Pomp and Splendor: what to do with your heraldic device once registered

Once you’ve registered your arms, there are a multitude of ways to display them, all which add to our game. While I’ll be using my arms as an example, keep in mind that different shapes may work better (or worse) with your arms. When you work on your own ideas, sketch out your own arms and see what works best for you.

If you are registering a heraldic design for a fieldless badge, please remember that by longstanding precedent, we do not register fieldless badges that appear to be independent forms of armorial display. Charges such as roundels, cartouches, escutcheons, billets, hearts, lozenges, and so forth are all both standard heraldic charges and “shield shapes” for armorial display. Lozenges ployés do not escape this rule and are considered to be a shield shape for the purposes of this precedent.

The traditional way that many of us see our devices displayed is on an escutcheon shape or a heater-type shield. Of course, there are a multitude of escutcheon shapes, but the basic shield shape works well for a lot of heraldic designs. It covers a lot of space, leaving room for charges without things getting too squished, and it fits many time periods within the pre-1600 cut-off that the Society covers.

Associated with unmarried women, especially in Anglo-Norman heraldic practice, the lozenge as display is an option available to all in the Society. It has similar perks to the escutcheon shape, though charged chiefs, flaunches, and bases may run into some issues with squished shapes. It is geometric, however, so designs with bends, bordures, fesses, and pales look particularly striking. One would see the lozenge used by women in heraldic display practice starting circa 1262, though as the linked article does state that, “[m]oreover, the oldest lozenge used by a man is contemporaneous with the oldest lozenge used by a woman. Clearly, then, the lozenge was one of various possible shapes, used by both sexes without significant distinction,” the lozenge was also used by men as well.

Also associated with unmarried women in Anglo-Norman heraldic practice, the cartouche or oval shape has some similar perks to the lozenge. Unlike the lozenge, though, the round shape of the cartouche lends itself nicely to charged chiefs and bases. Flaunches and gores may create some problems given the overall skinny of the design, and as usual, bends, bordures, fesses, and pales look particularly striking with the cartouche.

Think of the billet as a great shape for banners, especially Imperial Roman and Byzantine-era banners (my own banner is somewhat in this shape). Like the escutcheon, there’s a lot of real estate in using the billet shape, without the funky curved edges at the bottom. Within my example, you can see that there is plenty of room for my seraph to. . . ahem. . . spread its wings, and nothing in particular feels crowded. It does, however, have the same problems of the cartouche in that it’s a fairly skinny shape, so fitting charges may take a bit of practice.

Delfs are just squares, and we see this shape a lot for badges (the main badge form for the Society is in this shape). There’s plenty of real estate for charges and ordinaries and is compact enough to save space in blocky designs. It’s geometric, so this works particularly well on scrolls, in weaving designs (depending on the charges), and shows up in 12th century square pennons and some late period square exemplars, too. If you’re feeling particularly extra and late period, you could use a square shape and add a tail (called a “schwenkel“) to the top.

Roundels are as their name calls them – rounds. Great for rotella, targa, bucklers, or any number of round shields, this shape also works great for badges and patches. There’s a lot of space for ordinaries and charges, and if you have peripheral ordinaries (which are on the edges of the field), there’s room for those, too. This is a great all around (ha!) for many applications.

It’s time to start getting weird with displays. Until now, we’ve seen pretty standard shapes, mostly squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals. Heart-shaped shields show up in some cultures (Berber, for one, where it’s pretty prominent in use), but it also works well for some other applications, including the Heraldic Love project, started by Cormac Mór. The downside with the heart shape is that charged chiefs do not have much room, thanks to the dip in the middle, but there’s room for flaunches, bases, gores, etc. This as a token with use of a badge could be absolutely adorable.

Hello inverted triangles. I told you we’d be getting weird here. Like the escutcheon, triangles function pretty close to that shape and there are several examples of banners and even shield shapes in this manner. The downsides to having triangles mean that some peripheral ordinaries like flaunches may make the rest of the design look bizarre. My own barony uses this shape (we’re the Barony of Forgotten Sea. It’s nautical.) in our roll of arms. Some divisions (like per saltire) just look bizarre. If, however, your heraldry uses things on a fess or in cross, it might work really well with this shape.

Banners like the gonfalon mean that filling the space might be interesting. (I did this digitally, and I probably would have not made some of the choices that I did with this.) Perfect for the late period Roman persona (I’m looking at you 16th c Rome) or ecclesiastic personae, the gonfalon evolved from the Imperial Roman vexillium. The gonfalon’s main point is that it hangs from a crossbeam downwards. A similar type of banner called the gonfanon features the same shape, but hangs from the hoist of a flagpole.

Used by confraternities (lay groups), gonfalons could also be used by households in the SCA as a good carryover. Several period examples (including this one from a tapestry!) place the arms or subject in the middle and leave the surrounding area pretty open. It’s a great way to mark your campsite, or even to show off your household’s badge. The gonfalon doesn’t always have to have the three tails. Sometimes they’re swallow-tailed, and sometimes, they’re like the billet above.

Lastly, the tabard. Used as a representation of the person a herald represented, the tabard was worn. (and is a prime example of a coat of arms being used to represent a person!) The nice thing about tabards is that there’s a lot of space for varying charges, ordinaries, peripheral ordinaries, or other shapes. The downside with tabards is that for early period personae, they come pretty late to the party, with most tabards being worn in the 14th and 15th centuries. On the other hand, the tabard is still being worn by heralds (have an 18th c example right here!), so you can see how this garment has evolved from its initial use.

Everybody’s heralding for the weekend?

Perfect for tournaments or court situations, tabards showcase that you represent the voice of your employer. As a herald in the Society, that could be a combatant in Crown, or it could actually be the Crown. If you wear the tabard, your actions directly impact the person you represent. For more on the tabard as worn by a herald, please check out this article.

There are, of course, other shapes (like the Norse crescent banner) that you can use for display, though, unlike the rest of the shapes in this article, the Norse banner is not restricted for use as a badge. Again, check out what works best for you and your persona, and sketch out a couple of ideas. More heraldic display adds to the beauty of our game, and the more we can use our heraldry to beautify our game, the more we look more like the nobles we represent.

4 thoughts on “Pomp and Splendor: what to do with your heraldic device once registered

  1. This weekend just gone, we had an event in Eplaheimr called Champions of the Court of Love. The token was a small wooden heart. I tried drawing my heraldry on it, and it worked really well. (Three roundels looks good on a heart.)



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