Shields can be divided into parts. Often this is done to accomodate emblems (charges) that are added due to marriage or other reasons. (See Marshalling Your Arms, below.) Additionally, if a charge is placed anywhere but center, it's important to know exactly where the charge is located. This especially comes into play when creating a written description of your coat of arms. (More in a future posting called The Blazon of Arms.)
The segments of a shield are as follows:
The top is called the "chief."
The bottom is called the "base."
The right side is the "dexter" side.
The left side is the "sinister" side.
SIDE NOTE (pun intended): When you are looking at a picture of a shield, the side that appears on the left is actually the “right” side of the shield. This is determined by the way that a shield is held on the arm. Imagine holding a shield on your left arm. The side closest to your right arm is the “right” or dexter side of the shield. Now imagine turning the shield around so you can look at it. The proper “right” or dexter side is now on your left, but it’s still called the dexter side.
When you place your charges on the shield, be sure to create a proper balance. You wouldn't want to place too many images on any one side, or too many on the top. Below are some examples of coats of arms with a number of charges properly balanced. These are exceptionally "busy" coats of arms, but they are all historical and keep the charges well balanced.
Below are some moderately busy examples that show proper balance.
And here are some simple coats of arms with good balance.
Marshalling Your Arms
The most common way to marshall arms was to divide the field in half, in which case the husband’s arms go on the dexter side. You could also divide the shield into quarters. The husband would generally receive the dominant quarters, which are 1 and 4. Other options may be utilized, such as this one I created for my sister-in-law and her husband (at left). The husband's coat of arms is a black plaid pattern on a green field. (The plaid pattern is called fretty.) To that I added the chevron and one lion charge of the Lyons name. This made quite a striking combination, I thought.
On the next post, we'll begin some finishing touches.