The three main devices (symbols) in the Groom blazon are the cross pattee fitchee, helmet and pile. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, gules and ermine .
Azure is the heraldic colour blue, usually quite a deep, dark shade of the colour (there is a lighter blue that sometimes occurs, known as celestial azure). If colour printing is not available then it can be represented by closely spaced horizontal lines in a scheme known as “hatching” 1Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 26. The word is thought to originate from the Arabic lazura and it represents the colour of the eastern sky. It is also said to be the colour associated by the Catholic Church with the Virgin Mary and hence of particular significance 2The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P150.
Gules, the heraldic colour red is very popular, sometimes said to represent “Military Fortitude and Magnanimity”3The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36. It is usually abbreviated as gu and in the days before colour printing was shown in a system known as hatching by vertical lines 4Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P52. Although it may look like a French word it is normally pronounced with a hard “g” and may be derived either from the Latin gula (throat) or Arabic gule (rose).5A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1847, P154
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 6A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P69 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 7The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P39. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.8Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 28. The ermine spot is sometimes found alone as a special charge on the shield.
No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 9Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 47. 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 10Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P67, or fanciful, decorative endings to the arms of the cross 11A Complete Guide to Heraldry, A.C. Fox-Davies, Bonanza (re-print of 1909 Edition), New York, 1978, P128. 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.
We should not be surprised to find items of armour depicted on shields, and perhaps to the wearer none is more important that the helmet. Wade suggests that its presence denotes “Wisdom and surety in defence”. 12The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P139 There are many variations of helmet described, now almost indistinguishable to modern eyes, and not having any particular significance – perhaps because of some play on words with the family name. There are complex heraldic rules and guidelines for the depictions of helmets belonging to various grades of nobility, lack of space prevents us from listing them all here!13A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:helmet
The pile was originally quite a simple shape, being a triangle reaching from the top of the shield down to a point near the lower centre 14A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Pile. A clear example being that of CHANDOS awarded in 1337, Or a pile gules. There is some argument as to the origin, Wade suggests some similarity with the meaning of “pile” in construction (a foundation) and hence that the shape could be adopted by those who have demonstrated some ability in the building trade 15The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P48. An earlier writer, Guillim, perhaps more plausibly suggested that the shape echoes those of a pennant or triangular flag 16A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, P52 The shape is quite distinctive however and became popular, leading to many embellishments to distinguish it from its close fellows, with multiple piles meeting at various points, starting from various edges and with additional decoration, leading to potentially quite complex descriptions!