the colours used to emblazon
a coat of arms
. These can be divided into several
categories including light tinctures called metals
tinctures called colours
, nonstandard colours called
, furs, and "proper". A charge tinctured
(also sometimes termed "natural") is coloured as it
would be found in nature. One of the few fundamental rules of
heraldry is that metals must not be placed upon other metals and
colours must not be placed upon other colours, while furs and
can be placed upon either or both. This is referred
to as the rule of tincture
Nonstandard colours called stains
were introduced in the
late Middle Ages, but have largely been shunned as contrary to the
heraldic spirit of bold images and bright colours. A peculiar fad
of the Renaissance
sought to couple each
tincture with an associated planet, gemstone, flower, astrological sign
, etc., but this practice
was soon abandoned and is now regarded as wildly divergent from the
science of heraldry. The 19th century saw the rise of "landscape
heraldry" and extensive use of charges tinctured "proper",
especially in augmentations (and more often in German heraldry
), but this practice too has been
deprecated as essentially unheraldic.
principal tinctures, consisting of two "metals", or light tinctures
(gold and silver), and five "colours", or dark tinctures (blue,
red, purple, black, and green). On the continent, however,
especially in German and Nordic heraldry, purple (together with
, discussed below) is not used on the shield, but is
reserved for the royal pavilion
, the lining
of some royal crowns and the caps of some of the high nobility.
Some continental heraldic traditions also recognise white as a
colour distinct from silver. While some heraldic authors recommend
a particular shade for each colour, there is only one red in
heraldry, and only one green, one blue, etc. The exception to this
is the late 19th century development of "natural" colours, known as
, (see Later tinctures
below) which have
been largely shunned and are seldom found.
The names of the tinctures mainly come to us from Norman French
- Azure is from the Arabic lazward (لازورد) meaning
- Sable is named for the fur of the sable marten.
- Gules may be from the French gueules, which
is thought to refer to animal's red throats.
Although the English term vert
is also from French, the
French use the word sinople
refer to the tincture.
The patterns illustrated are occasionally used to depict arms in a
monochromatic context, such as a "hatching
" (sketch) or engraving
Argent and white
Arthur Charles Fox-Davies has argued that in extremely rare
circumstances, white can be a heraldic colour different from
. He bases this in part on the "white
labels" used to difference the arms of members of the British Royal
Family. However, it has been argued that these could be regarded as
"white labels proper", thus rendering white not a heraldic
tincture. In Portuguese
heraldry, white seems to be regarded as a tincture different
from argent, as evidenced by the arms of Santiago do
Cacém, in which the white of the fallen Moor's clothing
and the knight's horse is distinguished from the argent of the
distant castle, and in the
arms of the Logistical and Administrative Command of the Portuguese
Coat of arms of Košice
is usually spelt with a capital letter (e.g.,
Gules, a fess Or
) so as not to confuse
it with the conjunction or
Sometimes the word gold
is used for Or
either to prevent repetition of the word Or
, or because
this substitution was the fashion in a particular period, or, more
rarely, because it is the preference of an officer of arms.
is much more frequently used.
Sometimes Or is distinguished from yellow, as in the 1502 crest of the city of Košice
wings per fess of yellow and azure a fleur-de-lys Or.
Objects may also be depicted in their natural colours, described in
blazons as 'proper' (though in some cases what are considered the
"natural colours" are determined by convention rather than
observation in the wild; for instance, a parrot proper is green,
not any of the huge range of colours that parrots are coloured with
in nature; and dragons, though never found in nature, are when
proper also green). Sometimes when "proper" alone would not give
adequate information as to the appearance a colour must also then
be given (e.g., a white horse proper). Proper is considered to be a
tincture distinct from whatever heraldic tincture the depiction of
the item or being in question would most closely approximate.
case is in the colonial arms of Algiers, in which
the boulet on which the lion rests his paw is stated to be
the same "proper" [au naturel] as the lion.
Some consider it bad form to depict too many charges as "proper",
especially when those charges create a landscape. This experienced
a vogue during the Victorian
period, but came to
be deprecated as being excessively difficult to draw from blazon,
and somewhat contrary to the spirit of heraldry as favouring bold,
clear, and unmistakable designs.
Later heraldry introduced some more colours. Only three are of more
than exceptional use in British heraldry: murrey
(mulberry-coloured, or reddish purple),
(an orange-tawny colour, though in
continental heraldry orange is regarded as different, and South
African blazons mention both "orange" and "tenné," though how these
are shown is apparently interchangeable). These were sometimes
called stainand colours (or "stains"), as some rebatement
of honour were said to be
blazoned of these colours. Almost none of these rebatements are
found in fact of heraldic practice, however, and in British
heraldry the stains find more than exceptional use only for
purposes of livery.
