The four main devices (symbols) in the Caton blazon are the cats-a-mountain, castle, saracen’s head and cross crosslet fitchee. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, gules and pellettee .
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 1A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Azure. 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” 2The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36.
The bold red colour on a heraldic shield is known as gules. It has a long history within heraldry, it is known that one of those who besieged the scottish castle of Carlaverock in 1300 was the French knight Euremions de la Brette who had as his arms a simple red shield.3The Siege of Carlaverock, N. Harris, Nichols & Son, London, 1828, P180. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” 4Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 313. Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron 5Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53, perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.
Cats occur often in heraldry, but the wild cat or cat-a-mountain is almost certainly intended rather than the domesticated felines we might at first come to mind! 6A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Cat It can appear in a variety of poses, similar to those of its larger relative, the lion, although we should be careful of stretching any meanings associated with the king of the beasts to their smaller brethren. Perhaps only an affinity with hills and the mountain country is intended.
Architectural items, from individual components to entire buildings 7Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 92 feature frequently as charges In a coat of arms. Not surprisingly, considering the times from which many arms date, fortifications are common. The castle is perhaps second only to the tower in this usage, and often described in some detail as to its construction, the disposition of windows and so on. 8A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Castle Continental examples also sometimes include attackers on scaling ladders. Wade tells us that the appearance of a castle indicates “granduer and solidity” and one can understand why. 9The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P100
Heraldry is a human art, by and for people and it is not surprising that people themselves are frequently depicted in arms 10Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P174. As well as the nobility themselves, we also see both the mundane, ploughmen, fishermen and reapers; and the exotic in the form of club wielding savagesand the Moorish or Saracen gentleman with his decorative wreathed turban 11A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P168.