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The Queen’s Beasts series

One of the most popular coin collections released in recent years by the Royal Mint is the Queen’s Beasts series. These coins were minted between 2016 and 2021. The Royal Mint issued the coins as bullion and proof versions, and in various sizes and metals. The history and meaning behind these designs dates back the reign of Edward III in the 14th century. They were commissioned to commemorate Elizabeth II surpassing the reign of Victoria to become the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarch.

The British monarchy and the hereditary system employed throughout our history is complicated. As a result, many coats of arms and emblematic symbols have been used and passed down through the centuries. As a result, at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, statues of ten “beasts” were commissioned. These formed a guard of honour at the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

These statues were comprised of the Lion of England, the Griffin of Edward III, The Red Dragon of Wales, the Unicorn of Scotland, the Black Bull of Clarence, the Falcon of the Plantagenets, the Yale of Beaufort, the White Lion of Mortimer, the White Horse of Hanover and the Greyhound of Richmond. The Royal Mint drew inspiration from these statues and of course the original symbols from heraldry when designing the coins.


Edward III (1327-1377)

Edward III was one of the strongest Kings of the late Middle Ages. He transformed the Kingdom of England into a fearsome military power and catalysed the introduction of a parliament. At that time, three animals were associated with the crown and that’s where the story of the Queen’s Beasts begins.

  • The Lion of England – The Lion, emblematic of England, is thought to actually originate with Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was wife of Henry II (1152-1189) and mother of King Richard I (1189-1199), also known as Richard Lionheart. England and various French kingdoms (Anjou, Aquitaine and Normandy) were closely linked, following the Norman conquest in 1066.
  • The Falcon of the Plantagenets – Although the falcon was first used in heraldry by Edward III, the Plantagenets history forms the early history of England, holding the throne from 1154 to 1485. The Falcon as a symbol was then adopted by his heirs, and especially became symbolic of the House of  York.
  • The Griffin of Edward III – King Edward III’s personal symbol, used for his royal seal. The Griffin is a mythical creature, half-eagle, half-lion, thought to be the kings of their respective animal kingdoms (birds and mammals). Their combination stood the Griffin above all beasts; stronger, braver and more fearsome than any other.

Edward III had five sons. His eldest son, Edward the Black Prince, died before his father. The throne then passed to his son, Richard II (1377-1399). He acceded at ten years old, spending his early years under the advisement of his uncle, John of Gaunt. Richard II fathered no heirs, and so the next in line would have been John of Gaunt or his bloodline. Richard II had different ideas though and disinherited the eldest son of John of Gaunt; the future King Henry IV. Known as Henry Bolingbroke before his accession, he had much support among the aristocracy at the time. He therefore faced little opposition when he deposed the incumbent King.


Henry IV (1399-1413)

Henry IV’s time as monarch is most known for unrest. His accession to the throne was contested by loyal supporters of the deposed Richard II, and he quashed rebellions from the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr, as well as from the Earl of Northumberland (Henry Percy) and his famed son, Henry Hotspur.

  • The White Greyhound of Richmond – Henry IV inherited this symbol from his father, John of Gaunt. It was attributed to John of Gaunt from his time as Earl of Richmond. The greyhound passed down his line to the Tudors, who began to take power of England 100 years later.


Henry VII (1485-1509)

Henry VII stabilised England by uniting the houses of York and Lancaster at the culmination of the War of the Roses. He defeated Richard III (1483-1485) at the Battle of Bosworth and then married the niece of the unpopular King Richard, allying the two warring houses and effectively ending the Middle Ages. Henry VII’s ancestry incorporates numerous heraldic symbols, and the marriage to Elizabeth of York brought her own family’s heraldry to the new ruling house. Lets consider Henry VII’s heraldry first:

Henry VII was the Great Grandson of John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was married thrice, and bore children with each wife. His third wife, Katherine Swinford was originally his mistress, and was mother to his four illegitimate children. After the passing of his second wife, Constance of Castile, he married Katherine Swinford. After their marriage their children were legitimised, and so the house of Beaufort came about.

