Royalty

Pure white, pure black, a defiant stare and gone.

An ermine ran across our path, dived into a jumble of rocks and then sat straight up to watch us stop and stare back.

The morning smelt of spring, but this twist of life was dressed for deep snow or a coronation. It was so totally white with a tail dipped in black ink that it was impossible not to grin.

Then it was gone and I spent the rest of the day reading about stoats ( or short tailed weasels ) and marvelling at the ludicrous link between this vicious shape shifting “rat” and the royalty of Europe.

Ermine are the winter colours of stoats. As the days shorten their coats whiten and the unremarkable brown rabbit killer metamorphoses into this royal creature. Our ancestors were so impressed by the cleanliness of their fur in a winter world of brown mud and sludge, that they decided that ermine would rather die by hunters than foul or besmirch their clean coats. To hunt an ermine all you had to do was lay mud across the entrance to their den and they would rather die than be dishonoured by dirt. This gave raise to the death before dishonour mottos and their purity became linked to the idea of royalty. Having a cloak of ermine pelts with the little black tails dotted against the fur become the badge of kings, queens and emperors throughout history. The most recent European coronation of King Willem-Alexander of Holland saw both King and his Queen wrapped in swathes of ermine to signify their royalty to all the world.

It is of course bad luck for the stoat, but the fall from grace of fur in fashion is bound to be reflected in coronation regalia very soon. Most ermine fur came from Russia though the very name ermine is supposed to be corruption of Armenia where the Greeks considered the ermine to be from.

I wish I had a great photo for you, but I have nothing but the memory of it to share with you. An “ Armenian rat” that cloaked the shoulders of kings and trimmed the crown of queens.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous portrait depicts a very large stoat restrained by a very large hand.

22 thoughts on “Royalty

  1. shazza says:

    Wow, lucky you to see one. 🙂 My sister has had an ermine visitor one Winter. It was sat on the wood shed roof and was quite a sight. She has also had a white pheasant visitor and Barn Owls hunting in her croft. Love that you shared the stoat/ermines history. Fascinating. X

    Liked by 1 person

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