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DISPLAY OF MUNDANE HERALDRY IN THE SCA
-Ioseph of Locksley
OL,OPel, Baron, &c
© copyright 1988, 1998 W.J.Bethancourt III

I must begin by saying that even though I am an old, used Laurel King-of-Arms, any statements I make concerning heraldic practice are purely MY opinion(s) and NOT necessarily those of the College of Arms of the SCA, Inc.

Now that we have that out of the way......as all of us are, I hope, quite aware, Society heraldry is meant for SCA use only. It's registration within the Society grants no mundane rights, and, in some parts of the mundane world, such as Scotland, it's use in the wrong context could get the unaware medievalist in much deep mundane hot water.

"Mundane" heraldry has much the same position in the SCA. If one really holds a Grant from Scotland, England, Spain or other such recognized Colleges of Arms, then, maybe, you could use it in the Society, altho this question has been sedulously avoided by the SCA College. The first Clarion King-of-Arms of the SCA (the late, and lamented, Master Randall of Hightower) once said: "Real Arms are defended by Real Steel. DON'T use them."

However................(there's always a "however" to everything. Have you ever noticed that?)

There are numerous heraldic items (I do NOT call them Arms or Devices because they're NOT) from mundane history that can be used with impunity in the SCA. The most commonly seen is the Scots Clan Badge. This always takes the form of an heraldic badge encircled by a strap-and-buckle arrangement, as ONLY the Chief (recognized as such by Lyon King-of-Arms of Scotland) wears simply the plain badge without the strap and buckle .... and ONLY that mundane Clan Chief wears that badge with feathers in it.

It normally appears on the bonnet, but can be used to pin up the Great Plaid on one's shoulder. Ladies wear it according to their fancy, but NEVER on a bonnet, as that is an article of man's apparel...remember, one of the charges against Jeanne d'Arc that led to her burning was that she wore men's clothing.....and it is not appropriate to paint this badge on your shield, as that is the rightful place for your personal SCA device/Arms.

The most spectacular, and the most fun, are the generic / national flags.

Perhaps the most common "generic flag" that can be used by anyone is the "national" flag. At the end of this article is a list of such, with the "nation" that used it. Note that some of these nations no longer have an independent existence, but DID exist in the period covered by the SCA. Be advised, however, that I have only listed those that I personally have authenticated as being used in the Middle Ages/Renaissance as "national" flags and NOT as Royal Arms. Confusion exists on this matter even among heralds, so go carefully and softly in your own research, and double-check EVERYTHING!

These flags can be used independently, or in the hoist of a Standard, as is explained in any decent heraldic text, and can thus indicate your persona's national origin, or even century of origin if the viewer is up on their historical heraldry. Under NO circumstances should you combine an SCA Kingdom's National Ensign (if it has one) with one of these mundane designs on a standard. Not only is it poor heraldic usage, it is wrong heraldic usage.

Standards can be fun!

Have a good time with these, because, in period, an encampment would be liberally decorated with both the "national" banner and the banner of the ruling Noble. For a large household, this would be a nice project for each member to build a "national" flag. Some SCA Kingdoms have their own "national" flag, and this could be added in, along with the flag of the SCA, for an incredibly pretty display of perfectly period heraldry.

A Cavalier persona has yet another option. It was quite common for the Cavaliers, and the Roundheads, to fly flags with odd, very personalized, designs that were NOT heraldic at all, usually in company with personal mottos, slogans and so forth. I fly one that gives my feelings about the question of the SCA's period ending at 1601 or 1650 CE. The motto translates as:

"Thanks be to God for we have got
the Arquebus, and THEY have not!"

But, being in Latin, or at least a nice Dog-Latin of the period, it looks quite nice, and says what I want to say....bugs the Heralds, too! If you want a look at such flags, check out the Regimental Flags of the English Civil War. Very interesting things!

Such mottoes or slogans can say pretty much anything...if it is at all wierd, or possibly offensive, or out-of-period.....say it in Latin.

The SCA makes no bones about it's attitude towards matters of Religion, but this part of life played a LARGE part in peoples' existence in the real Middle Ages and Renaissance, so the lack of proper displays of such things has always bothered me.....yes, I know that the PROTESTANTS out there are jumping up and down about "graven images being a vain and useless thing..." but.....look at any Central and South American religious festival. You will see Gonfanons being carried that have, essentially, not changed since the late Middle Ages. These hanging banners ( NOT flags ) usually display an ornate representation of the Saint, or of Mary, or whoever, with certain things added that are their attributes or symbols, such as Mary's traditional blue robe and Halo, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Nazareth, and so forth.

