Badge of the White Boar – by Joe Ann Ricca

In the spring of 1475 Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, sent his call out to raise an army by indentures, or the contracts to supply bodies of soldiers at so much per man, to support King Edward IV’s attempt to reconquer some of the provinces from which the English had been evicted a quarter of a century before. Paul Murray Kendall tells us that Richard had one of the largest contracts for men of arms, agreeing to bring into the field 120 men-at-arms, with 1000 archers.(1) In order to maintain as much order as possible, as well as to count heads before the general melée began, it would be necessary for each man in Richard’s contingent to wear a badge displaying his emblem of the White Boar (blanc sanglier).
Generally the idea of using decorated shields, breastplates and standards went back many centuries to the Greeks and Romans, but these were mostly for decoration, and not used as personal identification as was the heraldry of the feudal knight.(2) What we commonly look to as a means of identification for the armored knights was not used in feudal Europe and England until early in the twelfth century.
However, when the Roman Empire was broken up, a corresponding sea change (I don’t understand the phrase “sea change”) in the distribution of property occurred, resulting in two major categories of property ownership. One was termed allodium, or the inherited possession of land belonging entirely to its owner; and the second was the feudum, or land that was leased by the king or high-ranking lord to a vassal as a feudatory tenant. For the privilege of using the land to produce his means of subsistence, the feudatory tenant owed certain duties to his lord, one of the main ones being the support in person of any military pursuits which the lord decided to undertake.(3)
Up until the first Crusade, most of these operations were undertaken by relatively small groups of armed men and it was not imperative to mark what was readily apparent, that is just who was a friend or foe. But when forced to make common cause with other like-minded strangers, the need for a specific badge came into its own as the need to keep close to your own side became a matter of immediate survival.(4) So out of necessity, a system of military identification was born, first showing recognizable symbols of a particular person and then coats of arms or official symbols of a family conglomeration.
The word ‘heraldry’ is derived from the word ‘herald’. The herald of the Middle Ages was a messenger between rulers, a sort of ambassador or emissary at times, walking the tightrope between enemy camps and after the battle counting up the dead and identifying prisoners. However, the spread of arms occurred so rapidly and the knowledge of which symbols designated who was whom in the warlike medieval society became so important that heralds evolved into people of some consequence rather quickly as they also became responsible for the organizing of state ceremonies and tournaments. Thus, the herald became an expert in ‘armory’, a finely honed skill of recognition and eventually registers were worked out in order to keep control of all the arms in their official sphere.
In 1475, Richard of Gloucester’s chief officers of arms, who supervised the making of banners and “cognizances”, were the Gloucester Herald and Blanc Sanglier Pursuivant (5) (the lower ranking heralds, or pursuivants’ names were taken from the iconography of the lord’s badge (6) ). What we have commonly come to know as a coat of arms in the language of heraldry refers only to the devices borne on the shield. The full display of all the devices to which the armiger is entitled by inheritance is an achievement of arms or simply an achievement. Part of the achievement may be a personal insignia chosen for any number of reasons; however a verbal description was needed so an articulation of any part of the achievement or its entire composition including the badge came to be known as a blazon (7).
Badges had widespread use during the War of the Roses, promoting the well known white rose of York, and the red rose of Lancaster, both descending mainly from the gold rose of Edward I. Ultimately, Henry VII reunited both badges into the Tudor rose, which has since been a royal badge and the emblem of England. However, in most cases, there was usually a reason for adopting a particular personal badge, be it sentimental, political, commemorative, or of a family association and it was often more generally recognized than the arms. Some of the better known badges have been; the pre-heraldic red dragon of Cadwallader, which was a British tribal emblem and succeeds as a national symbol for Wales; or the Prince of Wales’ feathers, which probably came from France.
Richard’s special cognizant was a Boar rampant argent, armed and bristled (8). In the catalogue of heraldic terms, the Boar may be termed sanglier, or a wild boar, and occasionally the boar’s head will be blazoned ‘erect’ and is shown with the mouth upwards. Rampant designates the attitude or posture of the animal as erect, in profile, one hind paw on the ground, the other three raised tail erect. Argent refers to one of the tinctures or colors of heraldry, namely the representation for a metal, as silver usually represented by white. When a designated beast is said to be armed and bristled, the blazon reference is to horns or tusks for the former term, and the latter term denoting that the bristles on the boar’s head may be a different color, that is crined or bristled of the tincture. (9)
All sorts of household and military equipment carried the badge, as well as clothes. Banners displaying part of the achievement might be in the shape of a pennon, square, or a long standard as exampled in Figure 1.

