The two main devices (symbols) in the Almand blazon are the martlet and gules. The two main tinctures (colors) are vair and gules.
Special patterns, of a distinctive shape are frequently used in heraldry and are know as furs, representing the cured skins of animals 1. Although they were originally derived from real creatures the actual patterns have become highly stylised into simple geometric shapes, bell-like in the case of vair. 2. vair is a particularly interesting example that resonates today – the “glass” slippers worn by Cinderella are actually a mis-translation of “vair” (i.e. fur) slippers, the very same vair that appears in heraldry! 3
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”4. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 5. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.6.
The martlett is by far the most common bird to appear in British Heraldry, perhaps only equalled by the eagle, however it is not a species ever to be found in an ornithologists handbook! The word itself is though to have come from the French word merlette, the female blackbird and itself a similar type of charge used in French Heraldry. 7. Over time the image has become quite stylised, without visible legs or distinctive feathers. Wade suggests that this representation arises from “the appearance of the bird of paradise to ancient travellers” 8. Other bird species may be named in coats of arms (cornish chough is a frequent example) but in actual execution their appearance is often indistinguishable from the martlet.
Gules, the heraldic colour red is very popular, sometimes said to represent “Military Fortitude and Magnanimity”9. It is usually abbreviated as gu and in the days before colour printing was shown in a system known as hatching by vertical lines 10. Although it may look like a French word it is normally pronounced with a hard “g” and may be derived either from the Latin gula (throat) or Arabic gule (rose).11