The fleur-de-lis or fleur-de-lys (plural: fleurs-de-lis)[pron 1] is a stylized lily (in French, fleur means "flower", and lis means "lily") or iris that is used as a decorative design or symbol. It may be "at one and the same time, religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic", especially in French heraldry.
- 1 Usages
- 2 Earliest usage
- 3 Royal symbol
- 4 Other continents
- 5 Coats of arms and flags
- 6 Symbolism in religion and art
- 7 Architecture
- 8 Modern usage
- 9 In literature
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
While the fleur-de-lis has appeared on countless European coats of arms and flags over the centuries, it is particularly associated with the French monarchy in a historical context, and continues to appear in the arms of the King of Spain (from the French House of Bourbon dynasty) and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and members of the House of Bourbon. It remains an enduring symbol of France that appears on French postage stamps, although it has never been adopted officially by any of the French republics. According to French historian Georges Duby, the three petals represent the medieval social classes: those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed.
In France it is widely used in city emblems like in the coat of arms of the city of Lille, Saint-Denis, Brest, Clermont-Ferrand, Boulogne-Billancourt and Calais. Some cities that had been particularly faithful to the Crown were awarded an heraldic augmentation of two or three fleurs-de-lis on the chief of their coat of arms; such cities include Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Reims, Le Havre, Angers, Le Mans, Aix-en-Provence, Tours, Limoges, Amiens, Orléans, Rouen, Argenteuil, Poitiers, Chartres and Laon among others. The fleur-de-lis was the symbol of Île-de-France, the core of the French kingdom. It appeared on the coat-of-arms of other historical provinces of France, like Burgundy, Anjou, Picardy, Berry, Orléanais, Bourbonnais, Maine, Touraine, Artois, Dauphiné, Saintonge and the County of La Marche. Many of the current departments use the ancient symbol on their coats to express this heritage.
In Italy, the fleur de lis, called fiordaliso or giglio is mainly known as the crest of the city of Florence. In the Florentine fleurs-de-lis,[f] the stamens are always posed between the petals. Originally argent (silver or white) on gules (red) background, the emblem became the standard of the imperial party in Florence (parte ghibellina), causing the town government, which maintained a staunch Guelph stance, being strongly opposed to the imperial pretensions on city states, to reverse the color pattern to the final gules lily on argent background. This heraldic charge is often known as the Florentine lily to distinguish it from the conventional (stamen-not-shown) design. As an emblem of the city, it is therefore found in icons of its patron saint, Zenobius. Several towns subjugated by Florence or founded within the territory of the Florentine Republic adopted some kind of florentine lily in their crests. The currency of Florence, the fiorino, was also decorated with it, hence the name.
The heraldic fleur-de-lis is still widespread: among the numerous cities which use it as a symbol are some whose names echo the word 'lily', for example, Liljendal, Finland, and Lelystad, Netherlands. This is called canting arms in heraldic terminology. Other European examples of municipal coats-of-arms bearing the fleur-de-lis include Lincoln in England, Morcín in Spain, Wiesbaden in Germany, Skierniewice in Poland and Jurbarkas in Lithuania. The Swiss municipality of Schlieren and the Estonian municipality of Jõelähtme also have a fleur-de-lis on their coats.
In Malta, the town of Santa Venera has three red fleurs-de-lis on its flag and coat of arms. These were derived from a gate which was part of the Wignacourt Aqueduct that had three sculpted fleurs-de-lis on top, as they were the heraldic symbols of Alof de Wignacourt, the Grandmaster who financed its building. Another suburb which developed around the area became known as Fleur-de-Lys, and it also features a red fleur-de-lis on its flag and coat of arms.
