The four main devices (symbols) in the Liston blazon are the gillyflower, cross raguly, bend dancettee and bezant. The three main tinctures (colors) are gules, argent and vert .
Red in heraldry is given the name Gules, sometimes said to be the “martyr’s colour”1. The colour is also associated with Mars, the red planet, and the zodiacal sign Aries 2. Later heralds of a more poetical nature would sometimes refer to the colour as ruby, after the precious stone.3.
Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) 4. In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper 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!
Although little known today, the gillyflower or July flower occurs quite often in heraldry. 9 It is a pretty flower with bright crimson petals and looks a little like a carnation. 10
No other symbol appearing in heraldry is subject to as much variation as the cross 11. 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 12, or fanciful, decorative endings to the arms of the cross 13. Of the decorative edges raguly can be at first hard to identify, but once we understand that it arises from an old word raggguled meaning ”chopped off”. 14 we can see that the curious shapes are intended to represent boughs lopped off a tree trunk. (This is also the origin of the term “ragged staff” see so frequently with a bear in Heraldry). Wade suggests that the use of this decoration represents “difficulties that have been encountered” 15, and we can perhaps understand that the “hacked path” resulting shows that these difficulties have been overcome.
The bend is such a bold and clear shape, clearly visible on the shield, that its popularity should not be a surprise. One of the Heralds primary roles is ensure that each coat of arms be distinct from all others 16 and one way to accomodate the demand for the use of the bend was to draw them with a variety of decorative edges, thus distinguishing, at least from close up, one set of arms from another. One example of this isDancettee (sometimes spelled dancetty or dancy) , a bold, zig-zag pattern, perhaps the most distinctive of these patterned edges. Wade, quoting Guillim suggests that dancettee be attributed to mean water, in the same fashion as undy or wavy, and one can understand this allusion.