Populace Badges

Many SCA branches register badges for use by their members, in order to allow people to indicate their association with the group without using the branch’s primary arms. I’ve gathered some guidelines and commentary about populace badges below for easy reference.

Restrictions on Display of Branch Arms

In the medieval period, according to Dame Zenobia Naphtali, “the Arms of a Kingdom properly were only used by the personal embodiments of the Kingdom, their King and Queen. Private individuals would not use the Kingdom Arms except in contexts making it absolutely clear that those Arms were used in reference to the King and Queen, not to themselves.”

In the context of the SCA, the July 1980 letter from Wilhelm von Schlüssel, then Laurel Sovereign of Arms, states “the arms of a branch are reserved to the head of the branch. In the case of a kingdom, principality or barony this is the King, Prince or Baron. In all other cases it is the seneschal. … At any event held in a branch the arms of the branch may be displayed whether or not the head of the branch is present, to indicate that the branch is hosting the event. In grand marches the arms of branches may be carried by groups marching as those branches. Otherwise nobody can display the arms of a branch as if they were personal arms.”

The one other exception to this rule is when someone is officially speaking for a branch head, as described by Jaelle of Armida: “a herald functioning as a representative of the ruling noble may properly wear the arms of that group while speaking as the voice of the ruling noble. When done with the duty, the herald should remove the tabard.”

Populace Badges As A Sign Of Association

Populace badges provide an alternate way of showing membership in a group without using the branch arms. The July 1980 Laurel letter suggests: “Branches may register one or more badges which are to be useable by groups or individuals belonging to those branches. … A kingdom could register a badge to be used by all subjects of the kingdom … to show their allegiance.”

By convention, this type of armory is known as a “populace badge”. As Lord Hubert de Stockleye says “A branch’s populace badge may be worn by any member of the group. … A populace badge is a badge designed specifically for members of the branch to display on their clothing, banners, and other items.”

Other Uses Of Populace Badges

In addition to use by the populace, the branch may also continue to use this badge for other purposes, such as to mark its property or for general display. From Lord Hubert de Stockleye again: “It may be placed on items the branch owns, and it may be displayed on branch banners and insignia.”

Populace badges can also be used to mark encampments within a larger event. The Calontir Herald’s Handbook says “groups at large events like wars [often display] the group arms to identify their camp even if the head of the group isn’t present. Technically, the group should be using the group’s populace badge for this purpose, but many groups do not have a badge. Fixing this is a good task for the group herald.”

Design Of Populace Badges

There are no special design rules for populace badges; they follow all the same guidelines as any other badge.

In some cases, a branch’s populace badge closely resembles the branch’s primary arms, except for the removal of the crowns and laurel wreaths which are reserved for branch devices. For example, the populace badge of Drachenwald features the same field and central charges as the kingdom arms, without the crown and wreath.

In other cases, the populace badge is completely distinct from the branch’s primary arms, such as the populace badge of the East, which is a blue tyger, with no resemblance to the yellow-crown-on-purple-field of the kingdom’s primary device.

Confusion And Clarification

Because the submission form used for registering badges doesn’t have a standardized way to indicate that a submission is for a populace badge, some branches end up with badges which are intended for use by the populace but not so labeled in the armory.

For example, the West Kingdom College of Heralds’ Kingdom Colors and Armory reference labels the East’s populace badge, “This is noted in the Ordinary as ‘For the Crown’, but others ‘in the know’ state that this is the ‘use badge’ for the East Kingdom.” Similar comments are attached to the populace badges of Æthelmearc, Ealdormere, Northshield, and Avcacal, so this is clearly a widespread problem.

This situation can lead to confusion among newcomers and outsiders who must learn of the local branch’s practices through the grapevine. When no populace badge exists, or knowledge of it is restricted to a few insiders, members often end up using the primary branch arms on personal tokens and belt favors as it seems to be the only appropriate way to indicate association with their local group.

A simple administrative change may be made to clarify that an existing badge is intended for use by the populace. For example, Caid registered a badge in August 1979 as their “war banner” but over time began to also use that design more widely, so in July 2004 they updated the registration to explicitly state that it was for general use by the populace, while also retaining it as their war banner.

Released and Returned Sea-horses of Østgarðr

The original branch arms of Østgarðr were registered in 1979, and there were a couple of failed attempts to change them prior to passage of the current device in 1984.

Østgarðr Branch Arms 1979-1984Per bend sinister purpure and Or, a seahorse rampant azure, crined, unguled and finned Or, orbed sable, gorged of a laurel wreath vert, grasping in its hooves a laurel wreath Or.

