The Three Crowns

three crowns St Mary'sThe “three crowns” have been used as Hull’s coat of arms since the early 1400s. A depiction of the shield in stained glass in St Mary’s Church Lowgate dates from the reign of Richard III (1483-85) and is among the earliest versions to survive.
(right Part of the east window of St Mary’s Lowgate c1483-85)

The College of Arms, the institution which regulates heraldry in England, confirmed the right of Borough (now City) of Hull to use the crowns in the 1600s. Since then, virtually every public building in the City has been decorated with the coat of arms.

The Coat of Arms of Hull as confirmed by the College of Arms in 1951, from their records of the Visitation of Yorkshire in 1665.

Coat of ArmsAlthough popularly referred to as Crowns, some people insist that they are in fact Coronets. It is clear that they started out as crowns, but the language of heraldry has evolved, and their official heraldic designation is “ducal coronets.” But it scarcely matters that everyone knows them as the Three Crowns!

There have been many theories about what the three crowns represent. One suggestion has been that the “ducal coronets” represent particular dukedoms, but the arms were in use before any nobleman with the title of Duke was connected with Hull.


Medieval Holy Trinity SculptureIt has also been thought that they represent the Three Kings of the Nativity story. They travelled from the East to bring gifts to Jesus, just as merchants travelled to Hull from a different part of the East bringing timber and goods from the Baltic. The shrine of the Three Kings is at Cologne, with which city there were trading connections in the medieval period.

The most likely explanation is that the three crowns represent the Holy Trinity. In the middle ages, the Holy Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - was a popular religious cult in Hull, and Holy Trinity Church and Trinity House commemorate this.
(right Medieval sculpture representing the Holy Trinity)

Three CrownsAlternatively the three crowns are to mark that Hull is the King’s Town, as in Kingston upon Hull. It may be that the true explanation is a combination of the two, and that perhaps more importantly it’s simply that they look good!

Whatever the origin, it’s something for the City to be proud of, and in fact ours is the only municipal coat of arms in the country protected from misuse by private Act of Parliament.

(left The “Three Crowns” formally granted to the City as an armorial badge 2004)