From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Charges used as marks of cadency in English heraldry: 1: label of three points; 2: crescent; 3: mullet; 4: martlet; 5: annulet; 6: fleur-de-lys; 7: rose; 8: cross moline; 9: octofoil

In heraldry, cadency is any systematic way of distinguishing otherwise identical coats of arms belonging to members of the same family. Cadency is necessary in heraldic systems in which a given design may be owned by only one person at once, generally the head of the senior line of a particular family. Because heraldic designs may be used by sons whilst their father is still alive, some form of differencing may be required so as not to usurp the father's arms, known as the undifferenced or "plain coat". Historically arms were only heritable by males and therefore cadency marks have no relevance to daughters, except in the modern era in Canadian and Irish heraldry. These differences are formed by adding to the arms small and inconspicuous marks called brisures, similar to charges but smaller. They are placed on the fess-point, or in-chief in the case of the label.[1] Brisures are generally exempt from the rule of tincture. One of the best examples of usage from the medieval period is shown on the seven Beauchamp cadets in the stained-glass windows of St Mary's Church, Warwick.[1]


Historically, it was recognised that there was a need to difference the arms of the head of the family from those of cadets. This need was recognised in Europe during the 14th century; various means to accomplish this were utilized.

Presently, differencing arms for those entitled to is generally rarely done in Continental Europe. It is only in Scotland where the need to difference cadets is enforced.

Ways of differencing[edit]

In heraldry's early period, uniqueness of arms was obtained by a wide variety of ways, including:

See Armorial of Capetians and Armorial of Plantagenet for an illustration of the variety.


Systematic cadency schemes later developed in England and Scotland, but while in England they are voluntary (and not always observed), in Scotland they are enforced through the statutorily required process of matriculation in the Public Register.


The arms of the first Earl Russell, who was the third son of the sixth Duke of Bedford, were given a mullet argent over the central escallop to differentiate them from his paternal arms. The arms of the first Baron Ampthill, who was third son of the ninth Duke of Bedford, were also marked with a mullet for difference, but in a different tincture.[2]
Arms of the Viscount Cobham from the Lyttelton family (on the left) and of the Viscount Chandos (on the right), incorporating a cross moline, the mark of cadency for the eighth son.

The English system of cadency involves the addition of these brisures to the plain coat:

  • for the first son, a label of three points (a horizontal strip with three tags hanging down)—this label is removed on the death of the father, and the son inherits the plain coat;
  • for the second son, a crescent (the points upward, as is conventional in heraldry);
  • for the third son, a mullet (a five-pointed star);
  • for the fourth son, a martlet (a kind of bird);
  • for the fifth son, an annulet (a ring);
  • for the sixth son, a fleur-de-lys;
  • for the seventh son, a rose;
  • for the eighth son, a cross moline;
  • for the ninth son, a double quatrefoil.

Daughters have no special brisures, and normally use their father's arms on a lozenge, together with any marks of cadency their father may use. This is because English heraldry has no requirement that women's arms be unique. On marriage, they impale their father's arms to the sinister with those of their husband to the dexter, unless the woman happens to be a heraldic heiress, into which case her father's arms are borne on an inescutcheon on her husband's arms.

In England, arms are generally the property of their owner from birth - subject to the use of the appropriate mark of cadency. In other words, it is not necessary to wait for the death of the previous generation before arms are inherited.

The eldest son of an eldest son uses a label of five points. Other grandchildren combine the brisure of their father with the relevant brisure of their own, which would in a short number of generations lead to confusion (because it allows an uncle and nephew to have the same cadency mark) and complexity (because of an accumulation of cadency marks to show, for example, the fifth son of a third son of a second son). However, in practice cadency marks are not much used in England and, even when they are, it is rare to see more than one or, at most, two of them on a coat of arms.

At times arms with a cadency mark may be used on a hereditary basis: for instance, the arms of the Earls Russell are those of the Duke of Bedford differenced by a mullet, as the 1st Earl was the third son of the 6th Duke.

Although textbooks on heraldry (and articles like this one) always agree on the English system of cadency set out above, most heraldic examples (whether on old bookplates, church monuments, silver and the like) ignore cadency marks altogether. Oswald Barron, in an influential article on Heraldry in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, noted:

Now and again we see a second son obeying the book-rules and putting a crescent in his shield or a third son displaying a molet, but long before our own times the practice was disregarded, and the most remote kinsman of a gentle house displayed the "whole coat" of the head of his family.

