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A white hart has been seen in south western England. "So what?" you might say.

Well, the white hart is an animal revered throughout British history.

The white hart is a symbol of royalty, which is why thousands of pubs in Britain are known as The White Hart and have beautifully painted signs depciting a white hart on their outside walls.

To the ancient Britons, the white hart was a harbinger of doom - but to modern Britons it supposedly brings good luck.

According to legend, a white hart appeared before King Arthur and his knights - a sign that it was time for them to go on a quest.

Centuries ago, King David I of Scotland encountered a white hart in 1128 which led to the development of the royal palace - Holyrood House - in Edinburgh.

England's King Richard II adopted the white hart as his symbol.

And White Hart Lane is also the name of the stadium of North London team Tottenham Hotspur.


How the magical white hart inspires legends (as well as the name of a thousand pubs)

By MARCUS DUNK
14th February 2008
Daily Mail

Grazing quietly in the forest opening, this majestic creature seems gently oblivious of its radiance and beauty.

With its antlers held high and its thick coat luminous in the morning light, the animal stops briefly among its fellow deer, turns and sniffs the air.

While his brown companions blend easily into the landscape, he stands out bright, bold and exposed.


The white hart seen in the New Forest in Hampshire. The animal has been revered in Britain for centuries and, to the British, they are seen as lucky charms - anyone who sees one can expect good fortune. This white hart could be a descendant of those hunted in this forest by King Henry VII in the 15th century,



For the precious moments he is still, he seems to have stepped out of a stranger, more mysterious world.

Far from being just another deer, this is a white hart - an animal both rare and revered in equal measure - which was spotted this week roaming the New Forest.

Since time immemorial, the white hart has been a creature surrounded by mystery, a beast whose very existence is suffused with myth and legend.

An inescapable part of British folklore, its mystical quality led to it being adopted as a symbol of royalty, which is why a multitude of White Hart pubs is scattered around the country.

Some believe that this New Forest white hart could even be a direct descendant of the same white deer that Henry VII hunted in the area in the 15th century.

And for forest keeper Andy Shore, coming face to face with animal was an awe-inspiring experience.


Thousands of pubs in Britain are called "The White Hart", probably taken from King Richard II's symbology


"There's something quite eerie and beautiful about him that stops you in your tracks," he says.

"He can be a ghostly-looking animal, especially if you come across him on a misty day, as I have on a few occasions."

He is white - but not albino - as a result of a rare genetic mutation resulting in a condition called leucism which changes the animal's pattern of pigmentation.

The parents of a white hart can both be brown - they just need to have the same recessive gene to produce a white calf.

The sighting of this white five-year-old male fallow deer comes days after an equally rare Scottish equivalent, a white stag, was spotted in the Highlands of Scotland, ranging across a glen with a herd of red stags.


The white hart was the symbol of England's King Richard II as shown in this picture of his heraldry painted in 1396


"I thought it was a sheep when I saw it because of its mottled colour," says Fran Lockhart, 45, of The John Muir Trust conservation body.

"I managed to get quite near to him, and he was even more magnificent up close."

But there is a high price to pay for this magnificence. The rarity of these beasts is such that their mounted heads and antlers can fetch thousands of pounds.

And even though their location is usually a closely guarded secret, poachers are unscrupulous.

Last October, they shot a treasured white hart, known affectionately as Snowy by local farmers and gamekeepers, on the border of Devon and Cornwall.

The animal was found decapitated and hanging from a tree, its head and antlers taken as a blood-drenched trophy.

Those who killed this stag, however, may have got more than they bargained for.

Like many legends, those surrounding the white hart come with their fair share of curses and prophecies of bad luck to anyone who crosses the creature.

For the ancient Celts, the white hart was a harbinger of doom, a living symbol that some taboo has been transgressed or a moral law broken.

To come across a white hart was to realise that some terrible evil or judgment was imminent.

The white hart's reputation improved in Arthurian legends, where its appearance was a sign to Arthur and his knights that it was time to embark on a quest - it was considered the one animal that could never be caught so it came to symbolise humanity's never-ending pursuit of knowledge and the unattainable.

Soon, the white hart was appearing in stories throughout Europe.

To Hungarians, it was a white hart that led their ancestors to their homeland; in a French legend, anyone who killed a white hart was cursed with the pain of unrequited love.

It was not long before Christianity managed to appropriate the white hart for its own purposes: the white stag came to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth.

Fundamental to this myth was the story of David I, King of Scotland, whose encounter with this animal led directly to the establishment of the royal palace, Holyrood House, in Edinburgh.

It is said that in 1128, a rebellious King David was warned by his priest not to go hunting on the Feast Day of the Holy Rood (Holy Cross).

Stubbornly, he set off on the hunt and came across a large white deer, which he chased.

Thrown from his horse, the deer charged him. David cried out to God to save him, and at that precise instant, the deer's antlers miraculously turned into a cross, and the animal vanished in a puff of smoke.

The shamed King built a church to the Holy Rood on the spot where his the vision occurred.

From then on, the white deer became a symbol of purity, redemption and good fortune in Scotland, and eventually took a leading position in English heraldry alongside its cousin, the mythic unicorn, whose horn was supposedly endowed with magical properties.

King Richard II adopted the white hart as his personal emblem.

Even today, white harts are seen to be lucky charms, and anyone who spots one is said to have a dose of good fortune just around the corner.

dailymail.co.uk