Home Page > Heraldic Topics for The General Populace > Frequently Asked Questions
These are broken down into sections to make it easier to find them. If you want to go to a specific section, click on the link below:
Armory -- Devices, Coats of Arms, Badges
I'm a New Peer, or Have Been Asked to Join A Peerage Order, or Am About to Become a Royal Peer
Regalia (Coronets, Sumptuary Laws, etc.)
Q: The Herald's Minutes show my name, device and/or badge as having been passed. Does
this mean that it's official?
A: -- If your submission appears in the Herald's Minutes on this website as having been passed, please be sure that the place you see it listed under is the section noted as "EXCERPTS FROM THE LOAR" -- this is the Letter of Acceptances and Returns from the Laurel Sovereign of Arms. If the section you are looking at says "MINUTES-"(followed by a date), and on the next line it says "ACCEPTANCES", this is from the West Kingdom Herald's Meeting, and all that it means is that the Kingdom Herald's Office has decided that there is no reason to not pass this on to the Laurel Sovereign of Arms for final processing. Another way to tell which part you are looking at -- the West Kingdom Herald's Minutes section tends to have a lot more detail about the submission, and if armory is included, a copy of the picture. If it was accepted by the Laurel Sovereign of Arms (and therefore is now official) -- in the Minutes you will see this listed as noted under the "EXCERPTS FROM THE LOAR", but even more importantly, you will receive a Letter of Acceptance from the West Kingdom College of Heralds, which tells you when it was registered, etc.
Q: What is the difference between a device, a coat of arms, and a badge?
A: A device is really a coat of arms by another name. In the SCA there's a technical difference between the two: a device is what is registered by the College of Arms, a Coat of Arms is used by someone once they are granted the right to bear arms (an Award of Arms by the King and Queen or Prince and Princess, or higher award that grants an Award of Arms, Grant of Arms or Patent of Arms). Note that this is a technical difference: once you register a device you can display it on your shield, a banner, etc. It becomes a "Coat of Arms" if/when you are granted the right to call it such, but until that point you can display it as you will.
A badge is normally a simpler form of armory. The difference between a device (Coat of Arms) and a badge is that a device is used to signify you, and a badge is used to mark your belongings. A badge can also be used to signify a relationship, such as being a member of a household or other group. (Badges are also used for reserving specific displays for branches, such as awards, and so on.)
There are a couple of articles on the SCA Laurel Sovereign of Arms website of interest to this topic: What Is a Device? and What Is a Badge?.
Q: The Heralds tell me that I need two changes, or two differences, between my device
and someone else's. What exactly constitutes a change or difference?
A: This can be a bit tricky as the rules get very specific, and if you want it in plain English it's hard to just sit down and state "this, this and this". However, here is an attempt:
The simplest explanation is that we are talking about significant differences in appearance between two similar sets of armory. A significant difference can be color, number of charges, position of a primary (main) charge, and so on.
Below is a short listing based on the Rules for Submission put into non-heraldic English. Note that the term "armory" given here refers to a device or badge. These are some of the main ways to get differences, and please keep in mind if you have two pieces of armory that are close, you need to have two clear differences -- heraldic terms are in parentheses () and italic text:
With all of this in mind, please understand that none of this is 100% hard and fast -- a lot depends on the actual changes made -- for example, changing black to purple on a complex device may not provide enough clear visual difference between two similar pieces of armory. If you aren't sure, consult with the heralds -- it's what we're here for!
Q: Is sable a fur, or a tincture (color)? Is it "neutral" so I can put
something on top of it that is of a color such as red?
A: Sable is a tincture. The misconception here is that the term sable is a reference to the fur, because it's black. However, heraldically speaking, sable is a tincture, one of the five "colors" (sable=black, azure=blue, vert=green, gules=red, purpure=purple). The "rule of tincture" explicitly states that you cannot place a color on a color, a metal on a metal, etc. There have been some modifications added over the years, defining this even more clearly. For example, the fur ermine was once considered "neutral", with the idea that you could place an Or (gold) charge on this fur. The problem is that this is a low-contrast situation. If you removed the ermine spots from the ermine field, you would have an argent (white) field with an Or (gold) charge on it. From any distance at all this charge disappears into the field. Current rulings state that any charge on a fur field must have contrast with the background of the fur. This gets even more obscure when you throw furs like Vair and Potent (by default these are blue and white, but equally divided overall) into the mix. With these you cannot place a blue or white charge onto them, and anything placed onto these furs must stand out (such as gules (red)).
Q: What about "proper" charges? Don't they get treated as "neutral"?
A: Most likely, they do not. Let's use a crow as an example. A "proper" crow is black with gold/yellow bill and legs and feet. If you try to work with the concept that heraldry is meant to be seen and understood from a distance, placing a "proper" crow on, say, a red (gules) field will lose much of the detail. From across a tourney field you might see the bill, legs and feet, and you would see a blob associated with them that might have wings. That's really about all. "Proper" is not truly neutral. Another good example of "proper" is a tree. In most cases a tree "proper" is green and brown. Again, if you place this on a red (gules) field, you are going to lose detail. The brown will disappear into the red, and the green can again (depending on the tree) look like a blob ...
Q: What is meant by "neutral"?
A: The term is sort of a misnomer when it comes to heraldry, and has created much confusion over the years. Some of this is described in the discussion above. Basically "neutral", when it came to heraldry, was meant to mean that the field or background was such that you could place any charge on it, no matter what the tincture. However, reality stepped in over the years, and decisions were made that mostly rule out the concept of a "neutral" field. (Again, see the discussion above.)
Best advice? Forget the term "neutral" when it comes to heraldry. It was a bad idea in the early days of the SCA, and the term is really mostly useless ...
Q: What is an "Augmentation of Arms"?
A: An Augmentation of Arms is a special award granted by the Crown (the King and Queen), which is a modification of someone's coat of arms with a special badge. The special badge may vary, depending on the reason the augmentation is granted. In the West Kingdom these are VERY rare. Augmentations are usually displayed in the upper left corner (approx. 1/5th of the size of the arms) in the area called by heralds as the canton.
Q: Can I Use My Family Coat of Arms?
A: This question comes up quite often ... The simple answer is: "No". A more detailed answer is that you are creating a persona within the SCA of someone who might have existed in the Middle Ages (or Renaissance), not someone who really did exist. If those arms were actually in use by an ancestor of yours during the time-period of your persona to someone else, then you would be "stealing" them, which is a bad idea. You might want to think of it as "identity theft".
There are other problems with using a mundane coat of arms. First, what most people consider a "family coat of arms" is not really that. At any one time a coat of arms is registered to a single individual (in the non-SCA real world as well as in the SCA), not to a family. Hence, only one person at any one time really has the rights to use/wear/display that coat of arms. These are literally inheritable, so in someone's will, they would pass the rights to the Coat of Arms to their heir. In some parts of the world (parts of Europe, Australia ...) armorial display is still in use, it's not an archaic form of display. There are often laws that state that using someone's mundane coat of arms (see "identity theft" above) can get you in serious trouble (if displayed outside of an SCA event).
Another point is that unless you are very certain that the coat of arms you are considering as your "family coat of arms" is really what you think, you may be working off the wrong arms. There are several "heraldry houses" that do a quick scan on someone's name and send a coat of arms without doing real research. This is particularly true in America -- most of these houses only use Papworth's, which while a great resource for mundane heraldry, it only covers BRITISH heraldry, and not continental (Europe). I personally have been told through various mailings that three or four different coats of arms were my "family arms" -- none of them looked like the other. The chances are that the "research" was on the current form of my mundane last name, which I have been told by family members the spelling was changed when my great-grandparents migrated to America.
All of that said, if you honestly want to make a connection to that family coat of arms, the best thing to do is to use elements of those arms, or to modify them enough so that the heralds can see "two changes". (See the part of this website on Armory Research as well as the question/answer above in this page of the website.)
Q: Can I Inherit My Father's Arms, or "Will" My Arms to Someone When I Die?
A: This is an interesting question, and it has been covered by the SCA College of Arms for some time, however, most people don't realize it.
The College of Arms allows for you to create an "Heraldic Will", which allows you to "Will" your arms to someone upon your death. While this seems a bit morbid, as members of the SCA get older, it is something to consider. Once you die, if you do not "Will" your arms to someone, or release them, they are still registered to you, and will remain so to the end of the SCA (which shows no signs of ending at the time of this writing).
A father could quite literally will his coat of arms to his son, if he wished, and so on ...
The only place in the Heraldic Rules that I can find information is under the "Rules for Submission, Administrative Handbook", section 4.c.iv: "Support for Transfer - Any submission involving the transfer of a registered item from one individual or branch to another must include both a statement from the owner authorizing the transfer and a statement from the recipient accepting the transferred material. This shall apply not only to materials transferred during the life of the owner but also to items covered under an Heraldic Will, which is a statement of transfer that specifically transfers registered items to another at the owner's death."
What this means is that both the person who is willing their armory to another AND the person who would be receiving that armory should have paperwork on file with the heralds, granting permission for this transfer.
This should be signed by both persons, and multiple copies should be sent to the heralds. These will be kept in the files, and upon notification of death, the person receiving the armory should probably contact the heralds to ask that the transfer be completed.
