We have seen the badge of the ‘Three Lions’ of England rather a lot lately. And for those of us following the World Cup in Africa and the English football team in particular, it hasn’t been in very good circumstances. So I was interested to read of the discovery of a 700 year old version of this badge by archeologist Caroline Rann.
The 3 inch copper badge with three lions clearly engraved on it was found lodged in a medieval stone wall in Parkside, Coventry. It is thought to date back to the 13th century and clearly shows the Coat of Arms of England.
Caroline Rann, a field archaeologist with Warwickshire County Council’s Archaeology Projects Group, found the emblem - believed to be part of a horse harness - ahead of a building project. The archaeologist said: "The badge was lodged between the sandstone blocks and may have fallen or slipped between the cracks while it was being built. The archaeologists were working on behalf of Provision for the Christian Life Ministries at Parkside in Coventry, as part of the planning process ahead of work to build a church.
"This has been hidden for hundreds of years and for it to appear now has to be a sign that England will go all the way in the World Cup!" said Nicholas Palmer, the principal field archaeologist at the Warwickshire Museum. The partially corroded badge is still being assessed and catalogued, but it is said to not be worth a huge amount of money. Mr. Palmer said the three lions symbol was very popular at the time the badge was made.
Patrick Barr as Richard the Lionheart
Since I found the reports of this discovery, I have been trying to find out a little more about the history behind the heraldic badge of England. We have seen the three lions clearly displayed on the coat of arms and costumes in portrayals of Richard the Lionheart for many years, including Patrick Barr in Disney’s Story of Robin Hood (1952) and Sean Connery in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
Sean Connery as Richard the Lionheart
In the brief time I have had to research this, it appears that historical evidence is rather scarce on how the heraldic emblem of ‘the three lions’ first evolved. But it seems the origins of the heraldic lion that has come to be used as the symbol of the English, arose during the period when the English were under the rule of the Normans after the Conquest of 1066. In medieval Europe, royalty and knights were identified by their heraldic crests. The lion crest was popular in France and Normandy. It represented ferocity and bravery in battle and it seems the first known example of a Royal Coat of Arms in England, was that of the House of Plantagenet and the reign of Henry II (1183-1189) which was a golden lion ‘rampant’ (rearing up) on a red background.
His son Richard I (1157-1199) when he came to the throne, originally used his personal arms of two golden lions ‘combatant’ on a red field, this was the arms of the Dukes of Normandy (a title held by Richard). Richard’s mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine used one gold lion on a red background and in the last year of his reign, 1198 (our first certain date) it seems Richard combined the two crests for his Second Great Seal, to form the three golden lions (Gules three lions passant guardant ) for his kingdom of England. This was probably after he inherited his mother’s territories of Aquitaine and Poitou. The 'three lions' continued to be used for his brother John, Henry III, Edward I, and Edward II.
Richard I (the Lionheart)
It seems we could do with Richard the Lionheart and his legendary Plantagenet temper this week in the England teams changing room, to get those overpaid young footballers who wear his legendary crest, fired-up and playing with a bit more spirit!