Monthly Archives: February 2016

Where did those three “merles” come from? Part Three

Last time, we looked at this shield which is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket.

Becket-arms

Born in probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Surely this coat of arms is the easy and direct link with the “merles” of Dame Agnes Mellers?

badge

If you were scared stiff that your husband was on his way to Hell, then what better saint to recruit to your aid than the Numero Uno of English saints, the Head Honcho of martyrdom in England?  As one expert TV commentator recently said, in that original programme (to which, by now, I was giving my fullest attention):

“The most important English saint, by a wide margin.”

I think that Dame Agnes, like so many ordinary football supporters nowadays, did not have her own coat of arms or badge, but instead she was very attached to those of her hero. Not Nottingham Forest or Notts County for her, of course, but Thomas à Becket.

Perhaps Dame Agnes used to display Thomas à Becket’s coat of arms because, as a very pious  and religious person, a vowess of the future indeed, she had  already been on a pilgrimage to see the saint’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral:

camterbury cathedrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Dame Agnes may have done this on her husband’s behalf or she may have done it because it was what thousands and thousands of English Christians had always done over the centuries. Perhaps in the three hundred and fifty years since Becket’s death, a tacky tourist trade had built up, and Dame Agnes was able to buy her very own copy of the great saint’s shield, which she had then hung up over her mantelpiece for all her friends to see. We will never know, but for me, the visual coincidence between the two coats of arms is quite stunning. Black birds, of course, are not particularly common on heraldic shields. Eagles, yes, but not a great deal beyond that. Everybody preferred lions.

Game set and match for my theory is the coat of arms of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), the Lord Chancellor of Henry VIII but more significantly perhaps, the second most important English saint, venerated by all English Catholics as Saint Thomas More. When King Henry wanted to divorce the barren Queen Catherine of Aragon in the hope of fathering a male heir with Anne Boleyn as his new, younger, sexier, more fertile and six fingered Queen, Sir Thomas More “steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy of the Crown in the relationship between the kingdom and the church in England.”

More would not retreat from his belief in the supremacy of the Pope over the King. He was beheaded on July 6th 1535. Before he died, More proclaimed to the watching crowd, that he was:

“the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”:

execution

As a young man Thomas had thought seriously more than once of giving up his legal career to become a monk. And now he was a martyr, and well on his way to becoming a saint.

It would be amazing, of course, if his father had had no influence on his growing son. How could the young Saint Thomas have been so pious and so spiritual had his father not influenced him at any point? Clearly, Sir John must have been a very staunch Catholic to have produced a son like Thomas. Here is the only known depiction of Sir John:

220px-Sir_John_More_xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

That pious father of the saint, Sir John More, was born around 1451 and died in 1530. He was a lawyer and eventually became a judge. As he rose in society, he was offered the chance of a coat of arms of his own. He may have been told of the possibility of having a shield with a striking visual pun. There is an heraldic bird called a moorcock, which is based on the male black grouse, a bird of the high moors, and is characterized in heraldry by its two projecting tail feathers:

moorcock-261x300

An ordinary cockerel has a curved over tail, and in heraldry is really much less desirable, quite often being referred to as a “dunghill cockerel”:

cock-265x300

Sir John was left to make his choice. You’ll find out what it was next time.

5 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

Where did those three “merles” come from? Part Two

Last time, I posed a number of questions about the three black birds on the school crest, the so-called “merles”, and the coats of arms of a number of different families with the surname Meller, Mellers, Mellor and even Mellors:

Notts Crest COLOUR xxxxxxxxxxx

If you remember, I was far from convinced that there was any connection between Dame Agnes and any of these families, the closest of them a minimum of a week’s journey away in Manchester. I was equally doubtful about the existence of “merles” as a bird in English heraldry. Indeed, overall, in English, the word “merle” does not really seem to relate particularly strongly to birds at all.

Wikipedia, for example, states that “merle” is a first name used by both men and women, a surname of French origin, a rather beautiful pattern in dogs’ coats, another name for the wine grape Merlot, a German glider originally built in 1938 for the 1940 Olympics gliding competition, a Crusader fort near Tantura on the coast of Israel and finally mentions the fact that the MS Phocine, a ferry, was originally named MS Merle.

In the bird world, Wikipedia states that it is a name for the “Icterid varieties of which the male is predominantly black, especially the Common Blackbird, Turdus merula.” The first word is the Latin for thrush, and “merula” means Blackbird.
I need to say here that “Icterids” are exclusively American birds such as grackles, orioles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and bobolinks:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Back to Wikipedia, which continues with the fact that “merula” gives the French their word “merle” and also gives the Scots their word “merl”. According to Wiktionary, it is also an “English 19th century bird name from merle, blackbird, possibly also a variant of Muriel”. That is in itself quite interesting as many common birds in Merrye Olde Englande had their own human names. Jack Daw. Mag Pie. Jenny Wren, Robin Redbreast. Sparrows were called Philip because of their chirping call. A modern equivalent would be the Soviet ruler, Joe Starling.
Very tenuous links between Dame Agnes and merles therefore, made all the more tenuous by another, etymological, dictionary,  which states that “merle” is a late fifteenth century word which nowadays “owes its survival in modern times to its use by Scottish poets.” And how many fifteenth century Scottish poets can you name? Or any living, modern ones come to that?
Scotland, of course, is even further away from Dame Agnes than Manchester. And just in case you see a possible link between Dame Agnes and the “late fifteenth century”, don’t forget that the alleged Mellers’ coat of arms wasn’t ever used by her, and first appeared only in 1808.

Sooooo, where did that coat of arms come from?

Well, just for a moment, let’s go back to that idea that Dame Agnes was a lifelong staunch Roman Catholic with a very real fear of Hell for wrongdoers, especially those who might have cheated their customers a bit, perhaps when they were flogging them very large and very expensive bells.

One evening, sitting comatose in front of our TV set, I happened to see this coat of arms on a documentary programme as the camera panned down the High Street of a famous city:

Canterbu
The city was, of course, Canterbury. But where did the City of Canterbury find those striking and exciting  black birds? Well, it’s not a huge surprise:

Becket-arms

The shield above is that of Thomas Becket also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket. Born in December of probably 1118 or 1120, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 but was then martyred in Canterbury Cathedral on December 20th 1170 by followers of Henry II, namely Reginald fitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton.

Here is an account of the slaying, written by eyewitness Edward Grim. Edward must have been an extremely brave man. Completely unarmed, the young clerk stood up to four knights dressed in chain mail, all of them equipped with the heavy savage swords of the era. Edward was gravely wounded in the incident, as he tried in vain to protect Becket (Reader discretion is advised):

“The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown of his head. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral:

Murder_of_Thomas_BecketThe same clerk who had entered with the knights (not Edward Grim) placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.”

640px-English_-_Martyrdmasxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Soon after this famously gory death, Thomas was promoted to sainthood by Pope Alexander III. Canterbury Cathedral subsequently became the most important centre of pilgrimage in England, most famously for Geoffrey Chaucer.

The birds on Thomas à Becket’s shield have red feet and red beaks and they are nowadays called “choughs”, although apparently in medieval times, they were often referred to by pilgrims as “beckitts”.

chough_nb_tcm9-94034

I feel sure that there is some kind of clue here:

columbo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

Ignorance in America

If you are short of time, watch the rather scary video. If you have more time available, then read this powerful article which is about American politics, but could well apply increasingly to England. All ex-teachers should certainly read it!
This is a re-blog which means that I did not write it. It is the work of Frank Toritto. Leave a comment if you wish.

toritto

Cover Image

.” The earth is 4004 years old and Neanderthals roamed with dinosaurs.”

“The wild winter in my state disproves global warming“

“The Constitution states that the official language of the United States is English”

Well………….no.

“When did ignorance become a point of view?” the cartoon character Dilbert once asked.  It’s a question that has become increasingly resonant these days—especially in our public life, and especially in our political campaigns in which elected officials and those who seek election seem to assume a startling level of public ignorance. Perhaps that’s smart.”

Now there is a distinct difference between ignorance and just plain stupid.  Ignorance is, in common usage, a lack of knowledge. Stupidity is a mental dullness that indicates an inability to learn or a lack of interest in learning. One can be ignorant without being stupid although stupidity contributes to ignorance and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

In America, ignorance is…

View original post 585 more words

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Eagles in Nottinghamshire

One of the more interesting issues in the area of local Natural History concerns the occurrence of eagles in Nottinghamshire in centuries gone by. In the era of the Anglo-Saxons, for example, the white-tailed sea eagle was called the Erne. This, supposedly, gave the town of Arnold its name.

More problematic is the Golden Eagle, which certainly occurred in England much more frequently in the past than it does now. Between 1800-1900, there were at least twenty records nationwide with seven different birds in Yorkshire:

zoaring_golden_eagle zzzzzzzzz

In books about local ornithology, there are some really old records of Golden Eagle. In “The Birds of Derbyshire” which was published in 1893, F.B Whitlock quoted an earlier, eighteenth century ornithologist, Mr Pilkington, who wrote about a Golden Eagle which was seen in Hardwick Park, a large estate right on the border of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Hardwick Hall itself is within less than half a mile of the county boundary and in the absence of an exact location for this particular bird, it seems hardly unreasonable to suggest that it must have ventured into Nottinghamshire at some point during its stay. Both Hardwick Park and Hardwick Hall are easy to spot on this map. I have marked the county boundary between Derbyshire (top left) and Nottinghamshire (bottom right). Look for the orange arrow:

hardwick

That particular Golden Eagle occurred as far back as 1759. A second Golden Eagle was shot in the same area around 1770. Twelve years later, in 1782, two Golden Eagles were seen “in the out-lying portions of Sherwood Forest, near Hardwick”. It was obviously a suitable habitat with a good supply of food.
In his “Ornithology of Nottinghamshire” published in 1866, William Felkin stated that “The eagle has twice been seen near Beeston: once by myself.” As a man, who, unfortunately, had no digital camera or mobile phone to record evidence of what he had seen, Felkin could have been no more definite than that.

I have recently become addicted to acquiring those reprints of Victorian Ordnance Survey maps and they do reveal that the outskirts of Nottingham were unbelievably countrified as recently as 1901 and even more so in 1866. Perhaps a stray eagle is not quite an outrageous bird to have seen, if only just passing over.

Felkin also noted that a Golden Eagle had been killed in an unrecorded year long ago at Castle Donington. This village, of course, is nowadays on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, although it is reasonably close to Nottinghamshire. Felkin considered that this bird had occurred on Nottinghamshire’s “south-western border” and as such, was therefore worthy of inclusion in his important book about the county’s avifauna:

zzzzzzzzz -goldeneagles ad
Modern birdwatchers would say that all these observers were simply mistaken, but that has always seemed a rather strange attitude to me. Just because they lived in the eighteenth or nineteenth century does not make people less trustworthy or more stupid than us. Certainly, in the case of the Golden Eagle which was shot around 1770 near Hardwick Hall, it would have been seen by a great many people once it was stuffed and out on display. They would certainly not have been slow to speak up about any identification errors committed by his Lordship or, indeed, his bird stuffer:

goldeneagle soaring zzzzzzzz
Joseph Whitaker mentions a number of eagles in his “Birds of Nottinghamshire” published in 1907, but these were all considered to be White tailed Sea Eagles, spending their winters further south than their summer breeding areas. His first account was:

“It was in the winter of 1838 that the bird appeared in Welbeck Park. Mr Tillery says :–
“The lake was frozen over at the time, except in one place, where a flush of warm water entered from a culvert which drained the abbey. The place was covered with ducks, teal and widgeon, and I saw his majesty swoop down once or twice to get one for his breakfast, but unsuccessfully, as the ducks saved themselves by diving or flying off. The park-keeper got two shots at him with a ball on a tree but missed him each time, and he gradually got wilder, so that he could never be approached again near enough for a shot. After levying blackmail on the young lambs, hares and game in the neighbourhood, he took himself off after three weeks’ sojourn”

White-tailed%20Eagle flying zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

In 1857, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was shot at Osberton near Ollerton on a date several days before January 13th. According to F.O.Morris, the nationally regarded author of “A History of British Birds”, he was informed of the occurrence by Sir Charles Anderson, Baronet, a gentleman who was presumably known to George Saville Foljambe Esquire on whose estate near Osberton the event took place. Sir Charles wrote thus…

“It was first seen sitting on a tree near a place where a cow had been buried a few days before and it continued flying about this locality for some days, always returning to the same tree, as if attracted towards it. There was partial snow on the ground at the time.”

white tailed imm zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

William Sterland included in his two main books, “The Birds of Sherwood Forest” (1869) and “A Descriptive List of the Birds of Nottinghamshire” (1879) an account of the occurrence of a second White tailed Sea Eagle in Lima Wood at Laughton-en-le-Morthen. Strictly speaking, this bizarrely named village is in Yorkshire but it is really quite close to the Nottinghamshire border. On this map, Laughton-en-le-Morthen is towards the top left corner and I have indicated the dark blue county boundary with the orange arrow:

Untitled

This occurrence was only a few days after the demise of  another eagle, shot on the Foljambe estate near Osberton, and related immediately above. Whether the two birds were connected, male and female, or perhaps siblings, we will never know. It is certainly a very striking story:

“The bird was seen in the neighbourhood of Morthen for more than a fortnight before it was shot. On several occasions it was observed perched in a tree about a hundred yards from Pinch Mill, the person resident there taking it at that distance for a stray heron. Thomas Whitfield, the gamekeeper to J.C.Althorpe Esquire of Dinnington made many attempts to get within range of the bird, but was often baffled by its wariness. It was observed to be much molested by crows and small birds, and frequently, as if to escape from persecutions which were beneath its notice to resent, it would mount into the air with graceful spiral curbs until it became nearly lost to sight, leaving its puny assailants far below, and then would sweep as gracefully down again, with all the ease and lightness of wing of the swallow.”

killie-male-26 zzzzzzzz

“It seems uncertain what its food consisted of during its sojourn for it was not seen to make any attack. At night it roosted on a tree, but still maintained a vigilant watch. When perceived by Whitfield, it was perched on a tree on the outskirts of the wood, but the night being moonlight, it perceived his approach and he had great difficulty in getting within gunshot. At the moment of his firing it flew off and he thought he had failed in hitting it; but in the morning he found it dead in an adjoining field. Its expanse of wing from tip to tip was seven feet six inches and it weighed eight pounds and a quarter. The friend I have mentioned kindly procured the loan of the bird from Whitfield and sent it for my inspection. It is a fine specimen in the immature plumage of the third or fourth year.”

The bird was shot on January 13, 1857, although. clearly, it had been present for some time before this.

