Royal Arms of England

Royal Arms of England
(Arms of Plantagenet)
Royal Arms of England.svg
ArmigerMonarchs of England
AdoptedLate 12th century
BlazonGules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure
MottoDieu et mon droit
Order(s)Order of the Garter

The Royal Arms of England are the arms first adopted in a fixed form[1] at the start of the age of heraldry (circa 1200) as personal arms by the Plantagenet kings who ruled England from 1154.[2] In the popular mind they have come to symbolise the nation of England, although according to heraldic usage nations do not bear arms, only persons and corporations do.[3] The blazon of the Arms of Plantagenet is: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure,[4][5] signifying three identical gold lions (also known as leopards) with blue tongues and claws, walking past but facing the observer, arranged in a column on a red background. Although the tincture azure of tongue and claws is not cited in many blazons, they are historically a distinguishing feature of the Arms of England. This coat, designed in the High Middle Ages, has been variously combined with those of the Kings of France, Scotland, a symbol of Ireland, the House of Nassau and the Kingdom of Hanover, according to dynastic and other political changes occurring in England, but has not altered since it took a fixed form in the reign of Richard I (1189–1199), the second Plantagenet king.

Although in England the official blazon refers to "lions", French heralds historically used the term "leopard" to represent the lion passant guardant, and hence the arms of England, no doubt, are more correctly blazoned, "leopards". Without doubt the same animal was intended, but different names were given according to the position; in later times the name lion was given to both.[6]

Royal emblems depicting lions were first used by Danish Vikings,[7] Saxons (Lions were adopted in Germanic tradition around the 5th century,[8] they were re-interpreted in a Christian context in the western kingdoms of Gaul and Northern Italy in the 6th and 7th centuries) and Normans.[9][10][11] Later, with Plantagenets a formal and consistent English heraldry system emerged at the end of the 12th century. The earliest surviving representation of an escutcheon, or shield, displaying three lions is that on the Great Seal of King Richard I (1189–1199), which initially displayed one or two lions rampant, but in 1198 was permanently altered to depict three lions passant, perhaps representing Richard I's principal three positions as King of the English, Duke of the Normans, and Duke of the Aquitanians.[5][9][10][11] In 1340, Edward III laid claim to the throne of France, and thus adopted the Royal arms of France which he quartered with his paternal arms, the Royal Arms of England.[9] He placed the French arms in the 1st and 4th quarters. This quartering was adjusted, abandoned and restored intermittently throughout the Middle Ages as the relationship between England and France changed. When the French king altered his arms from semée of fleur-de-lys, to only three, the English quartering eventually followed suit. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland entered a personal union, the arms of England and Scotland were marshalled (combined) in what has now become the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.[12] It appears in a similar capacity to represent England in the Arms of Canada and on the Queen's Personal Canadian Flag.[13] The coat of three lions continues to represent England on several coins of the pound sterling, forms the basis of several emblems of English national sports teams[14][15] (although with altered tinctures) and endures as one of the most recognisable national symbols of England.[3]

When the Royal Arms are in the format of an heraldic flag, it is variously known as the Royal Banner of England,[16] the Banner of the Royal Arms,[17] the Banner of the King (Queen) of England,[18][19] or by the misnomer the Royal Standard of England.[note 1] This Royal Banner differs from England's national flag, the St George's Cross, in that it does not represent any particular area or land, but rather symbolises the sovereignty vested in the rulers thereof.[4]



The second Great Seal of King Richard the Lionheart (1189–1199) was the first Royal emblem of England to feature three lions
The three lions passants guardants or attributed to William I and his successors Henry I, Stephen, Henry II, John and Henry III by Matthew Paris in Historia Anglorum and Chronica Majora in the 1250s.

