Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

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Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art

By John Vinycomb

Other Chimerical Creatures and Heraldic Beasts- The Martlet

         "The guest of summer,
 The temple-haunting martlet."
                                "Macbeth."

The Martlet (Merlette or Merlot, French; Merula, Latin). The house-marten or 
swallow is a favourite device in heraldry all over Europe, and has assumed a somewhat unreal character from the circumstance that it catches its food on the wing and never appears to alight on the ground as other birds do. It builds its nest frequently under the eaves of houses, from whence it can take flight readily, rarely alighting, as it gains its food while on the wing; the length of its wings and the shortness of its legs preventing it from rising should it rest on the ground.

                       "No jutty friese,
 Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird
 Hath made his pendant bed, and procreant cradle."
                                    Macbeth, Act i. sc. 6.

It is depicted in armory with wings close, and in profile, with thighs, but with no visible legs or feet.

The martlet is the appropriate "difference" or mark of cadency for the fourth son. Sylvanus Morgan says: "It modernly used to signify, as that bird seldom lights on land, so younger brothers have little land to rest on but the wings of their own endeavours, who, like the swallows, become the travellers in their seasons."

The swallow (hirondelle) is the punning cognisance for Arundell. The seal of the town of Arundel is a swallow, Baron Arundell of Wardour bears six swallows for his arms. The great Arundells have as motto, "De Hirundine" ("Concerning the swallow"), and "Nulli præda" ("A prey to none"). A Latin poem of the twelfth century is thus rendered:

"Swift as the swallow, whence his arms’ device
 And his own arms are took, enraged he flies
 Thro’ gazing troops, the wonder of the field,
 And strikes his lance in William's glittering shield."

"We find it in Glovers’ roll," says Planché, "borne by Roger de Merley, clearly as 'armes parlantes,' although in a border." Roger de Merley: "barée d’argent et de goulz à la bordure d’azur, et merlots d’or en le bordure"; showing it was some difference of a family coat.

 

 

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