Royal Coats of Arms were first linked to Richard I (1189 to 1199). Richard’s coat of arms consisted of three gold lions (guardant) on a red shield. This coat of arms was simply known as ‘England’. This format has been on all royal coats of arms since his reign and was used unchanged by John (1199 to 1216), Henry III (1216 to 1272), Edward I (1272 to 1307) and Edward II (1307 to 1327).
However, a change to the royal coat of arms occurred in the reign of Edward III (1327 to 1377). Whereas Edward inherited the traditional ‘England’ coat of arms in 1327, during the course of his reign he claimed the throne of France. As a result of this, Edward quartered the traditional royal coat of arms placing the ‘England’ device in the top right and bottom left quarters. In the top left and bottom right quarters he placed scattered French ‘fleurs-de-lis’ coloured in gold on a blue background. This was referred to as ‘France Ancient’.
Richard II (1377 to 1399) added the arms of Edward the Confessor whereas Henry IV (1399 to 1405) went back to Edward III’s original design when he inherited the throne but towards the end of his reign he changed the French quarters by stipulating that there should be three fleurs-de-lis only in each quarter – in the previous design, there had been two full fleurs-de-lis in the bottom right quarter with seven partial images while in the top left quarter there had been four complete fleurs-de-lis and six partial images. The reduction to three complete fleurs-de-lis in each quarter produced a less cluttered royal coat of arms. It also brought it into line with the French king who had changed his coat of arms to ‘France Modern’.
This royal coat of arms as set out by Henry IV remained the same to the end of the Tudor era in 1603.
While the basic coat of arms may have stayed the same for many years, each king, and in Tudor England, Mary I and Elizabeth I, had different supporters either side of the royal shield. Lions were not only found on the royal arms but also to the side as supporters. Bulls, boars and stags were also used. The Tudor monarchs used a dragon and occasionally a greyhound. Richard II had a white hart supporting on his coat of arms; Henry V had a black bull while Richard III had a white boar to support his coat of arms. The Tudors used the Tudor rose and white greyhound. Mary I used a pomegranate, which she used as a tribute to her mother Catherine of Aragon.
However, a major change came with the end of Tudor England in 1603 and the accession of the Scottish James I (James VI of Scotland and James I of England). James introduced the Scottish lion (rampant) that was framed by a double tressure to the top right quarter. Each corner of the double tressure was decorated with a fleurs-de-lis. The other major change was the incorporation of the Irish harp (in gold with silver strings) to the bottom left quarter to represent that James was also King of Ireland. The gold harp was on a field of blue. This became the basis for all Stuart monarchs. The only real change came in the reign of Anne (1702 to 1714) when England and Scotland were united in 1707 as one country. Anne’s coat of arms after this union represented this as what had been the individual English and Scottish quarters were changed so that the two quarters represented both England and Scotland – each quarter combined the three English lions guardant with the individual Scottish lion rampant. The remaining quarters were the Irish harp (bottom left) with three fleurs-de-lis in the top right – an historical throwback to when the English monarch was king of much of France.
The only major change during the years 1603 to 1714 came during the Interregnum (1649 to 1660) when the royal coat of arms, along with monarchy, was removed. The coat of arms adopted by Parliament during these years continued with the four quarters. Two quarters were silver with a red cross to represent England and Wales (though Wales was not seen as a separate entitiy), one quarter was blue with a silver saltire to represent Scotland while the final quarter was blue with a gold harp with silver strings to represent Ireland. A small shield in the middle of these quarters was black with a silver lion on it – the arms of Oliver Cromwell.