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The Sub-ordinaries are a rather confused group; different authors include different charges in this group.

The following are normally considered to be Sub-ordinaries. Some of them are clearly derived from or related to others, e.g. the border “family”. The gyron, fret, lozenge, fusil and billet are not found singly in early heraldry, and seem to have developed from fields which were gyronny, fretty etc. A similar evolution can be seen in some families, where the early branches bore a simple fretty shield and later ones a single fret.

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Bordure, Orle, Tressure, Escutcheon




flory counter-flory


The above sub-ordinaries are all shown or on a field azure.

The bordure or border runs round the edge of the shield; often it is used to difference arms, for instance for separate branches of the same family. Bordures are frequently compony, can have the edges modified by dividing lines such as engrailed, and can be charged.

The orle is narrower than the bordure. Note that charges can be arranged in orle, which is sometimes blazoned as an orle, e.g. sable an inescutcheon in an orle of martlets argent (Erpingham).


(Note that the gold version of this shield is shown at Gilling, but seems very improbable. Erpingham is elsewhere given with a vert field.)

The tressure is essentially a double orle treated as a single charge. The tressure flory counterflory is seen in the Royal Arms of Scotland (or a lion rampant within a tressure flory counter-flory gules.

The escutcheon or inescutcheon is a shield-shaped charge of very varying size (see the Erpingham arms above for an example). It is smaller than the area left within a bordure.

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Lozenge, Fusil, Mascle, Rustre





These charges are all shown gules on a field argent

The lozenge is much like the diamond on playing cards and is a common charge. Sometimes a fess or pale is made up of a row of lozenges, and can then be blazoned lozengy (rather than, say, 7 lozenges in fess). A field can also be lozengy; indeed, the lozenge as a separate charge seems to be a later development of the lozengy field.

The fusil is narrower than the lozenge, although in early heraldry it is often difficult to tell them apart. A field can be fusilly.

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Roundles, Annulets, Gemmel-rings




These charges are all shown or on a field gules.

Roundles have different names depending on their colour. Strictly speaking gold and silver ones are shown as discs, the others usually as 3D balls (though torteaux should perhaps be flat). Their names and (theoretical) derivations are:

Colour Name Derivation
or bezant Byzantine gold coin
argent plate plata=silver coin
azure hurt ?whortleberry or
?heurt=mark or bruise left by a blow
gules torteau cake
sable pellet, ogress
or gunstone
vert pomme or
purpure golpe ? linked to Spanish golpe=wound
tenné orange orange (fruit)
sanguine guze ?

Note the special roundle known as a fountain or (rarely) syke, which is barry wavy argent and azure; it is a conventional representation of water and is quite common in English heraldry. Roundles can also be of fur, e.g. a roundle ermine, and they can be parted (per fess etc.), vari-coloured or charged, though all these options are uncommon.

A field semy of roundles can be blazoned either as semy of hurts, pellets etc., or be hurty, pelletty and so on. An animal which is semy of roundles is said to be spotted with them.

Annulets are roundles with a hollow centre. They are sometimes called false roundles.

Annulets can be interlinked, usually in pairs, in which case they are known as gemmel-rings. The term means “twinned rings”.

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Fret, Fretty, Lattice, Trellis

The fretThe fret is an interwoven design of six pieces. It may be derived from a field fretty, which tends to occur in earlier arms. In some cases it is hard to tell which is depicted, and in other cases the same family seems to have borne both versions, with the earlier instances being fretty.

An interesting variation is to be seen in the srms of Fizhugh which occur in two variants, azure 3 chevrons braced or, a chief of the last and azure fretty and a chief or.

Fitzhugh   Fitzhugh [2]

The lattice or trellis is similar to fretty, but whereas this is of interwoven strips, a lattice has all the strips (which one might consider bendlets and bendlets sinister) running in one direction overlying all those running the opposite way (usually the bendlets lie on top). The strips are shown nailed together, the nails often being of a contrasting colour. Not common, at least in English heraldry.

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Other Subordinaries







The billet is a rectangular block, much the shape of a house brick. The billetty field seems to pre-date the use of the billet as an independent charge. It is not common singly. Shields such as Deincourt which are blazoned with multiple billets (10 in this case) may originally have simply been billetty.

Deincourt: a fess dancetty between ten billets (different colours for different branches of the family).

Deincourt arms

The label is a horizontal strip with short vertical descenders known as points, usually three. It almost always occurs near the top of the shield. The label has many forms and varies in the number of points, usually 3,5 or 7.

It is not commonly used as an independent charge, but most frequently appears as a mark of difference, especially for the eldest son of a family while the father is still alive. On the father’s death the son removes the label. An example from Gilling Castle is gules three lions passant gardant or, in chief a label of three points argent for Thomas Brotherton, the (second) son of Edward I.


The quarter is just that: the top left (as viewed) quarter of a shield of a different colour from the main field. It may itself be charged. The quarter and canton are sometimes included in the Ordinaries.

The canton is smaller than the quarter, occupying approximately one-ninth of the shield. It obscures other charges which may be on the shield, and may itself be charged.

The gyron is a triangular charge, half a canton. It does not occur in early arms and seems to be derived from the field gyronny. It is much less common than the canton.

Flaunches or flanches are curved “bites” taken out of the sides of the shield. They are not particularly common.

Flasques or voiders are similar to flaunches but narrower, occupying less of the shield, although some books do not distinguish them from the flaunches.

As with charges such as lozenges and fusils, it is often difficult to tell the two types apart, and they are perhaps best regarded as variants of the same basic charge.

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© Gill Smith 1997-2003