Today is a big day for English football. England face Italy in the final of the Euros this evening. What is this blog’s botanical connection? No, not the Poaceae on the pitch, although undoubtedly the famous Wembley turf will play a big role. Much talk centres on the famous 3 lions, but little mention is made of the accompanying 10 red roses. Plant blindness strikes again.
Origin of 3 Lions
Let’s get the zoology out of the way first. England’s 3 symbolic lions go back one thousand years in heraldry. The king of beasts is associated with courage, nobility, royalty, strength, stateliness and valour. The first lion appeared on the coat of arms of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror. When he married Adeliza of Louvain, he added the lion from his father-in-law’s coat of arms. Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her family also had a lion on their coat of arms. Their son Richard the Lionheart adopted all three lions on his banner during the Crusades.
The attitude of the lion is also significant in heraldry. The 3 English lions face outwards in a walking position. The position is known as lion passant guardant. French heraldry describes a leopard rather than a lion. Should we really be referring to 3 leopards on the England shirt?
The Football Association first adopted the so-called 3 lions on English football shirts in 1872. The match against Scotland is officially recognised as the first-ever international. Unfortunately, it finished 0-0 as in the recent Euros’ group match.
The lions have remained on the England badge since that time. The lions have changed. The Football Association chose to amend the lions to reflect diversity in the game. The first lion is now accompanied by a lioness and a cub to denote all levels of the game from the grass roots up.
The focus on the 3 lions overlooks the presence of roses on the England badge. There are 10 heraldic roses. The 10 roses were introduced in 1948-9 to represent the 10 divisions of Football Association members.
From War to Peace
Roses also have strong historic and heraldic associations in England. Their significance traces back to the Wars of the Roses (1455-87). The Tudor Rose united the respective white and red roses of the House of York and House of Lancaster in peace (see below).
You will notice that the above stylised roses are more open, old-fashioned roses than modern, highly-cultivated roses with multiple petals. The Apothecary’s Rose or Rosa gallica was the first cultivated rose. Its five petals were the basis for the heraldic red Rose of Lancaster. The rose was traditionally used to treat wounds and inflammation. It has also had many other uses down the ages. Perhaps its reputed ability to sense of euphoria may be appropriate tonight?
Thus, the combined zoological and botanical symbolism of the badge denotes both courage in battle and peace. Let’s hope for a game that is well- but fairly-fought against the Italians. There will be many outstanding stars on both sides this evening.
The famous blue shirts of the Azzurri do not bear any zoological or botanical symbolism. The Italian club Juventus were the first team to introduce stars onto their shirts to represent their achievements. The Italian national team has 4 stars; the England team has just one star denoting the famous 1966 Word Cup win. Let’s hope an extra star can be added to the 3 lions and 10 roses after tonight.
References and Further Reading
- Boudreau, Claire (2008): Ce lion appellé léopard… mais seulement en français! L’Ancêtre No. 282, Volume 34, Spring 2008. pp. 251-2.
- Finnis, Alex (2021): Why are there three lions on a shirt? Origins, history and meaning behind the England badge. 9 July 2021
- TalkSPORT (2018): Why do England wear three lions on their shirt? 10 July 2018
- UST Medicinal Garden (?): Rosa gallica officinalis, Apothecary Rose
- UTalkMarketing.com (2009): How the FA found inspiration from the 1100’s for its iconic crest. Case Studies. 12 March 2009
- Wikipedia (2021): Lion (heraldry)
- Wikipedia (2021): Red Rose of Lancaster
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.
© Karen Andrews