A merry life & a short one!: The Drunkard’s Coat of Arms, 1707


Alcohol has long been accountable for the peaks and troughs of many romantic relationships, from bleary-eyed beginnings to booze-fuelled disputes and divorces. It has been at the centre of social life for thousands of years, providing endless amusement for onlookers as well as excuses and encouragement for amorous behaviour – in The Art of Love (1st-century AD), Ovid recommended that by feigning drunkenness a suitor could more safely praise a woman’s beautiful face.

Enter the star of today’s post, ‘The Drunkard’s Coat of Arms’ (1707). Our hero sits at the centre, merrily spewing on his gaming table. On either side of him a goat and a fox – animals often associated with lechery and erotic desire in the early modern period – carry the banners for his revelries. These banners illustrate the ‘Fortune and Misfortune of a Drunken Life”: (l–r) a boozing group carousing and vomiting, a man gripping the bars of a prison cell, a large transportation ship and a pair engaged in a duel.


But by far my favourite character is the “swine a spewing” – being ridden by Bacchus, the god of wine – just above the Drunkard. It seems likely that his inclusion is related to the common contemporary phrase “As drunk as David’s sow”. In his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), Francis Grose explains:

“DAVID’S SOW. As drunk as David’s sow; a common saying, which took its rise from the following circumstance: One David Lloyd, a Welchman, who kept an alehouse at Hereford, had a living sow with six legs, which was greatly resorted to by the curious; he had also a wife much addicted to drunkenness, for which he used sometimes to give her due correction. One day David’s wife having taken a cup too much, and being fearful of the consequences, turned out the sow, and lay down to sleep herself sober in the stye. A company coming in to see the sow, David ushered them into the stye, exclaiming, there is a sow for you! did any of you ever see such another? all the while supposing the sow had really been there; to which some of the company, seeing the state the woman was in, replied, it was the drunkenest sow they had ever beheld; whence the woman was ever after called David’s sow.”


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