Many historical churches display diamond-shaped boards on their walls. These have heraldic emblems on them, but what are they, what do they mean, and why are they there? They are called ‘hatchments’, from ‘achievements’ of arms, or sometimes called ‘funeral escutcheons’ (an escutcheon being an heraldic shield). An achievement of arms includes the shield, helm, wreath, crest, mantling, motto, and supporters if used. One such hatchment is shown here; it is for Sir Thomas Barnardiston, third Baronet, who sadly died aged 26 in 1700. This hatchment is actually incorrect as explained below. All photographs (© Patricia Lovett MBE 2024) from the St Peter and St Paul Church in Kedington, Suffolk.
Hatchments indicated that a person bearing heraldic arms had died. Traditionally, they were first hung outside the house of that person and, after a period of mourning, were then re-hung in their local church. Bachelor’s hatchments included their shield, helm, wreath and crest and sometimes mantling; unmarried women’s hatchments showed their coat of arms on a lozenge, usually with a bow at the top, as women’s coats of arms, not being shown on a shield shape, didn’t include wreaths, helms and crests. This hatchment is for the first Baronet, another Sir Thomas Barnardiston, who died in 1669.
Sometimes the helm, wreath and crest were replaced by a skull, a reminder of what was to happen to the corpse and a warning to all, or for women a cherub. And the motto may be replaced by ‘Resurgam’ – ‘I will rise’. The hatchment of Anne, widow of the third Sir Thomas Barnardiston (see first image above), is here. She died in 1701, the year after her husband. Her coat of arms is shown on a lozenge, impaled (combined vertically) with that of her husband.
Some hatchments have completely black backgrounds, and some white and black, divided vertically. This colour distinction indicates who is living and who is dead at the time the hatchment was made. In heraldry, the right and left sides are always referred to as if a shield is being held, so the dexter side is the right-hand side of the shield, but looks left to the viewer, and the sinister is the left-hand side, but looks right to the viewer. If the sinister side (right) is painted white, it means that the wife is still living; if the dexter side (left) is white, it means that the husband is still living. In the shield at the top of this post, both sides are black, yet Thomas, the third Baronet died in 1700, and his wife, Anne, the image as above, died in 1701. So at the time of Thomas’ death, Anne’s side of the hatchment, sinister, should have been white, however, as she died so soon after her husband, it may be that the painter simply coloured her side in black.
The variation to this is if the person died was single but their arms were impaled (combined vertically) with an official post. In this case that post continues even though the person has died, so the sinister side of the hatchment remains white.
The arms of Sophia, Viscountess Wimbledon, as show on the hatchment above are different because of her peerage. As a Viscountess, she qualifies to have supporters (although these rules were relaxed in the 19th century), and these are either side of the shield and blazoned (the heraldic description) as two lions rampant ermine, that is, two lions looking sideways, and raised on one hind leg. They are painted as if they were ermine, which is a white coat with black ermine tails pushed through; the ermine tails were often depicted as black patterns. Above the lozenge shaped coat of arms is a Viscountess’s coronet, that is a silver-gilt circlet with gems shapes (but not coloured gems), and sixteen silver balls touching one another (only nine being visible).
The top two shields of the baronets include an escutcheon of the red hand of Ulster, indicating their baronetcy. I understood this to be the fact that the baronets had contributed funds or services for the king in Ireland, but I can’t find any source for that at the moment.
For more on Kedington Church, see: https://www.patricialovett.com/?s=kedington+church