The word is used in two related senses.
Escutcheon shapes are derived from actual shields used by knights in combat, and thus are varied and developed by region and by era.
As this shape has been regarded as a war-like device appropriate to men only, British ladies customarily bear their arms upon a lozenge, or diamond-shape, while clergymen and ladies in continental Europe bear theirs on a cartouche, or oval.
Though it can be used as a charge on its own, the most common use of an escutcheon charge is to display another coat of arms as a form of marshalling.
These escutcheons are usually given the same shape as the main shield.
When there is only one such shield, it is sometimes called an inescutcheon.
The word escutcheon (late 15th century) is based on Old North French escuchon "shield".
The earliest depictions of proto-heraldic shields in the second half of the 12th century still have the shape of the Norman kite shield used throughout the 11th and 12th centuries.
Transitional forms intermediate between kite and heater are seen in the late 12th to early 13th centuries.
Transition to the heater was essentially complete by 1250.
For example, the shield of William II Longespée (d. 1250) shown with his effigy at Salisbury Cathedral is triangular, while the shield shown on the effigy of his father William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (d. 1226) is still of a more elongated form.
The shield on the enamel monument to Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou (d. 1151) is of almost full-body length.
The shape is therefore used in armorials from this "classical age" of heraldry.
Beginning in the 15th century, and even more throughout the early modern period, a great variety of escutcheon shapes develops.
Continental European designs frequently use the various forms used in jousting, which incorporate "mouths" used as lance rests into the shields; such escutcheons are known as à bouche.
The mouth is correctly shown on the dexter side only, as jousting pitches were designed for right-handed knights.
The shape of the top, the sides and the base may be separately described, and these elements may be freely combined.
The highly complex Baroque style shields of the 17th century come in many artistic variations.
In English heraldry, the lozenge has been used by women since the 13th century for the display of their coats of arms instead of the escutcheon or shield, which are associated with warfare.
For the practical purpose of categorisation the lozenge may be treated as a variety of heraldic escutcheon.
Traditionally, very limited categories of females have been able to display their own arms, for example a female monarch—who uses an escutcheon as a military commander, not a lozenge—and suo jure peeresses, who may display their own arms alone on a lozenge even if married.
In modern Canadian heraldry, and certain other modern heraldic jurisdictions, women may be granted their own arms and display these on an escutcheon.
Life peeresses in England display their arms on a lozenge.
An oval or cartouche is occasionally also used instead of the lozenge for armigerous women.
As a result of rulings of the English Kings of Arms dated 7 April 1995 and 6 November 1997, married women in England, Northern Ireland and Wales and in other countries recognising the jurisdiction of the College of Arms in London (such as New Zealand) also have the option of using their husband's arms alone, marked with a small lozenge as a difference to show that the arms are displayed for the wife and not the husband; or of using their own personal arms alone, marked with a small shield as a brisure for the same reason.
Divorced women may theoretically until remarriage use their ex-husband's arms differenced with a mascle.
Widowed women normally display a lozenge-shaped shield impaled, unless they are heraldic heiresses, in which case they display a lozenge-shaped shield with the unaltered escutcheon of pretence in the centre.
Women in same-sex marriages may use a shield or banner to combine arms, but can use only a lozenge or banner when one of the spouses dies.
The lozenge shape of quasi-escutcheon is also used for funerary hatchments for both men and women.
An inescutcheon is a smaller escutcheon that is placed within or superimposed over the main shield of a coat of arms.
This may be used in the following cases:
- as a simple mobile charge, for example as borne by the French family of Abbeville, illustrated below; these may also bear other charges upon them, as shown in the arms of the Swedish Collegium of Arms, illustrated below;
- in pretence (as a mark of a hereditary claim, usually by right of marriage), bearing assumed arms over one's own hereditary arms;
- in territorial claim, bearing a monarch's hereditary arms en surtout over the territorial arms of his domains.
Inescutcheons as mobile charges
These mobile charges are of a particular tincture but do not necessarily bear further charges and may appear anywhere on the main escutcheon, their placement being specified in the blazon, if in doubt.
Inescutcheons may also be charged with other mobile charges, such as in the arms of the Swedish Collegium of Arms (illustrated below) which bears the three crowns of Sweden, each upon its own escutcheon upon the field of the main shield.
These inescutcheons serve as a basis for including other charges that do not serve as an augmentation or hereditary claim.
In this case, the inescutcheons azure allow the three crowns of Sweden to be placed upon a field, thus not only remaining clearly visible but also conforming to the rule of tincture.
Inescutcheon of pretence
Inescutcheons may also be used to bear another's arms in "pretence".
In English heraldry the husband of a heraldic heiress, the sole daughter and heiress of an armigerous man (i.e. a lady without any brothers), rather than impaling his wife's paternal arms as is usual, must place her paternal arms in an escutcheon of pretence in the centre of his own shield as a claim ("pretence") to be the new head of his wife's family, now extinct in the male line.
In the next generation the arms are quartered by the son.
Use by monarchs and states
A monarch's personal or hereditary arms may be borne on an inescutcheon en surtout over the territorial arms of his/her domains, as in the arms of Spain, the coats of arms of the Danish Royal Family members, the greater coat of arms of Sweden, or the arms of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England (1653–1659).
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escutcheon (heraldry).