Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Flying like a bat to France

Oh I am happy to be back at work on my Garter book! The real struggle is about to begin, though, as I know in my bones it is time to start taking leave of this material and this project, even though a good chunk of Chapter Four and all of Chapter Seven are completely unwritten; there is still a large amount of revision to be done; I am still a bit hazy about some of the big conceptual ideas at work; and there are pages and pages of archives I'm not reading. That's ok: I long ago reconciled myself to it being ... just not that kind of project. I just have to get my head into the finishing stage. Perhaps I ought to try channeling the advice I so calmly dish out to my graduate students at this stage.

There's a new book out on the Orders of the Garter, Thistle and Bath from 1660-1760 by Antti Matikkala. My copy arrived the other day and I'm relieved to find it's a very serious study of the honours system that will be very useful for me, without really coming close to the kind of work I am doing (or should I say "the work I have done": see above, about taking leave).

I was down in the State Library today, reading John Anstis's 1724 edition of the Garter Register, produced under Henry VIII, including his revised Statutes. It's in Latin, with English, with notes in English, French and Latin. I had looked at this before in the British Library, but deferred a detailed perusal for Melbourne. Which would be fine, except that the State Library could find only one of the two volumes. Oh well. I can read the rest in the Eighteenth-Century Online database, or check it out when I'm in Canberra in November, as the National Library has a copy.

But I did find a lovely, lovely thing, a record in the Register in the sixteenth year of Edward IV's reign, of the King degrading Galhard de Durefort, or Lord Duras, "for that he having deserted him, flying like a Bat over to the Side of the King of France [tanquam vespertilio transfugiens in partes Regis Francorum], had sworn Obedience to him." So there you go: that's your Latin vocabulary for the day (vespertilio, vespertilionis, m. bat). And there's your metaphor for treason (well, presumably, deciding, when the chips were down, to renounce your foreign honour to swear allegiance to your own king) for the day as well.

A few more things like this turned up, too, and just in time, as Chapter Four — my next big writing project — is about Shame and Degradation, or how to get kicked out of the Garter. And what the heralds do with the names of those so degraded. More on this soon.

Update: thanks to Karl for his comment about emblem books. First thing I've found is a cute picture
from an online bestiary with the memorable comment:
A bat is not a noble bird. It is unlike other birds in that it gives birth to live young instead of laying eggs, and it has teeth. Bats gather together and hang from high places like a bunch of grapes; if one falls, all the rest also fall.
If I've followed the links properly, I think this text and illustration might come from the bestiary of Anne Walsh, produced circa 1400-25. But the emphasis on the bat's ignobility would certainly be relevant here. Thanks, Karl!

Second update: I found a fable in which the bat fights first with the birds, then goes over to the mammals, though the birds eventually win. So that's another obvious context:

A great conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said: "Come with us"; but he said: "I am a Beast." Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: "Come with us"; but he said: "I am a Bird." Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces. "Ah," said the Bat, "I see now. He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

But this text, Mastering Aesop, by Edward Wheatley, offers a slightly different telling. After the birds win the battle, the bat is then denuded and forced to fly only at night. Follow the link to an exegesis which has the birds representing Christians and the quadrupeds gentiles or Jews; and the bat as, indeed, Judas. "Stripped of his pelt"? = "deserted by the clothing of innocence". Poor old Galhard!

2 comments:

Karl Steel said...

Fascinating! I wonder if there's a fable being alluded to here? Have you checked any exempla handbooks?

Anonymous said...

That fabulous wee beastie looks like a dragon. Here in France the bats come out at vespers with the evening star. They are called chauve-souris, feminine noun for a bald mouse.