Other colours, particularly those used in Europe, include:
colour" in the arms of Gwilt of South Wales ("Argent, a lion rampant sable, the head, paws, and
half of the tail ash colour") may be the same tincture as
(Sometimes charges are described as de
in Spanish heraldry, which literally means "of stone"
and indicates a grey colour.) It is important, however, to
distinguish descriptions of a type of animal (such as "a horse of
bay colour") followed by proper, from true heraldic
These are rare – the seven primary tinctures are the most common
ones. Rarer still are other such Continental colours as "Brunâtre,"
the extremely unusual occurrences of which are almost entirely
limited to "details" of charges that might be blazoned as "proper,"
with exceptions such as the brown lion rampant in the arms of
. A field Brunâtre
almost never occurs, though brunatre is used more often than might
be suspected in South African heraldry; the arms of the Oziel
Selele Comprehensive School (Bothaville) are officially blazoned Brunatre, a torch
argent enflamed or between two open rolls of parchment argent, an
It is blazoned "Braun" in German heraldry. In
German heraldry there are also the colours "grey", "Eisen" (iron)
and "water colour," though there are unique appearances of "grey"
in the heraldry of South Africa and the United States. (It is
unclear how "water colour" should be depicted.) "Earth colour"
appears not only occasionally in German heraldry, but there is at
least one appearance of "earth colour" in English blazon, in the
arms of the Royal Miners' Company, and in the arms of Santiago de
Cali, Colombia. The colour "amaranth" or "columbine" was used "in a
coat granted to a Bohemian knight in 1701".
of the Jewish
Autonomous Region in Russia have a field
of aquamarine, which is emblazoned more as a kind of dark
green than a true aquamarine colour.
The fess on the Coat of arms of
is blazoned as of the colour of platinum
In 1997 the colour rose and the metal copper appeared in Canada,
the former in the arms of Prime Minister Kim Campbell
. In South African heraldry, the
arms of the University of
provide an example of ochre
the national arms of red ochre
In the heraldry of the United States
the shades of colours and metals are often parenthetically
specified, though this is far from in keeping with normal heraldic
practice. The Institute of
has also introduced the colours buff
(though this is often employed like
a metal) and horizon blue
have appeared, and silver
has appeared in the heraldry of the Army and Air Force.
There seems to be some confusion about the colour crimson
as it exists in blazon sometimes as a separate tincture and
sometimes as a "definition" of the shade of gules to be employed by
the artist. Bronze makes appearances in the arms
of the Special Troops Battalion of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry
Division (there seeming to be a colour rather than a novel metal)
and those of Tumaco,
, such as ermine
, and their variants, are regular patterns
that represent actual fur
. Any charge
may be tinctured of a fur, though
furs occur infrequently in German and Nordic heraldry. In German heraldry
proper) is sometimes used, but this is seldom found elsewhere.
Although the name "sable" comes from a kind of fur, the colour
sable is usually not considered a heraldic fur.
Ermine and its variants
represents the winter coat of the stoat
, which is white with a black tail; many skins
would be sewn together to make a luxurious garment, producing a
pattern of small black spots on a white field. The conventional
representation of the tails (commonly called ermine spots
is part of the tincture itself, rather than a pattern of charges,
though the ermine spot is also used as a single charge (often as a
mark of cadency
). The ermine spot has had a
wide variety of shapes over the centuries; its most usual
representation has three tufts at the end (bottom), converges to a
point at the root (top), and is attached by three studs.
is the reverse of ermine – a field sable
ermine-spots argent. It is sometimes called counter-ermine
(cf. French contre-hermin
and German gegen-hermelin
is ermine with a field Or instead of
argent, and pean
is the reverse of erminois
Or spots on a field sable).
is supposed to be the "same as ermine,
except that the two lateral hairs of each spot are red;" its
existence in actual heraldic practice is doubted, however, and
Arthur Charles Fox-Davies
describes it as a "silly [invention] of former heraldic writers,
not of former heralds."
Vair and its variants
originated from alternately patterned pieces
of fur from a species of squirrel with blue-grey back and white
belly.The term vair
was brought into Middle English
, from Latin varius
"variegated". Basic vair consists of rows of small bell-like shapes
of alternating blue and white, nowadays usually drawn with straight
edges. The bells on the next row down are placed with their bottoms
facing the bottoms of the bells on the row above, and so forth
down. The old depictions of vair are similar in appearance to bars
of azure and argent divided by alternating straight and wavy lines.
(An excellent example is the lining of the cloak of Geoffrey Plantagenet
represented on his tomb.) In the past this would simply be blazoned
"vair", but nowadays this is usually (though not always) blazoned
. Variations include several different
arrangements of the pieces into other patterns.
Vairy of [metal] and [colour]
when a vair-like pattern is represented of any tinctures other than
azure and argent. Very rarely, the
individual pieces of vair are used as
is like vair, except using a
shape instead of a bell shape. The word
means "crutch"; it is thought to derive from
badly-drawn vair. It is subject to all the subvarieties of vair,
and so on.
