Now that Meghan Markle is officially part of the royal family, it seems like she’s walked straight into The Princess Diaries, considering she’s been undergoing official duchess training (though we’re pretty sure it’s not under the watchful eye of Julie Andrews), and now has her own official coat of arms as the Duchess of Sussex. Kensington Palace announced May 25 that, like others who have married into the royal family, including Kate Middleton and Princess Diana, Markle had a coat of arms designed especially for her, loaded with personal meaning that reflects her life story. But one symbol on Markle’s coat of arms is stumping folks on the internet: The songbird representing Markle is wearing a crown around its neck, while the lion representing Prince Harry is wearing a crown on its head.
“Why is the crown around the dove’s neck?” one person replying to Kensington Palace’s announcement tweeted. “Even for an American like me, the symbolism isn’t a positive one.”
“Maybe drawing a crown to scale to fit on the dove’s head would appear that she was ‘less than’?” another theorized.
“While lovely, it does rather appear that the songbird is being strangled by the crown,” said a third. “We will hope that is not what was intended and only my own non-understanding of all the nuances which make up the design of a coat of arms.”
As several commenters mentioned, the crown around the songbird’s neck isn’t explained in the palace’s official rundown of the coat of arms. In the rundown, it’s explained that the coat of arms was designed to be “both personal and representative” for the new duchess. Everything from the color of the shield’s background to the choice of flowers beneath it has a meaning. The blue background “represents the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, while the two golden rays across the shield are symbolic of the sunshine of The Duchess’s home state,” the Palace said. In addition, “Beneath the shield on the grass sits a collection of golden poppies, California’s state flower, and wintersweet, which grows at Kensington Palace.”
The songbird that represents Markle herself is called a “supporter,” and “[i]t is customary for Supporters of the shield to be assigned to Members of the Royal Family, and for wives of Members of the Royal Family to have one of their husbands Supporters and one relating to themselves. The Supporter relating to The Duchess of Sussex is a songbird with wings elevated as if flying and an open beak, which with the quill represents the power of communication.”
But there’s no mention of the crown around the bird’s neck, which left some people wondering what’s up with it. And the answer is fairly simple: It’s tradition. Markle is not the first duchess to be given a coat of arms with a supporter wearing a crown around its neck. In the joint coat of arms Middleton and Prince William received two years after they were married, the Duchess of Cambridge is represented by a unicorn also wearing a crown around its neck. And going all the way back to Princess Diana, her supporter was a griffin with, you guessed it, a crown around its neck.
And as the internet asketh, so also does the internet answer. One savvy Twitter user explained to those who were lost that in English heraldry, it’s “standard to put the crown around the neck of a supporter (term for the side animals) in the coat of arms of someone given the rank of duke or duchess.”
So while it’s easy to think that in a coat of arms laden with personal symbolism, the crown “strangling” Markle’s songbird might mean something specific to her, too. But never fear — Markle’s coat of arms is like others that have come before it, and while we already know Markle is one for choosing groundbreaking over tradition, in this case her coat of arms was designed with her taking “great interest in the design,” according to Kensington Palace. Don’t worry, Markle fans — she’s got this one.