Haliaeetus albicilla4

Nearly forty years later in 1896, a single White tailed Sea Eagle was seen in the Deer Park at Park Farm, Annesley, between Nottingham and Mansfield, on November 5th, and for several days afterwards. It was thought to have been attracted to the area by the large number of rabbits present there and indeed, on a number of occasions, was seen feeding on them.
On November 8th, it was shot by Mr George Charles Musters, as it fed on the corpse of a rabbit, and when examined was found to have a total wingspan of seven feet one inch, and a weight of nine and a quarter pounds. It was an immature bird, although not a first winter individual, being considered to be probably three or four years old. It was, of course, preserved by a taxidermist and soon occupied pride of place in the collection of Mr John Patricius Chaworth Musters at Annesley Park.

WTE juv 1 zzzzzzz
In Joseph Whitaker’s own personal copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”,  housed in Mansfield Library’s local collection, he has appended a short note in pencil, written in that punctuation-free style that he always seems to use:

“I was standing on doorsteps one day in August 1907 waiting for carriage to come round it was a clear warm day a few white clouds were passing over very high I was looking up in the sky when I saw a bird pass under a white cloud it was so high if the white had not shown the job I should never have seen it but it was most distinct + I am certain it was an eagle by its size + flight whether Golden or White tailed I do not know.”

sea eagle cliff

In another handwritten account in 1916, Joseph Whitaker tells the following story which, although illegible in places, is clear enough to constitute a valid record:

“A large bird of the (illegible) kind was seen by Mr Henry Smith’s son in Nov 1916 flying over his farm at Cropwell Butler. He wrote to me saying it was a very big bird + had a white tail. I told him it would be a mature Sea Eagle, and as such a bird was shot in Lincolnshire by Mrs (illegible) keeper of the next week. There is no doubt it was the same bird.”

Attitudes about shooting birds though, were gradually changing: people were well aware that a previously healthy Victorian population of Sea Eagles had disappeared from Scotland by 1900, every single one either shot or poisoned. The very last Sea Eagle was killed on the Shetlands in 1916, an albino bird shot by a member of the clergy.
These new, more conservationist, ideas were reflected in an account included in the Ornithological Records of the now defunct Nottingham Natural Science Field Club. It was included by one of the club’s most prominent birdwatchers, Frank Hind. Even nowadays, his handwriting is still recognisably angry:

“A Sea Eagle was shot by some bounder at Grimesmoor and sent to a taxidermist at Grantham in February of 1920. Mr Turton saw it there. It measured seven feet from tip of one wing to the tip of the other.

wte ad

This rare visitor had shared the fate of so many noble birds which were frequently to be seen in the British Isles before anyone with a few pounds could buy a gun to destroy whatever his few brains had prompted him to shoot at.”

Nowadays, the positive attitude is the one which has prevailed. Even as I write, there are reintroduction schemes for this magnificent raptor in Ireland, eastern Scotland and many other areas of Great Britain. Many people would like to see it reintroduced to England and the debates rage about whether to select Norfolk or Suffolk. In the Inner Hebrides in western Scotland, of course, these charismatic birds are worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy. Listen to just a few hundred quids’ worth of camera in this wonderful video by Brianpwildlife:

And no, they can’t carry off children or adults or small cars or large cars or vans or lorries or even what appears to be a young man equipped with perhaps a camera on a tripod or maybe a specially adapted hover mower for ice covered lawns:

lifting man zzzzzz

 

10 Comments

Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The Wolves of Paris

I have always thought that France was fairly unlucky as a country to have been ravaged over the centuries by various Beasts, the majority of which nobody has been able to identify with 100% certainty.  They have all been dismissed as merely oversized wolves, perhaps with attitude problems, but, somehow, I just cannot agree with that. Too many people who saw wolves perhaps three or four times a week were completely puzzled when they saw the Beast of Gévaudan, for example:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Or when they saw the Beast of Benais or the Beast of Sarlat or the Beast of Auxerrois/ Trucy or the others whose individual blogposts I have not yet launched out into “Le Monde du Blogging”. Creatures such as the Beast of Lyonnais or the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais or the Beast of Caen and Chaigny or the Beast of Orléans or the Beast of Veyreau. The Beast of Cinglais or the Beast of Gâtinais. The blood splattered list goes on.
What I did not realise, though, is that there are completely documented and wholly accepted  historical accounts which detail attacks on Paris by wolves. And not just one wolf or even one pack of wolves. These were a whole series of large scale attacks by animals which broke all of our present day rules of how to be a politically correct wolf. They gleefully attacked and ate people. French people. Parisians:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

The first wolf invasion came during the winter of 1419-1420. Over Europe as a whole, the weather that winter was unbelievably cold. In the east, in what is now Turkey, the Bosphorus was completely frozen over and it was possible to walk over the ice from Üsküdar to Istanbul, which was then called Constantinople.

