Wednesday, 24 February 2010

the White Hart ... a legend

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 of David I, King of Scotland is fundamental to this myth and his encounter with a white hart led to the founding of the royal palace, Holyrood House, in Edinburgh.

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.

From then on, the white hart became a symbol of purity, redemption and good fortune in Scotland, and eventually became an important symbol in English heraldry too, alongside the mythical unicorn whose horn was said to be endowed with magical properties. During the reign of the Plantagenet King Richard II, the white hart was adopted as his personal symbol and is shown to magnificent effect in the Wilton Diptych which can be seen in The National Gallery, London. In this painting Richard wears a beautiful gold and enamelled white hart jewel and the angels surrounding the Virgin Mary are adorned with white harts.

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
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  1. Dear Jeanne, The cliché that one learns something new each day is well founded. I had no idea about the stories and legends associated with the white hart and have, therefore, found your posting not only of great interest but educative as well!

  2. Absolutely intriguing, I love stories like that. The tale of the white hart and David reminds me of the images of Saint Hubertus, who is often depicted next to a deer that carries a cross between his antlers.;))
    Have a lovely day Jeanne,

  3. Well, WOW! COOL! Narnia! Thanks!

    Love, Katy xo

    Oh, that was just so neat ...

  4. What a gorgeous creature, and fascinating to think that it could be a descendent of the white deer hunted by Henry VII.

  5. Thank you so much for all the information about the white hart - I knew only of the Richard II story so I have gained more knowledge today by reading your post. We were in the New Forest in September last year and saw many animals including deer but, of course, no white ones:)

  6. Thank you for sharing those beautiful stories. I've always been intrigued by the White Hart as Hart is my surname (the name's probably from the Dutch for 'hard' and nothing to do with deer).

    There's a pale (not pure white) Fallow buck in one of the local herds - it's a magical moment when he leaps out of the woods and over the fields.


  7. Thanks Jeanne - a most interesting post - Iike Edith says you do learn something new every day. Next time I visit a pub named the White Hart I will pause reflect. I was surprised that it is number five in the list of common pub names. Do you know what the most popular name is ? I am wondering whether it might be 'The Golden Lion'.

  8. Anna: It's either that or The Red Lion!


  9. Oh, I love a good legend! What an interesting post Jeanne, and a beautiful creature.
    best wishes

  10. Such a wonderful legend.
    Here I believe he would be referred to as a stag and there is a Native legend about them...
    Hope all is well in England and soon you shall send photos of the daffodils that have peeked out from the earth.
    We are expecting 15 to 20 cen. of new snow tonight.
    Susan x

  11. It's very funny that you mentioned snow ...

  12. Dear Jeanne,
    what a wonderful story - i love it....thank you so much!!!!!! And your new header is sooo beautiful!!!

    Good night, Hugs Jade

  13. Gorgeous creature, would be lovely to see one (not least for the luck involved). Sadly no sighting in our garden so far. Oh well, bottoms up ...

    Kate xx

  14. Dear Jeanne,
    this is a wonderful story,
    thank you so much for sharing this with us.
    Love this,

  15. That was such an interesting read :o) I do love deer, thankyou for sharing this fascinating history of the white hart.
    ThankYou also for Your recent comments. I am sorry it has taken me a while to respond, I've been quite held back lately with a lupus flare. Am gradualy staring to feel better though.
    Will go read some more of Your posts - it's late, but I had a loooong sleep this afternoon and fancy a bit of good reading right now xxx

  16. Such a lovely post - I LOVE the Wilton Diptych - I often go to the National Gallery just to look at it. White Hart's are beautiful and I love the symbolism & myths surrounding them.

  17. Hi Jeanne~~ Thank you for visiting my blog.

    This reminds me of a landmark sign that adorns a wall high up the side of a building in Portland [Oregon]. It's only a deer now but at one time it was the esteemed logo of White Stag clothing manufacturer. It always seemed like a good omen to me.

  18. Interesting to know that your white hart has similar legend to white elephants. They both are covered with myths. ~bangchik

  19. This is a wonderful combination of history, legend, and reality.

  20. Fabulous background, and what a lovely photo. I love the New Forest - it has definitely retained a slight aura of medieval mystery and magic!

    Really nice to read.


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