Heraldry colors and coat of arms symbols are once again a popular hobby for those individuals interested in researching their own genealogies and possible family crests. People may also want to find their family’s specific and unique coat of arms and its hidden meanings that may have gotten lost through the generations.
Before delving into the intriguing world of heraldry color meanings and coat of arms symbols, it is first necessary to define what heraldry is and how it began.
What Is Heraldry and When Did This Practice Begin?
Heraldry has been around for centuries. This practice was first thought to be implemented by early soldiers or knights as a way to identify each knight in a battle with full armor and helmets with face shields.
Heraldry began as a method for identifying members of the early European nobility families, probably sometime in the 13th century or earlier. This type of military garb was commonly worn for jousting competitions, making identification difficult for the spectators or other nearby soldiers.
As a result, knights would blazon or otherwise put their personal granted armorial insignia, consisting of symbols and colors, onto their shields and/or their helmets. Another term that is closely associated with heraldry is the coat of arms and all of the symbols and color combinations used to designate that someone belongs to a certain family line, group or clan.
Common Heraldry Color Meanings
There are many different colors used in heraldry, and the meanings of these colors have changed somewhat through the years. These are often grouped in five traditional colors, metals, furs and stains. These colors are often written in the ancient Latin language.
Traditional Heraldry Colors
1. Green – Vert
Green signifies that someone has loyalty in their love relationships. Other meanings include hope, joy and prosperity or abundance of riches.
2. Blue – Azure
Blue signifies a person’s unwavering loyalty, chastity, faith, truth and strength.
3. Red – Gules
Red is traditionally associated with military strength and cunning, martyr for a cause, warrior and magnanimity.
4. Black – Sable
Black can mean wisdom, prudence, grief or someone who’s inner beliefs and resolve remains constant.
5. Purple – Purpure
Purple is the color to signify royalty, regal, sovereignty, justice and temperance.
6. Yellow or Gold – Or
Gold traditionally symbolizes wisdom, constancy, faithfulness, glory and great generosity.
7. Silver or White – Argent
Silver represents truth, innocence, purity, sincerity and peace.
This fur color signifies the white winter coats of ermine stoats that have white body fur with black tips during the snowy season.
This fur color designates squirrel skins and the shades are blue and white.
Note: When an animal or creature is depicted wearing its natural colors, it may be referred to as Proper.
10. Mulberry – Murrey
The color of mulberries is somewhere between Gules (red) and Purpure (purple). The color is very close to maroon.
11. Blood red – Sanguine
A dark red color that used to be equivalent to Murrey (mulberry), but is now considered an entirely different tincture.
12. Orange – Tenne or Tawny
Orange is the color that most often designates ambition and drive for success.
Common Coat of Arms Symbols and Their Meanings
A family coat of arms first arrived on the scene during the early medieval period in Europe. These arms include certain identifying heraldry symbols and were used mostly to identify a soldier or knight in battle. Rather like today’s military insignia medals and awards, a coat of arms could also be used to signify someone of rank in the military of the time.
Eventually, the coat of arms evolved to include other designations that include:
- Royalty Status – or Family Descent
- Property Ownership or Wealth
- Special Titles
Certain symbols were used to further identify and explain a person’s history. These symbols were rich in deeper meanings, that while understood in past centuries, have gotten a bit lost in today’s modern translations.
There are many different heraldry and coat of arms symbols, each with its own possible hidden meaning and reference. The following are but a few of them.
1. Battle Axe
The battle axe is often used to show that a person is in a position of power within the military. It denotes authority and is often associated with the crusades era of persecution and battles in the name of religion.
The bear on a family crest or coat of arms signifies that the bearer of this crest displays a fierce protective spirit that will fight to protect their kindred near and far. This symbol is also used to designate bravery, healing and great strength of character and will. Often, the bear’s mouth is muzzled and just the paw prints may be visible on a crest.
Rather than being a symbol of captivity, chains used in heraldry are often meant to denote association with an ally or another party that is great in strength and power. It is sometimes used to represent acceptance and success of a weighty matter or service deed.
Like today, the medieval people groups liked their dogs that often accompanied them into battle or helped them with farm chores and guarded their livestock. This symbol is used to signify that the person or family has been shown to be loyal and devoted to their king, country or religious authority. Dogs also signify great courage and faithfulness.
The dragon is used to signify sharp eyesight which helped these creature’s to safeguard their treasures. In general, a dragon painted on a coat of arms would signify protection and great strength and faithfulness. These dragons may have extended wings or other defining traits. For instance, the dragons depicted of England’s Tudor era had smooth tails rather than the barbed tail versions of other time periods.
In ancient times, medieval men hunted ducks and noted that they are crafty and use their surroundings as a resource for evading their enemies. They are often used to designate that someone is successful and creative with their business related achievements.
The elephant is a symbol of great strength and devotion to duty. This sign was often used to note someone’s success in the East. India and other countries still revere and worship their elephants to this day.
In earlier times, the falcon on a family crest or coat of arms could be considered rather racy. This bird is shown to go after what they desire with a frenzy of anticipation. The falcon was often used in noble family circles and other noteworthy important people.
Flames depicted on a coat of arms signifies zeal, rebirth, purification and even intense passion. It may be used to show that the bearer has undergone severe trials and came out on the other side victorious.
Grapes were considered a sign of good fortune or luck in the ancient world. This symbol can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome and maybe farther. It is often used as a symbol of wealth, prosperity and fertility.
11. Hawthorne Tree
This common heraldry symbol is said to denote bad luck to the enemies of the arm’s bearer. When an enemy approaches the place where their intended victim dwells, this sign is thought to magically ward off harm and aim it at the one approaching instead.
The hawthorne tree is a strong tree that lives for many years and it was considered bad luck to cut them down. Many people living in ancient times would often be superstitious, avoiding certain places or activities that appeared threatening or otherwise foreboding.
The lion is considered the king of the jungle forests. When this animal is found on a coat of arms, it usually is meant to portray the owner as one with great courage, nobility and bravery, especially in battle. This is one of the most well-known out of all the possible heraldry symbols.
13. Olive Tree or Branch
The olive tree or just the branch is considered to be one of the most recognized symbols of peace that the world knows. This important symbol may also signify harmony as well.
The phoenix has long been associated with resurrection and is common among ancient Egyptian artifacts and ruins. This particular symbol is one that could be found just about anywhere in the world through the ages. Today, the phoenix is again depicted everywhere from brand names to higher institutes of learning and on private works of art.
The snake is often found in heraldry symbols in many places around the globe. It is still used today to signify medicine or those that practice medicine or the healing arts. In this case, the snake can be seen with its tail twisted around a staff. The snake may also be used to represent great wisdom and learning.
Learning about your ancestry and discovering your family coat of arms can be a fun hobby or pastime for people of all ages. Many families are digging into their family backgrounds to try to determine if there are any common character traits, professions and other characteristics. Some are even making their own family crests and/or coat of arms with all of their family’s personal history depicted using heraldry colors and symbols.