Two metals and some seven colours and ten furs are employed for the purpose of emblazoning arms. Of these the furs are, in all probability, the most ancient, as the idea of using them was probably taken from the skins of which primitive man constructed his first shield. But the idea developed till this germ thereof was completely overlaid. The heraldic furs do not now resemble any known pelt with marked exactitude, unless it be ermine, which, especially in the older coats, bears some faint similitude to the black-tailed white skins which we know in ordinary life by that name. But ermines (the white tails on black), erminois (black tails on gold), or pean (gold tails on black) must be mere variations which owed their existence to the imagination of some early herald. They are also rare in coats-of-arm.
Vair is also not a fur we recognise nowadays, but it must have been the skin of some real animal, if it is really the material of which Cinderella's slippers were made, and which folk-lore experts now assure us was misinterpreted "verre" by some narrator of the tale whose ear was better than his sense.
The other heraldic furs - countervail potent, counter-potent, erminites, and vair-en-point - occur so seldom in blazoning that a very accurate knowledge of them is almost superfluous. Their description can be turned up when necessary in the most elementary heraldry book.
Furs may not symbolise anything in particular, except great riches or a barbarous state of civilisation (which have much in common); but when we come to the metals and colours it is quite different. These 22 2 latter have each their symbolical importance. Each was supposed to be under the domination of some heavenly body, and to possess a counterpart from" under the earth, a precious metal or a jewel.
Thus, while ordinary heralds speak only of or, argent, gules, azure, sable, vert, and purpure, the grander and more elaborate way is to name them by the gold and silver, rubies, sapphires, and so on. When heraldry fell into its decadence it became more and more fantastic, and blazoned with the sun and the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mercury in place of the simple terms. This makes the later or more grandiose heraldry confusing to the poor student who has only conned the plain science.
The "feudal system was not troubled with the modern fear of a high standard. It never occurred to it that it could possibly appear ridiculous by aiming at the best of all things; and it called right and wrong, goodness and evil, by plain terms, and was not afraid of them. Thus it is that the symbolism of heraldry is all of a lofty nature. " He nothing common did, nor mean," might have been the motto of the verie parfect gentil knight as a pendant to noblesse oblige. Nobility meant all that was good. The beasts of heraldry are all noble. They are the eagle, the lion, the stag; not the rat, the toad, the creeping thing on the earth. And so with the colours. They all mean something worthy.
Thus gold, which in the symbolism of art is yellow, and means several unpleasant things, in heraldry typifies glory. It is the colour of the sun, the king of the world, as silver is that of the moon. Silver is honour without stain; and as a colour may never stand upon a colour in a heraldic design, either glory or stainless honour, which is as good or better, must be typical of every coat-of-arms.
Red for Courage
Red stands for courage and magnanimity, not, as might be superficially supposed, for cruelty and bloodshed. Indeed, the "red badge of courage" is a household word. There must, by the way, be many allusions, especially in the works of the older English authors, which are not very intelligible to those to whom heraldry is a sealed book. Azure in heraldry, as in art, signifies chastity; it is the colour of the inviolate sky. Vert stands for abundance, for the plentiful fruits of the earth. Purpure typifies temperance, the virtue of kings; it is the royal colour, and very rare in heraldry. Even sable, which in every other symbolism is an evil colour, consecrated, if the word can be used in this connection, to the Prince of Darkness, in heraldry means wisdom and prudence, the discretion which can keep secrets.
(Silver or White)
In uncoloured drawings of heraldic shields the proper colours are always represented by dots or lines. These dots and lines are clearly shown above. Vertical lines indicate red, horizontal lines, blue, diagonal lines from left to right, green, and so on.
There are two other heraldic colours, tine or tenne (whence our word tawny), and sanguine or crimson; but they, like some of the furs, are of rare occurrence. In fact, under the names of 'tawny" and ' murrey " they are almost entirely associated with liveries.
At a late date in the history of heraldry it was found to be necessary to assign dots and lines to the various colours in order to make them intelligible in a drawing that was not coloured. I suppose the earlier heralds wrote on their shields and charges the colour they were to be, if they had no colouring materials at hand, in the primitive way that one draws a rough coat for reference. I have always personally found it easy to remember that the horizontal lines mean blue, because it is the colour of the sky; and that, in contradistinction, the vertical lines mean red.
In the same way black is easy to remember because of the crossed lines which darken the shield; and the slanting lines, whenever we come across them, are sure to be green. All these methods of indicating colours by means of lines or dots are clearly shown in the illustration on this page, and the heraldic names for the colours are given. It is to be noticed that the language of heraldry is that langue d'oc which gave its name to a province of France, and which, in contradistinction to the langue d'oil, was the tongue in which the troubadours loved and sang, the idiom of Provence and the sunny south. This does no more th n locate the science of heraldry with the rest of that great system we call feudal.