The four main devices (symbols) in the Bingham blazon are the cross pattee, water bouget, lion and mullet. The three main tinctures (colors) are or, azure and gules .
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” 1. 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 2. In drawings without colour it is usually represented by many small dots, or by the letter ‘O’ 3.
The bright, strong blue color in Heraldry is known in English as azure, and similarly in other European languages – azul in Spanish, azurro in Italian and azur in French. The word has its roots in the Arabic word lazura, also the source of the name of the precious stone lapis lazuli 4. Despite this, those heralds who liked to associate colours with jewels chose instead to describe blue as Sapphire. According to Wade, the use of this colour symbolises “Loyalty and Truth” 5.
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”6. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 7. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.8.
No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 9. Mediaeval Europe was a deeply religious and Christian and many of the nobility wanted to show their devotion by adopting the symbol of the cross as part of the arms. Since no two arms could be identical there arose many variants of the cross, typically involving patterning along the edges 10, or fanciful, decorative endings to the arms of the cross 11. The cross pattee is typical of these, pattee meaning “spreading”, and so the ends of the arms of the cross curve gently outwards to rather pleasing effect. 12
A wide variety of inanimate objects 13 appear in coats of arms, so of them still recognisable today, others now rather obscure. The images used are often simplified and stylised, the water bouget is a typical case of the later, such that the casual observer would be hard pressed to discern its function. It represents in fact a yoke with two skins attached to be worn over the shoulder and has been found in coats of arms almost from the beginning of the art. 14. Somewhat literally, Wade suggests that their appearance on arms may have been due to a holder who had “brought water to an army or beseiged place”. 15
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 16 17 18. 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 19 .The great authority on heraldic symbology, Wade, points out the high place that the lion holds in heraldry, “as the emblem of deathless courage” 20, a sentiment echoed equally today.