I have often wondered why Richard chose a boar as his cognizance. There are other heraldic beasts and symbols that might have appealed to him, but it was a white boar that he chose. Why? Well, from all accounts, he was only a child when he made the decision, so what might have drawn him to this particular creature?
There is a very famous, very large boar in the old Welsh stories, called the Twrch Trwyth, which means “the boar, Trwyth”. He is really a prince, but so wicked that he and his children have been cursed. This terrible creature and his family led King Arthur and his knights a merry chase from Ireland, across Wales, and thence over the Severn to Cornwall. He was never caught. Might such a story have engaged the attention of the boy Richard? After all, he lived for a while at Ludlow Castle, right in the Welsh Marches, where he was as likely to hear Welsh stories as English and French.
It does not take much for me to imagine Richard, together with other noble boys of his age, gathered around by firelight on a winter night, listening rapt as an old Welsh retainer tells them the adventures of the Trwch Trwyth. The picture below may be taken in bright daylight, but when the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the atmosphere would be perfect for some storytelling.
The tale of the Twrch Trwyth comes from a much longer story, that of Culhwch and Olwen, in which Culhwch falls in love with Olwen, a giant’s daughter, and seeks her hand. The gist of the action is that the giant sets Culhwch a list of tasks which must be completed before Olwen is given up. The format is much the same as the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Anyway, one of these tasks is to find Trwyth and retrieve the comb, scissors and razor he carries between his ears. Cwlhwch must obtain the help of King Arthur and his best knights to hunt the great boar and its equally monstrous sons, which are all rampaging around Ireland.
And so the famous hunt begins, first in Ireland, and then across to Wales, where Trwyth and his sons cause more havoc. Trwyth himself evades capture, but one by one his sons are trapped and killed. Hunters are killed too, but Arthur continues the pursuit.
Reaching the mouth of the River Wye, Trwyth seems cornered at last, and the hunters manage to retrieve the comb, scissors and razor, but Trwyth escapes into the estuary of the River Severn, and manages to swim across to the Gloucestershire shore. There he dashes on toward Cornwall. Arthur’s two best hounds chase after him, but Trwyth reaches Land’s End and leaps into the sea, followed by the hounds. All three disappear forever.
What a wonderfully exciting yarn to listen to. What heroic images conjured in small boys’ minds. Did Richard hear it? Was he in awe of the Trwch Trwyth’s amazing stamina and bravery? Did he admire the way even King Arthur was unable to capture his prey? Did he think to himself that one day, he would have a boar as his mascot? A Twrch Trwyth of his own. A magical white (white animals were always special and sought after) boar to carry into battle in his name, as befitted the House of York?
Well, Richard might never have heard the story, of course, but I still find it an attractive possibility. And I do like to envisage that scene at Ludlow, boys—and girls, of course—gathered around of an evening as a Welsh storyteller entertains them with tales of magic and myth.