The first documented use of royal arms dates from the reign of Richard I (1189–1199). Much later antiquarians would retrospectively invented attributed arms for earlier kings, but their reigns pre-dated the systematisation of hereditary English heraldry that only occurred in the second half of the 12th century.[9] Lions may have been used as a badge by members of the Norman dynasty: a late-12th century chronicler reports that in 1128, Henry I of England knighted his son-in-law, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, and gave him a gold lion badge. The memorial enamel created to decorate Geoffrey's tomb depicts a blue coat of arms bearing gold lions. His son, Henry II (1133–1189) used a lion as his emblem, and based on the arms used by his sons and other relatives, he may have used a coat of arms with a single lion or two lions, though no direct testimony of this has been found.[21] His children experimented with different combinations of lions on their arms. Richard I (1189–1199) used a single lion rampant, or perhaps two lions affrontés, on his first seal,[5] but later used three lions passant in his 1198 Great Seal of England, and thus established the lasting design of the Royal Arms of England.[5][21] In 1177, his brother John had used a seal depicting a shield with two lions passant guardant, but when he succeeded his brother on the English throne he would adopt arms with three lions passant or on a field gules, and these were then used, unchanged, as the royal arms ('King's Arms') by him and his successors until 1340.[5]


In 1340, following the extinction of the House of Capet, Edward III claimed the French throne. In addition to initiating the Hundred Years' War, Edward III expressed his claim in heraldic form by quartering the royal arms of England with the Arms of France. This quartering continued until 1801, with intervals in 1360–1369 and 1420–1422.[5]

Following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the throne of England was inherited by the Scottish House of Stuart, resulting in the Union of the Crowns: the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland were united in a personal union under James VI and I.[22] As a consequence, the Royal Arms of England and Scotland were combined in the king's new personal arms. Nevertheless, although referencing the personal union with Scotland and Ireland, the Royal Arms of England remained distinct from the Royal Arms of Scotland, until the two realms were joined in a political union in 1707, leading to a unified Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom.[12]

Kingdom of England
(Under personal union with the Kingdom of Scotland from 1603–1707)
Escutcheon Period Description
Richard I 1st seal.png
1189–1198 The arms of Richard I are only known from two armorial seals, and hence the tinctures can not be determined. His First Great Seal showed one lion on half of the shield. It is debated whether this was meant to represent two lions combatant or a single lion, and if the latter, whether the direction in which the lion is facing is relevant or simply an artistic liberty. A simple lion rampant is most likely.[23]
Royal Arms of England.svg
The arms on the second Great Seal of Richard I, used by his successors until 1340: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or (Three golden lions on a red field, representing the ruler of the Kingdom of England, Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine).[5][9]
Royal Arms of England (1340-1367).svg
Edward III adopted the Royal Arms of France Azure semé of fleurs de lys or (powdering of fleurs-de-lis on a blue field) – representing his claim to the French throne - and quartered the Royal Arms of England.
Royal Arms of England (1395-1399).svg
1395–1399 Richard II adopted the attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor which he impaled with the Royal Arms of England, denoting a mystical union.
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg
1406–1422 Henry IV abandoned the attributed arms of King Edward the Confessor, and reduced the fleurs-de-lis to three, in imitation of Charles VI of France.[9][24]
Royal Arms of England (1470-1471).svg
Henry VI impaled the arms of France with those of England, symbolising the dual monarchy.
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg
Edward IV restored the arms of Henry IV.[24]
Royal Arms of England (1554-1558).svg
1554–1558 Mary I and Philip impaled their arms. Philip's arms were: A. Arms quarterly Castile and Leon, B. per pale Aragon and Aragon-Sicily, the whole enté en point Granada; in base quarterly Austria, Burgundy ancient, Burgundy modern and Brabant, with an escutcheon (in the nombril point) per pale Flanders and Tyrol.[9][24] Although Queen Mary I's father, King Henry VIII, assumed the title of King of Ireland and this was further conferred upon King Philip, the arms were not altered to feature the Kingdom of Ireland.
Arms of Philip II of Spain as Monarch of Milan (1554-1558).svg As sovereigns of Milan, Mary and Philip added an escutcheon of the Duchy of Milan used since the time of the Sforza: It presented the Biscione, an azure serpent in the act of consuming a human, showing in argent and quartering with the Imperial eagle (the earlier single-headed) on a shield or. The order in what are shown the English and French arms on English quarters is altered respect the usual due to French Claims to the Duchy.[25]
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg
1558–1603 Elizabeth I restored the arms of Henry IV.[9]
Royal Arms of England (1603-1707).svg
James I inherited the English throne in 1603, establishing a union with Scotland, and quartered the Royal Arms of England with those of Scotland. The Royal Arms of Ireland was added to represent the Kingdom of Ireland. Last used by Anne, this was the final version of the Royal Arms of England before being subsumed into the Royal Arms of Great Britain.[9][24]
Royal Arms of England (1689-1694).svg
1689–1694 James II was deposed and replaced with his daughter Mary II and son-in-law and nephew William III. As co-monarchs, they impaled their arms: William bore the Royal Arms with the addition of an escutcheon of Nassau (the royal house to which William belonged): Azure billetty or, a lion rampant of the last armed and langued gules, while Mary bore the Royal Arms undifferenced.[26]
Royal Arms of England (1694-1702).svg
1694–1702 After the death of Mary II, William III reigned alone, and used his arms only.[9]
Royal Arms of England (1603-1707).svg
1702–1707 Anne inherited the throne upon the death of William III, and the Royal Arms returned to the 1603 version.[9]

