The Unicorn, a Mythological Investigation, by Robert Brown, , at sacred-texts.com
THE science of Heraldry has faithfully preserved to modern times various phases of some of those remarkable legends, which, based upon a study of natural phenomena, exhibit the process whereby the greater part of mythology has come into existence. There we find the solar Gryphon, 1 the solar Phoenix, 2 'a demi-eagle displayed issuing from flames of fire,' 3 the solar Lion, and the lunar Unicorn, which two latter noble creatures now harmoniously support the Royal Arms. I propose in the following pages to examine the myth of the Unicorn, the wild, white, fierce, chaste Moon, whose two horns, unlike those of mortal creatures, are indissolubly twisted into one;
the creature that endlessly fights with the Lion to gain the crown (κορυφή) or summit of heaven which neither may retain, and whose brilliant horn drives away the darkness and evil of the night, even as we find in the myth that 'venym is defended by the horn of an Vnicorne.' 1 As the Moon rules the sea and water, 2 so the horn of the Unicorn is said to purify the streams and pools, and we are told that other animals will not drink until this purification is made; for the Unicorn ere he slakes his thirst, like the sinking Moon, dips his horn in water. As the Moon, Artemis-Selenê, is the 'queen and huntress, chaste and fair,' so is 'the maiden Unicorne' 3 'in the Classical and Middle Ages the emblem of chastity.' 4 'Their inviolable attachment to virginity, has occasioned them to become the guardian hieroglyphic of that virtue.' 5 According to Upton, quoted by Dallaway, the Unicorn 'capitur cum arte mirabili. Puella virgo in sylva proponitur solaque relinquitur, qui adveniens depolita omni ferocitate casti corporis pudicitiam in virgine veneratur, caputque suum in sinu puellae imponit, sicque soperatus deprehenditur a venatoribus et occiditur, vel in regali palatio ad spectandum exhibetur.'
Dallaway conjectures that 'the tester or armour for horses heads in the centre of which a long spike was fixed, suggested the idea of a beast so defended
by nature.' With respect to this view it may suffice to remark that the Unicorn is found on the archaic Cylinder-seals of Babylonia and Assyria, 1 as well as on the Horn of Ulf, 2 whereas 'the Chanfron with a spike projecting from it was adopted in 1467; probably this is the earliest date.' 3 The Testiere is first mentioned in the time of Edward I., and 'Chanfron or Champfreins, pieces of steel or leather to cover the horse's face,' 4 came into vogue about the end of the thirteenth century. Chanfrous is an obsolete north-country term meaning very fierce. 5
The Lion is the only animal that appears on the shields in The Roll of Arms known as the Roll of King Henry III.; the Unicorn, however, although not found on any shield in The Roll of Karlaverok, is mentioned by the herald who composed the MS. Siege de Karlaverok, now in the British Museum. He says:
'Robert le seignour de Cliffort,
Robert the lord of Clifford,
The Gryphon, it may be observed, appears in the Roll as a Charge:
'Symon de Montagu,
Simon de Montagu,
Sir Harris Nicholas observes that 'the exploit which is said to have been performed by the Earl Marshall at Constantinople in slaying a unicorn, which probably referred to a tradition familiar at the time of some deed of one of the Marshall family in the Holy Land,' is not 'elsewhere commemorated.' 2
In opposition to the opinion that the Unicorn could be captured by means of the stratagem above mentioned, it was more generally held that, like the Gryphon, 3 'the Unicorne is never taken alive; and the reason being demanded, it is answered, that the greatnesse of his mind is such, that he choseth rather to die than to be taken alive.' 4 The real reason why both Gryphon and Unicorn are safe from capture is sufficiently obvious.
Cnut is said amongst other 'naval devices,' to have 'exhibited unicorns, centaurs, dragons, lions, dolphins, and human figures. The swift unicorn, either Anglo-Saxon or Dane, was obliged to fly before the two Norman leopards [or perhaps "lions" 5]. Hence
the naturalization of the emblematical unicorn in Scotland, and its return into England under the Stuart dynasty.' 1
'The earliest extant example of the unicorn as a supporter in the royal arms of Scotland, appears to be that which occurs in the royal achievement carved above the gateway of Rothsay Castle. The Lyon king of arms, who examined it carefully last summer, told me that this carving appeared to him to be contemporaneous with the part of the building in which it is inserted, which, considering the style of the architecture and various entries in the Exchequer Rolls relative to the building of Rothsay Castle, he was disposed to assign to the time of Robert II. or III. [1380-1400]. In 1486 or 1487 two gold coins were struck, value respectively 18s. and 9s., and called the unicorn and half-unicorn, from the circumstance that they bore on one side the figure of a unicorn sejant supporting the royal escutcheon. In the same reignthat of James III.we first find unicorn pursuivant.' 2
The following instances (amongst many) exhibit the Unicorn as a Charge:
The Arms of Sir John Rest, Lord Mayor of London in 1516, are Azure, on a Fess, between 3 Crosses Milroine, Or, a Unicorn couchant, Gules. This position of the Unicorn is very unusual. Mythologically, the bronze-red setting Moon.
