The term ‘heraldry’ draws up a whole series of associations, particularly with the Middle Ages. Most people will think vaguely of knights in heraldic surcoats; banners hung in churches and ancestral homes; family lineages represented with coats of arms; perhaps even messengers and diplomats travelling between noble families and kingdoms.
In the Middle Ages, heraldry developed gradually, from a means to distinguish armed fighters on a battlefield, to a popular art form, complete with its own distinct artistic conventions, with skilled specialists versed in its descriptive language.
In the Society, we try to reproduce that art form and its use. We wear heraldic surcoats to identify our friends and our opponents on the field of honour, and we decorate our halls and pavilions with banners showing our own ‘coat of arms’, to bring colour and life to our tournaments, feasts and ceremonies. The SCA College of Arms is modelled on the English College of Arms, an institution founded in the 15th century, but with roots that go back centuries earlier.
Following the example of medieval heralds, SCA heralds:
- Organise and maintain the ceremonial side of the Society, organising royal courts and acting as a ‘master of ceremonies’
- Maintain orders of precedence (OPs), recording the honours and awards given to members
- Help people design, document and register names, devices and badges to use in the SCA
- Advise members about displaying their devices on banners, shields, cloaks, and belongings
Since the range of tasks available is broad, those who are interested in heraldry often specialise. Each specialty gives individuals chances to contribute to the Society, at local and kingdom events.
Heralds who assist royalty in their ceremonial role in court can colour the look and feel of the event. Ceremonies are special occasions, and the experiences and memories stay with the participants long after the event is over.
Good public speakers can take part in tournaments by announcing combatants and the tournament outcome to those watching the fighting. Keeping spectators involved in the fighting spectacle helps the tournament feel special, and different from an ordinary weekly fight practice.
Good record keepers can maintain the OP, which serves as part of the history of the Society that members create for themselves at every event.
Those who enjoy research and languages learn about names and naming practices of the many cultures embraced by the SCA, and share that knowledge with non-experts.
Those who enjoy visual arts learn the artistic conventions of heraldry that distinguish it from other art forms, and then help others create medieval artwork for their own use at events.
Any member can become a herald - no experience is necessary to start! Your interest and enthusiasm are your qualifications to begin. If you are interested in heraldry in the SCA, contact the regional or kingdom herald.
Text originally written for Insulae Draconis, by Dame Genevieve la flechiere