Attitude (heraldry)

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The lion passant guardant, a frequent figure in heraldry, has often been called a leopard by French and English heralds.

In heraldry, an attitude is the position in which an animal, bird, fish, human or human-like being is emblazoned as a charge, supporter or crest. Many attitudes apply only to predatory beasts and are exemplified by the beast most frequently found in heraldry—the lion. Some other terms apply only to docile animals, such as the doe (usually blazoned as "hind"). Other attitudes, such as volant, describe the positions of birds, mostly exemplified by the bird most frequently found in heraldry—the eagle.[1] The term naiant (swimming), however, is usually reserved for fish but may also apply to swans, ducks or geese. Birds are often further described by the exact position of their wings. The term segreant is usually applied to the griffin, but this approximation of rampant which is more appropriate for them has also been applied to the dragon.

Additionally, there are positions applying to direction, to indicate variations from the presumed position of any charge. Animals and animal-like creatures are presumed to be shown in profile, facing dexter (the viewer's left), and humans and human-like beings are presumed to be shown affronté (facing the viewer), unless otherwise specified in the blazon.

Positions indicating direction[edit]

Animals and animal-like creatures are presumed to be shown in profile facing dexter. This attitude is standard unless otherwise stated in the blazon. As a warrior will usually carry a shield in the left hand, the animal shown on the shield will then face toward the knight's body. Humans and human-like beings are presumed to be shown affronté. Note that the heraldic terms dexter ('right') and sinister ('left') represent the shield bearer's perspective, not the viewer's.

  • To dexter or the viewer's left is the direction animals are presumed to face. This position is thus not specified unless necessary for clarity, as when a human or human-like being is depicted (the default position for these is "affronté") or when an animal's head and body are not turned in the same direction.
  • To sinister or contourné is said of a creature facing the viewer's right.
  • Affronté is said of a creature that faces the viewer.
  • En Arrière is said of a creature positioned with its back to the viewer. It is most common used of birds and insects, where the understanding is of an overhead view of the animal with its wings spread.
  • Guardant or In Full Aspect indicates an animal with a body positioned sideways but with its head turned to face the viewer.
  • Regardant indicates an animal with its head turned backward, as if looking over its shoulder. Unless other instructions are given, the body will face "to dexter", making the head's direction "to sinister".
  • In Trian Aspect (a rare, later 16th and 17th century heraldry term) is when the animal's head is facing at a 3/4 view to give the appearance of depth. The head will be viewed at an angle somewhere between profile and straight-on.

Attitudes of beasts[edit]

Many attitudes commonly met with in heraldic rolls apply specifically to predatory beasts, while others may be better suited to the docile animals. These will each be discussed in detail below. Also worth note is that a lion or other beast may additionally be described in terms of the position of its head, differently coloured parts (such as teeth, claws, tongue, etc.), or by the shape or position of its tail. A beast may be "armed" (horns, teeth and claws) or "langued" (tongue) of a tincture, while a stag may be "attired" (antlers) or "unguled" (hooves) of a tincture. The tail may be forked (queue fourchée) or doubled (double-queued). In addition to the below, there may be rare or arguably, not entirely standard attitudes, such as a snorting bison.[2]


A beast rampant (Old French: "rearing up") is depicted in profile standing erect with forepaws raised.[3] The position of the hind legs varies according to local custom: the lion may stand on both hind legs, braced wide apart, or on only one, with the other also raised to strike; the word rampant is sometimes omitted, especially in early blazon, as this is the most usual position of a carnivorous quadruped. Note: the term segreant denotes the same position, but implies a particular wing position and is only used in reference to winged quadrupeds such as griffins and dragons.[4] Rampant is the most frequent attitude of quadrupeds, and as supporters they are rarely seen in any other attitude. Forcené is the term for this position when applied to horses or unicorns.


A beast passant (Old French: "striding") walks toward dexter (the viewer's left) with the right forepaw raised and all others on the ground.[5] Early heralds held that any lion in a walking position must necessarily be a "leopard", and this distinction persists in French heraldry; however, this use of the term leopard has long since been abandoned by English heralds.[6] A "Lion of England" denotes a lion passant guardant Or, used as an augmentation.[5] The Welsh flag features a dragon passant. For stags and other deer-like beasts of chase, the term trippant is used instead of passant.


A beast sejant or sejeant (Middle French: seant, "sitting") sits on his haunches, with both forepaws on the ground.[7]

A beast sejant erect is seated on its haunches, but with its body erect and both forepaws raised in the "rampant" position (this is sometimes termed "sejant-rampant").[7]


A beast couchant (Old French: "lying down") is lying down, but with the head raised.[8] Lodged is the term for this position when applied to the 'docile' (i.e. herbivorous) animals.