In Western Europe, virtually all of France had already been made wretched by the debilitating effects of the Hundred Years War which was to last, rather inaccurately, 116 years, from 1337–1453:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The winter of 1419-1420 was equally severe over the whole country with very low temperatures and copious amounts of snow falling for prolonged periods. Paris was occupied by the English and the famine there was so great that unfortunate Parisians spent all of their daylight hours wandering around just searching for food. Numerous packs of wolves, as hungry as the people, advanced into the suburbs of the capital, which was now just a vast, frozen wasteland. The River Seine froze over and people could cross over from one side to the other without problem:

hiver-paris-1891

Two years later, in 1421-1422, there was another winter of  almost unbelievable severity. Wolves again entered the city. Every night they roamed around the streets of Paris, dug up recently buried corpses in the local graveyards and ate them. Anybody who tried to intervene was ripped to pieces and eaten, presumably, as a second course. Any wolves which were killed were strung up in the streets by their back legs the following morning, as a perhaps, slightly over optimistic warning to the rest.

It was so cold during this winter that bottles of wine, grape juice and vinegar froze in the cellars of Parisian houses and in some cases icicles formed on the vaults of cellar roofs. The River Seine, which had previously been in spate, froze over in less than three days and the ice quickly became firm enough to walk on. On January 12th 1422, there began in the French capital what was considered at the time to be the most severe spell of cold ever experienced by man.
The River Seine froze completely throughout its entire length. Wells froze after four days. This harsh cold persisted for almost three weeks. To compound Parisian misery, a couple of days before the beginning of this extremely cold weather, there had been a heavy snowfall. Because of the severity of this snow and the subsequent extreme cold, people were completely unable to work. Instead, they resorted to jumping games, playing ball and other vigorous activities to keep warm. The freezing conditions were so intense that the ice in the streets and public squares persisted until March 25th. It was so cold that on the heads of cockerels and hens, their combs froze:

cockerel

Equally surprisingly, there were no wolves reported in Paris during the extremely harsh winter of 1433-1434. The big freeze began on December 31st 1433 and then lasted for nine days short of three months. After this, another severely cold period followed, from March 31st 1434 until April 17th 1434. Just as a comparison, during this particular winter, the entire River Thames in England had frozen completely solid from December to February and remained completely impassable to shipping.
The wolves, though, were back with a vengeance in the second Parisian “Winter of the Wolf”, “L’Hiver du Loup”.  This came in 14371438, when the weather was equally, if not more, glacial.
The River Seine again froze over completely and packs of wolves wandered into the French capital, roaming the streets in search of food. Here is an anachronistic photo of the River Seine, frozen over in 1437.  How can you tell that, mon cher Sherlock?

Seine-gelée-paris-1893

In actual fact, there had been five unbelievably cold winters in succession over the whole of the European continent, and this was the last of the five. In England, the famine was so severe from 1437-39 that it was second only to the worst years ever in 1315-1317. These latter years were so wet that virtually all the nation’s crops failed and as many as 10% of the population may have eventually perished, in a decade characterised by crime, disease, mass death and cannibalism.

From 1437-1439, though, the winter cold was such that the English people in the countryside  were driven to attempt to make bread from fern roots and ivy berries. An unbelievably prudent Mayor of London had avoided this situation in the capital by importing a good supply of rye from Prussia. This may have been Mayor William Estfeld (1437) or Mayor Robert Large (1439) but personally I would go for Stephen Broun the Grocer (1438).

The only record of wolves in Paris which I have been able to trace during these three years of 1437-1439 came as early as the last week of the month of September 1439, when a desperate pack entered the city in search of fresh meat. They ripped out the throats of around fourteen people and duly devoured them. This occurred in the area between Montmartre in the north of the city:

monty

And the Porte Saint-Antoine in the east, right next to the Bastille prison:

antony

From 1450-1850, and possibly beyond that, into the early years of the twentieth century, the so-called Little Ice Age held sway over Europe. In 1457-1458 in Germany, for example, extreme cold froze the Danube River to such a thickness that an army of 40,000 men was able to camp on the ice. Two years, later during the winter of 1459-1460, the entire Baltic Sea was frozen and people could cross between Denmark, Germany and Sweden both on foot and on horseback:

basltiv

In France, the most severe weather came right at the beginning of the Little Ice Age during their very worst winter of 1449-1450. During this period the weather in France was very wet, extremely cold, and there were, consequently, huge quantities of snow. Indeed, the winter had begun as early as October 1449, when large numbers of olive trees began to die of the cold across the whole country.

It was during this exceptional winter that Paris became the victim of its most famous attack by man-eating wolves, “des loups anthropophages” (a very useful mouthful, should you ever need the phrase on holiday, or perhaps wish to prove your sobriety to a French police officer).

