The origin of the fleur is a mystery. Related symbols are found in ancient civilizations predating the Hellenized world into which Christ was born. Fleur-like imagery is found in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Assyrian sculpture and Mesoamerican art. French kings in Medieval times adopted the symbol. English nobility, laying claim to parts of France, followed suit. The sixth son of an English nobleman bears the fleur de lis on his coat of arms. A version of the fleur was the stamp of powerful, commercial Florence, the nexus of the Italian Renaissance.
By the time the fleur de lis arrived in the New World it was an unmistakable symbol of nobility that had been, for centuries, emblazoned on heraldic shields and worked into jeweled crowns, tiaras, and scepters. The fleur was borne into the American colonies on the crest of Virginia, England’s tobacco-rich prize.
Fleurs de lis on the flag of colonial New France - modern-day Canada - snapped in brisk North Atlantic winds. When French-Canadian explorers descended the Mississippi in 1682 to claim the great waterway and its tributaries for the Sun King at Versailles, they brought the fleur to “seal the deal.”
To Louisiana, christened for King Louis XIV, magistrates, militiamen, and merchants brought the fleur de lis. To Gulf Coast outposts in Biloxi, Mobile and Gulfport, the fleur arrived with settlers who hoped to start a new life. The fleur was especially important to the King’s Regent, the Duke d’Orleans, when New Orleans, his namesake, was founded in 1718. The French West Indies Company, given the monopoly to commercialize the city by the Duke, incorporated the fleur into its logo.
When the Spanish Crown transferred to the French House of Bourbon, the dynastic fleur was synthesized into Spanish symbology. Subsequently, the fleur arrived on the white beaches of Florida, sailed into colorful Caribbean ports, and was carried inland through the mountains and deserts of continental New Spain.
In the New World, the fleur de lis proclaimed “Old World”regal power and planted the seeds for budding commercial enterprises.