One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A bird like a swallow without feet, borne (typically with the wings closed) as a charge or a mark of cadency for a fourth son.
- ‘The martlet in French heraldry is called the merlette, represented by a swallow, depicted without legs, and later usually. without a beak.’
- ‘The martlet signifies nobility acquired through bravery, prowess or intelligence. On English arms it was a mark of cadency signifying the fourth son, for whom there was little doubt that there would be no land left for him to inherit.’
- ‘What the martlet was originally is a matter for dispute. Some claim it was the martin, for in some mediaeval documents it is written as "martenette".’
- ‘The fifth martlet was added because when the charges were placed on a shield, the base looked a bit empty.’
- ‘Martlets do not have any strong meaning in heraldry, but some have commented that the bird, which is similar to the swift, connoted speed or swiftness.’
Late Middle English (denoting a swift): from Old French merlet, influenced by martinet (see martin).
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