heraldic heresy

I happened to see a “demo” in a park by a branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism. (A “demo” is a small event designed to get public attention, as opposed to one where everyone present is expected to dress and behave cod-medievally.) I stopped to say hi, and mentioned that twenty years ago I was active as a book-herald: designing coats-of-arms and checking them for sufficient difference from others previously registered. This datum was received with excitement, as the local shire has no book-herald; so I indicated that, although I have no desire at all to play the SCA game, I’d happily make available such expertise as I have.

I joined the shire’s mailing-list as well as that of the kingdom heralds, and within a month caused an uproar. Warning: unexplained SCA heraldic jargon ahead.

A new member sought advice on a device and badge that she proposes to register. The badge is the same as the device, but fieldless. I remarked,

When I was active – a long time ago in a kingdom far far away – we’d say “Don’t bother paying to register it; if you put it on your gear, everyone will understand.”


Displaying unregistered armory is claiming ownership to something you do not actually own and in a Society of honor, is dishonorable.

Possibly it was unclear that my advice was merely not to register the badge as well as the device. (But why would I be on that list if I advocated registering nothing?) I retorted:

As I see it, using a simplified unregistered (perhaps unregistrable) version of one’s arms as an ornamental motif — not on a shield or flag! — is like using a simplified unregistered (and almost certainly unregistrable) version of one’s name.

The distinction I had in mind, between e.g. putting a fleur-de-lis on one’s goblets and flying a royal banner of France, was either not understood or not considered significant. After at least one more round of “Making such a claim would be wrong” and “So what? This is not making such a claim,” I asked which of a list of specific acts would be condemned: wearing a tunic in the tinctures of one’s arms, wearing a belt ornamented with a charge from the arms, and so on. But before I could get a reply on this, the peevishness of my next two posts provoked a senior herald to declare the thread closed.

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