Heraldic Display

by Miklós Sándorfia

I. What Is Heraldic Display?

In the middle ages, heraldry was used in many ways. Using it on shields, flags, clothing, household items and crafts, and architecture were pervasive ones. This was done for both aesthetic and practical reasons. In this article I offer some easy ways to use heraldry to enhance the medieval atmosphere.

II. Badges

There are two types of heraldic design used in most display. Most of you will be familiar with heraldic devices or arms. These are heraldic designs that uniquely represent their owners. Each may only be used by their owner, or by a herald acting as the voice of the owner. An individual may have the right to bear more than one set of arms. For example, the arms of lands they rule, and their personal arms. In this case, they display any of them, or a number in combination.

Another kind of heraldic picture is the badge. Medieval badges were usually unrelated to the heraldic devices of their owners. Whereas a device proclaims an individual, a badge is more general in nature. Whoever owns the badge decides what its purpose is. Its use is not usually restricted to that individual. For example, I as an individual might register a badge and put it on things that I own to show that they are mine. If I was the head of a household, I might have a second badge to be used by members of the household, or others who are in some way associated with me. A guild or order might have one or more badges that it's members may use. Similarly, a shire or a kingdom might have a badge for citizens to use as indications of their allegiance, another to mark to group property, and still others associated with various offices.

Badges can be displayed in a number of ways, the most common being embroidery or jewelry on clothing; painting, markings, etching, etc. on objects; and on standards. Some badges have fields (i.e. background colours) associated with them. More commonly they are fieldless. That is to say, independent of the background so that they can be embroidered, or made into pendants.

III. Heraldic Clothing

I will mention simply enumerate the possibilities here, as they are best dealt with in the context of costuming.

A. Tabards

A heraldic tabard features the arms of an individual on front, back, and over the arms, and is worn over other clothing. It can worn by an armiger, usually over their armour, to show who they are. A tabard would also be worn by the armiger's herald, who speaks as the owner of the arms.

B. Livery

Livery is uniform clothing, worn by an armiger's retainers, and distinguished by colours and/or badges. The colours may be from arms, or may be other (not necessarily heraldic) colours. Livery can be any combination of clothing items, like tabards, hoods, or baldrics. It is often parti-colored, and sometimes tri-colored.

C. Heraldic Design on Regular Clothing

Many armigers wore clothing featuring their arms, often with the arms spectacularly filling the entire garment.

IV. Flags

Flags are use heraldry to show you're there, and to act as rallying points. Some types of period flags:
The gonfanon - a small square flag with three tails streaming from the fly. Used in 11th and 12th centuries, mostly used by commanders in battle.
The banner The banner - During the 13th century the use of gonfanons, the particular mark of barons at this time, faded and they were superceded by banners. Initially they were twice as high as long, and later became square.
The standard - A long tapered flag with a rounded or double-rounded end. They came into use in the 15th century. The growing popularity of badges in the late 15c caused an upsurge in the use of standards, since they were an excellent means of displaying them. Standards were between 4 and 9 yards long, depending on the status of the owner.

V. Other Uses of Heraldry

Heraldry was also used less strictly as a source of artistic motifs. As mentioned above, some badges were marked on household items to indicate ownership. And of course, a fighter in armour without an emblazoned shield is heraldically a nobody!

VI. References

This page is maintained by Miklós Sándorfia, of Ar n-Eilean-ne, a shire of the East Kingdom.
September 11th, 1998. Modified February 2nd, 2001. Andrew Draskóy