The Prince of Wales, the eldest son and heir apparent of the English sovereign, has used the badge of three ostrich feathers since the 14th Century. The use of this badge was specifically referred to in the will of the Black Prince (1330-1376), the eldest son of Edward III, who died before his father.
The use of ostrich feather badges by the Royal family of England is first recorded at the marriage of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault in 1328 and it seems likely that it derived from her family. A number of forms were used but the current version, with the feathers encircled by a coronet and using the motto Ich Dien, is first noted as being used by Edward VI (1537-1553), who was Prince of Wales from his birth to his accession to the throne in 1547.
The national importance of the Prince of Wales throughout England, and later Great Britain and the United Kingdom, derives both from the key position of the holder of the office as well as from the wealth and estates associated with the Principality and the Prince's other estates. The uses of the badge thus fall into two categories — those indicating the personal property of the Prince of Wales, and such objects as use it to show a fashionable, or even political, association with him. An example of the first category is this silver-gilt dessert fork which is engraved with the badge within the motto of the Order of the Garter all beneath a crown (see figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1: a Double Shell and Laurel pattern dessert fork made in London in 1809 by Paul Storr (Courtesy of a Private Collection).
Figure 2: Crest on dessert fork made in London in 1809 by Paul Storr (Courtesy of a Private Collection).
It was made in London in 1809 by Paul Storr who was employed by leading retailer Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, holders of the Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales. This fork is therefore part of the comparatively small, but significant, group of pieces engraved with the Prince of Wales feathers that were supplied directly to the Prince himself.
However most of the surviving silver bearing the Prince of Wales feathers motif was not the personal property of the Prince of Wales or even related to his household. In 1751, George II's eldest son Frederick Prince of Wales died at the young age of 44. He had already become the centre of a court that rivalled the magnificence of his father's. The next heir to the throne was Frederick's eldest son, the 13-year-old Prince George of Wales who was proclaimed Prince of Wales three weeks after the death of his father. In the late 1750s a picture back teaspoon was produced depicting the motif of the Prince of Wales feathers, examples often being datable to 1759 (see figures 3 and 4). There does not seem to be an obvious political or social reason for this and the die would have been out of date by October 1760 when the Prince ascended the throne as George III.
Figure 3: A Prince of Wales feathers back teaspoon made in London circa 1760 (Courtesy of a Private Collection).
Figure 4: Close-up of the back of a Prince of Wales feathers back teaspoon (Courtesy of a Private Collection).
In the final years of the eighteenth century, England was ruled by George III who was by temperament a private person. His eldest son George, the Prince of Wales from his birth in 1762, was, however, a more flamboyant figure evident in London at the centre of the fashionable world. He also formed the centre of the Whig opposition in politics, as opposed to his father's prominent support for the Tories.
Further examples of a similar use of his motif can be seen on two pairs of sugar tongs below (see figures 5 and 6).
Figure 5: Two pairs of sugar tongs engraved with the Prince of Wales feathers circa 1795 (Courtesy of Schredds of London).
Figure 6: A more detailed view of the engraving on two pairs of sugar tongs- circa 1795 (Courtesy of Schredds of London)
The upper pair were made in London in 1795 by George Wintle and incorporate the Prince of Wales feathers as a key part of the bright-cut decoration. The lower ones were made in Newcastle at approximately the same time by Thomas Watson and are engraved with the same badge but curiously only on one of the shoulders.
At this period the Prince of Wales's personal badge was also used as a key element in the design of some wine labels, most often made by the Bateman family (see figure 7).
Figure 7: A Prince of Wales feathers wine label made in London in 1797 by Peter and Ann Bateman (Courtesy of Schredds of London).
When George III became incapacitated with a recurrence of porphyria in 1811, the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent on his behalf and combined the social leadership he had already attained with the position of effective monarch. He continued as Prince Regent until the death of George III in 1820 when he succeeded to the throne. Having no legitimate sons — there was no Prince of Wales during his reign. He was succeeded by his younger brother William in 1830 who again had no legitimate sons but was succeeded by his niece — Queen Victoria.
Accordingly, when Queen Victoria's eldest son Edward was born in 1842, he was the first person to be created Prince of Wales since George IV eighty years earlier. Following the death of his father, Prince Albert, in 1861 and his mother's increasing insistence on privacy in her widowhood the Prince of Wales, once again, became the centre of the Royal presence in fashionable London. This unusual bookmark, taking the form of the Prince of Wales feathers, was made in London in 1886 and is evidence of the popularity of, or interest in, the Prince of Wales, as it does not obviously celebrate a major event in his life (see figure 8).
Figure 8: An engraved bookmark in the form of the Prince of Wales feathers made in London in 1886 (Courtesy of Schredds of London).
The wider use of the of the Prince of Wales feathers can therefore be seen to reflect the social and political influence of the Princes of Wales in the second half of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and can be compared to the use of the same emblem by the Prince's Trust today.
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