ANSTHRLD - Group theory

Timothy A. McDaniel tmcd at
Thu Apr 5 16:11:08 PDT 2001

Someone asked me this privately, but I thought I might educate others.

To decide whether charges are co-primary or secondary:
- Are they in a standard heraldic arrangement for one group, for a
  primary and a secondary group, or hard to tell?
- Are they of comparable visual weight?  That doesn't mean "exactly
  the same height and width".  For example, a spear intrinsically has
  less visual weight than a lion of the same height.  You have to look
  and judge.

Suppose you have a shield that has a lion, and two mullets above it.
Black shield, white charges, for simplicity.

If it's a large lion in the center of the shield, and the two mullets
are up in the corners of the shield, and the lion looks more than
significantly larger than the mullets, then that's not a standard way
of arranging one charge group.  Then it's
    Sable, a lion and in chief two mullets argent.
Primary lion, secondary group of stars.

Suppose instead that the mullets and the lion look about the same
size, and the lion is below the center of the shield, and the mullets
are somewhat towards the sides but not too far and not that far above
the fess line.  That is, if you draw three identical charges in the
standard two-and-one arrangement for three charges, they'd land on the
mullets and lion.  Then it's a standard arrangement of a group, and
    Sable, two mullets and a lion argent.
The primary charge group has three charges: two mullets and a lion.
There is no group of secondary charges.

The usual SCA debate about such issues occurs when one charge is
holding another.  Is it blazoned "sustained" or "maintained"?

Suppose you have a lion sejant erect holding a roundel between its
forepaws.  (The most natural way for a beast to hold a large object in
its forelimbs is when it's sejant erect.)

Suppose that roundel is about the same size as the lion.  Then it's
    Sable, a lion sejant erect sustaining a roundel argent.
There's one primary charge group.  That group has two charges: a lion
and a roundel.  The roundel therefore counts for CDs just as much as
the lion.

Suppose that the roundel is a little teeny circle.  Then it's
    Sable, a lion sejant erect maintaining a roundel argent.
There's one primary charge group, with just one charge, a lion.
The roundel is a maintained charge.  It is ignored for difference
purposes (and even gets some slack for proper contrast against the

The test for sustained/maintained: mentally separate the charges.
Does the held charge have about the same visual weight as the beast
holding it?  If so, it's "sustained" and usable for CDs.  Is the held
charge more than noticably smaller than the holder, as small as or
smaller than you would draw a secondary charge?  If so, it's
"maintained" and gets no CD (it's almost a kind of artistic licence).

The fun cases are in-between.  It's possible to have a charge that's
more than noticably smaller, so you can't call it secondary or
maintained (depending), but is not of the same visual weight as other
charges, so you can't call it part of the charge group.  That is a
cause for return for redrawing -- they're blurring the distinction
between two clear things (secondary/maintained and primary/sustained),
and it affects the CD count and X.2.  So they have to redraw, to
either grow it or shrink it, but choose one way or the other.

Daniel de Lincolia
Tim McDaniel is tmcd at; if that fail,
    tmcd at is my work account.
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