The coat of arms of the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia contained six fleurs-de-lis, understood as the native Bosnian or Golden Lily, Lilium bosniacum. This emblem was revived in 1992 as a national symbol of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and was the flag of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1998. The state insignia were changed in 1999 on request of two other ethnic groups (Serbs and Croats). The former flag of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina contains a fleur-de-lis alongside the Croatian chequy. Fleurs also appear in the flags and arms of many cantons, municipalities, cities and towns. It is still used as official insignia of the Bosniak Regiment of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the United Kingdom, a fleur-de-lis has appeared in the official arms of the Norroy King of Arms for hundreds of years. A silver fleur-de-lis on a blue background is the arms of the Barons Digby.
Fleurs-de-lis appear on military insignia and the logos of many organizations. During the 20th century the symbol was adopted by various Scouting organizations worldwide for their badges. Architects and designers use it alone and as a repeated motif in a wide range of contexts, from ironwork to bookbinding, especially where a French context is implied.
The fleur de lis is widely thought to be a stylized version of the species Iris pseudacorus, or Iris florentina. Decorative ornaments that resemble the fleur-de-lis have appeared in artwork from the earliest human civilizations. According to Pierre-Augustin Boissier de Sauvages, an 18th-century French naturalist and lexicographer:
The old fleurs-de-lis, especially the ones found in our first kings' sceptres, have a lot less in common with ordinary lilies than the flowers called flambas [in Occitan], or irises, from which the name of our own fleur-de-lis may derive. What gives some colour of truth to this hypothesis that we already put forth, is the fact that the French or Franks, before entering Gaul itself, lived for a long time around the river named Leie in the Flanders. Nowadays, this river is still bordered with an exceptional number of irises —as many plants grow for centuries in the same places—: these irises have yellow flowers, which is not a typical feature of lilies but fleurs-de-lis. It was thus understandable that our kings, having to choose a symbolic image for what later became a coat of arms, set their minds on the iris, a flower that was common around their homes, and is also as beautiful as it was remarkable. They called it, in short, the fleur-de-lis, instead of the flower of the river of lis. This flower, or iris, looks like our fleur-de-lis not just because of its yellow colour but also because of its shape: of the six petals, or leaves, that it has, three of them are alternatively straight and meet at their tops. The other three on the opposite, bend down so that the middle one seems to make one with the stalk and only the two ones facing out from left and right can clearly be seen, which is again similar with our fleurs-de-lis, that is to say exclusively the one from the river Luts whose white petals bend down too when the flower blooms.
The heraldist François Velde is of the same opinion.
However, a hypothesis ventured in the 17th c. sounds very plausible to me. One species of wild iris, the Iris pseudacorus, yellow flag in English, is yellow and grows in marshes (cf. the azure field, for water). Its name in German is Lieschblume (also gelbe Schwertlilie), but Liesch was also spelled Lies and Leys in the Middle Ages. It is easy to imagine that, in Northern France, the Lieschblume would have been called "fleur-de-lis." This would explain the name and the formal origin of the design, as a stylized yellow flag. There is a fanciful legend about Clovis which links the yellow flag explicitly with the French coat of arms.
It has consistently been used as a royal emblem, though different cultures have interpreted its meaning in varying ways. Gaulish coins show the first Western designs which look similar to modern fleurs-de-lis. In the East it was found on the gold helmet of a Scythian king (illustration) uncovered at the Ak-Burun kurgan and conserved in Saint Petersburg's Hermitage Museum.
There is also a statue of Kanishka the Great, the emperor of the Kushan dynasty in 127–151 AD, in the Mathura Museum in India, with four modern Fleurs-de-lis symbols in a square emblem repeated twice on the bottom end of his smaller sword.
Another (debated) hypothesis is that the symbol derives from the Frankish Angon. The angon, or sting, was a typical Frankish throwing spear.
A possibly derived symbol of Frankish royalty was the bee, of similar shape, as found in the burial of Childric I, whose royal see of power over the Salian Franks was based over the valley of the Lys.
