While putting together my recent summary of which charges can be considered an armorial display, I looked at a lot of old decisions that document how the Society’s College of Arms developed the current rules.
Some of those older precedents are no longer relevant, but I figured I’d post them here for those who are interested in the history of this subject.
Initial Rule: Charged Display Shapes
This principle that things that suggest a display of arms may not be registered as a fieldless badge was established in the mid-1980s, at a time when the rules for badges were still being revised to reflect historical practice, and only around forty fieldless badges had been registered so far:
[Fieldless] Badge. On a billet gules a wolf rampant Or. … It was the consensus of the College of Arms that this appears to be a display of the arms “Gules, a wolf rampant Or” (the MARQUIS DE ALBERTAS: Rietstap). This means, unfortunately, that the advice we’ve been giving on fieldless badges is wrong: we don’t want someone to “use a billet instead of a pale.” The discussion at the Laurel meeting yielded the guideline that the underlying charge should probably be a “thing”, rather than a convex geometric shape. Using a complex line of division on the outside edge of the charge would probably help, too. The problem is one of perception: if the underlying charge looks too much like one of the standard shapes upon which arms are borne, then the badge is going to look like a miniature display of those arms.
— [Wilihelm Roderick FitzLovel, Returned, June 1986 LoAR]
Over the course of the course of the next decade, this rule was restated several times, using different wording:
A fieldless badge should not have a charge placed on a convex geometric shape which is used for armorial display.
— [Heinrich von Pfungstadt, Returned, Feb 1991 LoAR]
At first, all of these rulings continued to specify that they applied only to shapes charged with a tertiary:
If a charge can be considered a medium for heraldic display, it may not bear a tertiary in a fieldless badge: such a design is interpretable as a display of arms, with the tertiary as a primary. … Such arms-badge confusion is reason enough for return, even if the display in question doesn’t conflict.
— [Barony of Dragonsspine, Returned, Mar 1993 LoAR]
However, in another ruling later that year, although it was returning a fieldless badge with a charged delf, the existence of the tertiary charge was omitted from the text of the ruling and the word “only” was used in a way that did not make clear that it referred to a sole primary charge rather than the lack of a tertiary charge:
Fieldless badges consisting only of forms of armorial display, such as escutcheons, lozenges and delfs, are not acceptable since in use the “shield” shape does not appear to be a charge, but rather the field itself.
— [Stephen Wolfe, Returned, Sep 1993 LoAR]
Revised Interpretation: All Display Shapes
A few years later, a different Sovereign of Arms quoted this ruling verbatim as the basis for a return of an fieldless badge with an uncharged lozenge, apparently not recognizing that the previous ruling was for a charged shape:
We can do no better than to quote Baron Bruce Draconarius of Mistholme, as Laurel on the subject of fieldless badges: “Fieldless badges consisting only of forms of armorial display, such as escutcheons, lozenges and delfs, are not acceptable since in use the “shield” shape does not appear to be a charge, but rather the field itself. This presents an entirely different armory for view.” … Since lozenges are used as armorial display, this would be the equivalent of registering a plain tincture, which we do not do.
— [Vaclav Bily, Returned, Jan 1997 LoAR]
A year later this ruling was restated, breaking the connection to the earlier precedents:
We do not normally register fieldless badges consisting only of forms of armorial display, such as roundels, lozenges and delfs in plain tinctures, since in use the shape does not appear to be a charge, but rather the field itself.”
— [Giulietta da Venezia, Accepted, Jan 1998 LoAR]
Current Ruling: Divided or Charged Display Shapes
This new restriction was overturned a few years later:
We do not register fieldless badges which appear to be independent forms of armorial display. Charges such as lozenges, billets, and roundels are all both standard heraldic charges and “shield shapes” for armorial display. The SCA has never protected armory consisting of plain tinctures, except for two examples… If we do not protect, and have never protected, the arms Or, we should not be concerned about the possible appearance of a display of Or by using a single lozenge Or as a fieldless badge. … Therefore, a “shield shape” which is also a standard heraldic charge will be acceptable as as a fieldless badge in a plain tincture, as long as the tincture is not one of the plain tinctures that is protected armory in the SCA. … Note that this does not change our long-standing policy about such “shield shape” charges used in fieldless badges if the tincture is not plain (thus, divided or with a field treatment), or if the charge is itself charged. Such armory will continue to be returned for the appearance of an independent form of armorial display.
— [Solveig Throndardottir, Accepted, Apr 2002 LoAR]
Since then, decisions have been consistent about using language that parallels this ruling:
“By long-standing 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.”
— [Jehan le Blanc, Returned, December 2013 LoAR]