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Source: Koninklijke Bibliotheek - Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Copyright 2002 Koninklijke Bibliotheek / Used by permission Manuscript description Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 61r



Latin name: Leopardus

Other names:

The offspring of a mating between a lion and a pard


General Attributes

The leopard is the illicit offspring of a lion (leo) and a pard.

Sources (chronological order)

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:11): The leopard is the degenerate offspring of the adulterous mating of a lion (leo) and a pard.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): The leopard is a beast most cruel, and is gendered in spouse-breach of a pard and of a lioness, and pursueth his prey startling and leaping and not running, and if he taketh not his prey in the third leap, or in the fourth, then he stinteth for indignation, and goeth backward as though he were overcome. And he is less in body than the lion, and therefore he dreadeth the lion, and maketh a cave under earth with double entering, one by which he goeth in, and the other by which he goeth out. And that cave is full wide and large in either entering, and more narrow and straight in the middle. And so when the lion cometh, he fleeth and falleth suddenly into the cave, and the lion pursueth him with a great rese, and entereth also into the cave, and weeneth there to have the mastery over the leopard, but for greatness of his body he may not pass freely by the middle of the den which is full straight, and when the leopard knoweth that the lion is so let and holden in the straight place, he goeth out of the den forward, and cometh again into the den in the other side behind the lion, and reseth on him behindforth with biting and with claws, and so the leopard hath often in that wise the mastery of the lion by craft and not by strength, so the less beast hath oft the mastery of the strong beast by deceit and guile in the den, and dare not rese on him openly in the field, as Homer saith in the book of the battles and wiles of beasts. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


A leopard in heraldry can indicate that the first bearer of the arms was born from adultry. Nicholas Upton, a fifteenth century writer on heraldry, said that the "Leopard ys a most cruell beeste engendered wilfully of a Lion and a beeste called a Parde" and advises that it is to be painted with "his whole face shewed abroad openly to the lookers on." The arms of Richard the Lion Heart had three gold leopards after 1195, a possible allusion to his grandfather, William the Conquerer, also known as "the Bastard." The thirteeth century Sir Nicholas de Cauntelo had a "Leopard's Face Jessant de Lys" on his arms, so-called because the face is combined with a fleur-de-lis.

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