Royal Beasts – history challenge 2

James VI of Scotland and James I of England, Royal Arms in Edinburgh Castle

It’s Friday already! it’s time to consider the royal beasts that can be found on armorial bearing down the centuries – in particular the supporters. The idea of having two armorial supporters- one on either side of a shield of arms is usually credited to medieval engravers with a space to fill in a circular seal according to H Stanford London in 1953.

The lion of England is first recorded in evidence during the reign of Henry I when his daughter Matilda married her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou from whom the Plantagenets are descended. From that time onwards lions appear on royal shields including that of William Longespée or Long Sword, Earl of Salisbury who was one of Henry I’s illegitimate sons.

It was probably during the time of Henry II that the two lions of the Conqueror were invented so that when he married Eleanor of Aquitaine – the lion of Aquitaine could be added to the royal coat of arms. Normandy had two leopards rather than lions.

Lithograph by Edward Bawden

Edward III reigned from 1322 until 1377. The beast most closely associated with him is the griffin as it was engraved on his private seal. It represented the qualities of guardianship and vigilance – so a polite statement that Edward III was in charge and caring for his country unlike his deposed father Edward II or mother Isabella of France.

Another of the beasts linked to Edward III on display during the coronation was the falcon and the fetterlock which was also associated with Richard II and both houses of York and Lancaster. Later Elizabeth of York used it as her badge as had her brother Richard, Duke of York. Another Tudor is also associated with the falcon – Elizabeth I- but hers is crowned and sceptred. It is a direction reference to her mother who used the falcon as her badge.

Richard II chose a white hart as his personal badge. It has links with his mother, Joan of Kent’s, white hind badge and is also a pun on Richard’s name. The white hart was not one of the royal beasts on display at the coronation in 1953 and given what happen to Richard II, it’s probably not surprising.

Henry IV and his son Henry V included a white swan amongst their armorial beasts – Henry IV’s wife and the mother of his children was the heiress Mary deBohun. The swan in question usually has a crown round its neck from which a chain is attached. Another Bohun beast to make into the royal stable was the white antelope but neither of these beasts featured as part of the display for the queen’s coronation.

Henry VI’s armorial bearings were the first English monarch’s to use supporters. They were a pair of de Bohun antelope such as can be seen on the gateway of Eton College which Henry VI founded. He also made use of the heraldic panther or panther incensed – i.e. with flames coming out of it’s ears and mouth. The panther is of course the third of the three heraldic moggies – lions, leopards and panthers. There were no panthers flaming or otherwise on display in Westminster in 1953. Presumably because its not a good auspice to be reminded of a king with mental health issues whose rule, though long, resulted in a bloody civil war ending by the monarch in question being bumped off whilst at prayer in the Tower.

Edward IV’s lion supporter isn’t actually the lion of England – it’s actually the badge of the Earls of March – the white lion. Unlike the lion of England the white lion of Mortimer is not depicted with a crown and it is always shown sitting with it’s tail curled between its legs – in fact it looks a bit like a dog begging. It made it on to the list of 10 coronation beasts unlike the black dragon of Ulster which he also used as a personal badge on occasion.

Black Bull of Clarence at Greenwich

Edward IV also made use of the black bull of Clarence or Clare which was another of the Queen’s royal beasts in 1953. He was making a statement about his claim to the throne in the use of these two supporters which belonged to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March and Lionel Duke of Clarence respectively. Lionel was the elder of the royal brothers and so it was work who should have inherited the throne rather than Lancaster which was descended from John of Gaunt. The black bull continued in use as a royal beast until 1603.

Richard III is famous for his use of a white boar.

Meanwhile the Tudors introduced some new species to the proceedings. Margaret Beaufort is often associated with the emblem of the portcullis but she also used the yale as a personal badge. The yale is a bit like a cross between a goat and an antelope – clearly mythical! Margaret’s is silver with golden spots. Mane, hoofs, horns and tusks are also gold. Interestingly the yale turned up earlier as a supporter for John of Bedford’s arms (Henry V’s brother famous for incinerating Joan of Arc.) This suggests that the yale was more antelope than goat as it would have had a link to the de Bohun antelope. When the earldom of Kendal was passed to the Beaufort earls of Somerset after Bedford’s death in 1435 the yale passed with the title into the Beaufort family.

Next we have the white greyhound of Richmond which reflects Henry Tudor’s title of Earl of Richmond inherited from his father Edmund.

The greyhound is swiftly followed by the red dragon of Wales because as followers of the History Jar know, Henry VII saw himself as the descendant of King Arthur – or at least that’s what he tried to convince his subjects in order to steer them away from the fact that he took his crown on the battlefield and that his wife Elizabeth of York was actually the person most people regarded as royal.

Mary Tudor chose an eagle as one of her armorial supporters but it’s not one of the coronation beasts in 1953 – again no doubt because of the unfortunate life of the monarch in question.

With the Stuarts the royal arms acquired the unicorn and the pairing of the lion and the unicorn as supporters of the royal arms with which we are all familiar.

And finally – the white horse of Hanover which has never been a supporter of the Royal Arms and is not often listed as a royal beast but which none the less made it into the ten royal beasts identified in 1953.

The Queen’s beasts on display in Canada (Wikipedia)