Rethinking the Boar-Bear Myth (Partial Article)

On the shield of the Coat of Arms of the James Baird of Auchmedden, there appears a golden boar on a red background. This boar motif or charge, in heraldic terms, is common in almost all coat of arms held by those with the surname Baird. This Lord Lyon has continued this practice by granting new arms to those with the surname Baird with differenced arms, or slightly altered, yet maintaining the original boar.

It is often stated that this charge is in relation to a Baird ancestor saving a King from a boar. This story is not unique to the Bairds. Saving the King from a Boar is a common theme to Campbells, Turnbulls, and Swintons. Several non Scottish Kings have been claimed in similar stories such as Henry VIII in Sutton Coldfield and Charglemagne who both have been claimed to be rescued by a charging boar.

For the Bairds, the boar passant has held a place in the arms of Baird since the late 15th century, if not earlier. The Slains Armorial of 1565 lists Bairds of Posso as having Boar statant on a green field beneath three mullets in the chief. It, the boar, can be seen on George Baird of Auchmedden’s tomb as well. Finally, the 1857 edition of the William Baird of Auchmedden’s manuscript, the arms of William Baird, George Baird, Walter Baird, and Andrew Baird, all showing the same motif.

The 1857 edition, considered to be the closest to the original manuscript, William Baird of Auchmedden gave the origin of this charge as:

King William the Lion was hunting in one of the south-west counties of Scotland, and happened to straggle from his attendants, he was alarmed at the approach of a wild bear, and cried for help ; upon which a gentleman, of the name of Baird, who had followed the King from England, ran up and had the good fortune to kill the bear, for which signal service the King made a considerable addition to the lands he had given him before, and assigned him for his coat-of-arms a bear passant, and for his motto, Dominus Fecit and, if it will contribute to the credibility of this story, one foot of the bear came north with Ordinhnivas’ ancestor, and is still preserved, and indeed it well deserves it, because of the enormous size, being fourteen inches long and nine broad, where it is cut from the ankle.

W N Fraser, the editor and most likely the person who transcribed this document from the original manuscript, claimed “this curious relique is in my possession.” In 1847, relying heavily on the a forthcoming manuscript, The Scottish Journal of Topography, antiquities,traditions, &c. &c. No 16 states confirms the story of a Bear and further states that the a bear did attack William the Lion in a forest in the “south-west counties.” The authors of the article claim to have also viewed the actual paw claiming they had “seen this interesting relic….” It further states that a Boar was granted by William the Lion as it was considered “the most honorable of armorial bearings…” although it was bear that was killed.

Unfortunately, especially for Disney and their movie Brave, bears appear to have been extinct well before this event occurred throughout Britain. Bears are listed in the 1880 book British Animals Extinct Within Historic Times by James E Harting. He gives the final extinction around 1000 AD. He also gives an explanation around laws regarding bear hunting in England in the 14th century refuting statements that Bears existed naturally into 14th century. Furthmore, Harting refutes the Gordon family claim that the for killing Bear, the Gordons were granted three bears on their Pennant. Harting claimed that the original latin was an “immanem aprum” or a boar.

However this doesn’t mean that bears were not imported for hunting purposes. Bears were imported according to Harting for the purposes for Bear Baiting. He quotes Fitz Stephen that during the reign of Henry II, during the time William the Lion was a prisoner in England, it was customary to watch “Boars opposed to each other in battle, or with Bulls and full-grown Bears baited by dogs.” These shows continued to the 17th century so much so that the position Master of the Bears was created.

 

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