The branch’s first arms were registered in August 1979. (View submitted image.)

Originally submitted as “per bend sinister purpure and Or, a seahorse sejant azure, crined, finned, tailed and hoofed of the second, engorged of a laurel wreath proper,” during the 1979 “Heraldicon” effort to clear a two-year backlog of submissions the blazon was updated and the wreath being held in its hooves was added in order to satisfy the requirement for a prominent laurel wreath in each branch’s arms.

These arms were not retained as a badge and were released in 1984 when the current device was registered.

Argent, a bend sinister Or fimbriated purpure, overall a sea-horse erect azure, cried, unglued and langued Or, gorged of a laurel wreath vert. (Returned July 1981)

Argent, a bend sinister Or fimbriated purpure, overall a sea-horse erect azure, crined, unglued and langued Or, gorged of a laurel wreath vert.

A change of device was returned in July 1981. (View submitted image.)

The return noted “The fimbriation should be wider. You will have to add a large laurel wreath, as in your current arms. It would be a better idea to gorge the sea-horse with an Or laurel wreath than a vert laurel wreath, since the beast is azure. The Or bend sinister has poor contrast.”

Argent, a seahorse erect azure, on a chief vert a laurel wreath elongated fesswise Or. (Returned December 1983)

Argent, a seahorse erect azure, on a chief vert a laurel wreath elongated fesswise Or.

A second change of device was returned in December 1983. (The submitted image is missing from the archives, so I have guessed based on the blazon.)

The return noted “What is drawn on the chief is not a laurel wreath, but rather two laurel branches overlapped. Redraw as one or more standard palewise laurel wreaths. Three would look nice.”

Heraldic Registrations of the Orders and Awards of Østgarðr

In addition to the primary branch armory, Østgarðr has also registered badges corresponding to several orders and awards of honor.

A natural sea-horse proper. (Registered June 1975)

A natural sea-horse proper.

This badge was registered in June 1975. (View submitted image.)

The blazon was initially approved as “a sea­horse (hippocampus) proper”; the phrasing was changed to “a natural sea-horse proper” at a later date.

This registration has been the subject of some discussion because the only record of the submission is monochrome and lacks tricking marks that would tell us which colors were to be used, and nobody knows for sure what color a “proper” natural seahorse is meant to be — real seahorses come in a variety of colors including brown, yellow, red, blue, green, and purple, as well as striped and multicolor patterns.

(There may have been a color copy of this submission that has since been lost, but I suspect it was actually submitted only in black and white, as were the other registrations from Østgarðr during the 1970s, and was registered despite the policy issued in June 1972 that submissions “MUST be accompanied by an emblazon in full colour.”)

The online armory lists this is being for “an award of honor: purple ribbon for arts, gold for outstanding service”. This is the only such listing I could find in the armory; all other badges with designations include the name of an order or award or guild or the like.

Order of the Seahorse

This order was registered in April 1981 [actually, in 1975 — see note below] and does not have an associated badge in the Society’s armory. (Although the Armory lists it as registered in April 1981, it does not appear on that month’s LOAR.)

Update, March 2017: Thanks to the Laurel Archivist, Baroness Shauna of Carrick Point, for filling in some background here — it turns out that the cover letter for the April ’81 LoAR describes the procedures for registering the name of orders and awards, and mentions a list of all previously-reported awards, titles, and orders which were grandfathered at that time. Therefore the dating of the Order of the Seahorse to April 1981 merely indicates that it was instituted some time before this; most likely around the same time as the badge above was registered. The Order of Precedence shows the first members of the Order received that honor in June 1975.

The Bylaws describe it thusly: “The Order of the Seahorse is granted by the Viceregency to those citizens of the Province who have distinguished themselves in the arts or to those persons who have served Østgarðr whether resident or not.”

The description of the Order of the Seahorse matches the “arts or service” intent of the “natural sea-horse proper” award listed above, but it is not formally linked to it in the armory records. In recent years it has been said that there is no fixed appearance of the award for the Order of the Seahorse, and instead each recipient is allowed to choose its form for themselves, which may result from an attempt to interpret the vague blazon of the above badge.

A sea-dog rampant azure, finned Or. (Registered August 2008)

Order of the Sea Dog of Østgarðr
A sea-dog rampant azure, finned Or.

This order was registered in April 2008, and the badge was registered in August 2008. (View submitted image. See OSCAR for discussion of name and badge.)

