Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Handy-Squire’s Poncification Guide: How to Look Good in the Lists

Colyne Stewart, June AS XLI (2006)

Occasionally in an event flyer you may notice a tournament coming up that has appearance requirements. That is, they may ask that all obviously modern bits of armour be covered up. The tournament may also have heraldry requirements (say, three items of heraldry) incorporated into your armour. You may then look at your kit, see all the plastic bits, the hockey glove behind your shield, and your running shoes and decide that you’ll have to skip the event.

Not so!

With a little effort you can easily disguise your modern bits, proudly display your heraldry for all to see, and look good in any tournament!

Part One: Covering Up the Main Body
Lots of people have plastic armour in the SCA. It is cheaper and easier to make, lighter to wear, and generally requires less maintenance. Many knights wear plastic armour. So how can you easily cover up your plastic body harness, arm harness and/or legs?

If you have an early period persona the answer is: clothes. For instance, if you have a Norse persona, a large Norse T-tunic and some loose pants will cover you from your shoulders down to your feet. It’s not really any harder than sewing normal garb, you just need to take measurements with your armour on¸ and make sure you have a full range of motion without any hindrance (especially in your armpits).

For late period personas the approach is very much the same. A long sleeved surcoat, split in the front and back, looks attractive and will cover you from shoulder to calves. They also flare dramatically when you fight. Houpelandes also work well if you only need to cover your body harness and already have period-looking leather or metal legs.

Don’t worry if you have a plastic gorget. With your helm on you likely won’t be able to see it. If it does still show, consider attaching a cloth or leather mantle to your helm.

Part Two: Covering Up the Hands
Lots of people like to wear hockey or lacrosse gloves when they fight. Sometimes it’s for comfort, sometimes it’s a matter of funds (hockey gloves cost a lot less than steel or leather gauntlets). You may wear one glove behind your shield, or you may wear two so you can fight great weapon or two-stick.

To easily cover a hockey glove you need only make a cloth mitt that can slide over the glove. It’s not especially pretty, but is much better looking on the lists than an obviously modern sports glove with a logo or company name emblazoned on it.

Part Three: Covering Up the Feet
The easiest thing to do to cover up your feet is to buy boots. Real medieval style boots can be cost prohibitive (especially if you’re buying them just to fight in), so some folk will buy motorcycle boots or other similar styles that don’t have laces. The next best things are leather boots that do have laces.

If you have to stick to running shoes because of budget restraints, health reasons or for comfort, you can make a shoe cosy out of leather to wear on top of your shoes.

Part Four: Heraldry
As stated previously, sometimes a tournament may not only have appearance requirements, but may have heraldry requirements. Here are some easy ways to add some heraldic content to your kit. Remember, your heraldry represents you. It tells people you are on the field. You should be proud of your heraldry and try to display it as much as possible.

Surcoats, Tabards, and Other Coverings: There are a few ways you can add heraldry to your fighting garb. You can emblazon your device directly on the front of a surcoat, or on the front and back of a tabard. Alternatively, you may not actually put your device on your garb, but you may use all the colours from your arms. (So if your device has blue and gold in it, use blue and gold material for your fighting garb.) If you have charges on your device or badge, you could use them as a decorative trim. For instance, if you have gold fish on your device, put gold fish around your cuffs and hem. If you have a motto you could emblazon that around your hem instead.

Something else you can do with a tabard is attach flaps over the shoulders, on which you can display arms or badges as well (perhaps those of your household, barony or kingdom).

Helms: Just as you can make your fighting garb in your heraldic colours, you can (if you so desire) paint your helm in them. Generally, this is only done to great helms, but could be done to any helm.

Torse and Mantle: A torse is a band that encircles a helm and displays the wearer’s heraldic colours. A mantle hangs from the torse, and is also done in heraldic colours. The dagging of the mantle can also be cut in some way that represents aspects of the wearer’s heraldry. (For instance, someone with a spade in their device may cut their mantle dagging to look like spades.)

Crests: A crest sits atop your helm, and displays some aspect of your arms. For instance, if you have a lion in your arms, you may want to place a lion on your helm. Generally, people in the SCA don’t fight with their crests on (if they have them) as they are usually the most time consuming bit of fighting heraldry to make. Some people will sew and stuff a crest, others may be lucky enough to have easily found objects in their arms. (People with flowers in their arms could make a crest of a bowl of flowers.)

Favour: Likely the easiest bit of heraldry to make. Favours can come in many forms. Often they are hung off the wearer’s belt, but they may also be hung off the arm, sword or other location. The most common favour is a representation of someone’s device. It could be yours, or it could be the arms of the person you are fighting for. If you don’t have your arms displayed on your fighting garb, having it hanging off your belt is a good idea. In that way, if you are not carrying your shield, people will still know who you are. (“Hey, that’s the yellow tower squire fighting with that pole-axe!”)

Shield: The most obvious place to display your arms is on your shield. An unpainted shield is boring. One that proudly displays your arms not only looks great when you are fighting, but can be set outside your tent, or hung over your chair, or be used in other such ways to proclaim your presence at an event.

So there you have it. A few easy steps that will tidy up your kit and get you noticed in the lists. It’s so easy, why wait until you have to do it? Just go ahead and do it.

Arms: Arms or Armories were so called because originally displayed upon defensive
arms, and coats of arms because formerly embroidered upon the surcoat or camis worn over the armor. The term coat of arms, once introduced, was afterward retained, even when displayed elsewhere than on the coat. In the days when knights were so encased in armor that no means of identifying them was left, the practice was introduced of painting their insignia of honor on their shield as an easy method of distinguishing them. Originally these were granted only to individuals, but were afterward made hereditary by King Richard I, during his crusade to Palestine. They may be divided into two general classes: (1) Public, as those of kingdoms, provinces, bishoprics, corporate bodies, etc. And (2) private, being those of private families. These two classes are again separated into many subdivisions, founded mainly on the different methods by which they were granted.
Badge: A distinctive mark; a cognizance. It is somewhat similar to a crest, but was not
placed on a wreath, nor was it worn on the helmet. The badge was a possession of princes, noblemen and other gentlemen of rank, and to this day is retained by some of those houses. The badge of the Plantagenets was the broom plant (Planta genista); the line of Lancaster had a red rose, while the badge of the house of York was a white rose.
Crest: Originally the crest was the ornament of the helmet, or headpiece, and also
afforded protection against a blow. In the early rolls it was scarcely noticed, but in later armorial grants it came into general use. Crests, like arms, were sometimes allusive. Thus, Grey of Wilton used a gray, or badger, and Lord Wells a bucket and chain. In the early days of the crest it was confined to persons of rank, but in later times it has been included in every grant of arms.
Device: An emblem, intended to represent a family, person, action or quality, with a
suitable motto. It generally consists in a metaphorical similitude between the thing representing and the person or thing represented.
Mantle: The cloak or robe behind the shield, sufficiently large to include the entire arms.
Those of sovereigns are of gold doubled with ermine, and are called pavilions.
Motto: A word or sentence carried on the scroll, and supposed to have some connection
with the name of the bearer, the deeds of his ancestors or as setting forth some guiding principle or idea.
Torse (also Wreath): The roll or chaplet above the shield, supporting the crest. It is
supposed to represent a twist of two silken cords, one tinctured like the principal metal, the other like the principal color, in the arms. Wreaths may also be circular, but the straight wreath is by far the more common.

All definitions taken from Pimbley’s Dictionary of Heraldry (

Permission is given to print this article in any SCA publication as long as the author is contacted by email in advance, proper credit is given and the author receives a copy of the newsletter. Please credit the author as Colyne Stewart (mka Todd Fischer), who can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment