If you were the King of France, chances are your royal swag would be covered in the Fleur-de-lis. This botanical symbol is the heraldic calling card of French monarchy. It literally means “flower of the lily.” As a Catholic nation, the lily was an important symbol to the French people. It represented purity and was often associated with the saints, particularly St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary.
The more scientifically-minded among you may be wondering, "If the lily was so important to the French people, why does the Fleur-de-lis look nothing like a lily?" There are two answers to that question: 1) it’s a stylized flower; stop being so pedantic and 2) it’s not supposed to be a lily; it’s based on a species of iris, Iris pseudacorus or I. florentina. There are two theories how the French iris became the "Fleur-de-lis." Some think the phrase was originally short for “Flowers of the River List;” the name given to yellow irises that grow plentifully along the French river Leie. Others think the French adopted the German name for Iris, which was “Liescheblume,” “Liesblume” or “Leysblume.” At some point the French stopped caring or forgot, and now "Fleur-de-lis" = lily.
Isn’t it fitting that a country that spells words one way and pronounces them another would be represented by a symbol of a lily that is actually another species of flower altogether? Ah well, c'est la vie. Eat your crêpe and be happy.
Photo by Pierre Selim via Wikimedia Commons.