The colours of heraldry

When I was a child, my brother and I were occasionally looked after by an elderly neighbour. She wouldn’t have known it but Miss Heaney was a fundamental part of my early colour tutelage.

Firstly, on the back of her larder door was a bag stuffed with empty pastel-coloured, gilt-lettered food boxes from Fortnum & Mason and Harrods, saved for me and Tom to build things from when we went round.

Secondly, Miss Heaney had purple soap in her bathroom and I remember pelting down her stairs two at a time to quiz her about its provenance the day I made this euphoric discovery (from Boots, apparently).

Thirdly, Miss Heaney was fanatical about heraldry and I was fascinated by her delicate watercolours of coats of arms.

She told me the colours were no ordinary colours but had special names which hailed from Norman French (naturally I was captivated by the thought of this).

The colours of heraldry

There are five strong, bright colours used in heraldry, plus two ‘metals’, listed here with their heraldic names.

Red: Gules

Blue: Azure

Green: Vert

Black: Sable

Purple: Purpure

Gold or yellow: Or

Silver or white: Argent


A stint at Miss Heaney’s was SO much more than being babysat. It was a true colour education.

Martha, The Colour File x

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