Heraldic Tabards

For our 12th Night 2004 celebrations we had planned a Pas d’Armes with as much heraldic splendour in the style of the late 14th – early 15th century, as we could arrange. Sigurd is the leader of the tenants and while the venants are lead by Baron Callum, who of course can use the Southron Gaard baronial arms and regalia, Sigurd needed a tabard for his herald.

I’ve made a number of heraldic tabards and surcoats before but I wanted something that was more correct for the period. So as usual I went looking for some images of period heraldic tabards.


I had already collected these pictures from Ottfried Neubecker’s book Heraldry: sources, symbols and meaning, page 24 – 25. Only the last one has a date on it – 1476 but I really like the shape of the first two and there were several with that basic shape. Moreover they accord well with the shape shown in the images from the Book of the Tournament.

King Rene of Anjou's Book of the Tournament

I also had some images from King Rene of Anjou’s Book of the Tournament in Richard Barber and Juliet Barker’s book Tournaments. Here we see the pursuivants for the tournament entering the castle before the tournament judges and behind trumpeters. Many of them are wearing their tabards side on this signifies a pursuivant, as opposed to a King of Arms (thanks to Lord William for that information).

King Rene of Anjou's Book of the Tournament

The tabards are very simple but a few things stand out:

  • they are very short – coming down to just above the crotch
  • they are wider at the bottom than the top
  • they are lined
  • they are all-over patterned – the arms repeat front, back and on both sleeve flaps
  • they have large shoulder flaps
  • they are not caught at the sides in any way – nor are the flaps made as sleeves.
    This last point distinguishes them from the knight’s surcoats which have both side seams and loose sleeves – at right.

Making the Tabard

The pattern is very simple – its cut in four parts – front, back and two sleeve panels all of which are lined and interlined. The interlining is to give the tabard a little stiffness so that Sigurd’s arms would be clearly visible.

I didn’t have enough red fabric or paint to do an all-over pattern so instead I went for a plain tabard with the arms displayed on a shield shape front and back. The arms are painted on with fabric paints that set with ironing.