A treasure hidden in plain sight. The armorial behind the Schichtbuch

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.165r

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.165r

This is the first post in a new series on armorials, in which each time a manuscript from the digitized armorials list will be highlighted (click here for the list). The armorial will not be treated in full, but specific aspects, problems or ideas will be discussed. Your thoughts on these issues are valuable and therefore you are more than welcome to share your ideas and comments.

Manuscript

The manuscript Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 120 extrav. is well-known for containing the Schichtbuch. The Schichtbuch is a moralizing history of medieval urban uprisings in the northern German town of Brunswick. This book has been the subject of several articles and last year an entire conference was dedicated to it (“500 Jahre Schichtbuch. Aspekte und Perspektiven der Bote Forschung”).[1] Despite this considerable attention for the manuscript, historians have generally ignored the large collection of coats of arms that follows the Schichtbuch. It has remained under the radar of most heraldists as well, illustrated by the fact that it is not included in Steen Clemmensen’s comprehensive database of armorials. This should be changed, since this collection of coats of arms is a rich source that has the potential of improving our understanding of the possible purposes and functions of armorials.

Content

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.165v

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.165v

The section with the collections of coats of arms covers several themes, some of which do not feature in other armorials. First, the Holy Roman Emperor is displayed with his coat of arms and portrait (f.165r). This is followed by a page with the coats of arms of the four Kontors of the Hanseatic League (f.165v): Bruges, London, Bergen and Novgorod. Specialists might notice that the coat of arms of the Kontor of Bruges is painted wrong, as a grant of arms of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III from 1486 reads that the arms are “einen schild in mitte nach der lenge abgeteilt, da vorder swartz und das hindter teil gelb oder goldfarb, darinn in mitte ein adler mit zweien houptern und ausgespannten flugeln nach des schilds farben geteilt, habende voren an der prust ein stern nach des adlers farben“.[2] So the actual arms do feature an eagle, but on a parted black/golden field and with a star on the chest.

Then come the coats of arms of the seven prince electors (f.166r), followed by predominantly German bishops (f.166r-168r) and two interesting sections displaying first the coats of arms of cities of to the Hanseatic League (f.168v-173r) and then of a couple of cities which are not part of this league (f.173v-176r). The author clearly holds the Hanseatic League in high regard, which is underlined by an accompanying text in which he spurs the cities to stick to the slowly disintegrating league.[3] Next, there are texts on the churches and monasteries in Brunswick (the so-called Kirchen- und Klosterverzeichnis, f.177r-187v) and on the origins and development of Saxonian arms (f.188r-194r), followed by the quaternions (f.188v-199v) and several collections of coats of arms of mostly northern German nobles (f.200r-224r) and last but not least the coats of arms of the townsmen of Brunswick (f.224v- 253v).

Author and dating

It is generally assumed that both the Schichtbuch and the armorial were made by Hermann Bote. He does not identify himself in the manuscript; the attribution is based on a comparison of handwritings with a text that is known to be written by him.[4] Bote was a city scribe in Brunswick who wrote a considerable amount of texts on a variety of topics including political poems, two chronicles and a book on tolls. His birth date is unknown, but is presumed to be somewhere in the 1450s/1460s and he probably died around 1520.

The Schichtbuch is usually dated around 1510, based on the events described in the work. It is often assumed that the armorial and texts behind the Schichtbuch were made in the same period. This rests on the notion that all the sections of the manuscript belonged together in the first place. However, this cannot be said with certainty. The issue of the material aspects of the manuscript will be the subject of a forthcoming paper, but for now it suffices to state that the relations between the various sections of the manuscripts are unclear.[5] This includes the relations between the sections with collections of coats of arms following the Schichtbuch, so perhaps one should speak of multiple armorials. Considering this material uncertainty, it is hard to determine the dating of the sections of the manuscript.

Townsmen of Brunswick

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.224v

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.224v

There are many interesting elements in the collections of coats of arms, but with an eye to the conference “Heraldry in the Medieval City” held in Rome earlier this year, I will zoom in on the last section: the coats of arms of the townsmen of Brunswick. An interesting element of this manuscript is that the collections of coats of arms are introduced by short texts. For improving our understanding of the content, functioning and purpose of armorials, accompanying texts are very valuable, as they can provide insights on these and other issues. The text introducing this section of the townsmen of Brunswick reads:

Hyr volghen na de wapen der borger hir uth der stad Brunswick unde van den slechten. Der is vele vorstorven, so dat or wapen is bygelecht. unde itlike wapen de sin entholden unde wedder upgehaven vor eyn wapen van fromeden slechten, ock wol van den frunden der spylhalven. Wat eddeldom de wapen hebben, dat stelle ick an den herolt.

