The four main devices (symbols) in the Hingham blazon are the millrind, unicorn, cross fourchee and leopard. 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 mill-rind, also known by a rather surprising number of names (fer-de-moline, inkmoline, mill-ink amongst others) is a distinctive symbol, but hard to place by modern viewers. It is a square or diamond shape with arms extending above and below and in fact represents the piece of iron that connects a circular timber axle to a mill-stone, used for grinding corn. 10 These would obviously have been more familiar to those of the middle ages than they are today.
In the mediaeval period there was no real percieved difference between real and mythical animals, after all, much of the world remained unknown and who was to say what strange and magical creatures existed in distant lands? As heraldry developed a whole menagerie of imagined creatures 11 came into being, and their various representations became more or less standardised in form and appearance. The unicorn is an intresting example that is still part of our own mythology today. The unicorn as illustrated on even the most ancient coat of arms is still instantly recognisable to us today, and shares many of the same poses that both lions and horses can be found in. 12. Wade, the 18th century heraldic writer suggested that were adopted as symbols because of “its virtue, courage and strength”. 13
No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 14. 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 15, or fanciful, decorative endings to the arms of the cross 16. The cross fourchee, as its name suggests is forked at the ends of its four, even length arms.