Wednesday, 20 November 2013

On the Importance of Looking at Period Heraldry

In the new versions of the rules which govern heraldic registrations in the SCA - SENA (the Standards for the Evaluation of Names and Armory) replacing the RfS (Rules for Submissions) - there is a greatly increased focus on matching period style in new arms. As this topic will be one of the foci in the class I've been asked to give at an event in a few weeks' time, I thought it might be useful to explore the issue of why this matters at all, as much to get my thoughts in order as to illuminate the respected reader.

So, why is it important that our coats of arms are a faithful reproduction of the style of arms which would be found in period? Leaving aside the obvious matters of the fact that the rules encourage and require it.

Firstly, as much as people may like to debate the importance of authenticity, if you accept any part of the importance of authenticity in our game (which I emphatically do), then having arms which are authentic in style to period should be a goal. It will (hopefully) end up on banners, tabards, furniture, feasting gear, stationery, and every good thing, and having a modern design on otherwise lovely period-style items rather spoils the effect.

Also, one of the major emphases of period heraldry (with a couple of notable exceptions) was to focus on simplicity of design. A simple design is more visually striking, and allows for more artistic variation over one where the elements are so layered and crammed that they seem to fight for space. Also, the simpler the design, the more likely you are to put your arms on something, which in turn increases the amount of heraldry on display - my device, as shown above, can in fact be tablet woven, and I have plans for armour straps and fittings in full heraldic style.

There also advantages to looking at period examples of heraldry, and a range of types of sources available.

When looking at period heraldic treatises, such as I make frequent reference to, you can get an understanding about how heraldry was thought about in period, including the meanings of charges, interesting colour theory, and some fanciful and unusual arrangements which aren't seen in more modern (read: Victorian) works and treatises.

Period rolls of arms show the great variety of period heraldry, and can be a wonderful source of ideas when trying to design something. They can also be a wealth of examples of arms which don't match the "Core Style" of SCA heraldry - and one of the advantages of the new rule set is that there are specific and somewhat simpler requirements when documenting exceptions to the standard rules, where before it was left as a judgement call every time, resulting in inconsistent and difficult results.

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