— [3]

Nor have cadency marks usually been insisted upon by the College of Arms (the heraldic authority for England, Wales and formerly Ireland). For example, the College of Arms website (as of June 2006), far from insisting on any doctrine of "One man one coat" suggested by some academic writers, says:

… The arms of a man pass equally to all his legitimate children, irrespective of their order of birth. Cadency marks may be used to identify the arms of brothers, in a system said to have been invented by John Writhe, Garter, in about 1500. Small symbols are painted on the shield, usually in a contrasting tincture at the top. …

— [4]

It does not say that such marks must be used.

In correspondence published in the Heraldry Society's newsletter, Garter King of Arms Peter Gwynn-Jones firmly rejected a suggestion that cadency marks should be strictly enforced. He said:

I have never favoured the system of cadency unless there is a need to mark out distinct branches of a particular family. To use cadency marks for each and every generation is something of a nonsense as it results in a pile of indecipherable marks set one above the other. I therefore adhere to the view that they should be used sparingly.[5]

In a second letter published at the same time, he wrote:

Unfortunately, compulsion is not the way ahead for twenty-first century heraldry. However, official recognition and certification of any Armorial Bearings can only be effected when the person in whose favour the Arms are being recognized or certified appears in the appropriate book of record at the College of Arms. I believe it right in England and Wales for a branch to use cadency marks sparingly and only if they wish to do so.

— [6]


The system is very different in Scotland, where every male user of a coat of arms may only use arms recorded (or "matriculated") in the Public Register with a personal variation, appropriate to that person's position in their family, approved by the Lord Lyon (the heraldic authority for Scotland). This means that in Scotland no two men can ever simultaneously bear the same arms, even by accident, if they have submitted their position to the Scottish heraldic authorities (which not all do in practice, in Scotland as in England); if they have not done so, the matter falls under statute law and may result in proceedings in the Lyon Court, which is part of the Scots criminal justice system. To this extent, the law of arms is stricter in Scotland than in England where the only legal action possible is a civil action in the Court of Chivalry, which sits extremely rarely and is not an integrated part of the English justice system.

Scotland, like England, uses the label of three points for the eldest son (or heir presumptive) and a label of five points for the eldest son of the eldest son, and allows the label to be removed as the bearer of the plain coat dies and the eldest son succeeds.

Differencing system in Scottish heraldry

For cadets other than immediate heirs, Scottish cadency uses a complex and versatile system, applying different kinds of changes in each generation. First, a bordure is added in a different tincture for each brother. In subsequent generations the bordure may be divided in two tinctures; the edge of the bordure, or of an ordinary in the base coat, may be changed from straight to indented, engrailed or invected; charges may be added. These variations allow the family tree to be expressed clearly and unambiguously. (The system outlined here is a very rough version that gives a flavour of the real thing).

In the Scots heraldic system (which has little to do with the clan system), only one bearer of any given surname may bear plain arms. Other armigerous persons with the same surname usually have arms derived from the same plain coat; though if actual kinship cannot be established, they must be differenced in a way other than the cadency system mentioned above. This is quite unlike the English system, in which the surname of an armiger is generally irrelevant.


Canadian cadency generally follows the English system. However, since in Canadian heraldry a coat of arms must be unique regardless of the bearer's sex, Canada has developed a series of brisures for daughters unique to Canada:[7]

  • for the first daughter, a heart;
  • for the second daughter, an ermine spot;
  • for the third daughter, a snowflake;
  • for the fourth daughter, a fir twig;
  • for the fifth daughter, a chess rook
  • for the sixth daughter, an escallop (scallop shell);
  • for the seventh daughter, a harp;
  • for the eighth daughter, a buckle;
  • for the ninth daughter, a clarichord.

The actual practice in Canada is far from the rigidity suggested by the list of differences above - and is best seen in action in the Canadian Public Register - see for example the coats of various Armstrongs, Ravignats and Bradfords.

South Africa[edit]

Personal arms registered at the Bureau of Heraldry may be differenced upon matriculation (which is voluntary). Current policy is that younger children's arms must be differenced if they are matriculated. Methods used include the English and Scottish systems, the substitution of different charges, the changing of lines, and the changing of tinctures and or adding a border to the shield.