Richard III Banner

Source: Fearn, Discovering Heraldry, Buckinghampshire, 2000, p.68

Sides of an achievement of arms are designated as if the bearer were located behind the shield, so the right hand side is called the sinister, and the left hand side the dexter. Here we see the Boar passant, or walking with three paws on the ground and the dexter fore paw raised, looking forward, armed, tail curled.
Window in the York Minster

Window in the York Minster, Source: Richard III Foundation archives

From the window in the York Minster, the rampant White Boars, heads erect, stand on the compartment or the area of footing, representing solid ground and acting as supporters for the royal shield. The well-known motto of Richard III, Loyaulte Me Lie, (Loyalty Binds Me) appears in a banner in the top of the window, while a banner with a name plate appears at the bottom. Further, there is identification by the heraldic symbol of the royal crown, which in this case shows a circlet of four crosses alternating with four fleurs-de-lis and a red cap after the crown of Henry VI (10).
Although there is no certain knowledge of the origin or meaning of many of the devices that existed, even among the heralds of the fifteenth and early part of the sixteenth centuries, we can outline with some confidence the various factors that might have caused some of the components to be preferred by the armiger.(11) At first blush, the choice of the White Boar for a personal symbol is not as obvious as the much- used symbol of the Lion of other armory. But if we proceed in selected stages, we can garner enough knowledge to approach an understanding of the implications of the badge of the Blanc Sanglier.
At the outset, there is some opinion that by choosing the badge of the white boar, Richard was identifying himself as an individual, separable from his birth, his rank, his family, and his in-laws, all of whom had their own particular emblems that he was entitled to display.(12)
Representing the boar as white has several implications. It is known that the Trojans of royal blood adopted distinctive colors so that their deeds and prowess in combat were duly noted by the reporters of their battles. White, or the argent in heraldic terms, is considered to be the noblest of colors, as it is the foundation of all other colors and it is the only color that has a direct counterpart in the color black. Also, for good notice, no other color can be seen as far away and as clearly as white.(13)
It has been noted that to bear a boar in arms signifies a valiant, wily and envious warrior who prefers to die than to save his life by flight. Such a beast is so fierce that by all accounts when pursued, it will sacrifice itself rather than surrender in the hunt; an illusion no doubt to Richard’s prowess as a soldier.(14) Conversely, overcoming the boar is considered to be the feat of a remarkable hunter as in the account of the legendary worthy Guy of Warwick.
Identifying with a greater personage in medieval times had much the psychological import that celebrity worship has today. We celebrate a certain aspiration of accomplishment; thinking, or perhaps hoping, that one’s display of loyalty is, or might be construed by association, as the calculation of a more knowing mind or purer heart. So there seems some possibility that the testimony of an early German translation of the famous romance of Tristan and Isolt, by Gottfried of Strasbourg, who cites Tristan’s arms as featuring a boar may have found its way into Richard’s thinking.(15) Any such earnest belief on Richard’s part was extended, and reciprocated as his entourage of personal well-wishers, supporters, and adherents grew exponentially with his rise to the throne. The evidence lies in the records that show for his coronation in 1483, Richard ordered 13,000 badges of the white boar.(16) One of these survives in the British Library.
Boar Badge of Richard III from Bosworth Field

Boar Badge of Richard III from Bosworth Field – Source:

All that said it makes the oft-referred-to account of the abuse of Richard’s corpse that much more obscene when we are told that after Bosworth, his body was ‘despoiled to the skin’, was trussed behind his pursuivant Blanch Sanglier ‘as an hog or another vile beast and so all to besprung with mire and filth, was brought to a church in Leicester for all men to wonder upon and there lastly irreverently buried’.(17)



  1. Kendall, P. M., Richard III, New York,1955, p.133.
  2. Buehr, W., Heraldry, The Story of Armorial Bearings, New York, 1964, p.15.
  3. Neubecker, O., Heraldry, Sources, Symbols and Meaning, New York, 1976, p.6.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Kendall, p.133.
  6. Neubecker, p.24.
  7. Fearn, J., Discovering Heraldry, Buckinghamshire, 2000, p.12.
  8. Pinches, J.H., and R.V., The Royal Heraldry of England, Rutland, VT.1974, p.122.
  9. Fearn, Heraldry, p. 25.
  10. Ibid., p. 47.
  11. Planché, J.R., The Pursuivant of Arms, London, 1874, p.274.
  12. Hicks, Michael, “Richard Duke of Gloucester:The Formative Years”, in A Medieval Kingship, ed., John Gillingham, New York, p.36.
  13. Jones, Evan John, Medieval Heraldry, Cardiff, 1943, pp. 1-7.
  14. Ibid., p.29.
  15. Brault, Gerald J., Early Blazon, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997, p. 20.
  16. Neubecker, p.208.
  17. Wagner, Sir Anthony, Heralds of England, London, 1967, p.134.




  • Brault, Gerald J., Early Blazon, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1997.
  • Buehr, W., Heraldry, The Story of Armorial Bearings, New York, 1964.
  • Fearn, J., Discovering Heraldry, Buckinghamshire, 2000.
  • Hicks, Michael, “Richard Duke of Gloucester:The Formative Years”, in A Medieval Kingship, ed., John Gillingham, New York, p.36.
  • Jones, Evan John, Medieval Heraldry, Cardiff, 1943.
  • Kendall, P. M., Richard III, New York, 1955.
  • Neubecker, O., Heraldry, Sources, Symbols and Meaning, New York, 1976.
  • Pinches, J.H., and R.V., The Royal Heraldry of England, Rutland, VT. 1974.
  • Planché, J.R., The Pursuivant of Arms, London, 1874.
  • Wagner, Sir Anthony, Heralds of England, London, 1967.
    Special thanks to Mr. W. G. Hunt, Windsor Herald of Arms, at the College of Arms, for taking the time to get me started.

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