The Sun King

CHAPTER 11 - THE SUN KING

The French have claimed the fleur de lis since the time of Childeric and his son Clovis. The French ownership of the symbol peaked within French culture and fashion under the Sun King of France, Louis the XIV. His infamous wife, Marie Antoinette, made it a point to embolden the decadence of the device under her own tenure within the palace at Versailles. Together, and in their decadence, the fleur de lis saw its Golden Age. It was en vogue.

In making the fleur de lis fashionable, the French were inadvertently responsible for developing one special element of fleur de lis fashion that hasn’t, to this day gone our of style. Louis, king of France, in a depiction by the painter Hyacinthe Rigaud is seen wearing a blue cloak embellished with golden fleurs de lis. This particular style and representation known as the “shower of fleurs” was indicative of French royal fashion. The array of fleurs was often reserved just for nobles.

 The history of the shower likely stems from heraldic symmetries. Even the kings of England had double or triple devices in their battle gears, coats of arms and flags. Crossing the English Channel, mutations of the fleur made their way into the British cultural symbolisms as well. Today, it is no coincidence that the English symbols, such as the three feathers of Edward, the Black Prince, bear the same basic symmetries as the fleur de lis in France.

For geometric reasons and readability a shield favors groups of three. Kings and generals often utilized this type of grouping. When they lacked even more space it was feasible on certain media, like flags and small shields, to reduce the group of three to a single symbol. This reduction of the number of fleurs did not subtract from the meaning of the heraldic symbol. It is for this reason that a half fleur, like the ones found on fences or scepters, continues to convey the symbol’s meaning in its entirety. The meaning of the fleur, whether showered, grouped, reduced, or halved, is entirely resilient. Perhaps this explains how the symbol managed to survive history. 

 

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