Heraldic Lion (Part I)

The following text is from A.C. Fox-Davies, A Complete Guide to Heraldry (1909, 172–192) and presents an excellent discussion on use and style of the lion in European heraldry.

Heraldic art without the lion would not amount to very much, for no figure plays such an important or such an extensive part in armory as the lion, in one or other of its various positions. These present-day positions are the results of modern differentiation, arising from the necessity of a larger number of varying coats of arms; but there can be little doubt that in early times the majority of these positions did not exist, having been gradually evolved, and that originally the heraldic animal was just “a lion.” The shape of the shield was largely a governing factor in the manner in which we find it depicted; the old artists, with a keener artistic sense than is evidenced in so many later examples of heraldic design, endeavoured to fill up as large a proportion of the space available as was possible, and consequently when only one lion was to be depicted upon the shield they very naturally drew the animal in an upright position, this being the one most convenient and adaptable for their purpose. Probably their knowledge of natural history was very limited, and this upright position would seem to them the most natural, and probably was the only one they knew; at any rate, at first it is almost the only position to be found. A curious commentary upon this may be deduced from the head-covering of Geoffrey of Anjou (Fig. 28), which shows a lion. This lion is identically of the form and shape of the lions rampant upon the shield, but from the nature of the space it occupies, is what would now be termed statant; but there is at the same time no such alteration in the relative position of the limbs as would now be required. This would seem to indicate very clearly that there was but the one stereotyped pattern of a lion, which answered all their purposes, and that our fore-runners applied that one pattern to the spaces they desired to decorate.Geoffrey of Anjou

Early heraldry, however, when the various positions came into recognised use, soon sought to impose this definite distinction, that the lion could only be depicted erect in the rampant position, and that an animal represented to be walking must therefore be a leopard from the very position which it occupied. This, however, was a distinction known only to the more pedantic heralds, and found greatest favour amongst the French; but we find in Glover’s Roll, which is a copy of a roll originally drawn up about the year 1250, that whilst he gives lions to six of the English earls, he commences with “le Roy d’Angleterre porte, Gules, trois lupards d’or.” On the other hand, the monkish chronicler John of Harmoustier in Touraine (a contemporary writer) relates that when Henry I. chose Geoffrey, son of Foulk, Earl of Anjou, Touraine, and Main, to be his son-in-law, by marrying him to his only daughter and heir, Maud the Empress, and made him knight; after the bathing and other solemnities (pedes ejus solutaribus in superficie Leonculos aureos habentibus muniuntur), boots embroidered with golden lions were drawn on his legs, and also that (Clypeus Leonculos aureos imaginarios habens collo ejus suspenditur) a shield with lions of gold therein was hung about his neck.

It is, therefore, evident that the refinement of distinction between a lion and a leopard was not of the beginning; it is a later addition to the earlier simple term of lion. This distinction having been invented by French heralds, and we taking so much of our heraldry, our language, and our customs from France, adopted, and to a certain extent used, this description of lions passant as “leopards.” There can be no doubt, however, that the lions passant guardant upon the English shield have always been represented as lions, no matter what they may have been called, and the use of the term leopard in heraldry to signify a certain position for the lion never received any extensive sanction, and has long since become obsolete in British armory. In French blazon, however, the old distinction is still observed, and it is curious to observe that on the coins of the Channel Islands the shield of arms distinctly shows three leopards. The French lion is our lion rampant, the French leopard is our lion passant guardant, whilst they term our lion passant a léopard-lionné, and our lion rampant guardant is their lion-léopardé.

A lion rampant and any other beast of prey is usually represented in heraldry with the tongue and claws of a different colour from the animal. If it is not itself gules, its tongue and claws are usually represented as of that colour, unless the lion be on a field of gules. They are then represented azure, the term being “armed and langued” of such and such a colour. It is not necessary to mention that a lion is “armed and langued” in the blazon when tongue and claws are emblazoned in gules, but whenever any other colour is introduced for the purpose it is better that it should be specified. Outside British heraldry a lion is always supposed to be rampant unless otherwise specifically described. The earliest appearance of the lions in the arms of any member of the Royal Family in England would appear to be the seal of King John when he was Prince and before he ascended the throne. This seal shows his arms to be two lions passant. The English Royal crest, which originated with Richard I., is now always depicted as a lion statant guardant. There can be no doubt, however, that this guardant attitude is a subsequent derivation from the position of the lions on the shield, when heraldry was ceasing to be actual and becoming solely pictorial. We find in the case of the crest of Edward the Black Prince, now suspended over his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, that the lion upon the chapeau looks straight forward over the front of the helm (see Fig. 271).

Shield, helmet, and crest of Edward the Black Prince, suspended over his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

Fig 271. Shield, helmet, and crest of Edward the Black Prince, suspended over his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

Fig. 272

Fig. 272

Another ancient rule belonging to the same period as the controversy between leopards and lions was that there cannot be more than one lion upon a shield, and this was one of the great arguments used to determine that the charges on the Royal Arms of England must be leopards and not lions. It was admitted as a rule of British armory to a limited extent, viz., that when two or more lions rampant appeared upon the same shield, unless combatant, they were always formerly described as lioncels. Thus the arms of Bohun are: “Azure, a bend argent, cottised between six lioncels rampant or.” British heraldry has, however, long since disregarded any such rule (if any definite rule ever really existed upon the point), though curiously enough in the recent grant of arms to the town of Warrington the animals are there blazoned six “lioncels.”

The artistic evolution of the lion rampant can be readily traced in the examples and explanations which follow, but, as will be understood, the employment in the case of some of these models cannot strictly be said to be confined within a certain number of years, though the details and periods given are roughly accurate, and sufficiently so to typify the changes which have occurred.

Until perhaps the second half of the thirteenth century the body of the lion appears straight upright, so that the head, the trunk, and the left hind-paw fall into the angle of the shield. The left fore-paw is horizontal, the right fore- and the right hind-paw are placed diagonally (or obliquely) upwards (Fig. 272). The paws each end in three knobs, similar to a clover-leaf, out of which the claws come forth. The fourth or inferior toes appeared in heraldry somewhat later. The jaws are closed or only very slightly opened, without the tongue being visible. The tail is thickened in the middle with a bunch of longer hair and is turned down towards the body.

Fig 273

Fig 273

In the course of the period lasting from the second half of the thirteenth to the second half of the fourteenth centuries, the right hind-paw sinks lower until it forms a right angle with the left. The mouth grows pointed, and in the second half of the period the tongue becomes visible. The tail also shows a knot near its root (Fig. 273).

Fig 274

Fig 274

In examples taken from the second half of the fourteenth century and the fifteenth century the lion’s body is no longer placed like a pillar, but lays its head back to the left so that the right fore-paw falls into an oblique upward line with the trunk. The toes are lengthened, appearing almost as fingers, and spread out from one another; the tail, adorned with flame-like bunches of hair, strikes outwards and loses the before-mentioned knot, which only remains visible in a forked tail (queue-fourché). The jaws grow deep and are widely opened, and the breast rises and expands under the lower jaw (Fig. 274).

Lions of peculiar virility and beauty appear upon a fourteenth-century banner which shows the arms of the family of Talbot, Earls of Shrewsbury: Gules, a lion rampant within a bordure engrailed or, quartered with the arms of Strange: Argent, two lions passant in pale gules, armed and langued azure. Fig. 275 gives the lower half of the banner which was published in colours in the Catalogue of the Heraldic Exhibition in London, 1894.

Fig. 275.—Arms of Strange and Talbot. (From a design for a banner.)

Fig. 275.—Arms of Strange and Talbot. (From a design for a banner.)

Fig. 276 is an Italian coat of arms of the fourteenth century, and shows a lion of almost exactly the same design, except the paws are here rendered somewhat more heraldically. The painting (azure, a lion rampant argent) served as an “Ex libris,” and bears the inscription “Libe accusacionum mey p. he …” (The remainder has been cut away. It is reproduced from Warnecke’s “German Bookplates,” 1890.)

Fig. 276

Fig. 276

When we come to modern examples of lions, it is evident that the artists of the present day very largely copy lions which are really the creations of, or adaptations from, the work of their predecessors. The lions of the late Mr. Forbes Nixon, as shown in Fig. 277, which were specially drawn by him at my request as typical of his style, are respectively as follows:—

A winged lion passant coward. A lion rampant regardant. A lion rampant queue-fourché. A lion passant crowned. A lion passant. A lion rampant. A lion rampant to the sinister. A lion passant guardant, ducally gorged. A lion statant guardant, ducally crowned. A lion rampant. A lion statant guardant. A lion sejant guardant erect. Lions drawn by Mr. Scruby will be found in Figs. 278 and 279, which are respectively: “Argent, a lion rampant sable,” “Sable, a lion passant guardant argent,” and “Sable, a lion rampant argent.” These again were specially drawn by Mr. Scruby as typical of his style.

Fig. 277

Fig. 277

Discussion of Lions Continues: The Heraldic Lion (Part II)

Originally posted 2015-01-31 17:36:39.

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Heraldic Lion (Part II)

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