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St Edward the Confessor: Martlets (2/6)

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 10.08.12
Edward the Confessor - Attributed Arms

This second part of our analysis will try to justify the existence of birds in the shield of St Edward the Confessor. As with the cross, the drawing has been influenced by the previous numismatic representation, which included only four birds looking like doves. There should be some reason for adding an extra figuration to the shield.


Despite the heraldic arrangement with an implied space under the cross, able to explain the five birds, this could be easily changed by the extension of the lower limb, keeping the original quantity. According to the analysis made in St Edward the Confessor: C(e) roi ~ Crois, only a plain cross is needed, whether it would be Greek, adequate to the circular symmetry of a coin, or Latin, fit to the triangular shape of the shield. Something happened meanwhile, which forced the growth in number. The motivation, however, will only be completely understood with the following article.


Edward, our referent, almost certainly would be metonymized through his own name. All the examples we observed in medieval coins used this resource as a parophonic tool, conjectured to be an unsuspicious source of inspiration for the development of the heraldic language, along with seals. By inheriting this semantic feature the arms also inherited the corresponding language of verbalization, Old French, in particular the French spoken in Normandy. We see therefore the King-Saint shaped by the parophony Edouard (fra. Edward) ~ Et due harde (fra. and corresponding flock). The denominant, at the first part, has no particular difficulty but the designant, at the second, deserves a few comments.


We've already spotted a first parophony so it wouldn't be unreasonable to get both together in a phrasal sequence: Crois et due harde, or even to mix the denominant with the designant: Ce roi et due harde. The function of et (fra. and) is merely additive, connecting the pair of parophonies and justifying its existence. Although the word due, (fra. corresponding) doesn't keep its meaning in modern French but quite specifically, could indeed be interpreted in the past as: “due”, “respective” or “corresponding”. Therefore, a link is made between the cross (or the king) and harde (fra. flock). This last word also has lost some of its older meaning; still, we are only interested in medieval times where, without any hesitation thanks to many examples, it had the meaning of a flock of birds.


In conclusion, the phrase “cross and corresponding flock of birds” appears to be perfectly consistent with the images seen in the coins of Edward the Confessor. It doesn't mean that we don't need to investigate the consistency in the opposite direction, among other things, nor that other alternatives or maybe better solutions couldn't exist, which we very much doubt. We still refer the impossibility of developments like ait un harde or et du harde because harde was a feminine substantive in French.


The semantic convergence of a generic flock of animals into a particular flock of birds is achieved by a metonymization, emulating the designer's choice. A flock of sheep could have been preferred instead but the reason for the drawing choice would be due to the relative size of the four animals to the cross. A flock of quadrupeds, even smaller than sheep, would demand a huge cross, excluding any conventional artefacts, whereas a flock of birds would imply an acceptable dimension, as for a processional cross. Then, a second metonymization transforms the birds into martlets by request of the designant “flock”, which doesn't specify any particular species but recurrent in heraldry:


flock of animals > flock of birds

birds > martlets


What would be the reason for the birds to be doves initially, or equivalent, and later being transformed into martlets? The answer is given by the time gap between the representations. Whereas the coin took indifferently a common gregarious bird, the arms abode by the heraldic rules already in force, adopting a figuration that would represent birds generally: the martlet.


Thus we may see the second modification of the original design, after the introduction of flory endings at the cross limbs. These recalled the royal condition of Edward.  Would it be possible to attach a specific meaning for the martlets? We think otherwise; they would be only due to the need of consistency in the armorial language. It's also unfeasible to ascribe any connection with the sanctity of the king, subsequent to the coining, or with his royalty, already stressed by the cross flory. Furthermore, as the dove symbolizes the Holy Ghost, it is quite likely that the sole presence of a cross would be enough to inspire the resort to that figuration, but the presence of four birds dissuades taking them with such semantic specifity.


A point deserving our attention is the attitude of the birds. Even though we didn't reach the stage of chromatic analysis, it's patent that the field where the birds rest is blue. It would be comfortable to assume a sky as an appropriate background either for the martlets or the cross. There is a detail that undermines this reasoning: the birds fold their wings in the coin and in the shield, indicating that they couldn't be flying, at least in a strict interpretation.


