Three Lions

I’ve been struggling and failing to put together lots of bits for a grant application today; the deadline is tomorrow at 4pm so it looks like I’ll be working late tonight (either side of the England-Croatia World Cup semi-final). Anyway, having a short break for a cup of tea I decided to put up a short post about the `Three Lions’ symbol used by the England football team and it supporters.

You can study the evolution of this symbol in detail here is based on a design originally brought to England by Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou (in France), grant patriarch of the Angevin dynasty and father of Henry Plantagenet (who became Henry II of England). Geoffrey of Anjou’s emblem had six lions rather than three, and his son used designs with either one or two, but King Richard I and King John occasionally used versions with three lions and by the time of Henry III (who lived from 1216 to 1272) the Three Lions appeared on the Royal Coat of Arms pretty much as they are now:

En passant, in heraldic jargon this coat of arms is described Gules, three lions passant guardant Or. The objects shown in the centre of a coat of arms (i.e. the lions in this case) are called `charges’. `Gules’ is basically `red’ and `Or’ is yellow; `passant’ means `moving towards the viewer’s left’ and `guardant’ means `looking at the viewer’ – a lion passant would have its head facing the direction of motion.

Anyway, my point is that this symbol which is now taken to represent England was actually of Angevin origin and is really a French emblem. I don’t know for sure but I don’t think any of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings mentioned above could even speak English…

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8 Responses to “Three Lions”

  1. `passant’ means `moving towards the viewer’s left’ and `guardant’ means `looking at the viewer’ – a lion passant would have its head facing the direction of motion.

    Isn’t this a contradiction?

    • telescoper Says:

      No.

      • Please enlighten me. If it is moving to the viewer’s left and looking at the viewer, then it’s head is rotated to the left by 90 degrees relative to the direction in which it is walking.

        OK, now I get it. The head is not facing the direction in which the lion is moving, but rather the lion is moving to the left relative to the viewer and the head is looking to the left relative to the lion’s body. But these two lefts are at 90 degrees to each other.

        There is no royal road to geometry. 😐

      • telescoper Says:

        Try looking at the picture.

      • OK, “have its head facing the direction of motion” could mean, in this case, that the head is to the left of the body, rather than the right, rather than that it’s head is looking to the left of its body. But in the first sense that is always the case, unless the lion is walking backwards. 🙂

      • telescoper Says:

        If its head were facing backwards as is moved it would be passant regardant.

        To confuse matters even more – as if that were necessary – the terms for right (dexter) and left (sinister) sides of a coat of arms refer to the point of view of the person carrying the shield, rather than the viewer…

  2. “I don’t know for sure but I don’t think any of the Angevin or Plantagenet Kings mentioned above could even speak English”

    For that matter, the motto of the Monarch of the United Kingdom outside of Scotland is in French: Dieu et mon droit. And the motto of the Order of the Garter: Honi soit qui mal y pense. The latter also graces the entrance to Cafe Keese on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, which is a dance hall with the main purpose of being a meeting place for couples, made famous by the “ball paradox” in which women ask men to dance instead of vice versa. It also had telephones at the tables so that one could ring another guest. (Not ever having been inside, I just realized that “ball” here refers to a type of party, not to a spherical object. I was similarly puzzled (until I saw the film) by the title Monster’s Ball. Perhaps had I listened to more AC/DC I would have been more knowledgeable.)

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