I recently found out that most European monarchies have the same kind of lion in their coats of arms. As you can see, it is a lion with a strange long tongue:



United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Prince of Wales












Now, of course the lion has always (since when to be precise?) been seen as the king of the jungle, and is an animal that usually symbolises strength. So it makes sense to use it on a monarchy's flag. But my question is

Why do all these monarchies have the same lion in their coats of arms?

It looks like they all come from the same source. Does anybody know what this common source could be?

Here somebody proposed that the rampant lion was a good choice simply because it fits the shields well. Personally, I don't really agree with this explanation... many other designs can fit a shield perfectly!


5 Answers 5


European monarchies are extremely intertwined, all European dynasties are related to each other, it's not surprising that they use very similar symbols. For example, take a look at the family tree of the German monarchs:

Monarchs of Germany

Looking at that royal mess, and considering the hereditary nature of heraldry, I think it's quite obvious how we ended up with only two main symbols of European monarchy, the lion and the eagle. That said, and while the choice of the eagle is easily explained, the lion is a bit more enigmatic and I don't think we can do much more than speculate.

The use of lions might have been widespread in the House of Normandy, and the first known use of the lion in coat of arms in a hereditary fashion comes from one of the dynasty's members, Henry I of England. When Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou was knighted in 1127, according to Wikipedia:

He [Henry] placed to hang around his neck a shield painted with golden lions

When Geoffrey V died in 1151 an enamel effigy showing three lions was placed on his tomb. A very similar effigy was placed on the tomb of Geoffrey's grandson, William Longespée.

Enamel effigy of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou on his tomb at Le Mans Cathedral William Longespée's effigy

It's quite possible that Henry I also used the lion as his symbol, and by passing it on to his son-in-law Geoffrey unwittingly created the tradition of hereditary coat of arms. Henry II of England, Geoffrey's son, also adopted the lion, and according to Wikipedia:

He was probably the first king of England to use a heraldic design: a signet ring with either a leopard or a lion engraved on it. The design would be altered in later generations to form the royal seal of England.

His son, Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart) formally adopted the three lions from his grandfather's shield as the Royal Arms of England. Political alliances (this was after all the time of the Crusades), intermarriages, and conquests all played a part in the symbol, in one form or another, finding its way to most European coats of arms.

Still, the question remains: Why a lion? It can be speculated that it's an early Christian symbol (see: Daniel in the lions' den), or just a widespread symbol of bravery, as it has been used in similar fashions by several civilizations, some decisively non Christian and with little contact with the Christian world at the time (for example the Han Dynasty's guardian lions). The legendary Hercules could also be the source of the using the lion as a symbol of bravery, his first labour being slaying the Nemean Lion (and then fashionably wearing its skin as a hat ;)

Lastly, a fascinating opinion is that the lion became widely associated with knighthood and chivalry in the 1170s because of the popularity of Chrétien de Troyes' romance Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, that influenced later works of Arthurian legend all around Europe, like Iwein and Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain.

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    In English at least, the (male) lion is regarded as "the king of beasts"; possibly because he has no need to hunt for himself as his harem hunts for him. Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 3:47

They don't all seem to be the same lion. Spain and Denmark's lions aren't even yellow. This is another rendering of the Coat of Arms of Sweden:

Coat of arms of Sweden

Compare it with the Coat of Arms of the Netherlands. Notice the similarities between the lions. Much of the similarities between these different lions could be because the same artist drew them. By this, I do not mean the originals. The copies can have great variances in details if they remain depicting the same objects. You explained yourself why many display lions:

Now, of course the lion has always (since when to be precise?) been seen as the king of the forest, and in general an animal representing strength. So it makes sense to use it on a monarchy's flag.

However, the position of the lion is very important. See this page. For example:

  • the Netherlands coat of arms has two lions facing inward in the Rampant attitude as supporters
  • the English coat of arms has one lion lion on the dexter side in the Rampant Gardant attitude as a supporter
  • the Spanish coat of arms has one lion in the Rampant attitude as a charge
  • the Norwegian coat of arms has one lion in the Rampant attitude holding an axe as the charge
  • the Danish coat of arms has three lions in the Passant attitude
  • the Luxembourger coat of arms has two lions Rampant Regardant attitude with forked tails. It also has a red lion as the charge in the Rampant attitude.
  • the Swedish coat of arms has two lions Rampant Regardant attitude with forked tails

However, there are various reasons how so many came to be depicting lions in general (besides what you stated). For example, the lion in the Netherlands coat of arms is from the Dutch Republic Lion. The Dutch Republic Lion came from the Duchy of Brabant coat of arms. The Lion on the Duchy of Brabant coat of arms is now also present on the coat of arms of Belgium. This is one example of two or more coats of arms (or parts of coats of arms) coming from one source.

