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The Lions of England Part 2

What is the origin of the second lion in the Royal Arms of England? Some historians suggest that it came into the Arms through Henry I’s marriage to Adeliza, daughter of Godfrey of Louvain, image above, who bore a lion in allusion to his name (Leuwon : Leones). But there is no proof that the second lion was intended to commemorate this union, it may indeed have been added purely for artistic effect. From his grandfather Henry II is supposed to have inherited two gold lions on red, but they first appear as an undoubted shield of arms in the seal of his son John. But Prince John’s lions looked not out of the shield but over their shoulders (reguardant). This may have been deliberate, to distinguish the son’s Arms from those of his father. Two lions differently placed were probably used by Henry’s eldest son, Richard I, during his crusade.

Over the course of time the two lions came to be regarded as having been the Arms of all English kings from William I to Henry II, and they appear in the shields of several foundations connected with those monarchs. The are found quartered in the shield of the Duchy of Brunswick, owing to the marriage of Maud, daughter of Henry II, to Henry V, Duke of Bavaria. When Maud’s remote descendant, George, Duke of Brunswick and Luneberg, ascended to the English throne as George I, the two lions were reintroduced into the Royal Arms and remained there for a century. Just as Henry I is thought to have acquired the second lion through marriage, it is also thought that Henry II added the third when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose Arms were known to be  a single golden lion on a red shield. The three lions in their present incarnation are thought to have been first used by Richard I being placed on his seal in 1194.

Many English cities and towns bear on or more of the royal lions in their civic Coats of Arms. Canterbury has a lion on its red chief above the three Cornish choughs ( birds) of St. Thomas-a-Beckett. York has five lions on a cross of St. George. Winchester has two lions supporting the middle one of five castles on a red shield. Cambridge University has four lions on a red shield around its ermine cross bearing a red-bound book. The three lions also form the Coat of Arms for the Channel Islands, between England and France.

Cambridge University Arms


The Lions of England Part 1


The Lion is a lively image of a good soldier, who must be valiant of  courage., strong of body, politicke in counsell, and a foe to feare.”  — Guillim, Display of Heraldry

The Armorial Roll of Caerlaverock from 1300 describes the Arms of the King of England as “ Three leopards of fine gold set on red; courant, fierce, haughty and cruel; to signify that like them the King is dreadful to his enemies, for his bite is slight to none who brave his anger, and yet towards such as seek his friendship or submit to his power his kindness is soon rekindled.” In heraldry a leopard represents a lion staring you in the face, the three lions have stood in the Royal Arms of England since the reign of Richard I. Their origin is uncertain but there is an interesting but doubtful theory as to their origin.

The seals of the first and second Williams and Henry I are free of Heraldry, but Henry seems to have used a single lion as a badge, and some historians think this may have been an allusion to the title “ Lion of Justice” by which Geoffrey of Monmouth, in the prophecies of Merlin, refers to the King. If this is the case, the first English lion may be regarded as commemorating the foundation of the administrative and legal system by the organization of the curia Regis for financial and judicial business, the establishment of itinerant justices to carry the King’s law throughout the land, and the strengthening of the popular courts to resist the encroachment of feudal franchises. It is significant that it was in the reign of Henry I that the first recorded lion was seen in England as part of the King’s menagerie at Woodstock. The main reason for believing that the lion was Henry I’s  particular emblem is its prevalence in the Heraldry of the King’s descendents and those connected to his family by marriage. When Henry knighted his son-in-law, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou ( father of Henry II ), he gave him a shield charged with golden lions and this appears on an enameled figure of the Count formerly on his tomb. Here he also has a lion on his cap, the forerunner of the English Royal crest. Geoffrey’s grandson, William Longuespée, Earl of Salisbury, bore similar Arms, placing his golden lions upon a blue shield. There is evidence that Henry II himself bore two lions on his shield. Henry I’s descendents through his  illegitimate children all bore one or more lions in their Arms.

Geoffrey Count of Anjou


The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest Part 3

The actual Norman conquest which followed the Battle of Hastings occurred in a piecemeal fashion. This is suggested by the similarity between the Coats of Arms of certain cities and towns in widely disparate parts of England. For example, the gold and blue checkers of the Warrennes, Earls of Surrey appear in the shields of places ranging from Lewes (arms above) to Dewsbury and including Lambeth. This indicates not only the possessions granted by the Duke of Normandy to William de Warrenne, ancestor of the checker-bearing family, but also the scattered nature of their territory, and indirectly the manner in which Duke William distributed the spoils of his conquest. Faced with a clamorous demand for land by a host of adventurers, he parceled out the country as he won it, granting first small parcels and later more substantial tracts of land. The fortunate but not necessarily premeditated result of this enforced policy was that the Duke prevented his followers obtaining large tracts of land in one district, and setting themselves up as serious rivals to his monarchy.

