Heraldic Display:


Heraldic Shields

Heraldic Display in the
Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild

(The terms 'banner' and 'flag' are used interchangeably in this article. Although the term 'banner' refers to a specific type of flag, it is also commonly used to describe medieval flags in general.)

Heraldry was an integral part of the medieval period, especially during the High Middle Ages. Evolving from a visual method of recognizing friend and foe, heraldic display developed into a complex system used to denote personal identity, social status, family lineage and national affiliation along with a myriad of other, more subtle, meanings. In order to better represent the pageantry that was so innately tied to the time, the MMCG has set aside several types of heraldic display as officially sanctioned. While the shapes, symbols and sizes of displays were often an indication of rank in medieval society, the MMCG does not delineate so detailed a distinction.

The MMCG recognizes these categories of heraldic display:

  • Shield display - Shield display is recognized by the MMCG as any type of heraldic display applied to a shield. Shield display is permitted to any member of the MMCG.
  • Badge display - Badge display is recognized by the MMCG as any distinctive mark, token, sign, or cognizance, worn on the person. Only members who have been bestowed with specific ranks or titles may display badges. A knight or squire may display a white badge, and a yeoman may display a green badge. Badges may be decorated with the whole or any portion of the wearer's personal arms except in the case of squires. The Frostlord and Sunwarden may wear the designated Frostlord and Sunwarden badge for the year, regardless of peerage membership or the lack thereof. During Mercenary Wars, teams wear badges to identify allegience to a certain team.
  • Surcoat display - Surcoat display is recognized by the MMCG as any type of display applied to a garment designed to by worn over armor (surcoat, tabard, jupon, etc...). Surcoats are only permitted to squires and members of the peerage in the MMCG, Knight-at-Arms and Knight of the Scroll. Heraldic symbols, charges or mottos may not be applied to clothing in any other fashion except where specifically permitted. Squires may only wear surcoats in their heraldic colors, but may not yet apply their charges.
  • Flag display - Flag display is recognized by the MMCG as a cloth with painted, embroidered or applied heraldic designs. There are many different types of flags; usage is based on the level of attainment in the MMCG. There are flags permitted to all members and some are more restrictive. Further clarification follows.


Restricted Symbols

No member of the MMCG may use the heraldic charges, mottoes or any elements which are registered to other members without the consent of the owner. The following charges are consideed restricted charges within the MMCG:

      Oak trees, oak leaves and acorns
      Escarbuncles (snowflake shapes) (except as noted in rules for Seasonlords)
      Suns in splendor (except as noted in rules for Seasonlords)
      Both silver and gold chiefs embattled

These symbols may only be used by those designated to use them - if you don't know if you are designated to use the symbol, do not use it.

Special Heraldic Rules for Seasonlords

Any member of the MMCG who has attained the rank of Frostlord at least once may display argent an escarbuncle (eight-pointed snowflake shape) in the upper-right corner of their arms (in canton sinsiter) if so desired. If the member's arms feature a white field, then the escarbuncle may be displayed azure. This charge may be kept even after the title of Frostlord has been passed on.

Any member of the MMCG who has attained the rank of Sunwarden at least once may display or a sun of eight rays in the upper-right corner of their arms (in canton sinsiter) if so desired. If the member's arms feature a gold field, then the sun may be displayed gules. This charge may be kept even after the title of Sunwarden has been passed on.

Heraldic Rules for Bands and Companies

A Mercenary Band or Company within the MMCG may choose its own insignia. This insignia may be applied to a banner (as described below) or simplified and worn as a patch or pin affixed to clothing. An officer may display a chief embattled argent upon their shield and a captain a chief embattled or.

Band or Company heraldry may not be emblazoned upon surcoats, with the exception of a silver stripe embattled in chief for Officers and a gold stripe embattled displayed in chief for Captains. A stripe is defined as being displayed in chief on a surcote when it runs horizontally across the surcote at chest level or above, a surcote may also be designed with gold or silver (which ever is appropriate to your rank) covering the sholders and ending with an embattled line at chest level.

Heraldic Rules for the Order of the Oak

The Order of the Oak is an organization within the MMCG that is shrouded in mystery. Members of the order have special dispensation for certain heraldic displays which are known only to members. Some of these displays may contradict the general rules for heraldry but are rights granted to members of this order.

Recognized flag types in the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild


The oriflamme is square or rectangular and must have three or more "tails" at the fly. The oriflamme, as recognized by the MMCG, may only display livery colors or the field colors of the bearer's arms and may not be further adorned by charges, devices, mottos or arms. The oriflamme is permitted for use by the general membership. Oriflames must be at least 2 feet square and the tails must make up at least 1/3 of the length.


The distinguishing characteristic of a gonfalon is that it is supported horizontally and displays the complete arms of the bearer. The use of the Gonfalon is open to peers in the MMCG. Gonfalon's come in a variety of formats and below are some (not all) examples.


The pennon is a small flag that is displayed at the end of a spear or lance. Pennons display the primary charge from the bearer's arms and are oriented so that the arms are on display properly when the lance or spear is "at charge." May be no larger than 8 inches at the hoist and no more than 2   feet in length. The pennon may only be used by peers and yeomen in the following ways: Knight-at-Arms: tapering to a single point; Knight of the Scroll: tapering to one rounded point; Yeoman: swallowtail.


Standards incorporate many heraldic elements and, as such, are probably the most impressive displays. Standards must display the flag of the MMCG at the hoist followed by the primary charge of the bearer, and a motto and/or secondary charges. Standards must be at least 20 inches wide at the hoist and must be at least 5 feet long. Standards may only be displayed by peers and squires. A squire's standard, however, may only display the arms of the MMCG at the hoist, and the squire's colors (divided, if applicable), but without a charge.


The banner is what most of us think of when we hear the term "flag." Banners may only be used by Bands or Companies, or other officially sanctioned groups within the MMCG, i.e. the MMCG itself, the Black Falcons, the White Wolves . . . etc.

Some things to remember:

  • The hoist is always treated as dexter when placing elements on the flag. Thus, the backside of the flag is always a mirror image of the front.



  • Do not use synthetic materials for flags. Stick to natural fibers; while nothing can compare to the durability of nylon in this application, many natural fabrics are still very resistant to weather, look much more authentic and accept paint and dye well.

Methods of Banner Construction


Artifacts indicate materials used in the Middle Ages varied based on the intended use for the flag. Linen and canvas were likely the most commonly used but silk was also used, although the cost would probably have meant that banners of silk would have been reserved for ceremonial purposes and would probably not have been taken into battle. For modern materials, a lot of people recommend trigger cloth, because it is a lightweight cotton cloth and flies well. Linen and silk are a bit expensive, but very authentic. Duck cloth, trigger cloth and regular canvas all work well and are stronger than the lighter weight fabrics but require a bit more of a breeze to fly well.

Before cutting or applying designs, be sure to wash and dry fabric before beginning. This will ensure that the fabric is shrunk and will help with color fastness. If you plan on painting your banner, it is a good idea to choose the field color from the arms being used; if multiple field colors are incorporated, use the lightest color, as covering a light color with a dark paint is easier than vise-versa.


Painting, embroidery and appliqué are all period methods for applying designs to banners. Of these three methods painting is by far the most common found in existing artifacts. There are several reasons for this; painting is far less time intensive, allows greater detail, is easier to produce and, due to its lower cost, would have been favored when marching off to battle, where banners could easily be destroyed. Even in artifacts where one or both of the other methods is employed, painting is often also present.


Embroidery and appliqué are fairly self-explanatory, but there is a trick to successful painting. Period banners would have been painted with oil based paints. The disadvantage to oil paints is that they take days to dry and you want to wait until one color is completely dry before going on to the next color. Not historically accurate, but virtually undetectable to the untrained eye, are water-based, acrylic paints. You can purchase special fabric paints but these are simply normal acrylic paints that have been thinned in order to allow them to adhere to the fibers more easily. The same effect can be achieved by watering down the cheaper, regular acrylics. Jones Tones makes a stretch fabric paint that is supposed to never crack or peel; when it is thinned, it is said to be an excellent paint for this application.


There are many methods of laying out a pattern on fabric; pencil, washable marker, chalk and, for the very confident, paint. One can freehand the pattern on, employ stencils or use a projector. No method is better than any other, it is simply a matter of preference, although paint is irreversible while the others leave some room for errors.


Unless you feel like adding a splash of color to whatever you are using for a work surface, you need to put something under the fabric to catch the bleed-through. Waxed paper, plastic and painter's drop cloth all work well for this purpose. Do not use paper, it will get stuck to the backside of the banner.

The paints must be kept moist, but not too wet; dry paint will not adhere well and watery paint will bleed excessively. Start in the center of the design and work out towards the lines. Everything else involved with the actual painting is fairly self-explanatory, if you want to get into techniques, check out a painting technique book from the library. Be sure to let the piece dry completely before setting the paint.

The paint can be set by several methods you can iron the banner, toss it in the dryer on high or put it in the oven at about 250 degrees for 5 minutes (keep a close eye on it if you use this method). Heat setting ensures that the banner can survive the weather and be washed without loosing the design. The banner can be backed with another layer of fabric or the other side can be painted as well. The former is typically used for banners that are not intended to be flown while the latter reduces the weight of banners meant to be flown.


arms - The pictorial symbolism used as a form of identification by an individual.

charge - A pictorial symbol, used in heraldry. A device may bear more than one charges (e.g.: animals such as lions or eagles, objects such as crosses, swords, anvils or crescents, etc.).

fly - The edge of a flag that is opposite the pole, thus it is free to 'fly.' When something is denoted as "at the fly" it is this end that is referred to.

hoist - The edge of the flag that is opposite the fly, the side of a flag that is bound to the pole. When something is denoted as "at the hoist" it is this end that is referred to. Always considered dexter.

Knight-at-Arms - The rank of Knight-at-Arms shall be awarded to individuals who display above-average commitment to the ideals of the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild, specifically as those ideals relate to combat. (see resource section "ranks")

Knight of the Scroll - A Knight of the Scroll is a rank awarded to individuals who display above-average commitment to the ideals of the Mercenaries Medieval Combat Guild, specifically as those ideals relate to scholarship and research of medieval history. (see resource section "ranks")

motto - A phrase or word adopted as an individual principle. It usually is particularly meaningful to the bearer.

peer - A peer is a person who has attained the rank of Knight-at-Arms or Knight of the Scroll.

schwenkle - A very long streamer which continues along the top part of a flag for a length, usually tapering. It is of German origin; a red schwenkel was a mark of great honor.

swallow-tailed - A rectangular flag that has had a triangular portion removed from the fly creating a double 'tail' of sorts.

Yeoman - Yeoman is a rank awarded to individuals who display above-average commitment to the skills of archery. (see resource section "ranks")










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