The Fleur-de-Lis And Its History In Scouting


Scouting in America has existed for over 100 years, with the original “Boy Scouts” having been founded in 1908 by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. This successful organization, which has taught innumerable youths over the years how to be better individuals and citizens, can be found all over the world, and one of their symbols is the Fleur-de-Lis.

The Fleur-de-Lis badge is a well-known symbol for Scouting throughout the world. Scouting’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell stated that he chose the fleur-de-lis as a symbol because of its similarity to a compass rose, which always points north and shows a scout the way. 

While you’re probably familiar with the Scouting organizations, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, here in America, you may not be aware that Scouting is a worldwide movement. In fact, Scouting in the United States makes up just 5% of the world population of scouts!

Throughout the world, Scouting is represented in 216 countries, yet all of these organizations use the same French Fleur-de-Lis as one of their core symbols. Keep reading to learn the mystery behind why the Fleur-de-Lis is so closely associated with Scouting organizations across the globe!-+

Why is the Fleur-de-Lis Associated with Scouting?

In 1907, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (at that time, not a lord but a Lieutenant General in the British Army), held a boy’s Scouting camp on Brownsea Island. These were the roots of his organization, the Boy Scouts, which would soon spread like wildfire, globally. At the end of his first camp, Lord Baden-Powell gave his scouts what he called an “arrow head badge.”

Similar to the Fleur-de-Lis, the arrow head badge also displayed 3 central points and a chord around it’s lower section. When writing about his arrow head badge in the 1908 publication of Scouting For Boys, Lord Baden-Powell stated:

The Scout’s badge is the arrow head, which shows the north on a map or on the compass. It is the badge of the scout in the Army because he shows the way: so to a peace Scout shows the way in doing his duty and helping others.

However, Lord Baden-Powell changed the arrow head badge to be the fleur-de-lis later that same year, upon criticism that he was building a para-militaristic organization. Luckily though, the design saw very little change under this new interpretation.

Aside: (I’m finding it hilarious that Lord Baden-Powell was just like, “Alright, you know what guys? Fine. It’s a fleur-de-lis, not an arrow head. It’s been a symbol of peace and purity the whole time. Y’all happy now?”)

The original fleur-de-lis crest, symbolizing a lily, was used by French kings and nobility, giving the emblem a deep and rich history. Furthermore, the three-points on the symbol helped remind a Scout of the three promises he made upon joining the organization: 

  1. Duty to Others
  2. Duty to God and Country
  3. Duty to Self

Since its beginnings, the Fleur-de-Lis has steadily increased in significance, not in Great Britain, but to scouts all throughout world. Today, the Fleur-de-Lis is a powerful symbol used to represent international unity and brotherhood by the World Organization of Scouting Movements (WOSM).

The History of the Fleur-de-Lis in Scouting

The fleur-de-lis has appeared throughout European culture for centuries, and its ties to Scouting stretch all the way back to 1908. As it spread throughout the world, the fleur-de-lis became a symbol for the unity and brotherhood between all scouts, world-wide.

Here’s a brief timeline outlining the most important changes to the fleur-de-lis symbol throughout Scouting’s rich history:

YearEvent
1907Lord Baden-Powell first uses an “arrow head” as a badge for scouts
1908Symbol is changed to the fleur-de-lis in Baden-Powell’s book, Scouting for Boys
1909The symbol is modified with stars (representing the Scout Law) to prevent easy imitation
1927The words “Boy Scouts” is added to the bottom of the symbol
1955First use of the world crest during a Scouting Jamboree
1972The World Scout Emblem is added to the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) list of badges.
1991Requirements to participate in an international Scouting event are removed. All scouts wear the World Scout Emblem and can attend.

Even today, practically all Scouting organizations still incorporate some aspects of the fleur-de-lis into their unique designs. This is unlikely to ever change, as the fleur-de-lis is such a significant part of Scouting heritage. At an international level, the fleur-de-lis is displayed on the world crest as a symbol of friendship and unity.

The World Crest

The World Crest, which is now referred to as the World Membership Badge, has a rich history in and of itself. It was first introduced in 1955, but there were some strict restrictions on its wear by scouts.

To obtain this badge, it was required that the scout have participated in an approved international experience (like the Jamboree), at least in America. These restrictions made it difficult for most scouts to obtain the World membership patch, which displayed a fleur-de-lis insignia.

These rules caused the World Crest Badge to be known as the “Overseas” badge for scouts who had been able to participate in an international Scouting experience. Even if scouts were lucky enough to go abroad on multiple occasions, they could only wear one such badge (similar to deployment patches worn by U.S. military personnel). 

These restrictions were eased somewhat in 1957, when these badges were made available to local chapters of the BSA. There were still strict regulations on its wear, however. To be eligible, scouts still needed to participate in an event with scouts from another nation.

These restrictions were again eased in 1991 when the World Crest was made a mandatory badge to be worn by all scouts. If you know any scouts today, all of them wear this patch on the top left-hand side of their uniform!

What the Fleur-De-Lis Means Now

The World Membership Badge in its current design has a rich symbology, with each component standing for a different theme or value. The crest is now one of the only badges that’s awarded to scouts no matter what country they come from. This symbology can be summarized in the table below:

FeatureMeaning
Purple ColorLeadership and Service
White ColorPurity
Left Point of Fleur-De-LisService to others
Center Point of Fleur-De-LisDuty to God or the Scout’s values
Right Point of Fleur-De-LisObedience to Scout Law
BondFamily of Scouting
Two 5-point starsTruth and knowledge. The 10 points of the stars represent the original 10 laws of Scouting.
Encircling RopeUnity and family of the World Scouting Movement
Reef KnotCan’t be undone no matter how hard you pull; symbolizes the strength of Scouting’s community and values

The Fleur-de-Lis Around the World

In some form or fashion, every Scouting organization around the world uses the fleur-de-lis as a symbol. Most national organizations authorize the wear of the World Membership Badge to entry-level scouts as a way to show that they belong to something greater than themselves and are a part of the world Scouting movement. 

In America, the three points of the fleur-de-lis have slightly different meanings: Duty to God and Country, Duty to Others, and Duty to Self. In Singapore, the fleur-de-lis is incorporated into the Scouting logo with additional stars to stand for the state and the nation.

Scouting as a Worldwide Organization

This difference in fleur-de-lis interpretations is balanced by Scouting’s standing as a global organization. Today, there are active Scouting organizations in almost every country, with over 50 million participants, worldwide.

Surprisingly, only around 2 million of Scouting’s members can be found in the United States. Some other countries with Scouting include:

  • Hungary
  • Russia
  • The Bahamas
  • Australia
  • Japan
  • Jordan 
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan

All of these organizations share some similarities: they teach their scouts outdoor survival skills, they award merit badges for the completion of tasks, they use the motto “Be Prepared,” and they have some sort of uniform for scouts. It’s amazing that you can go to almost every country on Earth and find something so universally accepted and practiced!

If you’re interested in learning more about how Scouting is done in other countries and cultures, I’ve written a full article on Scouting Around The World. Check it out to learn about the past, present, and future of the Scouting movement!

Closing Thoughts

The fleur-de-lis has been a symbol of Scouting ever since Lord Robert Baden-Powell hosted his Brownsea Island camp back in 1907. For over 100 years, the Scouting fleur-de-lis has evolved and taken on new interpretations.

However, some things have not changed. The fleur-de-lis will continue to symbolize the oaths a scout makes when they first join, the morally straight nature of a scout’s journey through life, and the international family that connects all scouts, globally.

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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