On Achievements of Arms and Other Things

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

In a previous essay (On Arms) I touched on the concept of Achievements of Arms. To recapitulate briefly, an Achievement of Arms is the whole heraldic display, not just the escutcheon (shield-shaped thing) with your device on it. There are elaborate rules, especially in English heraldry, about the shape of the helm over the escutcheon and which way it must point and so on. Fox-Davies expounds on these vital issues for a few score pages in his books, and there are other sources for these rules. These are rules for English heraldry, not for SCA heraldry, however. The SCA (and in particular the Middle Kingdom) is very relaxed about these rules, which allows the budding herald quite a bit of latitude when displaying devices and Arms.

First of all, there's the basic device, which most people seem unaware comes with a bag full of optional extras. When your device is passed by the College of Heralds you may display it along with a helmet, a torse, mantling and a crest. These ornaments outside the device itself are not registered or controlled by the College of Heralds, so within minor limitations you can do as you wish with them. Let's take a look at these bits and pieces.

The helm is just that, a helmet. Unlike English heraldry (where its orientation indicates rank) this can be displayed facing in any direction. While the helm can take any form, it makes sense to have the helm on the Achievement look like the helmet a person owns if the person is a fighter. Note the helm must be a full helm; no Viking skull-caps with nasals! The only sumptuary restriction on helms is that they may be ornamented in gold for Barons, Peers, Royal Peers and Royalty. The rest of the Kingdom has to ornament in silver, I suppose.

The torse is the band of cloth twisted around the forehead of the helm. The mantling is the cloth that hangs off the back of the torse to keep the sun off a fighter's helm and armour. The torse and mantling are in the device's "livery colours", the predominant colour and metal seen in the device. The mantling is usually portrayed blowing artistically in a stiff breeze so the grandeur of the livery can be seen to best effect. This achieves a visual effect much like a badly shot hair product ad on TV.

Finally there is the crest, which sits on top of the helm and emerges from the torse. The crest can be anything; your principal charge, your registered badge, whatever object catches your fancy that week. There's no registration involved; you can change your crest at a whim. It makes sense to use a crest that isn't somehow associated with someone else locally; that's good manners. In the Middle Kingdom, don't use a dragon in your crest; that's reserved by custom for the Crown to give as a token of a Grant of Arms.

Suddenly the plain old device got fancy in its display, and anyone can add on a helm, torse, mantling and crest. Once you are awarded Arms by the Crown life becomes even more interesting. In the Middle an Armiger (a person awarded Arms) can display those Arms on a compartment, with a single supporter.

A compartment is the little island in space that the device sits on, and the supporter is the person, beast or thing that stands beside the device -- on the compartment -- and holds it up. As with crests, there's no registration and very few rules. In the Middle only Royal Peers (Viscounts and up) may have a dragon as a supporter. Beyond that, you are only limited by your imagination. This is where those coffee-table heraldry texts can be very useful sources of ideas. If you are using a person as a supporter, be careful that you do not display that person incorrectly. It would be inappropriate to have your supporter portrayed as, say, the King wearing the Arms of the Middle. If, as an archer, you wanted to have a supporter dressed in the tabard of an archer from Septentria (i.e. wearing the Baronial badge without further embellishment), that would be acceptable because anyone in the Barony can display that badge.

At the bottom of your compartment you could display a scroll with a motto. Again, mottoes are not resgistered or controlled. This is another opportunity for you to display your imagination (Latin mottoes always go over well and look terribly important).

If you've been in the SCA for a while and have received an award or awards from the Crown or Coronet, your supporter may display those awards, generally by wearing their badges on medallions around his, her or its neck. So in the example cited, above the archer supporting the escutcheon could wear a scarlet tabard with the white bear of Septentria on it. If you as an archer have shot the necessary Royal Rounds to wear a broad arrow badge on your tabard your supporter could display that same insignia.

Finally, if you become a Baron or Baroness, a Peer or a Royal Peer you may add a second supporter. A Territorial Baron or Baroness may have a supporter carrying a banner bearing the arms of his or her Barony. The helms over Barons' and Royal Peers' escutcheons may display their coronets of rank in lieu of a torse.

Creating an Achievement of Arms is an exercise in imagination. There are virtually no restrictions on what you surround your device with. Have fun with creating elegant and spectaular Achievements; heraldry, like the rest of the SCA, is supposed to be fun.

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.