Only in the key counties on the border of his realm, Durham, Chester, Shropshire and Kent, did William permit great semi-independent jurisdictions to arise. The mitre of the See of Durham, plumed like a helmet and with a coronet about its rim, is symbolic of the palatinate jurisdiction which William conferred upon that bishopric, the patrimony of St. Cuthbert, which “lay as a sacred boundary between England and Scotland.” The seal of Lord Crewe, a seventeenth-century Bishop of Durham, contained the figure of a fully armed man on horseback, his warlike appearance being palliated by an inscription suggesting his Arms to be of a spiritual nature: Propterea accipite armaturam Dei galeam salutis assumite et gladium spiritus. But the seal clearly referred to the soldierly character of the old-time bishops. The Palatinate was transferred to the Crown in 1836, but the Bishop of Durham still retains the coronet about his mitre.

The presence of two gold lions on red (the supposed Arms of the conqueror) in the shield of the See of Lincoln commemorates the ecclesiastical reorganization undertaken by Duke William and Lanfranc, which resulted in the transfer of the center of the vast northern bishopric from Dorchester-on-Thames to Lincoln. Pevensey, which was granted to Gilbert de Aquila and came to be known as the Honor of the Eagle, still uses as Arms a red eagle upon gold in allusion to the Norman family de Aquila.

Lambeth Arms

The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest Part 2

Duke William of Normandy had the sanction of the church for his expedition, and this is shown heraldically by the banner depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry; a red cross on a white background with a blue border. This was the flag that received the blessing of Pope Alexander. Although enjoying the support of the Church, William was by no means subservient to the Pope’s wishes, as in later years he said the following to Pope Gregory: “ Fealty I never willed to do, nor do I will to do it now. I have never promised it, nor do I find that my predecessors did it to yours.” Another Norman banner represented in the Bayeux Tapestry may have been the famous raven of the Norsemen. This emblem recalls the descent of the Normans from the fierce and adventurous Scandinavian people who harried the shores of Britain and Ireland and established themselves firmly in Northern France during the ‘dark ages’ after the fall of Charlemagne’s Empire. It suggests that the Normans acknowledged their origins and emphasizes the fact that the Anglo-Saxon kingdom finally fell not to a new and unexpected foe, but to a branch of that race which had for generations sought to conquer it.

An armed knight holding a red banner containing two golden lions ( the traditional arms of the Conqueror) supports the shield of the Delaval family, and represents Guido de la Val, said to have been a cousin of Duke William of Normandy, and to have borne his head banners at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Other families that cling to the legend of an ancestor that fought at the Battle of Hastings seek to support their claim by a liberal interpretation of the bearings in their Arms. A branch of the St. Johns who display three wagon horses’ collars profess to be descended from the master of William’s baggage- wagons; and the Ferrers family seek the origin of their name, and the horseshoes in their shield in the office of chief farrier to the Norman army. The surname Fortescue is attached to a romantic story from the Battle of Hastings. Richard le Fort, it is told, flung his shield before Duke William at a critical moment in the battle, saving William from certain death. For this service to the Duke, Fort received the addition of escue to his name, and to this day the Fortescues bear the punning motto Forte scutum salus dictum —“ A strong shield is the leader’s safeguard.” A badge of the family is a shield bearing the word “Fort”. The need for certain families to establish a Norman ancestor has been responsible for many such fables, and to correct this is an apt quote from the foremost authority on heraldic matters, Arthur Fox-Davies in his book Armorial Families: “If any ordinary individual tell you he is descended in the male line from someone who figures upon the glorious roll of Battle Abbey, or that his ancestor ‘came over with the Conquerer’, write him down a perverter of the truth at once.”

William the Conquerer

The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest Part 1

Battle of Hastings by Frank Wilkin ( 1791-1842)

When William, Duke of Normandy, wrested control of England from King Harold, heraldry was not widely practiced in even the more advanced societies in Europe. The Bayeux Tapestry, the famous pictorial record of the Norman invasion, shows decorated shields and banners, and attempts have been made to identify individuals by these shields but with not very convincing results. However Wace, writing at the time of Henry II stated:

‘They ( the Normans) had shields on their necks and lances in their hands, and all had made cognisances that one Norman might know another by, and that none others bore, so that no Frenchman might kill another.”

It is unlikely that Wace meant that the Normans bore individual cognisances, or shields, but rather there were one or two emblems in use throughout in order to distinguish William’s followers as a whole from the Saxons. His identification of all of the members of an army by a distinctive figure was no new thing. We read in St. Olaf’s Saga that at the battle of Niesse, 50 years before the battle of Hastings:

“ the most of his men had white shields, on which the holy cross was gilt; but some had painted it in blue and red.”

The reason for this clearly appears in the account of Olaf’s last battle, in 1030, when the King ordered:

“ We will have all our men distinguished by a mark, so as to be a field token upon their helmets and shields, by painting the holy cross thereupon with white colour. When we come into battle we shall all have one counter-sign and field-cry, ‘Forward, forward, Christ-men ! Crossmen ! King’s men!’”

The King himself had “ a white shield on which the Holy Cross was inlaid in gold.” So we may assume that at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 the devices on the Norman shields, if they were anything more  than merely decorative, had a partisan rather than a personal significance. The Bayeux Tapestry shows us that a dragon was a favorite figure on the Norman shields. But the dragon was clearly the English emblem. It was around the banner of the Golden Dragon of Wessex, known as “ The German Dragon” of the so-called prophecies of Merlin:

“ The German dragon shall hardly get to his holes……for a people in wood and in iron coats shall come and revenge upon him his wickedness. They shall restore the ancient inhabitants to their dwellings, and there shall be an open destruction of foreigners……After this shall succeed two dragons, whereof one shall be killed by the arrow of envy, but the other shall return under the shadow of a name. Then shall succeed the Lion of Justice, at whose roar the Gallican towers and the island dragons shall tremble” – Geoffrey of Monmouth

Why would the Normans display their enemy’s emblem? William always claimed to be King of the English by right, and the prevalence of the dragon on the shields of his followers suggests that he may have deliberately adopted the emblem of the English as an expression of his claim to be their lawful king.

Bayeux Tapestry death of King Harold

The Arms of Edward the Confessor

A familiar site in Westminster Abbey is the Coat of Arms of Edward the Confessor which stand in many places in his greatest monument. Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) was the son of Aethelred the Unready and Emma of Normandy and is widely acknowledged as the last king of the House of Wessex. He ruled from 1042 to 1066. Edward’s successor Harold Godwinson was defeated by William Duke of Normandy, which led to the England’s domination by the Normans. Edward the Confessors Arms consist of a golden cross”flory” and five gold doves on a blue shield; Azure, a cross flory or between five doves of the same.

The thirteenth century heralds that devised this shield based it on a coin of the Confessor, containing the cross usual to the reverse side of English money, but in the quarters four doves instead of the customary pellets. A dove surmounts the scepter in Edward’s seal, and it is clear that he regarded this bird, emblem of piety and gentleness, as his special symbol. Though posthumously conferred, Edward’s Arms are of some importance on account of their medieval and modern associations. They have been incorporated in the Arms of Westminster Abbey, Westminster School., Westminster City, the Borough of Eye in Suffolk, the West Suffolk County Council; they are even found in Canada, where they appear in the shield of the See of New Westminster. They were adopted by the Abbey of Dunfermline, founded by the great-niece of Edward the Confessor, who became the wife of Malcolm Canmore. They were also the basis of the Arms of Edmund Rich, the sainted Archbishop of Canterbury, founder of St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, which still bears a red cross “patonce” and four black martlets ( birds)  on gold; Or a cross patoncesable between four martlets of the same.

Malcolm Canmore

To some of Edward the Confessor’s royal predecessors the heralds assigned modifications of his Arms- a gold cross with only four doves for the kings from Edgar onwards, and the cross flory alone for some of the earlier kings, including Alfred. University College, Oxford, which claims Alfred as its founder, departs from heraldic tradition by using as Arms the cross and four doves attributed to Alfred’s successors. The presence of Edward’s Arms in the roof of Westminster Hall is a memorial not directly to the confessor but to Richard II, rebuilder of the hall, who showed such respect for Edward as to bear his banner in battle and marshal his Arms on the royal shield. Another emblem attributed to Edward the Confessor is a hand grasping a ring; the ring he gave as alms to an old pilgrim at the consecration of St. John’s Church at the place subsequently called Havering, Essex. The pilgrim was St. John himself, who later sent the ring back to King Edward with word that he should “dispose of his goods, for within six months he shall be in the joy of Heaven with me, when he shall have his reward for his chastity and good living.”

Westminster School Arms

Heraldry and personal honor

Today most people who posses a Coat of Arms regard it as no more than an interesting relic of an ancestral past; privately they may feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in the evidence of noble forbearers. However personal Heraldry is no longer indicative of class or privilege. The writer Stubbs has noted that in earlier times however “the coat armour of every house was a precious inheritance, which descended, under definite limitations and with distinct differences, to every member of the family: a man’s shield proved his gentle or noble birth, illustrated his pedigree, and put him on his honour not to disgrace the bearings which his noble progenitors had worn”. The Coat of Arms was the shrine of personal honor, as closely associated with its owner as own name, and a man was doubly disgraced if he suffered an armorial degradation. An armorial degradation was the stripping of ones Arms due to some heinous act. In the reign of Edward II, the two Lords Despenser were purposely dressed in their full coat of Armour before they were hanged, drawn and quartered.

The right to the exclusive use of a particular Coat of Arms was jealously guarded. When, in 1375, Sir Richard le Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor were found to be using the same Arms, Azure a bend or (A blue shield with a gold diagonal line), since pride prevented either of them from voluntarily relinquishing their Arms, Richard II decided that the dispute should be settled by a duel. Grosvener lost and had to change his Coat of Arms. He added a silver border to differentiate from those of le Scrope who complained that this change was insufficient. Grovesner then took for Arms a sheaf of wheat upon a blue shield Azure a garb or which was derived from the Arms of the old Earldom of Chester. The sheaf of wheat is still borne on the Arms of the Duke of Westminister.

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