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Quarterings: The Inheritance of Coats of Arms

Coats of arms are inherited (this is about English practices, Scots are somewhat different):
  • Through the male line, the father's arms only.
  • Through the female lines, the arms of expired male lines.
Male inheritanceFemale Inheritance
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All males inherit equally Females only inherit if no brothers
or no brothers with issue
A female without brothers or whose brothers' line have expired, is known as an heir, sometimes 'heraldic heir'. If there are sisters, they are all co-heirs and have equal inheritances, there is no precedence for any elder sister.

If an heir or co-heir marries an armiger, their children inherit their mother's arms as a quartering. Perhaps the term quarter arose because of the obvious arrangement of arms for the first such marriage:

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Note that the husband's arms go in the top dexter (left) position. This is because the children inherit primarily their father's arms. The quarters are numbered from left to right and top to bottom. The sons inherit these quarterings; if they marry further heraldic heirs they compound the new quarters with the old ones. And so on. As the centuries whiz by this can lead to greater and greater accretions of quartered arms. It is customary to insert in any left-over positions the arms from the beginning of the arrangement; this accounts for the symmetry of this primitive quartering.

All daughters may bear their father's arms during their lifetime, but, unless they are heiresses, they are not inherited by their children. While this is sexist and may well get changed in a future aeon, these are the current rules of the current game.

Other rules of the game, deduced from the practices of the College of Arms in the Quarterings they declared for my grandfather, Reginald Cecil Lybbe Powys-Lybbe:

  • Arms could be quartered for people born and died well before the invention of heraldry. The prime example is the chap called 'Waleran earl of Mellent' who is perhaps better known to his countrymen as 'Waleran, Comte de Meulan'. He lived from c. 990 to 1069, some fifty years before heraldry was invented in the second quarter of the twelfth century. There are two principles being applied here:
    • that Arms can legitimately be devised for a person, even if he lived before heraldry started.
    • that Arms can legitimately be devised for a person some time after his death.
  • In addition to quartering an armiger's personal arms, the arms of his office can also be quartered, even if the office did not descend down the family. This principle was followed for both Gilbert de Clare who carried also the arms of the earldom of Gloucester and not so certainly for Newburgh who bore also the arms of the earldom of Warwick
  • Curiously for Henry Poole, lord Montague, he was shown with two arms, one certainly being those of his father. The other may have been associated with his mother, the countess of Salisbury. The college's reference for these is Vincent 20/136 so I presume there is some documentation they have to justify these double arms. But the principle here is that if a person used more than one coat of arms in his lifetime, then both can be quartered.
  • Next there were the four quarters shown for the Nevilles, one for the Nevilles who were male line descendants of Robert FitzMaldred (c. 1172-c.1242) and three for ancestors of his wife Isabella Neville. The principle implemented here is that all the arms born by male line ancestors may be quartered.
  • Lastly the arms of an English, or British, sovereign may not be inherited as this would be an assertion of sovereignty and thus treasonable. The arms of a sovereigh son's may, of course, be inherited as these always include a difference mark so are not assertions of sovereignty.
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