Ordinary (heraldry)

This article is about the geometrical design elements found on coats of arms. For registers or dictionaries of coats of arms, see Ordinary of arms.

In heraldry, an ordinary (or honourable ordinary) is a simple geometrical figure, bounded by straight lines and running from side to side or top to bottom of the shield. There are also some geometric charges known as subordinaries, which have been given lesser status by some heraldic writers, though most have been in use as long as the traditional ordinaries. Diminutives of ordinaries and some subordinaries are charges of the same shape, though thinner. Most of the ordinaries are theoretically said to occupy one-third of the shield; but this is rarely observed in practice, except when the ordinary is the only charge (as in the coat of arms of Austria).

The terms ordinary and subordinary are somewhat controversial, as they have been applied arbitrarily and inconsistently among authors, and the use of these terms has been disparaged by some leading heraldic authorities.[1] In his Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909), Arthur Charles Fox-Davies asserted that the terms are likely inventions of heraldic writers and not of heralds,[2] arguing the "utter absurdity of the necessity for any [such] classification at all," and stating that the ordinaries and sub-ordinaries are, in his mind, "no more than first charges."[3]


Ordinaries (sometimes called "honourable ordinaries") resemble partitions of the field, but are formally considered objects on the field. Though there is some debate as to exactly which geometrical charges—with straight edges and running from edge to edge of the shield—constitute ordinaries, certain ones are agreed on by everyone. Except for the chief they are central to the shield.

The following are sometimes classed as ordinaries, sometimes as subordinaries (see below):[4]

Lines of variation

Main article: Line (heraldry)

Ordinaries need not be bounded by straight lines.


Some geometric figures are not considered to be "honourable ordinaries" and are called "subordinaries". Very loosely, they are geometric or conventional charges that, unlike ordinaries, do not stretch from edge to edge of the shield. There is no definitive list or definition, but they generally include:

Fixed subordinaries

Fixed subordinaries are those that have a particular place to go on a shield—or at least a very limited range of places.

a canton—Gules; on a bend or two cinquefoils azure, on a sinister canton argent a cross crosslet fitchy issuing out of a crescent of the first; a bordure engrailed or for difference—Cook, Scotland

Mobile subordinaries

Other subordinaries can be placed anywhere on the field.

escutcheon en surtout—Murray, Duke of Atholl, Scotland (escutcheon en surtout for the Chiefship of the Name of Murray and the Marquessate of Tullibardine)


When a coat of arms contains two or more of an ordinary, they are nearly always blazoned (in English) as diminutives of the ordinary, as follows.

Diminutives of the pale

Diminutives of the fess

Diminutives of the bend

Diminutive of the bend sinister

Diminutives of the chevron

Diminutives of the chief

Diminutive of the cross

Diminutive of the saltire

Cottise and cottising

a bend cottised—Per bend azure and gules, a bend nebuly argent cottised rayonny or—Munk, Canada (flag)
a chevron cottisedPer chevron argent and or, a chevron invected sable, plain cotised vert, between two martlets in chief of the third [sable] and a trefoil slipped in base of the fourth [vert]—Lawson, England

The cottise (the spelling varies—sometimes only one t and sometimes c instead of the s) originated as an alternative name to cost (see above) and so as a diminutive of the bend, most commonly found in pairs on either side of a bend, with the bend being blazoned either as between two cottises or as cottised.

Nowadays cottising is used not just for bends but for practically all the ordinaries (and occasionally collections of charges), and consists in placing the ordinary between two diminutive versions of itself (and occasionally other things). A pale so treated is usually blazoned endorsed and a chevron very occasionally couple closed or between two couple closes.

The ordinary and its cottices need not have the same tincture or the same line ornamentation.

Ordinaries very occasionally get cottised by things shaped quite differently from their diminutives—like demi maple leaves.

Occasionally a collection of charges aligned as if on an ordinary—in bend, etc.—is accompanied by cotticing.

Voiding, surmounting with another, and fimbriation

Any type of charge, but probably most often the ordinaries and subordinaries, can be "voided"; without further description, this means that a hole in the shape of the charge reveals the field behind it. Occasionally the hole is of different tincture or shape (which must then be specified), so that the charge appears to be surcharged with a smaller charge.


  1. See "CHAPTER IX: THE SO-CALLED ORDINARIES AND SUB-ORDINARIES" in Fox-Davies (1909) A Complete Guide to Heraldry.
  2. Fox-Davies (1909), pp. 106–107.
  3. Fox-Davies (1909), p. 107.
  4. "American Heraldic Society: ''An American Heraldic Primer''". Americanheraldry.org. 2007-08-26. Retrieved 2013-06-28.


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