The End of the Beginning by Jane Pugh

I am still exploring and researching. I have not settled on one area to develop for the exhibition but am hoping that my route will evolve and resolve itself soon. During my final major show at college many years ago I found myself in a similar position, and I remember quoting Joshua Reynolds, who was in turn quoting James Harris (1709-80), an author of philosophical treatises, ‘Shall I feign a relish till I find a relish come?’ So, then, I did feign a relish, but this time I am hoping that I will find a relish come!

I spent some time examining the embroidery further; I am getting quite excited about this piece – which will become apparent shortly. First of all I spent time looking at the two buildings near the top, at either side.

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Then I looked at the creatures illustrated in the embroidery – birds, caterpillars, bees and a lion as well as a mythical creature which I decided to look at first. At a cursory glance I thought it was a griffin (Griffin is coincidentally my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.) It took me some time to identify the creature. Eventually I came upon the details sketched out here in my notes. I have split the next page of my sketchbook into two parts so that I can explain the content – as I say I identified the creature by searching for ‘head of hen, tail of dragon.’ There seemed to be very little information about the cockatrice on line, except for lots of dungeon and dragon images.

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Then – a breakthrough from Wikipedia – useful pieces of information, most interesting to me being the sentence in italics:

The cockatrice was first described in its current form in the late fourteenth century.

Abilities

It has the reputed ability to kill people by either looking at them—”the death-darting eye of Cockatrice”—touching them, or sometimes breathing on them.

It was repeated in the late-medieval bestiaries that the weasel is the only animal that is immune to the glance of a cockatrice. It was also thought that a cockatrice would die instantly upon hearing a rooster crow,  and according to legend, having a cockatrice look at itself in a mirror is one of the few sure-fire ways to kill it.

The cockatrice was also said to fly using the set of wings affixed to its back.

In heraldry

Arthur Fox-Davies describes the cockatrice as “comparatively rare” in heraldry.

It was the heraldic beast of the Langleys of Agecroft Hall in Lancashire, England as far back as the 14th century.

It is also the symbol of 3 (Fighter) Squadron, a fighter squadron of the Royal Air Force.

In Shakespeare’s play “Richard III”, the Duchess of York compares her son Richard to a cockatrice:

O ill-dispersing wind of misery!
O my accursed womb, the bed of death!
A cockatrice hast thou hatch’d to the world,
Whose unavoided eye is murderous.

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Argent, a cockatrice volant sable, crested, membered, and beaked–LANGLEY, Lancaster

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And so, I began to wonder, could there be a link between the embroidery and Agecroft Hall? Looking at the image of the embroidered cockatrice it certainly looks to be confidently drawn with a strong vision. Could the reference for it have been copied from something the maker had seen? My next step will be to contact Agecroft Hall and follow this lead further.

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