The brisures used in the arms granted by the Chief Herald of the Republic of Ireland are identical to the brisures used by the system used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but unlike the English system, which only uses these brisures for the sons of an armiger in order of birth, the Irish system applies them to all the children of the armiger, irrespective of sex, and, as illegitimacy has no place in Irish heraldry, these marks are assigned to (recognised) children born outside of marriage as well as inside.

British royal family[edit]

There are no actual "rules" for members of the royal family, because their arms are theoretically decided ad hoc by the monarch. In practice, however, a number of traditions are practically invariably followed. At birth, members of the royal family have no arms. At some point during their lives, generally at the age of eighteen, they may be granted arms of their own. These will always be the "arms of dominion" of the monarch with a label argent for difference; the label may have three or five points. Since this is in theory a new grant, the label is applied not only to the shield but also to the crest and the supporters to ensure uniqueness. Though de facto in English heraldry the crest is uncharged (although it is supposed to be in theory), as it would accumulate more and more cadency marks with each generation, the marks eventually becoming indistinguishable, the crests of the royal family are always shown as charged.

Each Prince of Wales uses a plain white label and (since 1911) an inescutcheon of the ancient arms of the Principality of Wales. Traditionally, the other members of the family have used a stock series of symbols (cross of Saint George, heart, anchor, fleur-de-lys, etc.) on the points of the label to ensure that their arms differ. The labels of the Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex have one or more scallop shells taken from the arms of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales;[8] this is sometimes called an innovation but in fact the use of maternal charges for difference is a very old practice, illustrated in the "border of France" (azure semé-de-lys or) borne by John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall (1316–36), younger son of Edward II of England and Isabella of France.

It is often said that labels argent are a peculiarly royal symbol, and that eldest sons outside the royal family should use labels of a different colour, usually gules.

Continental usages[edit]


During the Middle Ages, marks of cadency were used extensively by armigers in France, as can be seen in the Armorial de Gelre. By the eighteenth century, such marks were no longer used by the members of armigerous families, but were still used extensively by the members of the French Royal Family.

The French Revolution of 1789 had a profound impact on heraldry, and heraldry was abolished in 1790, to be restored in 1808 by Napoleon I. However, Napoleon's heraldic system did not use marks of cadency either; the decree of March 3, 1810 (art. 11) states: "The name, arms and livery shall pass from the father to all sons" although the distinctive marks of Napoleonic titles could pass only to the sons who inherited them.

No subsequent regime in France ever promulgated any legislation regarding marks of difference in heraldry, so they remain unused (except in the heraldry of Sovereign Houses, such as the former Royal family, as can be seen below, or the House of Lorraine).

The former royal house[edit]

France moderne.svg
Arms of the Dauphin of France.svg
France moderne Arms of the Dauphin of France

Examples of cadency:

Past usage[edit]

Blason comte fr Clermont (Hurepel).svg
Blason province fr Artois.svg
Armoiries Alphonse Poitiers.svg
Armoiries Charles Anjou av 1246.svg
Arms of Philip Hurepel, Count of Clermont Arms of Robert I, Count of Artois Arms of Alphonse, Count of Poitiers Original arms of Charles,
before becoming Count of Anjou and Maine
Blason comte fr Anjou.svg
Blason comte fr Valois.svg
Blason comte fr Alencon.svg
Blason comte fr Clermont (Bourbon).svg
Arms of Charles, Count of Anjou and Maine Arms of John Tristan, Count of Valois Arms of Pierre, Count of Alençon Arms of Robert, Count of Clermont
Blason comte fr Valois avant 1299.svg
Blason ville fr Mortain (Manche).svg
Armoiries Philippe d'Orléans-Valois.svg
Blason comte fr Touraine.svg
Arms of Charles, Count of Anjou and Maine Arms of Louis, Count of Evreux Arms of Philip, Count of Poitiers Arms of Charles, Count of La Marche

The royal arms of France featured golden fleurs-de-lys on a blue field (Azure, semy-de-lys Or). King Charles V simplified it to three fleurs-de-lys on a blue field (Azure, three fleurs-de-lys Or).

The sons of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile used golden castles on a red background (derived from the arms of Castile) as charges to difference their arms: for Robert, a label; for Alphonse, a semy of castles; for Charles, a bordure. This initial system of differencing was dropped in favor of a longer-lasting simpler system. Charles, the youngest son of Louis VIII, changed his arms in favor of the arms of France with a plain label gules.

The simpler system primarily used four marks of difference: the label, the bordure, the bend, and the bordure engrailed. The tinctures used were gules; a compony of argent and gules; and argent. They occasionally came up with more unusual forms, such as a bordure-label gules and a bordure gules charged with eight plates.

