It’s that time of year again! Where did 2018 go? I thought I’d take the Twelve Days of Christmas for my theme this year – quite loosely but I didn’t think I would actually be able to start with a heraldic partridge sans pear tree. It turns out that several departments in the Charente-Maritime area of France boast a partridge in their heraldic devices – this one from Aunis depicts a crowned partridge.
Aunis was part of Aquitaine so came into the Plantagenet empire with Henry II’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine. By the Sixteenth Century it was better known as a Protestant stronghold. I’m not totally sure where the partridge gets in on the act.
Further reading reveals that partridges weren’t the bird of choice for heraldic devices in medieval times as Aristotle and Pliny had essentially depicted them as deceitful thieves. This was perpetuated in various medieval bestiaries such as the one illustrated here (British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 48r.) No one particularly wants to be identified with a bird that steals another bird’s eggs, rolls in the dust and is frequently over tired from too much hanky-panky. It was also associated with the devil because like Satan who seeks to steal the faithful away through flattery the partridge is left with an empty nest when the chicks hear the call of their real parent.
However by the Fifteenth Century all the more glamorous and martial birds had been spoken for and thus it came to be that the partridge began making its appearance in heraldry and oddly enough the symbolism of the partridge began to evolve from unpleasant to that of a devoted parent which will allow itself to be injured to decoy hunters away from its young – it still represented cunning though! As for the Charente- Maritime, it turns out that many of their heraldic devices were created in the 1940s.
The words to the Twelve Days of Christmas were first published in 1780 in a book called Mirth Without Mischief. It is probably a memory game such as ‘I went to market.’ The idea is that each player remembers an increasing number of gifts in the correct order or has to pay a forfeit possibly a kiss.It has been suggested that the song was a primer for Catholics to help remember key aspects of their doctrine but experts refute this proposition.
Hopefully by the time we arrive at the 25th and the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas we will have explored some more diverse and non mischief making history based facts!
Cheeseman, Clive (2010) Some Aspects of the Crisis of Heraldry. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259641719_Some_aspects_of_the_’crisis_of_heraldry’
Impelluso, Lucia. Nature and its Symbols.