Wes Hál!

Greetings! I am Lord Hubert de Stockleye (aka Wulfhere of Eofeshamme), a Herald at Large in the Kingdom of Calontir which is part of the medieval research and re-creation group the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). My legal name is Berry Canote. Let me tell you about this blog. When I returned to the SCA a couple of years ago I did something I had not done my previous times as a member. I designed and submitted a device (called a coat of arms by those not in the SCA). In the process of coming up with different designs, seeing what could be done, and what could not be done I developed an interest in heraldry. This blog highlights many of my designs as well as gives tips on name research. For more information please read the About this Blog Page. There if you are a SCA member you can learn how to register one of these designs as your own device as well as get acquainted with what I do. Finally, feel free to browse the links list. A note of caution, I am still very new to this so you are encouraged to consult another herald. In the time since I have started this blog I have begun writing on other topics of interest to me so expect to see other topics on the Middle Ages. Note: This is not an official Society for Creative Anachronism site. The views expressed here are my own.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Heraldry in War

I recently offered to teach a class at an event called, "Heraldry in War." The aim of the class was to show that the origins of heraldry were rooted in the need for identification on the battlefield. Below, is the handout:

Heraldry in War

By Lord Hubert de Stockleye


Many people may not realize it, but what they commonly think of as a coat of arms had its origins in war. They think of arms as being decorative, something you put on your stationary or over the mantle of your fireplace. We in the SCA know differently however. We know that heraldry had its origins in warfare.

History of Heraldry

From ancient times onward combatants in war have used emblems to signify who they were. Egyptian artwork shows pictures of standards with various emblems upon them. They were apparently used to designate rulers or other important people.  Ancient Mesopotamian art shows a similar usage of emblems. In the Book of Numbers it is described how the Twelve Tribes had standards upon which were emblems designating their tribe.  Later the Greeks and Romans would use standards and ensigns to designate units and high ranking individuals. An example of such a use is the eagle of Augustus’ Xth Legion. With the Greeks we begin to see emblems appearing on shields. The Romans made use of emblems on the shields of individuals to designate which unit they belonged to.
What we think of as heraldic devices were first seen during the reign of Charlemagne. Seals and banners with emblems denoting individuals came into use at that time. Medieval European heraldry evolved out of these usages of symbols to identify combatants in battle. The Leges Hastiludiales of Henry the Fowler in 938 CE required combatants in tournaments to show four generations of the use of ensigns to enter. The earliest evidence of a specific individual being awarded arms is in 1128 when the arms of Geoffrey IV of Anjou were given to him by his father in law King Henry I of England. Seals depicting heraldic devices appeared less than a decade later in England.
In the decades that followed the use of heraldry spread. The Crusades while not the cause of the spread of the usage of heraldry certainly contributed to the need of it. King Richard the Lion Hearted was the first English king to use a heraldic device officially, and is thought to be a reason for others adopting heraldic devices. Sometime between 1240 and 1250 the Glover's Roll, the first known Roll of Arms was compiled. A Roll of Arms is a pictorial depiction of the heraldic devices of nobles and knights. Since the idea of arms was to identify a person, there became a need to ensure that each set coat of arms was unique, and by the 15th century France and England had both formed a College of Arms to ensure that no two people used the same heraldic device.

The Purpose of Heraldic Devices

The purpose of a heraldic device is much the same in the SCA as it was in the Middle Ages, to identify a combatant. And as such certain rules are used to ensure that a fighter can be identified from across the field. This means that the symbols or charges on the shield should be big and bold. Size matters when it comes to charges placed on a shield. If they are too small they cannot be identified.
Contrast also determines whether a device can be identified across the field. It is because of this within heraldry there is a rule called the Rule of Tincture. The Rule of Tincture is that no metal can go on a metal, and no color on a color. The colors are black, blue, green, purple, and red. The metals are yellow and white which represent gold and silver.
Complex designs are also not easily identified on the field of battle. For this reason, simple designs are preferred. Because of this our College of Arms has a complexity count to prevent a device from becoming too complicated.  The more simple a device is the more readily it is identified.
Finally, just as what done in the late Middle Ages, the College of Arms registers devices to ensure that each one is unique. The reason for this is so that two people are not confused on the field of battle because their arms resemble each other’s too much. While it is not required to register your device it is greatly encouraged. Should anyone ever enter a Crown Tournament for example using the same device, the one whose device has been registered would get to use it during the tournament.

Badges and Banners

Badges in battle play a role similar to heraldic devices except instead of identifying someone as an individual, they identify someone as a member of a unit, be it a household, shire, barony, principality, kingdom, or similar group. Everyone knows when they see the gold striking falcon on a purple tabard on someone that that person is a member of Calontir, either part of our army or a herald or someone else giving service. Banners perform a similar function. When someone sees a banner flying over an army they can readily identify who they are by the badge used on it. Thus if you see the gold striking falcon on a purple banner flying over an encampment you can rest assured that they are Calontir folk. 


Just as in the Middle Ages, heraldry plays an important role in warfare in the SCA. It allows both combatants and spectators to identify who is on the field. It is allows us to follow our favorites even when they are concealed by armor. It also allows us to identify units and armies during a battle.


Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles A Complete Guide to Heraldry: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd. – 1950
Jones, Robert W. Bloodied Banners: Martial Display on the Medieval Battlefield: Boydell Press 2010
Reynolds, Ernest Introduction to Heraldry:  Methuen and Company Limited – 1958
Wagner, Anthony Richard Heraldry in England: Penguin Books -1953
Woodcock, Thomas S. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry: Oxford University Press - 1988

Woodward, J. A Treatise on Heraldry: British and Foreign: with English and French Glossaries: Nabu Press - 2010

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