Choosing Your Heraldry

The SCA is a complex game based on history. We create personas that might have lived in the Middle Ages, giving them names, backgrounds, and the heraldry they might have displayed. Choosing heraldry for your persona is complex, and deeply personal. Consider your heraldry with the same care and thought as you might choose a tattoo: this is a piece of artwork that will define who you are in the Society. Armory can be changed, but like removing a tattoo, it takes time and money.

The two biggest things to consider when you register your heraldry are:

  1. How easily can someone identify your heraldry?
  2. Is it different enough from everyone else’s heraldry?

Heraldry is the oldest form of Identifying Friend or Foe. Battles are loud, confusing, and messy. If you saw a person running toward you on the battlefield, you would have seconds to see their shield, identify the heraldry, and know if that was your ally or enemy. This is why heraldry should be as simple as possible, while still standing out.

Creating heraldry that stands out relies on color contrast. This means you put light things on dark things, or dark things on light things. To make this easier, heralds recognize two metals, gold and silver, which are drawn as yellow and white. Metals go on colors, and colors go on metals. The colors heralds recognize are Red, Green, Blue, Purple, and Black. Almost all heraldry has a white or gold component, and at least one color.

Think about what colors you want for your heraldry. Many people choose garb based on their heraldic colors, much like the costumes seen in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. What colors suit you? Storm clouds of silver and blue? Bumblebee yellow and black? Green with silver snakes?

Next, consider what animals, shapes, or objects you most identify with. Do you love your blacksmith’s anvil? Wolves? Swords? Owls? Or do you have a funny story about how you pulled a flaming chicken off the stove while cooking a Feast? Come up with an idea for your heraldry, and heralds will adjust it to meet registration requirements.

capshieldOnce you have an idea for your Heraldic Design, All The Rules come into play. One of the big rules is that you can only have three “layers” on heraldic “cake:” the background, and two more layers on top of it. Backgrounds can be a single color, or divided into two or three colors, and backgrounds can be patterns. For example, Captain America’s shield is red, with a silver double border around a blue circle and a silver star. The background is red, the silver border and the blue circle are on the second layer, and the silver star is the third layer. Notice how the blue against the red doesn’t pop out as much? The silver border and the star are easier to see because they have high contrast. I love Cap’s shield, it but wouldn’t be registerable because of the blue and red.

After the design is worked out, your intended heraldry must be Conflict Checked. The College of Heralds has a database of all the Registered Heraldry, Badges, the Arms of every Kingdom, Barony, and Shire, and all of the designs for their Awards. It’s a lot, but there are so many color and design combinations that no matter what you want, you probably will have no conflicts, or only conflict with a few people. This is why you will often hear Scadians say things like, “Oh, I wanted a silver lion for my heraldry, but I had to make it a winged lion to clear conflict.” Adding wings, an aquatic tail, or a border around your design are common ways to clear conflicts. I have written a post that explains conflict in more detail. What is Heraldic Conflict?

I am often asked, Why do heraldic beasts look left? The short answer is left-looking beasts face the enemy when your shield is on your left arm. One way to clear a conflict is to have your beast look “to sinister” which is herald cant for “this creature faces the right side of the shield.”

Once your Consulting Herald has checked for conflicts, they will find an Art Herald to draw your heraldry. That paperwork is submitted for consideration online, where a lot of Heralds can look at it, comment on it, triple-check that there are no conflicts, and make sure your device isn’t offensive. Giant phalli and swastikas were period, but they are not acceptable to modern eyes.

After you have assembled your heraldry, name, and documentation, you will need to submit the paperwork to your kingdom’s submissions herald. Unless you are at a large event like Pennsic, this will involve mailing the paperwork in addition to the processing fee. Fees vary by Kingdom.

Please be aware that you can register your name alone, but you cannot register your heraldry alone. All registered heraldry must be accompanied by a name. This lets the Heralds post your heraldry for consideration without mentioning your legal name. Please see my post What’s in a (Heraldic) Name? for more information on choosing your name.

Final Thoughts:
There’s nothing wrong with heraldry that’s a pun, a joke, or a reference to something non-medieval, like Cap’s shield. My post about this is called Heraldic Heartwarmers and Hangups.

Don’t worry if your heraldry is something you can’t draw. An Art Herald will be drawing your design and scanning it for commentary. You can keep a copy of the scan and enlarge it to fill a page, or even split the drawing and print it on multiple pages taped together. Cut it out, trace it onto your shield, and Blam! You can paint your heraldry!

Also, the website website has free vector art of many of the commonly used charges in Heraldry. I have contributed many of the line art drawings there.

When you go to register your heraldry, it will be referred to as your “device.” Your heraldry will not be referred to as your “arms” until you have been granted an Award of Arms (AoA) by your Kingdom. The Award of Arms is usually the first award a newcomer is given, and it sometimes takes two or three years to receive this. Don’t worry if you haven’t received this award yet. You can still display your heraldry however you would like. I discuss this further in my post Common Heraldic Misconceptions.

Badges don’t fall under the Award of Arms rule because badges don’t care. Badges are quick and simple to draw. Badges just identify your stuff, and are easy to clear of conflict if they are fieldless. (Fieldless means that the badge has a “clear” background. Any fieldless submission automatically had one step of difference from every other registered device, which makes conflict checking easy.)  Many people believe they don’t need no stinking badges, and just put their heraldry on their stuff.

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