Sunday, 9 September 2012

Heraldry 101, part 2 - what colour is it?

Easy. Mostly bay....

Oh, wait. Wrong series. Sorry. :D

The rules of heraldry have evolved over time to be quite strict: while you can break them, and pull out any old colour from a paint pot and slap it on a shield (and believe me, I've been guilty of that before now), it helps to know what they are before you start.

To begin with, heraldry draws from a restricted palette of what are properly called tinctures, not colours. Tinctures are divided into three groups, and within each group the tinctures have names, largely Norman French, but sometimes not.

The first, and most numerous group, is the colours. (Yes, 'colour' has a specific meaning in heraldry, so be careful.)

There are more than four colours, before any heraldry buff goes 'but what about..?' However, these are by far and away (and hopefully obviously) the most common, and I'll cover the rest in a later article - note that some sites list a slightly larger different set of most common colours, but I'm going by what my edition of Boutell says.

Right about now, the non-heraldry buffs are probably also going 'but what about....?' for a different reason, so lets move on to the second group of colours, the metals.
The French words for these two mean 'silver' and 'gold' respectively, though they are conventionally represented as white and yellow.

In addition to colours and metals, there are a third category, furs. Furs are semi-stylised representations of various animal furs. For now I'll restrict myself to the most common two, and save the complications and variations for another post.
Ermine is the fur of the ermine (surprise!), a relative of the weasal and stoat. Vair, on the other hand, is grey squirrel fur.

There's also one extra... well, I'm not sure whether it's better described as a collection of tinctures or in some senses just one, and that is proper. Proper means 'in its natural colours'. With a caveat that heraldry's idea of 'natural' can be a little odd sometimes.

So, there you have it: enough tinctures to make some quite interesting shields. Next, the shield itself.

1 comment:

  1. Might be worth adding that:
    1) Ermine is not a relative of the stoat: it is the stoat, in the white winter coat that the animal sometimes grows in northern climates. The black bits represent the black tip of the animal's tail, which doesn't go white in winter.
    2) Vair represents a garment made by sewing together squirrel furs. The blue bits represent the fur on the animal's back; the white bits are the tummy fur. Why blue? Because the fur of the red squirrel loses its colour after death and turns grey, but there's no grey tincture in heraldry.


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