The four main devices (symbols) in the Barnes blazon are the mascle, bezant, bar embattled and estoile. The three main tinctures (colors) are sable, or and vert .
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 1. 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 2. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 3.
The bright yellow colour frequently found in coats of arms is known to heralds as Or, or sometimes simply as Gold.4. Along with, argent, or silver it forms the two “metals” of heraldry – one of the guidelines of heraldic design is that silver objects should not be placed upon gold fields and vice versa 5. The yellow colour is often associated with the Sun, and the zodiacal sign of Leo.6.
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” 7. 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 8. More fanciful heralds liked to associate it with the planet venus and the precious stone emerald 9. More strangely, there is some evidence that the term prasin was anciently used, being the Greek for the vegetable we call the Leek!
The mascle is a close relative of the lozenge or diamond shape, but with the centre cut away revealing the background underneath. 10. Guillim, writing in the 17th century reckoned the mascle to represent the mesh of a net, being the biblical symbol for “persuasion, whereby men are induced to virtue and verity”. 11
For easy recognition of the items on a coat of arms, and hence the quick identification of the owner, bold simple shapes are best. Hence, simple geometric shapes are often used for this purpose 12xz`, and the bezant Is a typical example of this, and in British Heraldry always takes the tincture or. It shares the same root as the name Byzantium, being associated with the gold coin of that city and indeed, in some heraldic traditions is represented as a coin-like disk in perspective. Wade suggests that the use of this device refers to ” one who had been found worthy of trust and treasure.” 13
The bar is a thin, horizontal stripe across the centre of the shield, usually in groups of two or three (any more and there would be confusion with barry, a treatment of horizontal lines of alternating colours). It is also possible to place decorative edges along bars, typically these are smaller than those found on the major ordinaries like the fess and pale, but have the same design and share the same meanings. An edge which is decorated like the top of a castle wall is said to be embattled, or sometimes crenelle, from the original French. (In castle building terminology the parts of the wall that stick up are known as merlons, and the resulting gaps as crenels). A whole sub-section of heraldic terminology has sprung up to describe whether these crennellations appear on which edges, whether they line up or alternate, have additional steps or rounded tops. The interested reader is directed to the reference for the full set! 14 For obvious reasons, use of this decoration is to be associated with castles and fortified towns, an early authority, Guillim suggest also some association with fire, but with out clear reason 15. In all, this is one of the more common, and most effective and appropriate of the decorative edges.