Serpent bangle, silver/garnets
Order of the Dragon Cape Button, silver.
Provenance- Spanish, last quarter fifteenth century. Cape button of Pedro the Perforator.
An early portrait of Pedro by a little known Flemish master, possibly of the Memling school shows Pedro resplendent in a purple velvet cape, shot through with gold thread, a lining of midnight blue silk with an ermine trim, fastened at the neck with a large silver button sporting a rampant dragon. Always a bodacious dresser, this vicious dandy had his head separated from his neck in 1492.
Silver Wolf Button
Provenance- French, mid-fifteenth century. Cloak button of Jean le Tueur Loup, Wolf Killer Pursuivant, fashioned from a silver bullet fired from an arquebus.
Jean was awarded the title of Wolf Killer Pursuivant after slaying a huge man-eating grey wolf that terrorised the province of Gévaudan for eighteen months. Responsible for the grisly deaths of as many as 112 people, most of them women and children, human remains were found in the belly of the wolf when it was slit open.
An unfortunate aside to this tale is that an innocent woods-dwelling hermit was burned to death by frightened and superstitious villagers after they extracted a confession from him under torture in a ‘werewolf trial’. It was only when the slaughter continued that they concluded there were probably two werewolves responsible…
The tincture, or background colour of the Coat of Arms of El Perrito the Alhambra Chihuahua is sable, representing constancy and grief, constancy for his loyalty and grief both for his lost eye and his Techichi friends.
Two chihuahua face each other in a saltant attitude. Below this runs a dancette line in silver. This represents water and the long journey El Perrito made across the sea to reach Spain. The escutcheon is filled by a strawberry flower, which in heraldry symbolises hope and joy.
Heraldry of El Perrito, tawa/silver/mother-of-pearl/fine gold
Simon de la Chouette, Mercenary and self-styled Assassin.
Simon de la Chouette was born in Dijon, Bourgogne on the same day of the same year that Otto I Count of Burgundy was assassinated, January 13, 1200AD. The two events are not related…
owl & falchion, silver
His background was modest, distantly noble, and his surfeit of brothers determined his fate early. He was marked out as chaff for the crusader cause, and so began early training in the arts of war. He was sent to live with a more financially salubrious branch of the Chouette family; a first cousin was closely aligned with Duke of Burgundy Odo III via an advantageous marriage, so young Simon was sent at age six to reside with his cousins in order to begin training, initially as a page, and with luck eventually as a squire if he showed aptitude.
Young Simon showed aptitude aplenty. He was a natural horseman, a knife-wielding demon with a sword and dagger, and he exhibited exactly the correct degree of contemptuous deference to his noble betters at court to win him the admiration of the plotters and conspirators. In short, he was well on track to a squirehood. As a young knight’s squire, his tasks included caring for his master’s horse, maintaining his weapons and armoury, and generally tending to the requirements of his liege. Simon’s burning ambition was to attain knighthood…
His opportunity arose on July 27 1214 at the battle of Bouvines which ended the 1202-1214 Anglo-French War.
Simon’s knight was a Sir Geoffrey de Mountfort. Over-sized, over-loud and overly self-entitled he rampaged ineffectually about the battlefield on his warhorse, a huge black beast festooned in penants, that nevertheless still strained under the enormous bulk of Sir Geoffrey, a man made soft by the pleasures of the Burgundian court. A wencher, a glutton, and a boozer, he was a man somewhat under the weather on July 27 1214. He had spent the previous evening frotting, rutting, and over-indulging in a local whorehouse and consequently could barely climb onto his warhorse let alone sit astride it.
