The White Hart was King Richard II’s heraldic badge.
When Richard II was crowned King of England in 1377, he was just 10 years old. He adopted the White Hart as his emblem. Why? Well, it is complicated. It has a lot to do with piety, alchemy, mythology and two colours – red and white.
A bit of background. Richard II’s grandfather (Edward III) was a warrior king whose overriding interest was war. In particular, war with France. His heir to the throne was his son, the Black Prince, who was a chip off the old block you might say. He too loved war. Sadly he died before his father, but not as you might think with a french sword though the belly but of amoebic dysentery, which sounds a nasty way to go! The next in line to the throne was the little boy, Richard, who was the Black Prince’s son.
Bearing in mind Richard’s warmongering family background, lets have a look at the medieval cerebal landscape back in 1377, in particular the meaning of colours, white. No surprises represents purity, innocence and virtue, Red. representing, you guessed it power and passion. This is still true today, but in the 14th century these two colours were also woven into mythology and alchemy. In Mythology one of the best examples is the Arthurian legend of Joseph d’Arimathie. Joseph brought with him to Britain vessels containing the (Red) blood and (White) sweat of Christ. The “vessels”, were the Holy Grail. Potent stuff! In Christian alchemy there are three elements, Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury, that together make up the “Holy Trinity”. Sulphor (Red) Represnts the centre of the Universe, or “our father who art in heaven”. Salt is the Earth , or ” salt of the earth”. and Mercury (White) is the messenger, or, “The Holy spirit”
The purpose of alchemy is to purify the “earth” enough to allow Mercury and Sulphor to interact correctly. (The soul is reformed and relation to God purified) Since Christian alchemy is based upon the concept that the human soul was split during the Fall, Mercury and Sulphor were seen as coming from the same original substance and so should be united again.
Still with me?
So Richard is keen to distance himself from his warmongering father, He wanted a pious ideal of kingship. What better animal to adopt as an emblem than the white hart. Why? Well for a start its white, and by the time richard had become king in 1377 Christianity had already kidnapped the white hart from earlier mythology for its own purposes: the white stag had come to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth. In 1128 the story of David I, King of Scotland and his close shave with a stag cemented this symbolism. A stag charged him, he begged god to save him, The stag vanished into thin air leaving behind a cross where it’s alters had been! This married with the alchemic observation that white (Mercury) represents the holy spirit and legends like the the one of Joseph d’Arimathie made the white hart a potent symbol of not only purity but of divinity.
So next time you are in your local White Hart pub raise a glass to King Ricard II.
Image © Daniel Mackie
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