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(Redirected from Brisure)

See also Cadency (name) and cadency name

Cadency is any systematic way of distinguishing similar coats of arms belonging to members of the same family. It is a kind of differencing.

Cadency is necessary because in most heraldic systems a given design may be owned by only one person (or, in some cases, one man) at once. However, because heraldic designs may be inherited, the arms of members of a family will usually be similar to the arms used by its oldest surviving member (called the "plain coat"). They are formed by adding marks called brisures, similar to charges but smaller. Brisures are generally exempt from the law of tincture.


Systems of cadency


The English system of cadency involves the addition of these brisures to the plain coat:

  • for the first son, a label of three points (a horizontal line with three tags hanging down)-- this label is removed on the death of the father, and the son inherits the plain coat;
  • for the second son, a crescent (the points upward, as is conventional in heraldry);
  • for the third son, a mullet (a five-pointed star);
  • for the fourth son, a martlet (a kind of bird);
  • for the fifth son, an annulet (a ring);
  • for the sixth son, a fleur-de-lys;
  • for the seventh son, a rose;
  • for the eighth son, a cross moline;
  • for the ninth son, a double quatrefoil.

Daughters have no special brisures, and use their father's arms on a lozenge. This is because English heraldry has no requirement that women's arms be unique.

Arms are generally the property of their owner from birth. In other words, it is not necessary to wait for the death of the previous generation before arms are inherited.

The eldest son of an eldest son uses a label of five points. Other grandchildren combine the brisure of their father with the relevant brisure of their own, which would in a short number of generations lead to confusion (because it allows an uncle and nephew to have the same cadency mark) and complexity (because of an accumulation of cadency marks to show, for example, the fifth son of a third son of a second son). However, in practice cadency marks are not much used in England and, even when they are, it is rare to see more than one or, at most, two of them on a coat of arms.

Although textbooks on heraldry (and articles like this one) always agree on the English system of cadency set out above, most heraldic examples (whether on old bookplates, church monuments, silver and the like) ignore cadency marks altogether. Nor have they often been insisted upon by the College of Arms (the heraldic authority for England and Wales). For example, the College of Arms website (as at January 2005), far from insisting on any doctrine of "One man one coat" suggested by some academic writers, says: "The arms of a man pass equally to all his legitimate children, irrespective of their order of birth". It then says "Cadency marks may be used to identify the arms of brothers, in a system said to have been invented by John Writhe, Garter, in about 1500". It does not say that they MUST be used.

The system is very different in Scotland, where every user of a coat of arms is meant to have a personal variation appropriate to that person's position in their family approved (or "matriculated") by the Lord Lyon (the heraldic authority for Scotland). Scotland, however, uses a different system for this which typically applies a distinctive "bordure" to the basic design of arms rather than the English cadency marks. However, Scotland, like England, uses the label of three points for the eldest son and a label of five points for the eldest son of the eldest son, and allows the label to be removed as the bearer of the plain coat dies and the eldest son succeeds. In Scotland (unlike England) the label may be borne by the next male heir to the plain coat even if this is not the son of the bearer of the plain coat (for example, if it is his nephew).

The Royal Family

The "rules" for members of the Royal Family are not really that, because they are theoretically decided on an ad hoc basis by the soverign, but in practice, a number of traditions are practically invariably followed. At birth, members of the Royal Family have no arms. At some point during their lives, generally at the age of eighteen, they may be granted arms of their own. These will always be the arms of dominion of the Sovereign with a label argent for difference; the label may have three or five points. Since this is in theory a new grant, the label is applied not only to the shield but also to the crest and the supporters to ensure uniqueness. Though de facto in English heraldry the crest is uncharged (although it is supposed to be in theory), as it would accumulate more and more cadency marks with each generation, the marks eventually becoming indistinguishable, the crests of the Royal Family are always shown as charged.

The Prince of Wales uses a plain white label. Traditionally, the other members of the family have used a stock series of symbols (cross, heart, anchor, fleur-de-lys, etc.) on the points of the label to ensure that their arms differ. However, a recent innovation, used for Princes William and Harry, is to use a symbol representing their mother: the princes' arms use a scallop shell, symbol of the Spencer family, for difference.

It is often said that labels argent are a peculiarly royal symbol, and that eldest sons outside the royal family should use labels of a different colour, usually gules.


Scottish cadency involves a complicated system of bordures of different tinctures. It is far more precise than the English system.

In addition, because of the Scottish clan system, only one bearer of any given surname may bear plain arms. All other bearers of that name, even if unrelated, must have arms which reference these plain arms somehow. This is quite unlike the English system, in which the surname of an armiger is generally irrelevant.


Canadian cadency generally follows the English system. However, since in Canadian heraldry a person's arms must be unique regardless of their gender, Canada has developed a series of brisures for daughters:

  • for the first daughter, a heart;
  • for the second daughter, an ermine spot;
  • for the third daughter, a snowflake;
  • for the fourth daughter, a fir twig;
  • for the fifth daughter, a chess rook
  • for the sixth daughter, an escallop (scallop shell);
  • for the seventh daughter, a harp;
  • for the eighth daughter, a buckle;
  • for the ninth daughter, a claricord.

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