9 Jun 2012

Napoleon and bees (ammended)

If you go to the Napoleon exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, you will quickly notice that there is a bee motif appearing all over the place.  If you wonder why, see below for my take on it.  If you find any inaccuracies, please advise, I am not an expert on Napoleon or 18th century naturalists.

The personal emblem of emperor Napoleon has only four elements, all clearly important:

- a large letter N, no explanation required,
- a crown above it, ditto,
- laurel leaves below - well, he won a few battles, didn't he?
- a bee - how come?

Napoleon's coronation robe is covered in golden bees and even the spectacular vase, shown on each poster, is full of bees.Why all these bees?

Early naturalists noticed that among thousands of bees there is one to which all other bees show great respect and reverence.  Clearly, it has to be the King Bee, the beloved monarch of them all.  Many 17th and 18th century beekeeping books refer to a 'king bee' as being the most important component of a bee colony.  No wonder many royals took a bee as a symbol of themselves. 

A bee was considered a symbol of immortality and resurrection.  Napoleon selected the bee to link the new dynasty to the very origins of France. Golden bees (in fact, cicadas) were discovered in 1653 in Tournai in the tomb of Childeric I, founder in 457 of the Merovingian dynasty and father of Clovis. They were considered as the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France.  If you read carefully "The Da Vinci code", there is a reference to early French monarchic dynasty - Merovingians. 

From “Bloodline of the Holy Grail” by Laurence Gardner:
The Merovingian kings were noted sorcerers in the manner of the Samaritan Magi, and they firmly believed in the hidden powers of the honeycomb. Because a honeycomb is naturally made up of hexagonal prisms, it was considered by philosophers to be the manifestation of divine harmony in nature. Its construction was associated with insight and wisdom – as detailed in Proverbs 24:13-14: “My son, eat thou honey, because it is good… So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul…”

To the Merovingians, the bee was a most hallowed creature. A sacred emblem of Egytian royalty, it became a symbol of Wisdom. Some 300 small golden bees were founded stitched to the cloak of Childeric I (son of Meroveus) when his grave was unearthed in 1653. Napoleon had these attached to his own coronation robe in 1804. He claimed this right by virtue of his descent from James de Rohan-Stuardo, the natural son (legitimized in 1667) of Charles II Stuart of Britain by Marguerite, Duchesse de Rohan. The Stuarts in turn were entitled to this distinction because they, and their related Counts of Brittany, were descended from Clodion’s brother Fredemundus – thus (akin to the Merovingians) they were equally in descent from the Fisher Kings through Faramund. The Merovingian bee was adopted by the exiled Stuarts in Europe, and engraved bees are still to be seen on some Jacobite glassware.”

Early naturalists noticed that in the orderly society of a bee colony there is one, bigger than other and treated by all the bees with great respect and reverence - a King Bee. Napoleon took a bee as his personal symbol. I wonder whether he knew that it is actually a Queen Bee.

Go to this very interesting exhibition and look for bees.  You will have good reasons to laugh and something interesting to tell your friends and family.

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