An Alphabet of Heraldry: Part Four

Our exploration of heraldry draws to a close, but although we’ve run out of letters, there are countless symbols that we didn’t get a chance to spotlight. If you’re curious, take a look through our archives to discover hidden heraldic symbols in our work. For now, we’ll bring this series to a close with a collection of symbols linked to the heraldic tradition’s roots - war. 



Q is for Quarter

It’s rare to find a lonely quarter in heraldry - more often than not, this square is used to divide a field into four distinct spaces - often of two alternating colours. Quarters are used to distinguish the arms of one branch of a family from the other, and can be used as an augmentation of honour. If a canton - the diminutive of a quarter, occupying 1/9 of the field - appears in the left corner of the shield, it may be a mark of illegitimacy.


R is for Rose

One of the most famous heraldic symbols is the rose, meaning hope and joy. Just as lions are the king of beasts and dolphins, apparently, king among fish, the rose is the first among flowers. A red rose symbolises martyrdom, whilst a white blossom expresses faith and purity. After the famous Wars of Roses, where the red and white were combined to form a new emblem, the Tudor reign saw heraldry take on a more naturalistic trend, with stems and leaves added to the roses, and new colours - black, green and blue - introduced to the palette.


S is for Spear

You’ll find spears, spearheads and broken spears in heraldry, and although they’re similar devices, they each have a distinct symbolic meaning. Whilst the spear is a symbol of knightly service and devotion to honour and chivalry, the broken spear is a mark of peace. The spearhead, on the other hand, represents nimbleness of wit - William Shakespeare’s arms featured this symbol.


T is for Trefoil

The three-leafed clover is often used as a symbol of fertility and abundance. The three leaves represent the past, present and future. Derived from the shamrock, used by St Patrick to illustrate the Holy Trinity. Quatrefoils are similar to shamrocks, but not identical - while they both have four leaves, the Quatrefoil has more circular leaves, and appears without a stem. 


W is for Wheel

Although it’s a symbol of fortune, you don’t see a lot of wheels these days. The heraldic wheel is representative of the Catherine-wheel, and the legend of St Catherine of Alexandria, who refused to renounce her faith and was beaten and imprisoned. When Roman emperor Maximum attempted to kill her using a spike wheel, it fell apart and she was left unharmed. In heraldry, the Wheel can be an emblem of an individual who is prepared to undergo trials for what they believe in.


Discover more about heraldic symbolism by exploring the earlier instalments of our Alphabet of Heraldry, and feel free to find out more about the work we do for the City of London by exploring our website.

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