't put hedge knights in those rolls, just lords and champions.
- Showcase of coat of arms in use on the wiki and Houses of Westeros
- List of houses
- List of personal arms
- The Citadel Heraldry page.
- Wikipedia Heraldry
- Coat of Arms Visual Designer - Java-based
- Karl Wilcox's Draw a Shield is a great resource that accepts traditional heraldic descriptions. It also recognizes a few additional color names. For instance, it draws a pretty good draft for House Spicer's coat of arms when instructed with "paly of 8 vert argent a bend orange, three covered cups sable bendwise in bend".
- Parker's Heraldry, a dictionary of heraldic terms, hosted by the author of the resource above and fairly well implemented in same
- pyBlazon Blazonry Server - another fine, easy to use resource
- HeDGe - Heraldic Device Generator - a bit limited, but fairly easy to use
- Puncher Heraldry Program - unfortunately rather buggy and limited
- List of Heraldry software, most links unfortunately obsolete
- Wikipedia Heraldry Portal: Software
- The Arcana Wiki: Coat of Arms
- The Hedge Knight.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 7, Arya I.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 57, Sansa V.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 28, Catelyn V.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24, Bran II.
- The Mystery Knight.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 23, Alayne I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 38, Tyrion V.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 40, Tyrion IX.
- Fire & Blood, Aegon's Conquest.
- So Spake Martin: Heraldry in Westeros, April 13, 1999
- Arthur Charles Fox-Davies. A Complete Guide to Heraldry isbn 1417906308 (Kessinger Publishing,year 2004) page 101
- Heraldry Variations of the field
- Stephen Friar and John Ferguson. Basic Heraldry. (W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1993), 148.
- Heraldry Divisions of the field
- Thomas Woodcock & John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. (Oxford University Press, New York: 1988), 14.
- Edmundas Rimša. Heraldry Past to Present. (Versus Aureus, Vilnius: 2005), 38.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 17, Tyrion IV.
- Heraldry Marshalling
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 22, Catelyn II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 6, Sansa I.
- The Sworn Sword.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 38, Jaime VI.
- So Spake Martin: Outland Interview, September 25, 2000
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 1, Tyrion I.