Two Swedish heralds from the year 1594

Heraldry is the art and science of designing and using a coat of arms. The study of coats of arms is also called armory. The practice of using distinct markings on a person's shield started in the Middle Ages, when a knight's helmet covered his face, making everybody look the same in battle. At first, only knights and nobility had coats of arms, but in the Middle Ages, some cities started using heraldry too. By the end of the Middle Ages, other people began using coats of arms, now called burgher arms, which means they belong to a commoner and not a member of the nobility. An official in charge of approving and recording coats of arms is called a herald. The related study of flags is called vexillology.

Heraldry is described in English using a specialised jargon called Blazon which is based on French words. Heraldry uses only bold, bright colors, called tinctures, with special names. Gold, for instance, is called Or. This word is often capitalised to distinguish it from the conjunction or. Silver and white are sometimes treated as different colors, but in English Blazon both are called argent. Some combinations of colors represent furs, and these have names that are only used in heraldry. There are a number of geometric shapes, called ordinaries, that are used in heraldry, and each of these has a special name too. The shield may be divided in a number of ways, usually following the lines of the ordinaries.

Examples Heraldic Shield Argent.svg Heraldic Shield Azure.svg Heraldic Shield Gules.svg Heraldic Shield Vert.svg Heraldic Shield Purpure.svg Heraldic Shield Sable.svg
Argent Azure Gules Vert Purpure Sable
Metals Heraldic Shield Or.svg Heraldic Shield Argent.svg Furs Blason De Bretagne Alix.jpg Heraldic Shield Vair.svg Heraldic Shield Vairy or and gules.svg
Or Argent Ermine Vair Vairy (Or/gules)
Divisions Parted per fess.svg Parted per pale.svg Parted per bend sinister.svg Parted quarterly.svg Parted quarterly with a heart.svg
Party per fess Party per pale Party per bend sinister Quarterly Quarterly with a heart
Ordinaries Chief demo.svg Pale demo.svg Fess demo.svg Bend demo.svg Bend Sinister demo.svg Chevron demo.svg
Chief Pale Fess Bend Bend sinister Chevron
Ordinaries Blason-argent-croix-gueules.svg Blason ville fr Offignies (Somme).svg Pall demo.svg Flaunches demo.svg Blason Jean Chandos.svg Bordure demo.svg
Cross Saltire Pall Flaunches Pile Bordure
Variations Hungary Arms.svg Paly of eight demo.svg Bendy of eight demo.svg Chevronny demo.svg Chequy demo.svg Lozengy demo.svg Gironny of eight demo.svg
Barry (of eight) Paly (of eight) Bendy (of eight) Chevronny Chequy Lozengy Gyronny

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