Regulation of Heraldry and Standards in the Middle Ages
A Compilation of Information for SCA Applications
- Master Modar Neznanich, Volk Herald

Regulation of Heraldry in the Middle Ages

From "Regulation of Heraldry in England" by François Velde comes these statements, “The regulation of English heraldry between 1530 and 1688 has led many writers to project back into the Middle Ages concepts and beliefs of later times. In particular, one often sees the claim made that, in Medieval England, arms were restricted to the knightly class, or at least to the gentry. Furthermore, by equating gentry with nobility, some reach the conclusion that arms were restricted to the nobility. One aim of this essay is to debunk these notions. Prior to the 16th century, heraldry was unregulated in England, just as it was unregulated in all European countries. No laws or institutions prevented anyone from adopting arms as they pleased. Heraldry spread from the noble and knightly class to the merchant, craftsmen and farming classes from the 14th century on.”

The codification of helm types and color in achievements to indicate rank appears to be a very late to post-period development. Arthur Fox-Davies writes of the helm conventions: “These regulations, like some other adjuncts of heraldic art, are comparatively speaking of modern origin. Heraldry in its earlier and better days knew them not, and they came into vogue about the Stuart times, when heraldic art was distinctly on the wane.” (The Stuart times being historically listed as 1603-1714.)

In checking on the historical practice concerning supporters, both Fox-Davies and Woodward & Burnett speaks of the origins and initial use of supporters to be of artistic endeavor only and not indicative of rank. Later usage of supporters in period seems to support the thought that the choice of supporters was made to indicate allegiance and/or alliance rather than rank. The source from which most heraldic sources take the information concerning the codification of supporters for rank indication comes from Scottish Heraldic Law and is dated post-period (1821) and deals only with the use of supporters following the Act of 1672, as put out by the Lyon-Depute, George Tait, Esq. Therefore restricting the use and choice of supporters would seem to be non-historical for the time period the SCA emulates.

[As a side note:  Consider how restricting a particular object/supporter could be unfair to a kingdom's populace...for example: If the SCA Kingdom of Turtleland has a turtle for their symbol and they decide to restrict the use of the turtle as a supporter, not allowing the populace to use it. That's all well and good...but the general populace of every other SCA kingdom is still able to use that for their supporters. So the populace of the kingdom to whom the turtle would mean the most (since it's their kingdom's symbol) is the only set of people who can't use it.  And then what happens if someone from another kingdom has heraldic display using a turtle as supporters moves to Turtleland? By tradition and custom, they are allowed to retain and use any such display they had it's possible that someone could end up with the "restricted" supporter anyway.  Just something to think about.]   

Regulation of Standards in the Middle Ages

The style of banner which we term a “standard” has a shape that is an elongated and tapered pennon shape, usually terminating in two rounded ends or swallow-tailed ends, but on occasion a single rounded end. This type seems to have come into vogue during the time of Edward III (1300s). However, the regulation of such standards seems to have come into effect much later in period, in the time of Henry VIII (c1530) to be more exact. Before this, there was no regulation of them to be found.

So while it is a (late) period practice to have maximum length restrictions, would it seem strange or awkward to the populace to apply such late period conventions upon a group whose majority has personas well before that time period?

In searching for the historical information on measurements of period standards, in the Heraldic Dictionary by Lowell R. Matthews, Flags at Heraldic Funerals by Phil Nelson, and other sources, we find that the recorded maximum length regulations for standards devised by Henry VIII and his heralds (which are still used today for formal state occasions and for funerals of the nobility) were: 11 yards for the royal battle standard; 8-9 yards for the royal standard; 7 yards in length for standards of dukes; 6.5 yards in length for standards of marquises; 6 yards in length for standards of earls; 5.5 yards in length for standards of viscounts; 5 yards in length for standards of barons; 4.5 yards in length for standards of baronets and 4 yards in length for standards of knights.

These lengths were determined based on the rank of the positions in the English Court of the time. Of course as the SCA hierarchy has ranks arranged in a manner different than this historical system, changes to who gets what length might be needed to apply it by rank in the SCA.


Brooke-Little: Royal Ceremonies of State
Boutell: Boutell’s Heraldry
Clephan: The Medieval Tournament
Coss & Keen: Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England
Dennys: Heraldry & The Heralds
Fox-Davies: A Complete Guide to Heraldry
Hope: Heraldry for Designers and Craftsmen
Matthews: Heraldic Dictionary
Nelson: Flags at Funerals
Neubecker: Heraldry, Sources, Symbols and Meaning
Norris: Costume & Fashion, Volume Two 1066-1485
Parker: A Glossary Of Terms Used In Heraldry
Rothery: Concise Encyclopedia of Heraldry
Siebmacher: Wappenbuch
Thrupp: The Merchant Classs of Medieval London
Velde: Regulation of Heraldry in England
Woodcock & Robinson: The Oxford Guide to Heraldry
Woodward & Burnett: A Treatise on Heraldry




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