Definition of martlet in English:



  • 1Heraldry
    A bird like a swallow without feet, borne as a charge or a mark of cadency for a fourth son.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 1.1literary A swift or house martin.
      ‘I believe the answer is because a martlet is on old name for the type of bird called in English a Swift.’
      ‘The martlet, answering to our cliff swallow, is not so strong and ruddy a looking bird as our species, but it builds much the same and has a similar note. It is more plentiful than our swallow.’


Late Middle English (denoting a swift): from Old French merlet, influenced by martinet (see martin).