He slumped in the saddle like a sack of rotting onions, and a green bile was seen by Simon to issue glutinously from the corner of his mouth. Simon stayed loyally and perilously close to Sir Geoffrey; the stench emanating from the dissolute knight was enough to fell a polecat. He cared not one whit for the life of his obese mentor; he wanted only to win his knightly spurs and accolades for bravery. The battle was fierce and savage. Axes were hefted and hot blood spurted from severed arteries. The ground was rendered slippery with steaming viscera. The stench of fear, shit, and death was pervasive. Young Simon kept his wits where Sir Geoffrey failed. He spied a huge poleaxe wielding man about to cleave a fatal furrow into the skull of his knight errant. Sir Geoffrey teetered helpless and cross-eyed in the saddle whilst Simon slithered in behind the giant, and with a deft slash sliced both his achilles tendons with his falchion, a savage knife, and a weapon of choice for any would-be assassin. Sir Geoffrey survived and Simon de la Chouette was recommended his knight’s spurs and accolades. Bouvines was a decisive victory for the French coalition. It led to the drafting of the Magna Carta, but that is another story…
Simon spent the next decade honing his skills as squire for hire. His knife prowess was exemplary; politically he kept his ear to the ground. If a plot was unfolding, Simon would re-wrap it and deal to the would-be perpetrators at the behest of his paying masters. He would have done it for free and for practise; pieces of silver were merely a bonus. He was a confidante of Odo III and his sucessor Hugh IV.
He was ofttimes called upon to solve the problem of worthless siblings who were at risk of inheritance. So often in mediaeval Burgundy siblings would meet with unfortunate hunting accidents, thereby solving the problem of undeserved primogeniture. . So often Simon was in the vicinity of the tragedy. In this way Hugh the Deformed, Robert the Devious and Otto the Witless were all prevented from doing irreparable damage to the kingdom. Any luckless soul who heard the cry of the owl in daylight hours was almost certain to find himself on the wrong end of a sharpened dagger, with young Simon on the favourable end. He drew the line at the killing of women however; chivalry was not yet fully dead.
At age 21 he was knighted, and in 1228 he embarked upon his greatest adventure yet- the sixth crusade to the Holy Land. He did not believe in a God, Christian or otherwise. He believed in killing those who did not willingly capitulate. This is always a potential problem for those who have been taught the dubious art of murder since the tender age of six. He voluteered to join the Order of the Teutonic Knights; a mercenary order originally formed in Palestine to establish hospitals and aid Christians on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Alas for Simon, there was very little fighting to be had on the 6th Crusade. It was mainly a diplomatic mission for Frederick II, Holy Roman Emporer who had a claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem through marriage. Frederick managed to cleave off some territory but essentially failed to recover any of the desirable holdings. Consequently the Muslims retained control over the Temple Mount, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and blood was not shed. Simon was disappointed to the verge of frustration. He cursed his naievety- why had he not joined the Albigensian Crusades instead? He could have been slaughtering Cathars on his own metaphorical doorstep instead of twiddling his blood-hungry thumbs in a sand-infested heathen hellhole.
Bidding farewell to his brothers in arms with nary a backwards glance he opted to head back to Burgundy via Persia and Syria.
It is precisely here that we lose Simon de la Chouette for a number of years. Scholarship is divided on what happened in the intervening period before we pick up with Simon again in 1238…
Numerous students of mediaeval crusade history have tried to account for Simon’s missing years. He is now an unpopular subject for dissertation because everything relating to this time is speculation. Please bear with me as I add to the general cacophony of conjectural scholarship.
It’s my belief that Simon headed North into Syria, and whether by accident or design happened upon a remnant of the notorious Nizari Sect, the infamous assassins active in Syria and Persia during the early crusades. It is likely he became a convert to Islam, not because he was a Mohammedan myrmidon, but because he wanted access to the esoteric knowledge of the Nizari…
Simon finally reappeared in Dijon, Burgundy in 1238. He was scarcely recognisable; a swarthy, bearded, sinewy apparition, and weathered, as you would expect of a man who had spent the past decade in the desert, only now he eschewed the excellent jambon persille with mustard, a Dijon speciality, and no fine Burgundian wine was seen to ever pass his lips. After ten years spent learning how to cut the throats of others with aplomb, he seemed to have culinarily slit his own…
He was soon back in the employ of the Burgundian Duchy, who were initially perplexed by Simon’s new austerity but appreciative of his murderous finesse and wit.
One unfortunate death that resulted in no end of sniggering in the private chambers of Hugh IV was that of a hapless usurer about to be wed who had taken advantage of the gambling habits of too many of the Duke’s favoured knights. As he awaited his bride on the forecourt of Dijon’s Notre Dame he was crushed by a falling stone gargoyle that plummeted suddenly and inexplicably from the gargoyle encrusted facade of the church. The hysterically caterwauling bride was removed, and closer inspection of the scene revealed that the moneylender had been crushed by a gargoyle representation of a usurer, a vicious and much remarked upon irony indeed. Hugh IV solicitously had all the other gargoyles removed from the church lest another horrible accident befall some innocent, and Simon received his customary payment in pieces of silver.
A little remembered son of Dijon, Simon de la Chouette is nevertheless commemorated in a modest way by a carved owl on the corner of a buttress on the north side of the chapel of Notre Dame. Almost all the features of the owl are obliterated; rubbed bare by countless hands over eight centuries, it is believed to be a lucky charm, and a symbol of Dijon. It seems fitting to me that a man who was so shadowy and intangible in life should be represented by a featureless namesake. There was also a fifteenth century public house in an unsalubrious part of London called The Owl and Falcon, now long since burned down in the Great Fire. It is thought that this may reference Simon de la Chouette also, falcon being a pun on falchion, the savage dagger that was Simon’s favoured weapon.
If visiting Dijon, I recommend a visit to Notre Dame. All the gargoyles were replaced in the nineteenth century, and though they are purely decorative rather than functional, they are quite spectacular grotesques. Be sure to pat the little carved owl by the chapel too….
Maria Gloria de Bourgogne was born in Burgundy towards the end of the confusingly named Hundred Years War into the noble family of the Marquis de Bourgogne. A highly unattractive newborn; the midwife screamed, slapped her, and then crossed herself repeatedly. The oddly-shaped facial birthmark eventually faded, but the beetlebrow, fearsome squint, and jaw that jutted like the prow of a Viking longboat never did. If anything, these unlovely characteristics intensified as she grew older.
Icon of Maria Gloria de Bourgogne, silver/iolite
The last-born into a family of eight girls, four of whom were named Maria, her father quickly ascertained that Maria Gloria would not be a good marriageable proposition to any aging nobleman looking for a brood-mare to shore up his title and lands. She was ugly and opinionated, so her father determined she should also be educated. This would make her extremely unattractive to even the most repellent old man and would save her father the necessity of yet another expensive dowry. Let the church have her!
Alas, the church did not want her. Maria Gloria was absolutely fine with chastity, but unable to embrace the requisite virtues of poverty and obedience. She was returned to her dismayed family in less than a week; her education had not prepared her for the rigours of life in a nunnery. She could neither embroider or sew, the tasks traditionally allocated to the daughters from noble families. Her fluent Latin, comprehensive study of the Greek Classics and Philosophers, knowledge of Euclidian Geometry, and self-directed interest in metallurgy and medicine which pre-dated Paracelsus by a number of decades had no status in a place of feminine devotion to a masculine god. Her allergy to all things piscine on a Friday was her final undoing.
At the end of his tether and in a fit of hand-wringing pique her anguished father determined to send her into the service of his nemesis, Chancellor Nicholas Rolin. Rolin had come to favour as a peace negotiator between the French and the Burgundians. He was not a nobleman but he had been rewarded handsomely for his services to the Duchy of Burgundy. He was considerably wealthier than most of his noble counterparts at a time when most of the populace lived in miserable poverty, and consequently earned the envious emnity of his noble betters. Rolin had established a Hospice for the poor and indigent in Beaune, unusual for its time in that it was fiercely independent from the Church. Rolin insisted that all of his nurses were lay-sisters. They were all sourced from the middle and upper-middle classes and were not permitted to take nun’s vows whilst in service, though they were nominally expected to pledge to poverty, obedience and chastity. It was an honour to their grateful families for a girl to be accepted for nursing servitude…
Regretfully, an attitude of servitude and gratitude was unattainable by Maria Gloria. Her bedside manner was abominable, and her hospital corners worse. Pity the suffering terminal patient whose last earthly sight was the scowling visage of Maria Gloria… She found her lodgings unsalubrious, her uniform unflattering, and the simple yet nourishing food unpalatable. Her modest stipend she deemed risible. Her increasingly desperate father worn down by her incessant complaints determined to secretly incentivise Chancellor Rolin to progress Maria Gloria’s career in the manner she believed herself entitled to. In short, he gifted the hospice a modest parcel of prime grape-growing land in order to grease the path of his vile off-spring.