Ock sunt wapen de me vint in den seggelen, ock in den kercken an pylre unde vensteren, dede namenlos sin, unde de tiit vorlopen is dat neymet de wapen bekent, der namen dede se gevoret hebben: de stan alle na dussen wapen dede namen hebben. Is we de den namen vint to den wapen de dar tohore de mach se unde ore namen boven schriven[6]

These lines touch on many interesting topics. Bote mentions for example the habit that the last member of an extinct family takes the family arms with him in his grave (Der is vele vorstorven, so dat or wapen is bygelecht). It is also clear that the maker of this collection of coats of arms is not a herald, which illustrates Torsten Hiltmann’s claim that the practice of heraldry was not limited to heralds. However, Bote does acknowledge the herald’s authoritative status when it comes to judge on the nobility of the arms (Wat eddeldom de wapen hebben, dat stelle ick an den herolt).

Living, dead, use and purpose

One of the most asked and least answered questions with regard to armorials is: What were they for? As many armorials lack texts stating their aims or their context of use, this remains a challenging subject. Different texts in this particular manuscript might however give some indications on the purpose of the section of the townsmen of Brunswick that we are focusing on.

The author explicitly mentions that what follow are not only the coats of arms of the living, but of the dead as well (Hyr volghen na de wapen der borger hir uth der stad Brunswick unde van den slechten. Der is vele vorstorven). In late medieval armorials it is not unusual to find coats of arms representing deceased persons or extinct families. Sometimes this is attributed to the fact that these sections of the manuscript were copied from older sources, but here we find evidence that these deceased are deliberately included in the armorial.

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.243v

Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, MS extrav. 120, f.243v

This is underlined by the second paragraph. Here the author states that he has depicted coats of arms that he found on seals and in churches of which the bearers are unknown, due to passing of the time (Ock sunt wapen de me vint in den seggelen, ock in den kercken an pylre unde vensteren, dede namenlos sin, unde de tiit vorlopen is dat neymet de wapen bekent, der namen dede se gevoret hebben). Presumably this concerns families that have died out. Bote says that he nevertheless painted these nameless coats of arms after the ones he could identify (de stan alle na dussen wapen dede namen hebben). And indeed, one notices that the coats of arms of first part of the armorial of townsmen of Brunswick are provided with legends and the coats of the second part largely appear without legends. The dividing line seems to be on f.243v.

I say largely, because there are some coats of arms in this second part that are identified by a legend as well. Bote spurs the people that know the names to these coats of arms to write them above the shields (de den namen vint to den wapen de dar tohore de mach se unde ore namen boven schriven). Although most of the legends in the second part appear to be of the same hand as those in the first part (perhaps Bote’s own additions), this may imply that the manuscript was not destined for the author himself, as he expects other people to read it and write in it. So it was not a personal notebook. Regrettably, the exact intended context of use remains shrouded in mystery.

If this armorial was meant to be read by other people, what was its purpose? Bote did not want to present particular persons in the section with the townsmen of Brunswick, since the armorial contains coats of arms of which he did not even know who the bearers were. The statement that he included anonymous coats of arms from seals and churches, suggests that he painted all the arms he could find. Therefore one might argue that Bote wanted just to present an overview of Brunswickian coats of arms as an end in itself, perhaps as a result of an interest in collecting arms.

However, one could also argue that Bote wanted to do more than just collecting coats of arms for its own sake. His clear appeal to future readers to add the names to the unknown coats of arms could be a hint for another purpose. The desired adding of the names suggests that this overview is not only about the coats of arms, but about their bearers as well, of which, as Bote stated, many were deceased. In the preceding section, where he presented the coats of arms of mainly northern German nobles, he also included the dead. And in the text introducing this section he specified why:

Ock sin hir vele wapen manget dede vorstorven sin unde dat slechte vorghan van dodes halven […] Doch sunt ore wapen hir getekent to eyner dechtenisse der vervallenen slechte[7]

Bote included the coats of arms of the extinct noble families in order to remember them. This focus on commemoration in armorials is not unique; it can be also be found in for example the Grünenberg armorial.[8] In the foreword to his armorial Grünenberg wrote that he collected the coats of arms in his book “vermainend der gedechtnuss des hochflammendn adels hiemit ain wenigs zu geschurt haben.[9] With his armorial Grünenberg hoped to stimulate the commemoration of the nobility.

So armorials could be used for commemoration, and this was clearly Bote’s aim for the section of the northern German nobles. I would argue that the collection of coats of arms of the townsmen of Brunswick serves a similar purpose, not only focused on nobles, but on all the members of the urban community and that is why he encouraged future readers to write the names above the unknown arms. He collected all these coats of arms not just for heraldic or collective reasons, but to present and commemorate the Brunswickian townsmen, both of the present and of the past.

