Since the twelfth century the monarchs of England have borne a coat of arms attesting to their royal status. Aside from their use on seals, documents, clothing, tapestries, etc., these arms were displayed as a "banner of arms": a flag based on the shield of a coat of arms, such as any nobleman was entitled to bear. The royal banner (or standard as it later came to be called) served to mark the king's location on the battlefield, to identify his place of residence and to give notice of his approach. In medieval times it was usually made square but rectangular and even swallowtailed versions are depicted in contemporary illustrations. Generally the use of the royal standard was reserved for the monarch alone, though with royal permission it could be borne at sea by naval commanders as a special mark of favor. The evolution of the Royal Standard presents a history in symbols of England and Britain from the reign of Richard the Lionhearted to that of Elizabeth II.




Royal Standard of Richard I


Royal Standard of Edward III

The royal arms of the Kingdom of England—three gold lions passant on a red field—date from the reign of King Richard I (reigned 1189-99). They were derived from the arms of the Duchy of Normandy, which display two gold lions passant on a red field. In the early part of Richard's reign, the arms of England had not yet become fixed. Sometimes the arms of Normandy were used and there is also evidence to suggest that Richard used a coat of arms displaying two gold lions rampant on a red field. But toward the close of his reign the arms depicted above became generally accepted as the English king's coat of arms. They continued unchanged until the reign of King Edward III (reigned 1327-77). In 1340, Edward advanced a claim to the French crown and to symbolize this he quartered the arms of England with those of France Ancient (
semé of gold
fleurs de lys on a blue field). In these new arms France took precedence to show that Edward placed a higher value on the French crown than on his English crown. The arms of France were to figure in the royal arms of England and Great Britain until 1801.



Royal Standard of Henry IV


Royal Standard of Henry V & VI


Royal Standard of Henry VIII

The Royal Arms established by Edward III continued in use until the reign of King Henry IV (reigned 1399-1413). He changed the French blazoning from France Ancient to France Modern (three
gold fleurs de lys on a blue field). His son Henry V used the same arms, though some sources depict them with the addition of a gold border. In this form the Royal Arms remained unchanged until the end of the Tudor dynasty. The illustration on the right depicts a typical Royal Standard of the Tudor period.


Royal Banner of Scotland


Royal Standard of James I
As King of England


Royal Standard of James I
As King of Scotland


Royal Standard of William & Mary


Royal Standard of William III


Royal Standard of Anne I

The death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 brought an end to the Tudor dynasty
. The new monarch was James VI of Scotland, who ascended the English throne as King James I. He was thus the first king of Great Britain, though technically England and Scotland remained separate kingdoms, joined only in personal union under James. The advent of the Stuart dynasty led to the first change in the England's royal arms since the time of Henry IV, the Tudor arms being quartered with the royal arms of Scotland and Ireland. The ancient royal arms of Scotland displayed a red rampant lion within a frame on a golden yellow field, while those of Ireland displayed a gold harp, stringed silver, on a blue field. There also existed for the King's use in Scotland a version of the royal arms giving Scotland precedence and omitting Ireland. The Stuart arms remained in use until the deposition of James II in 1688. (During the Period of the English Republic and Commonwealth, Charles II maintained his claim to the English throne and continued to bear the Stuart royal arms.)

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought the Dutch Prince William of Orange, to the English throne as King William III. He was married to Mary Stuart, daughter of the deposed James II, and until her death in 1694 they reigned jointly. Thereafter William reigned alone until his own death in 1702. During the period of joint rule the Stuart arms were impaled with those of William as King of England, i.e. the Stuart arms with an escutcheon of William's arms as Prince or Orange. After Mary's death, William's arms alone were used. His death brought the Protestant Princess Anne Stuart to the throne. At first she employed the Stuart arms, but after the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland, the arms were altered to display Scotland impaled with England, France and Ireland. These, the first royal arms of the Kingdom of Great Britain, were also the first in which France was not given precedence.

THE HOUSE OF HANOVER  •  1712-1837

Royal Standard of George I & II


Royal Standard of George III
As Elector of Hanover


Royal Standard of George III & IV &
William IV As King of Hanover

Queen Anne died in 1714 with no direct heir and under the terms of the Act of Settlement of 1714 the crown passed to George Louis, the Electoral Prince of Hanover in Germany, who became King George I. His royal arms for Great Britain displayed the arms of Hanover in the fourth quarter. (George and his four successors retained their German princely titles.) In this form the arms lasted until 1801. In that year, King George III formerly renounced Edward III's claim to the French crown, and the French arms were deleted. The new arms displayed England in the first and fourth quarters, Scotland in the second quarter and Ireland in the third quarter, with an escutcheon of the arms of Hanover under an electoral cap. The cap was changed to a royal crown in 1816, when Hanover become a kingdom.


Royal Standard of Queen Victoria


Royal Standard of Elizabeth II in England, Wales & Northern Ireland


Royal Standard of Elizabeth II in Scotland

King William IV (reigned 1830-37) was the last British monarch who was also King of Hanover. Upon his death the throne passed to his niece, Princess Victoria of Kent. Since according to the Salic Law prevailing in Germany a woman could not inherit a crown in her own right, the Kingdom of Hanover passed to George III's fifth son, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. The Hanoverian escutcheon was removed from the British royal arms, leaving them in the form still used nowadays. Technically the House of Hanover's connection to the British throne came to an end with Queen Victoria's death; thereafter the British royal family was known as the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Its name was changed to the House of Windsor in 1917. (With Britain at war against Germany, the royal family's German connections had become something of an embarrassment.) None of these changes affected the royal arms, however. For the current Royal Standards of Queen Elizabeth II a special shade of crimson is used in place of red.