This pack, “The Wolves of Paris”, (Oh somebody, form a Heavy Metal Band…the name is crying out for it!), “Les Loups de Paris”, are thought to have killed and eaten large numbers of hapless human victims of all ages over the course of the winter. The animals initially entered Paris through the very large holes in its dilapidated city walls, which had been built some 250 years previously in the early 13th century. Of course, the original builder, King Philippe Auguste, had intended the walls to protect the city from human invaders rather than animal predators:

wolf pack one

The leader of the pack was a wolf named “Courtaud” which means “Bobtail”, as he had a tail which had been “docked” or shortened in some unknown incident. The descriptions of “Courtaud” at the time said that he was reddish in colour, not really a pigment that you would expect in a pure 100% common, Eurasian or Middle Russian forest wolf as the subspecies canis lupus lupus is variously known across Europe.  Suggestions have been made that its unusual colour was because it was an Iberian Wolf canis lupus signatus on its holidays from Spain, but there is a problem with that. As far as I can see, the Iberian Wolf is not particularly reddish. Here he is. Just look at that blood:

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f

According to the Wikipedia entry in the link above, canis lupus signatus has a lighter build than the European Wolf, some white marks on the upper lips, dark marks on the tail and a pair of dark marks in its front legs. There is no mention of red.
Don’t get me started, but my explanation for all those various Beasts (bêtes féroces, bêtes dévorantes ou bêtes anthropophages) which ravaged France over the centuries now comes into its own. I believe that they were members of a more aggressive, larger and now extinct species of wolf. If any unusual colour is mentioned for La Bête du Gévaudan, La Bête de Cinglais, La Bête de Caen, La Bête du Lyonnais or La Bête du Vivarais, it is always, exclusively, red. And, as we have just seen, Courtaud too had fur of this colour.

That is why I just do not believe that ordinary wolves were responsible for these blood spattered killings. And anyway, aren’t ordinary wolves a friendly looking bunch of chaps? They would not dream of eating anybody:

621166__the-wolf-pack_p

At first, there were around twenty wolves in the Parisian pack and they killed dozens of people. Gradually, wolf numbers built up, and the list of victims grew longer and longer. In the first month, supposedly around forty people perished, with a total kill for the whole winter of several hundred. They included, for the most part, anybody the wolves found wandering around the city at night, or any individuals who were outside sleeping rough. Inevitably, the inhabitants of Paris in that winter of 1449-1450 were swept by a feeling of total panic. Attempts to kill the wolves in their dens were totally ineffective. The wolves became so self confident that they often enjoyed a sing-song on their way back from the pub:

singing

Eventually, though, Parisians became increasingly enraged that it was no longer safe to walk the streets of their beautiful city. Furious at all the deaths, a brave group of volunteers found a couple of unwanted cows and killed them. Then they set off, dragging the mutilated corpses along behind them on ropes, so that they left a bloodied trail. Eventually, the wolves began to follow the scent, and slowly, slowly,  Courtaud and his bloodthirsty colleagues were lured and prodded into the very heart of the city:

map

When the wolves reached the Ile de la Cité (middle of the map), they arrived at the large square in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame, which is called the Parvis Notre Dame. Here they were trapped, surrounded by pre-prepared wooden barricades. Here is Notre Dame cathedral. See if you can spot the hunchback:Notre_Dame_de_Paris_DSC_0846w

And here is the large square in front of the cathedral, which is really quite extensive in size. I wouldn’t like to have chased a pack of wolves across here:

parvis-Notre-Dame

Finally, the angry Parisians stoned and speared the entire pack, until every single wolf was dead. Courtaud was paraded dead around the city in a cart, pulled by the triumphant crowd. Here is one of those bizarre modern art exhibitions which was held in Paris recently. I don’t suppose it’s Courtaud and his pals from 1449-1450, but I do hope that no real wolves died to make it:

leadership-defaillant xxxxxxxxxxx
I do not really believe that Paris’ historical scrapes with wolves have necessarily finished. Grey wolves were completely extirpated from France in the 1920s and 1930s, but ten years ago they started entering the country again from Italy. There are now around 300 wolves in France and the farmers allege that they have killed more than 6,000 sheep in the last twelve months. The woods around Paris are well stocked with deer and boar and they would make an ideal hunting ground for wolves. Indeed, this year, wolves have been sighted just 40 miles from the city:

wolves
Presumably preparing the Parisian populace for the latest lupine invasion, there are a number of different books available, all of which are all entitled “The Wolves of Paris”:

The first is by Michael Wallace:

“It’s the winter of 1450 and Paris is in a panic. A pack of ravenous wolves is loose in the city, feasting on human flesh. Lorenzo Boccaccio is summoned by a Dominican inquisitor who….”

The second is by Daniel P Mannix and a reviewer promises:

“an extraordinary story with verve and deft pacing. In the reading of what is a tale of high drama, building remorselessly to the climax…”

After that remorseless climax, where next, but the boxset by Lance Roddick, also available in separate sections:

gay wolves of paris

One of the sections has a wonderful review:

“The book started off talking about the hard times France was going through.”

You don’t say!