Another possibility is to assign blue to water, where the five little birds would drift. But it's obvious that they aren't any water birds and that the cross, eventually considered in wood and allowed to float, already has the metallic elements of the Crown of St Edward, so that the remainder is also assumed in the same material. It would then be expected that the cross was in gold and that the condition of our referent as a saint would require a more glorifying plot, including the escorting figurations. Once again we must postpone the answer to our inquiries, this time in what refers the analysis of the blue tincture, provided with a semantic level of its own and conditioned by a particular referent's metonymy.


The syntactical arrangements were conditioned by the presence of the cross, allowing the necessary space for the introduction of four birds. It's not easy to tell which of the two numismatic parophonies was conceived first. Edward, through the martlets, is more obvious as a determinative linguistic expression. As to the cross, generated by his royal capacity, adjusts better to the visual practices usually reproduced in coins. Anyway, the gathering of the two ideas could only be consistently exhibited as it is. The introduction of a supplementary martlet, implied to maintain the Greek cross, as already seen, fitting the fifth figuration in the space between the lower limb of the cross and the end of the shield. A virtual square outline is defined by the cross, very well adapted to the sides and top edge of the shield, leaving the base as only possible region to place the said martlet.


Agreeing that there is in fact an association of the number of martlets with the cross, it is quite obvious that the quantity is determined upstream, not by the four slots of the cross but by the specification provided by “flock”. If hypothetically the parophony described the designant as two or three it would only be needed to make the corresponding adjustments. Nevertheless, by stating a flock, we couldn't imagine only two or even three birds. Maybe four is a feasible quantity, if we remember “cuadrilla”, a similar idea, embodying this number in its etymology. It constitutes what we may call a third metonymization, simple as the others - flock > four (five) birds - assisting the change from a nebulous numerical concept into a precise specification, in spite of two distinct versions of four and five units, by the additional influence of distinct semantic levels.


Centralities are harder to define. The drawing of each martlet is entirely asymmetrical preventing the homogeneity of the residual spaces, even with the eventual correct location of the geometrical centres. On top of this the five birds are turned to the dexter of the shield, impairing the axial symmetries regarding the cross and the shield, despite a strict compliance to the implicit rules demanded by the emblazonment. We must look after a balance among the shapes of all figurations and the corresponding spaces in-between; this will vary from one interpreter to another, ourselves included. Besides, this will contribute little or nothing to the semantic subjects that interest us primarily.


 Edward the Confessor - Flock
Attributed Arms R Edward the Confessor
Anthroponym M Edward
Language of Influence V French
Denominant A Edouard
Graphemization A  E |  D  |  O  |  U  |  A  |  R  |  D 
Phonemization A e  |  d  |  u  |  a  |  R  |  d 
Pairing A e  |  d  |  u  |  a  |  R  |  d 
A e  |  d  |  y  |  a  |  R  |  d 
Coefficient of transposition A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0
Coefficient of character A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.5 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Coefficient of position A 0.0 | 0.0 | 1.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Addends A 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.5 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 
Discretion index A k = 0.17
Phonemization A e | d | y | a | R | d
Graphemization A E | T | | D | U | E | | H | A | R | D | E
Designant A et due harde
Zoology E and corresponding flock
Simple monosemy S flock
S martlets
Tincture H Azure
Number H a
Figuration H cross
Aspect H flory
Placement H at the quarters cantoned with
Number H 4 four
Simple metonymy S flock of animals > flock of birds
Simple metonymy S birds > martlets
Figuration H flock martlets
Orientation C turned to the dexter
Disposition C 2 and 2
Centrality C shape balance
Connective H martlets + martlet and
Simple metonymy S flock > 5 (4) birds
Number H 1 another
Placement H under the lower limb of the cross in base
Orientation C turned to the dexter
Symmetry C halfway the martlets at each side
Centrality C halfway the placement
Tincture H or


(next article in this series is III/VI)

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Published at 17:50

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