The story behind the Scout emblem: fleur-de-lis or arrowhead?
Arrowhead or fleur-de-lis, the origins of one of the worlds best known icons can be confusing. The Scout symbol is one of the best known global “brands”. As Scouting spread around the world so did the story of the iconic badges development. Its name changes depending on the country with some preferring the name arrowhead to fleur-de-lis with its traditional royal connections; others call it the fleur-de-lis due to the arrowheads military connections. Whatever it is called it brings Scouts together in a sense of unity and friendship.
The Scout badge origins
At the pilot Scout Camp held on Brownsea Island in August 1907 Robert Baden-Powell gave the boys a Scout symbol to wear on their coats or hats, this was based a badge he had introduced for Army scouts when he was serving in India.
In the first edition of Scouting for Boys (1908) Baden-Powell referred to the Scout’s Badge as an arrow head. He said: '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.'
Following criticisms that the symbol was too militaristic Baden-Powell renamed the symbol after the heraldic fleur-de-lis, a stylised lily symbolic of peace and purity. He further explained: 'The Scout’s badge was originally adapted from the North point of the compass, signifying that a Scout was able to point the way as truly as the needle of a compass.
In the early days of Scouting this badge was looked upon with suspicion by anti-militarist societies and one of these chard us with being a war-like association because our badge was a spearhead – or arrowhead – meaning aggression and bloodshed.
In reply to the cable on the subject I wrote – “The crest of the Scouts is fleur-de-lys, or lily, the emblem of purity and peace."
The fleur-de-lys was originally the crest of the French kings. Charles, King of Naples, owing to his French descent also had it as his crest.
During his reign Flavio Gioja, the navigator, who brought about the adoption of the mariners compass, assed a card marked with the initial letters N,S,E and W.
The North, in Italian, is tramontane, so the capital T stood for North. But, in dedicating his compass to the King he made the T in the form of a fleur-de-lys in honour of the King’s crest, and it was from that origin that our Scout badge has come into being.
It is especially suitable for Scouts in that its three points serve to remind the Scout of the three promises which he makes on joining the Movement.'
Such a generic symbol could easily be copied and in 1909 special additions were made to it to the design to make it unique to Scouts. This included the addition of the two stars. The ten points of the stars later came to represent the ten parts of the Scout Law. In the UK there were only 9 laws until 1911.
The symbol kept evolving with subtle changes to the shape and in 1927 the words Boy Scouts were added.
The story evolves
After the creation of the Wolf Cubs section which formally launched in 1916 Baden-Powell also said the two stars could also represent the gleaming eyes of a wolf cub. This relates to the two stars which Cubs worked for during their programme and were worn on the Cub cap. Wolf cubs are born blind correspondingly new Cubs wouldn’t have the stars on their cap, by the time a Cub was ready to go to Scouts his eyes would be fully and he would have two stars showing his development. This element of the Cub programme was replaced in 1967.
As Scouting spread around the world countries created their own versions of the Scout symbol sometimes adding to the design to make it unique to their country. In 1972 the World Membership Badge was introduced for all national Scout organisations which belonged to WOSM the World Organisation of the Scout Movement. In the UK it is presented to new members when they join Scouting.
A new look for the Digital Age
In May 2018, following wide consultation, a new Scout brand and visual identity was introduced for UK Scouting. This included a new, simplified fleur-de-lis. More visible at a smaller size and especially on phones and other devices, it was an evolution of the classic fleur-de-lis for the digital age.
Adopted by Groups, Districts, Counties Nations across the UK, it looks and feels contemporary while retaining our iconic heritage. It also has echoes of Baden-Powell’s very first drawing. While this new fleur-de-lis is seen on signs, books, clothing, social media and websites, UK Scouts continue to wear the World Membership Badge on their uniforms.