This opens up a whole field of interesting possibilities....obvously the Roman Catholics have a whole mess of stuff they can use, but what about the Neo-Pagans out there? (Yes, there are a LOT of them in the SCA)

How about a representation of Freya, with halo and cats at her feet? Or Thor as a medieval knight, but rather than carrying a sword he would hold a hammer, with a background of storm-clouds and with two goats to either side of him.......or how about three Ladies, one young, one middle aged holding a baby, and one old? The possibilities are endless, but remember to pattern them on the Christian banners, to keep to the "authentic" part of the SCA...after all, in most of Europe pre-1650 paganism was a Capital Crime .....

And for you Protestants......you fall into pretty much the Cavalier style of flag, if not the period, so make some yourselves and have a good time, too! I recall seeing one period flag as: "Or, above a Death's Head between two thigh bones argent the motto "No Popery" gules."

Just remember not to be offensive by it, as religion is a touchy subject with many people, and mundanes might not understand our sometimes warped senses of humor. If you can render a Pagan Goddess or God to look like an ordinary Saint, until very close inspection accompanied by knowledge, then you have done it right.

The bottom line in any of this, as in any SCA endeavour, is RESEARCH. Research your persona. Check and double-check what "nation" you would be associated with, and check and double-check what flag(s) would be appropriate, and be VERY wary of Royal Arms masquerading as "national" flags.

DO NOT USE THE UNION JACK OR THE SCOTTISH ROYAL ARMS !!!!!

This last is a common error that many people, even in the mundane world, fall into. It never ceases to make my teeth itch to see someone at a Highland Games flying a flag of the Scottish Royal Arms....those are the PERSONAL arms of the Queen (at the moment) and NOT available for just anyone to use! The common use of "Scotland Royal" is a demonstration of ignorance more than anything else, and causes the usurper of the Arms to be held in contempt.

The modern Union Jack is NOT really a national flag, and is out-of-period anyway, though the older Union Flag would be appropriate for a post-1606 persona.....unless you are a Scottish Nationalist.

THE FLAGS

NOTE: This incorporates the suggestions made by Master Bruce Draconarius, Principal Herald for Caid, in Tournaments Illuminated, Fall 1989, Issue 92. Thank you, Master Bruce!

Wales: Per fess argent and vert, a Dragon passant gules. nb: this is possibly out of period, as the blazon was not official until 1958 CE. The design is ancient enough that I would accept it.

Ireland: Vert, a Harp Or.

Cornwall: Sable, a Cross argent (modern, but acceptable...)

Denmark: Gules, a Dannebrog Cross argent. (this is the oldest national flag in use, dating from circa 1219 CE)

Sweden: Azure, a Dannebrog Cross Or. (post 1500)

Netherlands: A tricolour per fess of orange, argent and azure. (adopted 1579, the orange was replaced by red in 1650)

France: Azure, a Cross argent. (This is argued by Master Bruce Draconarius, but period illustrations show this used as a livery badge on French soldiers.)

England: Argent, a Cross gules.

Scotland: Azure, a Saltire argent.

       
Burgundy: Argent, a saltire gules.(nb: now used by the State of Alabama, USA) Argent, two staves raguly in saltire gules.(better for period style and usage..)

Switzerland: Gules, a Cross humetee argent (1339)

Russia: Argent, a saltire azure (late 1500's); Argent, a mounted St. George, bearing argent a Cross gules, slaying the Dragon, all proper (usually represented with a lance with heraldic pennoncel, but sometimes with sword and shield with the Cross on the shield and/or surcoat.)

OTHERS OF INTEREST
(Not National flags, but good generic stuff for the SCA)

Pirate flag: sable, a skull and crossbones argent, or some such variation in white on black or black on white. Some nice mottoes, NOT in Latin, would also be appropriate.

"Viking flag": Argent, a raven displayed sable. The period authenticity of this one is very much arguable.....

Arab flags: usually come in green, white, black or red, with quotations from al Qu'uran (Koran) on them. The most common quote is "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God!" The background tinctures usually denote a ruling dynasty, but not always.

Generic Barbarian: Dig up a skull of a Horse, or Cow, and mount it on a pole with nice "festoonies" made up of horsetails, strips of leather or cloth, scalps &c. Bells are a nice touch, too. If you can get hold of one of the plastic reproductions of a sabre-toothed Cat's skull it would be nifty! There's a place in North Carolina that offers them....expensive, but the looks of shock on people's faces would be worth it!



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