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[1] Research on the Schichtbuch started with a 19th century edition and study by Ludwig Hänselmann, “Das Schichtbuch. 1514,” in Die Chroniken Der Niedersächsischen Städte. Braunschweig. Bd. 2 (Leipzig, 1880), 269–532. More recent articles dealing with the Schichtbuch include: Herbert Blume, “Das Schichtbuch. Am Beispiel des Aufruhrs wegen zweifacher Steuer,” in Hermann Bote: Braunschweiger Stadtschreiber und Literat ; Studien zu seinem Leben und Werk, ed. Herbert Blume, Braunschweiger Beiträge zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur 15 (Bielefeld, 2009); Martin Kintzinger, “Hermann Bote, Schichtbuch (Cod. Guelf. 120 Extrav.),” in Wolfenbütteler Cimelien. Das Evangeliar Heinrichs des Löwen in der Herzog August Bibliothek, in Ausstellungskataloge der Herzog August Bibliothek (Weinheim, 1989), 249–54; Wolfgang Milde, “Das Autograph von Hermann Botes Schichtbuch in Publikationen des Jahres 1985,” Uelenspiegel-Jahrbuch 26 (1986): 95–98. Other sections of the the same manuscript following the Schichtbuch have also been studied and edited: Matthias Puhle, Stadt und Geld im ausgehenden Mittelalter. Zur Münzgeschichte “Van der Pagemunte” des Braunschweiger Autors Hermen Bote (ca. 1450-1520), vol. 58, Arbeitsberichte aus dem Städtischen Museum Braunschweig (Braunschweig, 1988); Eberhard Rose, “Kirchen und Klösterverzeichnis der Stadt Braunschweig,” in Kirchen, Klöster, Heilige. Vorreformatorische Kirchengeschichte Braunschweigs im Werk Hermann Botes, ed. Jürgen Diestelmann (Braunschweig, 1988), 16–23.

[2] Cited from Matthias Ohm, Thomas Schilp, and Barbara Welzel, Ferne Welten – freie Stadt. Dortmund im Mittelalter, vol. 7, Dortmunder Mittelalter-Forschungen (Bielefeld, 2006), 372

[3] f.168v: “So volghen hirna de erbaren stede, geheten de hengstede. Over dersulften stede is vele van dem henghe vallen, so is der ock vele dussen hengk noch vaste holden umme wolstandes willen  … [and then the author addresses the Hanseatic cities directly] … Och gy erliken stede de henge, de ju uth der keden entvallen sin, henget ju juck wedder tosammede”.

[4] Hänselmann compared the handwritings of Hermann Bote’s Zollbuch (Tollenboyck) with the Schichtbuch and concluded that they were the same. However, in the 19th century the Zollbuch was considered lost and Hänselmann used a written facsimile for his study. This problematic assumption remained unchallenged throughout the 20th century, until Herbert Blume remarked in a note that modern comparison of handwriting with the retrieved original of the Zollbuch affirms Hänselmann’s claims. Herbert Blume, “Tollenschriver’ in Braunschweig und ‘Hogrefe’ im Papenteich? Beobachtungen zu Botes Leben anhand seines Zollbuchs,” in Hermann Bote: Braunschweiger Stadtschreiber und Literat ; Studien zu seinem Leben und Werk, Braunschweiger Beiträge zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur 15 (Bielefeld, 2009), 187. Since this remark is not founded by arguments or references, I am following the attribution to Bote, but with some reservations.

[5] Elmar Hofman, ‘Armorials behind the Schichtbuch. A material and visual exploration’, will appear in the conference proceedings of “500 Jahre Schichtbuch. Aspekte und Perspektiven der Bote Forschung”.

[6] f. 224v. Transcription by Hänselmann, “Das Schichtbuch. 1514,” 491–492.

[7] f.210r. Transcription by Ibid., 490.

[8] On Grünenberg’s foreword in relation to late medieval culture of commemoration see Klaus Graf, “Adel Als Leitbild: Zur Geschichte Eines Grundwerts in Spätmittelalter Und Früher Neuzeit,” in Gelungene Anpassung? Adelige Antworten, ed. Horst Carl and Sönke Lorenz (Ostfildern, 2005), 67–81. Accessible online

[9] München, BSB Cgm 145, f.11r-v.

Cite the article as: Elmar Hofman, "A treasure hidden in plain sight. The armorial behind the Schichtbuch", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 25/11/2015, Internet: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/3960.

3 Responses

  1. G. Miller says:

    For non-German speaking people, it would be invaluable for someone familiar with old German letters to print the letters in each surname so they can be read by everyone.

  2. Pantens Christiane says:

    Initiative très interessante;l’édition d’armoriaux souvent inconnus est toujours bienvenue et encore trop rare; mais chacun sait le temps que prend une étude la pluscomplète possible. Bonne continuation

    • Elmar Hofman says:

      Thank you for your comment. An edition of this armorial would indeed be very welcome; Hänselmann’s 19th century edition of the Schichtbuch only lists the names of the legends. For such an edition, I think especially this part of the townsmen of Brunswick would pose a great challenge, as it probably contains a high number of coats of arms for which this manuscript is the only source. However, I think it would be worth it, since it is not only a great source for heraldic studies, but for urban history as well.

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