The three main devices (symbols) in the Cornelius blazon are the chevron, torteaux and cross pattee fitchee. The three main tinctures (colors) are ermine, sable and gules .
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 1 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 2. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.3. The ermine spot is sometimes found alone as a special charge on the shield.
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 4. 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 5. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 6.
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”7. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 8. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.9.
The chevron is one the major shapes used upon a shield, known as ordinaries. The inverted ‘V’ of the chevron is perhaps thought to have originated to represent a military scarf folded on the shield 10, or additional cross-pieces used to strengthen the shield and painted a different colour.11. It has also acquired the meaning of “Protection… granted… to one who has achieved some notable enterprise” 12, possibly becuase of its resemblance to the roof truss of a house.
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 13 One of the simplest such shapes is the plain circle, known to heralds as the roundle. 14 So popular is this charge that a shorthand has arisen for roundles of a particular colour and torteau is a roundle gules, or red. (We must be careful however not to confuse this with the word in French heraldry, in which torteau means roundle and must have the colour specified.) Most authorities agree that the English usage signifies the “Manchet cake” or communion wafer and thus is a symbol of religious allegiance.
No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 15. 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 16, or fanciful, decorative endings to the arms of the cross 17. The cross pattee fitchee is typical of these, pattee indicating that the upper arms spread out at the ends, fitchee showing that the lower arm ends in a point as if is to planted in the ground.