While doing some research, I came upon a beautiful 15th century scroll of Edward IV on the website of the Philadelphia Free Library, showing the King’s full line of descent with stunning imagery and symbolism.
What was particularly interesting was that Edward also used, as did Henry Tudor, the image of the Red Dragon in his propaganda. Here, Edward directly borrowed from Arthurian myths, but cast the Lancastrian faction in the role of the ‘white dragon’ (traditonally the ‘invading’ Saxons) that would be eventually overcome by the red. Henry IV, V and VI are all denoted as ‘Saxons’ while Edward brings forth his Welsh ancestry going back to Llewellyn the Great via the marriage of Llewellyn’s daughter, Gwladys Dhu ‘the Dark,’ to Ralph Mortimer, lord of Wigmore Castle.
As so often happens, acquiring a book for a specific reason leads to something else that is quite thought-provoking. In this case, the book is The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones, in which the subject of one of the eighteen contributions is Catherine of Aragon and her two marriages.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this volume is light or Pythonesque, because Terry Jones is not only brilliant when it comes to humour, but also very dedicated, knowledgeable and educated on medieval matters. The sections within the pages are not all by Terry himself, but by illustrious names that include Chris Given-Wilson, and Nigel Saul.
Now, before I get to the nitty-gritty, let me say that the item that prompted the essay A Prayer Roll Fit for a Tudor Prince, by John J. Thompson, is a fairly recent acquisition of the British Library (MS Additional 88929), and for a brief explanation about it, I suggest a quick glance at http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2011/02/henry-viii-prayer-roll.html, which describes the roll as follows:
21 February 2011 – by Andrea Clarke
Henry VIII Prayer Roll
“The British Library has recently acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII, and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. Produced in England in the late 15th century, it is one of the finest English prayer rolls, and consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end that measure some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations — images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these are prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.
“The prayer roll was once owned and used by Prince Henry, evidenced by the inclusion of his royal badges at the head of the roll. These include two Tudor roses, the Prince of Wales crowned ostrich feather, as well as Katherine of Aragon’s personal symbol of the arrow-sheaf of Aragon. At some point prior to 1509 Henry presented the roll to William Thomas, a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber, and added an inscription at the top of the second membrane, under the central image of Christ’s Passion: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry’.
“The Henry VIII Prayer Roll is now London, British Library, MS Additional 88929. It is currently on display in our Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and will also be displayed in our Royal exhibition which opens in November 2011.”
The roll displays Tudor badges and emblems, but also the sheaf of arrows (maybe arrows passing through a tower) of Katherine of Aragon, who in November 1501 married Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur died six months later, at Ludlow Castle, of the “sweating sickness”, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb displays the same Tudor symbols as the roll.
Arthur’s younger brother, Henry (to be Henry VIII) soon became Prince of Wales. His father, Henry VII, waited until he was sure the widowed Katherine was not pregnant and then proposed that she married the new Prince of Wales. Katherine swore her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. This was essential, because the Church forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow. It was, and still is, in the Bible, and is one of the Ten Commandments.
The roll does not name a Prince of Wales, but it was surely made for Arthur, and emerges as a very important relic of this fraught time in history. It cannot be dated to much before 1490, when Arthur became Prince of Wales, and if it includes Katherine’s emblem, then it was probably around the time of their engagement or marriage. Its later ownership by the young Henry VIII is confirmed by his writing on it, and it is suggested that what he wrote reveals him to have been as devout a Catholic as everyone else. At least, he was at that point. Then the roll came into the hands of a devoted Tudor servant, William Thomas, before disappearing from history for 500 years, reappearing in the 19th century. If it were not for it coming to light again, its existence would never have been known at all. Its real purpose is still not known.
It is usually imagined that Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon were content enough together (I certainly had that impression), but now a truly remarkable fact has been uncovered in the register of briefs in the Vatican archives. It is dated 20th October 1505 and notes Pope Julius II’s response to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who by that date had been dead for over three years. So Arthur had to have sent a letter to the pope, whose answer had been mislaid or at least misfiled. The prince’s request also contained mention of his wife, so had to have been written within that six-month period before the prince died.