Union with Scotland and Ireland

The Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom as used by Queen Elizabeth II from 1953 contains that of England in the first and fourth quarters

On 1 May 1707, the kingdoms of England and Scotland were merged to form that of Great Britain; this was reflected by impaling their arms in a single quarter. The claim to the French throne continued, albeit passively, until it was mooted by the French Revolution and the formation of the French First Republic in 1792.[5] During the peace negotiations at the Conference of Lille, from July to November 1797, the French delegates demanded that the King of Great Britain abandon the title of King of France as a condition of peace. The Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Under King George III of the United Kingdom, a proclamation of 1 January 1801 set the royal style and titles and modified the Royal Arms, removing the French quarter and putting the arms of England, Scotland and Ireland on the same structural level, with the dynastic arms of Hanover moved to an inescutcheon.[5]

Kingdom of Great Britain (and later, of Great Britain and Ireland)
Escutcheon Period Description
Royal Arms of Great Britain (1707-1714).svg
1707–1714 The impaled arms of England and Scotland reflecting their merging into one kingdom of "Great Britain".
Royal Arms of Great Britain (1714-1801).svg
1714–1801 The English and Scottish lions in the 4th quarter were replaced with a set of arms showing the origins of the House of Hanover as a result of the Act of Settlement.
Royal Arms of United Kingdom (1801-1816).svg
1801–1816 The arms showing the status of the constituent realms of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland and Ireland. The Hanoverian dynastic arms have been moved to an inescutcheon with an electoral bonnet.
Royal Arms of United Kingdom (1816-1837).svg
1816–1837 The arms showing Hanover raised to the status of a kingdom after the Napoleonic wars.
Arms of the United Kingdom.svg
1837–present The Hanoverian dynastic arms have been dropped on the accession of Queen Victoria. As Hanover followed the salic law, she could not accede to the throne of Hanover.


English heraldry flourished as a working art up to around the 17th century, when it assumed a mainly ceremonial role.[5] The Royal Arms of England continued to embody information relating to English history.[5] Although the Acts of Union 1707 placed England within the Kingdom of Great Britain, prompting new, British Royal Arms, the Royal Arms of England are still used occasionally in an official capacity,[27] and has continued to endure as one of the national symbols of England,[3] and has a variety of active uses. For instance, the coats of arms of both The Football Association[14][28] and the England and Wales Cricket Board[29] have a design featuring three lions passant, based on the historic Royal Arms of England. In 1997 (and again in 2002), the Royal Mint issued a British one pound (£1) coin featuring three lions passant to represent England.[30] To celebrate St George's Day, in 2001, Royal Mail issued first– and second-class postage stamps with the Royal Crest of England (a crowned lion), and the Royal Arms of England (three lions passant) respectively.[31]

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