Crosses in S.C.A. Heraldry

Note: The information here is current through the January, 2024 Laurel Letter of Acceptances and Returns, so far as I was able to make it.

When the term "cross" appears in a blazon and no type is specified, it refers to an ordinary made up of two lines, one horizontal and one vertical, that overlap at the center of the field. Like most other ordinaries, a cross can can use complex lines. It can be divided into two or more tinctures. It can be be fimbriated, voided, or cotised. Other charges can be placed on it, or it can overlie other charges. There are no special rules for blazoning these particulars; it works the same way it works for any other ordinary.

Gules, a cross argent.

from BSB Cod.icon. 390, folio 44

Or, a cross cotised sable.

from SGS Cod. Sang 1084, folio 27

Argent, a cross engrailed gules.

from BSB Cod.icon. 390, folio 792

Sable, a cross compony counter-compony Or and gules.

from SGS Cod. Sang 1084, folio 35

Gules, on a cross argent five roundels gules pierced Or.

from BSB Cod.icon. 291, folio 26r

A cross, like a fess, a saltire, or a chevron, can be also be couped. That is, the ends of the arms can be cut short, so that they don't reach the edges of the shield. Such crosses are simple variants of the ordinary.

Where things really begin to get complicated is in the plethora of specialty crosses that were recognized in period heraldry as independent charges, the smaller but significant number of modern crosses inspired by these or by period motifs or artifacts that are part of S.C.A. heraldry, and all the optional treatments that can be used to distinguish crosses of the same types from one another. Add in the fact that the characteristics of certain types of crosses can be combined, with or without additional treatments, to create doubly- and triply-complex variants, and dealing with crosses as a category quickly becomes one of the most befuddling aspects of heraldry in the Society.

Per pale argent, in pile ten torteaus, and Or, on a cross couped engrailed sable five mullets argent.

from BSB Cod.icon. 291, folio 15v

Per fess sable and argent, a cross moline countercharged.

from BSB Cod.icon. 273, folio 126r

Gules, a bend between six crosses crosslet fitchy argent.

from BSB Cod.icon. 291, folio 24r

Argent, a cross bottony nowy quadrate and on a chief Or an eagle sable.

from BSB Cod.icon. 270, folio 164r

Quarterly argent and gules, four crosses formy counterchanged.

from BSB Cod.icon. 291, folio 22r

To simplify the conflict-checking process, the sovereigns at arms have grouped a number of the most common period cross types into "famillies" . Any cross included in one of these families is considered to be substantially changed (as defined in Part A.5 of the S.C.A's Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory) from any cross in any other family. But not every sort of cross that can be registered is included in this list, and not every pair of types that are substantially changed from one another is represented. Crosses that aren't part of any family must be compared one-to-one with each other and with family crosses when conflict checks are done. Comparisons that have been weighed by the sovereigns at arms in the past are mentioned in the precedents, but there are plenty of types of cross that they've never had reason to constrast with one another.

The sovereigns at arms have established a few general principles that can be applied when crosses are checked for conflict.

"Standard period variants of a particular style of cross will not be considered separate; no difference is granted for fitching, changing between equal-armed and Latinate, etc." (cover letter to the May, 2009 LoAR)
"While we give a CD for a standard cross throughout versus a cross couped, for most crosses. . .we do not give such difference for couped versus throughout." (February, 2002 LoAR) [There are some exceptions.]
"Adding or removing a. . .tertiary. . .charge group is a distinct change (DC)." (SENA Part A.5.G.2) [A tertiary charge group is any group of charges placed entirely on other charges, which includes charges on crosses.]

And there are some general rules about crosses and period style, including these:

"A cross of any type should either be throughout on all arms or not throughout on any of them." (July, 2004 LoAR)
"The default crusilly is of crosses crosslet." (August, 2002 LoAR) ["Crusilly" means "semy of crosses"—that is, 'having multiple crosses scattered over it.']
"While SCA-variant charges are often considered acceptable ('period-compatible', as it were), we draw the line at variants of SCA-variants." (November, 1992 LoAR)
"The SCA allows crosses of all sorts to be charged. . .." (April, 2002 LoAR)
"A cross throughout which overlies the line of division on a quarterly field does not remove the appearance of marshalling by quartering, even if the cross throughout is treated with a complex line (such as engrailed) or has complex ends (such as formy or moline.) A cross which is not throughout, or which does not overlie the quarterly line of division (such as a Tau cross), will remove the appearance of marshalling unless evidence is presented that the cross under discussion was used for marshalling in period heraldry." (June, 2003 LoAR)
Because, "It is poor style to use two similar but non-identical charges in a single group," the use of two different types of crosses in a single charge group is grounds for return. (July, 1991 LoAR, June, 1995 LoAR)
"[A]ny non-ordinary cross used as a charge, is not an ordinary and thus cannot be counterchanged over an ordinary. . .." (May, 2006 LoAR)
On a tower or castle, "Cross that appear to be arrow slits, such as plain crosses and crosses pometty, will be treated as architectural details - not as tertiary charges," (January, 2008 LoAR), and "artistic details are allowed to have poor contrast," (November, 2009 LoAR).

These broad ideas, combined with the precedents related to specific cross types that I've collected in the tables that make up the bulk of this article, should help anyone who's considering submitting armory that contains one or more crosses get a head start on researching any issues with them that are likely to arise. Use the lists below to navigate directly to information on a cross type that interests you, or browse through the images on the table pages if you aren't sure what the cross you're considering is called.

Note: I've tried to index every term that appears in a registered blazon or precedent, so that someone looking for more information on one can easily find it. That means that some types of crosses are listed more than once, under different terms that have been used to describe them. So if you click on one term and find yourself routed to a table entry headed with another, read the entry. Odds are the term you're investigating is an alternate blazon.

Crosses and Modifications Mentioned in Precedents or Registered without Comment by the S.C.A. College of Arms

Period Crosses

(Those marked "F" are included in conflict-checking families.)

Modern Crosses

(including those used only in the S.C.A.)

Disallowed Crosses Modifications

Crosses Not Composed of Other Charges

Crosses of Charges

Joined End-to-End

Crossed at the Middle

"stacking" crosses of different types

Based on Characteristics of Named Cross Types

Other Registered Modifications

Disallowed Modifications

  • barbed at the foot
  • bearing a figure of the same tincture
  • draped of a cloth
  • ending in spirals

This page was written and is maintained by Coblaith Muimnech, who created and owns the copyright to all portion not attributed to others. You may print or electronically copy it for your own use or to pass on to others, provided you do not seek to profit from its distribution.

Click to visit Coblaith's homepage or the index to her heraldry articles.

Click any of the above illustrations to see them in thier original contexts. The cited manuscripts are:

BSB Cod.icon 270:
a book of arms of northern Italian cities and Milanese nobility made in Italy in the 16th century, now in the collection of the Bavarian State Library
BSB Cod.icon. 273:
a book of arms of the Venetian nobility made in Italy in the 16th century, now in the collection of the Bavarian State Library
BSB Cod.icon. 291:
a book of English arms made in England in the middle of the 16th century, now in the collection of the Bavarian State Library
BSB Cod.icon. 390:
an armorial of the Holy Roman Empire made by Stephen Brechtel in Nürnberg between 1554 and 1568, now in the collection of the Bavarian State Library
SGS Cod. Sang. 1084:
an armorial made by Hans Haggenberg for Ulrich Rösch, abbot of Saint Gall's, in the 15th century, now in the collection of the St. Gall abbey library