The Leeds Coat-of-Arms
Reproduced by kind permission of the Lord Mayor
Technically there is no such thing as the Leeds City’s coat-of-arms. The arms belong to the body corporate or the city council in whose name they are granted.
In heraldic terms:
Shield: azure, a fleece or, on a chief sable, three mullets argent; Crest: on a wreath or and azure, an owl proper; Supporters: an owl proper ducally crowned or; Mottto: Pro Rege et Lege.
The shield is blue with a golden fleece imposed on it. The black bar across the top contains three star-shaped objects known as mullets which were metal weapons used in medieval battles and were thrown under the horses’ hooves of the enemy. The blue and gold crest on top has a natural coloured owl and a closed helmet which is used by civic authorities. The two owls either side of the shield are coloured naturally and wear dukes’ crowns. The motto means, ‘For king and law.’
The arms originated in the corporate seal of 1626. With the main industry of Leeds being wool textiles, a fleece was chosen to symbolise the staple trade of the town. The owls, originally silver in colour, were part of the arms of the Yorkshire MP Sir John Savile, of Howley Hall. He was appointed, alderman, the titular head, of the original council formed in 1626 when Charles I granted Leeds first charter. Charles II granted the town a second charter in 1661, with the head of the council now becoming a mayor. Thomas Danby was the first person to fill the position and the mullets are from his coat-of-arms.
The arms with full insignia of shield, crest and supporters along with the motto were finalised in 1836 following the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, when a new council was formed. The arms, however, were never registered at the College of Heralds and consequently on 7 November 1921 an application was made and sanction was given. The only change required was that the owls should be changed from silver to their natural brown colour or ‘proper’. For further reading see J. Sprittles, Links with Bygone Leeds (Leeds, 1969); G. D. Lumb, ‘Arms of Leeds’, Publications of the Thoresby Society, XV (Leeds, 1909).
Sir John Savile (1556–1630)
Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn, Savile succeeded to the manors of Headingley, Bramley and Armley and other lands in the West Riding. He lived at Howley Hall near Batley. As MP for Yorkshire he was eager to defend the interests of the larger northern clothiers, a point of view which saw him fall into dispute with Sir Thomas Wentworth who championed the smaller Leeds clothiers. When Leeds received its first charter, Savile was invited to be it first head of the council with the title of alderman, a post he held from 31 July to 29 September 1626. It was a titular position as the real work was done by his deputy, John Harrison. The new Leeds coat-of-arms incorporated the owls featured on Savile’s own family arms. For further reading see J. W. Kirby, ‘The Aldermen of Leeds 1626–1700’, Publications of the Thoresby Society, LXIV (Leeds, 2008).
Thomas Danby (c.1631–1667)
The Danby Family had owned property in Leeds since the fifteenth century and during the Civil War, Thomas served as a captain in the Royalist Army. Leeds received its second charter from Charles II in 1661 and the head of the council was now designated mayor. Thomas Danby was chosen to fill the post. In 1667 he was murdered in a tavern brawl in London. John Ogle and Thomas Jenney his killers, pleaded benefit of clergy at their Old Bailey trial. They were convicted of manslaughter but were later pardoned. Thomas’s mayoral robes were presented to the council by his widow and part of his armorial bearings, the mullets, were incorporated into the new Leeds coat-of-arms. For further reading see J. W. Kirby, ‘The Aldermen of Leeds 1626–1700’, Publications of the Thoresby Society, LXIV (Leeds, 2008).