Heraldry is both a science and an art form. Developing out of the emblems and insignia born upon shields and banners during battle, heraldry as a profession encompasses not only the devising, granting, and blazoning of arms(for more info on this, read my post upcoming, on blazoning), but also the tracing of genealogies, and determining and ruling on questions of rank or protocol. (1) Mundanely, all of this is done. In the SCA, however, heraldry encompasses only developing of emblems and devices born upon shields, etc. our gentles may use, be it banners, clothing, or the shields previously mentioned and avoids ANY reference of a genealogical nature. This means that nothing that says, “these were my father’s and mother’s arms and now they are mine” can be registered. SCA Standards forbids the appearance of marshalling (two or more armories split and put together as a new whole). *NOTE: Marshalling as a display of two people’s devices, showing marriage or, perhaps “tagging and identifying” children is allowed, simply the registering of armory denoting such a relationship is not. The nature of heraldry, then, is first a system of personal devices appertaining to an individual. It is also an art. The proper delineation of coats of arms can achieve a high art form; the animals, objects and charges being highly stylised.(5) It is this stylised, bold, simple artform that we strive to recreate.
Is it big enough?
Big and bold and butch: the basic idea of a charge is that it can be seen and recognized from a distance. “A corollary to this is that the main details of the charge are important, and not the little details. The shape and attitude of a lion is more important than shading and drawing individual hairs and wrinkles. While the latter may be artistically pleasing, it isn’t going to be noticed from ten or fifteen feet away! (3)
If a device gets too complex, it will not get registered. What is too complex? RfS [A.3.E.2] states, ” We require that any submission not exceed a certain “complexity count,” measured by adding the number of types of charges to the number of tinctures. Items with a complexity count of eight or less receive no penalty for complexity from this rule.” If the items are all reasonably simple, or there’s no special field division like bendy or embattled, or counter-changing of colors on the charges it could pass. This also means that if the basic arrangement is at all fairly common in period heraldry, it could still pass.(2)
What do you mean, too deep?
Only so many layers are allowed. A charge on a charge on a charge on a field is too deep and the bottom charge has a good chance of not being recognizable. Lord Nelson’s device is a prime example. The blazon for his device is “Or, a cross flory sable and overall on a bend gules another engrailed Or charged with three grenades sable flammant proper. For augmentation, on a chief wavy argent a palm tree between a disabled ship and a ruinous battery all issuant from waves of the sea all proper. For second augmentation (posthumous), on a fess wavy overall azure the word TRAFALGAR Or.” The bottom cross is not recognizable since only two of the four arms are seen, and then only at the ends. The first bend gules is also not able to be seen.
Lord Nelson’s armory with posthumous augmentation from “The Boast of heraldry, The Pomp of Power” by BRLSI
Unless it was drawn in perspective in the middle ages, items are to be drawn in profile or straight on only. And the direction they are drawn should be recognizable. For example, a die would be shown with three sides of pips, while a face would only be profile or straight on, no 3/4 perspective as from a little off to the side. The die would not be recognizable as a delf argent (white square) charged with a pellet (black circle).
So, who is that?
Contrast and balance (or symmetry) go back to the big bold butch aspect of a device. If the colors on a device are too close together in color, an item may not be recognized. Therefore, no color on color or metal on metal is allowed. This does not, however, preclude two colors or metals on an equally divided field, as long as the pieces are no smaller than 1/4 of the field (quarterly or per saltire). If a field is not evenly divided (Say per pall or per pall inverted, this does not apply. Three colors cannot be used, and there are not three metals to be used. Therefore, within per pall [inverted], the color division would be two colors and one metal or two metals and one color. A very simple piece of armory showing this is Rivka Vladimirovna Rivkina’s blazoned “Per pall Or, vert, and sable”
A shield should be balanced, have symmetry. Not the mirror symmetry that is a modern invention, rather charges all being similar. Three bears standing facing dexter (two on top, one on the bottom) are symmetric while two bears standing facing one another are not. That is not to say they would not pass; they are just not as symmetric as the previous example.
SENA has a listing in its Appendix J: Documented and Forbidden Arrangements of Charge Groups on Armory which listed, well, currently documented arrangements. If the arrangement you are working on is not in that listing, (including the prohibited ones) then finding period examples of that arrangement in general will help with registration.
This device was returned in 1991 for an unbalanced arrangement. “Per pale argent and Or fretty vert, in dexter a leaved branch issuant from chief proper and <a charged chief>]” The LoAR 8/91 p.20 states, “The device has several problems. The first is the profound appearance of dimidiated arms, which the addition of the charged chief does not serve to diminish. The device is also right at the very edge of our complexity limits having four types of charge in four tinctures. Given the unusual arrangement and unbalanced design this is simply too much.” (4) Note how long ago this is, though. Again, documentation trumps all.
(1) University of Notre Dame Heraldic Dictionary
(2) Counting Complexity in Devices and Badges by by Dmitrii Volkovich
(3) Basic Blazonry by Lord Eldred AElfwald, Gordian Knot Herald
(4) Precedents of Da’ud ibn Auda (2nd tenure)
(5) The Origins of Heraldry at Camelot Village: Britain’s Heritage and History.