Frequently Asked Questions: FAQ

            Taking a cue from the World Wide Web, I wish to present in the FAQ format several topics to which I will refer in the following chapters as I discuss the Breakey Arms. 

Q. Why are some families in doubt as to their Arms?

A. As Thomas Woodcock, Rouge Croix Pursivant, College of Heralds, London explained in a personal letter to the author (27 Jan 1982):

“The reason why families were in doubt as to their Arms

is that very often they were only used on seals and of

course the colours are not shown on a seal so the Heralds had to

confirm them in certain colours.  As their practical use ceased

when they were no longer worn in battle by the 16th and 17th

centuries in some cases, …the family did not know what their

Arms were.”

Q. What is an armorial achievement?

A. A full coat of arms may be referred to as an armorial achievement or achievement.  However, it is incorrect to refer to the coat of arms as a ‘crest.’ It is also “strictly correct to refer to the coat of arms as a ‘Shield of Arms’…” (Franklyn, 1968, p. 14).

Q. What constitutes a coat of arms?

A. See Figure 7.

Figure 7.

The Make-up of a Coat of Arms


Shield example taken from engraved bookplate of Dr. John Breakey

(See Figure 5) 

A. Crest: attached to the helmet

B. Wreath: a twisted pad of material that attaches the mantle to the helmet

C. Shield: divided into 9 numerical areas, or geographical locations

D. Field: that area within the boundary lines of the shield

E. Motto

F. Helmet: not present in Breakey Arms

G. Mantle: not present in Breakey Arms

H. Supporters: not present in Breakey Arms.


Q. Why do shapes of shields differ?

A. It is generally thought most probably for artistic purposes, whereas originally it may have been for practical purposes.


Q. What does it mean to “trick” the arms?

A. To trick the arms means to paint it, or color it.  Outlining the achievement and placing in the appropriate areas the colors by use of abbreviations is considered an example of tricking the arms.  Another manner of tricking the arms is by the system of “hatching,” whereby certain established scratches or sketched line patterns indicate certain colors.


Q. Can any color of one’s choice be used in a coat of arms?

A. No.  There are established guidelines, and the colors used are known as tinctures. The term includes two metals and five colors, the colors appearing brilliant, not pastel.

Or: gold, usually shown as yellow

Argent: silver, usually shown as white

Gules: red

Azure: blue

Vert: green

Sable: black

Purpure: purple

Furs may also be found on an armorial achievement.  In heraldic description, a fur is a “generic term for the stylized representation of animal pelts used in heraldry” (Neubecker, 1976, p. 45). No furs appear in the Breakey Arms.


Q. What is a ‘charge?’

A. On the field of the shield will be found a charge or charges.  According to Pine (1974, p. 38), the chevron on the Breakey Arms is an example of one of the various ordinaries used as a primary charge, being “…a form of lines of a quasi mathematical nature.”  Pine continues to describe other charges, often objects found in nature or daily life.  The three stars of eight points would be such an example.


Q. What do you do when you “blazon” the arms?

A. You describe the arms in a concise, established manner.  In other words, you describe the arms in heraldic language.  If you will turn to the Breakey Arms (see Figure1), I will give an example.

In a rather typical and uninformed fashion, the description might go like this: the Arms of Breakey consist of a silver shield upon which there are three golden eight-pointed stars in an inverted triangular fashion.  There is also a gold fleur-de-lis centrally placed on a blue chevron.  Atop the shield is….etc.   The reader will soon come to see the benefits of an established manner of description.

In his report, The Arms of Breakey (de Brequet), Dr. Edward P. Breakey (1963a) provides this heraldic description of the Arms of Breakey:

Arms - Argent, on a chevron azure, between three eight-pointed mullets, a fleur-de-lis or.

Crest – A lion’s head couped.

Motto – “Aime Dieu” (“Love God”)


Q. Are there rules and regulations governing heraldry?

A. Yes.  In design, in tinctures used, in blazoning and in the passage of arms.  (The author wishes to discuss this question in some detail because of its relevancy to the discrepancies found in the Breakey Arms).



“It must be possible to represent an armorial design on pieces of medieval armor, in particular a battle shield” (Neubecker, p. 6).



1.  Gold or silver must appear at least once in every coat of arms.

2.  It is not correct to put a color upon a color.  An example would be placing a red (gules) dragon upon a green (vert) ground.

