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"Infantry shield colors/emblems the same as their Lords?" Topic

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797 hits since 29 Oct 2017
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VicCina Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 8:28 a.m. PST


I was reading a book on the Spanish/Muslim battles and the author pointed out that infantry would have the same colors or emblem on their shields as the Lord/Knight that brought them to the battle. This is the first time I've read/heard of this and wanted to ask if anyone has heard of this? I've read where a unit might carry a standard that represented the lord they were fighting for but not on the shield itself.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 9:08 a.m. PST

Spanish practice might have been different, but the colours and emblems on a knight's shield were his personal arms. Personal in that only he was entitled to display them. I feel it is unlikely his retinue would also display his arms.

This is where the idea of a livery coat comes in. Probably a later medieval development, a lord would provide his retinue with a coat in his colours. These colours were not necessarily the same as the colours of his arms, though!

steamingdave4729 Oct 2017 9:27 a.m. PST

In England, those entitled to have heraldic arms would also have badges- symbols which were well known as representing a particular noble and which were usually displayed upon personal standards.They were also used on livery clothing and, pure speculation this, possibly on shields of retainers. The retainers would never bear shields with the actual heraldic arms of their lord; these would only be displayed on his personal shield and banner.
Continental,practice may have been different. I seem to recall reading that in Germany there were family arms, so that a father and his sons may all have gone into battle with similar shields.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 9:51 a.m. PST

I can see shields bearing the livery color or a symbol of their lord. I would be surprised if this wan't done at all by anyone. I can also see a lot of lords not worrying about what colors the shields were.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 11:04 a.m. PST

Who was the author and what was the book?
Are there any footnotes to follow?

Heraldic laws and practices do vary from kingdom to kingdom and the overwhelming body of information that gamers have easy access to is British.

I would be very interested to find more specifics on Spanish practices.

When I was painting my Portuguese army and using historical coats of arms for all of the knights, some of them were in colour combinations that are not allowed under the British College of Arms. (such as Red on Green, opposite colours with good visibility for heraldic identification on the field.)

Great War Ace Inactive Member29 Oct 2017 12:04 p.m. PST

Of course it's true. Equally, it wasn't universal or even most common practice. The added logistic of assuring that your troops all have a more uniform appearance would cost time and treasure. As a campaign went on and shields and tunics were replaced as necessity required, the burden of supplying replacements would multiply the cost. I'm confident in saying that with few exceptions, medieval armies (and the retinues that made them) were ad hoc and patchy looking. There must have been rivalry between nobles to show up the "competition" with "bling", which would of course reflect status. This would nearly always apply only to the immediate retinue of the noble. His troops "of the line" would be either supplying their own obligated arms, or receiving serviceable, generic arms from the noble's armory.

uglyfatbloke29 Oct 2017 1:13 p.m. PST

Interesting miniMo…there was no such thing as a British college of arms in the middle ages. There were English and Scottish heralds, but no British ones.

VicCina Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 1:36 p.m. PST

The book title is "Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain" by Joseph F. O'Callaghan. I don't have the book with me so I will have to double check the foot notes.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP29 Oct 2017 8:22 p.m. PST

True it was English and Scottish separate then, but their rules of heraldry are what passed to the college and into the English language books on heraldry. Their rules are not universal for the rest of Europe.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Oct 2017 4:21 a.m. PST

Nobody really knows what 'rules' were applied early in the life of heraldry or even if there were any rules as such.

British heraldry (in both its main flavours) derived from continental practice but, generally, without the existing symbolism from the pre-heraldic era that can be seen in some European heraldry.

As nations developed their own practices what was and was not considered acceptable varied but not to a huge extent. Many of the basic 'rules' we use in English heraldry are the same as those in French & German practice and very similar to Spanish and Italian. Where there are differences they are often a difference of interpretation of what was probably a common 'rule' originally.

Certain symbols and colours that are rare in one region are common in others but that doesn't imply any major difference in the 'structural' rules of a coat of arms.

As to the example of Red/Green combos, some European arms have a divided field of two colours which is not used in English heraldry (in fact it isn't common elsewhere either) but it can't be avoided easily for a field divided into 3 parts (again uncommon in English usage) so rules must be flexible to some extent.

Modern (i.e. post Renaissance) heraldic literature often overstates the rules and rarely makes any attempt to place those rules into any sort of historical context. Many works still pass on 16th & 17th century manufactured fictions about the significance of certain charges and designs with no evidence that these have a medieval origin, which many probably don't have.

VicCina Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2017 8:31 a.m. PST

So based on the comments let's say it was possible that this happened. How would you go about depicting this on the table top with your miniatures? Most rules don't really describe what a retinue would be or how large. Now mind you I'm not talking about a skirmish game. I'm more concerned with a larger battle.

uglyfatbloke30 Oct 2017 9:16 a.m. PST

What Gilds said….
Minimo, Scottish and English heraldry are still separate institutions. Practice is very, very similar and there is cooperation to avoid duplication of devices, but there is no 'British' college of arms in much the same way as there is n't really 'British' law…there's English law and Scots Law.

Sir Walter Rlyeh30 Oct 2017 10:37 a.m. PST

VicCina, I read that book as well. I have been running games set in early 13th century (1212) Iberia for years now. I tend to paint groups of retainers in the same livery as their lord. Usually this is a king as there were lots of kings at the Battle of Los Navas de Telosa. I usually paint a few extra knights with different coats of arms for each group. I keep these in the same basic color scheme so they look more uniform than they would in real life but it helps in a skirmish game. I do follow the rules of heraldry absent an actual historical model. The rules were not firmly set in place until later in the middle ages. There are arguments the Richard the Lionheart use of the lion as a personal emblem actually started the fashion of heraldry. The argument has that before this it was mere decoration. Spain was a frontier and knighthood in the High Middle Ages was more loose than it would become on the British Iles in the Late Middle Ages. Paint up lions and wolves and don't paint eagles. Use a lot of red and yellow and the miniatures will look Spanish, er Iberian.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2017 3:30 p.m. PST

I would think you could give each retinue 'uniform' shields. But I would use a simple colour. Anything that looks like a coat-of-arms should only be seen on an individual knight or Lord.

VicCina Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2017 4:32 p.m. PST

So lets say the predominate color of the coat of arms or a mixture of the colors. Not in the same pattern as the Lord/Knight's coat but some sort of pattern. What do you think of that?

basileus66 Inactive Member30 Oct 2017 10:24 p.m. PST

In the case of Castilla, I know that the "milicias concejiles", i.e. militias from the villages with royal privilege -frontier villages that had a military obligation- had their own coat of arms, regardless the social class of the warrior. Therefore, a "Caballero Villano" (Militia Knight) and a foot soldier from would have carried the same, or very similar, livery. In Aragón followed the same pattern; in Molina, reconquered from the Muslims by Alfonso I, a town coat of arms was used by her militia since 1177 (two millwheels in silver on a azure field). That was, at least, the theory. I guess it would depend on the wealth of the town council or private citizens if they could carry the same livery or not.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP31 Oct 2017 2:48 a.m. PST

Basileus – I think that the use of armorial devices and even whole coats of arms by communities was relatively common in southern Europe and almost certainly pre-dates the individual heraldry of northern Europe.

Italian cities had armorial flags that seem to have kept the same or similar form from 9th & 10th century onward, possibly earlier in some cases. Citizen militias and urban knights all used that heraldry when representing their community.

Spain was also influenced by the Muslim traditions that, according to some, kicked off European heraldry in its current form during the Crusades. While I doubt that there would be a direct descent of tradition the possibility for influence is there.

Molina – millwheel. A typical example of an heraldic pun, very common in European heraldry and also (I seem to remember reading) seen in North Africa.

Great War Ace Inactive Member31 Oct 2017 10:04 a.m. PST

The notion of uniformity was very old. Everyone knew about the Roman legions. They were not alone or the first.

Medieval Europe was a patchwork, so what was common one place was unheard of elsewhere. If you want to paint up retinues to be more uniform, you can go with anything from a common coloration to shield devices and tunic/surcoat/gown devices to match.

If you are playing full sized battles as opposed to skirmishes, I don't see the problem. Just paint retinues as if each figure is one guy. The rules allowing individual basing are best, because you can always sabot base for full sized battles if required. Then, when you return to skirmish, you can consider each figure in the retinue as one guy.

For best effect, I prefer varying shades of the common color, to represent fresh and faded clothing and new or worn shields, etc.

basileus66 Inactive Member01 Nov 2017 8:49 a.m. PST


I take the oposite path: I paint my figures in batches, 4-6 at a time, representing the retinue of a noble, with some kind of common theme rather than common livery -red/white combinations, for instance- and then I paint the noble. Thereafter, I mix the different "retinues" according to their class -spearmen, archers, MAA, ecc-. That gives me a nice thematic feeling while maintaining difference between soldiers.

Thomas Thomas01 Nov 2017 8:52 a.m. PST

Lords certainly used "colors" though not necessarily related to their heraldry. They could issue bolts of cloth in one or more colors (the men had to make their own "uniforms"). A Lord functioned on prestige so you want the largest retinue and you want everyone to know it – hence issuing your colors.

Towns also had colors/emblems to show off how many troops they could raise.

Welsh troops were said to have been give green and white to make "uniforms" primary because of the language problem – you needed to know who only spoke Welsh.

Most Perry Brother boxes have color suggestions for towns and nobility.

It was certainly a patchwork concept but for wargame purposes its helpful sometimes to define a "retinue/unit" by painting it more or less alike.

I often paint a stand of men-at-arms types as a single noble with heraldry and then his men-at-arms in his colors (if known or just a variation on some of his heraldry colors).


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