The Family of Harling bore Argent, a Unicorn Sejant, Sable; mythologically, the Moon in eclipse.
The Family of Musterton bore Gules, a Unicorn with dexter leg raised, i.e., tripping, Argent; mythologically, 'the Moon walking in brightness.' 1
The Family of Farrington bore Sable, 3 Unicorns, Current, Argent, 1 & 1 & 1; mythologically, the wild white Moon of triple aspect, 2 flying through the dark clouds.
The Family of Shelley bore Gules, 3 Unicorn's heads couped, by 2 & 1.
The Tincture of the Unicorn is generally Argent, i.e., the ordinary colour of the Moon, Leukotheê, 'the White-goddess,' 3 the Semitic Lebhânâ, the Pale-shiner, as distinguished from the burning, golden Tammuz-Adonis, the Akkadian Dumuzi or 'Only-son' of the diurnal heaven.' 4 'The proper colour of the moon we in Heraldry take to be Argent, both for the weakness of the light, and also for the distinction betwixt the blazoning of it and the Sun; and therefore when we blazon by Planets, we name Gold Sol, and Silver Luna.' 5
One or two Crests in which the Unicorn appears are of special interest inasmuch as most archaic ideas seem to have been unconsciously preserved in them. Thus:
The Crest of the Bickerstaff Family is the Sun with sable rays (i.e., the nocturnal sun), surmounted
by a Unicorn rampant, i.e., the nightly triumph of the Moon over the Sun. In a variant form of this device the Unicorn is statant.
The Crest of the Curteis Family is a Unicorn passant, between four trees; mythologically, a most interesting allusion to the archaic myth of the Grove of the Underworld. 1
The Heraldic Moon is either Increscent, i.e., the new moon with horns turned towards the dexter side of the shield; in Complement, i.e., the full moon; Decrescent, i.e., the waning moon with horns turned towards the sinister side of the shield; or in Detriment, i.e., when eclipsed. 2 In this state it is emblazoned Sable. The Face in the Orb 3 is shown at times.
James I. introduced the (Scottish) Unicorn, argent, as the Sinister Supporter of the Royal Arms; and Guillim describes the Arms of Charles I. as 'supported by a Lyon rampand, SOL: and an Unicorn, LUNA.' 4
1:1 Vide R. B. Jr., G.D.M. i. 334 et seq.; ii. 58-9. 'A male Griffin is distinguished by two straight horns rising from the forehead, and rays of gold which issue from various parts of the body' (Cussans, H.H. 93), the horned and radiate Sun (vide G.D.M. cap. IX. sec. iii. Taurokerôs).
1:2 Vide R. B. Jr., The Archaic Solar-Cult of Egypt, in the Theological Review, Oct. 1878, p. 525.
1:3 Cussans, H.H. 95.
2:1 The Boke of Saint Albans, xliii.
2:2 Vide sec. VIII.
2:3 Spencer, An Elegie for Astrophell.
2:4 Fosbroke, E.A. ii. 1022.
2:5 Dallaway, Inquiries into the Origin and Progress of the Science of Heraldry in England, 1793, p. 421.
3:1 Vide sec. III.
3:2 Vide Frontispiece. And sec. VI.
3:3 Fosbroke, E.A. ii. 892.
3:4 Ibid. 878-9.
3:5 Halliwell, Dict. of Archaic and Provincial Words, in voc.
3:6 Wright, The Roll of Caerlaveroek, 11-12.
4:1 Wright, The Roll of Caerlaverock, 17.
4:2 The Siege of Carlaverock, 186.
4:3 'The Griffon having attained his full growth, will never be taken alive' (Guillim, D.H. 259).
4:4 Ibid. 176.
4:5 Vide Scott, Lord of the Isles, vi. 35. Also Cussans, H.H. 79, upon the quaestio vexata whether the Shield of England originally bore Lions or Leopards.
5:1 Brunet, Regal Armorie of Great Britain, 219.
5:2 Letter from Thomas Dickson Esq., dated July 1, 1880.
6:1 Job, xxxi. 26.
6:2 Vide sec. VI.
6:3 Vide sec. VIII.
6:4 Vide R. B. Jr., G.D.M. i. 256.
6:5 Guillim, D.H. 111.
7:1 Vide sec. XII., subsec. 3.
7:2 Vide sec. V.
7:3 Vide secs. V., VII.
7:4 D.H. 440. The Throne is thus represented as firmly established as the course of nature.