The three main devices (symbols) in the Large blazon are the bend, lion and savage. The four main tinctures (colors) are azure, or, vert and sable.
The bright, strong blue color in Heraldry is known in English as azure, and similarly in other European languages – azul in Spanish, azurro in Italian and azur in French. The word has its roots in the Arabic word lazura, also the source of the name of the precious stone lapis lazuli 1. Despite this, those heralds who liked to associate colours with jewels chose instead to describe blue as Sapphire. According to Wade, the use of this colour symbolises “Loyalty and Truth” 2.
Or is the heraldic metal Gold, often shown as a bold, bright yellow colour. It is said to show “Generosity and elevation of the mind” 3. Later heralds, of a more poetic nature liked to refer to it as Topaz, after the gemstone, and, for obvious reasons associated it with the Sun 4. In drawings without colour it is usually represented by many small dots, or by the letter ‘O’ 5.
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” 6. 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 7. More fanciful heralds liked to associate it with the planet venus and the precious stone emerald 8. More strangely, there is some evidence that the term prasin was anciently used, being the Greek for the vegetable we call the Leek!
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 9. 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 10. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 11.
The bend is a distinctive part of the shield, frequently occuring and clearly visible from a distance – it is a broad band running from top left to bottom right 12. Indeed, so important is the bend that it was the subject of one of the earliest cases before the English Court of Chivalry; the famous case of 1390, Scrope vs Grosvenor had to decide which family were the rightful owners of Azure, a bend or (A blue shield, with yellow bend). 13. The bend is held in high honour and may signify “defence or protection” and often borne by those of high military rank 14.
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 15 16 17. 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 18 .The great authority on heraldic symbology, Wade, points out the high place that the lion holds in heraldry, “as the emblem of deathless courage” 19, a sentiment echoed equally today.
Heraldry is a human art, by and for people and it is not surprising that people themselves are frequently depicted in arms 20. As well as the nobility themselves, we also see both the mundane, ploughmen, fishermen and reapers; and the exotic in the form of club wielding savagesand the Moorish or Saracen gentleman with his decorative wreathed turban 21.