In our last post we discussed the historical background to liveries. Today, we will look at the rules regarding the colour schemes of these liveries -uniforms if you like- for the footmen and coachmen in Jane Austen’s era.
It may interest you to know that the colours of a family’s livery was not a matter of choice:
A gentleman may wear garments of any colour his fancy may dictate, but he is not permitted such license with regard to the uniforms of his servants: the colours of these depend entirely on the tinctures upon his Escutcheon. In both, the dominant colour should be the same: the subsidiary colour of the livery ( or, as a tailor would call it, the trimmings- that is, the collar, cuffs lining and buttons) should be the colour of the principal Charge.
(The Handbook of Heraldry etc., (1869, John Cussans, Page 314.)
Lets examine how this works. First, in order to proceed, we are going to have a short heraldry terminology lesson. This is a ferociously complex subject, but for you to understand how livery colours were used, I’ve tried to simplify the essential descriptions / terms. Do remember that most heraldic terms derive from Norman French or Latin. An Escutcheon is a shield or shield-shaped emblem, which displays a coat of arms.
A Charge is any figure placed on a shield, which is then charged with the device. There were two classes of charges, Ordinaries and Common Charges. Ordinaries can be incredibly simple, as in the Chief-an ordinary which occupies the upper third of the shield, shown below:
or can range to the extremely complex: as in this example of a Gyron of eight, below: a Gyron is formed by a diagonal line bisecting a quarter bendwise.(see below)
Here is a page from Cussan’s book showing some of the more simple Ordinary Charges:
Common Charges are anything depicted on a shield other than the ordinaries. Anything animate ( lions, birds, fish, serpents) or inanimate (a castle keep, for example) : even imaginary creatures like Dragons qualify. Here are examples of Lions, shown Salient (fig.144 : With both hind legs on the ground and fore paws elevated equally, as if he is about to spring on his prey), Sejant ( fig. 145: Sitting down)
Heraldic colours, or Tinctures, are important,because there were so few of them. There were two Metals, Or ( Gold ) and Argent ( Silver). The most commonly used were Gules(Red), Azure (Blue), Sable (Black ), Vert (Green) and Purpure ( Purple) There are two other colours, Stains, which were rarely used: Tenné ( bright chestnut)and Sanquine (maroon)If you go here to the wonderful Patrick Baty’s page on Tinctures you can see exactly how these tinctures were used, and read about their attributes.(In addition, there was also colurs or patterns called FURS: these were patterns suggesting ermine and other costly furs worn by the rich-we don’t need to worry ourselves about these here)
These colours were engraved in specific ways , so that expensive coloured paints and inks did not have to be used when depicting them, but that the depiction could still be accurate:
If we apply this to George Austen’s Coat of Arms (via Wikipedia):
you can see that the escutcheon- the shield- (and I’m not giving a technically correct description, or blazon, here , please do note!) is of Or ( Gold) with a Gules (Red) Charge in the form of a Chevron. It also has three lions paws- Gambes or Jambes erased ( i.e. cut off at the middle joint) coloured Sable( Black). You can see an example of this in Anne Austen’s ( neé Matthews) memorial in Steventon church:
Her arms, on the right are impaled ( that is, shown on the same shield) with those of James Austen, her husband. He was George Austen’s eldest son and Jane’s eldest brother. His arms- of his branch of the Austen family – are on the left. You can see the gold background, the red chevron and the three black lions paws.
Next, how these colours were used in liveries.