The official description of the Arms of the City by the College of Heralds is as follows:-
"ARMS: Per fess, Argent and gules, three Roses counterchanged.
CREST: On Wreath of the Colours, Issuing our of a Castle Or, a Queen in her imperial majesty holding in the dexter hand the sword of justice and in the sinister the balance of equity all proper, Mantling Gules doubled Argent.
SUPPORTERS: On either side a Ship upon the sea proper, standing in its forepart a Lion rampant Or".
This description is in heraldic `shorthand`, and the following is an explanation of the City`s Arms in ordinary modern English:-
THE ARMS: These are drawn on the shield in the centre, which is shown divided into two approximately equal parts. The top half is white (or silver) with 2 red roses side by side, and the bottom half is red with one slightly white (or silver) rose in its centre.
THE CREST: This includes a knight`s helmet which rests on the shield. The mantling (probably representing the cloth which hung down to protect the back of a knight`s head and neck from the sun and rain) is red with a white lining, and is shown hanging from the top of the helmet and below the wreath with the other end parted into long streamers. The wreath (the laces attaching the crest to the helmet) is in bands of white and red. Above this is the crest, which is a yellow (or golden) castle resting on a green mound, with the upper body of a woman, crowned as a queen and robed in red with white trimmings, rising out of the top. She holds in her right hand a sword of justice, point upwards, and in her left hand the balance or scales of equity or fairness. The queen and her sword and balance are shown in their `proper` or natural colours.
THE SUPPORTERS: The two supporters of the shied are Tudor ships afloat on the sea, with gun ports in the hull, and 2 masts with flags and furled sails, all in their natural colours. A large yellow (or golden) lion stands in the bows of each ship, rearing up to hold the side of the shield in its front paws. The bottom point of the shield is usually shown resting on a mound of green grass, and the ships can be shown anchored or not.
All these together make up Southampton City`s Heraldic Achievement, or Armorial Bearings. It does not include a Motto.
THE ORIGINS OF SOUTHAMPTON`S ARMORIAL BEARINGS
The first surviving official record of the Town`s Arms is a grant on 4th August, 1575 by the herald, Clarenceux King of Arms, of a Crest, and Supporters to the Arms. In this grant the Arms themselves were described as "anicient armes". No one knows, therefore, when the three rose on their contracting backgrounds were first granted or adopted, although the simplicity of the design points to a fairly early date - the thirteenth or fourteenth century. The general opinion is that the most likely period for their adoption is the second half of the fourteenth century, a period when many military expeditions of the Hundred Years War sailed wholly or in part from Southampton and the Solent, including those led by Henry, Duke of Lancaster and his son-in-law John of Gaunt, also Duke of Lancaster. John`s younger brother, the Duke of York, also had similar connections with the Port, and it seems to be a reasonable guess that the red and white rose badges of the Dukes of Lancaster and York should have been used as a compliment to those important royal princes. However, it must be stressed that this is only a guess, no proof of it survives.
THE CREST AND SUPPORTERS
Their grant in 1575 came at a time when heraldic design had declined from its medieval clarity and simple beauty, so that Southampton has one of the most unusual and complicated achievements in British heraldry, although the earlier Arms do show an elegant clarity. It should be added that the grant of supporters is a rather exceptional honour, nowadays mainly reserved for peers and certain types of knight.
DEPICTIONS OF THE ARMS
In the early 17th century a Herald, making a local Visitation to check on Hampshire heraldic bearings, wrongly recorded the Arms of Southampton as two white roses and one red rose on alternately coloured backgrounds, also that the lions stand in the sterns (not the bows) of the ships. Writers of books on heraldry have copied this mistake ever since, and so wrong arms for Southampton can be found in many such books even today.
In heraldry, white is interchangeable with silver, and yellow with gold, and are taken to represent these metals. However, they should be used consistently, that is, white with yellow, or silver with gold, but not white with gold or part white and part silver.