HERALDIC PRACTICES: CREATING A DEVICE
by Modar Neznanich
One of the great aspects to the SCA is pageantry. Each of us can participate in this area by creating a
heraldic device for ourselves, then utilizing that device for heraldic display. Nothing is more inspiring
than seeing dozens of banners, shields, surcoats, dresses, boxes, tablecloths, tents, archery equipment,
etc. all decked out in heraldic splendor. It adds to the medieval ambiance of events, and make us fit more
into our personas.
Following are general guidelines to use when developing a heraldic device.
General Armory Guidelines
- There are three tincture classifications: 1) colors, 2) metals and 3) furs.
- There are five colors: Azure (blue), Gules (red), Purpure (purple), Sable (black) and Vert (green).
- There are two metals: Argent (silver or white) and Or (gold or yellow).
- There are two basic fur types, of which there are tincture variations: Ermine fur (metals with color
spots & colors with metal spots) and Vair fur (bell shaped quadrants composed of equal parts color and
- The basic rule of heraldic design is: When designing a device you may not place a color on a color or a
metal on a metal.
- The "no color on color, no metal on metal " rule may be disregarded if a charge lays equally over two
tinctures (one being a color and the other a metal) AND there is good contrast between all of the
- When using a fur, there must be good contrast between all components. The basic rule is: Do not put a
fur whose major background tincture is a metal (such as ermine and erminois) on a metal and do not put a
fur whose major background tincture is a color (such as counter-ermine and pean) on a color. If a fur is
equally divided of a color and a metal (such as blue and white vair) make sure there is good visible
difference with anything it lays on or lays upon it.
- Devices are more likely to pass if they have a charge that is used less frequently. Some of these charges
are: Abacus, Alembic, Alphyn, Anchor, Angel, Angles (fastener), Antelope (heraldic), Ape, Apothecary Jar,
Arachnid (spider), Arch, Astrolabe, Bagpipes, Balance,Barnacles (horse clamp), Barrel, Basket, Bat,
Battering Ram, Beehive, Bellows, Billet (solid rectangle), Bones, Book (usually open), Bottle, Brooch,
Broom, Brush, Bucket, Bull, Caliper, Card Pique, Cartouche, Catapult, Cauldron (kettle), Centaur, Chair,
Clarion, Clouds, Cock (rooster), Coffin, Collar (horsecollar), Comb, Comet, Cornucopia, Crampon (wolf
hook), Crutch, Cushion (pillow), Delf (solid square), Dice, Door, Drinking Horn, Drum, Elephant, Enfield,
Equatorium, Escarbuncle, Estoile, Ewer, Fan, Fasces, Fer-a-Loup (wolftrap), Fetterlock, Fireplace, Fish,
Fleece, Fork, Fruit, Fungus (mushroom), Furison, Garb (wheat stack), Gore, Grenade, Grozing Iron, Gurges,
Hautbois, Hedgehog, Hide, Horseshoe, Hourglass, Ink Bottle, Inkhorn, Insect, Key, Keystone, Knot,
Krummhorn, Ladder, Lamp, Lantern, Level (plumb line), Lock, Lozenge, Lute, Manacle, Mascle, Maunch, Mill,
Millrind, Mirror, Mortar & Pestle, Mouse, Needle, Nesselblatt, Net, Oar, Pavilion, Peacock, Pen, Pen Box,
Pick, Pipe, Pitcher, Pitchfork, Printer's Ball, Psaltery, Quadrant, Quill of Yarn, Quiver, Retort, Rustre,
Saddle, Satyr, Saw, Scissors, Screw Press, Scroll, Scythe, Seeblatt, Shave (currier's knife), Shovel,
Shuttle, Sickle, Slea (weaver's tool), Snaffle-bit, Spindle, Spoon, Staple, Sunburst, Table, Trident,
Triquetra, Trivet, Turtle, Tyger (heraldic), Wagon, Water Bouget, Windmill, Yak, Yale, Zephyr and Zule.
- Devices that are more difficult to pass are ones that utilize a heraldic charge that is used frequently.
Some of these are: Bear, Bird-Eagle, Bird-Falcon, Bird-Hawk, Bird-Raven, Crescent, Dagger, Deer, Dragon,
Escallop, Griffin, Hammer, Heart, Lion, Merfolk, Mullet (star), Rose, Ship, Sword, Tree (especially
Proper), Unicorn and Wolf.
