In heraldry, a charge is any emblem or device occupying the field of an escutcheon (shield). That may be a geometric design (sometimes called an ordinary) or a symbolic representation of a person, animal, plant, object, building, or other device. In French blazon, the ordinaries are called pièces, and other charges are called meubles ("[the] mobile [ones]").
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|External devices in addition to the central coat of arms|
The term charge can also be used as a verb; for example, if an escutcheon depicts three lions, it is said to be charged with three lions; similarly, a crest or even a charge itself may be "charged", such as a pair of eagle wings charged with trefoils (as on the coat of arms of Brandenburg). It is important to distinguish between the ordinaries and divisions of the field, as that typically follow similar patterns, such as a shield divided "per chevron", as distinct from being charged with a chevron.
While thousands of objects found in religion, nature, mythology, or technology have appeared in armory, there are several charges (such as the cross, the eagle, and the lion) which have contributed to the distinctive flavour of heraldic design. Only these and a few other notable charges (crowns, stars, keys, etc.) are discussed in this article, but a more exhaustive list will be found in the list of heraldic charges.
In addition to being shown in the regular way, charges may be blazoned as umbrated (shadowed), detailed, (rather incorrectly) outlined, highly unusually shaded and rather irregularly in silhouette or, more ambiguously, confusingly, and unhelpfully, futuristic, stylized or simplified. There are also several units in the United States Air Force with charges blazoned as "mythical", or beasts as "chimerical", but those conceptions are meaningless and irrelevant to the conception of heraldry, and it does not affect the appearance of those charges.