The pope’s response has not survived, and we do not know if it was ever sent (I strongly suspect it was, and it arrived in England) but it apparently granted papal authority to Prince Arthur to restrain his wife (Katherine of Aragon) from continuing to engage in “excessive religious observances injurious to her health since these would imperil the maritalis consuetudo (marital custom) of Roman law and endanger her ability to bear children”.
So, when it was too late, the Pope authorised Arthur to insist his pious wife conduct less strenuous religious exercises, these to be determined on the advice of her confessor. From which, it would seem all was not well in the young people’s marriage. Arthur (and Henry VII, no doubt!) was alarmed by discovering just how intensely devout his new wife was. I do not know what Katherine was doing to cause such concern, but whatever it was, she was clearly going far further than the conventional Tudors liked. Well, conventional at that time, because Henry VIII’s Great Matter lay in the future. The begetting of heirs was the whole point of royal marriage, so anything that might get in the way of this was to be stopped immediately, if not sooner!
After Arthur’s untimely death, a treaty for marriage was drawn up for the widowed Katherine to marry his younger brother, the future King Henry VIII. It was signed on 23rd June 1504, and the two were formally betrothed on 25th June. Henry was 12, Katherine 17. Two years later, on 27th June, 1505, Henry appeared before Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and the Lord Privy Seal. The young prince had reached his maturity, and wished it to be formally recorded that he disowned his part of the marriage contract.
Now, why? What brought this about? Had the Pope’s response to Arthur finally arrived, and Prince Henry seen it? Whenever the letter from Rome turned up, I think that Henry read it in the first half of 1505.
The fact that the register of briefs at the Vatican is dated October 1505, does not mean the pope’s letter was written then. It merely records the letter. So was Henry now warned of exactly how extreme and pious his new bride would be? Arthur had learned too late, after marriage. Henry, Prince of Wales, may have also been devout, but clearly not to the same degree as Katherine. However, on the death in 1509 of his father, Henry VII, the marriage took place anyway. Something else had clearly happened since his appearance before Bishop Fox. Might it have been that the Pope’s instructions had taken effect, and Katherine had moderated her religious devotions? I have no idea what else it might have been, only that once old Henry VII was dead and buried, his son married Katherine after all.
It is always said that for a number of years Henry and Katherine were happy together, until the absence of a male heir—and the increasing likelihood of Katherine’s age preventing such an heir—prompted Henry to start looking around. Had this lack of an heir caused such anxiety to Katherine that she resumed her former devotions? Certainly she would turn to God for divine help.
Did it then become a vicious circle, with Henry being more and more alienated by such extreme religion, and Katherine seeking more and more comfort from her devotions? Was this another cause of his suggestion that she and Arthur had after all consummated their marriage, making his own marriage to her invalid? If such a charge could be made to stick, so to speak, it would certainly rid him of an increasingly inconvenient wife. By then he wanted to marry the enchanting vixen Anne Boleyn, of course, but infuriatingly, the Pope wouldn’t agree to it! If the Pope had granted Henry his wish, would we still be a predominantly Catholic country? Certainly we would have been for a lot longer than actually happened.
The fact that Arthur had approached the Pope on the matter of Katherine’s religious activities being detrimental to the bearing of children, was something that I believe Henry pounced upon. Leviticus 20:21 was very clear: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
So, was it in Henry’s mind that by continuing such extreme devotions, Katherine was knowingly preventing further living births? Did he believe that this was why his marriage had resulted in one living child, a girl, all other pregnancies having ended in miscarriages or stillbirths? It would also have been easy enough for Henry to convince himself that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. All this, and fascinatingly desirable Anne Boleyn was there, tantalising Henry with her inaccessible charms. But even without Anne, would Henry have wanted to end his marriage anyway, because he so desperately wanted a male heir and knew that Katherine’s age, apart from anything else, was against such a likelihood?
