A wry view of life for the world-weary

Sign Of The Times – Part Three


For a country which has a long history of being ruled by a monarch, although we did have a dalliance with republicanism in the mid 17th century, it is not surprising that there is a strong royal theme running through the names and signage of many of our pubs. Of course, it is infra-dig to name your pub after a living member of the royal family or to display their image in your signage.

As any fule kno’ good Queen Bess died childless in 1603 and James VI of Scotland ascended the vacant throne as, confusingly, James I of England. To reinforce his legitimacy to the throne the Scottish monarch ordered that all public buildings which included taverns display prominently a heraldic red lion. This is the origin of one of the most popular names of pubs in England, the Red Lion. In 2014 there were 617 establishments bearing this name, according to Pubs Galore.

The third most popular name with a royal connection is the Royal Oak (512). Charles I had lost his head in 1649 and his son, later to become Charles II, waged an unsuccessful campaign against Cromwell’s Roundheads to reclaim the crown, culminating in a defeat at the battle of Worcester in 1651. Fleeing the battlefield Charles famously took refuge in an oak tree in what is now Boscobel in Shropshire. A descendent of the tree (some claim it to be original, although is unlikely) can be seen in the grounds of Boscobel House. So pubs bearing this name bear testimony to a rather ignominious piece of royal history. Charles did have the last laugh when he was restored to the throne in 1660 after Oliver’s son, Richard, proved not to be a wart on his old dad.

In 2014 there were 368 pubs bearing the name the White Hart and there is one bearing this moniker near Blogger Towers. This name comes from the heraldic symbol of Richard II. Often the deer or stag is portrayed as having a gold chain around its neck. This is a reference to a Greek myth in which Diomedes placed a gold collar around the neck he was consecrating to the goddess, Diana.


The Rose and Crown usually has a sign showing a rose which is half red and half white with a crown atop. This sign is full of symbolism – the red rose represents the House of Lancaster and the white the house of York whose battles for the crown, known as the war of the Roses, caused great civil unrest in the 15th century. Ultimately the Lancasterian faction prevailed and unity was achieved when the Duke of Lancaster married Elizabeth of York. The Tudors took this sign of unity and power as their badge.

Until the split with Rome as a result of the Henry VIII’s marital difficulties many pubs were called the Pope’s Head. Seeing which way the wind was blowing and not wishing to offend the king, innkeepers changed the reference to the pope for the king and so many pubs today are called the King’s Head. Signage for the Queen’s Head generally shows either Elizabeth I or Victoria. The Crown, the second most popular name with 583 establishments bearing the title in 2014 takes its name from the headwear of the monarch and is sufficiently anodyne to keep the publican safe from too much trouble.

The English have traditionally been inept with foreign names and two popular pub signs bear testimony to this. The Elephant and Castle owes its origin to a corruption of the name of Edward 1’s wife, Eleanor of Castile, whereas the Cat and Fiddle is a corruption of a sobriquet for Henry VIII’s first wife, Caterine la fidele.



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