Concerning Heraldic Devices and Arms
Heraldic devices are the bright-colored stylized pictures you see on shields and surcoats and banners. A major part of the reason we use them is to lend color to the scene, but they also have the practical function of identifying people. Heraldic devices originally became popular when fighters started wearing closed-face helms; a knight’s chance of getting killed because his own people failed to recognize him provided a powerful motive for designing distinctive devices that could be seen and identified even in bad weather or in the confusion of a battle. Two things are needed for this system of identification to work: each person’s device must be different from everyone else’s; and a device must be clearly recognizable without close examination. These two requirements control what heraldic devices look like, and from them derive a number of rules and procedures for establishing a device of your own.
A device is defined not only by the things pictured (called “charges”) and their arrangement, but also by the colors used, including the background color. In order that your device of a red lion on a white background is not confused with someone’s orange lion on cream, heraldry uses a limited number of basic colors (in heraldic terms, “tinctures”). The seven basic tinctures are divided into the “colors” or dark tinctures, which are red, green, blue, purple, and black, and the “metals” or light tinctures, including white or silver (no distinction is made between them) and yellow or gold. The Rule of Tincture, a basic rule of heraldry, specifies that dark charges must be put on light backgrounds and vice versa; color on color or metal on metal is not allowed. The point of this rule is to produce devices that people can see at a distance: a black castle on a blue background will not show up nearly as well as a gold castle on blue. (A modern parallel, where instant recognition at a distance is again desired, is the signs used by gas stations: Shell, Exxon, Gulf, and most others obey the Rule of Tincture.) In addition to these seven tinctures there are patterns derived from furs such as ermine, represented by a pattern of black spots on white. A charge may also be shown in its natural colors. When devices include fur patterns, natural-coloured charges, or backgrounds divided between a color and a metal, common sense rather than an explicit rule determines if contrast is adequate; for instance, a white cat on an ermine background will not show up.
Just as heraldry does not use all possible gradations of colour so that devices can be distinct from each other, so not all possible positions of charges are used. A charge may be shown from the front or back or side, but not in three-quarter view; animals are generally shown in one of a dozen or so standard poses, so that it is clear whether your lion is meant to be walking or leaping. Like most specialized fields, heraldry has developed a technical jargon designed to describe briefly and precisely what would take much longer to describe in ordinary English; in this technical language, all of the standard colors and positions and so forth have names. Therefore, a good rule of thumb for deciding whether a design is suitable as a heraldic device is to see if it can be described in heraldic terms (can be “blazoned”); if not, your design may well be intermediate between two of the standard heraldic ways of showing things and therefore be hard to distinguish from them. The rule most important for ensuring visibility is: keep it simple. No one will be able to recognize a shield with seventeen different items on it, or with five layers of charges overlying each other.
In order that each heraldic device may be unique to one person, the SCA has a procedure for registering devices. In the course of this a proposed device is checked against all registered devices in the SCA, so that no two of us have identical or very similar devices, and also against mundane heraldic devices. If someone has the sole right, as head of a particular family, to display a coat of arms that his family has used for centuries, he is likely to take it seriously; it would be discourteous of us to appropriate it for use in the SCA. We also do not want anyone accidently claiming by the device he wears to be king of England or the like. The organization in the SCA that registers heraldic devices is the College of Heralds, represented in each barony or shire by the local herald. The procedure works thus: you go to your local herald with a design, for example a pink biplane on a blue background. He explains that (1) pink is not a heraldic tincture, and (2) biplanes are not really suitable on a device to be used in a medieval organization. So you redesign with the herald’s help and come up with something which as far as he knows satisfies the rules of heraldry and is not too similar to existing devices. You then fill out quite a lot of forms, and your herald sends them off to his superior at the kingdom level. Three months later she sends you a letter explaining that the device you submitted is almost the same as the arms of the Whosit family of Scotland. You redesign so that your proposed device is sufficiently different from the Whosit arms and send it off again. If the kingdom herald approves your device it is sent on to the chief herald for the Society; if he approves it, it is registered as yours. From then on, no one else in the SCA may use it, and no one may register something very similar to it without your express permission.
Your device is your own personal symbol; only you should wear it. You will hear the heraldic devices of some people called “arms;” in the SCA, this term is used only when the person in question has received an award of arms from the Crown, or for the device of a branch of the SCA (kingdom, barony, etc.). Another kind of heraldic symbol is a badge, which follows the same rules for design and registration as a device except that a badge may have but is not required to have a specific background colour. Badges are used by groups, such as households, guilds, baronies, or kingdoms, and are worn to show membership in or allegiance to the group; also, any individual may register a badge to be worn by his family or retainers, or to be used himself as a secondary device. The difference between the arms of a barony or other group and its badge is that the arms are only for the use of the official head of the group (the baron, in the case of a barony); the badge is for anyone in allegiance to the group. A device, arms, or a badge may be painted on a shield, worn on a surcoat or other clothing, displayed as a banner over your tent or in a feast hall to announce your presence, or put on your gear to mark it as yours.
[by Elizabeth, published in the newsletter of the Barony of Axemoor]
SUBMITTING YOUR SCA DEVICE
Congratulations! You are about to submit your device to the SCA College of Arms. Welcome to a tradition that goes back many years. For more information, visit The College of Heralds
PREPARE THE FORM
EXPLANATION OF FORM FIELDS
This is a new submission, so leave this field blank.
Legal Name & Address
This is your full legal name and your current address.
Place an “X” in the box next to one of the following options describing your SCA name
Submitted with this device
Previously submitted from the Kingdom of __________ (fill in the kingdom name).
Place an “X” in the box next to NEW
This is the branch of Caid kingdom based on where you reside (see the map under Find Your Local Branch). If you can’t figure it out, leave it blank.
Your gender, phone number, Date of Birth, Email Address
Fill these is with your personal information. You may opt to not provide information on your gender, as preferred.
Record the date you are submitting this form.
If you are entitled to the usage of any restricted charges that appear on this submission, please provide the award name and the date it was bestowed. For example, if you are wanting an unbroken and unadorned loop of chain, you must provide the date that you were made a Knight. A list of restricted charges can be found here: http://heraldry.sca.org/coagloss.html#restricted
This is where you draw in the design you want to have registered. It is recommended that you read some articles on heraldic design before planning out your device. An excellent place to start is HERE and an excellent source on period charges is HERE.
the Blazon is the technical words to describe the armory. If you are familiar in how to blazon, you can provide it. If you are unfamiliar with the practice, or are unsure, this can be left blank. The final blazon will be determined by the Sovereign of Arms when the device is registered.
Send one color copy and one line drawing to the College of Heralds. All colored copies must be colored in Crayola Classic Markers.
For only a device submission, the fee is $8.00, but if you are submitting a name and a device together, the fee is $15.00 (a $1.00 discount from filing them separately). Make checks payable to: “SCA College of Heralds”
Please contact the Dolphin herald (the Kingdom Submissions herald) for the current mailing address.
Now Make the Copies
How many copies do you need? Two! One will be colored, one will be the line art.
One (1) outline armory form, with nothing colored in, not even the black bits.
One (1) name form.
One (1) copy of the documentation too, please!
Remember to keep a copy of all forms for yourself.
How Much Does It Cost? ($8.00 per action)
That’s $8.00 for a name,
$8.00 for a household name,
$8.00 for a device,
$8.00 for a badge.
$8.00 for any other heraldic registration
If you decide to do a badge later, you do not need to re-register your name!
If for some reason something does not pass, you may resubmit for free until something does pass.
Make checks out to “SCA College of Heralds”.