The four main devices (symbols) in the Ratford blazon are the unicorn, lion passant, hawks’ bell and fretty. The two main tinctures (colors) are sable and gules.
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 1. 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 2. Although it may seem a sombre tone, and does indeed sometimes denote grief, it is more commonly said to represent Constancy 3.
Gules, the heraldic colour red is very popular, sometimes said to represent “Military Fortitude and Magnanimity”4. It is usually abbreviated as gu and in the days before colour printing was shown in a system known as hatching by vertical lines 5. Although it may look like a French word it is normally pronounced with a hard “g” and may be derived either from the Latin gula (throat) or Arabic gule (rose).6
In the mediaeval period there was no real percieved difference between real and mythical animals, after all, much of the world remained unknown and who was to say what strange and magical creatures existed in distant lands? As heraldry developed a whole menagerie of imagined creatures 7 came into being, and their various representations became more or less standardised in form and appearance. The unicorn is an intresting example that is still part of our own mythology today. The unicorn as illustrated on even the most ancient coat of arms is still instantly recognisable to us today, and shares many of the same poses that both lions and horses can be found in. 8. Wade, the 18th century heraldic writer suggested that were adopted as symbols because of “its virtue, courage and strength”. 9
There can be no animal more clearly associated with Heraldry than the lion, majestic King of the Beasts. Originally it appeared only in one pose, erect, on one paw, with the others raised 10 but such was the popularity of this figure, and the need to distinguish arms from each other, that it soon came to be shown in an enormous range of forms 11. The lion passant is an example of these modified form, showing the creature on all fours, as if walking proudly. In common with all reprensentations of the lion it can be taken to be an “emblem of deathless courage”. 12
The Hawk’s bell is a small bell attached to the collar of a hawk, spherical and clearly different to the church bell. 13 In addition to showing an affection for the hunt, Wade suggests that it also symbolises someone “not afraid to advertise their presence”. 14