So, was Anne only one aspect of Henry’s wish to be free of Katherine? Were there in fact two Great Matters wrapped up as one? The first due to religion having led to childlessness; the other due to lust, that was to prompt a change of religion?
The above has been prompted by the essay by John J. Thompson, and is my conclusion from the facts as presented. I recommend that the essay be read in its entirety, because its details about the prayer roll are fascinating. Although, one thing does need pointing out. Henry VII was never the Duke of Richmond!
In his unpublished semi-satirical volume, More has the Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, Richard Duke of Gloucester who was also Lord High Constable of England for life, call for some strawberries before the Constable’s Court could pronounce sentence on William Lord Hastings.
Many historians have struggled to understand the significance of the strawberries yet it is a detail surely too trivial to totally invent. Perhaps the fact that a Duke, Marquis or Earl would have strawberry leaves on their coronet explains the point in that Gloucester required assistance from a fellow peer? Although Gloucester was one of only two adult Dukes that June, the absent More wrote thirty or forty years later when Sir John Howard and his son had both been Dukes of Norfolk. Similarly, those present might have included Thomas Lord Stanley, later Earl of Derby. There were no Marquises in 1483.
In this piece, we introduced the idea that Shakespeare, although a very inaccurate historian, accurately reflected the cultural history of his time with respect to the political execution of women. We have also discussed how the Bard’s Richard III may actually have been a portrayal of Robert Cecil. Another piece showed the uncertainty as to the origin of coloured roses as politico-military badges.
Now think of Hamlet. His adversary is King Claudius, his uncle, supported by the verbose courtier Polonius. The play was set in Denmark and written during 1599-1602 when it was apparent that England would soon have Anne of Denmark as Queen Consort. Hamlet kills Polonius as the older man hides behind an arras, which is a tapestry or curtain.
In January 41 AD, Claudius was proclaimed as Rome’s new Emperor. Graves portrayed him as hiding behind a curtain as his nephew Gaius (“Caligula”) was assassinated, to be found by a Praetorian named Gratus. Sometimes, it seems, those writing fiction cannot be original.
The common thread that runs through Anglo-Saxon poetry like the golden coils of a Sutton Hoo serpent is the nostalgic pain of longing for lost things. Again and again the same phrases are spoken in ‘Beowulf’ and in poems like ‘The Seafarer’ and ‘The Wanderer’. It feels as if one were a direct source for another and they may well have been if the poets were familiar with other works and created variations on a common theme of loss on a heroic scale through generations of oral transmission, weaving one passage into another over time.
Reading these works we almost get a sense that the Anglo-Saxons were fixated by the imagery of hardship and loss. Whether it be the exile of the sea or the abandonment of old age; the longing for the mead hall in day gone by pervades their poetry and the imagery is poignant and beautiful and intensely moving.
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Combining my two great loves, history and art, I want to look at some of the imagery used to depict Plantagenet kings during the period and taking a few examples examine what the visual language may be telling us about how kingship was viewed and how the kings themselves wanted to be perceived.
Imagery as propaganda – of course, imagery linked to concepts of status and power – certainly, imagery as a means of establishing a link with another age – well that’s much more subjective yet many of us might admit to studying the faces of those kings whether it be on their tomb effigies or in portraits which have survived and longing to understand them or to read something of their drives and motivations from the shading and stance, the lines on their faces and the expression of their gaze. This is a very understandable human response to the mystery…
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The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck (RWS) is arguably the most famous of 20th-century Tarot decks. For decades, I’ve been using the RWS as an aid to developing fictional characters. Only recently did I notice the Death card in the Major Arcana features a skeletal knight carrying a banner on which is imprinted the White Rose of the House of York. As far as I can tell, the image of the Yorkist Rose does not appear on any Tarot deck – medieval or modern – preceding the RWS.
Who Designed the RWS?
Arthur Edward Waite (2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942), commonly known as A. E. Waite, was an American-born British poet and scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on Masonic, occult and esoteric matters. Coincidentally or not, he shared the same day of birth as Richard III. Waite was a member of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, along with such Victorian notables as Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, and Constance Wilde (wife of Oscar Wilde). Waite co-created the deck with illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith.
Pamela Coleman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951) was an English-American artist, illustrator, and writer. Among her first projects were The Illustrated Verses of William Butler Yeats and a book on the actress Ellen Terry, written by Bram Stoker. Yeats introduced Smith to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite was already a member, and Smith met him in 1901 when she joined the Order.
The Golden Dawn splintered in the early 20th century due to a number of its members having…let’s call them personality conflicts. At that time, Smith and Waite both moved to the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn (aka The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn). In 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to produce a Tarot deck meant to appeal to the world of art.
Regarding who designed what for the deck:
Waite is often cited as the designer of the Waite-Smith Tarot, but it would be more accurate to consider him as half of a design team, with responsibility for the major concept, the structure of individual cards, and the overall symbolic system. Because Waite was not an artist himself, he commissioned the talented and intuitive Smith to create the actual deck.[i]
It is likely that Smith worked from Waite’s written and verbal instructions rather than from sketches; that is, from detailed descriptions of the desired designs. This is how illustrators often work, and as a commercial illustrator, Smith would probably have been comfortable with such a working process. It appears that Waite provided detailed instructions mainly or exclusively for the Major Arcana.[ii]
The deck was called Tarot Cards when it was first published in December 1909 by William Rider & Son of London. It’s been said that Waite and Smith borrowed heavily from the Tarot of Marseilles, but the RWS’s Death card is very different from the Death card in the Tarot of Marseilles.
It’s more likely that Waite and Smith took much of their inspiration from the Sola-Busca Tarot deck, which originated in Northern Italy around 1491. The Sola-Busca was displayed to the public shortly after it was acquired by the British Museum in 1907. This deck was the first and only fully illustrated Tarot deck available before the RWS was published, but the Death card of the Sola-Busca deck also bears no resemblance to the Death card in the RWS deck.
After examining these and other examples of Death cards in old Tarot decks, I can only conclude that A.E. Waite was the first to deliberately include the White Rose of the House of York in the Death card.
What Did Waite and/or Coleman Meeeeeean by Featuring the White Rose of York in a Tarot Deck?
What follows is only the smallest of attempts to begin unraveling Waite’s possible intent(s) when he chose to have Death carry a banner featuring the White Rose of York. Every Tarot deck overflows with symbolic meaning, and the RWS is no different. The problem with and the joy of all symbols is that their meaning is always subjective: what a White Rose of York means to me likely isn’t what it means to you, and every meaning is valid to the person holding it.
A.E. Waite included illustrations from the RWS deck in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which was meant to explain the deck, but Tarot and Golden Dawn scholars know that his summaries are deliberately incomplete.[iii] In addition to this, the history and meaning of the Tarot in general are hidden in the mists of medieval time, so you can spend months, if not years, researching both and make very little headway. Along the way, you discover there are Tarot references not only in medieval grimoires and royal courts, but far beyond – for example, in Marlowe and Shakespeare and Yeats. In the end, you come to realize that a Tarot deck is a tool meant to put the reader of a card spread in touch with his or her subconscious, so in the end the objects in the cards symbolize whatever they mean to the reader.
This is a long way of saying that if someone wants to do in-depth research as to why the White Rose of the House of York was chosen by Waite, he or she is going to have to set aside what that particular rose symbolizes for them. In order to discern what it might have meant to Waite, the researcher will need a firm knowledge of:
A better scholar than I regarding Alle Thinges Tarot and Yorkist is going to have to follow up on this…if they want to, and they have the time. All I can offer are the tiniest of tidbits and possibilities.
What Did Waite Say?
This is all Waite wrote about the RWS Death card in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot:
End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects.
Divinatory Meanings – Reversed
Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.
The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.
There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card [i.e., The Hanged Man] is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.
[Card number] 13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.[iv]
Waite doesn’t point out that the rose is the White Rose of the House of York. Instead, he calls it a “Mystic Rose which signifies life.” Remember that Mystic Rose, we’ll be returning to it.
