What is the meaning of the three lions on the England badge?

Sports men and women playing for the England team in various sports have a badge on their shirt depicting three lions. They wear this because it is a symbol of England. Also, the lions are a symbol of strength and courage, two qualities which are essential in winning in sport competitions.

The Lions showing cub, female and male a woke version of the Three Lions introduced by the Football Association
The Lions showing cub, female and male; a woke version of the Three Lions introduced by the Football Association. Image: FA.
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Original Three Lions badge for England footballers
Original Three Lions badge for England footballers will continue to be used. Imgage: FA.


The evolution of the Three Lions is uncertain and the experts are still not completely in agreement, it appears to me. However the first lion on a king’s standard was in 1100 when Henry I came to power. His second wife was Adeliza of Louvain, whose father had a lion on his shield. To commemorate the marriage Henry added a second lion to his standard. The third lion arrived 1152 when Henry II married the Duchess of Aquitaine.

Late in the 12th century Richard the Lionheart used three golden lions on a scarlet background as a symbol of the English throne. They were “three lions passant guardant”. They have endured ever since.

Technically for around 200 years the Three Lions were in fact Three Leopards. This is because when a lion is shown “rampant” meaning standing erect with forepaws raised they are considered to be a lion but when they are shown walking with their head turned full-face they are regarded as leopards. The side-on creatures were regarded as leopards until the late 1300s when they started to call them lions. They were regarded as a hybrid of a lion and a mythical beast called a ‘pard’ creating the name leopard.


So the meaning of the Three Lions on the team players is that they represent England including its long history. And the players are meant to carry this badge with pride. The original purpose of the use of the lion in heraldry was to demonstrate to the world the courage and lion-like qualities of the bearer of the badge or standard. It sends a message to his or her opponents that they are to be feared.

Woke movement

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In an interesting evolution of the badge and in recognition of the power of the modern “woke” movement, the Football Association (FA) announced on Thursday that the traditional Three Lions would be replaced by a new logo which shows a lion cub, a lion and a lioness rather than three males.

The FA said that the move would give this mediaeval crest a “fresh purpose”. They wanted the badge to be more inclusive.

“A cub, lion and lioness unite to form the new England football crest with no boundaries; representing everyone at every level of football across the country.”

The senior football teams would wear the traditional Three Lions badge (see above second pic down), which they have worn since the first international match in 1872. The new badge will help promote English football and grassroots football.

Fans’ reaction

The reaction of the fans has been mixed. Some have joked about it while others have praised the change. One fan question whether the new badge is diverse enough. That is a good point actually because diversity is more than including a child and a female. It should include a different race but how do you do that within one species of animal? Well, that would be impossible if you wanted to use three lions which they were obliged to do.

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