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Heraldic Badges

Part II

In the first part of this article we briefly examined the origins of what we consider to be heraldic badges, recognised their principal importance as beginning in the reign of Edward III, emphasised that a badge is not a crest, nor a crest a badge (although both may feature the same device), and then discussed the special case of the Scottish crest-badges and their use in the clan system. We now revert to the more general topic.

To the confusion between crests and badges is added also the confusion between badges and arms. (Confusion between crests and arms has been explained elsewhere.) Some early arms did bear devices we know to have been used as badges could have been used. The earliest surviving Swinton seal, for example, bears the single, isolated charge of a boar's head, and the earliest arms accorded to Swinton of that Ilk blazons a chevron between three boars' heads.
arms on Swinton seal
boar's head badge
Then, again, there can be confusion between standards and banners. The standard is a long and tapered flag used to mark the rallying place of the troops and bears on it the badges they must be able to recognise. The banner is a rectangular flag that bears a noble's arms. (What is popularly known as the British "Royal Standard" is the Sovereign's Banner.) In the earlier heraldic period the banner of their leader showed where his men should rally, and the badge they bore could easily be one of the charges on that banner. In later years, as heraldry lost its simplicity (as subinfeudation increased and as differencing between members of a family made the appearance of shields and banners more complex), simple badges assumed greater importance for battlefield identification, and the number of standards bearing those badges began to increase. We associate this most with the period from Edward III to Henry VIII (after whom, with the creation of a standing army, the practical importance of badges in battle declined).
A nineteenth-century scholar, Arthur C. Fox-Davies, explained the cause and consequences of the growing complexities that promoted the use of heraldic badges ~
The necessity of "differencing" arms derived from a common ancestor, no less than the greater necessity of different arms where there was no relationship, not only vastly multiplied coats of arms numerically, but created the intricacies of the science which have seemed often to bid fair to strangle its very existence. With these growing intricacies, coat armour, to a large extent, was losing its original beauty of distinction and advertisement. How could an uneducated serf appreciate the niceties, e.g. between artistic diaper and geratting for difference?
The growth of heraldry into a science, the pride of race which had evolved that science, with its confusion of quarterings and differences, had killed its original purpose, or, at any rate, diminished its use therefor. The science was retained with regard to coat armour, and conformity with its rules was enforced by the King's Heralds long before there was a College of Arms. Something simpler was needed, something within the ready comprehension of the uneducated, something suitable to the original purpose (i.e. an advertisement of personality) which had called coat armour into being. In fact, it was nothing more than a pure reversion to the elementary rudiments from which the science of armory had been evolved. So that we find in the fourteenth century the landholders invented the standard and the "cognizance".
The latter by its very name tells us what it was. Taking some charge from his shield, or some other simple figure ~ for the essence of the badge was its simplicity ~ which his retainers could readily recognize, their leader placed it on their jerkins so that he could recognize them in battle ; he placed it on his standard so that they might know where to be in action or in camp. His standard itself was of the colour or colours of his liveries, which his followers all knew and wore. Such was the evolution of the standard and the badge.
the Stafford standard
The Stafford standard illustrated here features the swan badge believed to have been used by the family from their earliest days in England (they were of the richly rewarded de Tosny castle- building clan that came across with Duke William), and the famous Stafford knot. The cross of St George placed next the hoist was usual in the Middle Ages for Englishmen. The addition of mottoes came in the later Middle Ages.
Today, the most easily recognised of heraldic badges are the Royal Badges. Among the more famous of these are the crowned rose, the crowned thistle, the crowned shamrock and the crowned harp. The crowned portcullis also, although used by Parliament and sometimes claimed by MPs as the property of Parliament, is a Royal Badge (but without the crown it is the badge of Portcullis Pursuivant, one of the officers at the College of Arms). The other most easily recognised badges are those featuring knots. We have met one above, the Stafford knot ~ another of some fame, because of its mythical association with the legendary outlaw Hereward the Wake, is the Wake knot.
a Royal badge - the crowned portcullis
the Stafford knot badge
the Wake knot badge
The Wake Knot
The Stafford Knot
A stylised version of the crowned portcullis, a Royal Badge
We distinguished between the banner which bears a noble's arms (as if it were a square or rectangular shield) and the standard which bears his badges with, in the hoist, the cross of his country's patron saint. (Some modern standards bear their owner's arms in the hoist instead of their national cross, but in classical heraldry it is always the saint who is represented.) However, there is a special banner that does bear a badge ~ the livery banner. The one illustrated below to the left is copied from "Prince Arthur's Book" (compiled 1501-1502) and presents the falcon and fetterlock badge of the Duke of York. The banner to the right is an armorial banner.
a livery banner and an armorial banner


The Royal Standard known to historians is properly 33 feet long (and thus a fairly tall staff would be required if it were to be flown at half-mast on a day of slack winds). Its use signals the rallying point for the Sovereign's supporters, and thus its design includes the national ensign (today the Union, but in earlier times in the British Isles the cross of St George or of St Andrew) plus a few of those Sovereign's badges that the supporters would be expected to recognise easily.

The Royal Standard used today is properly the Royal Banner, featuring the arms of the Sovereign and signalling the Sovereign's physical presence, but it has come to be known as a square standard. As the original Royal Standard fell into disuse, the Royal Banner assumed the name of the original and acquired some of the original's symbolism. Thus today the Sovereign's Banner-Standard is used as a banner to display the arms of sovereignty of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland (Wales, never a kingdom and ranking today as a principality, is not present), and as a standard it is flown only from the highest position. (It is never lowered to half-mast, not even at the death of the Sovereign.)

Components of an Armorial Achievement
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Heraldic Badges ~ Part I
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