Star (heraldry)

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1545 depiction of the flag of the city of Maastricht in the Netherlands (gules, a six-pointed mullet, argent)

In heraldry, the term star may refer to any star-shaped charge with any number of rays, which may appear straight or wavy, and may or may not be pierced. While there has been much confusion between the two due to their similar shape, a star with straight-sided rays is usually called a mullet in English heraldry while one with wavy rays is usually called an estoile.[1]

While a mullet may have any number of points, it is presumed to have five unless otherwise specified in the blazon, and pierced mullets are common; estoiles, however, are presumed to have six rays and (as of 1909) had not been found pierced.[1] In Scottish heraldry, an estoile is the same as in English heraldry, but it has been said[by whom?] that mullet refers only to a mullet pierced (also called a spur revel), while one that is not pierced is called a star.[1]


The use of the word star in blazons, and how that charge appears in coat armory, varies from one jurisdiction to another. In Scots heraldry, both star and mullet interchangeably mean a star with five straight rays;[citation needed] the official record from 1673 gives Murray of Ochtertyre azur three Starrs argent ... (Public Register, vol 1 p 188), while the Ordinary of Arms produced by a late 19th century Lyon King of Arms 'modernizes' the original as Az. three mullets arg. .... In Canadian heraldry the usual term is mullet, but there is also the occasional six-pointed star (e.g. in Vol. IV, at p. 274 and in online version of the Canadian Public Register), which is what others would blazon as a six-pointed mullet. The United States Army Institute of Heraldry, the official heraldic authority in the United States, uses the term mullet in its blazons,[2] but elsewhere, as in US government documents describing the flag of the United States and the Great Seal of the United States, the term star is constantly used, and these nearly always appear with five straight-sided points.

The term mullet or molet refers to a star with straight sides, typically having five or six points, but may have any number of points specified in the blazon. If the number of points is not specified, five points are presumed in Gallo-British heraldry, and six points are presumed in German-Nordic heraldry.[citation needed]

Unlike estoiles, mullets have straight (rather than wavy) rays and may have originally represented the rowel of a spur, rather than a celestial star.[3] The term is said to be derived from French molette, a spur-rowel,[3] although it was in use in heraldry even before rowel spurs.[4]

The term estoile refers to wavy-sided stars, usually of six points, though they may also be blazoned with a different number of points, often eight (e.g. "Portsmouth County Council" pictured here Archived 2016-11-20 at the Wayback Machine), and many variants feature alternating straight and wavy rays (e.g. "Honford" pictured here). The term derives from Old French estoile 'star', in reference to a celestial star (cf. Modern French étoile), from Latin stella 'star'.

Classical heraldry[edit]

The Washington coat of arms at Selby Abbey (mid 15th century)

Stars are comparatively rare in European heraldry during the medieval period. An early reference of dubious historicity is reported by Johannes Letzner, who cites Conradus Fontanus (an otherwise unknown authority) to the effect that one Curtis von Meinbrechthausen, a knight of Saxony, in 1169 after committing a murder lost his rank and arms, described as an eight-pointed star beneath a chevron. In Scotland, the armigers of Clan Murray and Clan Douglas used arms with stars as early as the 12th or 13th century. Examples of stars in a late medieval heraldry of the Holy Roman Empire include those of Wentz von Niederlanstein (1350), Gemm (attested 1352), Geyer von Osterberg (1370), Enolff Ritter von Leyen (d. 1392).[5]

Under the system of cadency in use in England and Ireland since the late 15th century, a third son bears a mullet (unpierced) as a difference.[6]

Stars become much more popular as heraldic charges in the early modern era, especially in then-recent family coats of arms of burghers and patricians, as well as in coats of arms of cities (e.g. Maastricht, Bozen, Kaufbeuren).[7] The coat of arms of Valais originates in the 16th century, when seven stars representing its Seven Tithings were added to the party per pale coat of arms of the Bishop of Sion. Of the higher nobility in Siebmachers Wappenbuch (1605), the landgrave of Hessen and the counts of Waldeck and Erbach have stars in their coats of arms, as do several Swiss knights.[8]

United States[edit]

The American flag as described in the Flag Resolution passed by the Second Continental Congress on 14 June 1777.