If you can, always finish a blogpost with a song. And what else could it be except…

 

17 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Home is the sailor, home from the sea, And the hunter home from the hill

When we were first married, my wife and I bought a house in the Meadows area of Nottingham. This was traditionally a place of slums, crime and general unpleasantness, but at the time, the early 1980s, huge numbers of unhealthy hovels were being demolished to be replaced by newly built, better quality, council houses, as they were then called. Mixed in with all the rented accommodation though, was a small estate of private houses, and we bought one of those. When we first moved in, we were surrounded by a vast building site:

photo 1

In the background is Nottingham Castle, which has very little remaining from the medieval period and dates mostly from the 1670s. It is perhaps most famous for being the trademark on Players Cigarettes:

trade markxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And now, it must be nine minutes past four and the teaching day is ended and I have driven home at top speed:

“Home is the sailor, home from the sea,

And the hunter home from the hill.”

photo 3

I used to have an old 1964 Hillman Minx De Luxe, with the registration plate BLT 141B. It was my first car, and I loved it dearly. I wish I could have it back again. It had previously belonged to my Dad, Fred, who loved it even more than I did. When the seventeen-year-old car failed its last roadworthiness test, he was so glad that I took the trouble to drive it, fairly illegally, the 35 miles to his house, just so that he could then drive it himself on its last ever journey down to the scrapyard.
This beautiful blue car was “the one” as far as Fred’s motoring career was concerned. One day in 1966, he took me with him to nearby Derby and we visited Peveril Garage, on Friar Gate, up near the headquarters of the Derby County Supporters’ Club:

dcfc
Fred told me not to mention anything whatsoever about the day to my mother, not under any circumstances. Without any consultation with her at all, therefore, he bought this marvellous car, which was priced at £510. In those days, that was a princely sum indeed. If truth be told, it was actually a total sufficiently royal, that when my mother did eventually find out what he had done, she would have had Fred beheaded if she could have organised it.

The car was a rich blue, half way between sky blue and navy blue, with a black side stripe picked out in metallic chrome. In later years, when he had problems with rust on one of the wings, Fred was to opt for a total re-spray, which allowed him to retain the same colour blue for the body, but to incorporate a black roof which added that extra, unique, little detail to his beloved car:

photo 4

At this time, I had only recently passed my driving test, so, while I waited for the green “Provisional” plates to be invented, I retained my Learner plates, with the Big Red Ell on them. That was enough to be pulled over by a young policeman, apparently tired of arresting burglars, drug dealers, terrorists, murderers and bank robbers. Still, no hard feelings.
And here I am, looking like the man who designs the stage costumes for a 1970s pop group:

photo 2

I am wearing my favourite wide lapel purple jacket which had a wonderful Polyester feel to it. My shirt was short sleeved and chequered in pink and white. My extra wide tie was scarlet, and again, made of Polyester for easy cleaning. My glasses were gold-rimmed and my hair was a deep delicious dark brown without the slightest trace of grey:

photo 5

I had probably been wearing a pair of trousers throughout my day as a teacher, but they are not visible in this photograph. They may well have been my favourite pair ever, which were generously flared and mid-grey with an emphatic large black check design all over them. This created a whole series of huge squares perhaps four or five inches in size. I eventually gave these show stealers to a charity for the homeless in Africa. I often wonder who got them and what he made of them. Conceivably, some kind of shelter.

17 Comments

Filed under Criminology, History, Humour, My House, Nottingham, Personal

Werewolves in Yorkshire: Ee bah gum !

I have written a good deal, some would say too much, about the monsters which terrorized France between 1500 and the end of the nineteenth century. The most conservative zoologists say that the so-called monsters were just wolves behaving badly. Other more daring individuals say they were cave hyenas or dire wolves or waheelas or whatever:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I personally think that they were some kind of Superwolf which was like generally pretty much like an ordinary wolf in appearance, but with enough differences in behaviour to stand out from the rest. Just enough for the French peasant of 1764-1767 to think to himself, “C’était comme un loup, mais ce n’était pas un loup.”
What I have never imagined as the solution to this blood spattered conundrum is the werewolf. In French, it is the Loup-garou:

werewolf

The Americans in those areas of the USA which have a French heritage call it the Rougarou, rather as if somebody in 1700 had slightly misheard the word. Given that the Rougarou allegedly lives in the bayou and perhaps makes a “Wooo-hooo” call, I have always been somewhat surprised that no aspiring songwriter has ever taken up this subject.

werewolf attack
Nobody, though, would expect there to be any claims of werewolves, Loup-garou or Rougaroux in England, but, of course, there have been. I visited a forum recently, and they mentioned not one, but several.

werewolf_van_helsing_zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
In two cases, back in the day, they were unknown creatures that attacked livestock and left a trail of blood and gore. That could have been anything, of course, perhaps even the first Alien Big Cats in the country but much more likely to have been just feral dogs, which regularly kill both people and livestock in far larger numbers than either wolves or werewolves:

feral
There was mention of a genuine werewolf near Ripon, Yorkshire, in the 1920s and then another in Edale, Lancashire, in 1925. It was described by the forum contributor, Jerry_B as “some large animal…tearing sheep to bits”. Sounds like it’s back to those feral dogs to me.
A bloodsucking equivalent of these two werewolves, allegedly, was the monster “on the prowl in 1905, at Badminton (Gloucester)”.
All of these seem extremely far-fetched in my humble opinion, but there is one interesting English werewolf tale which features very widely on the Internet.  For me though, it is a superb example of putting a couple of interesting facts together, and then using them to come to a fairly ridiculous conclusion. After that, everybody is more than happy to view this iffy conclusion as completely sensible and to consider it henceforth as hard fact. No need to bother about questioning the reasoning process. If you still don’t understand what I’m getting at, then treat yourself to the finest example I know of, namely any episode whatsoever in the “Ancient Aliens” TV series.

