Populace Badges

Many SCA branches register badges for use by their members, in order to allow people to indicate their association with the group without using the branch’s primary arms. I’ve gathered some guidelines and commentary about populace badges below for easy reference.

Restrictions on Display of Branch Arms

In the medieval period, according to Dame Zenobia Naphtali, “the Arms of a Kingdom properly were only used by the personal embodiments of the Kingdom, their King and Queen. Private individuals would not use the Kingdom Arms except in contexts making it absolutely clear that those Arms were used in reference to the King and Queen, not to themselves.”

In the context of the SCA, the July 1980 letter from the Laurel Sovereign of Arms states “the arms of a branch are reserved to the head of the branch. In the case of a kingdom, principality or barony this is the King, Prince or Baron. In all other cases it is the seneschal. … At any event held in a branch the arms of the branch may be displayed whether or not the head of the branch is present, to indicate that the branch is hosting the event. In grand marches the arms of branches may be carried by groups marching as those branches. Otherwise nobody can display the arms of a branch as if they were personal arms.”

(The one other exception to this rule is when someone is officially speaking for a branch head, as described by Jaelle of Armida: “a herald functioning as a representative of the ruling noble may properly wear the arms of that group while speaking as the voice of the ruling noble. When done with the duty, the herald should remove the tabard.”)

Populace Badges As A Sign Of Association

Populace badges provide an alternate way of showing membership in a group without using the branch arms. The July 1980 Laurel letter suggests: “Branches may register one or more badges which are to be useable by groups or individuals belonging to those branches. … A kingdom could register a badge to be used by all subjects of the kingdom … to show their allegiance.”

By convention, this type of armory is known as a “populace badge”. As Lord Hubert de Stockleye says “A branch’s populace badge may be worn by any member of the group. … A populace badge is a badge designed specifically for members of the branch to display on their clothing, banners, and other items.”

Other Uses Of Populace Badges

In addition to use by the populace, the branch may also continue to use this badge for other purposes, such as to mark its property or for general display. From Lord Hubert de Stockleye again: “It may be placed on items the branch owns, and it may be displayed on branch banners and insignia.”

Populace badges can also be used to mark encampments within a larger event. The Calontir Herald’s Handbook says “groups at large events like wars [often display] the group arms to identify their camp even if the head of the group isn’t present. Technically, the group should be using the group’s populace badge for this purpose, but many groups do not have a badge. Fixing this is a good task for the group herald.”

Design Of Populace Badges

There are no special design rules for populace badges; they follow all the same guidelines as any other badge.

In some cases, a branch’s populace badge closely resembles the branch’s primary arms, except for the removal of the crowns and laurel wreaths which are reserved for branch devices. For example, the populace badge of Drachenwald features the same field and central charges as the kingdom arms, without the crown and wreath.

In other cases, the populace badge is completely distinct from the branch’s primary arms, such as the populace badge of the East, which is a blue tyger, with no resemblance to the yellow-crown-on-purple-field of the kingdom’s primary device.

Confusion And Clarification

Because the submission form used for registering badges doesn’t have a standardized way to indicate that a submission is for a populace badge, some branches end up with badges which are intended for use by the populace but not so labeled in the armory.

For example, the West Kingdom College of Heralds’ Kingdom Colors and Armory reference labels the East’s populace badge, “This is noted in the Ordinary as ‘For the Crown’, but others ‘in the know’ state that this is the ‘use badge’ for the East Kingdom.” Similar comments are attached to the populace badges of Æthelmearc, Ealdormere, Northshield, and Avcacal, so this is clearly a widespread problem.

This situation can lead to confusion among newcomers and outsiders who must learn of the local branch’s practices through the grapevine. When no populace badge exists, or knowledge of it is restricted to a few insiders, members often end up using the primary branch arms on personal tokens and belt favors as it seems to be the only appropriate way to indicate association with their local group.

A simple administrative change may be made to clarify that an existing badge is intended for use by the populace. For example, Caid registered a badge in August 1979 as their “war banner” but over time began to also use that design more widely, so in July 2004 they updated the registration to explicitly state that it was for general use by the populace, while also retaining it as their war banner.