THE LOST ARMS OF KING HENRY II OF ENGLAND
A version of this paper has been published as: A medieval enamel belt or strap fitting and its possible connection with the arms of King Henry II. The published version can be downloaded using the link provided on the main publications page of this website.
Figure 1. Left: the Le Mans plaque of Geoffrey of Anjou, father of King Henry II, now at the Museum of Archaeology and History in Le Mans. Right: the effigy of William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, natural son of King Henry II, from his tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.
Here is described a most intriguing metal object in the possession of the author, with heraldic features which date stylistically to the twelfth century, and likely from the first half century of heraldry in England, when the possession of arms was largely restricted to the baronial class. It is argued that the piece links to the court of Henry II, and might preserve the lost arms of that monarch.
Figure 2; the belt or strap fitting as it appears today, Size 135x92mm. Traces of enamel can just be seen at this magnification, especially the red enamel below and behind the left hand lion.
Not a single example is known of the arms of Henry II of England (d.1189), nor is there any historical description of them, but this vacuum of information is partially filled by our knowledge of the arms of his father Geoffrey of Anjou (d.1151), of his brother William fitz Empress (d.1165), and of his sons King Richard I (d. 1199) and King John (d.1216). Geoffrey of Anjou bore Azure, semy of lions rampant or, which is the earliest datable heraldic shield, historically attested to have been presented to Geoffrey when he was made a knight in 1128, and represented on the famous Le Mans enamel plaque. [i] William fitz Empress from his seal of 1156-64 bore a single lion rampant, tinctures unknown on his shield and two lions rampant on his horse trappers ( one at the front, and another at the rear) [ii]; Prince John, as count, by 1185 was using two lions passant, tinctures unknown [iii] ; King Richard I from his accession in 1189 bore a lion rampant, as known from his great seal and confirmed by a literary account of the banner which he carried during the Third Crusade of 1190-1. [iv] Between 1197 and early 1198 he changed his arms to Gules three lions passant guardant or. [v] After weighing up the available evidence, Adrian Ailes suggested three possibilities for the arms of Henry II: his father’s arms, a single lion rampant, or two lions passant. [vi] As the evidence derived from seals, he did not ascribe tinctures to the latter two options.
[i] Bradbury 1990 pp 21-38. On the Le Mans plaque see Gauthier et al 1996 no 15 pp 98-100 and Fox 2012 pp. 59-84.
[ii] Ailes 1982 pp 54-55.
[iii] Ailes 1981.
[iv] Stubbs 1864 p 418.
[v] Ailes 2015.
[vi] Ailes 1982 p.62.
Figure 3: Left the Le Mans manuscript, note the shield in the top left corner. Right: the Folkingham brooch
CLUES TO THE FORM OF THE ARMS OF HENRY II
Gerard Brault has summarised the literary evidence on the colouring of the arms. The earliest source which he identified was a work of Benoît de Sainte-Maure commissioned by Henry II circa 1174 in which William the Conqueror was ascribed golden lions on a field azure. [i] Early Arthurian texts ascribe to Sir Tristan golden lions on a field gules, regarded as a form of flattery to the Plantagenet dynasty. Since the earliest surviving versions date to 1226 it seems that the author had in mind the arms devised by Richard I which by then had become well established as the royal arms of England. Other sources significantly later than the reign of Henry II ascribe to Sir Tristan the arms Gules a lion rampant or. Evidence that these arms are most unlikely to have been used by Henry II will be cited below. Gerald of Wales recorded that on his deathbed Henry II gave to his illegitimate son Geoffrey, bishop of Lincoln, his much loved ring charged with “ a panther” .[ii] Perhaps in this passage Gerald was hoping to amuse his fellow cognoscenti, since the panther was a well known metaphor for life everlasting in the resurrected Christ. A rather wonderful poem about the animal was at the time well known from the ancient literary source the Physiologus. [iii] In it, Christ was expressly named as the true panther, since the animal was believed to retire to its cave for three days after feeding before returning to the world. Very likely this ring was in fact charged with the lion of Anjou, which given the artistry of the day might justifiably have been called a panther. [iv]
