January 24, 2020 7:30 pm

Color Your Way Through Heraldry


This guide book is dedicated to the newest members of the Barony of al-Barran who have been flooding our gates. Your eagerness to participate and learn our traditions has caused the blood to flow in the veins of all who have lived here these many years.

With your spirit and enthusiasm, "The Dream" will live on for many years to come. It is hoped that the contents herein will help you grow and help spread the word to the many more newcomers that will surely join our Barony in the future.

In order for you to better understand this brief lesson on heraldry, the devices of all the kingdoms, our barony (al-Barran, Albuquerque), and badges of some of the offices have been placed throughout this guide book for you to color in yourself.* It is hoped that you will not only learn more about heraldry, but also learn to recognize these commonly displayed devices and what they represent. The following basics of heraldry will help you get started. Please ask the herald for help if you get too confused.

* For you Web browsers: Many of the devices are not yet scanned and available through these pages, but by browsing through the other kingdom pages you will find many examples of heraldry. Eventually, I will have all of them here for your immediate reference.

The Basics of Heraldry

Along with the picture, called the emblazon, of each of the devices displayed in this guide is the name of the group or office the device represents, proceeded by the heraldic description, or blazon. The blazon describes in words the picture drawn. Once you get to be an expert, you will be able to read any blazon and see the device it portrays in your mind's eye. For now , let's just get a feel for the basics.

Most devices are drawn here as they would be depicted if drawn upon a shield. They are described as if you were holding the shield, ready for battle, before you (so that all you see is the back side). Therefore, the right side of the shield (dexter) is that which is on the right side when holding the shield in this position. If you are looking at the devices as they appear on these pages, or at your opponent's shield on the field, what you see as the left is actually described as the right, dexter, side of the shield. The left side as you hold your shield in front of you is the sinister side -- the right side as the device appears here. Now that you are completely confused, let's go on.


As blazoning is a language all its own, it has hard and fast rules of grammar. In general, this is the order in which an heraldic device is described:

  1. The field is the main background color, metal or fur. Sometimes a field is dividied equally between two or more colors, metals or furs. If so, you first state the way in which it is divided (division of the field), and then the colors, etc., from dexter to chief (top) to sinister or base (bottom) -- chief before dexter. Examples: per fess (in half), per pale (in half, lengthwise), per bend (line from top right to bottom left), per cross (in quarters), per chevron (as the name suggests), checky (as a chess board).
  2. Ordinaries are the large geometrical shapes over the field. Examples: a cross, a bend, a saltire (an "X"), a chevron, a fess (mid-section), a pale (mid-section, lengthwise). Ordinaries extend to the edge of the device (unless the description states otherwise).
  3. Subordinaries are smaller geometric shapes or diminuitives of the large ordinaries. In most cases, they are too small to be charged (something placed on top of another) themselves.
  4. Charges on the field are representative, usually stylized, drawings of objects, animals, etc. They are listed from chief to base (top to bottom) or, when appropriate, from dexter to sinister (right to left). Each charge should be described in the following manner:
    • what it is;
    • the direction it is facing, the manner it is cut off or emerging, or anything else referring to the object as a whole, such as the posture of an animal;
    • the color/metal/fur of the object as a whole; and
    • details, such as color of the eyes, horns, etc.

Colors, Metals, Furs

In heraldry, there are some basic tinctures which are used to standardize colorings on devices. Tinctures can be divided into three types: colors, metals, and furs. There are five heraldic colors used in the S.C.A.:

  • SABLE --the color black
  • GULES --the color red
  • VERT --the color green
  • AZURE --the color blue
  • PURPURE --the color purple

There are two metals: OR, which is gold or yellow and ARGENT, which is silver of white.

The furs are more complicated in design and not very common in usage. Some of the names are ermine, counter-ermine, vair, and potent. Please consult a herald about furs as there are no examples in this guide book.

Lines of Division

When the field is divided in any of the many ways possible, different types of line drawings may be used, as illustrated, to produce a varied group of effects. Examples of the varied lines are:


A charge is any object or figure placed on a shield. A shield with objects on it is said to be charged. Some of the familiar charges used are: laurel wreaths, scorpion, stag, crown, trumpets, swords, millets (star), sun, lion, dragon, quill, roundel (circle), fleur-dis-lis, bridges or towers, etc. -- anything you can think of which existed in the Middle Ages.


  1. Only devices for a Society group (kingdom, barony, shire, etc.) may place a laurel wreath on the device registered for that group.
  2. Crowns/coronets are limited in use to Royal Peers and above, and chaplets of roses are limited to Ladies of the Rose. Please contact your herald about these charges.
  3. For visibility purposes, it is not permissible to place color on color, nor metal on metal. As in the case of the arms of the Kingdom of the East, the green laurel wreath upon a purple background would not be seen if it was not outlined (fimbriated) with gold.
  4. Remember that for every rule there may be an exception. Please don't hesitate to get a clarification on conflicts or confusing devices or blazons.

Example #1

Society for Creative Anachronism: Or, a laurel wreath, vert.

Above is the representation of the arms (device) registered for the Society for Creative Anachronism as a whole. Since this is a relatively simple device, we will start here.

  1. As we have read, the first rule in blazoning is to describe the field. We will notice that there are no lines of division and therefore the field must be a solid color. As we read the blazon, it starts off "Or". The background color is gold or yellow.
  2. Next, we will notice that there are no ordinaries or subordinaries to describe. The only charge on the field is "a laurel wreath". The particulars about the charge are described next, "vert." Color the laurel wreath green.

That wasn't too hard, was it? Let's Try another.

Example #2

Barony of al-Barran: Sable, a chevron argent, overall a scorpion and in base a laurel wreath, both Or.

Above you will see the arms of the Barony of al-Barran. We already started coloring this one for you.

  1. First described is the background color. In the blazon, it states "Sable". We have already colored the backgroun black.
  2. Next is described the ordinary -- "a chevron" -- the white, bent band across the shield. Next are the particulars of the ordinary. In this case, the color "argent" -- color the cevron silver or leave it white.
  3. Next is described the charge upon the ordinary -- "overall a scorpion". Notice was are not told the color of the scorpion as yet, only the position. If a charge is the same color as the next thing to be described, the color is given in the next charge's particulars.
  4. The last charge on the device is described next. First we are told where it is located on the shield -- "in base", then what it is -- "a laurel wreath". The particulars just describe color -- "Or". Color both the scorpion and the laurel wreath gold or yellow.

That wasn't too hard, was it? Now let's try one more.

Example #3

Kingdom of the Outlands: Vert, a stag argent, attired and unguled, salient from between the boughs of a laurel wreath, in chief a Saxon crown, all within a bordure embattled Or.

Let's try a little more complicated one. Let's work through the arms of the Kingdom.

  1. The background color is "Vert" -- color the background green.
  2. Next, the major charges: a) "a stag" and its particulars -- "argent (silver or white), attired and unguled"; position -- "salient"; how/where? -- "from between the boughs of" the next major ordinary; b) "a laurel wreath" and its particulars -- nothing mentioned about color, so remember the color of the laurel wreath is the same as the next charge to be described.
  3. Attired means the stag's antlers and unguled means its hooves. Both these parts of the stag are colored the same as the next mentioned color.
  4. Next charge -- where is it on the shield -- "in chief"; what is it -- "a Saxon crown"; the particulars do not mention color so remember the color of the crown is the same as the next charge to be described.
  5. Now we have the words "all within" to tell is that the previously mentioned charged are all encompassed inside the next charge described. We can see this since we have already drawn the final picture for you, but is is important when all you have are the words to start to the drawing from.
  6. Final charge -- "a bordure". A bordure is the area around the entire outside edge of the shield. The particulars -- "embattled", means the line is drawn like the embattlements of a castle wall; and the color -- "Or". Now you know to color not only the bordure, gold or yellow, but the crown and the laurel wreath as well as the antlers and hooves of the stag.

This was a bit more difficult, but I hope you made it through all right. The rest of the devices displayed in this guide book can be broken down in the same fashion as we hvae just gone through. Please feel free to consult our herald or others who should be able to help you color the remaining devices. The trick to remember when just reading the words is to start with a clean easel and place one layer upon the next until you have a completed portrait. Start from the bottom layer of paint and end with the finishing touches; the same way we have gone through these lessons. Good Luck!

--Compiled by Countess Kathryn of Iveragh