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10th Jul 2024

Why England wear the three lions on their shirts

Zoe Hodges

History lesson done for the day

Thanks to their lacklustre performances on the pitch, England’s Three Lions have been rebranded the Three Kittens by opposition fans and European press.

They sneaked past Serbia 1-0 in their opening group game before holding on for a draw against Denmark and Slovenia. They were minutes from elimination against Slovakia in their round-of-16 tie before Jude Bellingham forced extra-time and Harry Kane’s header sealed victory.

Against Switzerland, it took penalties to progress to the semis and England have looked jammy as opposed to threatening.

But where does their nickname come from and why do they wear the Three Lions on their shirts?

It is thought to date back to medieval battlefields and in fact has nothing to do with sport. As far back as the Bronze Age, militaries distinguished themselves with recognisable symbols and logos.

Roman legions used the lion as their symbol as did the Vikings. Count Geoffrey ‘Plantagenet’ of Anjou, a pure-blooded Frenchman and the husband of William the Conqueror’s granddaughter, died in 1151 and left tomb effigy depicting him holding a shield with six gold lions on a blue background.

When his son, King Henry II restored England’s fortunes after the civil war between his mother, the Empress Matilda and her cousin, King Stephen, he began using one or two Lions as his insignia.

His son and successor, Richard the Lionheart also used, what is thought to be two rampant lions standing on their hind legs fighting each other.

However, Richard began experimenting with his insignia and the earliest depiction of the three lions as we see them today came in 1198 when Richard was depicted galloping on horseback with his sword drawn, carrying a shield emblazoned with the prowling three lions.

When Richard’s brother, John Lackland assumed the throne, he dropped his two lions in favour of Richard’s insignia, all but confirming the emblem as the royal arms of England.

The three lions logo has been the emblem of the Football Association since the governing body began and was part of the strip since the first official international in 1872 when England played Scotland… that also underwhelmed as it finished 0-0.