The Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, or the Royal Arms for short, is the official coat of arms of the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II.[3] These arms are used by the Queen in her official capacity as monarch of the United Kingdom. Variants of the Royal Arms are used by other members of the Royal Family; and by the British government in connection with the administration and government of the country. In Scotland, the Queen has a separate version of the Royal Arms, a variant of which is used by the Scotland Office.

In the standard variant used outside of Scotland, the shield is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the three passant guardant lions of England; in the second, the rampant lion and double tressure flory-counterflory of Scotland; and in the third, a harp for Ireland. The crest is a statant guardant lion wearing the St Edward's Crown, himself on another representation of that crown. The dexter supporter is a likewise crowned English lion; the sinister, a Scottish unicorn. According to legend a free unicorn was considered a very dangerous beast; therefore the heraldic unicorn is chained,[4] as were both supporting unicorns in the Royal coat of arms of Scotland. In the greenery below, a thistle, Tudor Rose and shamrock are present, representing Scotland, England and Ireland respectively. The coat features both the motto of English monarchs, Dieu et mon droit (God and my right), and the motto of the Order of the Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense (shame upon him who thinks evil of it) on a representation of the Garter behind the shield.

The official blazon of the Royal Arms is:

Quarterly, first and fourth Gules three lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure (for England), second quarter Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland), third quarter Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland), the whole surrounded by the Garter; for a Crest, upon the Royal helm the imperial crown Proper, thereon a lion statant gardant Or imperially crowned Proper; Mantling Or and ermine; for Supporters, dexter a lion rampant gardant Or crowned as the Crest, sinister a unicorn Argent armed, crined and unguled Proper, gorged with a coronet Or composed of crosses patée and fleurs de lis a chain affixed thereto passing between the forelegs and reflexed over the back also Or. Motto 'Dieu et mon Droit' in the compartment below the shield, with the Union rose, shamrock and thistle engrafted on the same stem.

Uses

The Royal Arms as shown above may only be used by the Queen herself. They also appear in court rooms, since the monarch is the fount of justice in the UK and the law Court is part of the Court of the monarch (hence its name). Judges are officially representatives of the crown, demonstrated by the Queen's Coat of Arms which sits behind the judge on the wall of every court in the UK, with the exceptions of the magistrates' court in the City of London, in which a sword stands vertically behind the judge which is flanked by the arms of the City and the Crown. In Northern Ireland, the Royal Arms cannot be displayed in courtrooms or on court-house exteriors. There are a few exceptions, with the Royal Arms allowed to be displayed in the courtrooms of the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast and the courts in Armagh, Banbridge, Downpatrick, Magherafelt, or Omagh. They may be shown on the exterior of court buildings that had them in place prior to the 2002 law.[5]

The British Government also uses the Royal Coat of Arms as a national symbol of the United Kingdom, and, in that capacity, the Coat of Arms can be seen on several government documents and forms, passports, in the entrance to embassies and consulates, etc. However, when used by the government and not by the sovereign herself, the coat of arms is often represented without the helm. This is also the case with the sovereign's Scottish arms, a version of which is used by the Scotland Office.

The Royal Arms have regularly appeared on the coinage produced by the Royal Mint including, for example, from 1663, the Guinea and, from 1983, the British one pound coin. In 2008, a new series of designs for all seven coins of £1 and below was unveiled by the Royal Mint, every one of which is drawn from the Royal Arms. The full Royal Arms appear on the one pound coin, and sections appear on each of the other six, such that they can be put together like a puzzle to make another complete representation of the Royal Arms.[7]

The Queen awards Royal Warrants to various businesses that supply the Royal Household. This allows the business to display the Royal Arms on their packaging and stationery.

It is traditional (but not mandatory) for churches in the United Kingdom that belong to the Church of England and Church of Scotland to display the Royal Arms inside to represent loyalty to the Crown.[8]

A banner of the arms, the Royal Standard is flown from the Royal Palaces when the Queen is in residence; and from public buildings only when the Queen is present. At royal residences such as Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace, the Queen's main residence, the Royal Standard is flown to indicate when the monarch is in residence. This protocol equally applies to the monarch's principal residences in Scotland (the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Balmoral Castle), where the Royal Standard as used in Scotland is flown. When the monarch is not in residence the Union Flag, or in Scotland the ancient Royal Standard of Scotland, is flown.

