Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Flemish Lion and the Great Seal of the United States

This post hits my blog more than a month after first putting pinky to keyboard. I had intended to offer up a detailed connection of America's Founding Fathers and Flemish precedent in establishing the legal basis for the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately I have not completed my research into this important subject - but I intend to complete that topic for a future post.

However, contributing to that effort, was the tireless, resourceful and multi-talented Professor Matthias Storme. Dr. Storme directed me to the online database of the papers of America's Founding Fathers. Several of those documents are startling and, from a Flemish nationalist's viewpoint (like mine), further confirm the importance of the Flemish to the Founding of the United States of America.
The most important fact uncovered, from my perspective, is the fact that at one point in time the Flemish Lion, symbol of Flanders and the hope of many for a free and independent Flemish Republic, was deemed significant enough to be included in the Great Seal of the United States. Below I highlight a snippet of these findings and offer them to you, Gentle Reader, as yet further proof of our claim to a seat at this table.

Second only perhaps to the visibility of the American flag as a symbol of the United States is the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal, pictured at top (obverse and reverse), adorns official U.S. government buildings as well as documents. It is the imprimatur of the U.S. government and as such is strictly regulated. It has roots of course in the seal that sovereigns stamped on documents to lend weight and impress recipients that whatever was attached to it represented the full force of the state.

The Founding Fathers of the United States considered the Great Seal - or what they then called, the "Coat of Arms" - of the United States to be of critical importance to both the unity as well as the image of the fledgling Thirteen Colonies. Shortly after the declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, a proposal was made by a Swiss immigrant, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. Du Simitiere was a resident of Philadelphia and a friend of Benjamin Franklin, who reputedly had advised him on this proposal. As such it is worth quoting the official record.

The Shield has Six quarters parti one, coupé two; to the first it bears or, a rose ennamelled Gules and argent, for England; to the Second, argent a thistle proper, for Scotland; to the third vert, a harp or, for Ireland; to the fourth azure, a flower de luce or for France; to the fifth or the Imperial Eagle Sable, for Germany; and to the Sixth or, the Belgic [i.e., Flemish] Lyon [sic Lion] Gules, for Holland. (These being the Six principal nations of Europe from whom the Americans have originated.) This Shield within a border gules entoire of thirteen Escutcheons argent linked together by a chain or, each charg’d with initial letters Sable, as follows [1] .
The Flemish Lion (lower left of the shield, just above the letters "DC", reminds one of the armorial versions of the Flemish Lion from the Middle Ages. Most typical for me would be the version from this 13th century document (below).

Du Simitiere's proposal was sent into a committee of the Continental Congress. When it emerged, on August 10, 1776, from the "First Committee", it had gone through some modest changes. However, the suggestion of keeping the Flemish Lion remained. It remained because of the belief that the United States was founded by these "six principal races of Europe".
Unfortunately this design was not adopted in 1776. Subsequent committees during the Revolutionary War and immediately after produced other versions - such as this one below.
The expansion of the Republic in land, importance and population in the mid-19th century prompted a renewed interest in approving a final "Great Seal" for the United States. Logically, artists updated their understanding of the Continental Congress' original written description but took some liberties with the actual depiction. The result, in 1856, of a rendition of the First Committee's recommendation (which included the "Belgic Lyon"), seemed to hardly include the "Belgic Lyon" symbol many of us would recognize. Whether this was because of poor drafting skills, a misunderstanding, or an intentional from the directions, the actual sketch showed nothing that looked like a Flemish Lion. Note the drawing below.

Unfortunately the passage of time and the involvement of a variety of other versions modified the seal over time. Today no trace exists of the Flemish Lion on any official U.S. government documents. Yet, at the time of the founding of the United States, the Dutch-speaking peoples were listed as one of the "six principal nations" that contributed to the settlement of the United States. As a representation of that contribution the Flemish Lion was considered a suitable symbol for inclusion in the "Coat of Arms" of the United States. It is worth recalling that fact today.

[1] Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.
Canonic URL: [accessed 06 Aug 2010]
Original source: Main Series, Volume 1 (1760–1776)

Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any format permitted without my express written consent.


  1. Again, another great history fact, David.
    Thank you brother, always and forever, for teaching us what we weren't told before.
    Vlaanderen Boven. :-)
    Hugo B.

  2. Once again, great information! Judging from the numerous stories you've told, I would say both American and the Belgian history classes need some thorough review! All the best, Evert.

  3. Hugo & Evert: Thank you my good friends for your kind words. I agree: we must get the authorities to include the contribution of the Flemish people in their recorded histories. Afterall, not only do the Flemish exist but they have made many positive contributions to the world!

  4. What a find this blog is! I am an author whose husband is Flemish, from Antwerp. In addition, I used to do a lot of heraldic art, and can practically do a Flemish rampant lion blindfolded! This has prompted a really good idea for my work-in-progress!

    I'll be back.

    Rosanne Dingli
    Author of puzzle thrillers