Armorial Display:
Banners, Standards, and Heaters, Oh My!

The Honorable Lord Eldred Ælfwald, Gordian Knot Herald

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:

Oriflamme Oriflamme comes from the Latin aurea flamma, meaning "flame of gold". The oriflamme is a square or horizontally oblong rectangle, and is displayed in the same way a modern flag is. One end of it is decorated with the addition of pointed streamers. Usually made of red silk, and peppered with spots or other small motifs in gold to represent flames, it has the effect of a golden flame when fluttering in the sunshine. The oriflamme is 8th century in origin, and was in use through the fifteenth century although its exact shape changed as styles and custom dictated. However, oriflammes do not appear to have displayed the arms or badges of those who carried them.

Pennons Pennon comes from the Latin, penna meaning "a wing", or "a feather." The pennon is a small flag that is either single-pointed or swallow-tailed. The modern version of a pennon is usually seen at baseball games-- as a pennant In the 11th century the pennon was generally square, one end being decorated with the addition of pointed tongues or streamers—somewhat similar to the oriflamme. The Normans used it as a distinguishing mark of knights. Several examples and variations are represented on the Bayeux Tapestry. For about one hundred years, the pennon was used as the ensign of the knight, and towards the end of the 12th century it was charged with some motif from the armorial bearings of the owner – a badge or even the entire arms of the owner. Typical display of a pennon was from a lance such that it could be deciphered when the lance was "at charge". The pennon was frequently surrounded by a narrow gold or colored fringe.

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.

A pennoncelle is a long narrow pennon or streamer, usually single pointed. The pennoncelle was frequently seen flying from the masts of ships

Banners The banner is a specific type of armorial display. From the Latin bandum, meaning "standard." A banner is a perpendicularly oblong flag. It was the ensign of the king, barons, overlords, and "knights banneret," carried before the owner as a sign of his feudal rights. Modern flags are essentially banners that are flown and emblazoned 90 degrees.

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.

Standard Standard derives from the Norman French estendard, meaning "that which stands." A standard is a staff with a flag. It was a name given in the Early Middle Ages to the most imposing kind of flag.

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!

Gonfalon (or Gonfannon):
Gonfalon Gonfalon from the Italian gonfalone. The gonfalon is a long flag or banner suspended from a crossbar, often pointed, swallow-tailed, or with several streamers. It was used for various purposes, chiefly decoration. It could be either charged with a badge or coat of arms, or ornamented with a fancy design. The gonfalon was (and still is) used for ecclesiastical ceremonies and processions.

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!


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©Copyright 1998, J.T. Thorpe