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Encyclopedia > Fleur de lis
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Fleurs-de-lys on the flag of Quebec

The fleur-de-lis (also spelled fleur-de-lys; plural fleurs-de-lis or -lys) is used in heraldry, where it is particularly associated with the France monarchy (see King of France).


Origins

The name, anglicized, means "lily flower", and the symbol is in fact a stylized Iris pseudacorus L.. It was adopted by King Philip I of France in the 11th century. His grandson Louis VII was the first to adopt the Azure semé-de-lis Or (a blue shield with a tight pattern of small golden fleur-de-lis) as his badge, and this came to be so closely associated with his country that it is now known as "France Ancient". Three gold flowers on a blue background ("France Modern") dates to 1376 and Charles V of France.


The fleur-de-lis' origins with French monarchs stems from the baptismal lily used in the crowning of King Clovis I. To further enhance its mystique, a legend eventually sprang up that a vial of oil descended from heaven to anoint and sanctify Clovis as King. The thus "anointed" Kings of France later maintained that their authority was directly from God, without the mediation of either the Emperor or the Pope. Other legends claim that even the lily itself appeared at the baptismal ceremony as a gift of blessing in an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church later endorsed the legend by associating Mary with the symbol. There are many other legends, that state for instance that Clovis saw an angel, among others.


Contrary to popular belief, the fleur-de-lis did not originate in France. It was a creation of the ruling class of the Roman Empire, and the French merely adopted, not created, the symbol.

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Polish Scouting Cross featuring the symbol of the Scouting Movement

By the 14th century it had become so closely associated with the rule of France that the English king Edward III quartered his coat of arms with France Ancient in order to emphasize his claim on the French crown. This quartering was changed to France Modern in the early 1400s. The fleur-de-lis was not removed until 1801, when George III gave up his formal claim to the French throne.


Modern usage

France Modern remained the French royal standard, and with a white background was the French national flag until the French Revolution, when it was replaced by the tri-colour flag of modern-day France. The fleur-de-lis was restored to the French flag in 1814, but replaced once again after the revolution against Charles X of France in 1830. The "France modern" fleur-de-lys pattern is also on the coat of arms of the Île-de-France region (as for instance as a badge on the uniforms of the local gendarmerie legion).

Fleurs-de-lys for the ruling Bourbons on the center of the current coat of the Kingdom of Spain
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Fleurs-de-lys for the ruling Bourbons on the center of the current coat of the Kingdom of Spain

In 1948, a new flag of Quebec was introduced that incorporated the fleur-de-lis. Prior to this, the Union Jack had flown over Quebec's legislature.


Other notable places or institutions that use the symbol informally or as part of their heraldic arms are: Quebec; Canada; Spain (ruled by the Bourbons); Augsburg, Germany; Florence, Italy (whose lis-sporting currency fiorino influenced the Dutch gulden and Hungarian forint); Laško, Slovenia; the Fuggers medieval banking family; the House of Lancaster; Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Boy Scouts; New Orleans, Louisiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.


The U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team perform a maneuver they call the "Fleur-de-lis". In this maneuver five aircraft (in a formation they call the "stinger diamond") pull gracefully to a straight vertical direction while trailing white smoke. The four lead aircraft break formation and perform partial loops four different compass directions. The trailing aircraft continues vertically while performing a continuous roll.


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