Section 2: Tinctures

WARNING: This section of the tutorial will start to use the odd language of heralds, known as “blazon.” A mix of English and Norman French, the language is actually not that difficult to understand, once you get the vocabulary. The next few sections will be teaching you that vocabulary as part of the lesson. Most of this information can be found in other heraldic primers, but the primers are usually written for aspiring heralds, rather than for those who just want arms, and thus gloss over much of the information that confuses non-heralds. If I get pedantic, it’s because I am anticipating questions I’ve already answered in my years as a herald in the SCA.

Now, tinctures.

One of the first rules that heralds learn is the “Rule of Tincture,” and it’s a rule that they repeat over and over: “Thou shalt not place a metal upon a metal, or a color upon a color.” Then they stare at you and expect you to understand what they’re talking about. Do you understand? Of course not! You’re just a fighter trying to get your device submitted! Allow me to help.

What normal people call colors, heralds call tinctures. They use the term so that they can differentiate between what they call “colors” or darker colors, and what they call “metals,” or lighter colors. The heraldic “colors” are red, blue, green, purple and black. The heraldic “metals” are gold (yellow) and silver (white). Each of these tinctures has a special name, as follows:

Gold/Yellow – Or
Silver/White – Argent
Red – Gules
Blue – Azure
Green – Vert
Purple – Purpure
Black – Sable

Look over that list again, and memorize it as best you can, because from here on in, I’ll mostly be using the special terms.

Looking back, the rule of tincture may begin to make more sense. As the purpose of heraldry is identifiability, items (charges) on your shield must have good contrast with the background (field). It’s very difficult to see a white (argent) charge on yellow (Or) field, just as it’s hard to see a purple (purpure) charge on black (sable) field. So dark tinctures (colors) can only have light tinctures (metals) on them, and vice versa. If you’re still confused, here’s a table that may demonstrate better (hint: if you have a hard time reading the text, it probably reads “NO”):

Can I put: Argent… Or… Gules… Azure… Vert… Purpure… Sable…
on argent? No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
on Or? No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
on gules? Yes Yes No No No No No
on azure? Yes Yes No No No No No
on vert? Yes Yes No No No No No
on purpure? Yes Yes No No No No No
on sable? Yes Yes No No No No No

Seems straightforward enough. But what if one of those were two different colors? For example, could you put an Or charge on a field that was evenly split argent and sable? Yes. Why? That’s for the next Section.

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