Waite does state that his Death card is “a card of the death of kings,” and the card does feature the body of a king and his upside-down crown laying behind the left hoof of Death’s warhorse. As far as I can discern after examining other medieval and modern Death cards, Waite’s design is the only one illustrating/symbolizing “the death of kings.” All the other Death cards – unless the deck is based on Waite’s design – feature a variation on the classic medieval image of skeletal Death on foot and scything a field (as in the Marseilles example above), or on horseback a la archetypal Death as a Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Whether Waite had the death of King Richard III specifically in mind when he designed his Death card is anyone’s guess. Still, a strong argument might be made that, given the fallen king on the ground whose crown has tumbled from his head, and the presentation of a medieval knight on a warhorse (however skeletal the knight may be), Waite may have had in mind the last English king to die in battle.
I’ve a number of other books analyzing the Tarot, and 95% of them use RWS illustrations to accompany their text. None of the authors comment on Death’s rose being the White Rose of the House York, so I’m left to ask: Why in the world does Waite have his Death waving a banner prominently featuring what’s obviously the White Rose of York, and why did he call it a ‘Mystic Rose’?
What the heck is a Mystic Rose?
Mystic Rose #1
Sometimes what someone doesn’t say speaks loudest of all, so it may be important to remember all Waite says about the Yorkist Rose in his Death card is that it is a “Mystic Rose.”
Throughout history, the rose has been a symbol of love, purity, virginity, sexuality, fertility, regeneration…and secrets. The White Rose of the House of York is white because, in the liturgical symbolism of the medieval Church, white symbolizes light, innocence, purity, joy, and glory.
Waite’s mother converted to Catholicism and took her children with her. To the medieval and modern Catholic church, the “Mystic Rose” is Mary, the mother of Christ. Among her many titles are the “Mystical Rose of Heaven” and the “Rosa Mystica,” but it doesn’t follow that, to Waite (who ended up a devout Rosicrucian), the White Rose of the House of York symbolized Mary. It does follow that, to Waite, a rose symbolized Mary, for he wrote about the Rose and the Cross in Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross:
“Thus the Rose is a symbol of Mary because of her motherhood, but in relation to her it belongs to divine things, even as she herself stands on the threshold of Deity, being Spouse of the Divine Spirit and bearer of the Divine word made flesh. So also is the Rose of Shekinah, a Divine Rose, as she whom it typifies is Divine Mother of souls.”[v]
The rose in general – not just a white rose – has also been a symbol for silence and secrecy in many secret societies. An ancient custom was to hang a rose over a council table to indicate that everything spoken during the meeting was to remain secret. This custom may have derived from an ancient Egyptian image of Horus, the divine son of Isis, sitting inside a rose and holding a finger to his lips, admonishing silence when it came to the Egyptian mysteries.
Horus was called Harpocrates by the ancient Greeks, and Harpocrates was the Greek god of silence. In Greek myth, Eros presents a rose to him. This is where the term “sub rosa” comes from, meaning “under the rose” or “the keeping of a secret.” As an aside, the rose is also the national flower of England…and Waite’s mother was English.
George Knowles writes:
“After his sister’s death in 1874, Waite lost interest in the Roman Catholic Church, but retained a great love for its ritual ceremony.
“Waite had formulated the theory that all esoteric practices and traditions, whether Alchemy, Hebrew Kabbalah, Legends of the Holy Grail, Rosicrucianism, Christian Mysticism or Freemasonry, were secret paths to a direct experience of God. He was convinced that the symbolism in each of these traditions had a common root and a common end, and that their correct interpretation would lead to a revelation of concealed ways to spiritual illumination.”[vi]
However interesting this esoteric labyrinth might be, the tangled path doesn’t lead us any closer to explaining why the White Rose of the House of York specifically was included on the Death card of the RWS Tarot deck.
Mystic Rose #2 and #3
Both the Yorkists and Waite would both have been familiar with Dante (1265–1321). The Italian poet depicted Paradise as a White Rose or Mystic Rose in which God was at the center with the saints surrounding Him. In his Divine Comedy, Dante also described Mary as the mystic rose: “Behold the rose, where in the divine word was made incarnate.”
