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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Royal Arms

The personal arms of the sovereign, used in many contexts as a symbol of authority. The lion and the unicorn took their position as supporters (presenting the shield to the viewer) with the *union of the crowns in 1603, the lion representing England and the unicorn Scotland. The nursery rhyme about the *lion and the unicorn probably relates to their appearance here. The shield has had its present form only since the accession of Victoria, when the quartering of *Hanover was removed.

The three lions passant (walking with one raised paw) in the first and fourth quarters represent England; the lion rampant (upright) in the second quarter stands for Scotland; and the harp in the third quarter for Ireland. Wales is not featured for it had its own heraldic device as a separate principality, in the arms of the Prince of *Wales, before the quarterings of Scotland and Ireland became part of the royal arms in the early 17C. The fleur-de-lis, which appeared in one or more quarters of the royal arms until late in the reign of George III, related to England's ancient claim to the throne of France (see the *Hundred Years' War).

The buckled belt surrounding the shield represents the *Garter and carries its motto Honi soit qui mal y pense, though only the first and last words are wholly visible. The words written below, Dieu et mon droit (French for 'God and my right') have been the royal motto since the reign of *Henry V. The royal arms may be used on the premises and products of any firm holding a *royal warrant from the Queen.

The English lion in the royal arms was referred to from the 17C as the British lion and came gradually to be seen as a symbol of the nation. It provided political cartoonists, particularly in 19C issues of Punch, with rich opportunities; a hostile foreign power, for example, could be shown taking the risky course of 'twisting the tail of the British lion'.

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