Basic Heraldry
(In other words, enough to get by on...)
By: Matthew Broadway

Heraldry is supposed to be the art and science of a herald. That sounds kind of imposing. One would think that if it was an art, it would be very hard to draw out a heraldic device... Well, that just isn't true. And if it is supposed to be a science, then were are all the formulas and hypothesis? Well, there are a few formulas, but there isn't anything like a quadratic equation or E=mc2 involved in heraldry... So, if it is considered a science, let's call it a reletively simple science (like if you had to take it in high school, it would be a pre-requisite to biology... and who ever failed biology?)


Here are two furs. I only give two of them because they are a pain in the ass to draw.
From left to right: Ermine and Vair.

As far as I'm concerned there are four types of people who do anything with heraldry, and since I love lists and giving my opinion on things, here they are laid out for you... see if you correlate to any one of them...

  • Could Care Less... This guy is of the firm belief that the whole reason we had the Revolutionary War was to throw the damn Brits (and everything related to them) the hell out of America... Thus, heraldry is of no concern to this person.

  • Thinks they're Neat... This person really likes how they look, and wants to feel special about himself. So he goes out and pays somebody a ridiculous amount of money to find out his heraldic device (the person probably makes it up, or gets a device of a person with the same last name, but absolutely no blood relation.) So, when this guy finally gets this device he puts it over his front door, on personal stationary, and maybe has a flag made up for his front porch... Basically, the guy does alot of stuff to make himself look like an idiot.

  • Needs one for his LARP Tabard/Shield... This guy wants to know how to make his own, passable, yet not too frilly Device. He doesn't have to adhere to strict organizational heraldry rules, but would like to stick with some basic heraldry rules so he doesn't look like a complete fool (say for instance several layers of just colors on top of one another). This is the guy this essay is for...

  • The SCAdian... This is the guy who is gonna get really pissed off after he turns in his fifth revision and gets denied yet another time...


These are some of the basic colors used in heraldry, they are also, by extreme coincidence, the only colors in SCA heraldry. And, because nothing is easy, they are not referred by simple english color names. Nope, red is Gules, blue is Azure, black is Sable, green is Vert, and purple is Purpure.

"So what the hell did you show me the colors for?" Well, they way I started this all the graphics were at the bottom of the page, and they looked awful down there. So I spaced them out...

Some Definitions:

  • Arms...Heraldic insignia or devices, borne originally on the shields of fully armed knights to distinguish them in battle. They eventually became hereditary and came to represent the family.

  • Coat of Arms...A piece of clothing with your arms on it.

  • Field...The background color of a device. It can be one color, or a combination of colors in a pattern.

  • Charge...Anything placed on the field... Like those lions, anvils, crescent moons, swords, etc...

  • Ordinary...The lines that slice up your field...

  • Tincture...Any of the colors, metals, or furs used in a device.

  • Color...Duh... Figure this one out yourself...

  • Metal...Yellow and white are not considered colors... They are instead called metals (gold-Or and silver-Argent).

  • Fur...A pattern that is used as a color.


There are typically only two metals used as well, Gold and silver. Gold is yellow and silver is white.

"So what do I do to get that hint of medieval flare that I wanted?" Well, there are a few things you can do to give your heraldic arms a hint of a medieval flare.

  • Make sure the colors on your device strongly contrast... This is basically contrasting colors are easy to make out from far down the battlefield. ("Who the hell is that with the gold/silver device down there?" --"Don't know, just fill him full of arrows and find out later.")

  • Never put a metal on top of another metal, and don't put a color on top of another color... I like a couple colors split up by an Ordinary with charges on top that are colored with metals... But, I think this is generally what the most people go for...

  • Keep your charges symetrical and balanced.


Ordinaries were the earliest charges known in heraldry. They are basically just lines set up to seperate colors into different areas and patterns. A few of the simpler ones are given above... From Left to Right they are... Fess, Pale, Bend, Bend Sinister, Chevron, Pall, Saltire, Cross, Pile, Chief, Base, Quartered, and Impaled.

One final word on Charges... I didn't include a bunch of charge pictures because I didn't feel like it... You can find pictures of a couple hundred diffent types of charges on the net. Your typically historical ones are: the lion, escallop (shell), cresent moon, rose, sun, tree, anvil, axes, swords, buckles, fish, birds, and assorted imaginary beasts like unicorns, and dragons...

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