Hearsay Heresy

Hearsay Heresy

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 2 February 22, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

(ed. Note that this was written a while ago and some rules of SCA Heraldry may have changed. Consult your local herald.)

Myths and misconceptions among the general populous are widespread enough about heraldry in the SCA. You hear that some things are well known facts. Some stem from bygone ages of SCA heraldry from times when rocks were still soft. There was a time when the furs were considered neither metal nor colour and so gules on counter-ermine was quite all right. (Or so I have heard and I’ve seen registered devices that indicate this the case.) However this is not about the myths and legends of SCA heraldry. It is about something perhaps more important.

Oft times a discussion will grow up about a topic and there will be different points of view coming up. One person will make a statement and someone will respond to it either backing it or contradicting it. This is all fine and good. But sometimes people have different styles of saying things. Sometimes when one person says: “I think ‘A’ is ‘B’.” they mean that they have found research that backs that statement up which would in most circles be considered proof. Other people would say “I think ‘A’ is ‘B’.” when they have heard something somewhere about it but are not 100% sure of the facts while others would phrase it like that if they just guess it would be the case. Different people would interpret the same statement based on their interpretation of the statement. So someone asks a question and someone answers, then someone agrees with that answer and another and another, and the person who asked the question starts to think they have a definitive answer. But then someone answers with something that contradicts that first answer and nobody backs them up. The person who asked the question might wonder what is up, but since more people went with the first answer they figure that is the better answer.

But what if that first person was just guessing and the second one also guessed and the third liked the second and just wanted to back them up. The last one who contradicted them actually had heard something about the case, but couldn’t remember where they had come across the answer.

I think it can be very important to say where your facts came from and just which things are facts and which are guesses and what things you remember hearing, but can’t recall where from when answering someone’s request. It is important not to post an answer simply to agree with someone if you really don’t know. It can give a false sense of surety to an answer which might not have much basis in fact to support it. Perhaps this is where some of those myths get started?

Someone guesses something. It is repeated as something someone heard or read somewhere. It gets quoted as coming from a reliable source. It becomes commonly quoted and then something well known enough that nobody has to quote its source.

If nobody can answer, perhaps then a guess might be the best bet, but state outright that it is a guess. If you can’t remember the source state that directly and perhaps whatever you can remember as to the possible source. Perhaps it might remind someone of where the actual information came from and spur someone to be able to find the actual source. But best if you know it, include where you know the fact from and tell where someone else can find the same information as best as possible. Make it possible for someone else to retrace the steps needed to find that gem of knowledge.

Remember that someone listening to you might believe you to be an expert on a subject that you know little about and they will quote verbatim what they hear you say.

The Heretical Herald is an independent Publication not associated with the SCA Inc.
or any College of Arms or College of Heraldry either in the SCA or elsewhere.
It will be published on an irregular basis as material warrants.
H. Herald editor

-© 2004 by H Herald.
Creators of original content included in
The Heretical Herald retain copyright.


Norse Code

Norse Code

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 2 February 22, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

(ed. Note that this was written a while ago and some rules of SCA Heraldry may have changed. Consult your local herald.)

Borre-style gripping beast; Lisbjerg gripping-beast; Norse Jelling-beast; Norse Serpent; Norse Sun Cross; Sable and Gules, Iron and Blood; and probably some other things I’ve missed are all things people would like to use in their devices. Some of these things simply aren’t allowed any more. They’ve been determined to be incompatible with SCA heraldry though you will see some of these things in devices registered in the past you wouldn’t be able to get them passed today. Many of them come under the term “zoomorphic beast” which has not been allowed since October 1998. Some people feel it unfairly restricts the expression of their persona’s culture in their heraldic design. This is true because lines must be drawn somewhere. But it need not necessarily restrict the expression of their persona’s culture in their heraldic display!

One creative bit of heraldry which you might be able to find somewhere in An Tir is a person who wanted to have a Celtic unicorn as one of their charges. Unfortunately such beasts were not registerable at that time if they ever were. After trying unsuccessfully an elegant solution was found. They simply registered their charge as a Unicorn and used artistic license when depicting the unicorn to do so in a Celtic style. It was simple. The client is happy with a Celtic unicorn on their banner, the College of Arms is happy without having to bend the rules to allow for a charge that doesn’t fit. The Heretical Herald is happy that people are happy. Though indeed this is not his solution he is happy to use it and recommend it as necessary.

