Image: Mail On-line
When a white stag was spotted roaming in the New Forest a couple of years ago, some believed it could have been a direct descendant of the same white deer hunted by Henry VII in the 15th century, a time when most of England was densely forested and populated by many wild animals, including boars and wolves.
Being a rare creature the white hart was both feared and revered and became the stuff of myth and legend. The ancient Celts believed the white hart to be a harbinger of doom, a living symbol that some law had been broken. It was widely believed that to come across a white hart meant a terrible evil or judgment was about to take place.
The white hart's reputation improved greatly in Arthurian legends, where its appearance was a sign to King Arthur and his knights that it was time to embark on a quest - it was considered the one animal that could never be caught so it came to symbolise humanity's never-ending pursuit of knowledge and the unattainable.
It was not long before Christianity appropriated the white hart for its own purposes: the white stag came to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth.
The story goes that in 1128, King David was warned by his priest not to go hunting on the Feast Day of the Holy Rood (Holy Cross). But David ignored this advice and during the subsequent hunt he came across a magnificent white stag, which of course he chased.
Thrown from his horse, the stag charged him. David begged God to save him, and in that instant, the stag's antlers turned into a cross, and the creature vanished without a trace. This was a revelation to David and he decided to build a church to the ‘Holy Rood’ on the spot where his vision had occurred – now the site of Holyrood House.
Even today, white harts are considered as lucky charms, and good fortune is just around the corner for anybody who spots one.
The White Hart is the fifth most common name for a pub in Britain - I'll drink to that!
Richard's emblem, a white stag, shown with a golden coronet around its throat and a golden chain, in a "lodged" position (the heraldic term for sitting)
'Hart' - Old English word for stag