When the House of Lancaster overcame the House of York following the Wars of the Roses, a formidable dynasty was born. Henry VII, following his matrimonial union with Elizabeth of York to unite the houses, was keen to emphasise the legitimacy of his reign. He looked to the medieval tradition of heraldry to display motifs and symbols wherever possible, reinforcing his rightful position on the English throne to his subjects as well as rival claimants.
Henry VIII continued his father’s commitment to legitimising the Tudor dynasty. One such place that heavily features heraldic symbols is Hampton Court
Palace – one of the king’s most famous residences and a place he used for pleasure and celebration.
Ten stone beasts line the Moat Bridge, representing the lineage of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Consisting of real beasts and mythical creatures, we are honouring these heraldic symbols of one of the nation’s most powerful dynasties with The Royal Tudor Beasts Collection.
The Seymour Panther
The Seymour Panther was given to Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, by the king from the treasury of royal beasts. Like his father before him, Henry VIII adopted the panther as a symbol to reinforce his regal lineage. The statue appears on the viewer’s left-hand side (dexter) and the coat of arms depict the Duke of Beaufort’s arms, whose family Henry VIII’s grandmother descended from. Possessing the tail of a lion and the claws of an eagle, the heraldic beast is often portrayed as angry and incensed, with fire coming from its mouth and ears.
The Lion of England
A brave and ferocious lion has featured on the shield of England for as long as it has existed. The lion represents English courage, strength, dignity and pride – traits that no animals native to the country at the time seemed to possess. The Lion of England assumed royal beast status in the early twelfth century during the reign of Richard I (1189–99), when heraldry was formally established. Used by Henry VIII as his dexter supporter, which means it appears on the viewer’s left-hand side, the Lion of England remains an iconic heraldic symbol to this very day, and perhaps in modern times is more representative of Britishness rather than Englishness. One of the first beasts to flank the parapets of the Moat Bridge of Hampton Court Palace, the crowned lion supports a shield bearing the impaled arms – a combination of two coats of arms – of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.
The Greyhound of Richmond
The Royal Family has favoured dogs as pets for centuries. Adopted as a heraldic symbol by Edward III, the greyhound symbolises loyalty, honour and celerity. It is said that Henry VIII attached a special importance to the Greyhound of Richmond, since it was a heraldic emblem adopted by both the Lancasters and the Tudors and thus served to emblemise the Tudors’ dynastic right to the throne of England. With a striking appearance, which includes a slim build and protruding ribcage forming an elegant shape, the beast on the Moat Bridge fixes the viewer with an attentive gaze, ears pricked at the ready and alert to honour any given command.
The Yale of Beaufort
A yale is a mythical creature often alluded to in European mythology that is thought to have a goat-like or antelope body, with four legs, the tusks of a boar, a lion’s tail and large horns that would swivel to counter-attack from all quarters. The Yale of Beaufort connects Henry VIII with the House of Beaufort through his grandmother – another attempt by the king to reinforce the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty. The beast is also linked to the title of Somerset, which Jane Seymour’s brother held as Duke. It is thought Henry VIII gave the beast to his queen in honour of her brother.
The Tudor Dragon
Adopted as a symbol by all Tudor monarchs in honour of their regal Welsh heritage, the Tudor Dragon stands as a ferocious heraldic beast. Dragons were prominent signets during the medieval period and were notably used by Owen Tudor, Henry VIII’s great-grandfather. Henry VIII therefore claimed the symbol as a link to Cadwaladr, the king of Gwynedd in Wales from around AD 655 to 682. According to contemporary manuscripts, the Tudor Dragon had a red head, back and wings and a gold underside.
The Seymour Unicorn
Before being chosen by Henry VIII to flank the Moat Bridge of Hampton Court Palace, the unicorn was rarely used as a royal heraldic beast. The Tudor monarch’s decision to include it may lie in its symbolism, as the unicorn represents purity and fertility, and the king desperately needed the ‘gods of fertility’ to bless his third wife with a son who could perpetuate the dynasty. The unicorn is a mythical creature that appears in the Bible and was recognised by the ancient Greeks. It has an interesting biological composition, possessing the body of a horse with more often than not the cloven hooves and beard of a goat, a lion’s tail, and a slender, spiral horn on its forehead.
The Royal Dragon
Similar in shape and design to the Tudor Dragon, the Royal Dragon became a prominent heraldic symbol for the House of Tudor after it rose to power after defeating the House of York in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth. Standing on the right-hand side (sinister), of the Moat Bridge of Hampton Court Palace, the Royal Dragon supports a shield, which bears France modern and England quarterly. Its body composition is four-legged and reptilian in appearance, like a serpent or lizard, with wings like a bat. Its fiery tongue protrudes from its mouth, challenging anyone who walks past to question the legitimacy of the king who commanded its creation.
The Queen’s Lion
The lion is a familiar sight in heraldry and traditionally symbolises strength and courage. The Queen’s Lion stands tall and proud on the Moat Bridge of Hampton Court Palace, supporting a shield bearing Jane Seymour’s badge. The badge depicts a hawthorn tree standing behind a gateway, fully blossomed and royally crowned, with a golden phoenix on top of the mount. In Greek mythology, the phoenix was a creature said to symbolise rebirth and love, which suggests that Jane added it to her badge to represent the king’s love for her and signify a rebirth from his marriage to his previous wife, Anne Boleyn.
The Bull of Clarence
The Bull of Clarence is a mighty, formidable beast and a heraldic symbol affiliated with the rise of the House of York during the fifteenth century. On its shield, the bull bears the Tudor Rose, which was created by Henry VII to symbolise his marriage to Elizabeth of York and the union of the two great houses, the House of York and House of Lancaster. Intent on establishing the might and power of the Tudor dynasty, as well as legitimising his position on the throne of England, Henry VIII chose the heraldic beast to flank the Moat Bridge leading into Hampton Court Palace, no doubt as an indication to anyone who entered that he was a true and formidable monarch.
The Queen’s Panther
Holding a shield bearing the combined coats of arms, also known as impaled arms, of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the Queen’s Panther flanks the Moat Bridge of Hampton Court Palace eyeing any passer-by with the sharp gaze of a cunning predator. The shield it bears represents the union of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. The dexter, or the left side of the shield, splits Henry VIII’s arms into four – an amalgamation of those belonging to his ancestors before him – kings and queens, lords and ladies – and thus establishing his rightful position on the English throne. The sinister, or the right side of the shield, shows Jane Seymour’s Coat of Arms, which portrays her descent from five different families who bore Coats of Arms.
THE ROYAL TUDOR BEASTS
© Historic Royal Palaces 2021 Produced under licence from Historic Royal Palaces Enterprises Limited