There are other places where such solutions can be applied. For instance any animal where there is a Celtic variation on a Heraldic or Natural plant or animal. Likely there are other cultures such as the Norse, which this could be applied to as well. In a pinch, I suspect you could figure a way to do a “Lisbjerg gripping-beast” even. Now to my relatively untrained eye the Lisbjerg gripping-beast appears to be a smiling man lying on his side with right hand gripping left wrist and right foot grasping his neck. (The image I have seen shows his head to sinister so I have reversed right and left for one with the head to dexter as is more conventional with charges) It might be a bit of a stretch, but could you blazon a “smiling man lying on his right side grasping his left wrist with his right leg bent so his foot reaches his neck”. Simpler would be a Norse Serpent or Jelling-beast which could be described as the closest serpent or other animal and then once more just rendered appropriately with artistic license once registered.

I’d even recommend such artistic styling even without any desire for an oddness to a charge just to make the heraldic display more suited to the person carrying it. Many cultures did not use standard European heraldry, so even though this heraldry does add so much to the SCA pageantry why not take that “C” for “creative” and add some cultural flare to it. I’ve seen some interesting examples particularly with some Japanese persona bearing devices much like Japanese “Mon” and Norse Warrior types carrying shields with devices with definite Norse flare to their design. I have even seen some definite Imperial Roman style on some early Roman Britain devices.

But do remember, not to overstep. Please don’t go registering a “mole hill” and render it artistically into a “mountain” and thus conflict with someone else’s device. So don’t register a “boar” but have it painted as a “bear” just because a “bear” would have conflicted with someone.

Powerful tools can be dangerous so use them with care!

The Heretical Herald Rides Again!


The badge of the SCA Herald

The badge of the SCA Herald (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Greetings, I’m dusting off the old table and gathering up fresh parchment, for I am going to try another go at publishing “The Heretical Herald” once more! I hope that any conservative heralds do not cringe at the thought of a heretical herald, for I am quite conservative… just a bit creative.

My goal is to educate and share the creativity that can be a part of heraldry. I try for a lighthearted approach to make heraldry fun. Sure there are a lot of rules and regulations, but there is also the Art of Heraldry! There is the humour of “cants”. (Not “can’t, but “cant”.)

Good heraldry actually has a lot in common with good website design and good graphic art design. You would be surprised perhaps at how much these things have in common with heraldry. (Just try to read dark blue writing on a black background in the small print on the back of an item in the grocery store.)


Populous Badge for the population of the SCA Kingdom of Antir.

Iwill be writing from the point of view of a herald residing in the SCA Kingdom of An Tir. Be aware that there may be biases towards the way we do things up here.

I plan to contribute to this site on a regular basis, though I did in the past as well. LOL

Enjoy the ride!




Don’t Talk To Me About Complications! or I’ve Got a Headache

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 2 February 22, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

(ed. Note that this was written a while ago and they may 
use a different way to judge complexity now. 
Consult your local herald.)

Acute song I have heard in the SCA dealing with Heraldry called “The Herald’s Complaint”, by Baldwin of Erebor is about the nightmares a herald has about a device he sees even in his dreams which haunts him in its ugly complexity. I won’t repeat the lyrics to this excellent song here out of courtesy to the writer and copyright, however I recommend that the reader look it up. You can find the lyrics printed with permission on this page: “http://www.florilegium.org/files/PERFORMANCE-ARTS/songs2-msg.text” Search down the fairly lengthy page for the phrase “The Herald’s Complaint” and you’ll find the articles on it with the lyrics. (Baldwin of Erebor is mundanely known as Derek Foster and the song has been published in the volume “Broadside of a Bard”, Copyright 1979 by Derek Foster) I can also reprint the registry of Baldwin of Erebor that includes the badge of which the song is written in illustration:

  • Baldwin of Erebor
  • This name was registered in March of 1980 (via Atenveldt).
  • The following device associated with this name was registered in March of 1980 (via Atenveldt):
    Azure, on a pile invected ermine a harp Or.
  • The following badge associated with this name was registered in April of 1980 (via Atenveldt):
    (Fieldless) A dove displayed upon a billet chequy Or and gules between a pair of cockatrices clad in motley like a fool’s, their feathers are dimidiated with a tree eradicated, limbed and fructed countercompony.