The widely sold British newspaper The Times uses the Royal Arms of the House of Hanover as part of its logo. Its Sunday counterpart, The Sunday Times, uses the current Royal Arms.

A design similar to The Royal Arms is also a symbol for all the courts in British Columbia, Canada, as the Commission under which judges sit within its courts' rooms.[9]

The royal arms is also used as a symbol for all the Viceroys of Australia to represent the power of the monarchy.

Scotland

Since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, a separate version of the royal arms has been used in Scotland, giving the Scottish elements pride of place.

The shield is quartered, depicting in the first and fourth quarters the lion rampant of Scotland; in the second, the three lions passant guardant of England; and in the third, the harp of Ireland.

The crest atop the Crown of Scotland is a red lion, seated and forward facing, itself wearing the Crown of Scotland and holding the two remaining elements of the Honours of Scotland, namely the Sword of State and the Sceptre of Scotland. This was also the crest used in the Royal Arms of the Kingdom of Scotland. The motto, in Scots, appears above the crest, in the tradition of Scottish heraldry, and is an abbreviated form of the full motto: In My Defens God Me Defend.

The supporters change sides and both appear wearing the crowns of their respective Kingdom. The dexter supporter is a crowned and chained unicorn, symbolising Scotland. The sinister supporter is a crowned lion, symbolising England. Between each supporter and the shield is a lance displaying the flag of their respective Kingdom.

The coat also features both the motto Nemo me impune lacessit (No one wounds (touches) me with impunity) and, surrounding the shield, the collar of the Order of the Thistle. On the compartment are a number of thistles, Scotland's national flower.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Unlike the Act of Union 1707 with Scotland, the Act of Union 1800 with Ireland did not provide for a separate Irish version of the royal arms. The crest of the Kingdom of Ireland (on a wreath Or and Azure, a tower triple-towered of the First, from the portal a hart springing Argent attired and unguled Or) has had little or no official use since the union. When the Irish Free State established its own seals in the 1930s, the "Fob Seal" used on letters of credence varied the British arms by having the harp in two quarters.[10]

The harp quarter of the Royal Arms represents Ireland on both the English and Scottish versions. Likewise, one English quarter is retained in the Scottish version, and one Scottish quarter is retained in the English version. Thus, England, Scotland and Ireland are represented in all versions of the Royal Arms since they came under one monarch. By contrast, there is no representation at all for Wales in the Royal Arms, as at the Act of Union 1707 Wales was an integral part of the Kingdom of England pursuant to the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542; thus, it can be argued Wales is represented in the English coat of arms. Wales was a kingdom when ruled by native Kings, some of whom united it under one Crown, but with the English conquest it largely ceased to exist as a distinct legal entity. The Prince of Wales has ever since been the monarch's heir apparent.

Upon the accession of the Tudor Kings and Queens, who were themselves of Welsh descent, a Welsh dragon was used as a supporter on the Royal Arms. This was dropped by their successors, the Scottish House of Stuart, who replaced the Tudors' dragon supporter with the Scottish unicorn.

In the twentieth century, the arms of the principality of Wales were added as an inescutcheon to the coat of arms of the Prince of Wales, and a banner of those arms with a green inescutcheon bearing the Prince's crown is flown as his personal standard in Wales. The so-called Prince of Wales's feathers are a heraldic badge rather than a coat of arms upon a shield, but they are not Welsh in any case. They derive, in fact, from the English Princes of Wales (who may owe them to an exploit of Edward, the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy) and carry a German motto ("Ich Dien", German for "I Serve"). In any event, they do not form part of the Royal Arms, as opposed to the heraldic achievement of the Prince of Wales, who drops them upon his accession as King.

History

Kingdoms of England and Scotland

The current Royal Arms are a combination of the arms of the kingdoms that make up the United Kingdom, and can be traced back to the first arms of the Kings of England and Kings of Scots. Various alterations occurred over the years as the arms of other realms acquired or claimed by the Kings were added to the Royal Arms. The table below tracks the changes in the Royal Arms from the original arms of King Richard I of England, and William I, King of Scots.

