Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I can't see you: medieval coats of arms

One of the most magical parts of the medieval lifestyle is the escutcheon, or as it is more commonly called, the coat of arms. Shields, banners, flags, decorated tournament helmets, and horse’s barding was more than bright colors and fantasy creatures. Shields were carried as defensive items in battle. As the fighting intensified, it became easy to mistake a friend for a foe, hence the development of the heraldic symbols.

The first part of a coat of arms is the color. The simplest shields are designed with colors only. As more arms were used, the patterns became more complex, eventually adding geometric patterns (

The traditional names of the colors are as listed:

Or gold
Argent white or silver
Azure blue
Gules red
Vert green
Sable black
Purpure purple
Ermine black & white
Vair bluish-gray & white

Gaelynn Blackwood lands in Thaelia’s World without any true family. She makes up a cover story to explain her lone existence. Part of her background includes a coat of arms for her family: a white horse rearing, holding a black branch in its mouth on a blue field. As Gaelynn is the ‘sole’ survivor, and does receive her dowry with additional compensation from her (former) betrothed family & the King of Livanya, Gaelynn is considered a heraldic heiress. As such, she is entitled to display the family coat of arms. Generations may change coats of arms, adding brisures, which are usually smaller marks.

The Faucione family uses a red hawk in flight, with white eyes and yellow talons on a silver field. The Corbeau family coat of arms is a white bear rampart of a blue field. The Teagrane family, of which Gaelynn’s fake fiancĂ© was a member of, has a white wolf on a brown field. The Baron of Wymerth is represented by a black dog of war on a white field. The Barony of Wesnes has a black wolf on a blue field. King Arken is recognized by a red lion rampart with a gold sun to the right and a silver moon to the left on a purple field. King Arken’s brother Prince Faxon uses a single yellow star over a red lion rampart on a purple field, whereas Prince Briac has two stars. The royal children use their father’s coat of arms with cadency marks, bastards add the white bar (going diagonal left to right).

Cadency marks are as listed below (based on the English system):

First son: label of three points hanging down (a horizontal strip with 3 tags)
Second son: crescent with points upward
Third son: a mullet (star)
Fourth son: a mullet (a bird – the profile resembles a duck)
Fifth son: a ring
Sixth son: a fleur-de-lys
Seventh son: a rose
Eighth son: a cross Moline (equal sides with ends split)
Ninth son: a double quatrefoil (a flower with eight petals)

Females generally don’t carry shields. Women entitled to carry arms, use lozenges. Daughters will use cadency marks just as sons do.

First daughter: heart
Second daughter: ermine spot
Third daughter: snowflake
Fourth daughter: fir twig
Fifth daughter: chess rook
Sixth daughter: scallop shell
Seventh daughter: harp
Eighth daughter: buckle
Ninth daughter: clavichord

Shields weren’t the only method of identifying a friend or foe. Clothing was another means. Shields could be dropped and banners could tear. Knights and soldiers started wearing uniforms. It started out simple: a colored tunic. Soon, embroidered or patches were added. One example was the crosses added to the clothing of Crusaders, which indentified the man or women as a pilgrim enroute to the Holy Lands. Templars, Teutonic, and Hospitaller knights all wore distinct uniforms.

When Gaelynn arrives, she finds a group of knights remarkably similar to Templars, called the Knights of the Sacred Swords. The Sacred Swords are wearing their everyday attire: a dark brown surcoat with a yellow sun and a silver moon over a white a tunic. The sword belt is a workman-like brown leather with no decorations. Sacred Sword formal wear is a dark brown surcoat with a yellow sun and a silver moon over a light blue tunic. The brown leather belts have silver studs for decorations. Later, when Gaelynn arrives at the Silver Serpent stronghold, Sonquay Castle, Gaelynn is acquainted with the Knights of the Silver Serpents. The men and women wear brown surcoats over green tunics for everyday duties. On formal occasions, they wear a dark green surcoat with silver moons over a red tunic and a black belt. One other surcoat of note, the King’s Royal messengers wear red tunics embroidered with a yellow sun, a white moon, and a brown horse running on a red field.

Nobility is a privilege, as are the rights that go along with the title(s). Only nobility may use and/or display coats or arms, heraldry, and/or banners without legal right in any country within Thaelia’s World. New arms are issued by the appropriate authorities designated by the Monarchs of each country. Knights, men-at-arms, and family members can display the coat of arms in the appropriate form of the lord to whom they have sworn an oath of fealty. Knights participating in tournaments wear the arms of their liege lord. If a knight has a personal coat of arms, he may use his own arms provided he receives permission from his liege in advance.

Today, coats of arms aren't restricted to nobility. Shields are used by Countries, Cities, businesses, and Public Safety personnel (law enforcement, fire personnel). Still, most of us associate shields and coats of arms with the proverbial 'Knights in Shining Armor' on colorful barded horses. One can see real heraldry at museums and get a taste of the pagentry at Renaissance fairs & reenactments world-wide.

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