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Sep 19, 2011

Medieval Mondays: Heraldry on shields

Heraldry has always attracted me. The designs are so beautiful, even though I know very little about what those designs actually mean. They were the sign language of their time. With most of the population illiterate and knights anonymous under heavy armour, heraldry made sure every knew who was who.

Sean McLachlan, who has guest blogged here before, sent these shots over. They are from the Alcazar castle in Spain, which has a big collection of medieval cannon. I'm not sure why blogsmith insisted on putting these photos sideways! Anyone know the answer?
Sean says, "I don't know the date or provenance of these shields, but they are very large, almost the size of pavises although not the right shape. They may have been purely decorative."
Pavises are large shields used to protect archers or medieval handgonners while they reload. You can see an example below. This is actually a model soldier, but you get the idea! They made for a nice canvas on which to paint some heraldry or religious art. As you can see, pavises usually had flat bottoms and a spike so you could stick it into the ground.

Sean has written about medieval warfare in books and magazines, and is also an expert on the American Civil War. He has a blog called Civil War Horror and is coming out next month with a Civil War novel. Sounds interesting. I hope he doesn't abandon the Middle Ages!


  1. I love heraldry. I belong to a medieval recreation group (SCA= Society for Creative Anachronism). We had to learn heraldry in order to create our own devices (shields) and there is a huge difference between a lion or dragon being "rampant" (meaning the way they are facing, left or right.) The colors were significant too, not just telling which King they served or what their heritage was. It's pretty convoluted and a bit tricky, but fun to learn! Beautiful devices, by the way.

  2. Very interesting article... Thanks for posting! This would make a cool project to recreate, and would look nice in a man-cave.