The Queen's Beasts are 10 heraldic statues depicting the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II. The statues were created by the British sculptor James Woodford in 1953 and temporarily set up in front of the western annexe to Westminster Abbey - the coronation church of the British monarchy. Today, the almost 2 metre high painted plaster figures are on display in the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.
Over the years the Queen's Beasts have been so greatly admired that it is almost beyond belief that this is the first time that the Royal Mint is dedicating a series of coins to them. Since their creation in 1953, the Beasts have been reproduced in a variety of ways, for example, in porcelain figures, tableware, candlesticks, teaspoons and stamps. But it is only now in 2016 that Britain's tradition-steeped Royal Mint has also finally started to produce a series of coins depicting the heraldic beasts. This series will, it is anticipated, include all 10 beasts, minted in 1 and 1/4 ounces of gold and 2 ounces of silver.
The following creatures are designated as Queen's Beasts:
The crowned English Lion was the motif for the first coin in the series and represents the Kingdom of England together with the seat of the British monarchy. In the large armorial bearings of Elizabeth II, the English Lion is depicted as a shield supporter and as a lion rampant in gold on a red background. It was probably first introduced by William the Conqueror, in whose armorial bearings it appears, as early as 1066 and has been incorporated in the Royal Arms of England ever since.
Also called the Welsh Dragon or just the Red Dragon (in Welsh: Y Ddraig Goch),the association of this mythical creature with Wales goes back as far as the year 829. Allegedly, even the legendary King Arthur himself bore the Red Dragon on his war banner. The Red Dragon first appears in the family tree of Elizabeth II with Owen Tudor. It was also one of the emblems of his grandson Henry VII. During the rule of the House of Tudor, the Red Dragon was even elevated to a supporting emblem of the Royal coat of arms.
Edward III is seen as the most significant monarch of the English Middle Ages and has, as such, played a major role in British history. During his lifetime, he was also known as Edward of Windsor. The Griffin was already associated with Edward III by his contemporaries and was even a part of his personal seal. Originally, the Griffin held a shield depicting Windsor Castle. This is a further direct link with Elizabeth II, whose family have borne the name of Windsor since 1917, after the family's residence to the west of London.
Two unicorns have been the armorial supporters of the Scottish coat of arms ever since the 16th century. Upon the accession of the former Scottish King Change VI to the English throne as King James I, he incorporated the Unicorn into the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland and France. Even today, the unicorn is part of the supporting emblems in the Royal coat of arms and symbolises together with the English Lion the unification of the United Kingdom. Scotland has its own version of the royal coat of arms, which gives more space to the Scottish symbols. In contrast to the conventional Royal coat of arms, the Unicorn wears the Scottish Crown in the Scottish version. As one of the Queen's Beasts, the Unicorn symbolises the rule of Elizabeth II over Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.
The House of Plantagenet provided several of the Kingdom of England's rulers and is one of the lineages from which the houses of Lancaster and York emerged. The Plantagenets originally came from Central France and their history can be traced back to the 11th century. Edward III is also a descendant of this family line, and the Falcon - as well as the Griffin, the Common Broom and a Cloudburst with the Sun's Rays - was part of his personal symbol.
The Black Bull is the symbol of the Duke of Clarence, a currently dormant title. Edward IV (1442-1483) was a descendant of the then Duke of Clarence and represented the House of York and the House of Plantagenet as one of the protagonists in the Wars of the Roses, one of the most important disputes over royal succession in the Kingdom of England. Originally, the Bull held the Royal coat of arms as worn by Edward IV, Richard III and all members of the House of Lancaster and Tudor.
A Yale is a mythical creature, which has no modern equivalent in the animal kingdom. The animal is roughly similar to an antelope. The name might be derived from the Hebrew word יָעֵל (Yael),which means an Ibex. The Yale has a spotted coat and is the symbol of Henry VII and his mother Margaret Beaufort. Henry VII was King of England from 1485 until his death in the year 1509. He was also the founder of the Tudor dynasty, which occupied the English throne until 1603.
The White Lion was not only one of the personal insignia of Edward IV, but was also an emblem of the Mortimers, from whose ancestors Edward IV and with him Elizabeth II herself are also descended. Originally, the White Lion held a vertical shield divided in red and blue with a white rose, referring to the rose of the House of York and also an emblem of King Edward IV. In contrast to the Lion of England, the White Lion of Mortimer does not wear a crown.
The Greyhound was the emblem of both Henry IV and Henry VII and was for many years a highly favoured breed, particularly in the North of England - in the Duchy of Richmond, for example, too. During the reign of Henry VII, the English Lion was even gradually supplanted by the Greyhound as a heraldic beast. Henry VII was thereby making reference to the ancient roots of the Kingdom of England. These roots can be traced back to the Celtic Bretons, among others, for whom the Greyhound played an important role as a hunting companion. The Greyhound of Richmond holds in front a shield on which is depicted a rose with red and white petals, symbolically representing the Houses of Lancaster and York and their unification.
The House of Hanover has provided the rulers of Great Britain for almost 200 years, including the celebrated British Queen Victoria – great-great-grandmother of Elizabeth II The Horse, as the heraldic symbol of the House of Welf and hence the original family of the House of Hanover, can be traced back to the 14th century and, as the "White Horse of Saxony", goes even further back in time than this.
It is to be hoped that the success of the Queen's Beasts will provide a further source of inspiration for the Royal Mint in the future. British history and heraldry have the potential to provide a host of items of a special nature.