Gustav Dore illustrated Dante’s Mystic Rose in 1868. Dore’s illustration has more in common with the mathematician’s Mystic Rose, which is defined as, “A beautiful image created by joining together points that are equally spaced around a circle.” Any child who has played with a Spirograph knows what that’s all about, and an online animation lets you change the number of points around a circle to construct your own Mystic Rose. (The Mystic Rose poster illustrated below is available from nrich.maths.org as a PDF.)
My Conclusion is Sub Rosa
I know that a fitting conclusion to this article would be a pronouncement along the lines of:
“It’s obvious the Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck features a deliberate depiction of King Richard III as both corpse and Death. A.E. Waite and his illustrator, Pamela Coleman Smith, lays before us a magnificent archetypal image of the skeletal king encased in black armor, riding a white charger, and carrying a black banner on which is emblazoned the White Rose of the House of York.
The white charger is obviously White Surrey, which symbolizes change, for the dead king’s power in our modern world has come to him through the mightiest of all changes – death.
“Richard’s skull peering at us from his helm symbolizes permanence as well as impermanence. Through the triumphant return of the dead king, Waite succeeds in reminding us of the impermanence of life, yet Richard’s soul (symbolized by his skull, which does not dissolve) remains visible to those of us still loyal to him and worthy enough to sense it.
“The inclusion of the White Rose of York obviously conveys the pure, white rose of Richard’s spirit – he has no body but thrives with life-force as we remember him. The ten petals of the White Rose of York indicate completion, for the House of York did not fall on Bosworth’s battlefield, rather it was completed and raised to a higher, mystical level.
“This card bears even more meaning now that Richard III’s remains have been found and reinterred….”
I could go on in this vein, but you get my drift.
I don’t know why A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith included the White Rose of the House of York in their Death card. I do know it’s up front and center, and the eye is drawn there first. Knowing Waite and his esoteric leanings, his inclusion of the White Rose of York on a black banner means something. I just don’t know what it is.
Sub rosa…under the rose…to keep a secret. I’m led to think of the debatable reasons why Richard chose a boar as his personal emblem, alongside the precise symbolism inherent in medieval heraldry and stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and other medieval art. Medievals were attached to their symbols in ways we can’t completely understand at this distance. So are modern-day mystical scholars.
In the end, I must leave it to others to ferret out the myriad symbols behind Death’s banner emblazoned with the White Rose of the House of York. In the meantime, what does it mean? Anything you want it to mean.
(Reblogged from Merlyn MacLeod)
[i] Waite, Arthur Edward. Shadow of Life and Thought. Kessinger Publishing, page 184.
[v] Waite, A.E., Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Kessinger Publishing, 2010, page 92.
[vi] http://www.controverscial.com/Arthur%20Edward%20Waite.htm (sic) George Knowles doesn’t cite his source, but I suspect it’s A.E. Waite’s autobiography, Shadows of Life and Thought (1938).
By Sodacan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
We all know that Richard’s cognizance was the white boar with gold tusks and bristles but there are several theories as to why he chose this as his personal symbol. There are also a large number of interesting associations which connect the boar to Richard.
There is one theory that the white boar had already been a royal badge of the Honour of Windsor, although I don’t believe there is a reliable source for this view.
A second theory is that, as it seems, Edward III (from whom Richard was descended) had a blue boar as his cognizance and it is possible Richard inherited this but, as the youngest son, needed to difference it, making it white to represent loyalty and purity of heart. Also, white was already a colour associated with York in the white rose.
Another idea suggests that Richard might have seen a carving of a boar on a pew at the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Fotheringhay, where he was born, and this is what prompted him to choose it as his cognizance.