A more obscure origin from its common Germanic cultural background could tie it to the symbol of the Danish Royal House too, as suggested in many ancient legends or epic folk tradition as the Eddas or Beowulf, which refer to the arrival from sea of a child-king to inherit the realm, Scyld or Beow, with only a sheaf of corn as emblem - as centuries later the Plantagenets would be represented -, all probably derived from ancestral fertility allegories and symbols of the arrival of corn (in the shape of a sheaf of wheat or rather, barley) in the human form of a child, (Beow as 'Boy' or baby-bubble 'grain to grow') to Germanic prehistoric people before agriculture bringing a new age of prosperity rebirth.
A 9th-century mosaic, from San Giovanni church in Rome, shows St Peter handing the Oriflamme, the imperial banner, to Charlemagne. The finial of the oriflamme is clearly a spearhead and very like the earliest depictions of the fleur-de-lis, on the seals of Robert II (around 1000 AD) and Phillip II (around 1180 AD).
Also of note is that the red and green circles on the oriflamme are often said to depict flowers. A fleur de luce becomes flower of light, where light might allude to the golden flames that give the banner its name. A conflation, over time, of the lance, the flowers and the flames with the conserved spearhead used as a sceptre may be more probable than the French royal symbol being derived from a river in Frisia.
Frankish to the French monarchy
The graphic evolution of crita to fleur-de-lis was accompanied by textual allegory. By the late 13th century, an allegorical poem by Guillaume de Nangis (d. 1300), written at the abbey of Joyenval at Chambourcy, relates how the golden lilies on an azure ground were miraculously substituted for the crescents on Clovis' shield, a projection into the past of contemporary images of heraldry. Through this propagandist connection to Clovis, the fleur-de-lis has been taken in retrospect to symbolize all the Christian Frankish kings, most notably Charlemagne.
The fleur-de-lis' symbolic origins with French monarchs may stem from the baptismal lily used in the crowning of King Clovis I. The French monarchy possibly adopted the Fleur-de-lis for their royal coat of arms as a symbol of purity to commemorate the conversion of Clovis I, and a reminder of the Fleur-de-lis ampulla that held the oil used to anoint the king. So, the fleur-de-lis stood as a symbol of the king's divinely approved right to rule. The thus "anointed" Kings of France later maintained that their authority was directly from God. A legend enhances the mystique of royalty by informing us that a vial of oil—the Holy Ampulla—descended from Heaven to anoint and sanctify Clovis as King, descending directly on Clovis or perhaps brought by a dove to Saint Remigius. One version explains that an angel descended with the Fleur-de-lis ampulla to anoint the king. Another story tells of Clovis putting a flower in his helmet just before his victory at the Battle of Vouillé  Through this connection to Clovis, the fleur-de-lis has been taken to symbolize all the Christian Frankish kings, most famously Charlemagne.
In the 14th-century French writers asserted that the monarchy of France, which developed from the Kingdom of the West Franks, could trace its heritage back to the divine gift of royal arms received by Clovis. This story has remained popular, even though modern scholarship has established that the fleur-de-lis was a religious symbol before it was a true heraldic symbol. Along with true lilies, it was associated with the Virgin Mary, and in the 12th century Louis VI and Louis VII started to use the emblem, on sceptres for example, so connecting their rulership with this symbol of saintliness and divine right. Louis VII ordered the use of fleur-de-lis clothing in his son Philip's coronation in 1179, while the first visual evidence of clearly heraldic use dates from 1211: a seal showing the future Louis VIII and his shield strewn with the "flowers". Until the late 14th century the French royal coat of arms was Azure semé-de-lis Or (a blue shield "sown" (semé) with a scattering of small golden fleurs-de-lis), but Charles V of France changed the design from an all-over scattering to a group of three in about 1376.[a][b] These two coats are known in heraldic terminology as France Ancient and France Modern respectively.
In the reign of King Louis IX (St. Louis) the three petals of the flower were said to represent faith, wisdom and chivalry, and to be a sign of divine favour bestowed on France. During the next century, the 14th, the tradition of Trinity symbolism was established in France, and then spread elsewhere.
