The following is an excerpt from Burke's General Armory, pages xxi-xxii.
How many are there who look on these heraldic decorations as mere general emblems of morality, indicating nothing more than that a death has lately occurred. Yet we can, on making ourselves acquainted with the simple rules by which the arrangement of several achievements is regulated, at once know what rank the deceased held when living. if the hatchment be that of a lady, whether she was unmarried, a wife, or widow; if that of a gentleman, whether he was a bachelor, a married man, or a widower.
To show how easily this information can be acquired, I will briefly state the several distinctions.
On the morning of interment, a hatchment is placed on the front of the house belonging to the deceased, and another over the vault or tomb after burial.
The funeral escutcheon of a bachelor, represents his paternal arms single, or quartered with those to which he may be entitled , and accompanied with the helmet, crest and motto. The ground of the hatchment (the vacant canvas of each side of the shield) is black.
For a maiden, the paternal arms are placed in the lozenge, single or quartered as those of a bachelor, with no other ornament than a gold cord loosely knotted at the top of the lozenge. the ground outside the shield is, like the former hatchment, black.
When a husbend dies, leaving his wife surviving, the ground on the dexter side of the hatchment (that is, the side of the escutcheon opposite the left hand of the person looking at it ) is black; and that on the sinister side opposite the right hand of the spectator ) is white. the arms in this case are impaled, that is, divided by a perpendicular line down the centre of the shield; those of the husband at the dexter side being black, to indicate his death. the crest is placed over the shield, and beneath it the family motto.
When a wife dies, leaving her husband surviving, the ground of the hatchment is black on the side opposite to the right hand of the person looking at it; at the opposite side is white. their arms are displayed as in the preceding case, but without crest or motto, and the shield appears suspended by a ribbon in a bow, and ornamented with a cherubs head and wings.
The hatchments of ladies (except pceresses, who entitled to a robe of estate) are always without mantle, helmet, crest, or family motto, although funeral words and sentences are sometimes introduced.
A widowers hatchment represents his arms with those of his wife in the same manner as when living; that is impaled, or divided by a perpendicular line down the centre of the shield. His crest and motto are also emblazoned, and all the ground outside the escutcheon is black.
The hatchment of a widow represents her arms impaled with those of her husband, and enclosed in a lozenge, having a bow of ribbon at the top, and ornamented with a cherubs head and wings; all the ground outside the shield being black.
For a man leaving a second wife, the hatchment represents his arms (not impaled) on a black ground. on the dexter side, or that opposite the left hand of the spectator, is placed, apart from the shield of the husband, a small funeral escutcheon, on which his arms, with those of his first wife, are impaled; all the ground at this side of the hatchment being black, to indicate her decease. on the opposite side of the the hatchment, that is, facing the right hand of the person looking at it, another small escutcheon is similarly placed apart from the husbands shield and on it are displayed his arms impaled with those of his second wife; the ground at the extreme sinister side of the shield being white, to show that she survives him.
If a widower or a bachelor be the last of his family, a skull or deaths head(heraldically termed a mort) is annexed to the escutcheon - the arms, crest, and motto being displayed in the manner already described; and the hatchment of a maid or widow, who is the last or her house, represents the arms in a lozenge, with a mort annexed.
The hatchments of Peers and Peeresses have their distinguishing coronets.
On the hatchments of Baronerts a front faced , open, helmet is placed over the shield, on some part of which is displayed the red hand.
The armorila bearings of Knights are surrounded with the insignia of their respective orders, and surmounted with the front - faced open helmet is also assigned to Knights and bachelors.
The hatchments or Archbishops and Bishops represent their arms impaled with those of theor see; the latter being placed on the dexter, that is, opposite the left hand of the person who looks at it, consequently the opposite side is painted black, that under the arms of the see being white.
The hatchment of the wife of an Archbishop or Bishop represents two shields; that to the left of the spectator displays the arms of the see impaling the paternal coat, and surmounted by the mitre. the sinister that to the spectators right) is surmounted by a knot, bearing the prelates family arms impaled with those of his wife; the surface of the hatchment underneath the sinister shield being black , to denote the ladys death.
The same rule is observed with the respect to the hatchmements of the wives of Knights of the different orders, while those of Peeresses who have married commoners display the arms of their dignity at the sinister side that is, the side opposite side ( that is the side opposite the spectators right) , apart from the heraldic bearings of their husbands.
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