flags-art - 7/12/94
"Display of Mundane Heraldry in the SCA" by Ioseph of Locksley.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: locksley at indirect.com (Joe Bethancourt)
Subject: Flags at Pennsic
Date: 27 May 1994 02:26:45 GMT
I was asked to post this....it was a TI article not too long ago.
DISPLAY OF MUNDANE HERALDRY IN THE SCA
-Ioseph of Locksley OL,OP, &c
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,
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 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.
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
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
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, illustrated here, 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
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
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 paganisim was a Capital
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.
AND DON'T 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 modern Union Jack
is NOT 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
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 thruout
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!
- copyright 1988 W. J. Bethancourt III
locksley at indirect.com PO Box 35190 Locksley Plot Systems
White Tree Productions Phoenix, AZ 85069 USA CyberMongol Ltd
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.