This article is the first in a series. It is my intention to take period rolls of arms, mine them for data, and do a comprehensive analysis and comparison of the data in order to chart the development of regional heraldic styles over the centuries. I’ve started with the earliest known extant English roll of arms, the Dering Roll, completed in the 1270s in England.
The Dering Roll consists of 325 painted shields on four vellum membranes, each approximately 26 inches long.
Source: Robert W. Mitchell, of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, released a list of blazons in 1982, based off of a copy of the Dering Roll at Queen’s College Oxford (MS. 158), with listed variations from other copies. The blazons from Mitchell’s publication were checked against emblazons found online where possible. Language of the blazons was modified to match SCA practice (e.g. eliminating use of “of the field” or “of the last,”) but otherwise left intact. Where emblazons were unavailable and the language of the blazon was unclear (e.g. posture of hedgehogs was unspecified) assumptions were made based on standard SCA heraldic practices.
Tinctures: The most common tincture in the Dering Roll is gules, used in 64.3% of the shields, followed by argent (52%), and Or (49.5%). Rounding out the tinctures are azure (31.1%), sable (18.8%), ermine (7.4%), vair (and variants) (5.5%), vert (0.9%) and purpure (0.3%). These last two tinctures were used in only 3 and 1 shields, respectively. There are 15 instances of vair, and 3 further instances of variations on vair: argent and sable, gules and Or, & gules and ermine.
Just over 72% of the shields on the Dering Roll have two tinctures. Just over 20% have three tinctures, just over 5% have four tinctures, and just over 1.5% have one (solid-tinctured field only armory – three are azure, one is vair, and one is vairy argent and sable). The most common combinations are argent and gules, gules and Or, and azure and Or.
Charges: There are 429 charge groups in the roll of arms. There are a number of subsections below which discuss primary, secondary, tertiary and overall charges. More generally, there are 208 ordinaries (including 61 peripheral ordinaries), 90 animate charges, and 131 inanimate charges.
One interesting feature about the roll is that none of the 90 animate charges are monsters. The closest the designs come to fantastical creatures are martlets. Otherwise, birds include eagles and martlets (5 each), corbies, cocks, and generic birds. Quadrupeds are overwhelmingly lions (61), but include one instance each of calves, hedgehogs, and wolves. Body parts include animal heads (2 stags, 2 leopards, and 1 bear) and human hands (2).
Oddities: Given that this roll of arms was created in the early days of heraldry, there are few aberrations from what the SCA College of Arms considers “core” heraldic practice. However, there are a few. For examples of color on color in primary charges, there is Rauf de Eslynga, “Azure, a bend gules cotised argent” and John de Rokesle, “Azure, a fess gules between six lions rampant argent.” Both examples have an uncharged gules ordinary on an azure field, flanked by argent secondaries.
For secondaries, see Walter de la Pole, “Gules, a saltire Argent within a bordure Sable bezanty,” and William Matrauers, “Sable fretty Or, on a canton Gules three lions passant Argent.” These examples demonstrate the combination of sable and gules, a charged peripheral ordinary against a field charged with an ordinary, and different metals for the primary and tertiary charge groups.
For overall charges, see Robert de Hardres, “Ermine, a lion rampant gules surmounted by a chevron Or,” an overall ordinary with poor contrast with the field. See also shield 197 (no name), “Azure, a chief argent and overall a lion rampant gules,” an overall animate charge with poor contrast to the field, surmounting a peripheral ordinary but no primary charge.
A note on labels: Of the 325 shields depicted on the Dering Roll, 14 have labels. For the purposes of this analysis, the arms were considered without the labels (or any charges that the labels carried). For the record, all labels in the Roll were of five points. Two were charged, each with three bezants on each of the five points (15 total). Five had poor contrast with the field (four with gules fields and azure labels, one with an azure field and gules label). Five of the labels were azure, five were gules, two were sable, one was Or, and one was vert.
Patterns: To analyze the Roll it was necessary to categorize each set of arms into a pattern of charge usage. The patterns appear below, along with the number of shields which followed the pattern.
Fields: Nearly 84% of the fields in the Dering Roll are solid-tinctured. Of solid tinctures, over half are color (with over half of those being gules).
Of the divided fields, a strong majority are plain-line, multi-part field divisions (only one is a two-part field division: per pale azure and Or, a chief dancetty counterchanged). Fully half of the plain-line divided shields include gules (over half if you include the use of gules in a variation of vair), making it the most common tincture used. Some interesting anomalies in the plain-line samples include a field partially “vairy ermine and gules,” and two instances of vert. 22 of the divided fields are field-only, and another 12 are field-primary armory (only peripheral charges appear directly on the field).
15 of the arms with divided fields have primary charges. Of those, three of the shields had animate charges (all lions: one with multiple lions, the rest with a single lion), eleven had ordinaries appearing alone (six bends and five fesses), and one had an ordinary and a geometric charge, (bendlet between fretty through the second and third quarters of the field).
9 of the primary charges clearly cross the line of division. Another two are bends across a quarterly line of division, and three more are fesses on a chequy background. The last, a lion in the first quarter of a quarterly field, is the only example of a divided field with primary charges where the primary charge does not cross the line of division.
On 25 of the 27 shields with charged divided fields, the primary and peripheral charges were solidly tinctured. The two exceptions were a lion and bordure counterchanged over a per fess line, and a chief dancetty counterchanged over a per pale line.
There are four complex-line fields. All four use argent. Three use gules, while one uses azure. Two use nebuly (as described by Mitchell), while the other two use indented/dancetty. All four are field-only.
Primary Charges: There were 265 shields in the Dering Roll that featured a primary charge or charge group. Every shield had one type of charge in the charge group (there were no co-primary charges). A majority (138) of the primary charges were ordinaries. Fesses and bars were the most common primary charge, followed closely by lions. Weapons were surprisingly sparse in this exhibit, with only one sword and a set of three battle axes making an appearance.
Among ordinary charges are a number of modified edges, including dancetty, engrailed, fusilly, lozengy and wavy. Postures of animate charges include displayed (eagles), close (other birds), haurient (all fish), rampant (exclusive to lions), and passant/statant (quadrupeds, including lions, wolves and hedgehogs). Heads appear both in profile (couped) and affronty (caboshed).
Numbers of charges in the primary charge group include 143 single charges, 30 doubles, 56 of three, 4 of five, 15 of six, and 1 each of eight and ten. There are also 13 instances of fretty and two instances of bezanty.
The most common tincture for a primary charge was gules, with 79 instances, followed by argent and Or, with 60 and 58 instances respectively.
Secondary Charges: There were 108 shields in the Dering Roll that featured a secondary charge of some sort. Secondary charges are in four categories: peripheral ordinaries, non-peripheral ordinaries, strewn charges, and other charges. Split tinctures for secondary charges (e.g. per pale Or and azure) are always peripheral ordinaries. Complex lines of division on appear on 10 of the 61 peripheral ordinaries, and include dancetty, engrailed, and indented. Postures for animate charges are close (for martlets and the generic birds), displayed (for the eagles), passant and rampant (for the lions). The most common tinctures are gules and Or.
Arrangements of secondary charges around the primary were varied, but fell into the following categories: around,in canton (all cantons/quarters), in chief, in orle, and strewn.
Tertiary charges appear almost exclusively on ordinaries, whether primary or peripheral. Only one instance of a charged non-ordinary appears in the Roll. The arms of Water de Gosehale feature a roundel charged with a cinquefoil. It’s also the only arms on the Roll that has both a charged ordinary and a charged peripheral on the same device.