The three main devices (symbols) in the Meckel blazon are the estoile, paly and sword. The three main tinctures (colors) are azure, sable and or .
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.
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 3. 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 4. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 5.
The bright yellow colour frequently found in coats of arms is known to heralds as Or, or sometimes simply as Gold.6. 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 7. The yellow colour is often associated with the Sun, and the zodiacal sign of Leo.8.
There were of course many widely recognised symbols that existed long before the advent of heraldry and it should be no surprise that some of these were adopted as charge in coats of arms 9. The estoile is a typical example, reflecting the stars in the sky and represented with six wavy points, often with a little shading to give it some depth. 10. The ancient writer Guillim assigns these symbols as the emblems of God’s goodness”. 11
Play is what is known as a treatment, a regular patterning, usually over the whole background of the shield. The word comes from the pale, the major vertical stripe that appears on some shields, paly is obvious its little cousin, consisting of, typically, 6 or more vertical stripes, alternately coloured 12. The stripes can be any combination of the heraldic tinctures, an early example is that of GURNEY, being simply paly of six, or and argent. Paly can be combined with other effects, such as decorative edges on each stripe, or overlaid with other treatments such as bendy, and these can be very effective and pleasing to the eye 13.
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 14. Indeed, the sheer variety of different swords 15 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”.