Blason comte fr Touraine.svg
Blason fr Bourgogne.svg
Blason duche fr Berry (moderne).svg
Blason Charles de France (1446-1472) duc de Normandie.svg
Blason Charles de France (1446-1472) duc de Guyenne.svg
Arms granted to Philip the Bold (Duke of Touraine) Arms of Philip the Bold as Duke of Burgundy Arms granted to Charles, Duke of Berry, brother of Louis XI Arms of Charles as Duke of Normandy Arms of Charles as Duke of Guyenne

Initially, the arms were attributed to the cadet. Thus, even when Philip the Bold exchanged his appanage of Touraine in favor of Burgundy, he retained the arms he had received as Duke of Touraine (but quartered it with the arms of Burgundy). Another example will be Charles, younger brother of Louis XI. By the seventeenth century, the arms became associated with titles. The bordure gules was associated with Anjou, and the label argent with Orléans. Thus, when a cadet exchanged his appanage, his arms changed.[9]


German noble houses did not use cadency marks as systematically as their European peers [10]. A nobleman's sons were not generally obliged or expected not to bear their father's arms and often did just so.

The most common means of differencing was the use of different heraldic crests to mark apart otherwise identical achievements borne by different branches of a family. Other, less frequent forms include counter-changing or the replacement of individual tinctures, or the addition of ordinaries. Bordures and labels were used occasionally, though not doctrinally. Perhaps the most prominent German family to adopt a system of bordures was the House of Hohenzollern.

As a result of the Holy Roman Empire's heavy fragmentation, which form saw more prominent use and when was also influenced by general trends and geographic proximity; for example, the heraldic tradition of the Low Countries and the Rhineland saw a great deal of influence by its French neighbor.


Former royal house[edit]

Arms of the House of Savoy.svg
Arms of the Prince of Piedmont.svg
Arms of the House of Savoy-Genova.svg
Arms of the House of Savoy-Aosta.svg
Arms of the head of the house, the Duke of Savoy
Arms of his Heir; the Prince of Venice
Savoy-Genoa (extinct)


Royal family[edit]

Royal Arms of Denmark.svg
Royal Arms of Denmark.svg
Arms of Joachim, Prince of Denmark.svg
Royal Arms of Denmark (1948-1972).svg
Arms of the Queen
Arms of Frederik,
Crown Prince of Denmark
these arms are identical to
those of the Queen,but the
external ornaments are
Arms of Prince Joachim,
identical to the arms of the
Queen and Prince Frederik,
but the inescutcheon is
parted per pale Oldenburg
and Laborde de Monpezat,
his father's family.
Arms of the sisters of Queen
Margrethe II, Princesses
Anne Marie (formerly Queen
of the Hellenes) and
Benedikte; also borne by the
Queen prior to her accession.
These arms are the same as
those of the late Frederik IX,
only with differing external


Royal family[edit]

Royal Arms of Belgium.svg
Arms of a Prince of Belgium (Label).svg
Arms of a Princess of Belgium.svg
Arms of the King. When the heir is male and bears the title Duke of Brabant; the heir uses the same arms, but the external ornaments are different. Arms of princes descended in the male line from the Duke of Brabant, but not bearing this title themselves. Since the accession of King Philippe, these arms are borne by his sons. Arms of princesses of Belgium. Since the accession of King Philippe; these arms are borne by his heir, Elisabeth, Duchess of Brabant.

The Netherlands[edit]

Royal family[edit]

The following heraldic system was adopted by a royal decree in 1815 and would last until 1907.

Royal Arms of the Netherlands (1815-1907).svg Arms of the Prince of Orange (1815-1884).svg Arms of the eldest son of the Prince of Orange (1815-1884).svg Arms of the second son of the king of the Netherlands.svg Arms of the eldest daughter of the king of the Netherlands.svg
Monarch Prince of Orange (heir apparent) Eldest son of the Prince of Orange Second son of the monarch Eldest daughter of the monarch

Since 1907, the system has differed. Wilhelmina further decreed that in perpetuity her descendants should be styled "princes and princesses of Orange-Nassau" and that the name of the house would be "Orange-Nassau" (in Dutch "Oranje-Nassau"). Since then, individual members of the House of Orange-Nassau are also given their own arms by the reigning monarch, similar to the United Kingdom. This is usually the royal arms, quartered with the arms of the principality of Orange, and an in escutcheon of their paternal arms.[13]

Since 1907, There is no system to delineate individual princes and princesses via their arms.


