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

Other animals occur less frequently and form a bestiary that has not changed for a long time. The stag or hart and the boar, the game , the aristocracy most liked to hunt, appear from the beginning, as do the bear and the wolf. The wolf is most common in Spanish heraldry. Domestic animals are more rare, appear later and are less common among the nobility. Dogs - recognizable by their collar - and cattle tend to be found more on peasants' arms in some countries on the Continent, while sheep can be displayed on the arms of towns and religious communities. The horse occurs in English heraldry, though on the Continent it is notable for its absence. Sometimes considered as a mere tool, sometimes as the equal of humans, it had a status of its own in early societies.

Mounted KnightApart from the eagle, the main birds represented w on shields are the raven, the cock, the swan, a certain number of waders (cranes, herons, storks) and a few ducks, peacocks, ostriches and parrots. The dove and the pelican are found mainly on ecclesiastical arms. As for the falcon, it is as rare as the horse, although it was the bird medieval aristocracy preferred. But the bird most commonly seen on European arms is not real at all; archetypal and stylized, it cannot be identified as belonging to a particular species. The heraldic term for it is the martlet, although it has little to do with the martin. It is a small bird, always shown in profile and generally repeated several times on the same shield. It was represented without feet from the end of the 13th century and in France it was deprived of its beak from the Renaissance. As used in heraldry, this bird looks more like a small geometrical devia (star, bezant, lozenge) than an animal; it is often shown on arms in England, northern France and the Netherlands.

Much the same applies to a fish known as the pike (or luce). It bears little resemblance to a real pike and is a stereotype fish, with an elongated body; generally two fish are represented upright and back to back on the shield. The pike is the charge most often borrowed from the fish world. Equally stylized but more curvilinear and with an enormous head and a kind of crop is the dolphin, which again bears little resemblance to the cetacean of the same name.

Lastly, it should be noted that monsters, hybrid creatures (sirens, chimeras) and fabulous beasts (unicorns, dragons, griffins) are much more rare on arms than is generally believed. They only entered the bestiary and mythology of heraldry at a late date and in limited number.

Design Structure

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