The four main devices (symbols) in the Miles blazon are the knight’s helmet, mascle, millrind and sword. The three main tinctures (colors) are gules, erminois and vert .
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.1The Siege of Carlaverock, N. Harris, Nichols & Son, London, 1828, P180. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” 2Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 313. Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron 3Understanding Signs & Symbols – Heraldry, S. Oliver & G. Croton, Quantum, London, 2013, P53, perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.
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” 4The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P36. 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 5A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Vert. More fanciful heralds liked to associate it with the planet venus and the precious stone emerald 6Boutell’s Heraldry, J.P. Brooke-Little, Warne, (revised Edition) London 1970, P 27. More strangely, there is some evidence that the term prasin was anciently used, being the Greek for the vegetable we call the Leek!
We should not be surprised to find items of armour depicted on shields, and perhaps to the wearer none is more important that the helmet. Wade suggests that its presence denotes “Wisdom and surety in defence”. 7The Symbolisms of Heraldry, W. Cecil Wade, George Redway, London, 1898 P139 There are many variations of helmet described, now almost indistinguishable to modern eyes, and not having any particular significance – perhaps because of some play on words with the family name. There are complex heraldic rules and guidelines for the depictions of helmets belonging to various grades of nobility, lack of space prevents us from listing them all here!8A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:helmet
The mascle is a close relative of the lozenge or diamond shape, but with the centre cut away revealing the background underneath. 9A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Mascle. Guillim, writing in the 17th century reckoned the mascle to represent the mesh of a net, being the biblical symbol for “persuasion, whereby men are induced to virtue and verity”. 10A Display of Heraldry, J. Guillim, Blome, London, 1679, P234
The mill-rind, also known by a rather surprising number of names (fer-de-moline, inkmoline, mill-ink amongst others) is a distinctive symbol, but hard to place by modern viewers. It is a square or diamond shape with arms extending above and below and in fact represents the piece of iron that connects a circular timber axle to a mill-stone, used for grinding corn. 11A Glossary of Terms used in British Heraldry, J.H. Parker, Oxford, 1894, Entry:Fer-de-moline These would obviously have been more familiar to those of the middle ages than they are today.