The Portuguese systems of differencing have their origins in the regulations of King Manuel I, who ruled Portugal from 1485 to 1521. There are two systems, one for the non-Royal families and the other for the Royal House.

Noble families[edit]

The Portuguese system of differentiation for the noble non-Royal families is unlike any other cadency system. It is true that the bruiser personalises the arms, however, since the Portuguese have an arbitrary choice of surnames, they may select any family name from the father's or mother's side of their genealogical table and a coat of arms, which does not have to coincide with it. Thus, the system of differencing only serves to show from which ancestral line the arms are derived. The head of the lineage uses the arms without a difference, but should he be the head of more than one family, the arms are combined by quartering. The heir apparent to the arms of the head of a lineage never uses a mark of difference.

Royal house[edit]

Shield of the Kingdom of Portugal (1481-1910).png Armas rainha portugal.png Coat of Arms of the Prince of Portugal (1481-1910).png Armas infanta portugal.png Brasao-Duque-Porto.png
Arms of the Duke of Braganza, head of the Royal house
Arms of Isabel, Duchess of Braganza, wife of the Duke of Braganza Arms of Don Alfonso, Prince of Beira and Duke of Barcelos, Eldest son of
the Duke of Braganza
Arms of Infanta Maria Francisca, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Braganza Arms of Infante Dinis, Duke of Porto, younger son of the Duke of Braganza. The castle on the label is taken from the arms of his mother


Royal family[edit]

Coat of Arms of Spanish Monarch.svg
Coat of Arms of Leonor, Princess of Asturias.svg
Arms of the
Arms of
Princess Leonor,
Heiress presumptive


Royal house[edit]

Great coat of arms of Sweden (shield).svg
Coat of arms of Crown Princess Victoria, Duchess of Västergötland.svg
Coat of arms of Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland.svg
Coat of arms of Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland.svg
Coat of arms of Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland and Gästrikland.svg
Coat of arms of Princess Leonore, Duchess of Gutland.svg
Arms of King Carl XVI Gustaf Arms of Crown Princess Victoria, Duchess of Västergötland, eldest daughter of Carl XVI Gustaf Arms of Princess Estelle, Duchess of Östergötland, daughter of Princess Victoria Arms of Prince Carl Phillip, Duke of Värmland, only son of Carl XVI Gustaf Arms of Princess Madeleine, Duchess of Hälsingland, younger daughter of Carl XVI Gustaf [11][12] Arms of Princess Leonore, Duchess of Gotland, Victoria, daughter of Princess Madeleine


  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition (1884), vol. 11, p. 704
  2. ^ Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles. A Complete Guide to Heraldry - Illustrated by Nine Plates and Nearly 800 Other Designs. Read Books Ltd. p. 531. ISBN 9781446549032. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  3. ^ Oswald Barron, s.v. "Heraldry", Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
  4. ^ "Registering a Pedigree - College of Arms". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  5. ^ The Heraldry Gazette December 2007 New Series 106 pp 8–9
  6. ^ The Heraldry Gazette December 2007 New Series 106 p 9
  7. ^ Heraldry proficiency program - Canadian Heraldic Information (April 5, 2007) Accessed 2008-08-28.
  8. ^ Arms of Princes William and Harry, showing differencing Archived May 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Velde, Francois. "Marks of Difference in the French Royal Family". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  10. ^ " - Domain gecatcht". Archived from the original on 2009-03-21. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  11. ^ a b (in French) Heraldique Europeenne Accessed 2009-04-18.
  12. ^ a b Jiri Louda, Michael Maclagan, Les Dynasties d'Europe, Bordas, 1981 (réimpr. 1993), p. 242-243. ISBN 2-04-027013-2 .
  13. ^ "Wapens van leden van het Koninklijk Huis". Coats of Arms of the Dutch Royal Family, Website of the Dutch Monarchy, the Hague. Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst (RVD), the Hague, the Netherlands. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  14. ^ Klaas. "Maurits van Vollenhoven". Article on Maurits van Vollenhoven, 18-09-2008 10:28. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  • Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry. London and Edinburgh: T.C. & E.C. Jack.
  • Woodward, John (1892). A Treatise on Heraldry: British and Foreign. London and Edinburgh: W. & A. K. Johnson.