This is NOT to say that frequently used charges can't be used. Merely that, you may have to "be adaptable"
and be willing to work with the heraldic design to get to use the charge you want. Many simple designs
with these charges have already been registered.
- The style of heraldry striven for is bold and bright, i.e. red lions, purple unicorns, green swords,
- Try to use only 2 or 3 tinctures at most.
- Try to use only 2 different types of charges/objects if possible.
- Try to give a balance to the design.
- Try not to place tinctures that blend together right next to each other (i.e. blue by black, green by
blue, gold by white).
- Try not to use Proper as a tincture, where Proper means coloring a charge in its natural color (i.e. a
tree Proper [green leaves and brown trunk]). The tincture brown was rarely, if ever, used in period
- Don't try to make a scene/pretty picture or tell your persona story on your device. This is not the style
of medieval heraldry.
- When coloring in a device (particularly on submission forms), the shade of the tincture should be a rich,
- NEVER USE PALE, PASTEL, OR NEON COLORS.
Historical Aspects of Armory
While following the general guidelines will help you create a heraldic device that is acceptable and
registerable, many people are concerned with being historically correct in their design of a heraldic
device. To address this concern, a small bit of background is needed. To begin with, the origins of heraldic
arms began in the late 12th century. Although the use of heraldry spread quickly, especially through
western Europe, there were many places where arms were not used at all. If a person has a persona from a
time period before the late 12th century, or from a place that didn't use heraldry, then they have a
decision to make. They can be faithful to their persona and not use arms, or they can follow Society custom
and use arms (even though historically they wouldn't have them). Only they can make the choice; there is
no right or wrong choice.
Historically speaking, heraldic design grew in fits and starts. Because arms were inherited from one
generation to the next, only a small number of new devices were designed in each generation. And new
armigers wanted to associate themselves with the older noble families, to legitimize their claims to
nobility, so they copied the same (old) design styles into their own devices. This restricted the growth
of new designs during most of the Middle Ages. There were a few cases of rapid change in armorial style.
Perhaps the most classic example of this was in England after the War of the Roses. The Tudor kings adopted
arms which were distinctly different from those used by their predecessors, so everyone would know that a
new dynasty had taken charge. But these cases of sudden growth were few.
The following hints, combined with the previous guidelines and hints, should allow a person to develop a
historically accurate device.
- Keep it simple.
- Avoid charges placed overall.
- Avoid very detailed or naturalistic depictions of charges.
- Charges should also be drawn to fit the space available. (Some may be drawn smaller or larger to fit
- Do not place ordinaries over corresponding field divisions.
- Draw complex lines of division big and bold.
- Use a single charge repeated three or six times.
- Use default postures for animals.
- Use easily identifiable charges.
- Use identical charges in symmetrical arrangements.
- Use multipart divisions such as checky, barry, and bendy for fields or charges.
- Use purpure and vert sparingly and not in the same device.
- Use strewn charges (semy).
Da'ud ibn Auda, "Period Style: An Introduction," Proceedings of the Known World Heraldic and Scribal
Symposium, Kingdom of Trimaris, A.S. XXIX.
Aodhan Ite an Fhithich, "Heraldic Design: Theoretical and Practical Aspects for the Branch Herald," Dobharchu
Hilary of Serendip, "The Philosophical Roots of Heraldic Design," The Known World Handbook.
Frederick of Holland and Eilis O'Boirne, "Heraldry in the SCA," The Known World Handbook.
Alan Fairfax, "Finding a Name and Arms for the SCA", The Academy of St. Gabriel website.
Larkin O'Kane, "Creating a Name/Persona" (Ansteorra version), Larkin O'Kane's website.
Raonull Modar, Saker Herald, "Creating a Name/Persona" (original version), consulting table handout.
Gwenllian ferch Maredudd, Asterisk Herald, "Period Heraldic Style", Ansteorra Heralds List.
Cariadoc (David Friedman), "The Little Things", Cariadoc's Miscellany.
(c)1998 Modar Neznanich
The only other thing I ask, is that if an article is printed in a publication, please let me know how I can
obtain or purchase a copy of the publication(s) for myself.
I can be contacted as follows:
H.L. Modar Neznanich, CLM, CSH, OT
First Saker Herald of Calontir
Permission granted to web on July 13, 1998.
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