The four main devices (symbols) in the Carleton blazon are the mascle, bend, pheon and unicorn. The three main tinctures (colors) are sable, ermine and argent .
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.
Ermine is a very ancient pattern, and distinctive to observe. It was borne alone by John de Monfort, the Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany in the late 14th century 4 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 5. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.6. The ermine spot is sometimes found alone as a special charge on the shield.
Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 7. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 8.
The mascle is a close relative of the lozenge or diamond shape, but with the centre cut away revealing the background underneath. 9. 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”. 10
The bend is a distinctive part of the shield, frequently occuring and clearly visible from a distance – it is a broad band running from top left to bottom right 11. Indeed, so important is the bend that it was the subject of one of the earliest cases before the English Court of Chivalry; the famous case of 1390, Scrope vs Grosvenor had to decide which family were the rightful owners of Azure, a bend or (A blue shield, with yellow bend). 12. The bend is held in high honour and may signify “defence or protection” and often borne by those of high military rank 13.
Given the martial nature of the origins of Heraldry, in the identification of knights and men-at-arms it can come as no surprise that mediaeval weaponry of all types are frequently to be found in a coat of arms 14. The pheon is a specific type of arrow head with barbs and darts and hence quite distinctive in appearance. 15 Like the other symbols related to arrows, Wade suggests the symbolism is that of “readiness for military service”. 16