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Heraldic Dictionary: 3.a Other Ordinaries, Base and Chief, Fimbriation

Last modified: 2006-05-06 by phil nelson
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HERALDRY IIIa: Other Ordinaries, Base and Chief, Fimbriation

As has been pointed out, the sideways Pile that I have designated the Pennon is not the only "ordinary" found in vexillology that has no common equivalent in heraldry. The same shape I have described exists in several forms in itself - as a triangle extending towards, but not reaching, the centre of the flag (as is the case in the flag of the Czech republic [pennon]  'Tierced in Pairle From dexter to sinister Argent Gules and Azure'), a longer triangle stretching to the fly edge (as is the case with Guyana [triangle example] 'Tierced in Pile from dexter to sinister Vert and Or overall the Pile parted per chevron from dexter to Sinister Gules'), and the latter long triangle reversed, as in the flag of American Samoa. [reversed triangle] ('Azure a Pile from sinister to dexter Argent fimbriated Gules') Alternatively, the term 'point' can be used to denote an 'intrusion into the field'.

Other shapes rarely if ever dealt with in heraldry are the horizontally aligned Lozenge (diamond) encountered in the flag of Brazil, the lenticular shape of the emblem of Guam's flag, the sideways Pall of South Africa's flag, the oval of Israel's Merchant flag, shory coloured areas stretching across part of a flag's length or width (as is the case with Zambia's flag), and diagonal "beams" as found in the flag of Mozambique. Also, as previously mentioned, off-centred objects and partitions can create problems.

After a bit of research, I've found the names of some of these ordinaries or subordinaries.

[dexter flank] The off centre division of Portugal's flag is not encountered in English heraldry, but in continental European heraldry it is Gules, a DEXTER FLANK vert (for those confused as to why the left hand side is a dexter flank, remember that it is the left side as seen from the point of view of the shieldbearer, from whose perspective all blazoning is carried out).

At this point it is worth noting that whereas the (shieldbearer's) left of a shield is SINISTER and the right is DEXTER, the top is the CHIEF, and the bottom is the BASE. Thus, a thin horizontal band across a shield near the top would be A BAR IN CHIEF. [bar in chief] I'll deal with Chiefs and Bases further in part IV.

The reversed Pile, with the wide base, is surprisingly, [pile reversed] a Pile Reversed. As to my Pennon, American Samoa features [point in fess to dexter] a POINT IN FESS TO THE DEXTER, and Guyana [point in fess to the sinister] a POINT IN FESS TO THE SINISTER.

Mozambique is a bit more complicated. If it had a simple Point leading from the hoist top, it would be [point in bend] a POINT IN BEND. However, instead of this situation, which would effectively divide the shield or flag in three, it is divided into four areas, with thin strips of white between them. Thus it is divided by points, and edged, or in heraldic terms, [party per point in bend] PARTY PER POINT IN BEND, and FIMBRIATED.

[heraldry example] Following the same rules, though I have not seen a source for this, I would not be surprised to find the flag of the Czech Republic described as "Party Per Chevron in Fess, to the DexterAzure, to the Sinister Party per Fess Argent and Gules". This, however, is just supposition.

FIMBRIATION is an important item which I was hoping not to have to deal with until later, but it is fairly common, so I will mention it now. When two metals or colours are placed next to each other, there has to be an edging between them in traditional heraldry to stop them from touching.
[fimbriation] This edging is referred to as the fimbriation, and is often seen in shields and flags, most notably in the white edging of the Union Jack.
[fimbriation] In the less heraldically correct area of vexillology, fimbriation is often of one colour between a colour and a metal, such as is the case with the flag of the Faroe Islands (Argent, a Scandinavian Cross Gules fimbriated Azure).

Heraldry cannot be a complete language for the study of flags - by their popular nature, flags are often created by people unaware of heraldic tradition, or not wishing to comply with it. Also, many flags are from traditions and cultures which could not be expected to conform to the traditional stylings of a small, albeit historically important, country in one corner of the planet. However, that should not stop attempts being made to describe flags in heraldic terms until such time as a distinct language of flags evolves from it, in much the same way that (for example) the 'jargon' of email is still largely based on the 'jargon' of letter writing (we still 'write' messages that are 'posted', etc.).
It is not unreasonable, for example, to describe the flag of the Republic of (South) Korea as being
[blazon example] "Argent, a yin/yang symbol Gules over Azure, between four trigrams Sable representing Heaven, Fire, Water and Earth".

Editor's Note: This page was originally the result of information sent to FOTW by James Dignan. Until November, 2003, it has was hosted at Željko Heimer's Flags and Arms of the Modern Era webpage. The work is incomplete, but presented as a very basic primer for heraldry. Additional information and corrections by Geoff Kingman-Sugars are in italics, dated 31 December 2003.