We cannot know the form of Henry II’s ring, but we do have three twelfth century heraldic objects which might shed some light on the matter. The first is the well known Folkingham brooch (Figure 3b) depicting a lion rampant on a shield of a shape which fell out of usage by the end of the twelfth century. The form of the lion’s head is stylistically early, primitive, and typical of that century. Nicholas Vincent has speculated that this might be a Plantagenet livery badge. [v] The second object is the Le Mans version of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (Figure 3a) which art historians perceive as having strong stylistic connections both with the English Winchester Bible and with the Le Mans plaque of Henry II. [vi] The Pliny manuscript is believed to date from the 1150s, and has a page showing Pliny dressed as a medieval knight presenting a copy of his work to the Emperor Vespasian. [vii]Above this is an illustration of Pliny writing his work, to the side of which are the arms of the person for whom the manuscript was created on a kite shaped shield, Azure a lion rampant argent with a border or. The shield is very reminiscent of the Folkingham brooch, where the lion also sits within a border. From charter evidence Wiliam fitz Empress was frequently at the side of his brother wherever he travelled in the Angevin empire.[viii] He had extensive lands in England, in Normandy and elsewhere. In 1157 he was one of only two witnesses to a charter of Henry II confirming a gift of their brother Geoffrey, count of Nantes to the Abbey of Notre Dame de Chateau l’Hermitage, located just south of Le Mans. It seems that all three brothers retained a strong interest in this monastery which was founded by their father in 1144. [ix] It is doubtful that the arms here are those of Henry II but distinctly plausible that they might be those of his brother William fitz Empress. [x] Perhaps Geoffrey, count of Nantes bore Azure a lion rampant argent as the middle brother, to which William might have added a border as an additional mark of difference. If so, this would be the earliest example of the addition of a border by a younger brother.
[i] Brault 1997 pp 20-1
[ii] Harper-Bill and Vincent 2007 p.373.
[iii] Cook and Pitman 1921.
[iv] Lovatt 2004 speculated that the panther was a leopard of Anjou.
[v] Vincent 2015 p.18; Cherry and Goodall 1985 pp.471-2 speculated that the lion might have belonged to the family of St Liz, based on the counter-seal of Simon de St Liz, earl of Northampton c 1147. The counter-seal is a lion passant, and further doubt must be cast on the theory by a later recording of the arms of the same family as gules two bars and in chief three fleurs de lis argent. See Chesshyre and Woodcock 1992 pp 38,187. It should be noted that Folkingham Castle sits on a major medieval route-way from Lincoln to Peterborough, now the A15.
[vi] For a comparison with the Le Mans plaque see Lasko 1994 pp 247-8, and for comparison with the Winchester Bible see Dodwell 1993 pp 362-5; Vincent 2013 pp 86-7.
[vii] Le Mans Bibliothèque Municipale ms 263 f 10v.
[viii] Amt 2004.
[ix] Cart de Château-du-Loire 1905 nos 82-3 pp. 46-7; Delisle 1916 vol 1 p.140.
[x] It might be argued that these are the attributed arms of Pliny, but even if this was the case then the intention would have been to flatter the person who commissioned the book as a great philosopher by giving the author his personal arms. The more obvious and likely interpretation is as a simple mark of ownership or patronage. The concept of attributed arms belongs to the era when heraldry began to spread during the last quarter of the twelfth century away from the crusading network of families for whom heraldry was initially an exclusive prerogative, a theory elaborated in Fox 2012
AN INTRIGUING NEW FIND
Figure 4: the fitting with the gilding and enamelling computer restored by the author.
The third object, also stylistically belonging to the reign of Henry II, has never been published, and was purchased by the author on the antiquities market, having entered another collection in 1990, before the Treasure Act and the setting up of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (figure 2). Unfortunately its find site is not known. [i] What survives is the left hand fitting for a belt or strap, with a slot for the prong of the lost buckle to the right. A not dissimilar object which is slightly more complete and has two fleurs de lis on it as reported in 2009. [ii] The new object is gilded and enamelled copper alloy depicting two golden lions rampant in archaic form apparently placed on banners. The dexter lion is on a field gules, and the sinister on a field azure. These colours can be clearly discerned under the microscope as traces of enamel, as restored in figure 4. The cross hatching on the necks of the animals suggests a mane, so that these would be lions rather than leopards. If this was worn as a belt the lion with the red background would have been central, and possibly mirrored with a matching plate on the other side of the buckle. The lions are somewhat reminiscent of the lions on the Limoges enamel plaque of Geoffrey of Anjou (figure 5). Some traces of ancient leather adhere to the back of the plate, which at some stage in its existence it has received a sharp impact which has left a discernible dent. The rampant pose of the lions puts them securely in an heraldic context, at a period in history when heraldry was still largely confined to the baronial class.
[i] It comes from the Robin Symes collection, and was sold by H.M. Government in 2014 in lieu of tax. Symes’ accession record is unfortunately no longer extant, but the acquisition year of 1990 was recorded in the catalogue, and on the back of the item.
[ii] PAS DENO-42CFD6. This fitting was found in Kent in 1988. It is broader, 41mm as compared to 31mm for the fitting here described.
Figure 5: one of the two lions compared with a lion from the Le Mans enamel plaque
There is a plausible context for an object to have been decorated with two heraldic banners in the late twelfth century, one Gules a lion rampant or, and the other Azure a lion rampant or. The first of these arms apparently belonged to the Aubigny family, earls of Arundel, and hereditary Chief Butlers of England. William III d’Aubigny ( d.1193) who acceded in 1176, carries a shield charged with a lion rampant on his equestrian seal, and has a lion passant regardant on his non heraldic counter seal. Birch dated the charter to which the seal is attached c 1180, which seems about right as he bears the title earl of Sussex, which the king gave to him in 1177. [i] Since he bore the same name as his father he might well have recycled his father’s seal, of which no impression or record has been preserved. All that survives now of the original legend is part of the name William. The tinctures of the Aubigny arms were recorded by Matthew Paris for William IV d’Aubigny ( d.1221). [ii]
The single golden lion on an azure field, as occurs on the cap of Geoffrey of Anjou on the Le Mans plaque, was not used again until the later thirteenth century, which is surprising given the frequency with which arms were recycled in the medieval era. [iii] The Aubignys were not only important members of the royal household, but were on close terms with Henry II. William II d’Aubigny commanded the royal army in Normandy in August 1173 against the rebellious sons of the king, and was once again in action against the king’s enemies in Suffolk in September 1173. His son William III d’Aubigny was similarly close to Henry II and was with the king when he died at Chinon in 1189. [iv] As an expression of their loyalty either one of the two earls might well have placed his personal arms side by side with those of Henry II. Azure a lion rampant or could be either the royal livery badge or the actual royal arms. If it is accepted that the belt fitting depicts two banners then it would be singular to have a badge on a banner in this early period of heraldry.
The use of the single lion rampant by Richard I from the outset of his reign lends further support to the contention that by the end of the reign of Henry II the royal arms contained only a single lion rampant. Leaving aside the issue of what prompted Richard to change his arms in 1195 to gules three lions passant guardant in pale or, the most puzzling aspect of the change is that of the field colour from azure to gules. Quite possibly Richard as a younger son adopted arms with a field gules. For a younger son to change the field colour of his paternal arms became a popular method of differencing in the thirteenth century. The arms which he bore cannot have been gules a lion rampant or, since these were already the arms of Aubigny, a contention supported by our belt fitting. The alternative explanations for the fitting are twofold: either this was just a nice design not meant to be heraldic, or we have here side by side the banners of Richard Plantagenet and his father. The first option seems improbable on the basis of the fact that the lions are clearly heraldic, and the maker would surely not have risked usurping a royal prerogative. The second option is highly improbable on two grounds, firstly the fact of the Aubigny arms and secondly, the adversarial relationship which existed between Richard and his father. It is possible that Richard was simply reverting in 1195 to the arms he bore before his father’s death. His brother John was using two lions passant from 1185. [v] It should not be forgotten that the brothers would have needed their father’s permission to adopt versions of the royal arms, and Richard might have been permitted more lions than John as the elder brother.
It would hardly to stretching the available evidence to conclude that the belt fitting might be the only surviving example of the lost later arms of King Henry II, arms inherited by Richard the Lionheart, who used it for a further six years. The ascription of multiple golden lions on a field azure to William the Conqueror by Benoît de Sainte-Maure in the early 1170s suggests that Henry II continued to use his paternal arms, but favoured their reduction down to a single lion by the end of his reign. This left the original arms free to be adopted by Henry II’s natural son William Longspee, earl of Salisbury.
[i] Birch 1887-1900 vol 2 no 5604, attached to BL Add.Ch. 19,603. The charter is printed in Kemp 1986-7 no. 483 where it is dated 1186-1193, based on a misunderstanding that William III d’Aubigny was not created earl of Sussex until 1186. Henry II so created him in January 1177 at the council of Northampton, Eyton 1878 pp 209-10. The correct range is 1177-1186.
[ii] London 1967 p.20. His seal was appended to Magna Carta.
[iii] Sir Hugh Neville of Essex bore azure a lion rampant Or in c 1275, and had a lion rampant on his seal of 1267, see Chesshyre and Woodcock 1992 pp. 118,129. His father bore different arms, see Brault 1997 vol 2 p.320. Other examples of azure a lion rampant Or supplied by Chesshyre and Woodcock 1992 pp.128-9 are all much later than this. Of these later examples the majority are found to be defective renditions of arms. To give two examples, there are the arms of Brewes with the field crusilly omitted, and the arms of Holand with the field semy of fleurs de lis omitted.
[iv] Eyton 1878 p.297.
[v] Ailes 1981.
THE ORIGIN OF THE ARMS OF BOHUN
There is an additional piece of evidence which must be brought to bear at this point. Sometimes the arms used by families preserve a memory of arms which have otherwise been forgotten, and those of Bohun provide one such example. In 1238 Humphrey V de Bohun (d.1273) bore the arms azure a bendlet argent between six lions rampant or, as appears from his seal. [i] Before 1259 and presumably for purely aesthetic reasons he added golden cotises to the bendlet. [ii] An earlier record of the arms was recently uncovered by Nicholas Vincent in the form of an equestrian seal of Henry de Bohun (d.1220), earl of Hereford. [iii] The charter to which it is appended Vincent dates c 1200. Henry’s shield shows a bend between two lions rampant, but the space did not really permit the carving of any more lions. Other examples exist of the phenomenon of increasing or reducing the number of heraldic charges depending on the space available, which has been termed multiplicative and reductive extractive armifery by D’Arcy Boulton. [iv] What we effectively have here are the arms of Geoffrey of Anjou with a white bendlet placed across them. This is the white staff of office borne by the most senior officers of state, and the message would have been easily read by contemporaries as the arms of a senior household officer of Henry II. This is exactly what Humphrey IV de Bohun (d.1181) and his son Henry de Bohun (d.1220) were, as hereditary Constables of England. [v] This office passed to the Bohuns by 1166. [vi]
In summary, therefore, it is proposed that the two lions fitting was created either for William II d’Aubigny ( d.1176) , for his son William III d’Aubigny ( d.1193), or for William IV d’Aubigny ( d.1221) placing the personal arms of the earl next to those of King Henry II, or just possibly Richard I prior to 1195, as a mark of loyalty, and as an indication that the bearer was a senior officer of the crown.
[i] Birch 1887-1900 no. 7529.
[ii] Birch 1887-1900 no. 5720.
[iii] Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania MS 50.
[iv] Boulton 2018. For three examples of the Bohun arms reduced in number down to two on horse pendants see Ashley 2002 pp.15, 39 nos 122-4.
[v] The Constableship has long been in abeyance as a permanent and hereditary office, so the traditional accoutrements of the office are not firmly recorded. A Tudor portrait of Thomas Stanley, 1st earl of Derby (d.1504) and Lord Constable shows him carrying a white wand of office, while a portrait of Thomas Howard 3rd duke of Norfolk ( d.1554) shows him with both the white wand of the Marshal of England and the baton of the Earl Marshal. The office of Lord Chamberlain has persisted, and the post-holder still carries a white staff of office on state occasions.
[vi] Eyton 1878 p.317.
The author would like to thank those who considered the lion fitting and its historical context and offered their personal insights, notably Nigel Ramsay, Marion Campbell, John Cherry, Steven Ashley and Nicholas Vincent. He is also grateful to Tom Higham for his advice
( regretfully to the negative) as to whether current technology might provide a means of more precisely dating the manufacture of the artefact; and to Christos Tsirogiannis and James Ede for confirming that the surviving documentation from the Robin Symes Collection can provide no additional information.
ABBREVIATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
BL Add.Ch. British Library Additional Charter.
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