The three main devices (symbols) in the Kirk blazon are the thistle, crosier and sword. The two main tinctures (colors) are gules and or.
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.1. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” 2. Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron 3, perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.
The bright yellow colour frequently found in coats of arms is known to heralds as Or, or sometimes simply as Gold.4. Along with, argent, or silver it forms the two “metals” of heraldry – one of the guidelines of heraldic design is that silver objects should not be placed upon gold fields and vice versa 5. The yellow colour is often associated with the Sun, and the zodiacal sign of Leo.6.
The thistle as a symbol is inevitably associated with Scotland, although more often as a badge rather than appearing as an item upon a shield. 7 Despite its prickly reputation the images of this flowering plant are very striking and they are usually shown with leaves to either side in quite an accurate representation. 8
The middle ages was a deeply religious time, and since the bulk of heraldry was developed in countries that were almost entirely Christian it is no surprise that religious and church symbology was widely adopted for use in coats of arms. The crosier Is a typical such usage, being a staff carried by a Bishop in ceremony. As well the adoption of religious imagery for the nobility, the Church itself has made extensive use of arms, such Ecclesiastical Heraldry 9 is a major subject in its own right, somewhat less “martial” than that of the nobility and with its own terms and special meanings.
Given the martial nature of the origins of Heraldry, in the identification of knights and men-at-arms it can come as no surprise that mediaeval weaponry of all types are frequently to be found in a coat of arms 10. Indeed, the sheer variety of different swords 11 can be bewildering and expaining the difference between a scimitar and a falchion is perhaps best left to the expert! If a charge is described just as a simple sword then it will have a straight blade and cross handle, that may be of a different colour, and, unless specified, points upwards. Wade, quoting the earlier writer Guillim, signifies the use of the sword as representing “Government and Justice”.