Cadency marks (sometimes called brisures,) were used on family arms throughout the late medieval period as a method of distinguishing the arms of a man from those of his sons, who were also entitiled to carry the family's arms.
Each regional heraldry had it's own method for determining cadency. In English heraldry the system (although not mandatory) was often displayed as follows:
- for the first son, a label of three points (a horizontal strip with three tags hanging down)
- for the second son, a crescent (the points upward, as is conventional in heraldry)
- for the third son, a mullet (a five-pointed star)
- for the fourth son, a martlet (a kind of bird)
- for the fifth son, an annulet (a ring)
- for the sixth son, a fleur-de-lys
- for the seventh son, a rose
- for the eighth son, a cross moline
- for the ninth son, a double quatrefoil
Typically brisures were displayed as smaller than other charges.
More elaborate systems of cadency were in place for the various sons of sons, all the way down to the ninth son of a ninth son. Daughters in English heraldry received no cadency marks, as there was no perceived need to distinguish their use of the family arms.
Interestingly, when the holder of the plain arms perished, a general reshuffling of cadency marks was supposed to occur, i.e. the first son inheriting the uncadenced arms, his eldest son inheriting the label of three points, and so on.
Cadency in the SCA
Despite the influence of English heraldry in the SCA, cadency marks are simply not recognized by the college of arms, and any attempt to register a device with a cadency mark will likely be rejected as having an insufficient number of points of difference.