A beast courant (French: "running"; also at speed or in full chase) is running, depicted at full stride with all four legs in the air.


A lion coward carries the tail between its hind legs.[9]


A beast dormant (French: "sleeping") is lying down with his head lowered, resting upon the forepaws, as if asleep.[8] (However, perhaps counterintuitively, some sources would have the lion dormant with the eyes open.)


A beast salient (Latin: saliēns, "leaping") (also springing) is leaping, with both hind legs together on the ground and both forelegs together in the air.[10] This is a very rare position for a lion,[10] but is also used of other heraldic beasts. The stag and other docile animals in this position are often termed springing. Certain smaller animals are sometimes blazoned as saltant rather than salient.


A beast statant (Old French: "standing") is "standing" (in profile toward dexter), all four feet on the ground, usually with the forepaws together.[11] This posture is more frequent in crests than in charges on shields.[10] In certain animals, such as bears, this may refer to an upright, bipedal position (though this position may also be referred to as statant erect), though bears blazoned as 'statant' can also be found with all four feet firmly on the ground (e.g. in the arms of the former borough council of Berwick-upon-Tweed). While statant is used in reference to predatory beasts, the more docile animals when in this position may be called at bay, while such creatures statant guardant are said to be at gaze. This is particularly true of stags (harts).[12]


Grass-eating animals can be shown as pascuant; that is, "grazing," with head lowered to the same level as their four legs, as the head of a cow would be when eating grass.[13]

Attitudes of birds[edit]

Some attitudes describe the positioning of birds. The eagle is so often found displayed in early heraldry that this position came to be presumed of the eagle unless some other attitude is specified in the blazon.

The terms Expanded and Elevated or Abaissé and Inverted are similar terms often used interchangeably in heraldry but have specific meanings. There is also sometimes confusion between a Rising bird with Displayed wings and a Displayed bird. The difference is that Rising birds face either to the dexter or in trian aspect and have their feet on the ground. Displayed birds face the viewer, have their legs splayed out, and the tail is completely visible.

Several terms refer to the particular position of the wings, rather than the attitude of the bird itself. A bird in nearly any attitude, except overt, may have its wings displayed or addorsed.

  • Wings displayed means the bird's right wing is extended forward and its left wing extended rearward, turned so that the undersides of both wings are fully shown.
    • displayed and Expanded or Espanie / Épandre ("expanded") are spread with the wing tips pointing upward.
    • displayed and Lowered or Abaissé ("lowered") are spread with the wing tips pointing downward.
  • Wings addorsed means the wings are raised and spread behind it back-to-back as if about to take flight, so that only the top of the bird's right wing shows behind the fully displayed left wing.
    • addorsed and elevated are raised with the wing tips pointing upward.
    • addorsed and inverted are raised with the wing tips pointing downward.
Heraldic displayed eagle.svg Meuble héraldique aigle vol abaissé.svg
Wings displayed and elevated Wings displayed and inverted
Eagle displayed, wings elevated
Phoenix rising, wings displayed and elevated
Dove volant (wings addorsed and elevated)
Stork vigilant
A pelican in her piety, wings addorsed and elevated


A bird displayed is shown affronté with its head turned to dexter and wings spread to the sides to fill the area of the field. This position is presumed of the eagle, and the symbolic use of eagles in this position was well established even before the development of heraldry, going back to Charlemagne.[14]


A bird Overt ("open") or disclosed has wings open and pointing downward.


Close ("closed"), the bird's equivalent of Statant, is shown in profile and at rest with its feet flat on the ground and its wings folded at its sides. Trussed is the term used for domestic or game birds, implying the bird is tied up or caught in a net respectively, and is not applied to predator birds like the Eagle and Hawk. Perched is Overt while sitting atop a Charge. If a bird's attitude is not blazoned, it is assumed to be Close; the exception is the eagle, whose default attitude is Displayed.


A bird rising, rizant[15][16] or rousant faces dexter with its head upturned, wings raised, and standing on the tips of its feet as if about to take flight. A bird rising may have its wings described as either displayed or addorsed, and the wings may be further described as elevated or inverted.


A bird volant faces the dexter with its wings spread in flight (usually shown addorsed and elevated) and its legs tucked under its body. Volant En Arrière is when the bird is shown from a top-down perspective with the head facing straight ahead, its back to the viewer, and the wings spread in flight (usually shown displayed and inverted). A bird volant is considered in bend ("diagonal") as it is flying from the lower sinister to the upper dexter of the field.


An eagle or hawk shown regardant, like it was looking back while circling for prey. May be used for other gliding predator birds like owls.


A crane standing on one leg (usually with a stone held in the other foot) may be called vigilant or in its vigilance (e.g. Waverley Borough Council's Crane in its vigilance[17]). A stone is usually shown held in the claw of the raised leg. This is as per the Bestiary myth that Cranes stayed awake by doing so. If it dozed, the Crane would supposedly drop the rock, waking itself up.