When Maria Gloria found herself in command of a modest but well-appointed apothecary complete with beakers and flasks for distillation and titration, razors and saws for letting and cutting, tools for cupping, annelids for leeching, fleams and clysters for all manner of painful indignities, restraining boards complete with straps and buckles, plus a selection of cauterising irons she believed it was because of her own extraordinary ability rather than the sacrifices of her dear Papa.
Actually, Maria Gloria was clever and able, but like many people of good fortune and privilege she was unable to see that her success was as much due to opportunities made available to her as her own adroitness. However, let us not dwell on Maria Gloria’s sociopathy, but instead celebrate her achievements… She proved very adept at the arts of distillation; her poppy and pinot potation was deemed a taste sensation and proved a highly effective somnambulant for both suffering patients and exhausted nurses, as well as being less fatal than her hemlock concoctions. Certainly Maria Gloria was not averse to tippling in her tinctures in the interests of experimentation when the need arose. The Hospice did not accept plague victims, lepers, or pregnant women as patients, but Maria Gloria had a very lucrative sideline in particular infusion of tanacetum vulgare, pulegium regium, and her father’s finest Burgundian pinot noir. This preparation was created with utmost care as Maria Gloria quickly learned to her mild discomfort that even small quantities of extract of pennyroyal cause failure of the liver and death, at which point the reality of an unwanted pregnancy becomes an irrelevancy. During Maria Gloria’s reign at Hospices de Beaune it was noted that Beaune had a remarkably low rate of birth. Her exploits in amateur surgery were less triumphant, but the survival rates from invasive incisions were inauspicious in 15th century France so I think it unjust to be overly punctilious. It was an uphill battle for the most conscientious of barber surgeons to overcome the threat of gangrenous humors when the only antiseptic available was an unappetising concoction of fresh urine and wine. A survivor of the surgery would likely die from the shock of wound cauterisation at any rate.
It will come as no surprise to readers of moral tales that Maria Gloria was eventually broken on the wheel of her own hubris… Increasingly arrogant and perhaps maddened by constant imbibing of her own potions she began to dabble in the darker arts. Believing herself impervious to accusations of witchcraft because of her nobleman Papa and because the church was so comprehensively excluded from the Hospice she embarked on a new line of side-products designed to further line her pocketbook. Word of Maria Gloria’s range of hallucinogenic unguents and salves spread faster than plague buboes. She devised philtres for the lovesick, elixirs for the heartbroken. I fear it is likely she was a purveyor of poisons for those wishing to cause harm, such was her lack of moral compass. When the buyers of illicit substances come knocking at your door the law is seldom far behind. Testimony has it that Maria Gloria grew increasingly anxious and paranoid.
No-one can say for certain what precipitated the distressing events of June 21 1460, but the facts indicate that a collection of nurses in the courtyard of the Hospices de Beaune heard a bloodcurdling shrieking coming from a second storey room. Alarmed, they all looked up in time to see the figure of Maria Gloria cartwheeling out of the window. In moments she had landed heavily and brokenly on the cobblestones in front of them, her brains leaking from an irreparably damaged skull. Eyes open wide, lips snarled in a terrified grimace, and legs akimbo, Maria Gloria was no lovelier in death than she had been in life. Some of the nurses swore they had heard her bawl “Possum volare!” as she left the window. This remained unverified, but if true it suggests that Maria Gloria may have been experimenting with ‘flying ointment’. It seems possible that she could have concocted an ointment extracted from henbane, hemlock, belladonna, or mandrake, muddled with base of fat and applied it to her nether regions. The hallucinogenic properties would have acted swiftly and lethally. Like many before her and many to follow, she believed she could fly…
It is very difficult to find further information about Maria Gloria de Bourgogne. There is no marked grave, I know, because I searched for it in vain when I visited Beaune. It’s likely she was buried in unconsecrated ground as a suicide and disowned in death by her surviving family members. Requiescat in pace.