Prince of Wales's feathers

The badge of the Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales's feathers is the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales. It consists of three white ostrich feathers emerging from a gold coronet. A ribbon below the coronet bears the motto Ich dien (German for "I serve"). As well as being used in royal heraldry, the badge is sometimes used to symbolise Wales,[1] particularly in Welsh rugby union and Welsh regiments of the British Army.

Origins of the badge

The Black Prince's "shield for peace".
Tomb of the Black Prince

The badge has no connection with the native Princes of Wales.

Its use is generally traced back to Edward, the Black Prince (1330–1376), eldest son and heir apparent of Edward III of England. Edward bore (as an alternative to his differenced royal arms) a shield of Sable, three ostrich feathers argent, described as his "shield for peace": this probably means it was the shield he used for jousting. These arms can be seen several times on his tomb chest in Canterbury Cathedral, alternating with his royal arms.[2] The prince also used badges of one or more ostrich feathers in a number of other contexts.[3]

The feathers had first appeared at the marriage of Edward III to Philippa of Hainault, and it is therefore likely that the Black Prince inherited the badge from his mother.[4] Philippa was descended from the Counts of Hainault, whose eldest son bore the title "Count of Ostrevent", the ostrich (French: autruche, Old French spellings including ostruce) feathers being (perhaps) a heraldic pun on that name.[5][6][7] Alternatively, the badge may have derived from the Counts of Luxembourg, from whom Philippa was also descended, and who had used the badge of an ostrich.[5]

"Sovereygne" ostrich feather badge used by Henry IV

Edward III occasionally used ostrich feather badges,[6] as did other members of the royal family in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Black Prince's younger brother, John of Gaunt, used ostrich feathers in several contexts, including on a very similar coat of arms to Edward's "shield for peace", although here the feathers were ermine.[8][9] Edward's illegitimate son, Sir Roger de Clarendon, bore arms of Or, on a black bend, three ostrich feathers argent;[10] and his legitimate son, King Richard II, used ostrich feather badges in several colours.[11] Henry IV used a badge of a single ostrich feather with a scroll entwined around it bearing the motto "Ma sovereyne" or "Sovereygne"; and, of Henry's sons, Henry V used ostrich feathers as a secondary royal badge at various times, Thomas, Duke of Clarence used an ermine ostrich feather labelled; John, Duke of Bedford an ostrich feather with the "Sovereygne" scroll; and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester an ostrich feather studded with fleurs-de-lis. Similar badges were used by other royal princes.[12][13]

The badge of Prince Edward (later Edward VI), as published in the Genethliacon illustrissimi Eaduerdi principis Cambriae of John Leland (1543).

The first Prince of Wales to use the badge in its modern form (i.e. three white feathers encircled by a coronet, and with the motto Ich dien) was Prince Arthur (1486–1502), eldest son of Henry VII, at the beginning of the 16th century.[5][14] It was also widely used by Prince Edward, son of Henry VIII and afterwards Edward VI, although he was never formally invested as Prince of Wales.[15] Feathers continued to be used as lesser royal badges, by Elizabeth I among others, until the end of the century.[16] Only from the beginning of the 17th century did the badge become exclusively associated with the Prince of Wales.

An early 17th-century painted carving on the main gate of Oriel College, Oxford

Popular accounts of origins

According to a longstanding legend, the Black Prince obtained the badge from the blind King John of Bohemia, against whom he fought at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. After the battle, the prince is said to have gone to the body of the dead king, and taken his helmet with its ostrich feather crest, afterwards incorporating the feathers into his arms, and adopting King John's motto, "Ich dien", as his own. The story first appears in writing in 1376, the year of the Black Prince's death. There is, however, no sound historical basis for it, and no evidence for King John having used either the crest (he actually bore a crest of vultures' wings) or the motto.[4][5][6]

Since a key factor in the English army's victory at Crécy was the use of Welsh archers, it is also sometimes said to have been Edward's pride in the men of Wales which led him to adopt a symbol alluding to their assistance. The German motto "Ich dien" ("I serve") is a near-homophone for the Welsh phrase "Eich Dyn" meaning "Your Man", which might have helped endear the young Black Prince to the Welsh soldiers in particular. Again, however, there is no historical evidence to support this theory. In 1917, during the First World War, it was rumoured that the motto might be formally changed to "Eich Dyn" to avoid the use of German.[17]

Modern uses of the badge

Architectural rendition of the feathers on the former North & South Wales Bank, Ruabon

Military uses

The badge is the cap badge of the Royal Welsh, an amalgamation of three Welsh regiments, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Territorial Army's Royal Welsh Regiment. Previously it was the cap badge of the Prince of Wales's Own Civil Service Rifles, whose motto was also Ich dien.

