Understanding the meaning of the colors used in Heraldry is important to determine your surname country of origin and discover your ancestral history. Following is a brief overview of those meanings gleaned from the writings of 19th century scholars.
In 1894, Sir Francis James Grant explained, Heraldry is the science which teaches how to blazon or describe in proper terms armorial bearings and their accessories. The shape of a coat of arms upon which figures are placed is known as the Shield or Escutcheon. The flat surface upon which symbols, flags or designs are placed is called the Field.
Speculation and debate surrounds the origin of Heraldry. However to avoid confusion and to settle disputes, a Court or Registry of Armorial bearings was created during the reign of King Henry V. Subsequently in 1483 A.D., the College of Arms was created. It consisted of thirteen members from the ranks of Kings, Heralds, and Pursuivants (junior officer of arms).
The science employs five colors and two metals. The five colors, known more commonly as Tinctures, are (1) Purpure or purple; (2) Vert or green, (3) Azure or blue; (4) Sable or black; and (5) Gurles or red. Shields generally favor a specific Tincture. The two metals are gold and silver. Gold or Yellow is termed Or. Silver or white is Argent. English scholars report two additional Tinctures: orange or Tine also called Tenne; and Murrey, blood-color or Sanguine.
Metals and Tinctures not only represent specific virtues, they also represent precious stones and planets. Each Tincture is listed below followed by color name, the stone, planet and the virtue that it represents, respectively:
Yellow, Or, Topaz, Sol (sun), Constancy
White, Argent, Pearl, Luna (moon), Innocence
Red, Gules, Ruby, Mars, Magnanimity
Blue, Azure, Sapphire, Jupiter, Loyalty
Green, Vert, Emerald, Venus, Love loyal
Purple, Purpure, Amethyst, Mercury, Temperance
Black, Sable, Diamond, Saturn, Prudence
Orange, Tenne, Hyacinth (no planet or virtue noted)
Murrey, Sanguine, Sardonyx (no planet or virtue noted)
Each Tincture was engraved in specific patterns to help ordinary people identify them. These patterns are especially helpful to modern readers who may have to rely on black and white copy of book plates or drawings.
The metal Or is engraved by making small points or dots on the surface of the Shield. Argent is represented by a plain or blank surface.
Shield colors are similarly defined by their patterns. Perpendicular lines represent Gules; horizontal lines signify Azure; Sable, by perpendicular lines and horizontal lines which cross each other; diagonal lines from left to right represent Vert; while Purpure is the opposite of Vert diagonal lines from right to left. Tine or Tenne is expressed by horizontal lines that cross diagonal lines from left to right. Sanguine, by lines that cross each other diagonally from right to left and left to right.
As you journey to discover your ancestry, there are many factors to consider, including those discussed above. Documents, Coats of Arms, Flags and more are clues which point to our past and you should become familiar with their significance and meaning. Hopefully, you found this information useful.
Best of luck as you further your family surname research.