Historiography, Heraldry and Noble Identity: Armorial Münster and the Urban Environment of a Noble Patron

Beginning of the section including the arms of dukes (Bessin, Zwiednitz, Liegnitz) and counts (Nydou, Anhalt, Misen, Hesse, Holstein/Scouwenborch, Rügen, Hoya, Oldenburg and Solre (fol. 2v), taken from . ()

Beginning of the section including the arms of dukes (Bessin, Zwiednitz, Liegnitz) and counts (Nydou, Anhalt, Misen, Hesse, Holstein/Scouwenborch, Rügen, Hoya, Oldenburg and Solre, fol. 2v. (© E.J. Wolleswinkel, ‘Uit de collecties van de Hoge Raad van Adel’, p. 111, see n. 1)

On 20-21 May 2015, four young scholars from the Belgian universities of Antwerp, Ghent and Leuven had organized a conference entitled ‘Towards New Thinking In Urban Historiography: Old Texts, New Approaches. A Reconsideration of Urban Historical Consciousness in Northwest Europe’. The conference took place in the formidable location of the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, with no less than two keynote lectures, sixteen case studies, and four round table discussions.

One session was dedicated to ‘Heraldry, Nobility and Historical Identity’. Most of the chronicles treated during the conference featured coats of arms, but it was only in this session that heraldry was treated as a proper ‘narrative source’. As Marcus Meer pointed out in his contribution, the use of coats of arms in chronicles was essential not only for visual display and communication, but also as a means of social distinction.

In the same session I gave a paper on the so-called Armorial Münster, which in German is also known as ‘Niederländisches Wappenbuch’. This is a very interesting manuscript that is nowadays kept in the library collection of the Dutch ‘Hoge Raad van Adel’ (High Council of the Nobility) in The Hague. The armorial is named after the German city of Münster where it was preserved in the city archives until the second World War, when it was ‘returned’ to the Netherlands with some other manuscripts in exchange for some box loads of ‘German’ documents. [1]

The manuscript is in fact more than an armorial since it consists of two major parts. The first part is indeed an armorial with some 400 coats of arms. The armorial again can be subdivided into two parts. The first seven pages of the armorial are quite traditional: twelve coats of arms per page, all of them German princes, dukes and counts, with the identification written above. However, after that the author of the manuscript changes the format of the armorial. Instead of the twelve coats of arms in large format, the author painted fourteen to twenty smaller coats of arms in the margins of the page, most of them of princes and nobles from the counties of Holland, Hainaut and Flanders. In the middle he wrote the accompanying blazon, that is the technical description of each coat of arms. According to Wim van Anrooij this is one of the few late medieval

Münster Armorial, fol 7v. (© E.J. Wolleswinkel, ‘Uit de collecties van de Hoge Raad van Adel', see n. 1)

Münster Armorial, fol 7v. (© E.J. Wolleswinkel, ‘Uit de collecties van de Hoge Raad van Adel’, p. 111, see n. 1)

armorials in which these heraldic terms are described in such detail in Middle Dutch.

The other half of the manuscript, contrary to that the name Armorial Münster suggests, contains a chronicle with some 110 entries covering two centuries from 1315 to 1515. Almost half of the entries concern the five decades from 1415 to 1464. Moreover, most of the information deals with events occurred in the towns of the county of Holland and with the ruling dynasties of this principality. Both the contents of the chronicle, the coats of arms and the handwriting indicate that the manuscript was made in the first decades of the sixteenth century, with a terminus post quem of 1515. The writer of the chronicle, like so many others in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, used extensively other historiographic sources that were at his disposal. The original entries almost all concern local events taking place predominantly in Delft, which have lead scholars to presume that a town clerk of this city in the county of Holland may have been the author. [2]

But how do both parts of the manuscript relate to each other? Why was this ‘urban’ chronicle combined with an armorial? What does the content of both the armorial and the chronicle reveal about the identity of the patron and the scribe and about their motives for its creation? And finally: how does this manuscript fit into the historiography of the county of Holland at the end of the Middle Ages? In my contribution, which will be converted into an article, I suggest that an answer to these questions lies in an analysis of the interplay of the entries in the chronicle and the coats of arms in the armorial. However, the article wants to be more than a study of this particular manuscript and aims to contribute to debates on the articulation of noble identity through historiography and heraldry in late medieval Europe.


[1] E.J. Wolleswinkel, ‘Uit de collecties van de Hoge Raad van Adel, het ‘Niederländisch Wappenbuch’ uit Münster, ruilobject uit de Tweede Wereldoorlog’, De Nederlandsche Leeuw 126 (2009), 108-112 (available online).

[2] Ibidem, 112.


Cite the article as: Mario Damen, "Historiography, Heraldry and Noble Identity: Armorial Münster and the Urban Environment of a Noble Patron", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 08/06/2015, Internet: http://heraldica.hypotheses.org/3319.

Mario Damen

Mario Damen is lecturer in medieval history at the University of Amsterdam. His current research is focussed on nobility, tournaments and political representation in the late medieval Low Countries, in particular in the duchy of Brabant. For his blog on princes and nobles in the late medieval Low Countries (in Dutch) see https://burgundiannobility.wordpress.com.

2 Responses

  1. Jon Sneddon says:

    Great article. I am really interested in this armorial myself. I don’t have the luxury to be able to visit institution where this resides but hope it is published online someday. My understanding is that this armorial is also at the BSB CGM 907. I have not had any luck finding out if in fact this is the source of this armorial.

    The link to microfilm is here as well as the listing. If anyone has access, it may be worth checking out.

    Cgm 907 4483 3066 2-seitig

    https://www.bsb-muenchen.de/fileadmin/pdf/handschriften/mikrofilme_cgm_1_bis_9366.pdf

  2. Elmar Hofman says:

    Dear Mario Damen,

    Thank you for this interesting contribution. I think this complex manuscript is a fascinating source and I am glad someone takes the effort of studying it.

    The structure of this manuscript and the relation between the different sections have puzzled me for a while. You stated that the armorial consists of two parts and that after the first part the scribe changed the format. As you mentioned, the two parts differ enormously. The first focuses on counts in Western German area, including some French counts, and the second is more locally orientated, concerning the counties you mentioned, and includes the blazonings of the coats of arms. The two parts differ to such an extent (with regard to visual, content and structure), that I thought the possibility should be taken into account that they are two separate armorials.

    I am not a paleographer, so I cannot tell from the photo’s whether the handwritings of the two parts coincide and as far as I know there is no codicological report of the manuscript. Since the manuscript appears to have a complex structure, with sections that do not seem to have a direct relation to each other at first sight (but I have not analyzed the content as thoroughly as you probably have), I think a codicological and paleographical study might bring some valuable insights that can sharpen our view on the relation between the two sections of the armorial and the chronicle. Maybe the various sections should in the first place be regarded as individual unities? I am not sure, so therefore I would be delighted if such a study could be performed.

    I am looking forward to reading your article; I think it touches on some interesting questions.

    Met vriendelijke groet,

    Elmar Hofman

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