Stars are nearly ubiquitous in United States heraldry and vexillology and nearly always appear unpierced with five straight-sided points. In the flag of the United States, each star represents one state.[9] The flag adopted in 1777 is the attributed origin of the thirteen stars, representing the thirteen United States, appearing on the Great Seal since 1780.[10]

A mullet "barbed to chief" appears in the arms of the 240th Signal Battalion of the 40th Infantry Division of the California Army National Guard United States Army.[11]

Modern use[edit]

In the design of modern flags and emblems, the stars (mullets, usually five-pointed) when standing alone often represent concepts like "unity" or "independence". When arranged in groups, they often enumerate provinces or other components of the nation (such as ethnic groups). In the flags of Nauru and the Marshall Islands, this enumeration is done by the points of a single star rather than by multiple number of stars.[citation needed]

Some flags of countries on the southern hemisphere show a depiction of the Southern Cross consisting of four or five stars. The star and crescent symbol is found in flags of states succeeding the Ottoman Empire, which used flags with this symbol during 1793-1923.

The twelve stars on the Flag of Europe (1955) symbolize unity.[12]

The green five-pointed star on the Esperanto flag (1890) symbolizes the five inhabited continents.

The 50 stars of the US flag is the largest number on any national flag. The second-largest is 27, on the flag of Brazil.

The current national flags featuring stars include:

