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Beasts of Charge
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  Home >> Heraldry >> Beasts As Charges

Composition Tinctures Charges Blazon Beasts of Charge Heraldic Beasts Design Structure Interpretation Crests Supporters

From the outset, animal figures were an essential and original component of heraldry. On a third of all arms, the main charge is an animal. The lion is certainly the most popular heraldic charge in every region, period and social class. Nearly fifteen per cent of European arms are charged with a lion - a little more in the Middle Ages, a little less in modern times. That is a considerable proportion, since the next charges in order of frequency, the `Fess and the `Bend', that is two geometrical designs or `ordinaries', account for less than five per cent. In fact, when arms became established in the course of the l2th century, the lion became the definitive king of the beasts in all the western traditions. Previously, the bear had been king in much of Germanic, Celtic and Scandinavian Europe.

The heraldic lion is always shown in profile, more often erect (rampant) than lying down (couchant). In early English armoury, until the late 14th century, any lion that was not rampant was called a "Lion leoparde". This term may date back to an ancient Greek convention that distinguished between the lion, usually shown with a heavy mane and in profile, and the leopard, which had less hair and was shown looking towards the observer. Later the term leopard was applied only to the `Lion passant guardant', that is a lion walking, with its right forepaw raised and its head facing the spectator, as in the royal arms of England; hence the expression `the leopards of England'. Nowadays, the term leopard applies only to the real animal, which is rarely found in blazon.

After the lion comes the eagle, king of the skies and sometimes competing with the lion for the throne of king of the beasts - in modern times, in fact, empires have all chosen the eagle and not the lion as their heraldic emblem. In heraldry, the two animals are more or less mutually exclusive: in regions where lions are frequently displayed (Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, for instance) there are few eagles, and vice versa (Austria, northern Italy). The blazoned eagle is also rather unlike the real animal. It is shown Flattened, its body facing the spectator and its head in profile, with a very prominent beak and claws. The eagle appears on about two per cent of European arms, especially those of the nobility.

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