Yesterday I heard on the radio that the Scottish Parliament has become the first legislative body in the UK to keep bees. This is an excellent idea. I wonder if they are appointing an official bee-keeper. The day before I’d been surprised to hear a bush in someone’s garden humming with bees, something I haven’t heard for so long that for a moment I couldn’t think what it was.
Last year at auction I was killing time before my lot came up in a picture sale browsing the book section in another room. I wish now that I’d bought this battered and coverless copy of Moses Rusden’s ‘A Further Discovery of Bees’ 1679. Rusden began as an apothecary, but King Charles II appointed him Bee Keeper to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty on the recommendation of John Evelyn.
The frontispiece of the book shows a crowned bee with the Royal Arms above. Bees with their Queen were seen as an image of the monarchic society, and of its benefits. As Evelyn says, ‘The Ants [make food] for themselves, but the Bees for others.’ There is an old rule of bee-keeping, that in return for their honey you must tell the bees family news. If not they will fly away – or die in some traditions. I hope the Scottish Parliament remembers this.