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Chief (heraldry)

 

Chief (heraldry)

The shield above, which is the arms of Menzies, depicts a red chief placed on a silver shield, and its blazon is Argent, a chief gules.

In heraldic blazon, a chief is a charge on a coat of arms that takes the form of a band running horizontally across the top edge of the shield. Writers disagree in how much of the shield's surface is to be covered by the chief, ranging from one-fourth to one-third. The former is more likely if the chief is uncharged, that is, if it does not have other objects placed on it. If charged, the chief is typically wider to allow room for the objects drawn there.

The chief is one of the ordinaries in heraldry, along with the bend, chevron, fess, and pale. There are several other ordinaries and sub-ordinaries.

Variations of chief

The chief may bear charges and may also be subject to variations of the partition lines. The chief may be combined with another ordinary, such as a pale or a saltire, but is almost never surmounted by another ordinary. The chief will normally be superimposed over a bordure, orle and tressure, if they share the same shield.

Other variations

In some medieval and Renaissance drawings of coats of arms, the chief is drawn even deeper, so that it fills almost all the top half of the shield. In some cases, it is drawn so wide that it will look as though the shield is divided party per fess.

In English and Scottish heraldry there is no diminutive of the chief, but a narrower-appearing chief can be constructed via a chief enhanced, (raised above its normal position on the shield).

The chief can be used as a mark of cadency, in order to difference the coat of arms in a minor line of a family, though this is rare and practically confined to cases in which a system of bordures is the usual method of showing cadency and the undifferenced coat of the family already has a bordure. In civic heraldry, a chief of allegiance may be added to the top of the shield, particularly in German heraldry. This is a form of the ruling state's armory compressed into the space of a chief.

Many Italian coats of arms have a chief containing a version of the arms of the Kingdom of Naples or of the Holy Roman Empire, to denote Guelph or Ghibelline alignment respectively.

References

  • A C Fox-Davies A Complete Guide to Heraldry (revised by J P Brooke-Little, Richmond Herald), Thomas Nelson and Sons, London 1969
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