From the banners of the medieval battlefield to the reign of our present queen, the beasts of heraldry offer a fascinating visual history of British royalty. Ancient symbols of power, they tell of alliances forged, chivalric values upheld and rivals vanquished in the struggle for the throne.
Recast on coins, The Queen’s Beasts Collection breathes new life into ten heraldic creatures chosen to represent the ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953. As the series nears its conclusion, the White Greyhound of Richmond takes its place alongside the Lion of England, the Unicorn of Scotland, the Red Dragon of Wales, the Black Bull of Clarence, the Falcon of the Plantagenets, the Yale of Beaufort, the White Lion of Mortimer and the White Horse of Hanover. Although the White Greyhound of Richmond is one of the less well known of The Queen’s Beasts, it possesses a rich and fascinating history stretching back to medieval times.
A prestigious creature associated with physical fitness and skill, as well as qualities such as faithfulness and loyalty, the greyhound became a popular device in heraldry and decorative art. It was first used as a royal beast by Edward III. In turn all of his descendants displayed it – usually a white greyhound with a red collar. It became closely associated with the House of Lancaster and later the Tudors. Founded by Henry VII, the last king of England to win the throne on the battlefield, this storied dynasty was instrumental in shaping modern Britain.
Henry VII used a version of the Royal Arms featuring the White Greyhound of Richmond, a powerful heraldic expression of the ancestry that denoted his right to rule; a lineage that extends to our present queen, who is a direct descendant of his. At her coronation the greyhound clutched a shield depicting a Tudor rose. Combining the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, it symbolises how Henry VII united these warring houses, defeating Richard III and marrying Elizabeth of York to end the Wars of the Roses.
As this magnificent beast takes its place amongst these guardians of the Crown, we caught up with the coin’s designer Jody Clark. The youngest artist to have been chosen to portray Her Majesty The Queen for The Royal Mint, Jody’s designs grace both sides of all of the coins in The Queen’s Beasts Collection. His skilful blend of heraldic symbolism and dynamic realism are a signature of this series. We asked Jody about the collection and how he approached the design for the White Greyhound of Richmond.
Why did the theme of heraldry appeal to you?
“I’ve always been interested in fantastic beasts. You can ask my mum! I think most children love fairy tales and stories about lions, dragons and unicorns; they’ve got a timeless appeal.”
What inspired you?
"I took inspiration from the original Queen’s Beasts, both the versions that reside in Canada and the stone replicas we have here in the United Kingdom at Kew Gardens”.
How did your research inform your approach?
Two strong styles kept appearing in my research – the royal and heraldic, or the fantastical approach. I wanted my designs to be somewhere in the middle of the two really, something that looked like a real beast rather than just a graphic heraldic image. Staying true to the origins of heraldry and coats of arms, I wanted to replicate the sense of strength and courage the beasts were designed to convey, while creating a sense of movement. This allowed me to make the beasts bold and dynamic, but not at the expense of the shields they guard. The shields still feature strongly as they are integral to the story."
What challenges did you face?
The Queen’s Beasts are very stylised and look imposing as statues, but the challenge was to capture this on the surface of a coin. When it came to areas like the eyes, I kept them blank. Adding too much detail softened the look and I think this way there is still a sense of sculpture reflecting the originals.
How did you approach this particular beast?
It was important for me to keep a consistent appearance and character throughout the series. For the greyhound, I continued that balance of realism and a stylised look. I wanted the greyhound to be elegant but also to convey its strength and power, so I looked at lots of images of racing dogs to achieve the desired outcome.”