Portsmouth has borne its arms, comprising an azure shield bearing a gold star and crescent, for more than 700 years. The motto, ‘heaven’s light, our guide’, was registered in 1929. In 1970, the Portsmouth Museums Society sponsored a petition to the Earl Marshal for a grant of supporters, crest and badge to complete the city’s full achievement.
The city was granted the rare privilege of bearing a maritime version echoing the Royal supporters – a sea lion and sea unicorn, reflecting Portsmouth’s long association with the Crown. The unicorn wears a Naval Crown and the mighty Chain of Iron, which is a pictorial representation of the chain boom – from Tudor times, this was stretched from the Round Tower, Old Portsmouth, to Fort Blockhouse, Gosport, as a protection to Portsmouth harbour. The mural crown worn by the sea lion refers to the land defences, which surrounded Portsmouth from Elizabethan times until 1862.
Ownership of the original arms was confirmed at the Heraldic Visitations of 1622 and 1686. Various theories suggest how Portsmouth first acquired these historic arms. It was the two well-known local historians, H.T. Lilley and A.T. Everitt, who first suggested in 1921 that Portsmouth’s seal was based on the arms of William de Longchamp. He was Lord Chancellor to Richard I at the time of the granting of the town’s first definitive charter on 2nd May 1194.
The Richard I connection
However, as William de Longchamp had also adopted a variation of the arms used by Richard I on his first Great Seal, there is no reason why Portsmouth should not similarly have adopted a variation of Richard’s arm direct, as a compliment to the King for the favours he had shown the Town during his brief reign. Richard’s first great seal showed on either side of his head a star with six wavy rays (known as an estoile) above a crescent moon.
On some specimens of his first Great Seal an eight-pointed star was used. It is not known for certain whether Richard adopted this device as a result of going on the Crusades to Palestine in 1191, or whether it was a punning reference to the star called Regulus in the constellation of Leo, which is commonly known a “Cor Leonis”, or “Heart of the Lion” – a play on words on Richard’s nickname.
The use of the city’s arms is confined to the council. Only we can grant the use of the badge to organisations with strong links with the city. The badge comprises the city’s ancient Arms on a roundel crossed by a sword and anchor to mark the city’s naval and military connections.