In French Fleur de Lis means literally ‘lily flower.’
Whilst the lily flower is most often thought of in relation to France , the shape appeared long ago on a cylinder seal of the Pharaoh Rameses III.
It is possible that the emblem came to France through contact with the Saracens of the Middle East and, since its first introduction into Europe, is has been used as a potent symbol of royalty.
The entry of the fleur de lis on the arms of France is miraculous. Legend says that the lily was the emblem of the Virgin who sent her flower by an angel to Clovis, the Frankish king, at his conversion in 493.
The golden lilies on an azure ground came to symbolise all the Christian Frankish Kings, most famously Charlemagne.
In the 12th century, Louis VII (1137-1180) used the lily as an heraldic device on royal seals. He divorced his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who then married Henry II of England and so began the long wars between the two countries for the throne of France.
Louis VIII (1187-1226) formally adopted the device as the arms of France on a shield – azure, semé de lis or – a blue field strewn with golden lilies and the beauty of it tempted Edward III of England so much that he put them in the first quarter of his royal arms.
Edward was entitled, through his mother Isabella of France, to place the fleur de lis with his three lions in the second and third quarters of his shield but instead he placed them in his first and fourth quarters, giving them precedence over the lions of England.
Around 1365, Charles V of France reduced the number of lilies in the French arms to three – to symbolise the Trinity – or maybe to differentiate them from those carried by the English. In this he did not succeed for in 1405 Henry IV of England also reduced the lilies to three in each of the French quarters of the English arms.
It was only on the accession of James VI of Scotland to James I of England that the fleur de lis was diminished as the Royal Arms of Scotland and England merged.
Outside of heraldry, the lily is most often associated with the Madonna and as the attribute of a messenger.