Heraldry for Non-Heralds

Preface: Forget What You Know

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and looking to create a device. Actually, you’re probably looking to register the device that you’ve already created and drawn up, one that you’ve taken great pains to design so that it truly reflects who you are, either in the Society, in your real life, or both.

You’ve probably been to quite a few events, and seen the armory of other SCA members on banners and shields, woolen cloaks and wooden chests. You’ve seen the combination of numerous designs and colors to create a pictorial display of a person’s life (what we call “resume heraldry”) and wanted to have one of your very own.

You’ve put a sword, because you’re a fighter, a shamrock, because you’re Irish, a penguin, because you write Unix-based programs for a living, and a black dog…because you have a black dog. And it looks just as busy as any other piece of SCA heraldry, so it must be right, right?

The sad truth is that a great majority of SCA armory would not have existed during the time period of the persona bearing it. The complex designs you see all over the SCA are justified by bizarre practices of the late Tudor heralds, which means that Sir Saxon’s armory over there would only have been borne in period by someone dressed like this. Indeed, if your persona lived prior to the 1100s, heraldry as we know it would likely not have existed for you at all. And yet, you still want a device.

The purpose of this tutorial is to help you understand period heraldic practices, and to show you how to develop armory that is period in design, that you can be proud of, and that you can easily replicate on banners and shields, woolen cloaks and wooden chests.

Let’s begin.

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