Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Red Lion and The King's Head - changing times

by Deborah Swift

Two of the most popular pub names in England have to be The Red Lion and The King's Head. The names of both these pubs have links to the 17th Century which is why I find them so interesting. The King's Head in Galway has a particularly well-documented history, click on the picture to go to their site and discover more.

My latest book is set in the reign of James I and some say that the emblem of the Red Lion comes from his personal crest which features the lion in its design.

Insignia of James VI Scotland

In order to curry favour with the new king, who had just become King of England as well as Scotland, many inns changed their name voluntarily. But just in case you were tempted to stick to the old name, there was even a proclamation which said the new king's emblem had to be displayed prominently to remind the English that they were now governed by a Scot. I can imagine that this prompted many a taverner to hurriedly change the name of his inn.

However, there is evidence that the name was popular even before the 17th Century as the red lion featured in John of Gaunt's coat of arms in the Middle Ages. 

John of Gaunt's Arms showing the Red Lion and Castle of Castile

This red lion became a badge of support for Bolingbroke in the battle  for allegiance between Richard II, whose crest included  the white hart as his heraldic symbol, and Henry Bolingbroke, whose emblem (via John of Gaunt) was the red lion. When Bolingbroke finally became Henry IV the red lion grew yet again in popularity as the name for an inn, as opposed to The White Hart which at one time was so popular that it came to mean an inn in the same way that we use Hoover to mean a vacuum cleaner.

Richard II's emblem of the White Hart in the Wilton Dyptich

As for The King's Head, this name was also re-popularised in the 17th century after the restoration of the king, Charles II, when the country returned to the rule of a King as a sign that the previous unrest and Parliamentary rule was over. However, it too was a well-used name even earlier as it was a name that encouraged the gentry to frequent the tavern, unlike something like 'The Black Bull' which was common in farming fraternities. It seems likely there has always been the idea of honouring royalty or the wealthy and encouraging their patronage. On carriage routes particularly  the village inns were often named after the King, Queen, or even a Duke, in the hope presumably, that they would stop by.

The Queen’s Head Inn

There are more than six hundred Red Lion pubs in England, and almost as many King's Heads. Those of you who are writers looking to name your tavern, you could do worse than choose one of these! Cheers!

Other popular Pub names - see the most popular pub names in England
Want to know more about their names and meanings? The Old Dog and Duck by Albert Jack is a book that will tell you.

Deborah Swift is the author of A Divided Inheritance, The Lady's Slipper and The Gilded Lily. 

More about A Divided Inheritance

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