The badge you can see was passed in 1980 and likely wouldn’t pass today for a number of reasons, one of which is, it is just too complex. I’ll leave figuring out what it looks like to you. I’m not really sure what feathers that are half composed of eradicated trees look like.

In the SCA there is a guideline that heralds use to gauge how complex too complex is. In general as the number of tinctures used in a device increases the number of types of charges should decrease. The basic guideline used is that the total number of tinctures used when added to the total number of different types of charges should not exceed 8. Further three or more types of charges should not be used in the same group of charges. It is spelled out in the “Rules for Submission” Part VIII- Compatible Armorial Style 1. Armorial Simplicity a. Tincture and Charge Limit. I’m not sure how many colours “motley” counts as, but the badge in “The Herald’s Complaint” I’m sure comes out as more than 8.

There is a tendency with some newcomers to the SCA to want to virtually include their life story in their device. Their persona is from a port city so they want something nautical like a ship, their father was a miller and the byname they have selected is miller so they want a millrind, they love their pet dog whom they bring to all events so they want a hound and since they are welsh they want a dragon. Since they also want to be a crusading knight they also want a cross or saltire on the device somewhere too. They also really like the colours red, green, and yellow. The big thing is they want it all! Now before even trying to design anything just doing a count we have 5 + 3 = 8 for the complexity count. That is at the border. Now this does fit in. It just barely fits in. It would take a lot of care to incorporate all these items tastefully without it becoming indistinct and messy to look at. Simpler is better and if they were coming to consult with me I would try to convince them to pare down that list to what is truly what is important and what they want. I’ll remind them that they can also have in addition to a device up to three badges with which they can display these other symbols of their persona life.

It might be a good time to take them on a tour of period Rolls of Arms and Armorials and let them have a gander at what actually was done in period. Then have a look at some well known and recognizable SCA Arms and take turns pointing out the more striking ones and ones that strike each of your fancy and count out the complexity of them. Perhaps this might convince them to pare down their grand plans for their life story in heraldry. I’d suggest a wander down the online An Tir: Roll of Arms. There is nothing like some good examples to get the creative juices flowing in the right direction. There are also some very nice and very creative good examples of heraldry. Of course be wary of some that would not pass muster in today’s more stringent times.

…and if they still want everything and a bag of chocolate chip cookies proper… well work with it as best as possible and remind them that 8 isn’t a goal but a recommended maximum and that heralds really are sticky when it comes to the dreaded “slot machine” guideline!

The “slot machine” guideline refers to that second bit on complexity that you should not have three or more different types of charges in a charge group. In other words if you have three charges in a group, three the same are a winner; two the same and one different are a winner; but three different are a loser. So having a “bell” “book” and “candle” while sounding sort of neat and alluding to neat stuff just won’t go as a group of charges on your shield. (Though if you are cagey you could have your shield set up with a pale down the centre and but the bell to one side, the book on the other and then set the candle on the pale.)

Hark the Heretical Herald V1:2

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 2 February 22, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

Hark the Heretical Herald.


Coat of Arms in Metal

Coat of Arms in Metal (Photo credit: Looking for a Lighthouse)

his is the second issue of the Herald, I hope that you enjoyed the first and find this one equally informative and even more enjoyable. With a little luck and work any teething problems that haven’t been dealt with yet will be soon. Let us know if you see any room for improvement. We might not act on your recommendation, but be assured that we will listen.

If you are wondering why you are seeing the premier issue appearing at the same time as this issue it is because I wanted there to be a slightly larger body of work available when we first made our appearance. Also before the formal announcement of the whole project I had more ideas for articles and such which I did not wish to overburden the first issue with.

Thank you for taking the time for reading this and I hope you find it useful and entertaining.

H. Herald editor

Scentual Submissions

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 1 February 11, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

Ihave discovered that I am a person who loves to find mail in their mailbox. For me it is like a small birthday or Christmas every time, but I’ve found of late I don’t get much other than bills and junk mail and not even interesting junk mail like catalogues from gift companies. I have heard that the Herald in charge of Submissions gets many surprises in their mailbox through the function of their office. Some of these surprises are not those of seeing the interesting and creative heraldic submissions though. I have heard tale of one “surprise” a recent An Tir Lions Blood Herald found waiting in ambush.

Now I cannot do the full justice the Herald in question could, but they discovered an interesting “smell” coming from their mail. Upon going through it they discovered one particular submission package scent to them. The combination of odours to it was overwhelming, a combination of many smells. The submitter most apparently to all but the nose deaf had used scented markers to colour in the coloured copies of their device submission. If I recall correctly said Lions Blood tacked the submission to the inside roof of their porch for over a week to somewhat reduce the reek. I do not recall the actual combination of smells, but indeed I hear it was overwhelming even if individually the scents were pleasurable.

The choice of media to use for colouring in the shield on your submission form is very important. It has to be remembered that your submission form is not a “trial run”. It is the copy that will be brought to the people who decide if your submission will pass or not. If it does pass the actual submission forms will be put on file for reference in future. This is important to realise for not all inks and pencils and paints are created equal. Some are more colourfast than others. Some have even greater problems. (It also means that you should take some care with your artwork, but that is the meat for a future article.)

Things that are important to keep in mind are that whatever you use must have a rich bold colour that will not be mistaken for any other colour and definitely is the heraldic colour in question. Of course this is as much choice of hue and tint as medium used. The blue you choose should be a good middle of the road blue. Not a dark navy blue, nor a light pastel one. It is also important that the blue not be edging toward green or purple. It should be bold, but not fluorescent. There can be some latitude of course. It should also cover well. The green should follow similar criteria, as should the red. It is important that the purple not be too red or too blue. Perhaps a harder colour to judge than the others.

You should not be tempted to use the metallic options for argent and Or on your submissions forms. While it might look spiffy when done, most if not all the metallic inks change substantially over time to things very different. Some might in short order be left looking grey, black, brown, or even pink! For argent use white and not grey. For Or use yellow and not orange. Using grey or orange can result in your submission being returned to you, which would substantially delay your submission. Of course for charges that blazoned “proper” are actually grey or orange or brown, you may use that appropriate colour.

English: Back side of cheap uncoated wide-form...

English: Back side of
cheap uncoated wide-format plotter paper heavily soaked with inkjet
printer ink. The swelled cellulose fibers revert back to their
pre-pressed state, showing the papermaking mesh belt pattern on which
the wet fibers collected prior to pressing and sizing. (Photo credit:

In this day and age of the computer and a colour printer in so very many households you might think a colour printer a good device to print out your device with. Unfortunately the colour inks used in inkjet colour printers are

not very colourfast, even ones considered “archival” in quality. The colours can and do change in what can seem to be a remarkably short time. What might start out as black might end up pink; a red, orange; purple, red; and who knows what. In part that is just because the ink is unstable. Inkjet ink is also water-soluble and even high humidity can affect it causing it to run. This might not only effect your own submission but others that are adjacent to it in a filing cabinet.

TW a hint, if you wish to take advantage of your inkjet printer to print out the black and white forms it is advisable to print them out and then bring them to a copier shop and photocopy them. Then use the photocopies which won’t be using water soluble ink.

Remember that submissions do not travel in climate controlled courier pouches carried by diplomats, they are subject to the vagaries of the postal service and unheated trucks and aeroplane holds. This can cause things like condensation to form in unexpected ways and great changes in temperature shifts during transit. Your submission from the time you mail it off in perhaps winter might pass through -40 F weather and before it has even gotten to Laurel have sat in a filing cabinet at +100 F! That’s a huge temperature difference!

As well as the colour stability there are mechanical type issues. Some materials simply will do things like flake off. Some paints might seem perfect otherwise but would end up cracking and ending up eventually in small piles of flakes at the bottom of some file folder. Others don’t cover well like pencil crayon and just don’t give good dense coverage.

