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.......Curiosity Corner .......

Corbet arms (Gruenenberg)


"The gloom of death is on the raven's wing,
The song of death is in the raven's cries ..."

This has always been a bird of ill omen, a warning of impending death, of plague, of misfortune. As the largest of the crows it belongs to a highly intelligent family, and in earlier times was known to follow armies in expectation of rich feasting. It followed the Vikings too, one of their more belligerent leaders being known as Eric Ravenfeeder.

The raven was consecrated to the Danish god of war, Odin, and was emblazoned on the Danish Standard, Landeyda ("the enemy's desolation"), in use from very early times.

Raven in Gruenenberg's 15th century Book of Arms (the dots represent gold)

Ravens were in ancient times as big and as white as swans until the day one told Apollo that Coronis, the Thessalian nymph he loved, was unfaithful to him. He then killed Coronis with a dart, but in his hatred of the whistleblower ~

He blacked the raven o'er,
And bid him prate in his white plumes no more.

Gruenenberg's raven Gruenenberg's vigorous, dynamic raven (left) makes the modern artist's work (right) look comparatively weak and feeble, but this may be influenced by the same device having to represent the raven and the rook and the common crow, all of which bear the heraldic name of corbie (from the French corbeau). The Corbet coat, Or a raven Sable, is canting heraldry, and the first known of the family bore the Norman nickname of Le Corbeau, The Raven. raven, rook or crow

The chough (or Cornish chough as it is now termed) also is a crow and differs from the corbie only by having its beak and legs red (as do the real choughs). Although the red beak and legs are essential to the chough, often blazons will perversely specify, for example, Argent three Cornish choughs Sable beaked and legged Gules, where Argent three choughs is sufficient.

The original name for a chough was a beckit, which allowed canting heraldry for the City of Canterbury (right) with its commemoration of its martyr Saint Thomas à Beckett.

Arms of City of Canterbury
Cornish chough
Sadly, the real chough is under threat, modern agriculture having reduced its food supply, and nest robbers (who profit the more as birds become rarer) having reduced the number of chicks. The bird King Arthur's spirit entered at his death flies no longer in England, not even in Cornwall to where it is eponymously supposed to belong, and in the Celtic fringes it is still in some danger. Year-round grazing by cattle is beneficial, for this keeps the grass short-cropped and fosters the supply of the soil and dung insects that form its diet, and it is now hoped that the Government will reward farmers who maintain suitable habitats.
martlet icon
The Martlet featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 1
gryphon icon
The Gryphon (of Griffin) featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 2
cockatrice icon
The Cockatrice (and Basilisk) featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 3
dragon icon
The Dragon featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 4
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The Baronage Content Page January-February 2000
© 2000 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd