The Philosophical Basis of Difference
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The Philosophical Basis of Difference, or What are Little CDís Made of

By Dom Pedro de Alcazar

Every month, badges and coats of arms are sent up from all the kingdoms in the SCA to the office of the Laurel Sovereign of Arms. A few months later, after they have passed under the eyes of commenters, some are accepted, and some are returned, based upon the commenters' work. Many of those returned are returned for conflict. Which leaves the question: "How are conflicts decided?"

Most of the reasons for conflicts are based on a study of how mediaeval people showed familial relationships in their coats of arms. In order to understand that, we have to look at the history of coats of arms. Also, we have to answer this question: "What's the purpose of a badge or a coat of arms?" That's the easy part, really. The purpose of a badge or a coat of arms is to quickly identify people and their belongings.

When heraldry first emerged in Europe after the First Crusade, there was no rule of thumb to go by on how people picked their coats of arms or badge-basically, if someone thought of a nice design, he put it on his shield, his surcoat, his flag, and his signet ring, and that was that. Soon, however, a problem emerged.

The problem, as one might expect, came down to the fact that a man's sons would inherit his coat of arms, and that their sons would also inherit that coat of arms. Also, a man's vassal would occasionally adopt his coat of arms as his own, after making some minor change, and the confusion would now be spread through two families, rather than one. Since members of a family will spread out, and, in a mediaeval situation, live under the allegiances of different lords, sooner or later, a battle would be joined in which men with identical coats of arms would be on both sides. This, as you might imagine, would be fatally confusing for them and their allies. After all, who could tell friend from foe?

A solution had to be devised, or else heraldry would have lost its purpose. As it turned out, a three-pronged solution was made by the thirteenth century:

1) The profession of herald emerged. The herald's job, at first, was to be an aide-de-camp who would run messages, make announcements, call muster, and to act as a cheerleader and commentator in tournaments. These duties naturally placed heralds in a position to memorize many coats of arms and their bearers, and their memory aids, called ordinaries and armorials, still exist today.

2) Heraldic legislation was developed. One of the first principles of this legislation was that within a specific region, a single coat of arms ought to belong to a single man.

3) In order to put that principle into action, the practice of differencing coats of arms emerged.

In the SCA, we've already gone and done no. 1, because every branch has to have a herald. The whole submissions process that the SCA has for getting your coat of arms or badge serves for no. 2, for nobody in the SCA may register arms that are identical to anyone else's. Some people have argued that our kingdoms ought to be the regions in which we ought to obey the principle in no. 2, but people in the SCA move around more than our ancestors did. There's more of a chance for us to meet people from outside our home kingdoms, and for us to move to other kingdoms, where our coats of arms would conflict with those of others.

While no. 2 explains, to some extent, why your coat of arms oughtn't to look exactly like someone else's, it doesn't explain why something that's not identical got returned for conflict. That's where no. 3, the practice of differencing coats of arms, comes in. It's also called cadencing.

Cadencing is done by making changes to a coat of arms, and these changes are called a variety of names in mundane heraldry, such as beizeichen, brisures, marks of cadency, marks of difference, and clear differences. In the SCA, most heralds prefer the term clear differences, or CD's.

In general, only a single CD was necessary between a son and his father, or between brothers. In order to avoid claiming honors not your own, in the SCA, as well as in mundane heraldry, heralds require someone who wants their own coat of arms to have at least two CD's between their own and anyone else's coat of arms. Typically, the closest one can get, then, to using another person's coat of arms, is to use the coat of arms of that other individual's first cousin, nephew, uncle, grandfather, or grandson. However, if a person files a letter of permission to conflict in the SCA (say, a brother for his brother, or a father for a son), there only needs to be one CD.

Now, in the SCA, we've codified the ways one can make a CD in the Rules for Submission (RfS). It looks complex, but most of the rules which describe a CD are based in mediaeval precedent. What I'm going to do below is quote the rule, and give a mediaeval example of the rule being put into practice. This will demonstrate that the conflicts that Laurel, her commenters, and the kingdoms' heralds call are based on mediaeval precedents. However, one must keep in mind that the RfS contains what might be called a "compromise" system, largely but not entirely based upon precedents drawn from the British Isles, with a few drawn from the Continent.

Let us begin:

"1. Addition of Primary Charges - Armory does not conflict with any protected armory that adds or removes the primary charge group. Most cadency systems did not involve addition or deletion of the primary charge group, so this automatically creates an independent design."

Since, as is mentioned above, few systems do this, one might expect no examples whatsoever. However, I do know of a few cases, but not one of real people. Rather, they come from the rolls of arms that were made to depict the coats of arms of the knights of the Round Table and other knights in the Arthurian legends. Heraldry started at the same time that Chretien de Troyes was shaping the earliest Arthurian verse romances, so this is hardly surprising. Here is one example:

Meliodas, king of Liones, bore Vert plain. His son, Sir Tristram de Liones, the lover of La Beale Isoud (and husband of Isoud of the White Hands), bore Vert, a lion Or. By our normal standards, this is the addition of a primary charge, and the coats of arms would not seem to show any relation. However, most heralds and scholars of mediaeval literature consider Meliodas' coat of arms a back-formation from his son's, so this is an exception which proves the rule.

"2. Difference of Primary Charges -- Simple armory does not conflict with other simple armory if the type of every primary charge is substantially changed. This type of change was normally seen between complete strangers in blood, and wasn't usually used to indicate any form of cadency. For the purposes of this Rule, simple armory is defined by the following clauses. The word charge refers to both charged and uncharged charges unless it is specifically qualified; a group of charges may contain one or more charges."

The classic English case of this nature is Scrope vs. Grosvenor, heard in the Earl Marshal's Court in the late fourteenth century. The Earl Marshal's Court was (and is) by statute the proper English venue for a dispute over the ownership of a coat of arms, as opposed to the common law courts from which Americans get their law.

The Scropes and the Grosvenors were both large and powerful families in fourteenth century England, one in Yorkshire, the other in the Welsh Marches. Of the two, the Scropes were by far the more important, as there is at least one mediaeval Archbishop of York who came from that family. During one of Richard II's campaigns into Scotland, Robert Grosvenor and Richard Scrope were called to arms, and each noticed that the other was bearing the same coat of arms as he: Azure, a bend Or. Each demanded that the other cease and desist from using the coat of arms.

The Grosvenors, though not in the same league as the Scropes, were too important to be ignored. They were stubborn, to boot: the suit in the Earl Marshal's Court stretched on for five years, with dozens of depositions given by adherents of both families. Eventually, however, the Scropes won out, probably because they could muster royal witnesses (John of Gaunt, for example), and the Grosvenors could not. The court, still leery of the Grosvenors' influence, decided to make Robert Grosvenor add a bordure Argent to the coat of arms.

Grosvenor appealed to the throne, and Richard II accepted the appeal. After hearing still more arguments from both parties, he decided that the bordure was not enough to difference between strangers in blood, since it was in use to difference between cousins. Richard II bade Grosvenor to change his coat of arms to reflect the royal will. Grosvenor chose a completely different coat of arms: Azure, a garb (wheatsheaf) Or.

Since the SCA's College of Arms based its armorial customs on those of the mediaeval and Renaissance English College of Arms, it should come as no surprise that we also follow the precedent as set in Scrope vs. Grosvenor. However, in an essay that is devoted to rules, as opposed to art, it ill behooves me to go deeper into the matter of complete difference.

"3. Required Charges Transparent - Two pieces of official Society armor that share required charges may consider their Difference of Primary Charges as if the required charges were not there. This is to avoid penalizing the slight increase in complexity caused when official armory includes required charges like the laurel wreath or crown. As an example, Gules, a hammer within a laurel wreath and on a chief Or three fleurs-de-lys gules would not conflict with Gules, a mullet within a laurel wreath and on a chief Or three fleurs-de-lys gules. Required charges always count normally for difference themselves, this rule only ignores the complexity they add to a design. This provision may not be applied when comparing official Society armory with any other armory."

Since there were no such things as required charges in mediaeval heraldry, there aren't any examples. Even if one considers the coats of arms of church establishments (dioceses, abbeys, cathedral chapters, etc.), there's nothing to which one could point to say, "This coat of arms belongs to a diocese because..." Required charges, or something similar to them, were a creation of French heraldry under the rule of Bonaparte, long after the end of the Middle Ages.

"4. Significant Armorial Differences- Two pieces of armory will not be considered to conflict if two clear visual differences exist between them."

"a. Field Difference - Significantly changing the tinctures, direction of partition lines, style of partition lines, or number of pieces in a partition of the field is one clear difference. In general, if the tincture of at least half the field is changed, the fields will be considered different. Per chevron azure and gules has one clear difference from Per chevron azure and sable. Per pale azure and Or has one clear difference from Per bend azure and Or and from Per pale embattled azure and Or. Bendy argent and sable has one clear difference from Per bend argent and sable. Barry gules and argent has one clear difference from Barry and per pale gules and argent. There is a clear difference for reversing the tinctures of a field evenly divided into two parts, per saltire, or quarterly, but not for reversing the tinctures of a field divided in any other way; Per pale nebuly ermine and gules has one clear difference from Per pale nebuly gules and ermine, but Paly ermine and gules has no clear difference from Paly gules and ermine. Field treatments are considered an aspect of tincture, so Per fess gules and argent has one clear difference from Per fess gules and argent masoned sable. Per fess dovetailed gules and argent has no clear difference from Per fess embattled gules and argent because the difference between dovetailed and embattled lines is not significant. It suffices to change significantly the style of at least half of the partition lines, so Quarterly per fess wavy argent and sable has one clear difference from Quarterly argent and sable; Paly and per fess argent and sable has no clear difference from Paly and per fess indented argent and sable, however. Gyronny Or and sable has no clear difference from Gyronny of twelve Or and sable because the difference between eight and twelve pieces is not significant."

Changing the field is both obvious and simple-and that goes a long way in heraldry, where quick identification is the name of the game. Even though there's a limited number of tinctures and furs that are available, it's much like music: even though the human ear can only pick up a limited range of vibrations, new tunes are still being composed. Naturally, our mediaeval predecessors seized on this easy CD and used it.

For example, in France, the heads of the related families of Bourbers-Abbeville-Tunc and Abbeville-Bourbers-Tunc bear arms that are differenced in this manner: The former family bears Argent, three inescutcheons Gules, and the latter bears Or, three inescutcheons Gules. An example of a difference being made in half the tincture of the field is seen in the Torayne branch of the Mailly family. Hugo de Mailly bore Barry undy Argent and Gules, but Harduin de Mailly bore Barry undy Or and Gules.

"b. Addition of Charges on the Field - Adding or removing any group of charges placed directly on the field, including strewn charges, is one clear difference. Each charge group may be counted separately, so Argent, a pale gules has two clear changes from Argent, a pale between two owls all within a bordure gules."

Geratting was described in Juliana Berners' Boke of Saint Albans, dated to 1486. She lists nine types of charges that were popular in England for this purpose: crosses, fleurs de lys, roses, quatrefoils, cinquefoils, escallops, chapelets, mullets, and crescents. However, these are not the only charges used for the purpose.

The head of the Beauchamp family of England bears Gules, a fess Or. In the 1200's, the head of the family, William, had three sons. His first son, William, Jr., added six crosses crosslet Or to the field. His second son, Walter, added six martlets Or, and his third son, John, added six billets Or.

The head of the family of Saint John, one described by Gayre of Gayre and Nigg as an ancient family, bears Argent, on a chief Gules two mullets Or. In the reign of Edward I, one of the branches differenced by making the field Argent goutty de poix (a semy of black drops). Similarly, the head of the Darcy family bears Argent, three cinquefoils Gules, and one of the branches bears Argent crusilly three cinquefoils Gules.

Also, certain peripheral charges, such as the canton, the chief, and the bordure, were commonly used in differencing arms. Cantons and bases (including points pointed) were often used for marshalling (showing relationship by marriage), too, but in the SCA, a base is counted as a peripheral for differncing, and a canton is usually used for augmentations of arms, and so is more or less a restricted charge in the SCA. The bordure's use was known well in the fourteenth century, as the record of Scrope vs. Grosvenor shows. An example not drawn from the Earl Marshal's Court is found in the Stafford family. The head of the family bears Or a chevron Gules, but Hugh Stafford added a bordure Gules. The modern Scottish differencing system, called the Stoddard system, is partially based upon the addition and modification of peripheral charges to the arms of the head of the family.

In the Iberian Peninsula, the bordure was used to difference, and it was often charged (a matter discussed below) with charges from the arms of one's mother. For example, the original arms of the Portuguese royal family was Argent, on five inescutcheons in cross Azure five plates in saltire, but when a daughter of Alfonso the Wise, king of Castile (Gules, a tower Or) married into the family, the Portuguese royal family added a bordure Gules semy of towers Or.

The chief was used in several families. One of them was the Carminow family in Cornwall. The head of the family bore Azure a bend Or, and one of the cadet branches bore Azure a bend and a chief Or. Another example is an English branch of the Gayre family. The head of this particular branch bore Ermine a fleur de lys Sable, and two cadet branches added Sable and Gules chiefs for difference.

The English system of adding single charges (either on charges or onto the field) dates back to the fourteenth century, as found in the Tractatus de Armis by Iohannes de Bado Aureo. It appears that of all the charges he listed, the most popular by far was the label, which, for many years, was used indiscriminately by many cadet houses, and not just as a temporary mark for the oldest son.

"c. Addition of Charges Overall - Adding or removing a group of charges placed overall is one clear difference. Or, a lion rampant purpure would have one clear difference from Or, a lion rampant purpure and overall a fess sable."

This is also a natural sort of action to take, and I think everyone knows of the custom of the oldest son placing a label on his arms when he comes of age and removing them when he inherits his father's station. However, the label is hardly the only charge used for this purpose. For example, in the De Danguel or Danguel family, Robers bore the undifferenced coat: Or, three bendlets sinister Vert. On the other hand, of his two brothers, we know that one added an orle Gules overall, and another bore a canton Ermine overall. The bend was also common. One example in an early roll of arms, the Chifflet-Prinet roll, from the 1200's has Harvey de Lion bearing Or a lion Sable, and his son, Harvey Jr., bearing not the label, but Or, a lion Sable, overall a bend Gules. One branch of the Conyers family of England bears Azure, a maunch Ermine, and another bears the same coat with the addition of a bend Gules overall.

"d. Tincture Changes - Changing the tinctures or division of any group of charges placed directly on the field, including strewn charges or charges overall, is one clear difference. Changing the tincture of at least half of the charges in a group is one clear difference. Or, in pale three bull's heads gules differs from Or, in pale a bull's head gules between two more sable, but not from Or, in pale a bull's head sable between two more gules. Separate differences may be counted for changing the tincture of different groups of charges, so Vert, a pale between four mullets Or, all within a bordure argent would have three clear differences from Vert, a pale ermine between four mullets argent, all within a bordure checky argent and gules. As with the field, only one change can be counted for all tincture changes to the same group of charges. Tinctureless armory may not count difference for tincture of charges; the Fieldless Difference will count for one change and the second change must come from a category that does not involve tincture."

Another family named De Mailly bore canting arms with mallets. The head of the family bears Or three mallets Vert, but the other branches bear Gules, Sable, and Azure mallets. Two branches of the Parteneck family in the Holy Roman Empire also difference their arms in this manner: the Partenecks of Parteneck bear Argent, an axe Sable, but the Partenecks of Cammer bear Argent, an axe Gules.

"e. Type Changes - Significantly changing the type of any group of charges placed directly on the field, including strewn charges or charges overall, is one clear difference. Changing the type of at least half of the charges in a group is one clear difference. Types of charges considered to be separate in period, for example a lion and an heraldic tyger, will be considered different. A charge not used in period armory will be considered different in type if its shape in normal depiction is significantly different. This means a lion would not be clearly different from a puma. Separate differences may be obtained from changing the types of charges in different charge groups. Changing Vert, a pale between two lions argent and a chief Or to Vert, a fess between two horses argent and a chief Or produces two separate differences. Since the edge partition line of a charge is part of its type, the change from a pale wavy to a pale embattled is one clear difference. Changing from a pale wavy to a fess embattled is also one change of type, not a change of type plus a change of edge partition."

The easiest examples to be found of this rule's apparent operation in period are to be found among the familes which geratted their coats of arms between brethren, as the attestation to the Boke of Saint Albans may suggest. The Berkeley family is such an example. The head of the family bears Gules a chevron Argent. The Leicestershire branch added a semy of cinquefoils Argent, but other Berkeleys used a semy of roses Argent (Sir Thomas de Berkeley) and a semy of crosses Argent (Thomas fitz Maurice de Berkeley). An example of changing only half the secondary group is seen in the Goldie family of Scotland, where the head of the family bears a chevron between three trefoils, but one branch has changed the lower trefoil to a tortoise tergiant.

Changes of the lines of field division, ordinaries, and subordinaries are are among the basic methods of modern Scots heraldic differencing. This was also done in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The head of the Bruce family of Scotland bears Or a saltire and a chief Gules, but the Bruces of Balcaskie changed the line of the chief to wavy.

This is not to say that a family would only use one method; the various means of establishing difference as delineated above were, at some point or another used by many families. The Nevils of Enderby, in Leicestershire, England are an example of how various different marks of difference could be used in the same generation. The head of the family bore Gules, a fess indented Argent. One son, Robert, added a bordure indented Or. Another, Philip, added three moles in chief Or to his father's arms, while Richard instead added a label Azure.

"f. Number Changes - Significantly changing the number of charges in any group placed directly on the field or overall is one clear difference. One, two, and three are significantly different from any number, four is significantly different from six or more, and five is significantly different from eight or more. Six and higher numbers, including semy of charges, are not significantly different from each other."

Although it does not seem that mediaeval people were not this precise in determining what, exactly, the change in number needed to be, this method was nevertheless used. For example, the head of the Scoto-French family of Sysederf bears Argent, a fleur de lys Azure, but the head of the Ruchlaw Sysederfs in Scotland bears Argent, three fleurs de lys Azure. The Turnbull family followed a similar course of action, with the head of the family bearing Argent a bull's head erased Sable, and the general practice of the branches of the family was to increase the number of heads to three, and from then forward to use other marks of difference (bordures, overall charges, etc.).

"g. Arrangement Changes - Changing the relative positions of charges in any group placed directly on the field or overall is one clear difference, provided that change is not caused by other changes to the design. Changes to other parts of the design frequently cause changes to the arrangement of charge groups, so changing from Argent, a fess between two unicorns within an orle purpure to Argent, a pale between two unicorns within an orle purpure requires that the unicorns move from in pale to in fess. Changing from Argent, three unicorns purpure to Argent, four unicorns purpure will also cause some change in arrangement. These changes do not provide independent difference. Changes that are made on their own, like changing from three mullets in fess to three mullets in pale, or from six mullets on an uncharged field to five mullets in cross, are clear differences."

I could not find any proof that this was used as a mark of difference. However, a hint that arrangement was important to medieval heralds might be seen in the arms of the Portuguese royal family, which have five inescutcheons each charged with five plates. The inescutcheons are always in cross, while the the plates are always in saltire.

"h. Posture Changes - Significantly changing the posture or individual orientation of charges in any group placed directly on the field, including strewn charges or charges overall, is one clear difference. Changing the posture of at least half of the charges in a group is one clear difference. Changing a sword fesswise to a sword palewise, or from a lion rampant to a lion passant, is one clear difference. Multiple changes to the posture or orientation of the same charges may not be counted separately, so a lion passant bendwise is one clear difference from a lion couchant to sinister. Changes of posture or orientation of separate charge groups may each be counted. A change of posture must affect the orientation of the charge, or significantly change its appearance. Changes in the position of the head, for instance, are not significant, nor is the change from statant to passant, which essentially moves only one leg. Changing from passant to couchant, however, visually removes the legs from the bottom of the charge and is considered significant."

This is also a problematic CD, with no evidence that I can find for it.

"i. Addition of Charges on Charges - Adding or removing any group of charges placed entirely on other charges is one clear difference. For example, charging a pale with three martlets, or charging a bordure with eight martlets, provides one clear difference."

This, and the next entry, are attestable marks of difference. In England, the head of the Cobham family bears Gules a chevron Or. However, at various times in the Middle Ages, cadet branches have charged the chevron with three mullets, three lions rampant, three crosses crosslet, three fleurs de lys, three crescents, or three martlets, and in every case the tertiary charges were Sable. The head of the Maxwell family in Scotland bears Argent a saltire Sable. The cadets all charged the saltire with something, for example: The cadet branch of Broomholm added a crescent Or, the branch of Pollok added a ring Or gemmed Azure, and the branch of Tealing added a heart Or.

"j. Changes to Charges on Charges - Changes to a group of charges placed entirely on other charges may create one clear difference. No more than one clear difference can be obtained from changes to the same group of charges on other charges."

This is clearly demonstrated from the material given above. However, I couldn't find any evidence for the rule that one needs to make two changes to the tertiaries in order for one to consider different tertiaries a mark of difference.

In conclusion, a great many of the CD's we normally count have their roots in mediaeval heraldic practices, especially those practiced in the British Isles, but to a lesser extent those of the Continent-especially France, where heraldry began. A few of them, such as the CD for number or the CD for the changes to tertiary charges, have been modified or made more specific by SCA heralds. Still fewer, such as the CD for posture and the CD for arrangement, were adopted by the SCA as hypothetically mediaeval-since blazon can specify both posture and arrangement, it is obvious that mediaeval heralds felt that a change of posture or arrangement was worth considering when describing a coat of arms.

I used five books to create this article. In order of accessiblity for the normal person, they are:

Fox-Davies' A Complete Guide to Heraldry (The standard handbook for most SCA heralds, although these are excellent substitutes: Pastoureau's Heraldry, the Oxford Guide to Heraldry, or Bedingfeld and Gwynn-Jones' Heraldry.)

Rothery's Concise Encyclopedia of Heraldry (Available for purchase at many SCA booksellers, this is not exactly the best guide for the herald who's just starting out, as it contains a lot of post-period material.)

Gayre of Gayre and Nigg's Heraldic Cadency (This is essentially the best book on the subject, but he seems to assume that the center of the heraldic cosmos is the British Isles.)

Brault's Eight 13th Century Rolls of Arms in French andAnglo-Norman Blazon (Brault is one of the few American professors who thinks that heraldry is worthy of study. His books are expensive, but worth every dime for the person who desires to know more about heraldry.)

Pastoureau's Armorial des Chevaliers de la Table Ronde (Pastoureau is one of the best heraldic scholars around, but, alas, most of his work is still in his native French.)