For the Duke of Normandy did bear in his targe of Mars 2 Lions passant guardant of the Sun… and then, by the marriage of Eleanor, daughter and heir to William Duke of Aquitaine (that bare in a Shield gules, a Lion passant, guardant Or) the third Lion was also added to the coat of Normandy.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p105-6

This is one of my favorite heraldic origin stories, not least because it’s very likely to be true. The blazons for Normandy and Aquitaine are easily verifiable, and the combination of those two arms into England’s iconic coat is elegant and satisfying.

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[W]hen as a Gentleman of coat-armor hath married an heir to a Gentleman of coat-armor, and hath issue by her, that issue as heir, beareth the Arms of his father and of his mother in his Shield quarterly, and it is called Coat quartered plain, or rather, a Shield quartered plain.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p102

Ferne also goes on to describe arms diverse quarterly, where different ancestral coats are displayed in each quarter, and arms quarterly quartered, which would occur when two people with arms quartered plain marry and have children. The configuration described here is by far the most common.

Wherefore the bearing of this beast, was fitly applied to a king’s progeny: fortitude and magnanimity is denoted in the Lion.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p91

[In reference to the arms of William Longspée] While Longspée seems to have been an adept military commander, it is more likely that the lioncels are a reference to the English royal arms than any personal characteristics.

I perceive that all Arts of all sorts and faculties, as well divine as profane, doth concur in the adorning of this skill of Heraldry.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p85

“Profane” seems to be used here in the sense of “secular” rather than “sacreligious.”

Keeping in mind that Ferne is in fact a herald and not exactly the disinterested observer who says this in the text – he’s not wrong. At the very least, a good grasp of history and design are necessary, and research skills and multiple languages certainly don’t hurt either.

For the pale in Arms, representeth a post of Timber, set upright, such as be commonly used, to under prop the earth from falling upon the miners’ heads.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p84

The origins of all of the ordinaries are unclear, but the theory Ferne cites above is a fairly common one about the pale. Unfortunately, it’s likely that we will never be able to know for sure.

And yet, there is nothing borne in Arms, but that it hath his proper and apt signification.

– From Lacies Nobilitie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p83

Ferne goes on to argue that arms do, or should, reflect the reason that they were granted to the first bearer. While there is usually some relationship between the arms and the person or entity that bears them, the symbolism is usually not particularly complex. A beehive is more likely to represent a family history of keeping bees or a pun on the last name than more esoteric concepts like “industry” or “cohesion.”

Let me say this, that this coat-armor being Barry, is interpreted by some learned in blazon, to represent to the bearer, force, valour, courage, or wisdom, whereby he hath repelled any peril or danger imminent to his country or sovereign; the Barre… is taken in the like signification.

– From the Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586) p243

Like most early attempts to assign some kind of symbolism to heraldic charges (especially the ordinaries), this assertion does not seem to be supported by more reliable sources.