The Bylaws describe it thusly: “The Order of the Seadog is granted by the Viceregency to citizens for service at the Canton level.”

Vert, in pale three sea-lions passant argent. (Registered October 2012)

Order of the Silver Sea-Lion
Vert, in pale three sea-lions passant argent.

This order was registered in October 2012, and the badge was registered in January 2012. (View submitted image. See OSCAR for discussion of name and badge. The order name was submitted at the same time as the badge, but returned for conflict; following passage of the new SENA rules, the original name was re-submitted and accepted.)

On a mullet vert a lantern argent. (Registered December 2013)

Order of the Silver Lantern
On a mullet vert a lantern argent.

This order was registered in July 2012, and the badge was registered in December 2013.  (View submitted image. See OSCAR for discussion of name and badge. The badge was originally submitted in 2012 as a lantern argent, but returned at Kingdom for conflict; the version shown here was submitted the following year.)

An estoile of five rays argent. (Registered April 2014)

Award of the Sea Star of Østgarðr
An estoile of five rays argent.

This award and badge were registered in April 2014, but their use dates back to at least a decade earlier, as they were given during the reign of Ian and Katherine. (View submitted image. See OSCAR for discussion of name and badge.)

The Bylaws describe it as “The Honor of the Sea Star: Bestowed by the Viceregency upon individuals who have, on a particular occasion, served the Province well and ‘made things happen.’”

Heraldic Sea-horses of Østgarðr

Over the last forty-odd years, Østgarðr has registered several pieces of armory featuring a heraldic sea-horse, and I thought it would be useful to collect them all in one place for easy reference.


Argent, a sea-horse erect azure within a laurel wreath vert.

The branch’s current arms were registered in August 1984. (View submitted image.)

Note that although recent depictions often show the sea-horse’s front legs terminating in fins, the device that was submitted in 1984 has hooves, as do both of the related designs that follow.

Also note the lack of gold accents anywhere on the design; this sea-horse is simply blue, unlike the original 1979 device.

ostgardr-1984-04-bA seahorse erect azure, hoofed, orbed and crined Or.

This badge was registered in April 1984. (View submitted image.)

It differs from the below in lacking a gold wreath, and in having its eye labeled as golden instead of its tail.

This design is sometimes used as a populace badge, although it is not specifically so labeled in the armory.

[Update, Dec 2016:] An administrative change has been submitted to the College of Arms to designate this as the province’s populace badge.

A sea-horse sejant azure, crined, finned, unguled, and gorged of a laurel wreath Or. (Registered April 1975)

A sea-horse sejant azure, crined, finned, unguled, and gorged of a laurel wreath Or.

This badge was registered in April 1975. (View submitted image.)

It appears to be the earliest piece of armory registered by the branch.

Because the original submission was in black and white, it is difficult to determine how much of the tail fin is intended to be gold.

This version, with the laurel wreath around the sea-horse’s neck, does not appear to be in active use.

See also the “natural sea-horse” associated with an award in Heraldic Orders and Awards of Østgarðr, and the unregistered devices in Released and Returned Sea-horses of Østgarðr.

Youth Combat Badges

Registered heraldic devices and badges are subject to a fair amount of artistic variation and differing interpretations, but when you get to un-registered badges, things can get really out of hand.

The youth combat marshalate is a case in point, with at least five different badges in circulation, none of which have been registered.

The first two of these seem to be in widespread use, while the others only show up in solitary cases, presumably invented on the spot because someone couldn’t find an officially-registered badge.

Sable, two swords in saltire and in chief a label dovetailed Or.

Sable, two swords in saltire and in chief a label dovetailed Or.

The first uses the standard crossed-sword badge of the Knight Marshalate, adding a label in chief, which in English armory was a standard way of differencing the first heir’s device from his father’s. This is the version shown on the cover of the SCA’s current Youth Combat Handbook as well as on the Middle Kingdom’s YC DEM page.

Sable, two swords in saltire Or, and in chief a roundel per pale Or and argent bearing two roundels counterchanged.

Sable, two swords in saltire Or, and in chief a roundel per pale Or and argent bearing two roundels counterchanged.

The second is similar, except instead of the label in chief it bears a small version of the Youth Minister’s badge, with purple replaced by gold. This version appears on the websites of the East Kingdom Earl Marshal and the Earl Marshal of Æthelmearc.

Sable, two boffers in saltire Or.

Sable, two boffers in saltire Or.

A third resembles the crossed-swords badge, but replaces the swords with “boffers”, the padded rattan weapons used in youth combat. This version is found in the East Kingdom graphics library.

Per pale purpure and argent, two swords in saltire Or between two roundels counterchanged.

Per pale purpure and argent, two swords in saltire Or between two roundels counterchanged.

A fourth superimposes the golden crossed swords on the Youth Minister’s purple and white badge. This version is found on the list of Officers of the Barony of One Thousand Eyes (SE Idaho).

Per pale purpure and argent, two swords in saltire and in chief two roundels counterchanged.

Per pale purpure and argent, two swords in saltire and in chief two roundels counterchanged.

The fifth also uses the Youth Minister’s badge as a base, but counterchanges the swords and moves the roundels to be in chief. This version is found on the list of Officers of the Barony of the Angels (Los Angeles CA).

[Update, April 2019:] This badge was actually registered in 2002 by Bridget Lucia Mackenzie of Caid, and then offered for transfer to the Society in 2003, but the transfer was declined in February 2004 on the grounds that the Society Marshal did not wish to define a Society-wide badge for youth combat; it remains registered to Bridget Lucia Mackenzie.

In addition to these, there are probably others floating around out there that I haven’t encountered yet.

The first of these is my favorite, as it’s easy to read as “heirs to rattan combat.” I’m less fond of including the youth ministry’s emblem, as the youth combat program comes under the authority of the marshalate and is not part of the youth ministry. And while the boffers shown in the East Kingdom’s version are cute, I worry that at a distance a viewer would be hard pressed to know that they were foam weapons as opposed to another style of sword.

I’d love to see that first version registered or otherwise more formally standardized so that there was less ambiguity here, but in practice it seems this is not likely to cause any real confusion.

A Digital Armory Toolbox

My freehand illustration skills are rudimentary at best, so I do all of my armorial design using a computer, and I figured I’d post a few notes about the software I use in hopes that it might be of use to others.

(I should note that I’m a Mac user, and wouldn’t even know where to start on recommendations for Windows.)

I use OmniGraffle as my illustration tool, which may seem an odd choice as it seems to be primarily used as a technical diagramming application, but I’ve been using it for two decades and it works well for me. The fact that it imports and exports PDF files means that I can combine armory designs with the SCA’s submission forms, and allows me to give people nice high-quality vector files rather than pixelated images which can’t effectively be scaled up to banner size.

To convert bitmap images, such as those from the invaluable PicDic, I use Potrace. The standard distribution only reads PBM and BMP files, but there’s a Mac wrapper that provides a GUI and adds support for a wide range of file formats, called DragPotrace. DragPotrace only seems to be available from that one Japanese web site, the installation process is confusing (you need to install the regular command-line Potrace first) and the UI is clunky, but once you learn the necessary options, it works great: for most of the images I use, I can just click the “Opaque” checkbox and export the results as PDF.

To convert SVG images, such as the Viking Answer Lady’s SVG Images for Heralds or the Wikimedia SVG Coat of Arms Elements, I use Gapplin to export them as PDFs. The next version of OmniGraffle will add SVG import, which will obviate this step, but in the meantime it’s very useful.

I’ve been working on a collection of standard charges and divisions in OmniGraffle format, as well as templates for armorial design and submission, and hope to share those at a later date.

Tilting At “Arabian” Lamps

The image of Aladdin’s lamp is so well established that the appearance of actual oil lamps of the medieval Levant might come as a surprise: they are made of clay, and shaped more like a gravy boat than a teapot.

Arab-Norman Lamp, 11th century, Salerno
Arab-Norman Lamp, 11th century, Salerno

I stumbled over this while helping an Østgarðrian prepare an armory registration featuring an Arabian lamp and wandered down a fascinating rabbit hole of web research.

(SCA heralds with OSCAR commenting privileges may enjoy reading the repeated efforts of Bruce Draconarius of Mistholme to guide people towards using the archeologically-attested form of the lamp here, here, here, here, and here — occasionally overheated, but still an interesting example of the “historical education” tendency within the SCA.)

Greetings to the known world!

I’ve started this site to collect material related to heraldry, with a focus on armory as practiced in the SCA.

This site will function more as a record of my learning experience rather than as an instructional guide or authoritative reference, as I’ve only have a few months of heraldic experience, having designed arms for my son and I this spring, receiving training and consultation experience at Pennsic XLV, and being elected the herald of Whyt Whey in August.

Feel free to contact me with questions or feedback about this or any of my other heraldic efforts.

Yours in service to the dream,

— Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin
mka Matthew Simon Ryan Cavalletto