The fleur-de-lis or fleur-de-lys is a stylized lily (in French, fleur means flower, and lis means lily) or iris that is used as a decorative design or symbol. It may be "at one and the same time, religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic", especially in French heraldry. It is represented in Unicode at U+269C (⚜) in the Miscellaneous Symbols block.
While the fleur-de-lis has appeared on countless European coats of arms and flags over the centuries, it is particularly associated with the French monarchy in a historical context, and continues to appear in the arms of the King of Spain and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and members of the House of Bourbon. It remains an enduring symbol of France that appears on French postage stamps, although it has never been adopted officially by any of the French republics. According to French historian Georges Duby, the three petals represent the medieval social classes: those who worked, those who fought, and those who prayed.
In France it is widely used in city emblems like in the coat of arms of the city of Lille, Saint-Denis, Brest, Clermont-Ferrand, Boulogne-Billancourt and Calais. Some cities that had been particularly faithful to the Crown were awarded an heraldic augmentation of two or three fleurs-de-lis on the chief of their coat of arms; such cities include Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Reims, Le Havre, Angers, Le Mans, Aix-en-Provence, Tours, Limoges, Amiens, Orléans, Rouen, Argenteuil, Poitiers, Chartres and Laon among others. The fleur-de-lis was the symbol of Île-de-France, the core of the French kingdom. It appeared on the coat-of-arms of other historical provinces of France, like Burgundy, Anjou, Picardy, Berry, Orléanais, Bourbonnais, Maine, Touraine, Artois, Dauphiné, Saintonge and the County of La Marche. Many of the current departments uses the ancient symbol on its coat to express this heritage.
In Florentine fleurs-de-lis, the stamens are always posed between the petals. This heraldic charge is often known as the Florentine lily to distinguish it from the conventional design. As an emblem of the city, it is therefore found in icons of the bishop Zenobius. The currency of Florence, the fiorino, was decorated with it, and it influenced the appearance and name of the Hungarian forint and other florins. The Tuscan towns of Firenzuola and Castelfiorentino inherited the red Florentine lily on their coat. The Finnish city of Turku uses a fleur-de-lis similar to the Florentine one on its coat.
The heraldic fleur-de-lis is still widespread: among the numerous cities which use it as a symbol are some whose names echo the word 'lily', for example, Liljendal, Finland, and Lelystad, Netherlands. This is called canting arms in heraldic terminology. Other European examples of municipal coats-of-arms bearing the fleur-de-lis include Lincoln in England, Morcín in Spain, Wiesbaden in Germany, Skierniewice in Poland and Jurbarkas in Lithuania. The Swiss municipality of Schlieren and the Estonian municipality of Jõelähtme also have a fleur-de-lis on their coats.
The coat of arms of the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia contained six fleurs-de-lis, understood as the native Bosnian or Golden Lily, Lilium bosniacum. This emblem was revived in 1992 as a national symbol of Bosniaks, and was the flag of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 1992 to 1998. Although the state insignia were changed in 1999 on request of two other ethnic groups (Serbs and Croats), the flag of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina still contains a fleur-de-lis alongside the Croatian chequy. Fleurs also appear in the flags and arms of many cantons, municipalities, cities and towns. It is still used as official insignia of the Bosniak Regiment of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the United Kingdom, a fleur-de-lis has appeared in the official arms of the Norroy King of Arms for hundreds of years. A silver fleur-de-lis on a blue background is the arms of the Barons Digby.
In English and Canadian heraldry the fleur-de-lis is the cadence mark of a sixth son.
In Mauritius, slaves were branded with a fleur-de-lis.
The Welsh poet Hedd Wyn used Fleur de Lys as his pen name when he won his chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru), the national poetry contest.
Fleurs-de-lis appear on military insignia and the logos of many organizations. During the 20th century the symbol was adopted by various Scouting organizations worldwide for their badges. Architects and designers use it alone and as a repeated motif in a wide range of contexts, from ironwork to bookbinding, especially where a French context is implied.
The symbol is also often used on a compass rose to mark the north direction, a tradition started by Flavio Gioja, a Neapolitan mariner of the 14th century.
Symbolism in religion and art
In the Middle Ages the symbols of lily and fleur-de-lis (lis is French for "lily") overlapped considerably in Christian religious art. Michel Pastoureau, the historian, says that until about 1300 they were found in depictions of Jesus, but gradually they took on Marian symbolism and were associated with the Song of Solomon's "lily among thorns" (lilium inter spinas), understood as a reference to Mary. Other scripture and religious literature in which the lily symbolizes purity and chastity also helped establish the flower as an iconographic attribute of the Virgin. It was also believed that the fleur-de-lis represented the Holy Trinity.
In medieval England, from the mid-12th century, a noblewoman's seal often showed the lady with a fleur-de-lis, drawing on the Marian connotations of "female virtue and spirituality". Images of Mary holding the flower first appeared in the 11th century on coins issued by cathedrals dedicated to her, and next on the seals of cathedral chapters, starting with Notre Dame de Paris in 1146. A standard portrayal was of Mary carrying the flower in her right hand, just as she is shown in that church's Virgin of Paris statue (with lily), and in the centre of the stained glass rose window (with fleur-de-lis sceptre) above its main entrance. The flowers may be "simple fleurons, sometimes garden lilies, sometimes genuine heraldic fleurs-de-lis". As attributes of the Madonna, they are often seen in pictures of the Annunciation, notably in those of Sandro Botticelli and Filippo Lippi. Lippi also uses both flowers in other related contexts: for instance, in his Madonna in the Forest.
The three petals of the heraldic design reflect a widespread association with the Holy Trinity, with the band on the bottom symbolizing Mary. The tradition says that without Mary you can not understand the Trinity since it was she who bore The Son. A tradition going back to 14th century France added onto the earlier belief that they also represented faith, wisdom and chivalry.
"Flower of light" symbolism has sometimes been understood from the archaic variant fleur-de-luce (see Latin lux, luc- = "light"), but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests this arose from the spelling, not from the etymology.
In building and architecture, the fleur-de-lis is often placed on top of iron fence posts, as a pointed defence against intruders. It may ornament any tip, point or post with a decorative flourish, for instance, on finials, the arms of a cross, or the point of a gable. The fleur-de-lis can be incorporated in friezes or cornices, although the distinctions between fleur-de-lis, fleuron, and other stylized flowers are not always clear, or can be used as a motif in an all-over tiled pattern, perhaps on a floor. It may appear in a building for heraldic reasons, as in some English churches where the design paid a compliment to a local lord who used the flower on his coat of arms. Elsewhere the effect seems purely visual, like the crenellations on the 14th-century Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. It can also be seen on the doors of 16th-century Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Some modern usage of the fleur-de-lis reflects "the continuing presence of heraldry in everyday life", often intentionally, but also when users are not aware that they are "prolonging the life of centuries-old insignia and emblems".
Fleurs-de-lis feature on military badges like those of the Israeli Intelligence Corps, the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force, the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Corps of Cadets at Louisiana State University. They may be chosen for sports teams, especially when it echoes a local flag, as with the former Quebec Nordiques National Hockey League team and the former Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team, the Serie A team Fiorentina, the Major League Soccer team, the Montreal Impact, the sports teams of New Orleans, Louisiana in the NFL, NBA, and the Pacific Coast League, and in coats of arms and logos for universities (like the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Saint Louis University and Washington University in Missouri), schools (in St. Peter, Minnesota) and companies (like the Royal Elastics shoe company). The Lady Knights of the University of Arkansas at Monticello have also adopted the fleur de lis as one of the symbols associated with their coat of arms. The flag of Lincolnshire, adopted in 2005, has a fleur-de-lis for the city of Lincoln. It is one of the symbols of the American sororities Kappa Kappa Gamma and Theta Phi Alpha, the American fraternities Alpha Epsilon Pi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Mu, as well as the international co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. It is also used by the high school and college fraternity Scouts Royale Brotherhood of the Philippines. Marc-André Fleury, a Canadian ice hockey goaltender, has a fleur-de-lis logo on his mask.
The symbol may be used in less traditional ways. After Hurricane Katrina many New Orleanians of varying ages and backgrounds were tattooed with "one of its cultural emblems" as a "memorial" of the storm, according to a researcher at Tulane University. The US Navy Blue Angels have named a looping flight demonstration manoeuvre after the flower as well, and there are even two surgical procedures called "after the fleur."
Owing to its French heritage, Chevrolet has used the fleur-de-lis emblems on their cars, most notably the Corvette, but until 1990, the Caprice sedan.
The current UFC Welterweight Champion, Georges St. Pierre, has a tattoo of the fleur-de-lis on his right calf.
The Campbells soup company uses it on its soup can labels.
New Orleans based metal band Down use the symbol frequently on t shirt designs and it features on their album Nola.
A fleur-de-lis also appears in some of the logos of local Louisiana media. Such as in the logo of WGNO-TV, the local ABC-affiliated television station in New Orleans, and WVUE-TV, the local Fox-affiliated television station in New Orleans.
Symbol of Scouting
The fleur-de-lis is the main element in the logo of most Scouting organizations, representing a major theme in Scouting: the outdoors and wilderness. The World Scout Emblem of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, has elements of which are used by most national Scout organizations. The symbol was chosen by Sir Robert Baden-Powell as it had been the arm-badge of those soldiers qualified as "Scouts" (reconnaissance specialists) when he served in the British Army. The classical description of this shape in Scouting literature connects the compass rose with the purpose of Scouting's principles—namely that Scouting gives one's life direction. The stars stand for truth and knowledge, the encircling rope for unity, and its reef knot or square knot, service.
The symbol has featured in modern fiction on historical and mystical themes, as in the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code and other books discussing the Priory of Sion. It recurs in French literature, where examples well known in English translation include Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, a character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, and the mention in Dumas's The Three Musketeers of the old custom of branding a criminal with the sign (fleurdeliser). During the reign of Elizabeth I of England, known as the Elizabethan era, it was a standard name for an iris, a usage which lasted for centuries, but occasionally refers to lilies or other flowers. It also appeared in the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole on a sign composed by the main character.