The School was founded in 1553. William Capon, Rector of St Mary's in Southampton and Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, left money for it in his will. King Edward VI gave it his approval and his name. When the School became independent in 1979 Colin Dobson (Former Head Master) contacted the Royal College of Arms who confirmed that the School were able to use King Edward’s coat of arms. The Governors have since tried to develop a consistent policy on how they should be displayed.
The display of two gold lions on a red shield is frequently attributed to the early Norman kings but it is certain that the shield of three lions appeared on the second great seal of Richard I (1157-99). They are referred to as "passant guardant". This expression means a walking lion looking out of the shield.
The first king to use supporters that is the animals on either side of the shield, was King Edward VI's grandfather, Henry VII. He used a dragon and a greyhound. The dragon is traditionally associated with the Cadwalader family, the last native ruler of Britain from whom Henry claimed descent. Henry VIII replaced the greyhound with the lion and put it on the senior side, i.e. the left side when you look at the arms. Edward VI, his son, didn't change anything (so that is why there is a lion and a dragon on the School coat of arms). Henry VIII was also the first monarch to regularly use a crown with arches, and Edward VI and succeeding sovereigns to the present day continue the practice.
The principal part of the Coat of Arms is the shield which in the case of King Edward's arms is divided into quarters. The quarters are divided equally between the Fleur-de-Lis of France and the Lions of England. It was Edward III in 1337 claiming the throne of France as well as that of England who first used and put together the principal French and English forms in heraldry. Fleur-de-Lis ("Flower of Louis") was borne on a royal seal by Louis VIII of France (1137-80). Originally there were many more Fleur-de-Lis on each shield, this was known as "France Ancient" but in or around 1376 Charles V of France reduced the number of fleurs-de-lis to three (France modern). Following the reduction made in the French seal, Henry IV of England in 1405 reduced the number in the English arms. The Fleur-de-Lis continued in the Royal Arms of Great Britain until 1801. It could be said, several centuries too long for by 1801 English kings had long given up any claim to the French throne. When we look at the shield the Fleur-de-Lis is always displayed top left. This is the senior or dexter side as France in medieval hierarchy was considered senior to England. The junior side is called sinister. It is, of course, top right if you are wearing the arms or carry a shield (Doctors will easily understand this).
Below the coat of arms is the motto "Dieu et mon droict" (God and my right). This motto had been used well before Edward VI's time. Henry VI (1421-61), a hundred years before Edward, was the first to use the motto consistently. Sometimes droit is spelt droict. This is not a mistake but in Edward's time the archaic spelling of droit was sometimes used. We use this spelling, for instance, on our mini buses.
The Order of the Garter
The remaining major element of the coat of arms is the Order of the Garter. The Order of the Garter is the oldest surviving order of chivalry in the world. It was founded by King Edward III in or about 1348. Kings from Edward III frequently encircled their shield with the Garter but it was not until Henry VIII and then Edward VI that this became consistent and the insignia reading "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (Evil to him who evil thinks) was used. This is seen on Queen Elizabeth II's coat of arms today.
The Coat of Arms has undergone many changes over the centuries but it is remarkable how similar the School's Coat of Arms are to the present Sovereign's. The Fleur-de-Lis has disappeared and the English lions have moved to the senior position and the fourth quarter, the arms of Scotland and Ireland in the second and third quarters. Wales, which is a Principality, is not included.
Going into Battle
When going into battle the King would wear a surcoat over his armour. Woven into the surcoat was the coat of arms of the sovereign*. Sometimes to confuse the enemy a number of the King's bodyguards would also wear an identical surcoat. There was one very great exception to this and that took place on 25 October 1415 at the Battle of Agincourt. Agincourt is situated just off the main Calais to Paris road and is similar in appearance to what it was nearly six centuries ago.
King Henry V was the only person present at the battle to wear the royal surcoat quartered with Fleur-de-Lis and English lions and he stood and fought over the body of his cousin, the dying Duke of York, surrounded by French knights. He was able to fend them off. His damaged helmet can still be seen today in Westminster Abbey. The flag of the school is identical to the surcoat Henry wore at that most famous of battles, Agincourt.
*This enabled him to be identified and also helped to protect the armour particularly from rust and extremes of temperature.