The three main devices (symbols) in the Bale blazon are the eagle, mullet and lion. The four main tinctures (colors) are gules, vert, or and sable.
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”1. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 2. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.3.
The deep green colour that is so often observed in heraldry is more properly known as vert. According to Wade, the use of this colour signifies “Hope and Joy”, but may also represent, rather delightfully, “Loyalty in Love” 4. It has other names also, the French call it sinople, perhaps after a town in Asia Minor from where the best green die materials could be found 5. More fanciful heralds liked to associate it with the planet venus and the precious stone emerald 6. More strangely, there is some evidence that the term prasin was anciently used, being the Greek for the vegetable we call the Leek!
Or is the heraldic metal Gold, often shown as a bold, bright yellow colour. It is said to show “Generosity and elevation of the mind” 7. Later heralds, of a more poetic nature liked to refer to it as Topaz, after the gemstone, and, for obvious reasons associated it with the Sun 8. In drawings without colour it is usually represented by many small dots, or by the letter ‘O’ 9.
Sable, the deep black so often found in Heraldry is believed to named from an animal of the marten family know in the middle ages as a Sabellinœ and noted for its very black fur 10. In engravings, when colors cannot be shown it is represented as closely spaced horizontal and vertical lines, and appropriately is thus the darkest form of hatching, as this method is known 11. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 12.
Where the lion is undisputed king of the animals, the eagle undoubtedly plays the same role in the realm of the birds, its use in this form dating back to at least the Roman period 13. They tend to be illustrated in quite some detail, especially in continental European arms, and have almost as wide variety of postures and accessories as the lion, well illustrated in the reference 14 as well as being just the eagle’s head or eagle’s leg. The symbology of the eagle is deep and complex, Wade devotes several pages to the subject 15, but suffice it say that it has long been associated with Empire and those held in high honour – any armiger would be pleased to have any form of Eagle upon their arms!
The heraldic mullet, not to be confused with the fish of that name, is shown as a regular, five pointed star. This was originally, not an astronomical object, but represented the spur on a horseman’s boot, especially when peirced, with a small circular hole in the centre it represents a type of spur known as a “rowel” 16. A clear example can be found in the arms of Harpendene, argent, a mullet pierced gules. The ancient writer Guillim associated such spurs in gold as belonging to the Knight, and the silver to their esquires 17. In later years, Wade linked this five pointed star with the true celestial object, the estoile and termed it a “falling star”, symbolising a “divine quality bestowed from above” 18.
The art of heraldry would be significantly poorer if we were without the lion in all its forms. Most general works on Heraldry devote at least one chapter solely to this magnificent creature and its multifarious depictions 19 20 21. Some of the earliest known examples of heraldry, dating right back to the knighting of Geoffrey of Anjou in 1127, where he is shown with six such beasts upon his shield 22 .The great authority on heraldic symbology, Wade, points out the high place that the lion holds in heraldry, “as the emblem of deathless courage” 23, a sentiment echoed equally today.