Saxon & Norman Shield Patterns

I was planning to make up some shield decals, so I thought I’d take a look at the Bayeux tapestry for inspiration, using this site: http://www.angelfire.com/rnb/bayeux_tapestry/ 

Although the tapestry is a work of art rather than a photograph, it’s still taken as gospel by enough people to make my work worthwhile for wargames figures, at least. What struck me was that shields with an actual pattern on them were comparatively rare, compared with later illustrations. So I sat down and counted the patterns and colours. I ignored the shields depicted hanging off the sides of ships, as the artists have obviously alternated colours to make them show up and look pretty, so that would skew my statistics.

Norman shield colours

Colour Number Percentage
White 13 42
Yellow 6 19
Red 8 26
Black 2 6
Green 1 3
Light blue 1 3

The colours are of course subject to my interpretation of a scan that has been cleaned up so the background is white, rather than its actual linen colour.

Richard Underwood’s book Anglo-Saxon Weapons & Warfare states that shields were covered with leather, which could be dyed or painted. So white or yellow shields might be undyed leather or sheepskin. White shields might also just be whitewashed, giving the ‘Icy Hued’ shields mentioned in the excellent historical notes in the Glutter of Ravens rules.

Norman shield patterns

Pattern Number Percentage of patterns Percentage of shields
Sunwheel

7

44

23

Cross

2

13

6

Mythical beast

6

38

19

Other

1

6

3

The ‘other’ shield has alternating yellow and green triangles around the top right ‘corner’. Most of the mythical beasts might be dragons, although some are impossible to identify. Note that only about half of the shields have a pattern on them. The patterns are all in contrasting colours so they show up well, all but one of the Mythical Beasts being on a white background.

Saxon shield colours

Colour Number Percentage
White

5

20

Yellow

7

28

Red

4

16

Black

2

8

Green

2

8

Light blue

1

4

Blue

4

16

Nothing remarkable here, except that there are less red and more blue shields. I’m not sure that means much.

Saxon shield patterns

Pattern Number Percentage of patterns Percentage of shields
Sunwheel

7

58

28

Cross

5

42

20

No Mythical Beasts on the Saxon’s shields. I’ve not seen one on any published illustrations from manuscripts either. Maybe the Saxons were more godly than the Normans?

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