Artistic Variation in Heraldic Art

A notable characteristic of armorial depiction is that any illustration of a given design is considered to be heraldically equivalent. For example, any illustration of “Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale Or” is said to represent the English Sovereign, no matter in what style the lions are drawn, as long as they accurately reflect that blazon.

Konstantia Kaloethina has assembled a nice demonstration of this principle in her “Heraldic Mythbusting” blog post containing nine different illustrations of “a seraph proper” by six different artists.

Two seraphs proper; the first by myself using an illustration by Vinycomb, the second by Konstantia Kaloethina. (Shared with permission.)

In addition to these illustrations, the post provides some period examples of “artistic license,” explains some boundaries on when it’s taken too far, and discusses the Society’s heraldic registration policies — it’s definitely worth a read.

Name and Device for Bahja al-Azraq

Bahja had a name picked out and a lovely first draft of his device designed, but it needed a bit of adjustment to be registrable by the College of Arms.


Or, on a saltire between four rings purpure gemmed gules a pomegranate slipped and leaved Or seeded gules.

Although the original arrangement Bahja had sketched was problematic, we were able to retain all of the charges and the overall color scheme, while shifting them into a new layout which was free of conflicts.


Bahja is a Arabic masculine ism (given name) and al-Azraq is an Arabic masculine laqab (descriptive byname).

Both are found in “Arabic Names from al-Andalus” (Juliana de Luna, 2008).

Name and Device for Anne of Østgarðr

Anne is an active fencer in the Province, who wanted to register armory that was personally meaningful, and had already identified a silver tree as the primary charge.


Per fess sable and vert, a tree and in chief a comet bendwise argent.

The illustration of the tree comes from the Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry, affectionately known as the PicDic, while the comet comes from the Viking Answer Lady’s SVG Images For Heralds collection.


Anne is a female given name in multiple parts of medieval Europe. It is found in the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources at http://dmnes.org/name/Anne as attested to 1485 in Early Modern English, citing Wills and Inventories Illustrative of the History, Manners, Language, Statistics, &c. of the Northern Counties of England, from the Eleventh Century Downwards, volume I of Publications of the Surtees Society. London: J. B. Nicholas and Son, 1835.

Østgarðr is the name of the Crown Province of the East Kingdom, and the byname “of Østgarðr” follows the Branch Name Allowance of SENA PN.1.B.2.f.

Name and Device for Catelin Straquhin

Catelin wanted a name and device that reflected her family’s Scottish heritage, and had already picked a basic direction, so it didn’t take much additional effort to help her select something that was both unique and registrable.


Azure, a stag courant to dexter base between two roses argent.

Catelin had been interested in a “bucking” stag, but as that isn’t a recognized heraldic posture, we went looking for alternatives which would produce a similar visual effect.

While “courant to dexter base” is an unusual arrangement, it has been registered twice, most recently in January 2016.

The white rose was a badge of the House of York.

The illustrations for both charges are taken from Fox-Davies’ 1909 book A Complete Guide to Heraldry.


Catelin is a female given name found in the British Isles.

Straquhin is a late-period byname from the Scottish Lowlands.

SENA Appendix C indicates that after 1100, English and Scottish name elements may be combined.

Common and Uncommon Armorial Elements

Someone recently asked if there was an listing of which charges had been used most or least often in the Society’s armory. It turns out that this isn’t an easy question to answer using the standard Morsulus armorial interface, but since I’ve imported that data into a SQL database I was able to put together a query that generates such a listing.

The data below is current as of the LoAR dated January 2018, which was posted in March. It includes over fifty thousand total registered armory items, including those which have since been released.

Some other important caveats result from the way this listing was constructed:

  • It includes all of the armorial description categories, so in addition to charges, the listing also shows the frequency of field tinctures, divisions, treatments, and arrangements.
  • This listing is based on the categories as coded in the armorial database, so it doesn’t distinguish between individual charge types that are grouped under a common heading; in other words, lions, panthers, domestic cats and their cousins are all grouped together under “cat.”
  • Some individual charges are grouped under one category but are considered to also conflict with charges that appear under other categories; in other cases, a single category includes multiple types of charges which don’t conflict with each other.

Continue reading “Common and Uncommon Armorial Elements”

Armory Conflict-Checking Resources

One of the seemingly-black arts of Society heraldic practice is checking new device and badge designs for conflicts against registered armory.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and still need to ask for help or get other heralds to double-check my work, so I thought it might be useful to post a few links to some of the resources I use to try and remind myself of how the process works.

The Rules

The rules for armory conflict are laid out in SENA section A5.

A succinct summary of those rules is provided in the SENA Submissions Checklist (which also includes a number of other useful guidelines for all types of submissions).

Visual Examples

Reading those rules can be a bit daunting for a newcomer.

A useful guide that includes numerous visible examples is Master Modar’s Basic Conflict Checking supplement to the Calontiri Herald’s Handbook.

Another presentation of the rules with good visual references is provided in Yehuda’s Armory 103 presentation and accompanying hour-long class video.

Using the Complex Search Form

Modern conflict checking is nearly always done using the armorial’s complex search form.

A good reference for using the complex search form is Marie de Blois’s Conflict Checking with the Complex Search Form. There’s an accompanying hour-long class video.

Use of the complex search form is also covered in Yehuda’s Armory 201 presentation and accompanying hour-long class video.

Heraldic Tincture Hexcodes

Any set of colors can be used as heraldic tinctures if they can be interpreted easily and unambiguously.

Below are examples of color palettes I’ve used for pieces of armory. (Click for a larger image, or download a printable PDF with additional examples.)

The only one of these that’s special is the set of colors used for OSCAR’s color correction; when submitting images, it make things easier if colors are close enough to these that they’re not transformed incorrectly.

When armory images are uploaded to OSCAR, color-corrected thumbnails are generated which convert each area of color to one of the nine standard tinctures shown in dashed circles below. Solid outlines delimit the range of colors that are converted to each of those targets.

(Click for a larger image, or download a printable PDF.)

While the color-correction process usually goes smoothly, there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Warm golds (containing more red than green) can end up being rendered as orange or brown.
  • Warm browns can develop streaks or splotches of red.
  • Blues and purples can become ambiguous if either of them comes too close to the violet boundary.
  • Although not apparent on this chart, fine-line details like black outlines around an argent charge in a fieldless badge can disappear entirely.

Many thanks to Elena Wyth for the experimentation which allowed these OSCAR ranges to be estimated.

Ordinaries and Divisions and Arrangements, Oh My!

While the language of blazon used to describe armory is filled with hundreds of specialized terms which need to be memorized individually, at its core there’s a set of basic terms that describe a matrix of related ordinaries (simple geometric charges defined by their relationship to the field), divisions (lines splitting the field or a charge into two tinctures), arrangements (placements of charges in a group), and orientations (alignments of charges in a particular direction).

Lord Yehuda ben Moshe created a useful visual guide that makes it easier to see how these terms interrelate, which I have adapted to fit on a single sheet of paper for use in the Visual Reference appendix to The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art.

This is available as a high-resolution PNG or a printable PDF.

As with Yehuda’s original, this document is free to share, post, and modify as you’d like.

A Glossary of Heraldic Terms

In addition to 45 pages of traceable art, Torric inn Björn’s 1992 collection of Heraldic Templates also contains a ten-page glossary which contains many of the specialized terms used in society blazons, as well as defining the default position of many charges.

It has fallen out of circulation and was not been available online until now. Lord Torric has recently granted permission for this material to be re-published, for which he has my sincere thanks.

I have converted this document to a web-accessible format and posted it online in hopes that it may prove useful to current practitioners.