The coat-of-arms is carved from Portland stone
and sits high above the entrance to the Guildhall at roof level.
The City of London website (visit
link) tells us:
"Information about the arms of the City of
London from the earliest times to the present day is given below.
The earliest specific mention of the
armorial bearings of the City of London appears on 17 April 1381, when it was
ordered that the old mayoralty seal should be broken as it was "ill-befitting
the honour of the City". St Thomas Becket and St Paul featured in the design of
the old seal and they were also incorporated in the new one. A contemporary
description records that it was commissioned by the Mayor, William Walworth, and
depicted "beneath the feet of the said figures a shield of the arms of the said
City ... with two lions guarding the same". The shield contains a cross charged
with a dagger or sword in its first quarter and is similar to the modern design.
This evidence means that the popular belief
that the dagger or sword represents the weapon with which Walworth killed the
rebel, Wat Tyler, during the Peasants' Revolt cannot be true. The seal was
designed and executed several months before Tyler's death in June 1381 and the
sword almost certainly represents the sword of St Paul.
The use of the saint as a symbol of the City
can be traced in several reliable sources. A reference in Liber Custumarum [CLRO
call number: CUST 6] refers to the service of Robert Fitz-Walter, Castellain of
London, who died in 1235, in which he receives from the Mayor the banner of the
City "of bright red, with a figure of St Paul in gold, with the feet and hands
and head in silver and a sword in the hand of the said figure". The saint is
also depicted, sword in hand, on the obverse of the Common Seal of the City,
which dates from the early thirteenth century, and on two embroidered seal bags
of 1319 [CLRO call numbers: CH 25 and CH 26].
The City Arms are also mentioned in a
reference to jousting in 1359, but there is no description and it is impossible
to tell if the full figure of St Paul was still used, as the earlier evidence of
the seal bags suggests. The disappearance of the full figure of the saint and
its replacement by his emblem only is paralleled in the case of St George, whose
figure in conflict with the dragon disappeared from his banner as early as the
13th century, leaving only his cross.
The mayoralty seal of 1381 also provides an
example of the practice of placing emblems and badges at the side of the shield,
which later developed into the employment of animals and figures as full
heraldic supporters. Two lions are shown on either side of the City Arms on the
1381 seal, but it is interesting to note that dragons appear flanking the
shields with the figure of St Paul on the 1319 seal bags referred to above. The
earliest illustration of dragons as supporters of the present arms occurs in a
manuscript of 1609 in Guildhall Library [Guildhall Library call number MS. 2077]
and they can also be seen in the frontispiece of John Stow's Survey of London
(4th ed., 1633). Both these sources also provide evidence of the earliest use of
the City motto Domine Dirige Nos ["Lord Direct Us"].
There were many variations in
representations of the arms in succeeding centuries. The cross frequently took
the form of a "cross quarterly quartered" [i.e. divided by lines], implying that
the cross itself was depicted in two colours, of which there is no record
Evidence of a crest first appears when a new
design was made for the reverse of the doublesided Common Seal of the City in
1539. It consisted of a fan-like object charged with the cross of St George and
this later developed into the dragon's sinister
wing in use today. The
Swordbearer's fur hat or cap frequently appeared as an alternative crest or
occasionally below the dragon's wing crest or the motto. The reverse of the 1539
seal also provides the first example of the use of a helmet surmounting the
arms. Other symbols which appear with the arms are the sword and mace as symbols
of the mayoralty and the Chamberlain's purse
and a cap of liberty on a pole,
the latter objects possibly associated with John Wilkes, Lord Mayor in 1774-75
and Chamberlain of London from 1779 until 1797. The letters SPQL [Senatus
Populusque Londinii - literally, The Senate and People of London] also
occasionally appear in imitation of the SPQR of ancient Rome.
Confusion about the correct form of the arms
was probably made worse by the fact that there had never been any official grant
of arms to the City as they were in use prior to the foundation of the College
of Arms in 1484 and the crest and supporters were not recorded there. The
Corporation therefore resolved to obtain a formal grant of crest and supporters
and a confirmation of the arms "anciently recorded as of right appertaining to
them" from the College.
The grant is dated 30 April 1957 and a full
colour reproduction of the arms is obtainable from CLRO if required. Please note
that requests to reproduce the City Arms should be made in writing to the Town
Clerk, PO Box 270, Guildhall, London EC2P 2EJ.
The full heraldic description of the arms is
Arms Argent a cross gules, in the first
quarter a sword in pale point upwards of the last.
Crest On a wreath argent and gules a
dragon's sinister wing argent charged on the underside with a cross throughout
Supporters On either side a dragon argent
charged on the undersides of the wings with a cross throughout gules.
Motto Domine Dirige Nos - Lord Direct Us."