In 1328, King Edward III of England inherited a claim to the crown of France, and in about 1340 he quartered France Ancient with the arms of Plantagenet, as "arms of pretence". [c] After the kings of France adopted France Modern, the kings of England adopted the new design as quarterings from about 1411. The monarchs of England (and later of Great Britain) continued to quarter the French arms until 1801, when George III abandoned his formal claim to the French throne.
King Charles VII ennobled Joan of Arc's family on 29 December 1429 with an inheritable symbolic denomination. The Chamber of Accounts in France registered the family's designation to nobility on 20 January 1430. The grant permitted the family to change their surname to du Lys.
France Modern remained the French royal standard, and with a white background was the French national flag until the French Revolution, when it was replaced by the tricolor of modern-day France. The fleur-de-lis was restored to the French flag in 1814, but replaced once again after the revolution against Charles X of France in 1830.[d] In a very strange turn of events after the end of the Second French Empire, where a flag apparently influenced the course of history, Henri, comte de Chambord, was offered the throne as King of France, but he agreed only if French gave up the tricolor and brought back the white flag with fleurs-de-lis. His condition was rejected and France became a republic.
Other European monarchs and rulers
Fleurs-de-lis feature prominently in the Crown Jewels of England and Scotland. In English heraldry, they are used in many different ways, and can be the cadency mark of the sixth son. Additionally, it features in a large amount of royal arms of the House of Plantagenet, from the 13th century onwards to the early Tudors (Elizabeth of York and the de la Pole family.)
The fleur-de-lis was also the symbol of the House of Kotromanić, a ruling house in medieval Bosnia allegedly in recognition of the Angevin, where the flower is thought of as a Lilium bosniacum.[h] Today, fleur-de-lis is a national symbol of Bosniaks,[i] one of three Bosnian constitutive ethnic groups, the other two being Serbians and Croatians.
Other countries using the emblem heraldically include Serbia and Spain in recognition of rulers from the House of Bourbon. Coins minted in 14th-century Romania, from the region that was the Principality of Moldova at the time, ruled by Petru I Mușat, carry the fleur-de-lis symbol.
As a dynastic emblem it has also been very widely used: not only by noble families but also, for example, by the Fuggers, a medieval banking family.
Three fleurs-de-lis appeared in the personal coat of arms of Gransmaster Alof de Wignacourt who ruled the Malta between 1601 and 1622. His nephew Adrien de Wignacourt, who was Grandmaster himself from 1690 to 1697, also had a similar coat of arms with three fleurs-de-lis.
Fleurs-de-lis crossed the Atlantic along with Europeans going to the New World, especially with French settlers. Their presence on North American flags and coats of arms usually recalls the involvement of French settlers in the history of the town or region concerned, and in some cases the persisting presence there of a population descended from such settlers.
The fleur-de-lis appears on the Canadian coat of arms, the flag of Quebec,[j] known as the Fleurdelisé, and also those of Montreal, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières. The Queen of Canada's personal flag also features it. There are many French-speaking people in other Canadian provinces for whom the fleur-de-lis remains a symbol of their cultural identity. Franco-Ontarians, for example, feature the fleur-de-lis prominently on their flag.
In the US, the fleur-de-lis symbols tend to be along or near the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. These are areas of strong French colonial empire settlement. Some of the places that have it in their flag or seal are the cities of St. Louis,[m] Louisville, Detroit, Mobile, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. On 9 July 2008, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law making the fleur-de-lis an official symbol of the state. Following Hurricane Katrina, the fleur-de-lis has been widely used in New Orleans as a symbol of grassroots support for New Orleans' recovery. It has also become the symbol for the identity of the Cajuns and Louisiana Creole people, and their French heritage.
The fleur-de-lis appears on the coat of Guadeloupe, an overseas département of France in the Caribbean, Saint Barthélemy, an overseas collectivity of France, and French Guiana. The overseas department of Réunion in the Indian Ocean uses the same feature. It appears on the coat of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius which was named in honour of King Louis XV. On the coat of arms of Saint Lucia it represents the French heritage of the country.
