Rhode Island Colonial Charter: 1663-2013

350th anniversary of Rhode Island's "lively experiment" in religious freedom

“Let’s Look Closely” Series – Post #1

Anyone who has seen Rhode Island’s Colonial Charter – especially in person – will tell you that it’s a beautifully decorated document.  And while the image of King Charles II is perhaps the most eye-catching element, there are lots of interesting things happening in those decorations.

Ever wonder WHY someone would take the time to fill this official document with so many graphic elements?  Or ever wonder what they all MEAN?

In this series we’ll take a close look at the Charter and investigate what’s really happening…



These creatures appear in several places on the Charter; there are at least twenty altogether.

Lions were popular with rulers and used on many royal seals throughout Europe.  Considered the ‘King of Beasts,’ they often served as a metaphor for the role of the king.  They were characterized as ferocious animals, but also protective of their citizens and territory.

Their tails were believed to have special powers – magical even.  Legend suggested that by moving their tails lions could make themselves invisible and erase their footprints.  The length of the tail indicated the degree of these magical powers, so the longer the tail the more powerful the creature.

Most of the lions depicted on the Charter are either near to a crown, wearing a crown, or sometimes both (as seen above).

The use of this these creatures left no doubt that this was a royal document, issued by the King.  Stay tuned for future “Let’s Look Closely” posts to see what other royal markers and symbolism were used on the Charter!

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2013 by .

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