Points in history: Three things to know about why Scouts use the fleur-de-lis

A cast-iron fence is topped with fleurs-de-lis in downtown Monroe, La. Photo by Dakota-Miller/iStock/Getty Images

It’s worn by kings and queens, Pelicans and Saints, and Scouts and Scouters.

It’s found atop iron fence posts at private homes and famous landmarks, including London’s Buckingham Palace.

And, perhaps most important of all, it has its own emoji: ⚜️.

So why do Scouts use the fleur-de-lis? The fleur-de-lis, a three-pointed, flowerlike symbol with rich historical significance, is an essential part of Scouting iconography. The BSA’s version of the fleur-de-lis is found in the movement’s official logos and all over the uniforms of Cub Scouts and members of Scouts BSA.

Every diamond-shaped Cub Scout rank badge has the fleur-de-lis at the bottom. In Scouts BSA, the fleur-de-lis is part of the oval badges for the Scout, Tenderfoot, First Class, Star and Life ranks. And every BSA member — including Cub Scouts, Scouts, Venturers and Sea Scouts — wears a fleur-de-lis as part of the purple World Crest that signifies our membership in the World Organization of the Scout Movement.

So where else might you find the fleur-de-lis? Why did Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell choose it to represent Scouting? And what does the symbol mean today?

Here are three points you need to know.

The New Orleans Pelicans City Edition jersey is a riff on the city’s flag, which includes three fleurs-de-lis. (Pelicans.com photo)

1. The fleur-de-lis is everywhere

The word fleur-de-lis comes from the French for “lily flower,” and France is the nation most associated with the symbol. The fleur-de-lis has appeared on French flags and coats of arms for centuries.

But its use quickly spread beyond across the Atlantic Ocean to places with heavy populations of French-speaking people. Today, you’ll find the fleur-de-lis on the flags of cities like Detroit, Montreal and New Orleans.

Speaking of New Orleans, sports teams there have adopted the fleur-de-lis as a way to more deeply connect their team’s identity to the area.

The symbol of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints is a fleur-de-lis rendered in black and gold. Before the Super Bowl in 2010, Saints quarterback Drew Brees told The New York Times that seeing the fleur-de-lis “makes us well up with pride.”

In the NBA, the New Orleans Pelicans call their blue, gold and red logo a “bird-de-lis” because it combines a pelican with the iconic symbol.

The Pelicans explain that after Hurricane Katrina, the mark “came to symbolize the heart and resolve of the city.”

On Christmas Day, the Pelicans unveiled their City Edition uniform inspired by the flag of New Orleans. That uniform, like the flag itself, puts the fleur-de-lis front and center. It’s only fitting to see Eagle Scout Josh Hart, a guard for the Pelicans, wearing a fleur-de-lis once again.

Sports-specific uses don’t end there. A number of soccer teams use the fleur-de-lis, including:

  • Montreal Impact (Major League Soccer, U.S. and Canada)
  • ACF Fiorentina (Serie A, Italy)
  • SV Darmstadt 98 (Bundesliga 2, Germany)

Beyond sports, you’ll find the fleur-de-lis all over — if you look closely. You’ll find them atop the iron fence outside Buckingham Palace, in the logo for the Chevrolet Corvette and in the symbols of several sororities and fraternities.

Left: A fleur-de-lis is visible on the sleeve of a Brownsea Island participant in 1907. Right: A drawing of the fleur-de-lis in Scouting for Boys, 1908.

2. Robert Baden-Powell had to defend its use

In 1907, Baden-Powell presented brass fleur-de-lis badges to the young men who attended his proof-of-concept Scout camp at Brownsea Island off the southern coast of England.

The symbol, like the Scouting program itself, seemed to stick.

Twenty-six years later, B-P revealed that there was some initial criticism over the use of the fleur-de-lis — all based on a misunderstanding about what the symbol represents.

In his March 1933 book Lessons From the Varsity of Life, B-P writes that when Scouting first began, some critics “accused the movement of being a military one.” For proof, they cited the fleur-de-lis, which they said was “a spear-head, the emblem of battle.”

While Scouts support the military, Scouting is not soldiering, B-P explained.

“Whenever anything new is started, there are bound to be people who get up on their hind legs to find fault with it, often before they know what it is all about,” Baden-Powell wrote. “I was asked by cable what I had to say about it. I telegraphed back, ‘The crest is the fleur-de-lys, a lily, the emblem of peace and purity.’”

B-P further explains that he chose the fleur-de-lis because of its use on maps, charts and compasses to indicate north. Scouts whose life compass always points north, he reasoned, are on track for success.

3. The fleur-de-lis is a simple symbol with lots of symbolism

In Lessons From the Varsity of Life, Baden-Powell took all the guesswork out of interpreting the Scouting significance of the fleur-de-lis.

“The actual meaning,” he writes, “is that it points in the right direction (and upwards), turning neither to the right nor left, since these lead backward again.

“The three points … remind the Scout of the three points of the Scout’s Promise — Duty to God and the king, helpfulness to other people, and obedience to the Scout Law.”

The Boy Scouts of America has added its own unique stamp on the fleur-de-lis logo and its meaning.

  • The fleur-de-lis shape represents north on a compass and a flower with three leaves or petals.
  • The three points of the fleur-de-lis represent the three parts of the Scout Oath:
    • To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law
    • To help other people at all times
    • To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight
  • The eagle and shield stand for freedom
  • The two stars within the fleur-de-lis represent truth and knowledge
  • The knot under the scroll represents the Scout Slogan: “Do a Good Turn Daily”
  • The scroll with the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared,” is curved as a reminder to Scouts to smile as they do their duty

Your turn: Where else have you seen the fleur-de-lis?

Scouts seem to have an Eagle eye for spotting the fleur-de-lis in unexpected places. Where have you seen it? Leave a comment below with your favorite findings.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.