The Stag's Head

My Blog on Art, History and Crafts

Royalty in the form of Bees

"Royalty in the Form of Bees" or "Nesu-Bity: He of the Sedge and the Bee" by Imogen Smid

Royalty in the form of Bees/Nesu-Bity: He of the Sedge and the Bee by Imogen Smid – Digitally Coloured Dry-Point Etching

Bees being used as a symbol of royalty and power stems back from many centuries ago: all the way back to Ancient Egypt.  This is to be clearly seen in their script of Hieroglyphs.  One of these Hieroglyphs is in the shape of a bee, which is called “bity”; its meaning is King.  Originally this bee hieroglyph was used to represent the King of Lower Egypt.  Upper Egypt used the sedge plant hieroglyph, which is called “nesu” or “nsw” which also meant King.  When Upper and Lower Egypt came together to be reigned over by one Pharaoh, these two hieroglyphs were joined to create a glyph for the title of King of Upper and Lower Egypt.  The Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt was therefore also known as Nesu Bity: “He of the Sedge and the Bee”.  The bee and sedge plant glyphs were often combined with the bread-bun glyph “tu-ng rqUx” which had many meanings including elevated, chief and strong.  This high regard of bees probably comes from the belief that when the sun god Ra cried, his tears fell as bees onto the desert sand.

Bees were also used by Royalty in the medieval times in Europe.  In the early medieval period the Franks had a wide territory including modern France and parts of The Netherlands, Germany and Italy.  A subgroup of the Franks was the group of the Salian Franks of which the Merovingians were the original dynasty.  One of the kings from which this dynasty originated was Childeric I who was a great victor in battle including: assisting the Romans defeat the Visgoths and battling against the Saxon armies led by Odoacer.  In 1653 an excavation was carried out which turned out to be Childeric I’s tomb.  300 golden insects were found; although some have said them to be cicadas many believe them to be bees.  The Merovingian dynasty used the bees symbolically but it was not in reference to royalty, but to immortality.  Later in history Napoleon Bonaparte adopted these Merovingian bees as a symbol of his own power in comparison to the old Frankish dynasties.  Napoleon had golden bees embroidered onto his coronation robe to represent the bees found in Chileric’s tomb.  He was in fact so obsessed by the symbol that he was nicknamed “The Bee”.  In this way Napoleon turned the immortal bees into a symbol of royalty and power.

One last notable connection between bees and royalty is the theory of the Fleur-de-Lis originating as a stylised bee opposed to a lily.  The Fleur-de-Lis is a decorative symbol with many uses but is especially associated with the French monarchy.  The thought of it being a bee opposed to a lily is mainly down to the supposed visual resemblance.  The other basis is King Childeric’s connection to bees and that his main seat of power reigned over the valley of Lys.  Also noted by Andrew Gough, alternative history magazine editor and enthusiast, is a crest in the Konstanz Cathedral, Germany.  You can view his photo of the crest here: http://andrewgough.co.uk/the-fleur-de-lis-and-the-bee/ . The crest shows three Fleur-de-Lis above a stack of six hive shaped mounds (although it was suggested that these hives represent the rocks on which Catholic Christendom was built and that this crest is that of Pope Paul VI).  On both sides of the crest are bees and the top of the crest is adorned by a gold crown.  Gough himself has doubts about the Fleur-de-Lis representing a bee but feels that this may be a more convincing find than previous theories.

I could completely relate to the fact that the bee has been used as a symbol of royalty when I read about it.  Each amazing hive community carries out its daily rituals with their majestic Queen at the centre: their all-mother and strength.

I must say though that I personally doubt the Fleur-de-Lis connection.  At first I didn’t really see this visual connection until I roughly sketched out the fleur-de-lis and then a bee over the top and realised that there was certainly a resemblance.  But for me this does seem to hold the power of suggestion, for example drawing an onion over the top of the Fleur-de-Lis seems equally credible, if not more so.

MDS00017

An incredibly rough sketch to demonstrate the visual similarities between the fleur-de-lis and a bee and between the fleur-de-lis and an onion.

As for the shield found by Andrew Gough, this does seem credible evidence but I personally feel that it is correct in saying that the crest is that of Pope Paul VI.  I do not think there are bees on the emblem but that these are in fact the fringed ends of the ornate tippet (Papal scarf) either side.

 

 

Sources:

Literary:

“The Hieroglyphs Handbook: Teach Yourself Ancient Egyptian” by Philip Ardagh.

“How to read Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teach Yourself” by Mark Collier and Bill Manley

Internet:

http://hieroglyphs.in/bread-bun.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bee_%28mythology%29

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharaoh

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merovingian_dynasty

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salian_Franks

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childeric_I

http://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/2011/05/05/1627/

http://andrewgough.co.uk/the-fleur-de-lis-and-the-bee/

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