.
First of all, though, for the sake of argument, I am willing to accept the supposition, for the moment, that wolves in England, centuries ago, were capable of behaviour that, nowadays, would be dismissed as being highly unlikely. That behaviour, of course, would be to treat human beings as a prey item and to attack them as a matter of ordinary routine:

621166__the-wolf-pack_p

Whatever you may think about that as a supposition, the author, John Harries, in his book “A Ghost Hunter’s Road Book”, states that things were so bad in Saxon times that, presumably at the behest of King Aethelstan:

“ about the year 940 AD  a hostel was built in the village of Flixton to shelter wayfarers in wintertime from attacks by wolves. At that period packs of the animals were not uncommon in the north of the country, and they were regarded with particular loathing because in times of severe weather they scavenged in graveyards.”

That statement is by no means outrageous, although it would be nice to know where the story originally came from. After all, there cannot be too many sources available to be cited when it comes to events more than a thousand years ago in 940 AD.
What tips it over the edge, though, is the next piece of rather iffy logic:

“Their cunning in discovering unprotected cattle, their boldness in attacking travellers, and their habit of suddenly descending in large numbers on an area where they had previously been unknown, all helped to give rise to the belief that the animals were not ordinary wolves but human beings who adopted a travesty of wolf shape by night.”

Wolves capable of finding “unprotected cattle”? How unusual! How unprecedented! I’m sure that has never happened in the northern states of the USA.

“Descending in large numbers” to a source of easy food? How extraordinary for a pack predator to be any good at doing that!

wolf bounding

The wolf is one of the most widespread and successful predators on the planet. So why do we need to explain his achievements as the work of werewolves? And not even ordinary werewolves at that…

“Their nocturnal exploits were supposed to be organised by a wizard whose innocent appearance enabled him to gather information about cattle, sheep and human wayfarers in taverns and market places.”

Look out! There’s a wizard about!! Careless talk costs lives!!

Flixton, by the way, is in Yorkshire, in the north of England, near Scarborough. Look for the orange arrow:

small scale

Here is a more detailed map:

large scale

Further details about the Flixton Werewolf were that he has glowing red eyes and a particularly bad body odour. (Don’t say it!) Reports supposedly began all over again in 1150, although by now he had grown a very long tail. In 1800 a stagecoach making its way to York was supposedly attacked by an apparent werewolf. In 1970, the Flixton Werewolf made an unsuccessful attempt at attacking a long distance lorry. Easy prey, of course:

Volvo_FH12

All these additional details, and a succession of precise dates, all help to give the story of a werewolf in Yorkshire veracity and credence, of course.

I was able to find mention on the Internet of just a two other werewolves in England, both of them in Devon (in the Valley of the Rocks in Lynton and the Valley of the Doones on Exmoor). On the latter occasion, a Victorian lady walking home in the dark saw a grey man with a wolf’s head, apparently stalking a large rabbit. The grey man disappeared when he was disturbed by a stag emerging suddenly from some nearby woodland.
Funnily enough, this apparently bizarre tale of the grey man with a wolf’s head sounds a lot more probable to me. If you have read my articles about Shuck and then the Wolfmen in the USA, you may recall that the almost cute behaviour of this grey man with a wolf’s head is much more typical of these cryptocanids:

michigan-dogman cccccccMuch more interesting than the Flixton Werewolf though, was the article I found by Nick Redfern about Wolfmen in the Cannock Chase German Cemetery. Nick’s approach is much more studied and cautious, and it is remarkable how close his “2+2” comes to equalling the “4” of Linda S.Godfrey in her description of such entities as the Beast of Bray Road and the Michigan Dogman. Reports mentioned by Nick include:

“Nick Duffy, of the West Midlands Ghost Club, reported that “The first person to contact us was a postman, who told us he had seen what he thought was a werewolf. He saw what he believed was a large dog, but when he got closer, the creature got on his hind legs and ran away.”

The next report was:

“A local scout-leader reported that: “It just looked like a huge dog. But when I slammed the door of my car it reared up on its back legs and ran into the trees. It must have been about six to seven feet tall.”

Both of these pieces of behaviour come much, much closer to the Dogmen and Werewolves of the USA. If you read Linda S.Godfrey, you will see that the majority of these monsters prefer not to attack but to run away:

book cover linda

Let’s finish with two things. Firstly a question. Why do you always have to shoot a werewolf with a silver bullet to kill it?

were lon

It’s because back in the days of muskets and similar hit-and-miss weapons, accuracy was way below today’s standards, as was killing power. One, albeit expensive, way to improve both was to discard the third rate bullets of the day, and make your own, rock hard, bullets from…you’ve guessed it! Silver.
And secondly I was unaware that when they were filming that classic tale “An American Werewolf In London”, the opening scenes on the Yorkshire moors were all filmed in Wales because “Yorkshire didn’t look Yorkshire enough”:

THE-GUYS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Humour, Wildlife and Nature