Heraldry and funeral hatchments part 1

Funeral hatchment
In the late Middle Ages up until the 20th century funeral hatchments were used to proclaim the death of a member of a titled or landed family and were emblazoned with the arms of the deceased person. The custom of displaying coats of arms in connection with funerals dates from the early days of heraldry, but the diamond shaped canvas in a wooden frame -the hatchment - was apparently introduced into Britain, from Holland, around the time of the Restoration. The word itself is a corruption of achievement, which means a coat of arms with all its appropriate accessories, such as helmet, crest, mantling and so on. Hatchments remained in fashion for about two hundred years. During the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, their use was general among the titled and landed classes. Normally, they remained hanging on a house front for about a year after a funeral. After the funeral these hatchments were hung in the church. While some of these memorials were temporary, others were permanent, and were mainly aimed at maintaining the status quo- the chief weapon in the armory of status being heraldry. On early memorials, in stone or brass, enameled or carved, the heraldry included was limited to the bearer’s own personal shield and crest.

Heraldic funeral hatchment.Over time the place of burial began to be used as a platform upon which the nobility could show off not only the arms of their own family, but also those to whom they were united through marriage. With the arrival of the Renaissance the grand monuments of the aristocracy had expanded to include a series of shields for family marriages, often borne by figures such as angels and mythical creatures such as griffins and dragons. The offspring of the deceased were also often depicted on the tombs, kneeling with shields for boys and lozenges (diamond shape) for girls. The canopies and sides of the tombs were used to support a display of heraldry. Death itself could be called upon to support the shield, or sometimes the shield of the deceased might be shown upside-down. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, gravestones often bear fully colored arms of the deceased executed in pietra dura, an inlaying technique using a variety of colored stones, but in most countries they tend to be carved in local stone and uncolored. While in Britain the flat stones set into the floors of many parish churches bear the arms of the deceased only, in Germany, Belgium and Holland they often bear a series of shields down the sides of the stone, those on the left for the father’s side, those on the right for the mother’s side

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