Q: Can I display my local branch arms? What about the Kingdom or Principality
A: The current rulings from Vesper Principal Herald on this topic are that if you want to display the armory of a branch that is not a Barony, Principality or the Kingdom, it should be okay, as nobody has titular rights to those arms, so you're not stepping on anybody's prerogatives and devices are there for use, not "don't use."
Once you get to Baronial status, the arms technically "belong" to the Baron/ess. Ask them. If they say it's OK, go ahead and fly the banner. It helps identify with whom you are playing.
At the Principality and Kingdom levels you should not display those arms, unless you happen to be the Prince, Princess or the King or Queen. The Principalities are working on registering populace use badges, and the Kingdom has one registered. There is discussion on using the Kingdom populace badge at: Populace Badge. While the discussion centers around the Kingdom badge, once a Principality has one registered, the same ideas can be used for the Principality badge.
Q: When I Paid for My SCA Membership, I Put My SCA Name On The Form, Does This Mean My Name is Registered?
A: It is a fairly common misconception that if you are a paid member, you have registered your name. This is not the case. The SCA Registrar will put any name you write on your membership form on your membership card. The Heralds have a reciprocal arrangement with the SCA Registrar's office: We don't accept membership applications and fees; they don't register people's names and armory. This works out well for the offices, but sometimes confuses new members.
Q: How do the heralds determine that a name is different enough from another?
A: This is similar to the question on armory (see above), but differences between names are handled in a different manner than armory.
There are no "points" per se, but the following guidelines (again, take from the Rules for Submission) will help you out:
First, a few terms: Personal names are defined as a given name and at least one byname. A byname is added to a given name to further identify the bearer of the name. Each of these is called a name phrase.
And Have Some Questions
A lot of questions can be answered by reading the appropriate ceremonies, along with some "New Peer Packets", which can be found at: New Member Packets.
There are some specific questions, however, that often come up, these are the ones we can think of (if you have more, please contact us ...):
Q: I Understand I Can Get a Free Name Change -- What Does This Mean?
A: When some people become peers, they feel that the name they have registered is inappropriate for their new status (for example, Daedalus the Disgusting may not wish to be known as Sir Daedalus the Disgusting). Or a person may have been regularly using a name that is different from his or her registered name.
The biggest confusion we see with this is that people assume that they can just register any name that they want as a new name. What is really happening is that the West Kingdom College of Heralds is fronting the fee for a standard Name Change, which must go through all of the proper research, paperwork, and submission process. Just because the King dubbed you "Sir Lancelot du Lac" during your knighting ceremony does not mean that you can actually register that name (famous mythological character, protected by SCA College of Arms Rules for Submission).
This process also requires that you have a name registered with the heralds in the first place - it is a name CHANGE, not a name registration. If you do not have a registered name, then you must register your name and armory through the usual process.
Please note: This is a West Kingdom policy -- just because the Western College of Heralds does this is no guarantee that other Kingdoms do the same thing for new peers.
Q: If I Become a Peer, Do I Have to Swear Fealty?
A: No, you do not. Fealty is a personal issue, and is not required. In the West Kingdom, the peers all swear the same oath (while in other Kingdoms this may not be the case). For a frank discussion on the issues of fealty, you may wish to click on this link and read the article: Fealty, Loyalty and Obedience. This article was written some years ago, but is still quite a good discussion on the concepts of fealty.
The Peerage ceremonies all give the option to swear fealty (see the link at the top of this page to "The Peerage of the SCA"), but none of them require it.
Note that if you are becoming a member of the Order of Chivalry and you wish to be a Knight, you must swear fealty. However, if you feel uncomfortable with swearing fealty, you may choose the option to be named a Master of Arms. Unlike a Knight, a Master of Arms is not required to swear fealty.
The first thing to note is that the West Kingdom does not have any Sumptuary Laws on record. The questions below are specific to regalia and such in the West Kingdom.
For details on Sumptuary Customs in the West, see this article in the Herald's Handbook: Sumptuary Customs in The West.
It might be a good idea if you may be moving to another Kingdom in the near future to check out the sumptuary laws and/or customs of that Kingdom, to make sure you are not making any faux pas'. You can get to all of the different Kingdom websites from the SCA's website: http://www.sca.org.
Q: I have been named a Court Baron or Court Baroness, or I will be a
Viscount or Viscountess soon, and want to have a coronet made. What are the rules?
A: There are no hard-and-fast rules in the West Kingdom for Baronial or Viscounty Coronets. The following is advice that can be ignored completely ...
There are no period styles for Baronial or Viscounty Coronets that were defined except in England, and even that is a bit sketchy and out-of-period (see below). Some SCA Kingdoms have specific definitions, but the West does not.
Fox-Davies (A Complete Guide to Heraldry) states there should be pearls or silver balls to represent pearls on the top of the Baronial Coronet, and he states four, but this was based on Charles the II and Barons of Ireland by James the II. Some SCA Kingdoms specify 12 or 16 or whatever. Some don't specify anything, the West being one of them.
Fox-Davies also specifies for a Viscounty Coronet that it have 9 pearls on top, all set closely together.
I love this wording: "Coronets of rank are used very indiscriminately on the Continent, particularly in France and the Low Countries. Their use by no means implies the same as us, and frequently indicates little if anything beyond mere 'noble' birth." -- A.C. Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry.
Fox-Davies, the standard reference from which the Ducal and County Coronet designs came in the very early days of the SCA, is way out of period (Victorian England) ... it's too late to change the Ducal and County Coronet designations (strawberry leaves and embattlements) and I don't think it's a good idea to do so, but there is no reason to stick to an out-of-period form for the Viscounty or Baronial Coronets.
Typically in the West Kingdom, a Viscounty Coronet has points (1, 2 or 4 usually), but this is not required. There are no "typical" Baronial Coronets in the West.
SCA Corpora does not regulate or specify any designation for Baronial or Viscountal coronets, and there's no SCA-wide standard.
What this means is -- you are free to design your Viscounty or Baronial Coronet in anyway you want to, but should avoid using things such as charges from a specific Barony's or Principality's arms, because it might confuse folk (Baronial (Landed Baron/ess) Coronet, Principality Coronets, Viscounty Coronets ...). Viscountal coronets are encouraged to have something to do with the Principality arms, but that's not required and that suggestion is often ignored.
You might want to spend some time looking at Jewelry books that focus on our period, and try to focus in on a specific period if you are trying to do something persona-specific.
If you're looking for places to have one made, and don't already have someone lined up, check out this part of a website dedicated to the Peerage, there are plenty of jewelers out there who would love to get paid to make a coronet for you (this list is only a fraction of the folk who do this sort of jewelry in/for the SCA). Where to Get Regalia
Q: When the founding Baron/ess of a branch steps down, do they retain the title
"Founding Baron/ess" afterward? How would this be placed in proper heraldic terms?
Or would, say, a Courtesy Baronetcy be needed for them to maintain the title of
A: A "Founding" Baron or Baroness are the first Baron or Baroness of a Barony when it is first made a Barony. When a founding Baron or Baroness retires from their office, they are considered to be a Baron or Baroness in perpetuity, even if the King and Queen do not grant them a Court Baronetcy. Their permanent titles differ slightly from those of a landed Baron or Baroness by removing the word "of" from the landed Baron/ess title. A founding Baron or Baroness would be styled:
Baron <BranchName> or Baroness <BranchName>
where the Landed (current) Baron and/or Baroness of a branch would be styled:
Baron of <BranchName> or Baroness of <BranchName>
While this seems like a minor difference, it is enough. One can always call the person <name>, Founding Baron <BranchName>, but the word "Founding" isn't really necessary.
To take the titles even further, when introducing or addressing a landed Baron or
Baroness, you would properly use:
Baron <Name> of <BranchName> or Baroness <Name> of <BranchName>
and a founding Baron or Baroness (assuming they have retired from the position):
<Name>, Baron <BranchName> or <Name>, Baroness <BranchName>
A further note: a landed Baron or Baroness, upon retiring from the position, are traditionally granted the titles of Court Baron or Court Baroness (or Baron/Baroness of the Court). However, it is not required by law that the King and Queen grant these titles when a landed Baron or Baroness retire, and there may be reasons that this is not being done by the royalty. Most of the time if it is not done it is because the Royalty forgot, or did not realize that it is traditional -- if They are reminded of this then the titles are usually granted.
Q: How long do Names/Armory sit in the registration database when they are no
longer in use?
A: Forever. The whole purpose of registering names and armory in the SCA is to preserve them from being infringed upon by someone else. This means that even after a person has been inactive for 10 years or more, the name and any armory that they have registered to them is still in their name. Even more important -- upon death these same rules apply, unless an heraldic will was enacted (this is discussed under the armory questions above). If someone decides to leave the SCA "forever", they can release their registered items (names, arms, badges, etc.), but they must explicitly do so. If they do not, there is no mechanism for automatically doing it, nor should there be. If someone takes a hiatus from the SCA, and returns 12 years later to find that their name and/or armory are being used by someone else, it would be rather disconcerting, wouldn't it?
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