Journalists' &
Authors' Guide to Heraldry and Titles



Coat of Arms

Heraldic Achievement




Part Two ~

Although heraldry is basically a system of identification based on coloured shapes placed on a shield or flag, and although its glowing colours are considered its principal glory, the early use of those same shapes impressed on sealing wax clearly demonstrates that colour was never as essential as is commonly thought. Modern technologies have now so reduced the cost of printing that black-and-white heraldry has become increasingly rare, but readers browsing through older books will encounter tricking and hatching (sometimes, in mediaeval manuscripts, both simultaneously). Tricking uses arrows and abbreviations (such as "az" for Azure). Hatching, known as the Sancta Petra system, uses shading with closely set lines. (Sometimes, more rarely, an artist will indicate colours by using different shades of grey supported by a key, as illustrated in a BookPost article.)

It may be noted that despite the decorative glories of heraldry being so dependent on rich colour, very attractive illustrations can be rendered in black-and-white. This is demonstrated by the bookplates discussed in the Classical Heraldry articles.

In the hatching code shown here the colour of the background is deemed to be white. Silver (Argent) and White are left plain. Gold (Or) is represented by dots. Red (Gules) has vertical lines and Blue (Azure) horizontal lines. Green (Vert or Sinople) has diagonal lines top left to base right, and Purple (Purpure) has diagonal lines base left to top right. (Left and right are here treated as when looking at the shield, and are thus dexter and sinister in the conventional manner of looking from behind the shield.) Black (Sable) has both vertical and horizontal lines, but is sometimes, although rarely, shown as total black.

Occasionally in British heraldry Tenné and Sanguine (or Murrey) feature, and two shadings have been allocated for these. Tenné has a combination of horizontal lines crossed by diagonal lines (as Azure crossed by Purpure), and Sanguine has a combination of diagonal lines (as Vert crossed by Purpure).

(German heraldry uses hatching to shade other tinctures British heraldry does not recognise other than by the word "proper". These include brown, iron-grey, water-colour, flesh-colour, ash-grey, earth-colour, et al.)

The seal of William, Earl of Douglas, in 1356
The arms of Sir Gilbert Eliott of Stobs, Bt,
as matriculated in September 1953
This portrayal of the Eliott of Stobs achievement illustrates the point, made above, that colour is not absolutely essential for an attractive heraldic illustration. The blazon (ignoring the canton that designates the bearer as a Baronet of Nova Scotia) is Gules on a bend Or a baton Azure. It may be noted that the shading given by the artist to parts of the areas on each side of the bend consists of vertical strokes, the Sancta Petra indication for Gules, and that the baton has horizontally stroked shading, the indication for Azure, but hinting at the colours in this way is not a common feature of monotone heraldry. Hatching, where used, is normally as unambiguous as in the shields of the key above.
Metals, Colours and Furs ~ Part One
Home Page
© 2000 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates