Leicestershire is one of three English counties without a registered flag but the above design, “the fox and cinquefoil”, favoured by a contingent hoping to see the county added to the registry, combines several themes and devices found on civic arms, club badges and organisational emblems throughout the county, namely, a field divided red and white; a zigzag or serrated division; a floral depiction termed a cinquefoil; and a running fox.
The red and white divided field was a pattern borne by the de Montfort earls of Leicester, whose family emanated from Normandy. Simon de Montfort, the sixth earl, came from France to claim lands which had belonged to his ancestors. He returned to Gascony in 1248 to settle King Henry III’s unruly lands, which caused the locals to petition the king against him. He was tried for misgovernment at Westminster but won his case. De Montfort and other barons were becoming disaffected with the King’s irresponsible rule, they arrived fully armed at a Great Council meeting, where, led by de Montfort, they forced the King to accept reforms, the “Provisions of Oxford.” A Parliament was to be called and a permanent council of fifteen, of whom de Montfort was one, was to control the King’s actions. On May 14th 1264 de Montfort’s army engaged the King’s on the South Downs north of Lewes, Sussex and victorious, he became de facto ruler of England. After a rule of just over a year, de Montfort met his death at the hands of forces loyal to the King, at the Battle of Evesham. He is regarded today as one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy.
In his “A Complete Guide To Heraldry”, A.C Fox-Davies writes of a cousin, Amaury, count of Gloucester circa 1213, who is recorded as using a seal
featuring the shield from his coat of arms, which has large zigzag indentations, blazoned as “argent and gules”, white and red
This shield, Fox-Davies avers, is doubtless an early form of the red and white indented shield borne by the de Montforts later in the same century. Although the arms of both Simon de Montfort the fifth Earl of Leicester and his son of the same name, the sixth earl, were evidently a red shield with a white double tailed lion
in the heraldic roll (Roll temp. Henry III) Simon the younger is further ascribed arms with a shield with a white and red indented division
which Fox-Davies supposes were probably the original de Montfort arms, as use by the cousin suggests. This seems to be confirmed by the appearance of the same design on the “Herald’s Roll”, c 1270-80 and “Segar’s Roll”, dating about 1282
where it is described as “Le veyl escu de Leycestre”, that is, “the old shield of Leicester”. It appears that in fact the earls deployed both sets of arms, the older set of arms to represent the office, the earldom, with the white lion for the person of the earl holding the title. The white double-tailed lion also appears on the later Segar’s Roll described as the arms of the Count of Leicester
It seems likely that the indented arms originated across the channel and were brought to England by the incoming Norman family. A major portion of the earldom was the town and environs of Hinckley and the white and red divided design came to be strongly associated with this locality, being termed the “Arms of Honour of Hinckley”. They are displayed on a stained glass window in Chartres Cathedral
where Simon de Montfort the sixth earl, is seen astride his charger with his white lion shield on his arm and the indented red and white banner of his other arms held aloft. An illustration/interpretation of this window presents a clearer image
In the modern era, the design is found in the insignia of local organisations including the civic arms of Hinckley
and in combination with the de Montfort personal arms, forms part of the badge of Hinckley AFC
the town’s football club. Another stained glass depiction featuring both sets of arms, is present in Saint Andrew’s Church in Headington, Oxfordshire
and a third
at Saint Lawrence’s Church, Evesham in Worcestershire, portrays de Montfort worshipping with his knights, the morning before the battle of Evesham, August 4th, 1265. The famed de Montfort banner is again present.
The de Montfort double tailed white lion is found in a window at Westminster Abbey, topped by their serrated white and red combination, in pennant form.
De Montfort’s grandfather, Simon IV, had married Amicia de Beaumont, the daughter of Robert De Beaumont (De Bellomont), 4th Earl of Leicester, upon whose death in 1190, he inherited the title through his marriage, to become the fifth Earl of Leicester. De Beaumont bore arms depicting an ermine cinquefoil against a red field
A cinquefoil is a floral emblem, the term meaning “five leaves”. It has been suggested that the device represents a pimpernel, seen below
as a play on words, to indicate Robert’s alternative name, Robert fitzPernel, as an example of canting arms. In “A Complete Guide To Heraldry”, A.C Fox-Davies writes that “the origin of the cinquefoil is yet to be accounted for. The earliest De Bellomont for whom I can find proof of user thereof is Robert “Fitz-Pernell,” otherwise De Bellomont, who died in 1206, and whose seal shows it.”
Fox-Davies continues “Be it noted it is not a shield….my suggestion that it is nothing more than a pimpernel flower adopted as a device or badge to typify his own name and his mother’s name, she being Pernelle or Petronilla, … and is not therefore likely to have been used as a coat of arms by the De Bellomonts, though no doubt they used it as a badge and device, as no doubt did Simon de Montfort…Men were for Montfort or the king, and those that were for De Montfort very probably took and used his badge of a cinquefoil as a party badge.”
However in the modern era, a very interesting theory about the cinquefoil has been proposed by the history blog thiswasleicestershire which describes the architecture of the tower of Saint Mary’s church, in the village of Humberstone, “There are two more friezes on the south side of the tower that deserve our attention; … They each display a cinquefoil surrounded by four flowers.
They have been interpreted as symbols of Leicester’s Norman earls, which is not inaccurate; the cinquefoil was adopted by Robert FitzParnell who reigned over Leicester from 1158 to 1205. With the tower of Humberstone church being constructed in the mid-thirteenth century, this would fit perfectly if indeed the carvings were the same age as the tower. The problem is that the carvings are clearly not the same age. If the Humberstone cinquefoils are Norman in origin, it would make them the oldest depictions of Leicester’s symbol in the county. What I am proposing is a new interpretation, that these cinquefoils pre-date the Norman era and have no direct association with the Norman earls who adopted it as their symbol. It is my thought that the Vikings Ingwar and Hubba were the first to bring the cinquefoil into the Leicester.”
The blog relates that the village was conceivably named for one Hubba, who had arrived from a Danish settlement named Hedeby, which was associated with the cinquefoil device.
“I do believe that all of the carvings at Humberstone were made at the same time by the same artist. Stylistically they are the same and the cinquefoils are made from the same stone as four of the other reliefs….If Humberstone really was a settlement named after Hubba, then the cinquefoil on the church is likely to be a symbol of Hubba’s fatherland – Hedeby.
A tile bearing a cinquefoil is also amongst the designs located at the 14th century Saint Mary de Castro church in Leicester.
The red and white colour scheme of the De Montforts, their indented line of division and the ermine cinquefoil are all to be found in the arms of Leicestershire County Council.
The proposed flag retains the traditional red and white colour scheme associated with the locality and its historic zigzag division but in the horizontal depiction found on the council’s arms.
Against the upper red section is the De Beaumont cinquefoil, which has certainly become something of a local motif, having had a clear association with the county since at least 1784 when it appeared on ‘A New Map Of The Counties Of Leicester And Rutland Drawn From The Latest Authorities’ by Thomas Conder
In addition to its appearance on the above two sets of civic arms, the device is also found
on the arms of Oadby and Wigtson and
the combined device for the merged local authority
; the civic arms of Market Harborough
, Market Bosworth , Ashby de la Zouche
and the city of Leicester itself
It is also the emblem of the Leicester Hockey Club
and appears on the arms
of Leicester University.
On the lower white section is a depiction of a fox. This animal also has a strong association with the county: as seen, it is used by Leicestershire council as a crest
on its formal arms and as a modern logo
Whilst originally adopted in token of the origin of organised hunting in the county, in the late seventeenth century, it has since become a unique Leicestershire symbol, whose modern status as a distinct county emblem now supercedes its original symbolism and reference.
A fox also appears on the insignia of Charnwood Borough Council;
the county ambulance service
and the Leicestershire and Rutland division of Saint John Ambulance service;
Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland Army Cadet Force;
appears on the badge of the local branch of the Women’s Institute
and is used in various depictions by Leicestershire Scouts
It also features on the insignia of Leicestershire Aero Club
and is widely deployed by a variety of sporting organisations and clubs in the county.
A fox is notably the emblem of the cricket team
, which, pointedly, is named “Leicestershire Foxes”
and a depiction of the animal appears on the flag flown by the club
A fox also adorns the cover of this 1910 club publication
The local golf union features a fox on its insignia
and presents a trophy in the form of a fox!
The emblem is also present on the badges of Leicestershire clubs, Glenn Gorse left, Cosby right, below,
and Hinckley, in combination with the above described De Montfort serrated red and white division
A fox is used by the county rugby association;
and appears on the badges of local clubs Lutterworth, left and Hinckley right, below
It further appears on the badges of Leicestershire Hockey Association;
and Leicester Squash Club;
Leicestershire County Indoor Bowling;
and the umbrella organisation which oversees secondary school sport in the county, “Team Leicestershire”
A fox is further used by the county football association;
and one appeared on the badge of the former Leicester United football club which ceased to operate in 1969
Leicestershire’s two distinct cinquefoil and fox emblems are presently found in combination on the badge of Leicester City Football Club
the emblem of the county police force
and the insignia of the county’s Amateur Swimming Association
Also of note are the arms
of Leicester Grammar School, which feature both the county’s fox
as part of the crest.
The combination of fox and cinquefoil on the flag
thus continues a recognised county theme, in a simply constructed and locally meaningful design.
The Leicestershire ‘Fox and Cinquefoil’
decorating a barge on one of the county’s waterways. It is displayed here
around the University of Leicester campus and is seen below
with a local military re-enactment group.
A design often marketed as the county flag of Leicestershire, being the coat of arms of Leicestershire County Council in flag form,
in fact represents only Leicestershire County Council and flying it requires permission from the council. This council additionally, does not administer the whole county, the city of Leicester itself is self-administering, so the symbols of the county council cannot represent the entire county, by definition. It is also worth noting that the design does not include, probably the single most definitive county emblem, the running fox, as amply demonstrated above.