[TMP] "White armour - why did heraldry disappear?" Topic

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"White armour - why did heraldry disappear?" Topic

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Pedrobear03 May 2015 8:25 p.m. PST

Looking at the Perry WOTR and HYW figures and wondering: why did heraldry/surcoats disappear?

I know the armour got better, but then what about the need to identify the person wearing the armour, which was why they developed heraldry to begin with?


Puster Sponsoring Member of TMP03 May 2015 8:59 p.m. PST

Shields disappeared because the added protection was no longer worth the reduction in mobility. So, the main bearer of "arms" got lost.
Tabards displayed heraldry, whenever they were used. Sometimes they fell out of "fashion", but afaik they were used well into the 16th century with Gensdarmes.

I assume the advent of the ordonnances with the decline of the "feudal" participation in armies and the rise of the professional knights – who lived from being part of the ordonnance, rather then their estates – played its part, too. The display of army or unit membership was more important then individual glamour, especially for those who paid these units. At the same note a paid Gensdarm would rarely be able to ransom himself individually – hopefully though his liege would, and so a display of his individual arms was no longer a question of "survival after defeat" on the battlefield.

korsun0 Supporting Member of TMP03 May 2015 9:36 p.m. PST

An interesting question, you made me stop and think about this as well….

wiki is not always a reliable source but this caught my eye;


"In the 15th century, once suits of plate armour became common, the surcoat was phased out of use. The period in the history of armour development, in which surcoats became increasingly rare, is referred to as the "surcoatless period" (1420-1485)."

Or this one;

link ( heading number 113)

"about the year 1410 the jupon was almost entirely
discarded, and the knight appeared in all the glory of
complete plate or white armour. The period is therefore
called the ' Surcoatless,' but another name is often used,
viz., the ' Lancastrian.' Unfortunately this term is not
quite correct since, although the style was introduced
under a Lancastrian king, it only prevailed for twenty(cont)…"

Another link:


"Use of the surcoat declined during the 14th century, a transitional period for arms and armor. In its stead, Knights wore the jupon, a tighter fitting garment often of cured leather. Only England was the jupon widely emblazoned with a heraldic device, as depicted on the effigy of Edward, the Black Prince. On the continent, it was likely to be unmarked. Use of the shield declined as well, till it was all but abandoned, save for use in tournament, by the 15th century. The rise of plate armor meant the shield was obsolete, and it was fashionable to wear armor 'alwite', or 'all white', without decoration or covering. The knight's arms were restricted to his banner and lance pennon. The surcoat, now in a loose fitting form known as a tabard, was worn but rarely."


Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP04 May 2015 1:32 a.m. PST

I read they painted heraldry/ liveries ecussons on it. Bad paint that would not stay for us and for the 19 th century collector who wanted a nice shiny toy in his reading room.

Yesthatphil04 May 2015 2:06 a.m. PST

As you can see from this contemporary illustration of the end of the Battle of Northampton …


… many of the armoured men are wearing coloured vests or tabards over their armour. But not everybody.

Shields had gone, but heraldry was alive and well identifying individuals and allegiances by means of jackets, badges, flags, banners etc.


uglyfatbloke04 May 2015 2:40 a.m. PST

Also, only a handful of devices would be widely recognised, so heraldry was n't really a good means of battlefield recognition. Big flags with national colours – or those of a well-known magnate would be more important, but probably the most significant aspect of battle ID would be the direction in which you are fighting.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP04 May 2015 3:20 a.m. PST

I suspect it was fashion, too.

However, I wonder if Jupons and surcoats might have reduced the glancing off effect of the armour against arrows/ bolts?

thosmoss04 May 2015 4:07 a.m. PST

I've dealt with too many Heralds back in my SCA days …

davbenbak04 May 2015 5:39 a.m. PST

It should also be noted that there was a time when individual combat between willing participants needed to be recognized. It was important to know who was who on the battlefield because no noble was going to brag about engaging a squire, retainer or untitled knight by accident.

With the raise of a more diversified army individual combat by choice was disappearing. An arrow or crossbow bolt knows no names. The gentlemanly aspect was disappearing as well as only the wealthiest could expect mercy and ransom. Crecy and Agincourt being examples.

Also let's face it, fashion changes though the last time I saw someone wearing bell bottom jeans it was at a gaming convention.

Norman D Landings04 May 2015 6:32 a.m. PST

In addition to the above points, it's worth considering that 'white harness' was a comparatively late arrival on the medieval battlefield.
And by that time, individual coats-of-arms had grown very intricate. Too complicated to be visually distinguishable if sewn on a jupon.
So what heraldry there was tended to display the simpler colours or devices of the great houses or families, rather than the complex (and confusingly similar to one another) liveries of their individual scions.

Another point to consider was that the era of white armour was also the heyday of the professional man-at-arms, who might have worn armour visually indistinguishable from that of a knight but who was not entitled to a coat-of-arms.

David O Brien05 May 2015 3:11 a.m. PST

Perhaps because the latest set of armour cost so much they wanted to show it off?

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