So, you now have your armory registered through the College of Heralds and you want to proudly display them at an event (or you just want to display your device or badge that's in process). One of the great myths of the Society is that coats of arms are only displayed on an escutcheon shape. Let me state here and now: WRONG!! I understand why people might think this—all those submission forms require people to emblazon (that's draw) on those heater-shaped areas, so they think that's how the arms should be displayed. Nope, that's how they will look on a shield or on a roll of arms, but not on a medieval style banner!
There is a plethora of medieval ways to display your arms on what is loosely termed a "banner". In actuality each type of "banner" has a special name based on its purpose and the way it looks. Here are simple definitions and descriptions:
During the reign of Henry III the pennon acquired the distinctive swallow-tail, or the single-pointed shape. Another version of the single-pointed pennon was introduced in the 13th century. In shape this was a scalene triangle, obtained by cutting diagonally the vertically oblong banner.
The banner bore the complete coat of arms of the owner, and represented his shield. The charges were so arranged that the dexter side was always next to the staff, no matter which way the banner flew. This rule holds good with armorial flags and banners of all kinds.
Banners were sometimes tongued. This style of banner resembles its ancestor, the oriflamme. Banners were generally made up on a stiff or rigid foundation to prevent flapping. This had the advantage of displaying the coat of arms more effectively. They were frequently decorated with gold or colored fringe all around the edge, except at the staff.
It was usual to carry the banner fixed to a spear, and sometimes to a staff. Banners were also attached to long trumpets, and were blazoned with the arms of the lord who employed the trumpeters, and thus corresponded generally with the arms on the tabards of the heralds when the two worked in conjunction.
The standard in use during the reign of Edward III was an heraldic flag of pennon shape, usually terminating in two rounded ends, and sometimes swallow-tailed. It varied in size (up to eight feet in length) according to the rank of the owner. A typical standard of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries would be decorated and charged as follows:
Next to the staff (known as the hoist) comes the flag/badge of the Kingdom to which you owe allegiance. For the English, the cross of St. George was displayed here. Some examples of the cross of St. Andrew are known to have existed for Scots standards. The rest of the surface is usually divided, per fess or per bend or bendy, into the two principal tinctures of the owner's coat of arms, or livery colors, with the badge, and sometimes also the motto, blazoned in the center. The whole standard is surrounded by a fringe of gold, or of color, or what is called compony -- a single row of small alternating squares of two tinctures of the shield.
The standard was usually carried rolled up. Not only was it too sacred to display without reason, but also its great length made it awkward to carry. It was hung from a window or high tower in the owner's castle.
Shorter versions of the standard make excellent and dramatic SCA war banners!
In practical terms what does this all mean? Unless you have a tower or other high place to display it from, you probably shouldn't need to make a pennoncelle or a standard—maybe a smaller version as a war banner. An oriflamme is neat and can add spiff to an event, but it doesn't really display your arms. That leaves the pennon, the banner, and the gonfannon. For the types of display we make in the SCA, a gonfannon provides the most utility—we can hang it in the hall, from a pole outside our tents and pavillions, and when participating in a March, it can be carried before its owners. However, as always, the decision is yours to make!
Fox-Davies, A. C. A Guide to Heraldry.
Friar, Stephen, and John Ferguson. Basic Heraldry. New York: W. Norton & Company.1993.
Gayre and Nigg, Lt. Col. Robert Gayre of. Heraldic Standards and Other Ensigns Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. 1959.
Grant, Francis J., ed. A Manual of Heraldry. Edinburgh: John Grant Booksellers, Ltd. 1948. (Note: Francis Grant was Albany Herald at the time of publication)
Norris, Herbert. Costume & Fashion, Volume Two - Senlac to Bosworth, 1066-1485, London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd. 1940.
Stein, Jess, ed. The Random House College Dictionary. New York: Random House, Inc. 1984.
Woodcock, Thomas, and John Martin Robinson. The Oxford Guide to Heraldry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1988.