Football may or may not be coming home to England in Sunday’s Euros 22 final at Wembley, but a new archaeological discovery illustrates quite how long the Three Lions have been cherished in the team’s home country.
A tiny medieval pendant, made from copper alloy and featuring the famous heraldic emblem, has come to light after being found late last year by metal detectorists in Wormleighton, Warwickshire. Dating from the 12th century, the pendant was designed to hang from a horse harness, its motif picked out in red enamel and gold.
Medieval horse harness pendants are not rare and frequently turn up in excavations, yet they tend to be very worn, according to archaeologists. In contrast, “the condition of this object is quite remarkable and it is very rare to see a horse harness pendant like this from an archaeological context in such a fine state of preservation,” said Dr Dawn McLaren of Connect Archaeology.
Most of the red enamel and some of the gilding are still present, particularly on areas of the object that were less likely to be weathered while it was in use. Archaeologists suspect the object, barely 2cm in breadth, may have become detached from its fitting while in use, and was quite new when lost.
The three lions motif has been associated with the arms of England since King Henry II (1133-1189) added a lion to the two previously displayed by William the Conqueror, probably to represent his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The heraldic symbol – strictly, in this case, “gules, three lions passant guardant” – was in use by the Crown between 1189 and 1340, and have been associated with the English throne in various forms ever since.
The Football Association has been using the three lions symbol (more commonly with the lions in blue) since the late 19th century; a version of it is also used by cricket’s ECB.
The pendant, while medieval, was found close to a late series of Late iron age and Romano-British enclosures being excavated as part of the ongoing HS2 development. The site is close to the important medieval settlement of Wormleighton (“Wimelstone” in the Domesday Book) and archaeologists believe the find is almost certainly related to agricultural activity from that period.
An HS2 spokesperson said: “The whole country has got behind the England women’s team and we hope this great find will inspire the Lionesses to create their own piece of history on Sunday.”