The Bee Side - A short story of bees
A good friend of mine wrote to me to say that he had been subject to what he called a 'Steve Bee moment' during a recent trip to Paris.
Evidently he'd climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe to view a Napoleon exhibition and through doing so found out all about the emperor's fascination with bees.
You'll probably already be aware that Napoleon's coat of arms includes the bee. What you may not know is that it's there as a symbol of immortality, which led to my friend's immediate concern about the level of my retirement savings. Being immortal, of course, could have its advantages, but it's also the sort of thing that would play havoc with annuity rates and hence the concern.
Napoleon wasn't immortal himself, though, as my friend found later when he visited his tomb and that's what's now started me on a separate quest to find out what this bee immortality thing was all about. I didn't have to look far, in fact, I found out all about it from a Google search that led me to a site dedicated to providing "essential information on the symbolism of Napoleonic heraldry".
It's fascinating stuff when you start studying it. The bee was chosen as a symbol of immortality and resurrection not of the emperor himself, but of the whole of France. Basically, it seems he wanted to draw a line under the ancien regime he was kicking out and instead was looking to imply links with the founder sovereigns of the nation. Why a bee to symbolise that? Well, in 1653 when the tomb of Childeric the First was discovered in Tournai, golden bees were found interred with his remains. (Childeric founded the Merongovian Dynasty in 457 and was the father of Clovis, in case you don't remember). These bees are now generally considered to be the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France.
I'm now looking to devise suitable heraldic insignia for my BeeHive website, possibly incorporating the sceptre, the eagle and the imperial crown, thus raising the status of the whole thing from mere pension weblog to something with a bit more gravitas.
First published in Pensions Management, December 2005