  • The Yale of Beaufort –  The name Beaufort comes from the French castle that John of Gaunt owned in Champagne. The portcullis that features alongside the Yale imagery is based on this castle. The Beaufort line, although originally illegitimate, would eventually accede to the throne following the marriage of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII to Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.
  • The Red Dragon of Wales – The Tudor line originated from a powerful family in Anglesey, Wales and joined the line of accession distantly when Owen Tudor (paternal grandfather of Henry VII) married the widowed Katherine of France (wife of Henry V).

Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York followed the York dynasty, and incorporated the houses of Clarence and Mortimer. These houses themselves also descend from Edward III along her paternal line:


Edward IV (1461-1483)

A central figure in the War of the Roses, he deposed the Lancastrian King Henry VI (1422-1461). Edward VI’s father, the “grand old Duke of York” Richard was popular and garnered much support to dethrone Henry VI. King Henry was losing control in his attempts to rule two Kingdoms (England and France). Upon victory his eldest son was crowned and the House of York claimed the royal line.

We have already looked at the life and lineage of John of Gaunt (and briefly his elder brother, Richard II). What of their younger brothers, Lionel of Antwerp and Edmund of Langley?

  • The Black Bull of Clarence – Lionel of Antwerp was named after his birthplace in modern-day Belgium. He was reputably 7 feet tall! He first married in to Irish nobility, to Elizabeth de Burgh, where he was named Earl of Ulster. His father anointed him as Duke of Clarence, the third dukedom in England after York and Lancaster.
  • The White Lion of Mortimer – The Duke of Clarence only had one heir, his daughter Philippa. She married Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March. Once Richard II had disinherited the bloodline of John of Gaunt (before Henry IV won the throne), Philippa and her heir would have been the next in line. The Mortimers were prominent in the royal household and Edmund and Philippa’s granddaughter, Anne, married the Earl of Cambridge, Richard of Conisburgh, son of the First Duke of York, Edmund of Langley, son of Edward III. This links three royal families, all with lineage from Edward III and formed the basis for their claim to the throne during the War of the Roses.


The following period of British history involved religious changes under Henry VIII (1509-1547) and numerous claimants to the throne among his children. At this time England had launched its own church in contrast to the Catholic church still dominant north of the border in Scotland. When Elizabeth I (1558-1603) died with no heir, the House of Stuart laid claim to the throne, following the bloodline of Margaret, sister of Henry VIII, who was married to James IV of Scotland.


James I (1603-1625)

  • The Unicorn of Scotland – James I came to the throne of England following the death of Elizabeth I. He was the incumbent King of Scotland and although himself a Protestant, his mother Mary Queen of Scots was a Catholic. He is heralded as a great King of Scotland but was less well received in England and survived the Gunpowder plot in 1605.

The Stuart dynasty ruled England for over 100 years but after the death of Queen Anne (1702-1714), the line of succession became even more complicated. The powers at the time were intent on the throne passing to a Protestant. Queen Anne had united the nations of England and Scotland as Great Britain in 1707. Unfortunately Anne often suffered from ill health and bore no heirs despite falling pregnant on seventeen occasions. As a result, the Act of Settlement in 1701 decreed that they had to find a Protestant heir.


George I (1714-1727)

  • The White Horse of Hanover – George I had a claim to the throne of Great Britain, through his mother Sophia, granddaughter of James I. He was Elector of Hanover, a German Royal House from 1698. His reign was marked by the transition of power from the monarchy to a system of government, led by Sir Robert Walpole from 1721.


Elizabeth II (1953-2021)

  • The Completer – These ten beasts, their history, symbology and significance to the royal line all were included in the celebration of Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. Although the Hanoverian claim to the throne is from whence our current monarchy descends, the various branches away from the original line of succession at the time of Edward III all can be linked to the Royal Family in the 21st century.








Posted by: David
Posted on: June 9, 2023
Posted in: Product information
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