Why is There a Bear on Warwickshire's Flag?

Warwickshire flag
Warwickshire flag | Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Govt/Flickr
Jordan Lane

A flag must convey a place’s identity. When recently deciding upon its county flag, the Warwickshire Council went for a ‘Bear and Ragged Staff’, incorporating symbolism that can be seen all throughout the region. But what is the imagery’s origin?

Great Britain is made up of 86 counties, which each traditionally have had their own emblematic associations tied to heraldic histories. It was only with the establishment of the Flag Institute in 1971 that a uniform, formal registry was initiated through which each county’s flag could be confirmed. Not all counties have registered one yet, and many rely simply on the county council’s crest. These crests don’t necessarily contain the same imagery as the flag in counties which have both.

Warwickshire, which only had its current boundaries set in 1974, looked to history when deciding on the design of its flag and took inspiration from its crest. The Warwickshire County Council has long used the imagery of a white bear, ragged staff and red background within the design of its crest.

Tomb of Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys, Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick

The first recorded instance of this symbol being used can be found in the original seal and crest of the Earl of Warwick, designed before the fourteenth century. One suggestion has been that an early Earl of Warwick killed a bear with a broken piece of wood, but this doesn’t explain the fact that the bear is shown chained in the historic versions of the image.

The most commonly accepted explanation lies in the story that Henri de Beaumont, who was made the first Earl of Warwick in 1088, may have had a bear and ragged staff upon his family crest. This attribution to the very first Earl would explain the imagery’s deep roots and recurring appearance in the county’s history. However, another theory states that the de Beaumont family adapted the bear and staff, which was already embedded in local tradition, into their family crest as a result of their ties to the county. This would mean its iconography stretched back even further; unfortunately, concrete evidence of this hasn’t been recovered. The meaning of the flag can only be discussed in terms of tales and legends.

Warwickshire bear at Kenilworth Castle

This hasn’t prevented the symbol’s continued widespread use, both of the original imagery and modern variations. The Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service use a version of the original, still including the chains, whereas the police have taken a more modern approach, excluding the chains. Upon the tomb of Robert Dudley, the first Earl of Leicester, in St Mary’s, a metal bear and ragged staff can be found. At the feet of his brother Ambrose Dudley’s tomb, the bear in chains features without the staff.

Warwickshire bear at the feet of Ambrose Dudley’s tomb

A statue at Kenilworth Castle includes the traditional chains. The county council’s coat of arms still includes the chains, but its modernised logo, far more commonly used, features a stylisation without them. Beyond these more traditional uses of the icon, there are also pubs all across Warwickshire called The Bear and Ragged Staff, and there’s even a real bear in the Warwickshire Museum which has been stuffed and positioned with a staff in its paw. There’s no restriction on using the symbol as long as the colouring is different to that used by the county council or the Earl of Warwick.

The bear and the ragged staff is a motif that has appeared over centuries in Warwickshire, and so the choice seemed obvious when the campaign began in 2014 for Warwickshire to have its own flag. In 2016, Warwickshire registered the symbol that is still used today with the Flag Institute, paying homage to the fundamental heraldic history of the area.

This article was written in association with The Boar, a student publication based at the University of Warwick.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article