The most important aspect of heraldry was the charge. A charge was the name given to the main object that was to be painted on a shield and as such was the most visible part of it. Once a charge has been added, the shield was said to be ‘charged with’ whatever object had bens elected. A charge could be simply based around a pattern provided by ordinaries or subordinaries. However, the more important people in society wanted something grander than a mere pattern and selected fierce animals in a variety of guises.
The most famous was the lion. The lion passant was a lion on three legs with its front right leg lifted to head height. The Royal Standard has three lion passant on it. A lion statant was a lion on all fours while a lion couchant was a lion lying down. A lion rampant was a lion on its hind legs in an aggressive stanch with both front legs up – as seen on the Scottish flag. A lion guardant was a lion that had its head turned to face out of the shield. However, in the Middle Ages a lion guardant was usually called a leopard.
In heraldry, a lion’s tongue was red as were the claws. However, if the lion itself was painted red, then the claws and tongue were usually painted blue.
Deer were also commonly used in charges. A full antlered stag was common as it gave a clear message to people what the characteristics of the owner were. Bears, boars and dogs were also commonly used in charges. If a boar’s head was used, there were even rules as to what the neck looked like. If the cut at the neck was smooth, this was known as a ‘couped’ cut. If it was jagged, this was called erased.
An eagle was a commonly used bird and it was usually shown ‘displayed’ – that it with its body facing the front, head turned to the side and with its wings spread out with the tips facing upwards.
Imaginary beasts were also commonly used in charges. Dragons, griffins, wyverns and unicorns could be found in many shields. Each of these creatures had magical powers of strength and power and whoever had these as charges wanted to associate himself with these creatures.
The two most common flowers used as charges were the rose and the lily. The lily, though commonly associated with the French, was used to show purity while the rose, even before the Tudor era, was seen as the most English of English flowers.
"Charges and Heraldry". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2008. Web.