Vulning / In Her Piety[edit]

One peculiar attitude reserved only to the pelican, is the pelican in her piety. The heraldic pelican, one of the few female beasts in heraldry, is shown with a sharp stork-like beak, which it uses to vuln ("pierce or wound") her own breast. This is per the bestiary myth that a female pelican wounded herself thus to feed her chicks. This symbol of sacrifice carries a particular religious meaning (usually a reference to Christ's sacrifice), and became so popular in heraldry that pelicans rarely exist in heraldry in any other position.[18] A distinction is sometimes observed, however, between a pelican "vulning herself" (alone, piercing her breast) and "in her piety" (surrounded by and feeding her chicks).[19] The Pelican is shown exclusively in profile perched in her nest with her wings either Addorsed and Inverted (because it is not going to fly away) or Overt.

Other attitudes[edit]

Few attitudes are reserved to the rarer classes of creatures, but these include segreant, a term which can only apply to winged quadrupeds; naiant and hauriant, terms applying principally to fish; glissant and nowed, terms applying to serpents. Serpents also sometimes appear in a circular form, biting their own tail, but this symbol, called an Ouroboros, was imported ready-made into heraldry, and so it needs no term of attitude to describe it.


A creature segreant has both forelegs raised in the air, as a beast rampant, with wings addorsed and elevated. This term is reserved to winged quadrupeds (such as griffins and dragons). It is of uncertain etymology; it is first recorded as sergreant in the 16th century.[20][21][22]

Combatant or respectant[edit]

Creatures combatant (French, "fighting") are shown in profile facing each other in the rampant or segreant position, always paired and never appearing singly. Nearly any creature can be rendered combatant, although this term is usually applied to predatory beasts and mythical creatures; herbivorous animals in such a position are typically blazoned as respectant (Latin respectāns, "watching").


Creatures or objects addorsed or endorsed (Latin ad-, "to" and dorsum, "back"; Middle English endosse, Old French endosser, influenced by Medieval Latin indorsare) are shown facing away from each other. As with combatant, charges addorsed can only appear in pairs. One also frequently finds keys addorsed (placed in parallel, wards facing outward).


An animal or creature naiant is swimming. This term is typically applied to fish (when shown in a horizontal position), but may also apply to other sea creatures and, occasionally, water fowl (i.e. swans, ducks or geese shown without legs). A dolphin blazoned as naiant is always shown as embowed, unlike any other sea creature or monster, even though the blazon may not specify this.


A fish, dolphin, or other sea creature hauriant (Latin hauriēns, "drawing up") is in a vertical position with its head up.


A fish, dolphin, or other sea creature urinant (Latin ūrīnāns, "diving") is in a vertical position with its head down.


A serpent glissant is gliding horizontally in an undulant posture.


Serpents, and the tails of other beasts and monsters, may be nowed (French noué, "knotted")—often in a figure-eight knot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ There are highly unusual and unorthodox exceptions, such as the beaver volant in the coat of arms of the 439th Troop Carrier Group of the United States Air Force. (Maurer 1983, p. 313)
  2. ^ Maurer (1983), p. 320
  3. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 176
  4. ^ "Segreant". Dictionary of Heraldry. 2008-08-31. Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2009-03-14.
  5. ^ a b Fox-Davies (1909), p. 181
  6. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 173
  7. ^ a b Fox-Davies (1909), p. 184
  8. ^ a b Fox-Davies (1909), p. 185
  9. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 180
  10. ^ a b c Fox-Davies (1909), p. 183
  11. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 182
  12. ^ Charles MacKinnon of Dunakin. The Observer's Book of Heraldry. Frederick Warne and Co. p. 66.
  13. ^ "National Archives of South Africa: Database of the Bureau of Heraldry on registered heraldic representations". Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  14. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 233
  15. ^ So blazoned in the crest of Daniel Christopher Boyer. APPLICATION FOR REGISTRATION OF HERALDIC REPRESENTATIONS AND OBJECTIONS THERETO, July 23, 2010, archived from the original on June 29, 2011, retrieved 2011-01-03
  16. ^ "REGISTRATION OF HERALDIC REPRESENTATIONS, December 24, 2010". Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
  18. ^ Fox-Davies (1909), p. 242
  19. ^ Cussans (2003), p. 93
  20. ^ "the definition of segreant".
  21. ^ Berry, William (1828). "Encyclopædia Heraldica: Or, Complete Dictionary of Heraldry". London: Sherwood, Gilbert and Piper. p.536, "Segregant" – via Internet Archive.
  22. ^ Chambers, Allied (21 January 1998). "The Chambers Dictionary". Allied Publishers – via Google Books.

Further reading[edit]