Heraldic marks of cadency used in English heraldic cadency: 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 is 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]


In heraldry's early period, uniqueness of arms was obtained by a wide variety of devices, including change of tincture and addition of an ordinary. See Armorial of Capetians and Armorial of Plantagenet for an illustration of the variety.

Systematic cadency schemes were 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 Earl Russell. The mullet sable (black star) upon the central escallop differentiates it from the arms of the Duke of Bedford.
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:

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 an 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.

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. …


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.[4]

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.


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:[6]

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 and Bradfords.

South Africa

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

Arms of
The Queen
Arms of the
Prince of Wales
Arms of the
Duke of Cambridge
Arms of
Prince Harry
Arms of the
Duke of York
Arms of
Princess Beatrice
Arms of
Princess Eugenie
Arms of the
Earl of Wessex
Arms of the
Princess Royal
Arms of the
Duke of Gloucester
Arms of the
Duke of Kent
Arms of
Prince Michael
Arms of
Princess Alexandra
Arms of
The Queen (in right of Scotland)
Arms of the
Prince of Wales (in right of Scotland, as Duke of Rothesay)

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 Prince Harry have one or more scallop shells taken from the arms of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales;[7] 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


Main article: Capetian Armorial

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

Arms of Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou, legitimist claimant to the French throne Arms of Louis (b. 2010), Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy, eldest son of Louis Alphonse. Arms of Alphonse (b. 2010), Duke of Berry, second son of Louis Alphonse
Arms of Henri d'Orléans,
Count of Paris, Duke of France, Orleanist claimant to the French throne
Arms of Jean,
Dauphin of France, Duke of Vendôme, second son of Henri
Arms of Eudes,
Duke of Angoulême, third son of Henri
Arms of Jacques,
Duke of Orléans, brother of Henri
Arms of Charles Louis, Duke of Chartres, son of Jacques Arms of Michel,
Count of Évreux, brother of Henri[8][9]
Arms of Charles-Philippe,
Duke of Anjou and Cadaval, son of Michel
Arms of Thibaut,
Count of la Marche, (d.1983) brother of Henri

Past usage

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
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
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 replaced it with 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.

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.[10]


German noble houses generally do not use differencing marks to denote separate branches of the same house. Rather, all members of the house use the same, identical shield with a different crests.

An exception is the House of Hohenzollern, which at times used a system of bordures.


Former royal house

Vittorio Emanuele's arms,

Prince of Naples, Head of the Royal

Since 2006 these arms have also been
borne by his distant cousin and rival to
the Headship of the House, Amedeo,
Duke of Aosta

Arms of Emanuele Filiberto,
Prince of Venice and Piedmont

Since 2006 these arms have also been
borne by Aimone, Duke of Apulia,
son of Amedeo

Arms of the (extinct) branch
of the Duke of Genoa
Arms of the Duke of Aosta
until 2006.[11][12]


Royal family

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 Prince Henrik;
father of Princes Frederik
and Joachim
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

Arms of the King Arms of
Princess Elisabeth, Duchess of Brabant, heiress apparent,
Eldest daughter of the King. Also borne by Princess Eleanore, younger daughter of the King, and Princess Astrid, sister of the King.
Arms of Prince Gabriel and Prince Emmanuele,
sons of the King, and
Prince Laurent, brother of the King

The Netherlands

Arms of the King Arms of Catharina-Amalia,
Princess of Orange
Princess Ariane and
Princess Alexia,
daughters of the King
Arms of Prince Constantijn,
brother of the King, and
his children


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

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

Arms of
Duarte Pio, Duke of Braganza,
head of the Royal House of Portugal.
Arms of
Isabel, Duchess of Braganza,
wife of the Duke of Braganza.
Arms of Afonso, Prince of Beira,
Duke of Barcelos,

eldest son of the Duke of Branganza

Arms of Infanta Maria Francisca,
daughter of the Duke of Braganza.
Arms of Infante Dinis, Duke of Porto,
youngest son of the Duke of Branganza


Royal family

Arms of the
Arms of
Princess Leonor,
Heiress presumptive


Royal house

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. 1 2 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition (1884), vol. 11, p. 704
  2. Oswald Barron, s.v. "Heraldry", Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
  3. College of Arms
  4. The Heraldry Gazette December 2007 New Series 106 pp 8–9
  5. The Heraldry Gazette December 2007 New Series 106 p 9
  6. Heraldry proficiency program - Canadian Heraldic Information (April 5, 2007) Accessed 2008-08-28.
  7. Arms of Princes William and Harry, showing differencing Archived May 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Ottfried Neubecker, Roger Harmingues, Le Grand livre de l'héraldique, Bordas, 1976 (réimpr. 1982), 288 p. ISBN 2-04-012582-5.
  11. 1 2 (French) Heraldique Europeenne Accessed 2009-04-18.
  12. 1 2 Jiri Louda, Michael Maclagan, Les Dynasties d'Europe, Bordas, 1981 (réimpr. 1993), p. 242-243. ISBN 2-04-027013-2 .
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