Extending as far back as Mesopotamian times, the fleur de lis, or stylized lily flower, has close links with the country of France, and more esoterically, with the Italian city of Florence. The differences between the two fleur de lis can be found in their design, usage, as well as historical origins.
The Florentine fleur de lis is red with the stamens interposed between the petals. Furthermore, the tips of the petals and the stamens form flowers themselves. The French version shows three petals, the central one which is erect, and the other two curving outward and joined by a band, with protruding feet.
In French coats of arms, golden fleur de lis without stamens are set against a field of azure. There is some debate as to whether the flower depicted in the fleur de lis is in fact a lily, or rather an iris. The fleur de lis may appear in several variations: when "semy de lis," the flowers are spread in multiple copies across the field; when "à pied nourri," the fleur de lis has its bottom part removed, as is the rod connecting the flowers.
The lily which the fleur de lis is said to depict, has holy significance and is closely associated with the Virgin Mary. Carolingian kings decorated their sceptres with fleur de lis and, through a decree of Louis VII in 1147, the flower became associated with the monarchy. In 1179, Philippe-Auguste wore a robe of azure semy de lis at his coronation.
The first arms of France were "Azure semy de lis Or," or golden fleur de lis strewn on an azure field; however in 1365, Charles VI reduced the number of flowers to three, presumably in deference to the Trinity.
The red fleur de lis of the coat of arms of Florence denotes that city, namely during Medici rule.
The fleur de lis in French history is associated with the conversion of the Frankish king, Clovis, to Christianity in 493. Legend asserts that a lily appeared at his baptismal as a gift by the Virgin Mary, who is linked to the flower. Other stories say that Clovis placed the lily in his helmet before his ultimately victory at a decisive battle, after which the fleur de lis became a royal symbol. The name Clovis is also known as "Loys," and therefore "fleur de lis" has been said to be the corruption of "flower of Loys".
The Medicis were said to co-opt the existing symbol of Florence by reversing the colors of the flower that were native to that city, from white to red.
As the symbol of the city of Florence, the fleur de lis was found in the currency of Florence, or the fiorino. Beyond Florence in Italy, the doges of Venice and dukes of Parma, and was used in papal crowns adopted the symbol and coats of arms.
In France, the fleur de lis is ubiquitous, found not only in connection with the French throne. In French heraldry, it first appears in 1199; in 1211, it appears as an official seal of future Louis VIII. In French communal arms, bearing the fleur de lis was deemed a privilege to specially designated cities granted by the monarch, notwithstanding its prevalent use as arms by other French cities.