Kingdom of EnglandKingdom of Scotland
ArmsDatesDetails
c. 1189Possible interpretation of the arms shown on King Richard I's first Great Seal. These are the arms of Plantagenet, of which family Richard was a member. The tinctures and the number of charges shown in this illustration are speculative.
1198-1340
1360-1369
The arms on the second Great Seal of King Richard the Lionheart, used by his successors until 1340: three golden lions passant gardant, on a red field.
1340-1360
1369-1395
1399-1406
King Edward III quartered the Royal Arms of England with the ancient arms of France, the fleurs-de-lis on a blue field, to signal his claim to the French throne.
1395–1399King Richard II impaled the Royal Arms of England with the arms attributed to King Edward the Confessor.
1406–1422King Henry IV updated the French arms to the modern version, three fleurs-de-lis on a blue field.
1422-1461
1470-1471
King Henry VI impaled the French and English arms, using the same arms after his "readeption".
1461-1470
1471-1554
King Edward IV restored the arms of King Henry IV.
1554–1558Queen Mary I impaled her arms with those of her husband, King Philip. Although Queen Mary I's father, King Henry VIII, assumed the title "King of Ireland" and this was further conferred upon King Philip, the arms were not altered to feature the Kingdom of Ireland.
1558–1603Queen Elizabeth I restored the arms of King Henry IV.
ArmsDatesDetails
12th century - 1558A red lion, rampant, on a yellow field within a double royal tressure, flory counter-flory, first used by King William I, and later by his successors, and becoming the heraldic representation of Scotland.
1558–1559Mary, Queen of Scots, Dauphine of France, impaled with the arms of Francis, Dauphin of France, King consort of Scots.[3]
1559–1560Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen consort of France. She also used for a short time in France. For more detailed information, see Mary, Queen of Scots#Claim to the English throne.
1560–1565Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen dowager of France.
1565–1603Upon her (second) marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley in 1565, Mary discontinued the arms of Scotland and France impaled, reverting to those of the Kingdom of Scotland.[3] King James VI was the last monarch of Scotland to use these arms before the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

Union of the Crowns and the Commonwealth

The Union of the Crowns places England, Ireland and Scotland under one monarch
ArmsDatesDetails
1603–1689James VI, King of Scots inherited the English and Irish thrones in 1603 (Union of the Crowns), and quartered the Royal Arms of England with those of Scotland. For the first time, the Royal Coat of Arms of Ireland was added to represent the Kingdom of Ireland. (The Scottish version differs in giving the Scottish elements more precedence.)
1649–1654

These novel arms, already in use by parliamentarians in 1648, were adopted by the Commonwealth of England established in 1649.

1654–1655

The Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland (the Protectorate) was created in 1653. St Andrew's Cross was added to the arms in 1654.[3]

1655–1659The arms of the Commonwealth from 1655 to 1659. Struck in 1655, the Great Seal included the personal arms Oliver Cromwell on a shield in the centre.

Blazon: Quarterly 1 and 4 Argent a Cross Gules (England) 2 Azure a Saltire Argent (Scotland) and 3 Azure a Harp Or Stringed Argent (Ireland) on an Inescutcheon Sable a Lion Rampant Argent (Cromwell's arms). The supporters were a crowned lion of England and a red dragon of Wales. The Scottish unicorn was removed, as it was associated with the Stuart Monarchy. The motto read PAX QUÆRITUR BELLO ("peace is obtained through war").[3]

1659–1660

Following the Protectorate, the 1654 arms were restored.

1603–1689Charles II restored the Royal Arms following the restoration after the civil wars.
1689–1694King James II & VII is deposed and replaced with his daughter Mary and her husband, William, Prince of Orange ruling jointly as William III & II and Mary II. As King and Queen Regnant they impaled their arms: William bore the Royal Arms with an escutcheon of Nassau (the royal house to which William belonged) added (a golden lion rampant on a blue field), while Mary bore the Royal Arms undifferenced.[15][3]
1694–1702After the death of Mary II, William III reigned alone, and used his arms only.[15]
1702–1707Queen Anne inherited the throne upon the death of King William III & II, and the Royal Arms returned to the 1603 version.

