ANIMAL symbolism in Tudor Times

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Animal Symbolism
in Tudor Times

see also :

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"In a largely illiterate age, visual culture was loaded with political symbolism. Coats of arms and badges... were easily identifiable, a stamp of authority. Pinned to jackets, embroidered on banners, carved and moulded into buildings, and painted on shields and manuscripts, they quickly became associated with a particular family through simple repetition." - Thomas Penn (The Guardian)

Noblemen and Royalty would usually pick a particular animal symbol to denote certain attributes which were used for heraldic purposes. Also
16th Century portraits were often painted with animals as visual clues to the identity and personality of the sitter depicted, for instance, squirrels were symbolic of obedience and personal restraint and Dogs represent faithfulness.
Terrier in paintingsquirrel in a Holbein portrait

Symbol Animal Meaning Chosen by

Bear Strength, cunning, ferocity in the protection of one's kindred William Brereton

Bull Valour, bravery, generosity Thomas Boleyn

Falcon (Hawk) One who does not rest until objective achieved Anne Boleyn
Elizabeth I

Hare One who enjoys a peaceable and retired life Anne Boleyn

Leopard Valiant and hardy warrior who enterprises hazardous things by force and courage Anne Boleyn

Lion Dauntless courage King Henry VIII

Panther Fierce, but tender and loving to children and will defend her children with her life Jane Seymour

Pelican Self-sacrifice and charitable nature; When feeding her young ("in her piety"), symbolizes the duties of a parent or parental love Elizabeth I

Phoenix Symbol of resurrection Jane Seymour

Snake Wisdom Elizabeth i

Swan Purity
it was also symbol of her family because she descended from a knight also called "Knght of Swan"
Anne of Cleves

King Henry VIII

Lion symbol
Symbol: Lion

The Lion is the emblem of England. It is now, on badges, actually a "lion passant gardant" - a walking lion, looking out at you full face, and was first used by Rollo, Duke of Normandy (father of William the Conqueror, who added the second lion to the Royal Coat of Arms for England.) The third was added by Henry II, and Henry VIII added a crown to the lion.

Henry's Wives
Queen Jane Seymour

Symbols: Phoenix, Panther
A phoenix is a mythological bird which never dies but, after 500 years, is consumed by fire and born again, making it a symbol of the Resurrection, endurance and eternal life.

Jane Seymour with dog
Symbol: Dog
Although Jane Seymour had pet dogs, this would have had the double meaning of showing her faithfulness

Queen Anne Boleyn

Falcon badge
: Falcon, hare, leopard
The falcon or hawk signifies someone who is hot or eager in the pursuit of an object much desired. It is frequently found in the coats of arms of nobility from the time when the falcon played an important social role in the sport of kings and nobles. It is found as a heraldic bearing as early as the reign of King Edward II of England. It was also later adopted by her daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

See also : Falc
onry in the TudorsAnne and Her father holding a falcon

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I
Snake in Elizabeth's painting
[source : <a class="external" href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="BBC news March 2010">BBC news March 2010</a>]

Symbol: Snake
Elizabeth depicted with the snake clasped in her fingers in an original version of the work, but it was replaced with a bunch of roses. The Snake is thought to denote wisdom but it is not really known for certain why Elizabeth was painted with the serpent in her hand.

Dr Tarnya Cooper says: 'The recent technical analysis on these remarkable portraits has been critical to our understanding of Tudor painting. The portrait of Elizabeth I with a hidden serpent is a really unusual survival. Yet, it is difficult to know exactly why the serpent may have been originally included, or how common this motif might have been. The queen certainly owned jewelry and costume including emblems of serpents, which were probably understood as a symbol of wisdom. However no other portrait of Elizabeth appears to depict her holding a snake. The current condition of the picture has meant it has not been on display for decades, and this display provides an exciting opportunity to present it to the public alongside other key portraits.'

The Tudors Pets - The Tudors Wiki
The ermine is an animal of the weasel family prized for its tail of pure white fur with a black tip. According to legend the ermine would rather die than soil its pure white coat and it came to stand for purity. It features in many of Elizabeth's portraits, where it also functions as a status symbol, as wearing ermine was restricted to royalty and high nobility.
The ermine was also the symbol of the Dukes of Brittany, and the Breton flag represents black spots on a white background in imitation of its fur.
Elizabeth I - Phoenix portrait
Symbol : Phoenix
(see Jane Seymour above)

Elizabeth I - Pelican Portrait
Symbol: Pelican emblem
a number of devices are used to communicate messages about Elizabeth, including pearls (purity), the Tudor rose (unity) and the pelican pendant pinned on her chest (love). The pelican brought with it a whole host of associations that Elizabeth adopted for herself and it became one of her favourite symbols. Mother pelicans were believed to pluck their own breasts to feed their starving young, often dying in the process (a legend which originated in misunderstanding of their grooming habits). During the Middle Ages the pelican was seen as symbol of Christ's sacrifice, dying on the cross to save mankind. This potent symbol of self-sacrifice and motherly love was co-opted by Elizabeth. It was used to represent her as 'mother' of her Protestant nation and to signify her commitment to her subjects.

Other Notables from Tudor Times

Princess Marguerite of Navarre
sister of King Francis I of France

Princess Marguerite of Navarre by Clouet

This painting is full of symbols which may give clues to the painting's meaning. The sitter wears daisies in her hat. The French word for daisy is Marguerite. The parrot may symbolise eloquence and mean Marguerite was a good talker. The bird may also symbolise love, its green colour denoting passion.
Princess Margaret Tudor

Princess Magaret Tudor holding a monkey

Animal Symbol:


Modern Depictions
Queen Elizabeth I with Lion
Queen Elizabeth I with Lion
Queen Elizabeth I with Stoat
Queen Elizabeth I with Stoat

Peacock Queen

Elizabethan Lady with Peacock