The badge also appears as an element on the regimental badges of many other regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies which have a historical connection with the Prince of Wales:

Sporting uses

The feathers have traditionally been worn on the jerseys of players in the Welsh rugby union team, being sewn on jerseys of players representing Welsh clubs prior to the existence of a national team or union. It has since been adopted as the logo of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU). In the 1990s, the WRU modified the form of the badge they used to copyright the design. The new logo is more stylised, with "WRU" in place of "Ich dien". As the logo of the WRU, the Prince of Wales' feathers are also represented in one of the quarters of the British and Irish Lions' badge.

The Welsh Rugby League has stuck to the traditional three feathers with "Cymru RL" ("RL" standing for "rugby league") written underneath.

The feathers on the Wrexham FC badge

The feathers also appear on the badge of Wrexham FC.

Surrey County Cricket Club were granted permission in 1915 to use the feathers for their badge: their home ground, The Oval, is on land owned by the Prince of Wales.[19]

The feathers on an old-style British two pence coin

Other uses

Prince of Wales' College, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, has used the feathers since the inception of the school in 1876.

The badge appeared on the reverse of the British two pence coins minted between 1971 and 2008, many of which remain in circulation.

The badge was until 1985 on the coat of arms of Penang, a state in present-day Malaysia, which was originally founded in 1786 as the settlement of Prince of Wales Island.

The badge is inscribed on the foundation stone, laid on 25 February 1927, of Patna Medical College and Hospital, in Patna, Bihar, India, established in 1925 as the Prince of Wales Medical College. The motto "Ich dien" is still widely used within the institution.

The badge is used by a society in Malta called 'The Prince of Wales Philharmonic Society'. The scope of this organisation is mainly one related to music but is also linked to the feast of St. Dominic in Vittoriosa in Malta. Malta was a colony of the British Crown for 200 years, and there exist a variety of clubs and organisations bearing the name of royal personalities.

From 1932 until its abolition in 1965, the Municipal Borough of Barnes in London used feathers based on those of the Prince of Wales on its coat of arms. The reason was because the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) was born in the borough.[20]

Norfolk County Council was given special consent by King Edward VII to use the badge on its arms, in recognition of Sandringham House, which was one of the King's favourite residences.[21] Edward held the title Prince of Wales for 59 years, making him the longest-serving holder.

A derivative of the badge is that used by the Prince's Trust, a charitable organisation that helps young people.

Many pubs in the UK are named The Prince of Wales's Feathers, the Prince's Feathers or simply the Feathers, particularly in areas associated with royal estates.

See also


  1. "National Emblems". Welsh Assembly Government. 2008. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  2. Scott Giles 1929, pp. 89–91.
  3. Siddons 2009, pp. 178–9.
  4. 1 2 Scott-Giles 1929, p. 89.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Pinches and Pinches 1974, p. 59.
  6. 1 2 3 Siddons 2009, p. 178.
  7. "6th letter". London: 30 August 2006.
  8. Siddons 2009, p. 181.
  9. Harris, Oliver D. (2010). ""Une tresriche sepulture": the tomb and chantry of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster in Old St Paul's Cathedral, London". Church Monuments. 25: 7–35 (22–3).
  10. Scott-Giles 1929, pp. 90–91.
  11. Siddons 2009, pp. 179–80.
  12. Siddons 2009, pp. 182–6.
  13. Pinches and Pinches 1974, pp. 89–93.
  14. Siddons 2009, pp. 186–8.
  15. Siddons 2009, pp. 188–9.
  16. Siddons 2009, pp. 187–9.
  17. "Motto of Prince of Wales". Aberdeen Weekly Journal. 14 September 1917. p. 3.
  18. (
  19. Williamson, Martin. "A brief history of Surrey". ESPNcricinfo. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  20. "Municipal Borough of Barnes". Heraldry of the World. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  21. "Norfolk County Council". Civic Heraldry of England and Wales. Retrieved 9 December 2014.


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