German heraldry recognizes a fur called Kürsch
; this is
said to be drawn brown and hairy, and there are occasional
references in English to "vair bellies", which may be the same
is a feather-like pattern of exceptionally
rare appearance which is, strangely, nevertheless placed under the
heading of furs. It can be used essentially (though not
technically) as a type of patterned field. "Plumetty d'aigle
proper" is distinguished in at least one case, though the tincture
in this case is a form of proper. Pappeloné
is a pattern
supposed to resemble the scales on the wings of a butterly .
File:Blason de la ville de Mérignies (59) Nord-France.svg|Plumeté
Or and sableFile:Kursch.gif|Kürsch
The rule of tincture
The first rule of heraldry is the rule of
: metal must never be placed upon metal, nor
colour upon colour
, for the sake of contrast.
The main duty of a heraldic device is to be recognized, and the
dark colours or light metals are supposed to be too difficult to
distinguish if they are placed on top of other dark or light
colours, particularly in poor light. Though this is the practical
genesis of the rule, the rule is technical and appearance is not
used in determining whether arms conform to the rule. Another
reason sometimes given to justify this rule is that it was
difficult to paint with enamel (colour) over enamel, or with metal
This rule is so closely followed that arms that violate it are
called armes fausses
arms) or armes à
(arms of enquiry); any violation is presumed to
be intentional, to the point that one is supposed to enquire how it
came to pass. One of the most famous armes à enquérir
(often said to be the only example) was the shield of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
, which had gold
crosses on silver. This use of metal on metal, that is to say white
and gold together, is seen on the arms of
the King of Jerusalem
, the flag and arms of the Vatican, and
the bishop's mitre in the arms of Andorra. It indicates the
exceptional holy and special status of the Coat of Arms. (In the
case of Jerusalem, this may also emphasize the Arab techniques
gained in the Levant
). An example of "colour
on colour" is the arms of Albania, with its
sable two-headed eagle on a gules
The rule of tincture has had an influence reaching far beyond
heraldry. It has been imposed on flags, or perhaps it should be
put, applied to the design of flags, so that the flag of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
was modified to
conform to the rule. The rule of tincture has also influenced
World Wide Web design
with respect to what colour font should be
placed on what colour background. Almost all license plates
and traffic signs
, intentionally or
unintentionally, follow it.
- See main article: Blazon.
The custom in English blazon is to reduce redundancy by only
referring to a particular colour once in the blazon.
For example, instead of saying Gules, on a fess Or a rose gules
, one would say, Gules, on a fess Or a rose of
the field, seeded of the second
. However, this practice has
recently been abandoned by the College of Arms because of the
difficulty some have had in counting which number a tincture
Likewise, instead of Vert, a fess Or between two lions passant
, one would say, Vert, a fess between two lions passant
, as all items in blazon appearing after a given tincture
are of the tincture next to be named. Given this, the Institute of Heraldry
often using the phrase "of the like" in a similar context is out
ofharmony with the usual heraldic practice and completely
When a charge is placed across a division
, or ordinary
, it may be blazoned
. However, some patterns, such as chequy, do
not permit charges over them to be treated this way.
This means that the charge is divided the same way as the field it
is placed upon, with the colours reversed.
A shield which is green on the upper half and silver on the lower,
charged at the centre with a lion whose upper half is silver and
lower half green, would be blazoned: Per fess vert and argent,
a lion counterchanged
In Scots heraldry, a charge may be blazoned as counterchanged of
different colours from the field; e.g., Per fess gules and
azure, a sun in splendour counterchanged Or and of the first.
In English heraldry, this would be described as Per fess gules
and azure, a sun in splendour per fess Or and of the
A situation similar to counterchanging can be seen in the arms of
Brian North Lee
: Sable three
billets in bend Argent overlapping on a chief Vert three escallops
. Here, the parts of the billets that overlap are shown
as being sable, the tincture of the field.
Gemstone / planet blazoning
During the late medieval period and Renaissance, there was an
occasional practice of blazoning
by gemstones, or by references to the seven classical
"planets" (including Sun and Moon), as summarized in the tables
- Fox-Davies , pp. 87-88.
- Volborth (1981), p. 10.
- Fox-Davies , p. 70.
- Fox-Davies , pp. 72-73.
- Warnstedt, Christopher von (October 1970). "The Heraldic
Provinces of Europe", The Coat of Arms,
XI (84) 128-130.
- Fox-Davies (1909), p. 78.
- Fox-Davies , p. 49.
- Fox-Davies , p. 77. *Entry
"Tincture" in A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry by
James Parker (1894). (text online) *Entry "Tincture" in Pimbley's
Dictionary of Heraldry: An Authoritative Guide to the Terminology
of Heraldry by Arthur Francis Pimbley (1908) (text online) * Precious Peers and Planetary Princes