In Saskatchewan the Western Red Lily appears on the provincial flag and is sometimes used as a symbol of the province. Some representations resemble a fleur de lis but the traditional version itself is rarely used.
Coats of arms and flags
Symbolism in religion and art
In the Middle Ages the symbols of lily and fleur-de-lis overlapped considerably in Christian religious art. Michel Pastoureau, the historian, says that until about 1300 they were found in depictions of Jesus, but gradually they took on Marian symbolism and were associated with the Song of Solomon's "lily among thorns" (lilium inter spinas), understood as a reference to Mary. Other scripture and religious literature in which the lily symbolizes purity and chastity also helped establish the flower as an iconographic attribute of the Virgin. It was also believed that the fleur-de-lis represented the Holy Trinity.
In medieval England, from the mid-12th century, a noblewoman's seal often showed the lady with a fleur-de-lis, drawing on the Marian connotations of "female virtue and spirituality". Images of Mary holding the flower first appeared in the 11th century on coins issued by cathedrals dedicated to her, and next on the seals of cathedral chapters, starting with Notre Dame de Paris in 1146. A standard portrayal was of Mary carrying the flower in her right hand, just as she is shown in that church's Virgin of Paris statue (with lily), and in the centre of the stained glass rose window (with fleur-de-lis sceptre) above its main entrance. The flowers may be "simple fleurons, sometimes garden lilies, sometimes genuine heraldic fleurs-de-lis". As attributes of the Madonna, they are often seen in pictures of the Annunciation, notably in those of Sandro Botticelli and Filippo Lippi. Lippi also uses both flowers in other related contexts: for instance, in his Madonna in the Forest.
The three petals of the heraldic design reflect a widespread association with the Holy Trinity, with the band on the bottom symbolizing Mary. The tradition says that without Mary you can not understand the Trinity since it was she who bore the Son. A tradition going back to 14th century France added onto the earlier belief that they also represented faith, wisdom and chivalry. Alternatively, the cord can be seen as representing the one Divine Substance (godhood) of the three Persons, which binds Them together.
"Flower of light" symbolism has sometimes been understood from the archaic variant fleur-de-luce (see Latin lux, luc- = "light"), but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests this arose from the spelling, not from the etymology.
In building and architecture, the fleur-de-lis is often placed on top of iron fence posts, as a pointed defence against intruders. It may ornament any tip, point or post with a decorative flourish, for instance, on finials, the arms of a cross, or the point of a gable. The fleur-de-lis can be incorporated in friezes or cornices, although the distinctions between fleur-de-lis, fleuron, and other stylized flowers are not always clear, or can be used as a motif in an all-over tiled pattern, perhaps on a floor. It may appear in a building for heraldic reasons, as in some English churches where the design paid a compliment to a local lord who used the flower on his coat of arms. Elsewhere the effect seems purely visual, like the crenellations on the 14th-century Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. It can also be seen on the doors of 16th-century Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Some modern usage of the fleur-de-lis reflects "the continuing presence of heraldry in everyday life", often intentionally, but also when users are not aware that they are "prolonging the life of centuries-old insignia and emblems".
Fleurs-de-lis features on military badges like those of the Israeli Intelligence Corps, the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force, the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Corps of Cadets at Louisiana State University. In the British Army, the fleur-de-lis was the cap badge of the Manchester Regiment from 1922 until 1958, and also its successor, the King's Regiment up to its amalgamation in 2006. It commemorates the capture of French regimental colours by their predecessors, the 63rd Regiment of Foot, during the Invasion of Martinique in 1759. It is also the formation sign of the 2nd (Independent) Armored Brigade of the Indian Army which was known as 7th Indian Cavalry Brigade in First World War, received the emblem for its actions in France.
