On Arms

Second part of an Heraldic Trilogy by Hector of the Black Height

In a previous essay I looked at the question of Awards of Arms, Grants of Arms and Patents of Arms. In all my philosophical ramblings I never mentioned a very basic concept; what are Arms? This is not an entirely academic question, as one's Arms in the Society may be influenced or affected by the various awards, grants and the like given by the Crown.

First, I believe Arms have two distinct parts. One is the device, and the other is the status inherent in Arms. Anyone in the SCA, armigerous or not, may design, register with the College of Heralds and then display a device for personal use. The device becomes a person's Arms when that person is awarded Arms by the Crown. The device does not change (apart from the infamous coronet dancetty which may be displayed above the Arms of a Midrealm Armiger when worn on a pendant. You've never seen this? Me neither). You need not have a registered device to be awarded Arms, nor does an Award of Arms bring with it a device, ideas for a device or a coupon for free heraldic services. The award merely(?) conveys nobility.

The Grant of Arms may carry with it a change to the Achievement (see note 1) of Arms of the recipient; usually this is assignment to the recipient by the Crown of a specific crest reserved for Kingdom use (in the Middle it's a dragon), which is displayed on the helmet of the recipient when a complete armorial display (device, supporters, helmet, mantling and crest if the individual is entitled to all these by Kingdom sumptuary custom) is created. As I noted, persons with a Grant of Arms rank higher in the order of precedence than people who've only been awarded Arms. Like an Award of Arms, a Grant of Arms conveys nobility; in this case, it's a superior level of nobility to an AoA and is accompanied by a grander title, "Your Lordship" or "Your Ladyship". This doesn't mean His Lordship or Her Ladyship necessarily has a device; they may just be really neat, talented, hardworking people.

Then come Patents of Arms. As noted elsewhere, Patents accompany elevation to the Laurelate, Pelicanate or the Chivalry (Knights or Masters- and Mistress-at-Arms). The Patent is said to imply a higher state of nobility than a Grant. I'm not aware of any change to the actual device which come with the Patent, though recipients of the Laurel may display their Arms within a wreath of Laurel (see note 2). Knights and Masters- and Mistresses-at-Arms may display their Arms encircled with a while, buckled belt and a Knight may display a gold chain hanging from his or her helmet in addition. Pelicans have no convenient thing with which to surround their devices (see note 3) so they may instead display a Cap of Maintenance as part of their display.

What else can be done to one's Arms? Well, in the Middle there's two other things that can happen, variations on the same theme. These are Augmentations of Arms, awarded by the Crown, which actually change the device as registered with the College. Historically, Augmentations were usually made to denote military or naval victory, and added to the Arms of the person concerned a visible token of gallantry or conquest (i.e. a hand holding the defeated foe's flag). In the SCA, Augmentations usually reflect long and distinguished service and often take the form of a reserved charge, such as the Middle's dragon. The Crown specifies the nature of the Augmentation, but the recipient, in consultation of the College of Heralds, figures out how the Augmentation will be added to the existing device.

The Augmentation is just that; it augments, or adds to, the existing arms. This addition may be displayed in chief (across the top of the arms), on an escutcheon (a shield within a shield, the only time SCA heraldry allows an escutcheon to be displayed on an individual's arms -- see note 4) or as an addition to the device's existing design (see note 5). So, if you receive an Augmentation it's a very great honour and a Good Thing. An Augmentation places the recipient high in the Kingdom's order of precedence, usually. I say usually because, well, this is the Middle and we occasionally do things differently here.

To the best of my knowledge the Middle Kingdom is the only Kingdom in the Known World that has three distinct types of augmentations. There is the Augmentation of Arms, as described above, and there is the Royal Augmentation of Arms. The Royal Augmentation is given by the Crown, just like a regular Augmentation. The difference is that an Augmentation of Arms gives precedence, whereas a Royal Augmentation of Arms doesn't. The Royal Augmentation was created by King Dag I as a token of personal thanks for services rendered to the Crown. Only one other monarch has given Royal Augmentations; King Dag II (funny thing, that). Augmentations of Arms, as noted above, reflect the donor Crown by using reserved charges like a dragon or a red pale. The Royal Augmentation as given by Dag was a gold ring, which is very appropriate for a ring-giver Viking King. This does not restrict other Crowns in their choice of design for Royal Augmentations. It remains to be seen if any other Sovereign will choose to use the Royal Augmentation of Arms, and if so, what that Sovereign's Royal Augmentation will look like.

As mentioned above, the Middle has three types of augmentation. The third is a Principality Augmentation of Arms, given by the Coronet, in Ealdormere. In this case the augmentation is the badge of the Principality, on an escutcheon.

In short, there are Awards of Arms, Grants of Arms, Patents of Arms (Arms by Letters Patent), Augmentations of Arms, Principality Augmentations of Arms and Royal Augmentations of Arms. Only Augmentations change the actual device a person registers, assuming the recipient has a device at all. (The author is ashamed to admit that at the time of writing he had an Award of Arms, a Patent of Arms, a Royal Augmentation of Arms and no device. But I've submitted something!!! Since writing this essay, the author has received a Pelican and has yet to manage to pass arms or a name through the heraldic process, not entirely due to his own laziness.)

NOTES to this essay:

Note 1: An Achievement of Arms isn't a new type of award. It's the term for the complete heraldic display which includes the device on an escutcheon, the helm above the escutcheon, the crest, torse and mantling on the helm, any supporters and the compartment they stand upon, and any motto displayed on a scroll. See the following essay in this series.

Note 2: Also, a Master or Mistress of the Laurel may skip the laurel wreath around the escutcheon and substitute a chaplet of laurel leaves for the torse on the helm.

Note 3: According to Midrealm sumptuary laws a Master or Mistress of the Pelican may display a wreath of pelican feathers, spattered with blood, around the escutcheon. I have never seen arms displayed within a wreath of chopped pelican bits and I rather hope I never will.

Note 4: Speaking heraldically, the escutcheon in this case is "an escutcheon of honourable augmentation" and serves the function of bearing the augmentation, as opposed to an escutcheon which is merely a shield-shaped thing in somebody's device, if the Heralds would pass an escutcheon, which I don't think they'll do now.

Note 5: If you happen to receive two Augmentations of Arms, which happened to Baroness Mistress Fiona of Rising Waters (in her case an Augmentation and a Royal Augmentation), I believe the Laurel King at Arms decided that one's device could be quartered, with the original device in two of the quarters and each Augmentation occupying one quarter each (though I believe Lord Laurel subsequently changed his mind on this question). I believe Baroness Fiona's are the only quartered personal Arms in the SCA. I am almost certain she is the only person in the Society with two Augmentations of Arms.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.