To sum it up, many of the lions you showed just aren't the same. Lions in different attitudes are seen as distinctly different lions. However, in some cases, they came from a common source. Because the lion was seen as the king of the beasts since the Stone Age, at least, it was a common charge (or supporter). Thus, the fact that two coat of arms have lions on them does not necessarily mean both came from the same source (although it could).

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    All the lions have their tongue sticking out though which seems like an unusual similiarity
    – Opt
    Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 20:15
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    I've always been under the impression it was just to look strong and fierce. Many other animals in heraldry have their tongues sticking out also.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 20:24
  • Hi Luke, thank you very much for the informations you provided! However I don't agree with you when you say "To sum it up, many of the lions you showed just aren't the same". They are indeed the same, but in different variants. This thing is quite fascinating to me
    – Abramodj
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 1:17
  • I was referring to the attitudes. Each attitude had a different meaning. This factor differentiated between different coats of arms with similar animals. As you said, "They are indeed the same, but in different variants." The attitude was much more important when these were created than it is now. When I made that statement, it was from a historical point of view. I hope this clears things up.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 1:37
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    If you look at the Russian Empire's coat of arms, you will see that the eagle has a similar long tongue: images.vector-images.com/102/russia1883_coa_n90.gif
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 11, 2012 at 7:51

In short, it's a Christian symbol loaded with meaning, and the symbol of the Lion representing royalty [goes back even further than that.] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_(heraldry)#Long_history_of_lion_imagery)

1) It's representative of God, indicating that God is King, and also emblematic of heavenly favor for the monarchy.

2) The lion was considered king of all the beasts, a royal symbol if ever there was one.

3) In pre-modern times, among other things, it was believed that Lions slept with their eyes open - a lion is always watchful over its domain, and so it is with the monarchy it represents.

I don't think a lion was mandatory for royal heraldry, but it's easy to see why it was so popular.

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    You want more and better sources, you say? Edited. Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 13:04

European heraldry has become very standardised. The components, including colours, divisions and symbols, are selected from a limited palette. Many of the symbols have become stylised – they are not realistic portrayals of the original object. The famous fleur-de-lis ⚜ is an excellent example. The lion is just another example of a symbol that has become a caricature of the original form.

See Wikipedia's page on heraldic charges for more examples.


The Original question is based on a small sample of Western or partially westernized European kingdoms existing after the invention of coats of arms.

Has the original questioner looked up the coats of arms of the kingdoms of: Scotland England Gwynedd & principality of Wales Mann Ireland Norway Sweden Denmark Iceland Goths Wends Portugal Galicia (in Spain) Leon Castile Navarre Aragon Catalonia Valencia Granada Gibraltar many titular kingdoms in Spain Minorca Sardinia Corsica Sicily Sicily Two Sicilies Naples France Ancient France Modern French Empire Kingdom of the french Holy Roman Empire Germany italy or Lombardy Arles or Burgundy Italy Napoleonic Italy (Savoy) Eturia Lombardy-Venetia Westphalia Hanover Netherlands Belgians Wurttemburg Bavaria Saxony Prussia German Empire Austrian Empire Poland Bohemia Hungary Croatia Dalmatia Slavonia Bosnia Albania medieval Albania Modern Byzantine empire Second Bulgarian Empire Serbian Empire Kingdom of Serbia Medieval Kingdom of Serbia modern Despotate of Serbia Bulgaria Galicia or Halice Galicia and Lodomeria Greece Jerusalem Cyprus (lesser) Armenia Empire of Romania (Latin Empire of Constantinople) Kingdom of Thessalonica Empire of Thessalonica Depotate of Epirus grand duchy or great kingdom of Lithuania Russian Empire?

And that is not counting preheraldic or exotic kingdoms that medieval writers and artists invented coats of arms for.

All these kingdoms had a great variety of coats of arms, although there were lots of lions.

If The coat of arms of the duchy of Swabia, "or three lions passant sable", was created by 1190 it might have been copied by a few kingdoms. The Hohenstaufen dynasty ruled both Swabia and the Holy Roman Empire. King Richard I of England and the king of Denmark might have taken coats of arms with three lions passant as a sign of loyalty to the emperor.

Thus there may be a few cases of imitation behind the designs of o royal coats of arms.

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