The fleur-de-lis is used by a number of sports teams, especially when it echoes a local flag. This is true with the former Quebec Nordiques National Hockey League team and the former Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team, the Serie A team Fiorentina, the Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt 98 (also known as Die Lilien - The Lilies), the Major League Soccer team the Montreal Impact, the sports teams of New Orleans, Louisiana in the NFL, NBA and the Pacific Coast League, the Rugby League team Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and the NPSL team Detroit City FC . Marc-André Fleury, a Canadian ice hockey goaltender, has a fleur-de-lis logo on his mask. The UFC Welterweight Champion from 2006 to 2013, Georges St-Pierre, has a tattoo of the fleur-de-lis on his right calf. The IT University of Copenhagen's soccer team ITU F.C. has it in their logo.
The emblem appears in coats of arms and logos for universities (like the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Saint Louis University and Washington University in Missouri) and schools such as in Hilton College (South Africa) and St. Peter, Minnesota. The Lady Knights of the University of Arkansas at Monticello have also adopted the fleur de lis as one of the symbols associated with their coat of arms. The flag of Lincolnshire, adopted in 2005, has a fleur-de-lis for the city of Lincoln. It is one of the symbols of the American sororities Kappa Kappa Gamma and Theta Phi Alpha, the American fraternities Alpha Epsilon Pi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Mu, as well as the international co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. It is also used by the high school and college fraternity Scouts Royale Brotherhood of the Philippines.
The fleur-de-lis is the main element in the logo of most Scouting organizations. The symbol was first used by Sir Robert Baden-Powell as an arm-badge for soldiers who qualified as scouts (reconnaissance specialists) in the 5th Dragoon Guards, which he commanded at the end of the 19th century; it was later used in cavalry regiments throughout the British Army until 1921. In 1907, Baden-Powell made brass fleur-de-lis badges for the boys attending his first experimental "Boy Scout" camp at Brownsea Island. In his seminal book Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell referred to the motif as "the arrowhead which shows the North on a map or a compass" and continued; "It is the Badge of the Scout because it points in the right direction and upward... The three points remind you of the three points of the Scout Promise", being duty to God and country, helping others and keeping the Scout Law. The World Scout Emblem of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, has elements which are used by most national Scout organizations. The stars stand for truth and knowledge, the encircling rope for unity, and its reef knot or square knot, service.
The symbol may be used in less traditional ways. After Hurricane Katrina many New Orleanians of varying ages and backgrounds were tattooed with "one of its cultural emblems" as a "memorial" of the storm, according to a researcher at Tulane University. The US Navy Blue Angels have named a looping flight demonstration manoeuvre after the flower as well, and there are even two surgical procedures called "after the fleur."
The device is used by commercial companies, like the Royal Elastics shoe company. Owing to its French heritage, Chevrolet has used the fleur-de-lis emblems on their cars, most notably the Corvette, but until 1990, the Caprice sedan. The Campbell Soup Company uses it on its soup can labels. A fleur-de-lis also appears in some of the logos of local Louisiana media. Such as in the logo of WGNO-TV, the local ABC-affiliated television station in New Orleans, and WVUE-TV, the local Fox-affiliated television station in New Orleans. A fleur-de-lis is also used on Henkell Trocken bottles. The R. K. LeBlond Machine Tool Company, of Cincinnati, Ohio, used the fleur-de-lis as part of their corporate image.
The symbol has featured in modern fiction on historical and mystical themes, as in the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code and other books discussing the Priory of Sion. It recurs in French literature, where examples well known in English translation include Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, a character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, and the mention in Dumas's The Three Musketeers of the old custom of branding a criminal with the sign (fleurdeliser). During the reign of Elizabeth I of England, known as the Elizabethan era, it was a standard name for an iris, a usage which lasted for centuries, but occasionally refers to lilies or other flowers. It also appeared in the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole on a sign composed by the main character.
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- "New Orleans LA Living & Lifestyle". NOLA.com. 1 November 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- "The Faerie Queene: Book II.". Retrieved 30 September 2014.
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