The three main devices (symbols) in the Cairnie blazon are the rock, martlet and cinquefoil. The three main tinctures (colors) are sable, gules 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.
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 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 rock, says Guillim in his “Display of Heraldry” signifies “safety, refuge and protection” and we can clearly understand why. 10 It occurs more often in Scottish arms than in English (that nation having a much rockier landscape) and is almost always drawn in natural colours. 11
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. 12. 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” 13. 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.
Natural objects abound in heraldry, and one category that gives especial delight are the many flowers and flowering plants that frequently occur 14. The cinquefoil is also of this type, being drawn, at least a little, realistically and often to very pleasing effect. It is shown as five-petalled flower, each petal quite rounded but with a distinct tip. It is sometimes pierced with a hole in the centre and usually appears on its own, without any leaves. 15 It has no fixed colour but can appear in any of the available heraldic tinctures.