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Identifying Charge Groups Revisited

Four years ago I posted an adaptation of Yehuda ben Moshe’s “Charge Group Theory” flowchart, intended to guide people in classifying the elements in an armorial design.

The chart I posted was slightly simplified, but I worried that it still might be daunting for beginners, and the recent occasion of teaching a class on charge-group analysis provided a good excuse to revisit it.

Continue reading “Identifying Charge Groups Revisited”

Ordinaries, Divisions, and Arrangements Revisited

Six years ago I posted a fun little chart that highlights the relationship between the terms we use for ordinaries and the related divisions, arrangements, and orientations.

Recently I made a few minor updates to the chart, the most notable of which was to add a column for the corresponding multiple divisions, such as barry and bendy.

Continue reading “Ordinaries, Divisions, and Arrangements Revisited”

A Concordance of Heraldic Terminology

TL;DR: The International Heraldry Phrasebook provides translations of 500 blazon terms between six different languages.

When reviewing documents about medieval and early-modern European armory, it’s quite common to encounter blazons in languages other than English. In some cases, automated translation tools such as Google’s will suffice, but the degree of specialized heraldic jargon sometimes exceeds their grasp, or yields a confusing jumble that doesn’t resemble a workable blazon.

In the middle of the last century, the short book Vocabulaire-Atlas Heraldic, by Gaston Ferdinand Laurent Stalins, attempted to address a similar need by providing a concordance of over 500 terms, showing their equivalents in each of English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch, along with corresponding illustrations.

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On Contrast for Furs and Proper

There’s a widespread claim in modern heraldic circles that furs and proper charges are neutral for contrast purposes (eg Wikipedia on the Rule of Tincture), and many of them cite this passage from Fox-Davies:

Furs may be placed upon either metal or colour, as may also any charge which is termed proper.

AC Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909), p 86.

With all due respect to Fox-Davies, generally considered the leading light of Victorian-era English heraldry, I think this is a bad call.

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Populace Badge of Northpass

Back in 2018 I provided some support for the Canton of Northpass’s efforts to design and register a populace badge, but due to some other drama I somehow never got around to posting about it.

With the news that the Canton of Northpass will soon be reinstated, I thought it was fitting to dust off those emblazons and make them accessible again.

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Descriptions for Field Division Directions

Following the 2021 rules change, SENA A5F1b now says that that changing the direction of partition lines is considered a Substantial Change, as is the difference between divided and undivided fields.

As a result, when using the Complex Search form to do conflict checking for fielded armory, we can add a second line for the field that matches anything with a similar direction. Continue reading “Descriptions for Field Division Directions”

Why You Can’t Register Marshalled Armory

Considerations of armorial designs including straight-line per-pale or quarterly field divisions often include a discussion of whether they have “the appearance of marshaling.” Putting aside the question of how we answer that question (already ably addressed elsewhere, see here and here), one might wonder why this is an issue — why doesn’t the SCA’s College of Arms register armory that has the appearance of marshalling?

I believe the answer is that marshalled arms were not issued as such by period heraldic authorities, nor did newly-armigerous families assume already-marshalled arms.

Instead, each individual coat of arms was granted (or assumed) independently, and it was only after that point they were ever combined via impalement or quartering (or sometimes more esoteric arrangements as seen in Iberia).

A heraldic authority might confirm that a particular individual had the right to display each of the individual quarters, but they were still separable, and (for example) a noble might split their titles and lands between two offspring, who would each inherit the armory associated with specific estates, in a process we might think of as “un-quartering.”

It’s possible that there were occasional exceptions to the above principle — for example, Birgitta Lulli, Pelican emeritus, reports that in post-period Scandinavia, some nobles adopted new coats with quarters that had not been independently granted, in an effort to make themselves seem of equal status to older families which bore quartered arms — but I haven’t ever encountered any period examples of arms being granted in already-quartered form.

An individual either has rights to each particular coat or does not; once they have secured those rights, it’s up to them as to whether they impale or quarter them, or display the one they think is most prominent and ignore the other, or display one in one place and another elsewhere, or whatever they’d like.

Therefore, if you want to display arms that have the appearance of marshaling, you must register each individual design, after which point you are free to display them together, pass them on to your heirs, and so forth. (Just like in period, where if you wanted to display the arms of Savoy quartered with the arms of Loraine, you had to first achieve the lordship of each territory, at which point you could fly them together.)

This policy has been in place since the early years of the Society, when Ioseph of Locksley, second Laurel Herald, wrote in the June 1973 LoAR that “… it is the policy of the Imperial College to register the individual parts of marshalling rather than the full marshalling itself… Let [a couple wishing to display marshalled arms] submit individual applications and emblazons [for each part].”

[January 2023 — Edited to add:] An Iberian example of seemingly-quartered arms was recently circulated, dating to 1524. Nonetheless, these examples are rare, and appear late, and are not the foundation of our practices.

[December 2023 — Edited to add:] Notably, the examples of late-period armory which was granted with the appearance of marshaling was specifically designed to give the appearance of marshaling — eg, it was not just an independent stylistic decision considered to be a standard part of the heraldic design space, but rather an exception to the rules and an explicit attempt to grant the appearance of old nobility to a recent arriviste.

Brainstorming Armorial Designs From Period Sources

Sometimes submitters know that they want a device that looks authentically like the period arms of a particular time and place, but aren’t sure where to start.

My general advice for this situation is to spend an hour flipping through a couple of armorials from that culture to get a feel for the range of arms typical in that environment.

You can find armorials on this site, grouped by region and sorted by century:
https://caerlaverockroll.com/period-armorials-online/

Pick a few sources from your region and jump in, flipping through pages and getting a high-level impression of the arms that you see. Look at a few dozen pages of one source, and then bail out and choose another to flip through to see what’s similar and what’s different.

As you page through, take screenshots of your favorite elements — charges, arrangements, color schemes, etc.

After you’ve collected a dozen or so items that appeal to you, you can combine and remix them to produce something that’s uniquely yours.

Resist the temptation to shoehorn everything in, creating a monster with a dozen types of charge and all of the possible tinctures — your new design should have a complexity that’s comparable to the examples you are working from.

The result of this process is likely to be something that looks historically plausible, reflects the aesthetics of your chosen culture, and that meets the Society’s requirements for submissions, or is at least close enough that it serves as a good starting point.

However, while browsing period armorials for inspiration, there are a couple of caveats to be aware of:

  • Firstly, many armorials start with a pages of notable figures, which can include royalty of other kingdoms, or attributed arms of historical/mythical figures; you can usually just skip past the first quarter or so of the armorial to reach arms that are more representative of the populace at large.
  • Secondly, you’ll often find marshaled arms (especially in those opening sections of royalty) in which two or more arms are combined into quarters; when viewing those, treat each quarter as an independent device.

 

A Revised Armory Conflict-Checking Checklist

[Editor’s Note: This is a revised version of a checklist I assembled in 2019, which was rendered out-of-date by the new rules for considering changes to the field approved by the March 2021 Cover Letter. This updated version of the document reflects those changes. — Mathghamhain]

SENA devotes over 10,000 words to conflict checking armory, which the below guide attempts to summarize in one-twentieth of the space.

Many details have been omitted, so references are included to the relevant sections of SENA to facilitate additional research as needed. Continue reading “A Revised Armory Conflict-Checking Checklist”