Sacred Texts  Legendary Creatures  Symbolism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, by John Vinycomb, [1909], at

Leopard, or Panther, Felis Pardus, Lybbarde

"Upon his shoulders a scheld of stele
 With the lybbardes painted wele
                "The Metrical Romance of Richard Cœur de Lyon."

                    "Make the libbard stern
 Leave roaring, when in rage he for revenge did yearn
            Spenser, "Faerie Queen," Book i. canto vi.

A curious character, partly real and partly fictitious has been ascribed to the lybbard or leopard of heraldry. It was said to be the offspring of a lioness and a panther, the Northmen or Normans, according to some authorities, having adopted that beast of prey, noted for rashness, as typical of themselves, so characterised

p. 195

by boldness and impetuosity. The standard of Rollo, first Duke of Normandy, they say, bore a leopard. A second lion or leopard was added to the Norman shield when the county of Maine became annexed to the Duchy of Normandy; and the two lions or leopards—for they
A Leopard passant.
are indiscriminately so termed—were thus borne, it is said, upon the standard of William the Conqueror, and by his descendants. A third lion was added by Henry II. on his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitain, a lion being also the arms of that province.

It has been keenly contested whether the three animals in the royal shield of England were lions or leopards. The subject has been ably treated by Mr. J. R. Planché in the "Pursuivant of Arms," and also by Charles Boutell, M.A., in several of his works. The case seems to stand thus:

In ancient coats the name is believed to be given to the lion in certain attitudes. The French heralds call a lion passant a leopard. Thus Bertrand du Guesclin, the famous Breton, declared that men "devoyent bien honorer la noble fleur-de-lis, qu’ils ne faissaient le félon liépard," and Napoleon, strongly to excite the valour of his soldiers, exclaimed, "Let us drive these leopards (the English) into the sea!"

"Lion Léoparde" is the term used in French

p. 196

heraldry for the lion when borne passant guardant as in the royal shield of England. When rampant they call it "léoparde lionné," as if in this attitude the leopard assumed the position and bold character of the lion. The attitude passant guardant thus denoted the peculiar stealthy tread and cat-like watchfulness of the leopard and panther.

The Emperor Frederick II. (1235) sent King Henry of England three leopards as a present in token of his armorial bearings.

It is a great argument in favour of the substitution of the lion for the leopard, Mr. Boutell thinks, that the latter should have almost disappeared from
A Leopard's Face, jessant-de-lis.
English heraldry, the face and head only retaining their place in modern coats.

"A leopard's head" should show part of the neck, couped or erased, as the case may be; guardant, afronté or front face, is always to be understood of the leopard, and never in profile.

"A leopard's face" shows no part of the neck, and in conjunction with the term "jessant-de-lis," is used with respect to a leopard's face having a fleur-de-lis passing through it.

The insignia of the See of Hereford is: gules three leopards’ heads reversed jessant-de-lis, or.

In heraldry the leopard represents those brave and

p. 197

generous warriors who have performed some bold enterprise with force, courage, promptitude, and activity. Thus Shakespeare alludes to the character of the bold soldier

"Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
 Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
 Seeking the bubble reputation
 Even in the cannon's mouth."

In Christian Art the leopard is employed to represent that beast spoken of in the Apocalypse, with seven heads and ten horns. Six of the heads are nimbed, but the seventh, being "wounded to death," has lost its power, and consequently has no nimbus.

Three leopards passant guardant or, pelletée, appear on the arms of the Marquis of Downshire. It is also the sinister supporter.

The supporters of the town of Aberdeen are leopards.

Sable three leopards rampant argent spotted sable are given as the arms of Lynch. It is, however, probable that the lynx was the animal originally blazoned as "arms parlantes" for the name.

Ermine on a cross patonce sable, a leopard's head, issuing out of a ducal coronet or, crest, a demi-leopard erect, proper.—Dickens.

A leopard's face, breaking with his mouth a sword, is the crest of Disne.

The supporters of the Earl of Northesk are two leopards reguardant.

p. 198

The leopard or panther, says Dr. P. M. Duncan, F.R.S., * was the only one of the greater feline animals, except the lion and tiger, which seems to have been known to the ancients. It is always represented as drawing the chariot of Bacchus, and the forlorn Ariadne is sculptured as riding on one of the spotted steeds of her divine lover. The panther was also constantly used in the barbarous sports of the amphitheatre, and, in common with the lion and tiger, has been both executioner and grave to many a bold-hearted martyr.

The leopard's skin was a favourite mantle in the olden times in Greece. In the "Iliad," Homer, speaking of Menelaus, says:

"With a pard's spotted hide his shoulders broad
 He mantled o’er,"

and the leopard, or panther, is given in the "Odyssey" as one of the forms assumed by Proteus, "the Ancient of the Deep."

A curious ancient superstition about the leopard is embodied in its name. It was thought not to be actually the same animal as the panther or pard, but to be a mongrel or hybrid between the male pard and the lioness, hence it was called the lion-panther, or leopardus. This error, as Archbishop Trench tells us, "has lasted into modern times"; thus Fuller: "Leopards and mules are properly no creatures."

Some writers, says Boutell, describe the leopard as

p. 199

the issue of the pard and lioness, and they assign the unproductiveness of such hybrids as a reason for its frequent adoption in the arms of abbots and abbesses. "Mulus et abbates sunt in honore pares."

The leopard and panther are now acknowledged to be but slight varieties of the same species. In Wood's "Natural History" some slight difference is mentioned as to the number of spots. "The panther is fawn-coloured above, white underneath, with six or seven ranges of patches resembling rosettes—that is to say, each composed of an assemblage of five or six simple black spots. It very much resembles the leopard, which inhabits the same region (but has ten rows of spots which are of smaller size), It is the wildest of the feline tribe, always retaining its fierce aspect and perpetual growl."


198:* "Cassell's Natural History."

Next: The Panther Incensed