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Why do England wear Three Lions on the shirt?

The Three Lions upon the England is one of the most iconic symbols in football. But where did it originate? Here, we take a look at the history of the infamous badge of honour.

England fans reading this will likely not be able to remember a time when the Three Lions weren’t proudly sat upon the breast of their home country’s shirt. Well, that’s because since their first-ever match against Scotland in 1872, those lions have been our symbol.

Three lions vs Scotland
The Three Lions have been on the breast of England football shirts since their very first match in 1872. Image credit: Scottish Sport History

But where did this iconic symbol of English football begin?

The story of the Three Lions begins with King Henry I, whose standard (essentially the King’s flag) included a single lion as part of its symbolism.

When Henry I married his wife, Matilda of Scotland, he combined his own standard with that of Matilda’s father’s shield, Malcolm III of Scotland. Malcolm III’s shield also included a lion. This happened roughly around 1100.

King Henry I Three Lions
King Henry I, with the newly formed “two lion” crest. Image credit: Discover Middle Ages

The lion tally then sits at two lions on the shirt, so where did the third come from?

Henry I died in 1135, handing the throne down to his eldest son, Henry II, who had been born just two years earlier. The young King of England would wait until the year 1154, at the age of 21, to take the throne.

In the same year, the newly coronated King would marry Eleanor of Aquitaine, who previously served as the Queen of France, being married to King Louis VII. Henry II paired his own family crest (including the existing two lions) with that of Eleanor’s family, which also contained a lion.

This third lion joined the two former, and the iconic symbol that we know and love from the breast of our England shirts today was born.

Three Lions King Henry II
The Three Lions of King Henry II’s crest. Image credit: Wikiwand

Of course, we are a still a little early on in history for the creation of football. The Three Lions were first made synonymous of England by the Royal Military. Every Monarch since Henry II bore the Three Lions as their official crest and they, along with their battalions of troops, have worn them into battle for inspiration since.

The Football Association (FA) would go on to adopt the Three English Lions as its own symbol when it was formed in 1863, with England’s national side first sporting it during a match less than 10 years later!