National Arms, part 2

Enamel of Geoffrey Plantagenet


When dealing with National Arms and the countries that use them it is best to begin with the older European monarchies, since this is where the practice originated. Two in particular, The United Kingdom and Sweden merit special attention because when their historical development is examined many aspects of the emergence of National Arms become clear.

The earliest Coat of Arms found in existence to date is that of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, who was the father of King Henry II of England. The scribe Jean Rapicault relates the story of the count’s marriage to Princess Mathilda of England in 1127. When his royal father-in-law, King Henry I, bestowed the accolade upon him he hung a shield around his neck with gold lions on it. This very shield is clearly depicted on the enameled plate which was suspended above his tomb in Le Mans Cathedral in 1151(image above). The Chronique d’Ernoul refers to the Arms of the King of England in 1157, but unfortunately does not describe them. A shield does not appear on the seal of Henry II either. In 1189, however, the first Great Seal of Richard I, his son and successor, shows his mounted figure carrying a shield displaying a single lion rampant facing the sinister ( left ). Lions are particularly common among the Arms of the descendants of these early Plantagenets, and it is hard not to conclude that a lion Coat of Arms of some kind was used by King Henry II and by King Henry his grandfather before him.

Arms of Edward III
Lions could easily have been regarded as a royal emblem in the same way that the eagle represented the royal dignity. The Norwegian lion was adopted around the end of the 12th century, with the present form of the Coat of Arms coming into use in 1285. The lions of Denmark came into use in the 12th century also. In 1198 the second great Seal of Richard I of England displays three lions passant guardant which have remained the Arms of England ever since. The lion coat remained in use alone until 1340, when Edward III claimed the throne of France by right of his mother. To emphasize his claim on the Crown of France he quartered the Arms of France with those of England (image left); and thereby instituted an innovation, which was to endure for some centuries. His Successor Richard II, who placed himself under the patronage of Edward the Confessor, retained exactly the same arms but impaled this combined Coat of Arms with that posthumously attributed to his patron. This practice died with him. The succession of the Lancaster, York and Tudor sovereigns produced no more radical changes to the Arms other than a reduction of the number of fleur de lis to three. In addition to the shield the Royal Arms also include a crest and supporters. These took their present form at the beginning of the next century.

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