Everything You Need to Know About The Queen’s Beasts Coins
When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was coronated in 1953, Westminster Abbey was protected by ten fantastical creatures: The Queen’s Beasts. This selection of fearsome animals reflected the centuries of tradition and heritage that had been thrust upon the shoulders of the then 26-year-old queen.
The Queen’s Beasts coin series – influenced by many centuries of royal splendour – includes ten different designs, all based upon living animals or mythical creatures. The original Queen’s Beasts were a set of ten statues created by the Ministry of Works for Her Majesty’s coronation ceremony.
The Background Of The Beasts
Royal Heraldry may be filled with ethereal tales of mythical creatures, but the reality is rooted in far more practical origins. In days-gone-by soldiers on the battlefield would need to distinguish their brothers in arms from that of their enemy. They would carry different colours, to quickly identify each side as they commenced battle.
Over time, these denominations were adopted by knights and were evolved into emblems which highlighted heritage and lineage.
To simplify these emblems (over time they had become increasingly complex as battles and territories were won and lost) a badge motif with a simple logo – such as a thistle, for example – was adopted which could be recognised by anyone. These badges were customised with ‘beasts’; a more personal and intimidating representation of the holder.
Meet The Beasts
The Lion of England
Introduced in February 2016
The Lion was one of the very first animals to appear in royal emblems; the British symbol of endurance, perseverance and courage. It was first recorded when Henry I gifted Geoffrey Plantagenet a blue shield adorned with small golden lions as a wedding gift in 1127.
For as long as England had a shield of its own, it has always featured this animal in some form or another. The motif was made consistent during the twelfth century under the rule of King Henry II and his son Richard I, also known as Richard ‘The Lionheart'.
The Griffin of Edward III
Introduced in October 2016
In mythology, the griffin – a creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle – was thought to be an ever watchful guardian. Possessing the keen sight and decisive action of an eagle and the loyalty and bravery of a lion, the griffin was rumoured to make nests of gold to protect their eggs.
The griffin of The Queen’s Beast is depicted with large wings, which according to legend, would make it a female (males have no wings). The griffin was most closely associated with Edward III who held the throne for over fifty years. He had the creature engraved on his private seal, along with the falcon – his two favourite beasts.
The Red Dragon of Wales
Introduced in March 2017
Dragons are the archetypal figure of mythical beasts.
Legends of these extraordinary and frightening creatures have spawned from every corner of the globe and remain very much in our consciousness due to their inclusion in modern stories such as Harry Potter, The Hobbit and Game of Thrones. Dragons in Wales were chronicled as early as the sixth century.
The Red Dragon of The Queen’s Beasts was the emblem of Owen Tudor, who used it to emphasise his Welsh heritage – a tradition later carried on by his grandson Henry VII.
When Henry VII secured the crown of England at the Battle of Bosworth, Henry’s men carried a red dragon emblem. His son, the illustrious Henry VIII, carried a red dragon on a white and green background on his ships.
It had been the official emblem of Wales for many years before the famous red dragon on green and white became the national flag.
The Unicorn of Scotland
Introduced in September 2017
Tales of the unicorn can be found as far back as 400 BC, but these are thought to be confused and exaggerated accounts of rhinoceros, wild bulls and horses. The creature was initially reported to be large, robust and fearsome, but later renditions came to paint it in a more favourable light as an elegant, flawless beast – something more in-line with how we recognise these beasts today.
James I of England, who was responsible for consolidating the English and Scottish powers, chose the Scottish Unicorn to partner the Lion of England as a symbol of their united strength. They have remained together ever since.
The Unicorn of Scotland, pure-white with bright golden hooves, horn and mane, has a chain attached around its neck. It is speculated that this symbolises the tamed power of the beast and is used to emphasise rather than diminish its power.
The Black Bull of Clarence
Introduced in March 2018
The Black Bull of Clarence is a beast which came to Her Majesty through Edward IV, the first King of England from the House of York and one of the most critical players in the War of The Roses.
After Edward took power from Henry VI – a king whose reign could be described as troubled at best – Henry fled to Scotland, and after briefly returning to the throne, was eventually defeated by Edward once for all in 1461.
Edward IV, along with his brother Richard III (the last York king), often used a bull as a symbol.
The Black Bull of Clarence at the Queen’s coronation held a shield displaying the Royal Arms as they looked for more than 200 years; carried not only by the York Kings but also the Lancastrians who went before and the Tudors who came after.
The Falcon of the Plantagenets
Introduced in September 2018
The Falcon was passed through to The Queen from the Plantagenet King Edward III. The symbol embodies his love of hawking, but it is also quite closely associated with his great-great-great grandson, Edward VI.
The Falcon at the coronation held a shield which displayed a badge showing a white falcon with an open padlock.
The padlock and the falcon were familiar emblems in the Houses of York and Lancaster.
The Yale of Beaufort
Available From March 2019
The Yale is a mythical creature similar in appearance to an antelope or goat, which varies depending on whether the artist is looking to portray grace and sophistication, or persistence and vigour.
It is said to have horns that can rotate independently from one another, which is why it is depicted in medieval illustrations with its horns pointing in different directions. The Yale of Beaufort has white and gold-spots all over its body, moving horns and the whiskers of a wild boar.
The Yale of Beaufort was originally a symbol of Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. The Yale of The Queen’s Beasts is seen clutching a shield with the quartered design of Margaret’s arms but with a golden portcullis in the centre, an emblem used by Henry VII.
The White Lion of Mortimer
Available From September 2019
The White Lion was inherited by The Queen from Edward IV, who himself took the creature from the heiress of the Mortimer’s – his grandmother. Unlike the Lion of England, the White Lion doesn’t have a crown, and the tongue and claws are blue as opposed to red.
Lions are often thought to be fearsome creatures, but the Lion of Mortimer is sitting more like a pet dog than a terrifying monster.
The White Lion of The Queen’s Beasts holds a Yorkist shield with a white rose on a golden sun – an emblem bringing together themes from the emblems of both Edward IV and Richard III.
The Queen's father used the badge while he served as the Duke of York.
The White Horse of Hanover
Available From March 2020
Upon the death of Queen Anne – the last of the Stuart monarchy – the throne passed to George of Hanover, who became George I. At the Queen’s coronation, the Royal arms of George I were carried by the Horse of Hanover. Three-quarters of the arms represent his position as King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, the last quarter bearing the arms of Hanover.
The Hanoverian arms quarter is then divided into three; one contains the leopards of Brunswick, the blue lion of Luneburg and finally the White Horse of Hanover.
The White Greyhound Of Richmond
Available From September 2020
The hound is one of the most common symbols in royal tradition. It's quite closely associated with Henry VII, but it was used by royals long before his time. The white greyhound is a beast of Richmond, Yorkshire – Henry’s father was the first Earl of Richmond in 1453. Henry’s greyhound was white with a gold-studded red collar, and it often featured on Royal Arms with either the Red Dragon of Wales or Lion of England.
The greyhound of The Queen’s Beasts holds a shield with the well-known crowned Tudor rose design. The white York rose within the centre of the larger red rose represents the union of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, which brought together the two quarrelling houses.
Each of these coins are faithful recreations of the original Beasts of 1953. Beautiful design and high-quality manufacture make The Queen’s Beasts coins perfect additions to any investment portfolio or coin collection.
We’ll stock each of these coins as they are released here at Sharps Pixley, to ensure our customers can collect their own little piece of history.
For more information on The Queen’s Beasts or any of our other products give us a call on 0207 871 0532 or better yet, why not visit our London, St. James’ street showroom to chat to us in person?