Marks of Difference


Since strictly speaking only one individual is entitled to bear a particular design on his shield, some means had to be found of differentiating say a father’s arms from those of his sons. Various ways were found of doing this, which eventually settled down into some kind of convention. The eldest son bore a label over his father’s arms during his lifetime, and when the father died he assumed the undifferentiated form of the arms. Younger sons added some supplementary charge to the arms, which could then be passed down their line.

These additional marks could be of any colour which showed up well on the shield. The accepted order of these marks of difference or cadence is:

  1. a label, usually white; removed on the father’s death
  2. a crescent
  3. a mullet (5-pointed star)
  4. a martlet (bird like a swallow)
  5. an annulet (ring)
  6. a fleur-de-lys (formalised flower)
  7. a (heraldic) rose
  8. a cross moline
  9. an octofoil or double quatrefoil

They must have had big families...!

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© Gill Smith 1997