After the Acts of Union 1707

At the Union creating Great Britain in 1707, arms were adopted for the new kingdom, and again in 1801 at the Union creating the United Kingdom
ArmsDatesDetails
1707–1714The Acts of Union 1707 created the Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800). The Royal Arms of England and Scotland are impaled (as for a married couple) and moved to the first and fourth quarters, France second quarter and Ireland third quarter.
1714–1800The Elector of Hanover inherited the throne following the death of Queen Anne under the provisions of the Act of Settlement 1701, becoming King George I. The fourth quarter of the arms was changed to reflect the new King's domains in Hanover (BrunswickLüneburg, surmounted by the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire for the Holy Roman office of Archbannerbearer/Archtreasurer).
1801–1816The Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. At the same time, King George III abandoned his ancestors' ancient claim to the French throne (France had become a republic). The Royal Arms changed, with England now occupying the first and fourth quarters, Scotland the second, Ireland the third. The Royal Arms used in Scotland has Scotland occupying the first and fourth quarters, England the second, Ireland the third. For the Electorate of Hanover, there is an inescutcheon surmounted by the electoral bonnet. The Arms of Hanover were similar, but lacked the electoral bonnet.
1816–1837The electoral bonnet was replaced by a Royal Crown in 1816, as Hanover had been declared a kingdom two years previous.
1837–presentThe accession of Queen Victoria ended the personal union between the UK and Hanover, as Salic law prevented a woman from ascending the Hanoverian throne. The escutcheon of Hanover was removed and the Royal Arms remained the same. There was no attempt to alter the Royal Arms to reflect later titles acquired by the British monarch such as Emperor of India. The harp of the Kingdom of Ireland remains despite partition in 1921, to represent Northern Ireland (although it is most often seen today as a plain Gaelic harp, rather than a winged female [as above], in accordance with the personal preference of Queen Elizabeth).[3] The Royal Arms do not incorporate any specific element for Wales, a principality, incorporated into the Kingdom of England under Henry VIII. However, the Prince of Wales places arms for Wales at the centre of his personal arms.

Other variants

Royal Family

Members of the British Royal Family receive their own personalised arms which are based on the Royal Arms. Only children and grandchildren in the male line of the monarch are entitled to receive their own arms in this fashion. The arms of children of the monarch are differentiated by a three-point label; grandchildren of the monarch are differentiated by a five-point label. An exception is made for the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, who received a three-point label. Since 1911, the arms of the Prince of Wales also has an inescutcheon of the ancient arms of the Principality of Wales. Queens consort and the wives of sons of the monarch also receive their own personalised coat of arms. Typically this will be the arms of their husband impaled with their own personal arms or those of their father. However, the consorts of a Queen regnant are not entitled to use the Royal Arms. Thus Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh uses his own personal arms.

Currently the following members of the Royal Family have their own arms based on the Royal Arms:

Children and grandchildren of the monarch in the male line
Coat of armsShield of armsBearerDifference
Charles, Prince of Wales, outside ScotlandPlain three-point label, and an inescutcheon of the traditional coat of arms of the Principality of Wales. The Prince of Wales's feathers, the Red Dragon of Wales, sable fifteen bezants Or (the banner of the Duke of Cornwall, his other title in England) and his motto Ich dien are also added below the shield and the supporters. In Scotland, the arms of the Duke of Rothesay is used rather than the arms of the Prince of Wales.
Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay (Prince of Wales), in ScotlandIt is used in Scotland rather than the arms of the Prince of Wales. It is very different to the current royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom. The arms of the Duke of Rothesay is the quartered arms of the Great Steward and of the Lord of the Isles (both are his other titles in Scotland), with the arms of the heir apparent to the Scots throne (the Royal arms of Scotland with a three-point label) on an inescutcheon in the centre. Other elements of the coat of arms are similar to Royal coat of arms of Scotland before the union of the Crowns, but three-point labels are attached.
Prince William, Duke of CambridgeThree-point label with a red escallop, alluding to the arms of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.[19]
Prince HarryFive-point label with three red escallops in alternate points.[19]
Prince Andrew, Duke of YorkThree-point label, the centre point bearing a blue anchor.
Princess Beatrice of YorkFive-point label with three Bees in alternate points.
Princess Eugenie of YorkFive-point label with three Thistles in alternate points.
Prince Edward, Earl of WessexThree-point label, the centre point bearing a Tudor rose.
Anne, Princess RoyalThree-point label, the points bearing a red cross, a red heart and a red cross.
Prince Richard, Duke of GloucesterFive-point label, the first, third and fifth points bearing a red cross, the second and fourth points bearing a red lion.
Prince Edward, Duke of KentFive-point label, the first, third and fifth points bearing a blue anchor, the second and fourth points bearing a red cross.
Prince Michael of KentFive-point label, the first, third and fifth points bearing a red cross, the second and fourth points bearing a blue anchor.
Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady OgilvyFive-point label, the first and fifth points bearing a red heart, the second and fourth points bearing a blue anchor, and the third bearing a red cross.
Consorts
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
1947-1949
Prince Philip was granted arms of his own in 1947, because men are not entitled to bear the arms of their wives. These were considered unsatisfactory, and updated in 1949 to the current ones. The (1947-1949) coat of arms represents his lineage as a Prince of Greece and Denmark on his paternal side and his descent from Queen Victoria, the Grand Dukes of Hesse, and the Battenberg (or Mountbatten) family on his maternal side.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
1949 - present
Prince Philip arms post 1949 are quarterly Denmark, Greece, and Mountbatten representing his ancestry, and Edinburgh, representing his dukedom.
Camilla, Duchess of CornwallThe arms of the Prince of Wales impaled with those of her father, Major Bruce Shand, crowned by the single-arched Crown of Prince of Wales.[3]
Catherine, Duchess of CambridgeThe arms of the Duke of Cambridge impaled with those of her father, Mr Michael Middleton, crowned by the coronet of a child of the heir-apparent.
Sophie, Countess of WessexThe arms of the Earl of Wessex impaled with those granted in 1999 to her father, Christopher Rhys-Jones, and his older brother Theo. The new grant was based on an unregistered 200-year-old design. The Lion alludes to one of the Countess' ancestors the Welsh warrior Elystan Glodrydd, Prince of Ferrig.[21]
Birgitte, Duchess of GloucesterThe arms of the Duke of Gloucester with the arms of her father, Asger Preben Wissing Henriksen, imposed in an inescutcheon at the centre.
Katharine, Duchess of KentThe arms of the Duke of Kent impaled with those of her father, Sir William Arthington Worsley of Hovingham, 4th Baronet.
Princess Michael of KentThe arms of Prince Michael impaled with those of her father, Baron Günther Hubertus von Reibnitz.

Government

Various versions of the Royal Arms are used by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the Parliament of the United Kingdom and courts in some parts of the Commonwealth.

HM Government generally uses simplified version of the Royal Arms with a crown replacing the helm and crest, and with no compartment.[22] In relation to Scotland, the Scotland Office and the Advocate General for Scotland use the Scottish version, again without the helm or crest, and the same was used as the day-to-day logo of the Scottish Executive until September 2007, when a rebranding exercise introduced the name Scottish Government, together with a revised logo incorporating the flag of Scotland. The Scottish Government continues to use the Arms on some official documents.

The simplified Royal Arms also feature:

Various courts in the Commonwealth also continue to use the Royal Arms:

Furthermore:

Blazon

This table breaks down the official blazons to enable comparison of the differences between the general coat and the coat used in Scotland.

Everywhere except ScotlandScotland
Quarterly I & IVGules three lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued AzureOr a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory-counter-flory of the second
IIOr a lion rampant Gules armed and langued Azure within a double tressure flory-counter-flory of the secondGules three lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure
III
Azure a harp Or stringed Argent
Surrounded byThe Order of the GarterThe collar of the Order of the Thistle
CrestUpon the Royal helm the imperial crown Proper, thereon a lion statant gardant Or imperially crowned ProperUpon the Royal helm the crown of Scotland Proper, thereon a lion sejant affronté Gules armed and langued Azure, Royally crowned Proper holding in his dexter paw a sword and in his sinister a sceptre, both Proper
Supporters
Dexter a lion rampant gardant Or imperially crowned Proper, sinister a unicorn Argent, armed, crined and unguled Or, gorged with a coronet Or composed of crosses patée and fleurs de lis a chain affixed thereto passing between the forelegs and reflexed over the back also Or
Dexter a unicorn Argent Royally crowned Proper, armed, crined and unguled Or, gorged with a coronet Or composed of crosses patée and fleurs de lis a chain affixed thereto passing between the forelegs and reflexed over the back also Or holding the standard of Saint Andrew, sinister a lion rampant gardant Or imperially crowned Proper holding the standard of Saint George
MottoDieu et mon Droit (French)In My Defens God Me Defend, abbr. In Defens (Scots)
Order MottoGarter: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Old French)Thistle: Nemo me impune lacessit (Latin)
Plants on the compartmentRoses, thistles and shamrocks (on the same stem)Thistles only

Of all the former Dominions only three retain elements from the British Coat of Arms:

Ireland uses the medieval arms of Ireland that are incorporated into the British Coat of Arms:

All other former Dominions have changed their coat of arms with little or no British influence: