Books on Armory
Date Written: September, 2017
Last Updated: September, 2017
Author: Astrith of Swanesvale

Policy Level: Informational
Intended Audience: All heralds and their clients
Abstract: List of books on armory with opinionated advice as to their usefulness and applicability to the SCA.


The original article was written in 1986 by Eilis O'Boirne and Alison von Markheim. This new version has been rewritten completely by Astrith of Swanesvale, is more up-to-date based on modern practices.

Sources for printed books are:

The primary source for on-line information are the rules and articles posted on the Laurel website:

For heralds new to armorial design and terminology, the most useful articles at the Laurel website are:

The primary sources for downloading name and armory references are Google Books and a non-profit digital library called the Internet Archive. Because these references are scanned as images, the files can be 30 to 50 megabytes in size or more. Even if the book is printed only in black-and-white, it may have been scanned in color. Because the pages are generally no longer white, every page has a “color” background.

Administrative Handbook, Appendix H - No-Photocopy Books

The armory references most frequently used by SCA heralds are all on the Appendix H list. Most of the printed references here include post-period armory, including Victorian armory that is stylistically different from medieval armory. Read selectively.

Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones. Heraldry.

Brault, Gerald J. Early Blazon.

Brooke-Little, J.P. An Heraldic Alphabet.

Bruce Draconarius of Mistholme and Akagawa Yoshio. A Pictorial Dictionary of Heraldry. For many years, SCA heralds have relied on this reference by two SCA heralds to quickly find illustrations of charges, including some SCA-invented charges which may no longer be registerable. An updated version of this reference is now maintained on-line. The website is interactive, so it is out of reach whenever you are at a site with no internet access: http://mistholme.com/pictorial-dictionary-of-heraldry/.

Foster, Joseph. The Dictionary of Heraldry: Feudal Coats of Arms and Pedigrees. Arval Benicoeur, Treblerose Herald, says of the 1989 printing:

“The single best book available for SCA members trying to design arms. I have referred to this book as ‘the one book consulting table.’ This is a re-print, originally published as Some Feudal Coats of Arms in 1902. Its new name is deceptive; it is an armorial of medieval armory, from rolls of arms, heavily illustrated in color. Some caveats: Not every piece of armory in the book is medieval, but most are. The illustrations are apparently facsimiles from the original rolls of arms, but there are numerous errors in tincturing. However, every illustration is blazoned, usually on the same page. Many other illustrations of heraldic tomb brasses, seals, stained glass, etc. Most highly recommended.”
The 1902 edition is available on-line, but the emblazons are not in color: https://books.google.com/books?id=7AonAAAAMAAJ or https://archive.org/details/somefedualcoatso00fostuoft. CAVEAT: although the titles are similar and the dates are the same, the book at archive.org includes images from Greek vases, seals, tiles. It is laid out with the images of the arms set around the periphery of the pages. The book at Google has the images clustered on alternate pages from the text.

Fox-Davies, A. The Art of Heraldry. 1986. Arval Benicoeur, Treblerose Herald, says of this source:

“A very thorough and detailed examination of heraldry in Britain and Europe. Heavily illustrated, some from period sources, many lifted from Strahl. The Complete Guide to Heraldry, listed next, is an abridgement of this work.”

Fox-Davies, A. The Complete Guide to Heraldry. The 1909 edition is available in black-and-white on-line: https://archive.org/details/completeguidetoh00foxduoft. This is also available from used book dealers as a 1978 printing in color. Arval Benicoeur, Treblerose Herald, says of this source:

“A general introduction to modern English heraldry. It contains many illustrations of charges, with detailed discussion of terms of blazon. It is a good introduction to the subject, and is highly recommended for the beginner, with the caveat that much of it is not applicable to medieval heraldry.”

Mayer, L.A. Saracenic Heraldry.

Neubecker, Ottfried. Heraldry: Sources, Symbols and Meaning. Arval Benicoeur, Treblerose Herald, says of this source:

“A fine examination of all aspects of heraldry. Also published in French as Le Grand Livre de l'Heraldique, by Bordas, 1981. Very heavily illustrated in color, largely with photographs of period items. Very highly recommended. Note that the abridged version, A Guide to Heraldry, is NOT recommended, because it omits most of the good material in the larger volume.”

Papworth. John W. Papworth's Ordinary of British Armorials.

Parker, James. A Glossary of Terms used in Heraldry. Parker is available at interactive website: http://www.heraldsnet.org/saitou/parker/index.htm, and you can also find it as a pdf: https://books.google.com/books?id=luMMAAAAYAAJ.

Siebmacher, Johann. Johann Siebmacher's Wappenbuch von 1605. A roll of arms for 18 regions of the Holy Roman Empire. The pages are available on-line as individual files: http://www.wappenbuch.de/.

von Volborth, Carl-Alexander. Heraldry: Customs, Rules and Styles. An annotater at the Academy of Saint Gabriel says (https://www.s-gabriel.org/docs/beginheraldry.html):

“A general introduction to heraldry. It is useful in that it discusses heraldry from all parts of Europe, contains a good bibliography, and has many drawings which are reproduced from period examples. Most of these are dated, but not attributed.”

Woodward, John and Burnett, George. Woodward's Treatise on Heraldry British and Foreign. Woodward, John. 1896. A Treatise on Heraldry, British and Foreign. Volume I: https://books.google.com/books?id=zQMNAAAAYAAJ and Volume II: https://books.google.com/books?id=zQMNAAAAYAAJ.

Arval Benicoeur, Treblerose Herald’s, comment on this book was: “A monumental work, and like many monuments, many people prefer to look at it from a distance. Actually, that's not fair: It contains a great deal of useful information, but it is incredibly dense, and impossible to read. As a reference, it can be helpful, but it contains relatively few dated examples. Many illustrations, but all of them are modern drawings.”

Heraldic symposia proceedings. Proceedings from 2013 to date are available on the Laurel website: http://heraldry.sca.org/kwhss/. An index to the earlier proceedings is available at the same location. These were produced in print only, and are no longer available from the SCA Stock Clerk.

Other Sources

Boutell's Heraldry. This is available on-line in 2 versions.

Franklyn, Julian. Heraldry, A.S. Barnes, 1968. Full of lovely drawings and a smaller-than-usual proportion of totally inapplicable text.

Moncreiffe, Ian and Pottinger, Don. Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated, Mayflower Books, 1973. This is just what it says it is, a very brief and delightful introduction to heraldry and blazonry. Its early sections are good for those who want to get just a little glimpse of the subject to see if they will like it. Especially suitable for children.