Definitions applying to the study of early heraldry can be summarized as follows. The SHIELD consists of a FIELD or background, which may be divided into two or more equal parts or according to certain heraldic conventions. Examples of some of the simpler designs are (e) fasce, (f) parti, (g) burulé, and (h) chevrons.
Onto the shield or its part may or may not be placed a heraldic DEVICE. The field is in one color, the device is in another. In early heraldry there are five colors. The COLORS proper are GUEULES (red), AZUR (blue), and SABLE (black). Then there are the METALS, thus OR (gold) and ARGENT (silver). Curiously, there was no way of making metallic tints, and so the metals were represented by the colors yellow and white.
The lion is among the earliest heraldic devices. It is the lion rampant, in other words a standing figure facing left (i). When the face turns towards the onlooker, the device is called a leopard rampant or lion-leopard. A leopard proper is a lion in profile running, thus a figure with a horizontal rather than a vertical aspect, but leopards always face the onlooker (j).
In the design of any shield, a color could not be placed on a color, and a metal could not be placed on a metal. Consequently, the variety of lion shields available to early heralds was limited. One could have a lion in or on gueules, and a lion in gueules on or, and so on. Accounting for each combination, there were twelve possible designs.
Even then, some of the possible designs were not especially desirable. For example, a lion in sable on argent lacked the character provided by warm color. Even the Limburg lion in gueules on argent (k) appeared somewhat pallid alongside its counterpart the Brabant lion in or on sable (l). The most pallid combinations were not frequently used in Lower Lorraine, but some appear among certain great families of Upper Lorraine and the middle Rhine.
Neither the lion nor the eagle proliferated widely among the comital dynasties of Germany and the empire. Whenever they are encountered, the question of their rationale inevitably arises. Devices, however, were enormously popular in Germany. Many of the Saxon and Swabian comital families chose devices that were peculiar to themselves. As an example one can consider the nettle leaf of Holstein (m). This thirteenth-century device actually replaced a lion, which the counts of Holstein must have acquired through their intimate collaboration with both Emperor Lothar and Henry the Lion, and no doubt some form of direct relationship with Lothar. An example of a device documented in the twelfth century is the gonfanon borne by the counts palatine of Tübingen and their junior branches in Vorarlberg, the counts of Werdenberg and Montfort (n).