Portcullis, greyhound, crowned Tudor rose, crowned hawthorn bush, red dragon
The portcullis is currently the symbol for parliament, an institution of justice and law, which Henry VII did revolutionise during his reign. The portcullis was also representative of his royal blood through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, as it was the symbol of her house.
Red is typically the colour that represents both military strength and magnanimity. The dragon represents valour and protection, and appears on the Welsh flag. This is possibly to demonstrate Henry’s Welsh roots (he was born in Wales, and the Tudor name is Welsh).
The greyhound represents courage, loyalty and vigilance. Henry VII courageously took the crown on the battlefield, and was vigilant for anyone looking to take it away from him. He appears to have been loyal to his wife, and we don’t know for sure of any illegitimate children he may have had, or even any mistresses.
The Tudor rose is the most potent symbol of the House of Tudor. The red rose was the Lancastrian symbol in the Wars of the Roses and was said to represent grace and beauty. The white rose became the symbol of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses and was said to represent love and faith. The symbol of the two joined together was the visual representation of the marriage of Henry VII (Lancastrian) and Elizabeth of York (Yorkist), which put an end to the Wars of the Roses, where the two houses had fought each other.
Red dragon, greyhound, silver cock, portcullis, Tudor rose
For the red dragon, portcullis, Tudor rose and greyhound, see under “Henry VII”.
Silver symbolises peace and sincerity. The cock symbolises courage and perseverance, a hero, and one who is able in politics. Henry VIII didn’t seem to demonstrate much perseverance in his marriage to Anne of Cleves, but he waited seven years to bed Anne Boleyn. He seems quite contrary – he was seen as a hero over the Battle of the Spurs, and the Field of the Cloth of God, but much of the English population saw him as a tyrant, adulterer, bigamist and heretic when he broke with Rome to marry Anne Boleyn. The cock appears to symbolise the early years of his reign; he was certainly an able politician – he could speak and make people listen, and he could influence people towards his line of thinking.
Katherine of Aragon
A pomegranate represents fertility and abundance, a message of hope for the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign. No doubt it became a reminder to Henry of how Katherine failed him; she didn’t give him an heir. The pomegranate is made of seeds, and it was once thought that the pomegranate could reproduce itself because of this.
The crown symbolises victory, sovereignty and empire. It is a visible sign of success, rank and power, another symbol of a hopeful start. Katherine did triumph over the Scots in 1513 at Flodden Field, but failed in her key role to give birth to a live son. Her power diminished because of her lack of success in Henry’s eyes.
Crowned falcon holding a sceptre on a tree stump with red and white flowers sprouting
The sceptre is a sign of authority from god, and her role as Queen of England. It represents justice, a key role of a monarch, and royal authority. Anne was determined to show her royal authority whenever she could.
The tree stump is a sign of the barrenness of the previous queen, Katherine of Aragon, and the flowers are supposed to show that the barrenness is now at an end, and Anne will give England an heir to the throne. The tree can also be used as a symbol of regrowth and rebirth – Anne was the new hope for an heir for England, signified by the red and white for new Tudor offspring.
The falcon comes from Anne’s ancestors, the Earls of Ormonde, as her father had been recognised as the heir to that earldom. The falcon or hawk is typically symbolic of one who does not rest until an objective is achieved. Anne certainly didn’t rest until she had replaced Katherine as Queen of England, and even after that, she wouldn’t rest until everyone acknowledged her as such.
Phoenix rising from a castle
The phoenix is symbolic of resurrection, as the bird can die and a new one forms from the ashes. I think Jane Seymour was supposed to be Henry VIII coming out of the darkness (Anne Boleyn) and into the light (Jane). He sees himself as starting anew, and Jane’s badge represents this. The phoenix is also a symbol of love. It seems Henry VIII loved Jane Seymour because she gave him a son, and it was she that he asked to be buried with.
The castle represents safety and security. Henry VIII hoped that Jane would give him a son and heir, which would mean safety and security for the realm. It is also the symbol of a steadfast individual – possibly a nod to Jane’s motto “bound to serve and obey”, as that in a sense makes her steadfast and constant.
Harp, red dragon, greyhound, sun in splendour, portcullis, Tudor rose
For the red dragon, portcullis, Tudor rose and greyhound, see under “Henry VII”. These are royal symbols of the House of Tudor that have been passed down the male line – Mary I and Elizabeth I adopt the portcullis, but not the dragon or the greyhound, possibly because they are not seen as very feminine figures.
The sun in splendour was a symbol of Edward VI’s great-grandfather, Edward IV (see here). The sun typically represents glory and splendour, and Edward VI was seen as the glorious son of Henry VIII, expected to rule over England and father heirs to carry on the Tudor line.
The harp symbolises a well-composed person of temperate judgment, and can also symbolise contemplation. It is also a well-known symbol of Ireland. Because of the image of angels playing harps in heaven, it is often associated with the divine or sacred. Perhaps Edward used it to strengthen his ties to the reformed faith being the one true faith.
Pomegranate dimidiated with a rose, Tudor rose, portcullis, harp, altar with an erect sword
For the portcullis and Tudor rose, see under “Henry VII”.
For the harp, see under “Edward VI”. Perhaps, like her brother, Mary used the harp to symbolise the rightness of her faith, but unlike Edward VI’s reformed faith, Mary’s was traditional Roman Catholicism.
For the pomegranate, see under “Katherine of Aragon”. Mary I experienced similar feelings of desperation in her quest for a son as her mother did. She had one false pregnancy, as Katherine did in 1510, and never had a child.
The altar likely represents Mary’s adherence to the Roman Catholic faith. She restored England’s ties to Rome and the Pope, as she had been brought up to believe. The altar is also supposedly a place of sacrifice. Mary obviously knew that some lives would have to be sacrificed to return England to Rome.
The sword represents justice. Perhaps Mary saw the restoration of the Roman Catholic faith in England as the right thing to do, and justice for the wrongs done to her mother, Katherine of Aragon, by her father, Henry VIII. In the Book of Revelation a sword comes out of Christ’s mouth, a symbol of divine truth. Mary is endowing her religious beliefs with the will of God.
Falcon crowned holding a sceptre, Tudor rose, sieve, phoenix, harp, portcullis
For the portcullis and Tudor rose, see under “Henry VII”. For the harp, see under “Edward VI”. For the phoenix, see under “Jane Seymour”.
Elizabeth took the crowned falcon and sceptre emblem from her executed mother, Anne Boleyn. She never seems to have spoken in public about her mother, but she did have a ring with her mother’s portrait beside her own. Perhaps this was her way of remembering her, when it wouldn’t have been very politically astute to have raised Anne Boleyn’s ghost. For the symbolism of the falcon and the sceptre, see “Anne Boleyn”.
The sieve is a symbol of virginity and purity, obviously enhancing her image from which she became known as the “Virgin Queen”. It came from Roman times when the Vestal Virgin carried water in a sieve without losing a drop. Therefore, the sieve was also used to link Elizabeth’s England with the glory and might of the Roman Empire.