Colour Services

Mar 23rd, 2009 | | Colour Services | 2 Comments

The King’s Beasts

Many passers-by have wondered why we recently had a collection of brightly-painted mythical creatures in the window of Papers and Paints, my paint shop in Chelsea. The reason (inevitably) is colour.

Having carried out many projects over the years at Hampton Court Palace I was asked to advise on the correct colours to use in a series of events that took place to commemorate the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII’s accession to the throne.

The first of these projects was the recreation of a formal Tudor garden in one of the courtyards of the Palace. Little is known of these gardens, other than that they were strictly geometric in form and frequently decorated with low striped rails and gilded and painted carved heraldic beasts on posts. Glimpses of such a garden can be seen in a painting hanging in the Palace that is known as The Family of Henry VIII, sometimes referred to as the Dynastic Portrait.

The second project was a theoretical one and concerned the carved beasts that line the Moat Bridge in front of the Palace, as can be seen in this postcard of 1911. The question posed to me was – if these were to be decorated what elements would be painted in which colour?

Heraldic Beasts
Mythical creatures were often adopted as a personal device or emblem. From earliest times each English monarch has used beasts to symbolise their descent and familial allegiances. Many families have also used such symbols to express similar information. Having acquired my own one ( Baty Griffin and Millstone) a few years ago I had already spent some time looking into the background and the meaning behind such things.

The creatures employed were a mix of real and mythical ones. The lion and the unicorn are perhaps the most recognisable of the present Queen’s beasts, but Henry VIII had a positive menagerie, including lions; panthers; a bull; a greyhound; dragons; a unicorn and a yale. The latter is a very unusual one having the body of an antelope, a lion’s tail and horns which can swivel round to counter attack from all quarters. It was originally a Beaufort family device.

Armed with a basic knowledge of heraldry and a reasonable idea of the pigments in use in the sixteenth century I was asked to produce a report showing what sort of beasts might have been employed and how they would have been painted.

Much time was spent consulting manuscripts in the College of Arms and learning the arcane language employed to describe the colours and attributes of these symbolic creatures.

The principal colours or Tinctures employed in heraldry are:

Sable – Black

Gules – Red (mixed with vermilion)

Azure – Blue (mixed with azurite)

Vert – Green (mixed with verdigris)

There are also two Metals:

Or – Gold (frequently shown as yellow)

Argent – Silver (usually shown as white)

However, heraldic practice and convention has developed in the last five hundred years and it was necessary to learn those of the earlier period. Minute details like the colour of the claws and tongues had to be researched. At the same time it was necessary to apply this information to the twentieth century statues which, in retrospect, displayed a few anachronisms.

A lengthy report was produced giving the background to each of the ten beasts, a set of coloured illustrations and the evidence for the disposition of colours.

The following illustrations summarise the results of my research:

It seemed unlikely that the stone beasts would be painted, although as this was being written, timber ones were being carved and painted and Chapel Court was graced by these colourful exotic creatures.

Patrick Baty


Since writing this Sam Styles, a highly talented photographer, has taken the colour schemes on the various beasts and projected them onto the Moat Beasts at Hampton Court to show how they might look if this work is carried out – Painted Beasts.

Click for more information on what I do.

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Comments (2)

Andreas MeyerNo Gravatar » 14. Dec, 2013

Hi Patrick,
I visited Hampton Court Palace several times, in particular because I love the garden of the beasts. It’s a lovely place and the beasts are just fantastic! Since almost 1,5 years I’m desperately looking around, if it’s possible to buy the complete set of the “beasts” or at least some of them. I was very excited when I read about the mythical creatures in your shop and thought, you may know, if and where to get These lovely “creatures”. Your help would be highly appreciated!!
Thanks a lot in advance already.
Best regards from cold and wintery Munich, Andreas.

PatrickNo Gravatar » 14. Dec, 2013

Thanks Andreas. Yes, the beasts are fantastic and it would be wonderful if they were to reproduce them in miniature for sale. As far as I know they don’t but maybe if you were to ask they might consider it. This might be a useful link –