The Leicestershire flag was widely acknowledged as the county flag in 2020 following its bizarre disqualification from a BBC led competition. “The Fox and Cinquefoil” flag, which had been promoted by a county group for six years, 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 serrated 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. 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 or interpretation, of this window presents a clearer image
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”. 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. The serrated arms can also be found adorning the town’s library
Another stained glass depiction featuring both sets of arms, is present in Saint Andrew’s Church in Headington, Oxfordshire
and on a third
at Saint Lawrence’s Church, Evesham in Worcestershire which 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.
Whilst the orientation of the ermine spots on the flag differs from the vertical realisation found on modern depictions such as the civic arms of the city of Leicester
the design reflects the positioning deployed on the original De Bellomont seal
and indeed this depiction has also been used on the city’s civic arms
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 flag retains this traditional local red and white colour scheme and its historic zigzag division, 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 civic arms of Oadby
and the combined device for the merged local authority
the civic arms of Market Harborough
Ashby de la Zouche
and the city of Leicester itself
A cinquefoil is also the emblem of the Leicester Hockey Club
The Leicestershire Golf Club
Leicester Grammar School’s logo
and is included in the logo of the Leicestershire and Rutland County Archery Association
Cinquefoils also appear on the arms
of Leicester University.
On the lower white section of the flag 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 supersedes its original symbolism and reference. One was present on the former badge
of the county’s combined police force and a fox also appears on the insignia of Charnwood Borough Council
the county ambulance service
the Leicestershire and Rutland division of Saint John Ambulance service
and a fox was present on a badge worn by nurses at a county hospital
A fox was also used by Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland Army Cadet Force
the local branch of the Women’s Institute
is used in various depictions by Leicestershire Scouts
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
and it is also deployed in modern logo form
A county junior archery club is also named The Foxes and naturally, one is featured on its badge
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 in the profile of an online county news service
and by the county football association;
and one appeared on the badge of the former Leicester United football club which ceased to operate in 1969
Perhaps the clearest demonstration of the county’s unequivocal association with the fox is the appearance of one on this Christmas card
wishing season’s greetings from Leicestershire!
Leicestershire’s two distinctive cinquefoil and fox emblems are presently found in combination on the badge of Leicester City Football Club
and the current badges
of the county’s combined police force (includes Rutland as indicated by the horseshoe) and fire and rescue service
the insignia of the county’s Amateur Swimming Association
and the insignia of Leicestershire Aero Club
which features both a classic running fox depiction, over a central red cinquefoil, with white ermine detail and two further fox faces flanking the central device.
Also of note are the arms
of Leicester Grammar School, which feature both the county’s fox
as part of the crest.
Another notable example of the county’s association with the fox can be found on this commemorative plate
produced for the Leicestershire Constabulary Gala Day in 1982. Surrounding the plate are arms and emblems of Leicestershire and Rutland organisations. At the top are the arms of the Leicester and Rutland Police Authority, granted 20th Sept 1968, then clockwise, are the arms of Leicestershire County Council; the heraldic device of the former Leicestershire and Rutland Constabulary 1951 – 1967; the arms of Rutland County Council; and finally the arms of Leicester City Council. In-between these are the crests, of Rutland Council – the horseshoes, Leicestershire Council – the Fox and Leicester City Council – the wyverns.
The combination of fox and cinquefoil on the flag
thus continues a recognised county theme, in a simply constructed and locally meaningful design, which has received trenchant support, both local
and from further afield
Annie Platoff, respected vexillologist and published author.
The Leicestershire ‘Fox and Cinquefoil’, shown below in a variety of sizes,
It is seen here
by the statue of Richard III in Leicester and below
decorating a barge on one of the county’s waterways.
The flag was on display at the 75th anniversary of the Tirpitz Raid, held at Victoria Park, Leicester, on 6th April 2019, with members of the RAF Association, Fleet Air Arm, and Leicestershire & Rutland Royal British Legion.
Photos courtesy of Steve Godley, RBL Riders.
The flag was raised at veterans’ breakfasts, and a local village fête
and local history and archaeology groups subsequently acquired flags to fly at events
and stickers began to appear on vehicles
The flag is on display below
along with a detailed information sheet above it (top left) at a Leicestershire school.
The Fox and Cinquefoil was seen at the Copredy Festival
and is presented here
around the University of Leicester campus, below
with a local military re-enactment group and it also made an appearance at a 2018 Battle of Hastings re-enactment!
In 2019 the flag was a feature of a Leicestershire resident’s tour through South Asia, being presented at several significant points along the route
and was wielded in Belgium
by a team from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services.
In June of the same year the flag made an appearance at the Glastonbury music festival
and it was displayed the following year by fans of Leicester City at the club’s King Power stadium
and fans of Leicester Tigers rugby team at a match against Wasps
A tote bag and mug bearing the flag are seen below
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.