Everyday Stain and Odor Remover

Everyday Stain and Odor Remover (Photo credit: artizone)

rayon has lead to some horror stories likened to the scented markers. Consider a stack of mail on a hot summer day. In that stack are a number of submissions and in one the device has been nicely coloured in wax crayons. In the torrid weather the wax, like any good well behaved wax does what wax does in heat. It melts, and melted wax does what it has done even in period, it wicks. I wicks right through the porous paper soaking it through. Of course the wax doesn’t know the difference between one envelope and another and it happily wicks its way through other submissions it has been stacked. When cooled there is one solid waxy chunk where once there were a number of nice heraldic submissions. It has happened. I’d imagine more than just the once. In the one case I heard of the person who used the crayon was horrified to hear of what happened and very apologetic. I also heard that the combination wax and paper really burnt well in a fire at a later date.

The best thing to do is to talk to the Heralds about it and the best Herald to talk with is the submissions Herald and in An Tir that is the Lions Blood Herald. I have gathered that what is best in the end are marking pens and the best out of them are the basic “Crayola” ones. There are probably others as good, but Crayola are ones you are most likely to be able to find by name. But don’t use the Crayola fluorescent ones or other Crayola specialty ones like Crayola the scented markers!

But I Really Wanted Sanguine!

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 1 February 11, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

The other day as I was strolling I noticed an old Ford pickup on a flatbed truck going down the road. What caught my eye was that it was a maroon or dark wine red colour that reminded me of my Maternal Grandfather’s truck which was that colour. For that matter at least one and maybe more of his other vehicles were that same hue. Mom said that his favourite colour was red and started to wonder if perhaps this dark rich red was his actual favourite shade of red. It has actually become one of mine as well and has found its way into my mundane wardrobe.

Another favourite colour of mine is dark green. It also happens to be my Father’s favourite colour. I’m not sure if that is a coincidence or not. But while strolling I wondered. The colours of my device are in part dependent on my favourite colours. Now at the time I had not realized my actual interest in maroon, and blue is another favourite of mine so my device ended up with a field that incorporates both vert and azure.

But I thought what if I had really also wanted to incorporate maroon. Gules just is not the same. Sanguine is closer, but though known in later heraldry and even English Heraldry, it is considered a stain along with tenne. The SCA College of Arms does not allow sanguine as a tincture on a device unless of course you can find an allowable charge that’s proper tincture is sanguine and can back that up with documentation acceptable at Laurel level.

What else can a person do? I considered options. There actually are some that perhaps some people would not consider to be legitimate, but in truth are. But perhaps that is what might brand me the Heretical Herald. I’ll talk about other methods in other articles, but for this one I’ll stick with this one perhaps sneaky one.

irst off, as per regulation you must have a registered name in the SCA College of Arms Registry before you can register any armoury. You may submit your name at the same time as your heraldic device submission. Now in order to have a heraldic design with a sanguine background you will have to register a badge. I believe that first you must register a device before you can register a badge, but I firmly believe that you should have a totally proper heraldic device in any case that you can use for your Arms if you are made an Armiger. Now about that sanguine background, note that I did not say “sanguine field”, it is a subtle and important distinction and perhaps at this point at least some of the more creative heralds will begin to see what I am getting at.

Your next step is to design a fieldless badge using your charge of choice. I would suggest that you restrain yourself and restrict yourself to argent and Or for reason of sufficient contrast. You also will be under all the constraints that a heraldic badge comes with. This includes the fact that all parts of the badge must be attached to all the others. On the other hand fieldless badges are often less likely to conflict with other heraldic devices because all fieldless devices get 1CD from any other fieldless device or device with a field automatically.

nce you have designed your fieldless badge and run it past the heralds to ensure it is well designed and doesn’t conflict with anyone else’s heraldic design submit it to be registered. Then just wait for it to pass. Once it has passed, you’re there.

What about the sanguine background, you might ask? It is simple. A fieldless badge can be displayed on any medium of any colour. So you may place your badge on any colour. So feel free to paint your shield sanguine and plunk your badge right down in the middle of it. Et voila!

Now I suggest that you practice good heraldry and make sure you have good contrast between whatever background you do have and your badge. If needed put a buffer of contrasting colour between the badge and the background. Either that or make sure your badge is designed in an appropriate tincture for the background colour you wish in the first place. Also make sure that your badge is Big, Bold, and Butch in relation to the object you place it on. In Heraldry identification is important and you want your design to STAND out.

ou might have noted that I used sanguine as an example. But nobody has said you could have used tenne, orange, brass, brown, black watch plaid, herring bone tweed, paisley, or whatever you wish. I would ask that when you do so you keep with the spirit of the SCA and keep the background as something that suits the SCA and ensure that any pattern or colour you use is something that might be found in period at least for your persona. I also ask that you check to make sure that you are not placing yourself in conflict with anyone else by choosing an inappropriate background. This might take a bit more work on your part. But isn’t it worth it? I do hope that you respect these wishes if not simply because it is in the spirit of the SCA but as a favour to me for sharing this idea.

Powerful tools can be dangerous so use them with care!

Graphics and Images


FYI Images and graphics used in this column unless otherwise noted are either by H.Herald or one of his Alter Egos and so the copyright remains His. Other graphcs and images will be identified as such and of course copyright remains with the owners. Please let me know if you find any that should not be used here or if you wish to use any of our artwork or graphics.

Thank you.

Entering into the Field


With “What’s Good Contrast?” we’ve actually posted the first “real” article rather than introductory-explanatory-what are we going to do here posts. I hope you find it interesting and useful.


What’s Good Contrast?

The Heretical Herald Volume 1 Issue 1 February 11, AS XXXVIII being 2004 AD

What’s Good Contrast?

ood Contrast is a term used in SCA Heraldry for ensuring that a heraldic design is recognisable at a distance and distinct from others. At its most basic it refers to what is commonly known as the “Rule of Tincture“. Simply stated it says “You may not place a colour on a colour or a metal on a metal.” Simply stated this way it might seem very arbitrary and not make much sense. But there is reason behind it, just as there is reason behind what might even seem more arbitrary, the limited palette the heraldic designer is restricted to.

Traditional Medieval Heraldry restricts itself to 7 basic tinctures plus 2 stains. Other colours come up rarely and even then more in post Medieval Heraldry. The 2 stains are very rare and we won’t be getting into the discussion on their exclusion in this article, they are called “tenné” and “sanguine”. (“tenné” is a colour orange or a tan brown. “sanguine” is a colour deep blood red, sometimes a colour somewhat between purpure and gules.)

The 7 basic tinctures are divided into 2 metals and 5 colours. The 2 metals are gold and silver, the 5 colours being red, blue, green, purple, and black. Normally here the furs would be mentioned. I will get to them later. Gold and silver are more often on paper represented using yellow for gold and white for silver. The proper heraldic terms for the colours are:

Black – sable; red – gules; green – vert; blue – azure; purple – purpure; Gold – Or; and silver – argent.

The furs are also considered tinctures, but for the purpose of contrast essentially they are considered as if they were made of the basic 7 tinctures. Ermine is the fur that is white with black spots. This once represented the white winter coat of the ermine with the black tip of the tail showing. For the purpose of Contrast or the “Rule of Tincture” you would consider ermine to be the colour of the background, which would be considered as argent, a metal. Counter ermine, which is a black background with white spots, would be considered as sable, a colour. Vair and the other furs of similar nature consist of equal parts of a metal and a colour and are considered to be a neutral tincture which is a third category after the metals and the colours.

The colours of this palette are restricted in a sense further in that not all blues are really acceptable. A herald should not use a very dark blue or a very light blue, not a very grey blue nor a very bright blue. The blue should be fairly middle of the road and very obviously blue and not to be mistaken for purple, green, black or off white. The same goes for the other colours. While Or can be either yellow or gold, the yellow should not be orangey and the gold should be metallic gold. On the other hand, argent is rarely illustrated with metallic silver because in period silver and silver inks tended to tarnish very quickly and no longer be metallic silver so most often argent was always white. Argent should never be grey. (It is heraldic convention that only the first letter in a blazon is capitalized unless it is a proper name or the tincture “Or”. All the other tinctures are not capitalized.)

The “Rule of Tincture” if followed ensures that heraldic designs have good contrast. All of the “colours” will show up well on all of the “metals” and all of the “metals” will show up well on all of the “colours”. If you place a metal on a metal, they will at any distance appear indistinct and it will begin to be difficult to tell a lion from a bear from a deer. Possibly some combinations of colours on colours if given just the right shade might be okay, but the “Rule of Tincture” takes the guesswork out of it.

There are what are called items of “neutral tincture”. The fur “vair” has already been mentioned. Vair consists of a pattern of azure and argent bell shaped swatches in equal amounts. This makes anything in a heraldic design with the tincture of vair to be neither metal nor colour. It is considered neutral. What this means is that you may place either a colour or a metal on it with some restrictions. What you place on it may not include a tincture that is included in the neutral tincture. In the example of vair, since vair is made up of azure and argent you may not place a charge on a vair background that is azure or argent. Another restriction is with very delicate or complicated charges. If a charge would disappear on a neutral field like a needle in a haystack then it likely won’t pass. Also if the details which make a charge distinctive become confusing or indistinct on a neutral field then it is likely it won’t pass. After all a leopard in a tree can be hard to see.

There are actually some other colours you will rarely come across. Often they come under the broad category “proper”. “Proper” stands for the object in its natural colour. For a zebra it is black and white striping, for a hare it is brown, for a tree it is green leaves and a brown trunk, for a rose it is red petals, yellow seeds, and green barbs. You would have to look into the SCA Glossary or Heraldic Terms to determine if there is a “proper” tincture for an item, or look for it in the heraldic precedents of the past Laurel Heralds. One of the more common proper tinctures is “brown” a common colour found in nature. Note that it is most common in medieval period heraldry to use the standard 7 heraldic tinctures rather than realistic colours. Lions are as often blue as any natural colour.

ven things which are tinctured proper are defined as to whether they are metal, colour or neutral tincture. A zebra proper being an even mix of white and black is considered a neutral tincture. A natural dolphin proper is considered to be grey and that is considered to be a metal. A heraldic dolphin is considered to be green with red fins and so is considered to be a colour. A hare proper is brown and brown is considered a colour. The rule of thumb is that if the item is light in colour it is considered a metal and if dark it is considered a metal. Items of leather or wood when tinctured proper are considered to be brown and thus colour. Human skin when Caucasian is considered to be light and so a metal. A mermaid proper is considered to have Caucasian skin, a green fish’s tail, and gold hair and is considered to be half metal and half colour and thus neutral in tincture. Of course since the hair has both argent and Or you’d still have to place it on a colour background and the colour could not be vert.

One bit of complication comes with regards to divisions of the field and ordinaries. It is perfectly okay to divide a shield in half and have each half in a different tincture regardless of metal or colour. The division is large enough and bold enough to handle it. It is also acceptable to use the two field divisions that divide the field into 4 sections and not worry about metal and colour. So dividing per saltire or per cross (or quarterly) it is okay to use two metals or two colours) But if you divide the field into three one needs to be different, either two metals and a colour; or two colours and a metal. If you divide the field into more sections then they must alternate colour and metal as in dividing the field in gyronny or checky or barry or with other repeated backgrounds.

What might seem contradictory are the charges called ordinaries, in particular the “chief” “fess” “pale” and “base”. Perhaps the other ordinaries, but less so and I won’t go into them in this article. A shield with a chief on it looks like it has had the field divided into two, almost like the division “per fess”. It makes you think you could have a coloured chief with a coloured field or a metal chief on a metal field. But the chief is a charge an on the field just as if it were a lion on the field. The same goes for the fess, pale and base. They look like simple divisions of the field but are considered to be charge placed on the field.

The rules for good contrast or the Rule of Tincture is there to ensure good contrast. A red horse on a purple background not only would make your eyes hurt, would be hard to figure out what it was at any distance. A gold star on a white background would give problems as well. But any of the colours on any of the metals, or any of the metals on any of the colours would give good contrast and be identifiable. Any intelligently used neutral tincture should be identifiable as well.