A fourth theory is that it was a pun on the word Ebor (a shortened version of Eboracum, Latin for York). This may have been true and is certainly possible. There is also the possibility that the Latin name, Eboracum (based on the native British name for the site, which originally meant ‘Place of the Yew Trees’) was corrupted by the Anglo Saxons and subsequently had the meaning of ‘place of the boar’. Even more interestingly, although Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was named from the Old English Bosa (a surname) + Old English worð ‘enclosure’, Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire asserts that the name ‘Bosworth’ comes from the Old English word Bar (from bar ‘boar’) + worð, therefore meaning ‘Boar enclosure’.
But what of the creature itself? The wild boar has appeared in many cultures throughout the ages as symbols of luck, fertility and prosperity. The Celts considered the boar to be one of their most important sacred animals.
A magical boar called Gullinbursti was given to the Norse fertility god, Freyr, by the dwarves. Its bristles were so bright they would light up the night sky.
(Eduard Ade [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Herakles’ third labour involved the capture of the Erymanthian Boar.
Adonis was killed by a boar and Odysseus is recognised (while disguised) by the scars he had received when hunting a boar in his youth. Interestingly, in Irish and Egyptian mythology, the boar is explicitly linked to the month of October, the month of Richard’s birth.
It is supposed that the boar was extinct in the wild in England by Richard’s time, although there have been later attempts to re-introduce it. Even if Richard was not familiar with it as a game animal in England, he may well have encountered some during his time in Burgundy and France, where they are still living in the wild. Recently, there have been various escapes of captive wild boar and one of the largest groups know living in the wild in England is in the area around Gloucester, Richard’s Dukedom.
The boar was considered a formidable adversary for the hunter, as it would not try to run when cornered, but charge the hunter, not even pausing if it had been speared by a long pike. Apparently it goes for the groin and serious injuries and even death could result for the hunter. Thus hunting it was also seen as a kind of initiation into manhood. It is intelligent and fiercely brave, especially when defending its family and perhaps this was why Richard chose it.
The boar is mainly nocturnal and hides out in a shallow dug out hollow of leaves and branches in the daytime. Boar society is matriarchal and the leading female leads a group of related females and their young (the group is called a sounder) foraging for food. They also like to wallow in mud.
(By Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
The males are mainly solitary and are driven out by the females when they are approaching maturity to ensure the gene pool is mixed. And, of course, Richard was also sent away from his family when he was growing up, to learn how to be a warrior (and he also found his mate there).
Boars are omnivores and eat everything from grass to frogs to crops to mushrooms to fish. The young are striped and are extremely cute.
(By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
As they grow their coats turn a reddish colour and finally darken to a dark brown.
(By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Young Wild Boar Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
Their tails are not corkscrew-shaped, like those of domestic pigs, but straight and they have large curved tusks which protrude from their mouths. They really do foam at the mouth when angered.
In mainland Europe where they are still found in the wild, they are often a nuisance, because they dig up crops and wreak destruction. In France, where the boars’ only natural predator (aside from man), the wolf, is extinct, it has allowed the boars to go unchecked and they impact on farmers and others. In neighbouring Spain and Italy, where wolves still survive, boars are not so prolific or destructive. They are still hunted in Europe, no longer with spears or bows and arrows, but guns. Boar meat is considered a healthy alternative to pork as it is less fatty, richer and has more essential amino acids. The boar’s head was apparently a favourite Christmas dish in mediaeval times, and there is a well-known carol that mentions it: ‘The boar’s head in hand bear I…’
There are many examples of depictions of the boar in art and one of the most famous is Il Porcellino) the nickname means ‘The Piglet”) in Florence. This is a bronze boar which is popular with tourists who rub its nose for luck – it is said that if you do you will return to Florence.
(By RalfSkjerning (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
I have just read a very interesting book called:The Golden-Bristled Boar by Jeffrey Green, which I highly recommend. Its subtitle is: The Last Ferocious Beast of the Forest. Here is our final parallel with Richard for he was the last warrior King of England, showing the same ferocious bravery as the boar, charging his attackers and refusing to run, and ultimately being slain and dishonourably treated ‘like an hogge’ by his enemies. His family, too, was all but wiped out in England but, like England’s native boar, York or Ebor is rising again!
An excellent blog from Josephine Josepha Wilkinson: