Why You Can’t Register Marshalled Armory

Considerations of armorial designs including straight-line per-pale or quarterly field divisions often include a discussion of whether they have “the appearance of marshaling.” Putting aside the question of how we answer that question (already ably addressed elsewhere, see here and here), one might wonder why this is an issue — why doesn’t the SCA’s College of Arms register armory that has the appearance of marshalling?

I believe the answer is that marshalled arms were not issued as such by period heraldic authorities, nor did newly-armigerous families assume already-marshalled arms.

Instead, each individual coat of arms was granted (or assumed) independently, and it was only after that point they were ever combined via impalement or quartering (or sometimes more esoteric arrangements as seen in Iberia).

A heraldic authority might confirm that a particular individual had the right to display each of the individual quarters, but they were still separable, and (for example) a noble might split their titles and lands between two offspring, who would each inherit the armory associated with specific estates, in a process we might think of as “un-quartering.”

It’s possible that there were occasional exceptions to the above principle — for example, Birgitta Lulli, Pelican emeritus, reports that in post-period Scandinavia, some nobles adopted new coats with quarters that had not been independently granted, in an effort to make themselves seem of equal status to older families which bore quartered arms — but I haven’t ever encountered any period examples of arms being granted in already-quartered form.

An individual either has rights to each particular coat or does not; once they have secured those rights, it’s up to them as to whether they impale or quarter them, or display the one they think is most prominent and ignore the other, or display one in one place and another elsewhere, or whatever they’d like.

Therefore, if you want to display arms that have the appearance of marshaling, you must register each individual design, after which point you are free to display them together, pass them on to your heirs, and so forth. (Just like in period, where if you wanted to display the arms of Savoy quartered with the arms of Loraine, you had to first achieve the lordship of each territory, at which point you could fly them together.)

This policy has been in place since the early years of the Society, when Ioseph of Locksley, second Laurel Herald, wrote in the June 1973 LoAR that “… it is the policy of the Imperial College to register the individual parts of marshalling rather than the full marshalling itself… Let [a couple wishing to display marshalled arms] submit individual applications and emblazons [for each part].”

[January 2023 — Edited to add:] An Iberian example of seemingly-quartered arms was recently circulated, dating to 1524. Nonetheless, these examples are rare, and appear late, and are not the foundation of our practices.

A Modern British Princely Achievement

Although I generally ignore the heraldic practices of modern aristocratic families, I was struck by the below achievement, which was designed by the Garter King of Arms in 1969 upon the investiture of Charles Windsor as the Prince of Wales, as it does a nice job of incorporating both the subject’s primary arms as well as their badges and other arms to which they were entitled.

Designed by Garter King of Arms. Illustrator unknown. Printed in The Observer. Archived by UK College of Arms.


A Pair of Hearts Pierced

February is here again, and the #HeraldicLove campaign is once again encouraging reenactors to display their arms (or a badge of allegiance) on a heart-shaped field.

I participated in this campaign last year, drawing three dozen heart-shaped badges and devices for branches and individuals. Along the way I also created digital templates for a heart-shaped field and a set of corresponding heart-shaped field divisions and ordinaries.

As we begin another round of heart-shaped heraldic display, I thought it would be fun to display a pair of hearts conjoined by an arrow, as I’ve done below with the arms of myself and my wife. Continue reading “A Pair of Hearts Pierced”

Armorial Catalog for Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin

During the five years in which I’ve been thinking about medieval armory,  I’ve registered four different designs with the College of Arms of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and as I’ve started thinking about further registrations it seemed prudent to pause and take stock of my current inventory. Continue reading “Armorial Catalog for Mathghamhain Ua Ruadháin”

Armorial Displays from the Album Amicorum of Jean le Clercq

As described in Wikipedia, an “album amicorum” was a sixteenth-century “book of friendship” with blank pages on which people collected signatures and messages from people they knew, much as modern students might sign each others yearbooks or fans might collect autographs of famous stars.

Many of these include armorial illustrations, some quite elaborate, giving us a glimpse of another way in which heraldic symbols were used during the Renaissance.

The Album Amicorum of Jean le Clercq, a Belgian university student, dates from the tail end of the sixteenth century, combining pages printed in 1564 containing engraved scenes and stanzas of Ovid translated into French, with other pages hand-painted two decades later showing displays of armory. Continue reading “Armorial Displays from the Album Amicorum of Jean le Clercq”

Achievements with Heraldic Tabards from “Irish Nobility E1”

The National Library of Ireland’s “Irish Nobility E1” manuscript was produced by and for the office of the Ulster King of Arms, the principal heraldic authority for all of Ireland under English rule, and records the armorial achievements of various barons and viscounts of Ireland.

The first section of the book seems to date from around 1585 or so, and contains a number of armorial achievements featuring a heraldic tabard as the central element rather than a shield.

This form of display is unusual enough that I thought it was worth posting these for easy reference. Reenactors seeking a less-martial form of armorial display might consider using these as inspiration. Continue reading “Achievements with Heraldic Tabards from “Irish Nobility E1””

An Overview of Historical Armory Practices in England

The best part of this little booklet from the Heraldry Society in England is that it provides dates for when various types of armorial practices were introduced, along with citations to the reference works they drew those dates from.

Historic Heraldry Handbook
(PDF, 20 pages)

Armorial Achievement for Alaxandair Mórda

An achievement is an integrated display of a person’s armory and honors, including in various combinations, a device, helm, coronet, crest, supporters, motto, order badges, and other elements that differed between individuals and in various times and places.

I don’t have much experience with illustrating armorial achievements, and it’s not something for which we have much established tradition here in the East Kingdom of the SCA, but I’m interested in exploring this area further. Continue reading “Armorial Achievement for Alaxandair Mórda”

Charges Which Can Appear To Be An Armorial Display in a Fieldless Badge

The College of Arms has a rule commonly phrased as “we do not register fieldless badges that appear to be independent forms of armorial display.”

Below, I will attempt to explain this sometimes-confusing rule, catalogue which shapes are considered to be “forms of armorial display,” and note features which cause this rule to not apply. Continue reading “Charges Which Can Appear To Be An Armorial Display in a Fieldless Badge”

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 Wilhelm von Schlüssel, then 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.