The four main devices (symbols) in the Isherwood blazon are the lion, leopard, bar gemel and martlet. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, ermine and sable .
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” 1. 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 2.
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 3 It has a long association with royalty and the nobility in general and hence represents “Dignity” wherever it is found 4. The ermine pattern is white with, typically, a three dots and a dart grouping representing the tail of the furred creature.5. 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 6. 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 7. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 8.
The art of heraldry would be significantly poorer if we were without the lion in all its forms. Most general works on Heraldry devote at least one chapter solely to this magnificent creature and its multifarious depictions 9 10 11. Some of the earliest known examples of heraldry, dating right back to the knighting of Geoffrey of Anjou in 1127, where he is shown with six such beasts upon his shield 12 .The great authority on heraldic symbology, Wade, points out the high place that the lion holds in heraldry, “as the emblem of deathless courage” 13, a sentiment echoed equally 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? Nevertheless, real animals 14 are perhaps one of the most common sights on coats of arms, especially animals of European origin. The leopard Is a typical example of these.
The bar is a thin, horizontal stripe across the centre of the shield, usually in groups of two or three (any more and there would be confusion with barry, a treatment of horizontal lines of alternating colours). It is also possible to place decorative edges along bars, typically these are smaller than those found on the major ordinaries like the fess and pale, but have the same design and share the same meanings. Gemel simply means “doubled” 15, so whatever it is applied to appears twice, slightly reduced in size to occupy a similar amount of space to the original. This is different from having “two” of something, and indeed it is possible to have, for example two bars gemel, in which there are two, clearly separated pairs of bars.