During an era of pomp and ceremony, calling an end to the Wars of the Roses there is little to question why Henry Tudor, his son Henry VIII and future heirs sought to prove their lineage to the throne of England and Wales.
This was a time of visual symbolism, much like branding today, however few people could read or write. Images of animals, plant-life, shapes and a variety of colours formulated coats of arms for wealthy and noble families to adorn their armour, shields, helmets, crests, and supporters and statues throughout their homes – the Tudor family were no different.
Mythical creatures and animals have adorned the Royal family’s palaces since medieval times, to show the family descent and lineage, as well as to mark their personal property. The Tudor era was the peak of this form of architectural decoration, even throughout Europe into the 16th century.
The infamous Tudor Rose is probably one of the most enduring logos of all time, still widely recognisable as the symbol of bringing together the House of Lancaster (red rose) and House of York (White Rose). This stamp of approval legitimised the Tudor claim, showing their shared connections with the previous generations. (Thurley, 1993, p.102)
At many of Tudor homes and palaces, including Whitehall and Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII followed suit with his father’s strive to show his right to rule. Visual, stone and wooden carved sculptures were placed for all to see, and this is seen on the moat bridge leading to Hampton Court. The Tudor’s took these symbols incredibly seriously.
Interpreting heraldry was a skill many people understood at the time, ‘Escutcheon’ was the name for the central element of a coat of arms, or shield – the main part is the ‘field’ and if these are divided horizontally, these sections are ‘tinctures’. Lion’s meant undying courage and a valiant warrior, yet boars also showed courage of a fierce fighter. Stags symbolised peace and harmony. Purity and virtue were represented by a chained unicorn. Sometimes heraldry depicted inanimate objects – a key showed knowledge and guardianship; and portcullises were a royal symbol, which is now the emblem of the Houses of parliament.
Henry VII and VIII used the Golden Lion of England for their heraldry, at the dexter (viewer’s left hand side) and on the sinister (right had side) was the Red Dragon of Wales. Henry VIII included the White Hart of York (a nod to his mother’s family), the Falcon of the Plantagenets, the Silver Yale of Beaufort, the Bull of Clarence and the White Greyhound of Richmond. It is also known he displayed the Seymour Panther, after the loss of his third wife Jane Seymour during the birth of his beloved son, the future Edward VI. Perhaps this was his symbol to show a legitimacy of yet another line of royalty – a boy born during his third, but not final, marriage…