3.  It is not correct to put a metal upon a metal.  An example of such would be placing a silver (argent) dragon upon a gold (or) ground.  “There is a well known exception to the rule about metals, that is in the case of the Kingdom of Jerusalem where the gold cross and crosses rest upon a silver ground” (Neubecker, p. 27).  “…but the practice is not used in modern heraldry” (Neubecker, p.  29).

4.  Furs are also subject to governing rules but will not be discussed here as they are not relevant to the Breakey Arms.



The rules are rather simple when one is about to blazon arms.

First, the shield is described.  In reference to the Breakey Arms, the blazon would begin: Argent

Secondly, the ordinary or primary charge is mentioned.  In this case it would be the chevron: Argent/a chevron azure

In most cases a chevron would be embellished in some way, as the fleur-de-lis is an embellishment in the Breakey Arms.  The blazon would continue: Argent/a chevron azure/thereon a fleur-de-lis or

And lastly, other charges would be mentioned. In reference to Breakey Arms those charges would be the three stars of eight points.  To finish blazoning the Breakey Arms: Argent/a chevron azure/thereon a fleur-de-lis or/between three stars of eight points or.

Hence the heraldic description of the Breakey Arms: Argent a chevron azure thereon a fleur-de-lis or between three stars of eight points or.

Passage of Arms

J. Charles Thompson notes, (as cited in American Genealogical Research Institute, 1975, p. 164), “True heraldry began only when a man would use the same devise throughout his lifetime and pass it on to his heir.”  This leads us to the passage of arms and how they differ in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Depending on the country, the use of arms not belonging to an individual through an inheritance is illegal and unethical (Franklyn, pp. 15-16).  Franklyn further states:

“In England, a coat of arms is family property, and all offspring of an Armiger… are entitled to bear, use and display the arms of their father…In Scotland, however, the offspring of an Armiger is born with the right of applying for a re-matriculation (that is, a listing) of the father’s arms with such congruent differences as the Lord Lyon thinks proper; hence in Scotland, every man who bears arms has an individual and distinct coat, though it will bear close relationship throughout a family.”

“The use of Irish coats of arms are an exception to the rule…everyone with the same last name can use the family coat” (Consumer Guide, 1977, p. 52).  However, before the Chief Herald will grant you the arms of the chief of your name, you must show that you are descended from him or one of his ancestors. Fox-Davies (as cited in Pine, 1974, p. 112) reports, “In Ireland there still exists the unique opportunity of obtaining a confirmation of arms upon mere proof of user…the present regulation is that the user must be proved for at least three generations, and be proved also to have existed for one hundred years.”

In discussing the passage of arms, we must also address the issue of marks of difference or marks of cadency.1

Differencing became necessary when both father and eldest son might be participants in the same military engagement.  The father’s shield would bear his identifying mark, while the son’s would be similar but with a mark of difference identifying him as the eldest son.  As the bearing of arms played less importance in warfare it became necessary to devise marks of differences for the remaining sons or cadets. “Cadency…is simply the relationships of the younger to the senior members of a family and particularly to its head.  In older days marks of cadency were used in coats of arms to distinguish the degrees of seniority” (Pine, 109).


Marks of cadency are established (Pine, pp. 77, 109).  In France these are known as brisures. 

1st son: a label

2nd son: a crescent

3rd son: a five pointed mullet (‘the rowel of a spur’)

4th son: a martlet (‘the heralds’ bird without feet’)

5th son: an annulet (‘small ring, pierced’)

6th son: a fleur-de-lis

7th son: a rose

8th son: a cross Moline

9th son: a double quatrefoil (similar to a flower with eight leaves)


Q. Are there rules and regulations governing marks of cadency?

A. Yes (Franklyn, 81).


1.      “Brisures, not being charges, do not conform to the color rule: tincture may rest upon tincture….”

2.      “…brisures should be smaller, in proportion than they would be were they charges.”

3.      “Centre chief is the normal position for a brisure, but if that is ungainly, ugly or inconvenient…the brisure may go elsewhere.  Its size and colour will distinguish it.  On the ordinary, where there is one, is a good place.”


1 The reader may question the necessity of including this in reference to our study of the Breakey Arms, however to a great extent this section influences the author’s interpretation of the Breakey Shield.