SCA Heraldry and Coats of Arms


Introduction.     During the Middle Ages, many people and groups used symbols or badges to represent themselves and/or the people they served, or were related to.  These badges were called devices, emblazons, or coat of arms; in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) they are generally referred to as devices unless their owner has been given an Award of Arms by the Crown at which time they are referred to as Coats of Arms.   These devices came about out of necessity: as armor and helmets were developed, it became difficult in battle to identify who was fighting for who.  As a result, armies and certain individuals began designing heraldic devices to identify themselves.  The devices were placed on shields, banners, clothing, and other objects on the field.
     In the SCA, devices are often used for the same reason: identification.  Many fighters place their device on their shields, armor, and clothing (such as a tabard).  Devices are also seen on banners (especially for marking a campsite), cloaks, and so on.  Of course, there are always devices to identify houses, shires, principalities, kingdoms, offices (such as heralds), and royalty.

The Herald.     The office of the SCA that specializes in heraldry is called (what else) the Herald.  Heralds came into use around the 11th or 12th century.  It is believed that they were originally a form of minstrel that specialized in announcing opponents during tournaments.  Because of this, heralds gained knowledge concerning various arms.  This skill became valuable during battle, and so heralds were elevated to the role of identifying the enemy and reporting what happened on the field.  Announcing opponents at tourneys evolved into making announcements on behalf of a ruler, both in court an on the field, such as giving awards (in court), issuing challenges, or surrendering.  Heralds also acted as ambassadors to other countries.  In the SCA, heralds work with heraldic devices, scroll illuminations, and making announcements either during court on behalf of royalty or on the field during a tourney (the positions are known as Court Herald and Field Herald, respectively).

Tinctures.    Devices are not required in the SCA, but they enhance the experience for many.  A person's device, much like their name (SCA or real) is theirs alone.  There are a variety of tinctures (colors/metals) and charges (objects) to choose from the represent yourself.  The tinctures available are sable, gules, vert, purpure, azure, or, and argent; they are known in layman's terms as black, red, green, purple, blue, yellow (gold), and white (silver) respectively.  The first five are called colors, and the latter two are considered metals (gold and silver)  In an emblazon metals may be represented by white or yellow, but they must follow the heraldic rules of metals;  the most common rule concerning tinctures is that a metal cannot be directly on another metal, and a color cannot be directly on another color.  There are also special tinctures known as furs that are stylized patterns; during the Middle Ages these were actually made from furs, hence the name.
Charges.    Charges are objects that are placed on the field (background) of your device, such as geometric figures, weapons, animals, flowers, trees, and so on.  Certain charges are reserved (such as certain arrangements of roses, crowns) and others are not registerable (such as items that are not medieval, are considered offensive to the Populace or general population, the Tudor Rose, etc.), but in most cases, if it existed in the Middle Ages, you can use it.  Ordinaries are a special type of charge that consist of a strip (or strips) of tinctures, and are either straight or parallel to the curve of a shield.
Designing A Device.   By combining the two basic elements of tinctures and charges, one can create an original, attractive device that is your very own.  If you're stuck as to what you want to do, first decide what tinctures you would like to have in your device.  Look through charges (either in books or on the internet) and find what you like.  Remember to look through ordinaries, subordinaries, and field divisions as they open up many more options.  You do not necessarily have to be adept with Heraldic teminology, and don't have to memorize your blazon (although it is a very good thing to know; for future reference, blazon refers to the description of your device in heraldic terms, and emblazon refers to the visual representation of the device itself).  You can always consult your local Herald (most likely your best bet) or the internet for assistance.

Device Submission.    Once you have devised a design you are content with, you should check to see whether that blazon is registered by someone else yet.  If it has not been registered, you should submit it to your Kingdom's College of Arms through your local Herald.  Meet with your local Herald, and discuss getting your device registered.  Details of paperwork and forms vary from kingdom to kingdom, so it is very important to be sure that sources of information apply to your kingdom.  There is a fee for registering a device, but it is only to pay for the photocopies, postage, paperwork and effort that goes on in the kingdom and Society levels.  After consideration, if your device is acceptable you will be informed that it has been approved and is registered.  If it is not deemed acceptable, your submission will be sent back to you, with information regarding whatever errors there are.