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Divisions of the Shield

[page last updated August 31st 1998]


In simple terms the shield can be divided into sections with straight lines running horizontally, vertically or diagonally either singly or in combinations.The two (or more) parts of the shield are given contrasting colours, almost always one colour and one metal. The field is divided by colour, but the different parts are at the same level, so there is no 3D effect, in contrast with charges on the shield which stand proud. The simple partitions are blazoned as (Party) per fess and so on. There are six major divisions, each with its diminutives, and two other “simple” cases.

Note that in blazoning the first colour mentioned is that at the top or left (as viewed) edge of the shield: thus below we could say party per fess argent and gules; per pale argent and azure; per bend or and sable; barry of 6 or and azure; paly of 6 argent and gules; chevronny gules and argent; chequy gules and argent and so on. The Tierced shield would be per pall argent gules and azure.

Major Divisions

Per Fess

Per Pale

Per Bend

Per Bend Sinister

Per Chevron

Per Cross or Quarterly

Per Pall or Tierced in pairle

Per Saltire



Bendy sinister



Bendy sinister is much less common than bendy. Per pall and per saltire are uncommon. Note that barry, bendy and so on are of an even number of pieces of each colour, usually 6 or 8. It is usual to specify the number of pieces, though in early heraldry this was not always done, and a particular family might bear arms with rather variable numbers of “strips”. Note too that barry is not the same as a shield bearing, say, 3 bars as a charge: there would here be 4 strips of field showing, and the 3 bars, and also the bars could stand proud of the field.

Note that as well as combining the major lines in many ways heraldry soon modified the lines themselves to be wavy, indented and so on. There are many of these lines of partition or dividing lines.

Other Divisions

There are other ways to divide shields, but they are not common. Many of them are combinations of the major divisions, for instance barry bendy or paly bendy. One might mention gyronny and lozengy, as well as oddities like barry pily.
barry pily
Barry pily

Dividing Lines

When the field of a shield is divided, e.g. party per fess [divided in half horizontally], the line is usually straight. However, this need not be the case, and a large variety of dividing lines developed. Similarly the lines defining charges, particularly ordinaries and sub-ordinaries can be ornamented. There are many of these ornamented lines, of which the commonest are:

engrailed: with semi-circular bites taken out of the charge, cf. invected. For example, argent a fess engrailed gules.
invected or invecked: the inverse of engrailed, with the bites taken out of the field. For example or a fess engrailed sable.
embattled: shaped like battlements. Note that normally on a fess, chevron or or bend only the upper edge is embattled. If both sides have the battlements then the blazon is battled counter- embattled
indented: small zig-zags, a saw-tooth effect
dancetty: larger zig-zags, about 3 across the shield. A fess dancetty is sometimes known as a da(u)nce the indentations are in step on both sides of the charge, e.g. or a dance sable (Vavasour).
wavy: gentle undulations like water waves.
nebuly: more pronounced waves; a field can be divided nebuly, e.g. Barry nebuly of six or and gules (Lovel).
raguly: rather like an asymmetric embattled; not common.
potenty: with ‘crutch-shaped’ indentations; a field can be potenty, as can a form of vair; not common.
dove-tailed: shaped like the dove-tailing of woodwork; not common.
flory counterflory: a line with fleur-de-lys, alternate ways round, intersecting it (see the diagram above left); sometimes seen as a double tressure, for instance in the Royal Arms of Scotland.
rayonné, rayonny: like the rays of the sun; uncommon.

Some more unusual ones are:

bevilled: with a single offset or bevel.
escartelly: with a single square projection.
nowed: with a single semi-circular projection.
(en)arched: a single gentle upwards curve.
double arched: two convex upwards curves.
urdy: with pointed battlements.
battled embattled: with battlements which are themselves embattled.
dancetty floretty: dancetty, but with fleur-de-lys surmounting each of the points.

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© Gill Smith 1997, 1998