Flag Date # of stars Points Stars represent Description/comment
United States United States 1777; 1960 50 5 enumerate US states originally 13 stars, 50 stars since 1960, see timeline of the flag of the United States
European Union European Union 1955; 1985 12 5 ideal "unity among Europeans". Believed to also be a reference to the Catholic iconographic tradition of showing the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Woman of the Apocalypse, wearing a "crown of twelve stars".[13]
Chile Chile 1817 1 5 ideal "The star represents a guide to progress and honor"
Tunisia Tunisia 1831; 1956 1 5 star and crescent based on the Ottoman flag[citation needed]
Turkey Turkey 1844; 1936 1 5 star and crescent the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 and its Flag Law was passed in 1936, declaring the continued use of the Ottoman flag that had been flown since 1844 (an earlier variant with an eight-pointed star dates to ca. 1793).
Venezuela Venezuela 1859; 1930 8 5 enumerate provinces various arrangement of the stars in design changes since 1859. Twenty stars during 1859–1863.
Honduras Honduras 1866 5 5 enumerate provinces based on the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America. The five stars also represent the historical provinces of that state, not subdivisions of Honduras itself.
New Zealand New Zealand 1869; 1902 4 5 Southern Cross used as a governmental ensign since 1869, made the official national flag in 1902. Designed by Albert Hastings Markham under a request from Governor George Bowen.
Brazil Brazil 1822; 1992 27 5 enumerate States of Brazil originally 19 stars, 27 stars since 1992, see Flag of Brazil
Philippines Philippines 1898 3 5 enumerate island groups the three stars represent the three major geographical island groups that compose the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Australia Australia 1901 6 7; 5 Southern Cross; Commonwealth Star seven-pointed stars for the Commonwealth Star and the main stars of the constellation, plus a smaller five-pointed star representing Epsilon Crucis. Based on the winning design in the 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition.
Cuba Cuba 1902 1 5 ideal "The white star in the triangle stands for independence". Based on the flag carried by Narciso López in 1850.
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan 1918 1 8 star and crescent "the eight-pointed star points to the eight letters of the name Azerbaijan (in Arabic script)"[14]
Panama Panama 1925 2 5 ideal "the blue star stands for the purity and honesty of the life of the country; the red star represents the authority and law in the country"
Jordan Jordan 1928 1 7 ideal "The seven points symbolize the seven verses of the first surah of the Qur’an. The seven points also represent faith in one God, humanity, humility, national spirit, virtue, social justice, and aspiration. The star also stands for the unity of the Arab nation."
Vietnam Vietnam 1945 1 5 ideal the Communist Star; "The five-pointed yellow star represents the unity of workers, peasants, intellectuals, traders and soldiers in building socialism"
Pakistan Pakistan 1947 1 5 ideal the star represents "light". The crescent and star symbolize progress and light respectively.
North Korea North Korea 1948 1 5 ideal the Communist Star
China People's Republic of China 1949 5 5 ideal "Five-starred Red Flag" (五星红旗, Wǔxīng Hóngqí), one large star representing the Communist Party surrounded by four smaller ones depicting the four then social classes
Samoa Samoa 1949 5 5 Southern Cross
Somalia Somalia 1954 1 5 ideal "Star of Unity"
Ghana Ghana 1957 1 5 ideal "the lodestar of African freedom"
Central African Republic Central African Republic 1958 1 5 ideal The star "guides the steps of the Central African people towards freedom and emancipation."
Syria Syrian Republic 1958; 1980 2 5 enumerate states The 1958 flag was that of the United Arab Republic. The two stars originally represented Syria and Egypt as member states of that entity.
Mauritania Mauritania 1959 1 5 star and crescent
Senegal Senegal 1960 1 5 The five points of the star are said to recall the human ideogram which was displayed in the middle of the flag of the former Mali Federation.[citation needed]
Togo Togo 1960 1 5 ideal "hope"[citation needed]
Algeria Algeria 1962 1 5 star and crescent
Malaysia Malaysia 1963 1 14 enumerate states a 14-pointed star alongside a crescent, representing the 13 member states plus the federal government
Singapore Singapore 1965 5 5 ideal five stars alongside a crescent, representing "democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality". According to Lee Kuan Yew, the Chinese population wanted five stars (influenced by the flag of the People's Republic of China) and the Muslim population wanted a crescent moon.
Burundi Burundi 1967 3 6 ideal "Unity, Work, Progress"
Nauru Nauru 1967 1 12 enumerate tribes
Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea 1971 5 5 Southern Cross
Guinea-Bissau Guinea-Bissau 1973 1 5 ideal "the Black Star of Africa"
Grenada Grenada 1974 7 5 enumerate parishes
Angola Angola 1975 1 5 ideal in origin imitating the Communist Star
Cameroon Cameroon 1975 1 5 ideal "star of unity"
Suriname Suriname 1975 1 5 ideal "The star represents the unity of all ethnic groups"
São Tomé and Príncipe São Tomé and Príncipe 1975 2 5 enumerate islands
Tuvalu Tuvalu 1976 9 5 enumerate islands The stars are arranged in imitation of the geographic location of the islands of Tuvalu
Djibouti Djibouti 1977 1 5 ideal "The red star signifies the unity of the diverse state."
Solomon Islands Solomon Islands 1977 5 5 enumerate islands
Dominica Dominica 1978 10 5 enumerate parishes
Marshall Islands Marshall Islands 1979 1 24 enumerate districts the points of the stars enumerate the electoral districts
Federated States of Micronesia Federated States of Micronesia 1979 4 5 enumerate states Based on the Flag of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific, each star represents a constitutional State (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae)
Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis 1983 2 5 ideal / enumerate islands "hope and liberty, or Saint Kitts and Nevis"
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso 1984 1 5 ideal "the guiding light of the revolution"
Croatia Croatia 1990 2 6 morning star The stars are part of the coat of arms of Croatia. One star is part of the coat of arms of the Illyrian movement, and the other is part of the coat of arms of Slavonia.
Slovenia Slovenia 1991 3 6 ideal "democracy", inspired by the historical coat of arms of the Counts of Celje[15]
Uzbekistan Uzbekistan 1991 12 5 ideal a crescent and twelve stars, representing the "ancient calendar cycle"
Tajikistan Tajikistan 1992 7 5 seven stars on heaven's mountains
Cape Verde Cape Verde 1992 10 5 enumerate islands
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina 1998 8 ("∞") 5 ideal a diagonal line of seven five-pointed stars, plus two half-stars cut off by the flag boundary. The stars represent "Europe" and are intended to be "infinite" in number.
Comoros Comoros 2001 4 5 enumerate islands four stars alongside a crescent
Turkmenistan Turkmenistan 2001 5 5 enumerate provinces five stars alongside a crescent
East Timor East Timor 2002 1 5 ideal "the light that guides"
South Sudan South Sudan 2005 1 5 ideal "the Star of Bethlehem, represents the unity of the states of South Sudan"
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo 2007 1 5 ideal derived from the flag of Congo Free State (1885)
Myanmar Myanmar 2010 1 5 ideal "unity"

Not bearing heraldic stars as such, the 1915 Flag of Morocco and the 1996 flag of Ethiopia have a pentagram each, and the 1948 flag of Israel a hexagram or "star of David". The 1962 Flag of Nepal has what would technically be described as a 12-pointed mullet, but is intended to depict the Sun[citation needed].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles; Graham Johnston (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry. pp. 295–296.
  2. ^ "172D Support Battalion Distinctive Unit Insignia". The Institute of Heraldry. Archived from the original on October 26, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Volborth, Carl Alexander (1981). Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles. Poole, England: Blandford Press. p. 48. ISBN 0-7137-0940-5.
  4. ^ "Mullet". Pimbley's Dictionary of Heraldry. 2008-03-12. Retrieved 2008-02-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Christian Friedrich August von Meding, Nachrichten von adelichen Wapen, 1786.
  6. ^ Volborth, 1981. p. 80.
  7. ^ Siebmachers Wappenbuch (1605), p. 219-224
  8. ^ Siebmachers Wappenbuch (1605) pp.197-204
  9. ^ "Our Flag" (PDF). United States Government Printing Office. 1998. S. Doc 105-013. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  10. ^ "The Great Seal of the United States" (PDF). U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
  11. ^ The Institute of Heraldry, ed. (2010-11-01). "240th Signal Battalion". Department of the Army. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  12. ^ "The European Flag, Europa (web portal)". 4 August 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  13. ^ Carlo Curti Gialdino, I Simboli dell'Unione europea, Bandiera – Inno – Motto – Moneta – Giornata. Roma: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato S.p.A., 2005. ISBN 88-240-2503-X, pp. 80–85. Gialdino is here cited after a translation of the Italian text published by the Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l'Europe (

    Irrespective of the statements by Paul M. G. Levy and the recent reconstruction by Susan Hood, crediting Arsène Heitz with the original design still seems to me the soundest option. In particular, Arsène Heitz himself, in 1987, laid claim to his own role in designing the flag and to its religious inspiration when he said that 'the flag of Europe is the flag of Our Lady' [Magnificat magazine, 1987].

    Secondly, it is worth noting the testimony of Father Pierre Caillon, who refers to a meeting with Arsène Heitz. Caillon tells of having met the former Council of Europe employee by chance in August 1987 at Lisieux in front of the Carmelite monastery. It was Heitz who stopped him and declared "I was the one who designed the European flag. I suddenly had the idea of putting the 12 stars of the Miraculous Medal of the Rue du Bac on a blue field. My proposal was adopted unanimously on 8 December 1955, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I am telling you this, Father, because you are wearing the little blue cross of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima".

  14. ^ Сабухи Ахмедов, Государственный флаг Азербайджанской Республики ("The national flag of the Republic of Azerbaijan") (in Russian), citing Мярданов М., Гулийев Я., Азярбайъан Республикасынын дювлят рямзляри. Б., 2001, pp. 74-75.
  15. ^ "Državni simboli niso čarovnija, so pa silen potencial" [National Symbols are not Magic, but Are a Strong Potential]. (in Slovenian). Primorske novice, d.o.o. 26 June 2011. ISSN 1580-4747.

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