Blog - Escutcheons

September 2015 - Coat of arms, and things norse.

Heraldry is a serious business. Some people devote their whole lives to deciphering it and criticising it.
In the medieval period knights would spend a long time deciding what should appear on their arms. It's not really a complicated affair though.
They might say, have a tree on it because there was a tree they liked as a child and it defines their soul, so they feature it on their shield etc.
I'm obviously not going to have a full coat of arms, because I'm never going to ride into battle in armour, but I thought I'd do a shield (escutcheon)
It's obviously tongue in cheek, it just seemed like a laugh, but after starting it I got quite committed to it :)

escutcheon shape and tinctures

The key thing about a knights shield and general dress is that they should be instantly recognisable at distance, on the battlefield.

To that end designs are kept simple. Stick to a few colours (tinctures), stick to simple shapes, don't place complicated designs on top of other designs.

We start by choosing the shape of the shield. I've gone with what is known as the 'french' shape, not because it has any significance, just because it's plain and I like the shape.

In heraldry the shape of the shield doesn't really have much significance.

The tinctures however have massive significance! There are a limited number of acceptable colours to choose from, all named in French.

Right from the off I have two immediate choices for the general colour scheme. The scheme associated with the towns between Leeds and Huddersfield (in fact, with the west riding of Yorkshire), white, gold and blue.
Or the colours of many of the towns in the old heavy woolen district, particularly my home town, claret, gold and white
The former (white gold and blue) appeals, because it's the colours of Leeds United AFC. But the latter seems more parochial, which is what you need in a shield surely?
I'm still undecided, so I've used both colour schemes.

As mentioned, in heraldry the colours have french names. White gold and blue becomes "Argent, Or and Azure".

There is no 'claret' in heraldry (despite it being a french (latin) word), the nearest is 'purpure', so that colour scheme because 'Purpure and Or'

How the field is divided is explained below, essentially it's divided by the ordinaries.


The main decoration on a shield are thick lines called 'ordinaries'. Again there are names for most of the standard ones. I've gone with a vertical line (known as a pale as in "impale"), and a chevron.

Though in this case chevron is not intended to be an actual chevron rather the greek letter Lambda. More precisely a spartan Lambda

The L stood for 'Lacadaemon' a mythical Spartan king that the Spartans claimed ancestry from. It's not that I think I'm a spartan, it's just that the spartan lambda is a more iconic shape than the boring french chevron. And conjours thoughts of valour in the west in the modern age (think of Leonidas and the 300 of thermopylae)
Interestingly if you look at the vehicles used in the gulf wars etc. The markings on the vehicles is claimed to be a 'chevron' but if you compare the marking to an heraldic chevron, and then to a spartan lambda, you can see that the marking more clearly represents a lambda. There are all sorts of political reasons for using a Lambda. Clearly the person who devised the markings are hinting that western involvement in the middle east is a continution of the west's (Greece's) struggle against the east (the persians etc.). It resurrects the memories of thermopylae, and Alexanders campains in Egypt etc.
I'm not saying I'm a devotee to the west's struggle against the east, or that I'm into crusading around the middle east, I just like the look of spartan sheids.
Anyway, enough politics, it's just something that interests me.

When combining the lambda with the vertical bar (pale) an inverted runic Algiz (like the CND sign) is formed, which although often stated as being an 'A' is most often used as a capital letter 'R'.
It's interesting to note that the orientation of Algiz is usually the other way. Algiz as an icon was often synonymous with war or battle, so in it's inverted state it might mean the opposite. The CND logo is often cited as being semaphore for N D (nuclear disarmament). It may be, but the designer (Gerald Holtom clearly knews something about norse runes)
I aren't entirely sure why "aR" was added to names and words in old norse, I think it's a form of pluralisation? But the practice of ending with a capital R was adopted in the second to fourth centuries. Usually on words that ended in 'aR' though not exclusively.
Capitalising the trailing R was intended to keep 'evil' out of the words, or some such thing.
I chose an "R" because my name is Richard, no other real reason.
For more on this read this fantastic page.

How the colours on the surface (the field) of the shield are divided is of significance in heraldry.
For example if the shield is one colour, with a bar of a different colour running across the top third of the shield, this is known as 'chief', because the top third of the field is called the 'chief'.
I decided that I would divide the shield by using the ordinaries.
However because I have two ordinaries the shield actually now has it's field divided into four parts. The top two parts either side of the pale are one colour, and the bottom two parts are another. The closest traditional design would be known as 'party per pall inverted'. However this is not a 'pall' (kind of a letter Y shape) it's a chevron on a pale.
Further in terms of the actual colour divisions, we're only using two colours, so in fact the correct name for this division of tinctures on the field is known as 'party per chevron inverted'.
However the actual divisions (the actual spaces left by the ordinaries) is 'party per pale and per pall'.

valknut at the base point

To add to the complication of the ordinaries I've added a valknut, which is a form of viking knotwork. The valknut itself is often taken as the symbol of 'odin' the 'all father'.

Odin was in fact also the norse equivilent of St Christopher. Odin was responsible for the protection of travellers. Which seems somehow appealing.

This symbolism is why the VW badge looks like a valknut, or why the UK ministry of transport sign looks like a valknut

The valknut was often carved onto objects associated with travel, usually with some sort of inscription invoking the protection of Odin.

The word most often used for this invocation was 'Alu'. The meaning of which is lost in time, but is often described as meaning 'ale' or the promise of 'ale'.

Upon completion of a voyage, ale would be spilled in honour of Odin and his protection. The inscription might be taken as a promise that this ritual would be carried out.

This leads on to the motto. "ek saynor alu" (I am Saynor, I call on the protection of the all father with the promise of ale). The surname Senior is most likely a corruption of the norse name Saynor. For more see the motto section below.

The valknut may appear to be somewhat messy, but it does not break any heraldic rules.

Taken all together then we have a chevron division symbolising protection, and a pale division symbolising strength and bravery. We also have a valknut which symbolises divine protection. The overall theme then is 'protection'.

Protection for others surely, but particularly protection for members of the Senior family.


Because I'm not doing a full coat of arms only the escutcheon, I've somewhat overcroweded things.

I wanted it to say something about where I'm from, not just who I am and what I want and represent. Of course the colour scheme and ordinaries do this to an extent.

But I decided to hammer home some points, so I've added two other elements to the design, items on a shield are called 'charges'.

The hanging sheep (sometimes known as a 'golden fleece') is essentially the symbol of the west riding of yorkshire, specifically the heavy woollen district.

It was a difficult choice, because I could have chosen owls, which are more heraldically authodox and are widely used in west yorkshire heraldry.

But the hanging sheep is much dearer to my heart than the owls used by Leeds and Dewsbury etc.

And just to really labour the point I've added the traditional white rose on golden sun, which is absolutely the symbol of the west riding of yorkshire.

I did think about adding three roses on the chevron, reminiscent of the three stars on the chevron of the Batley coat of arms (the Copley stars?) but it looked really cramped.

where to from here?

I think what's needed now is to move on, and add 'supporters' etc. (probably honey badgers). That will allow me to clean up the shield and make it much starker.

alternative Leeds Badge

I was thinking whilst choosing the colour scheme that it might be cool to design an alternative leeds united badge.
I've never been fond of the new badge. In fact I've never been fond of any badge since the smiley badge.

So I decided to have a crack. Interestingly the valknut, looking as it does like the MOT symbol could be used (Marching On Together).
Also, A bindrune could be made of the norse L and U runes, with the west yorkshire rose on sun in splendor in the middle
I've added the golden fleece because it absolutely should be on our badge.