Emblems and Mascots of Rulers:
Heraldic Lions of the Kings of England

Heraldic Roll Commissioned by the Fitton Family. Cheshire, England, late 16th century.
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This spectacular 20 foot-long heraldic roll was commissioned to enhance the pedigree of the Fittons of Gawsworth, a family whose fortunes were on the rise - they were knighted in 1566 and would be made baronets in 1617; the last member named, Mary Fitton (1578-1647), was to become a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth, and “the Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets, while her brother was Treasurer of Ireland. According to this genealogical tree, the Fittons are related to the Earls of Northumberland and via them to the royal house of Plantagenet and to William the Conqueror. This fantasy was made possible by the marriage of Sir Edward Fitton of Gawsworth (1500-1553), High Sheriff of Cheshire, with Mary Harbottle, daughter of Guiscard Harbottle of Northumberland, himself the son of Margaret Percy. This Margaret Percy was the great-grand-daughter of Lord Marshall Henry Percy (1341-1408), who was the son of Mary of Lancaster and thus the great-great-grandson of King Henry III of England. Indeed, the rich heraldic material includes the “three golden lions on a red background” of the Kings of England, adopted by their cousins the Earls of Lancaster (with the addition of a label of three points azure, each point charged with three fleur-de-lys or). Richard the Lion-heart had been the first to use three lions for his seal, and the ambitious family from Gawsworth, in the County of Chester, incorporated them into their coat of arms.

In heraldry, a lion walking past (passant) and having its face turned towards the spectator (guardant) is normally called a leopard. The problem, the historian Michel Pastoureau explains, was that, while the lion became the king of animals, the “leopard” became increasingly viewed as synonymous with “bad lion” in the late Middle Ages. Scholars pointed to Pliny the Elder, according to whom the leopard was a bastard, a cross between the lecherous female lion and the cunning male panther. For that reason, heralds after 1360 preferred to describe the arms of the Kings and Queens of England as Gules [= On a red field] three lions passant guardant in pale or [yellow] armed and langued azure [with blue claws and tongue]. They still symbolize England and its monarchs today.

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