25 September 2012

Henri IV and the Promised Chicken

Henri IV: Monarch, ladies man, infalible chicken spotter.
Image: Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology 
via Wikimedia Commons

No, the above headline is not the title of the next long-awaited J.K. Rowling novel but an oblique historical reference to the democratic process and the pre-democratic popularity contest it rode in on. Those recalling the bygone days of American President Herbert Hoover (a pastime only marginally less interesting than recalling the bygone nights of Herbert Hoover) may recognize the 1928 electoral slogan "A chicken in every pot and a car in every backyard, to boot!". And lo, though the halcyon pleasures of booting cars in the backyard have gone the way of car companies being owned by their originating nationality, the merits of the potted chicken may still well be understood. And this undying appeal of freshly-deceased poultry is probably the motor behind the survival of a strangely robust electoral promise with origins not in the early 20th Century but the early 17th.*


French king Henri IV may or may not have been the grand gaillard and vert gallant handed down by the orthodoxy of French history, as the devil-may-care, skirt-chasing, garlic-chomping, goat-stink-radiating originator of such immortal dictums as "I rule with a weapon in hand and my arse in the saddle"** may have been tactically over-machismoed by his P.R. people in order to better contrast him with his daintily fastidious, handkerchief-sous-le-nez predecessor Henri III; this to better settle an until-recently Protestant upstart on the Catholic throne of France in a time when such things mattered***. What is certain is that notre gallant Henri said, at one point or another;

« Si Dieu me donne encore de la vie je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon Royaume qui n’ait moyen d’avoir une poule dans son pot »
"Should God grant me more life I will make it so there will be no laborer in my realm who does not have the means to put a chicken in his pot."

Or, he may have simply said,

« Je veux que chaque laboureur de mon royaume puisse mettre la poule au pot le dimanche »
"I will that each laborer in my realm may put a chicken in his pot on Sunday."

Which has the merit of brevity and being the version retained for future political use.

Either way, the slogan has become an electoral perennial on both sides of the Atlantic, which is somewhat odd considering Henri IV became king through pedigree, high-level politicking, warfare and religion-swapping; the vote of the everyman factored in to his ascension about as much as said medieval chicken participated in the last Mars probe.

Post by Monsieur Ouestbrouq

*  Only Japanese chickens have motors.

**  A phrase which may or may not be more correctly sourced to a contemporary, Charles Dupuy de Montbrun; « lorsqu'on a le bras armé et le cul sur la selle, tout le monde est compagnon. » or "When you've a weapon in hand and your arse in the saddle, everyone's your friend."

***  For more on this and other fascinatingly unorthodox renditions of French historical events, see François Reynaert's excellent Nos ancêtres les Gaulois et autres fadaises (sadly unavailable in English).

1 comment:

  1. In the history of England's cuisine, chicken boiled or roasted are what the royalty and other walks of life. Oven roasted is considered a luxury though.