The material of the Berry armorial

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 f.13v

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.13v

This is the second post in the 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.


Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, containing the armorial of Gilles Le Bouvier, herald of Berry, is an important manuscript with a well-known armorial. This armorial is relatively large, presenting around 1800 coats of arms, and it holds 27 full-page miniatures of high French nobles, luxuriously executed with touches of gold and silver paint. Another interesting aspect of this manuscript is the foreword to the armorial, in which the maker identifies himself and elaborates on his reasons for composing this collection of coats of arms. The source also has its difficulties, as it is unfinished, and the current sequence of the folios seems to be disordered to such an extent that is hard to reconstruct the original state. Furthermore, remarkably, the manuscript consists of alternating sections with paper and parchment folios. In this blogpost I will, after shortly discussing the maker and dating of the source, focus on this material peculiarity of the manuscript.


Berry’s armorial has been the subject of two editions: a nineteenth-century one by Vallet de Viriville, and a more recent and valuable one by Emmanuel de Boos, which will serve as the starting point of this post. For many armorials little is known about the context of production, but in this case the maker makes himself known on the first page of the foreword:

Je Gilles Le Bouvier dit Berry premier hérault de très hault très excellant très puissant prince et très chrestien le Roy Charles septiesme de son nom par la grâce de Dieu Roy de France, par lui nommé et créé hérault en l’an mil quatre cent et vingt et depuis coronné et créé par icellui prince en son chastel de Mehun le jour de la haulte feste de Noël Roy d’armes du Pays et Marche de Berry” [1]

According to the short biography in De Boos’s edition, this Gilles Le Bouvier was born into a family of the lower nobility or rural bourgeoisie in the region of Orléans in 1386.[2] In the foreword he declares that he was made herald in 1420 by the future king Charles VII. In the next three decades, he was sent on several diplomatic missions and he wrote multiple works, among others a description of the countries of the world, a work titled Chronique et recouvrement de la Normandie, and a chronicle of king Charles VII. He probably died in 1456.


Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 f.20v. Miniature of marshal de Saintrailles

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.20v. Miniature of marshal de Saintrailles

For the dating, De Boos relies on Vallet de Viriville, whose analysis is based on two pillars: heraldry and watermarks.[3] For the heraldic method, he focused on the high nobles. The terminus post quem is provided by the presence of marshal de Saintrailles (f.20v), who was awarded this office in 1454. He set the terminus ante quem on 1457, the year that Pierre II duke of Brittany died (who is thought to be represented by the miniature of the Duke of Brittany). De Boos remarks that Vallet de Viriville only concentrated on the miniatures, of which he is not certain that they were originally part of the manuscript, an issue that will be discussed further below. It should be noted that apparently Vallet de Viriville assumed that the armorial is an up-to-date contemporary snapshot of society. However, this does not seem to be the case. Several extinct families can be found in the manuscript, and therefore a terminus ante quem cannot be determined based on the death dates of represented nobles.

The watermarks, three in total, should all be situated in the time period 1440-1455, according to Vallet de Viriville. Double check of one of the watermarks (the fleur-de-lys, not found in Piccard, very close to Briquet II nrs. 6909 and 6911, which should both be situated in Paris and surroundings in the 1440s and 1450s) confirms this, and provides an indication of the time of production. The terminus post quem delivered by marshal de Saintrailles cannot be automatically extrapolated to the entire manuscript, since it is not improbable that the production of this source was the result of a long process that had started before that time. Assuming that most of the armorial was by Le Bouvier’s hand (paleographical comparison with other texts he produced should verify this), his death can serve as a terminus ante quem for the largest part. (Some other hands appear in the legends, but these might be later additions above coats of arms that originally did not have legends. I cannot determine whether all the coats of arms are made by the same hand).

Material examination

Dating the manuscript is not the only challenge. Its material structure also poses difficulties. According to De Boos the codex contains 112 folios of paper and 93 of parchment.[4] De Boos notes that all miniatures are painted on parchment folios and that he is not sure whether these were originally part of the manuscript or were a later addition, such as the genealogy of the French kings at the beginning of the codex.[5] A material examination might provide some insights into these issues of the internal relations.


The miniatures with the high French nobles can be found throughout the armorial. The first seven are on f.15v to f.21v, directly following the foreword. The manuscript has been rebound very tightly, and as a result the binding sutures and the physical boundaries of the quires cannot be discerned. There are some leaf signatures in the manuscript (a combination of a letter and a number), which are often not in the proper sequence and many are missing, indicating that the manuscript got disordered after these leaf signatures were applied. I am not certain whether these are original or of a later date, but considering the handwriting and the structure (e.g. on f.84-f.86 there are the leaf signatures n32 to n34) I think it is probably the latter. These codicological aspects therefore provide few clarifications on the internal relations of the original manuscript. For this first section, however, there is one aspect that might give some clues, and that is the prickings.

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 Prickings in the outer margins on f.13v-16v (detail)

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985. Prickings in the outer margins on f.13v-16v, unfortunately barely visible on scan (detail)

In order to get straight and even rulings, the medieval scribes often pricked small holes in the margins, from which they drew the writing lines. These holes are called prickings.[6] Often these have been cut off, but sometimes they remain visible, as is the case on the outer margins of the parchment folios containing the foreword. In number and structure the prickings seem to correspond with the rulings on those pages: one hole for each writing line. These same prickings can be seen on the same place on the following folios with the miniatures, until f.20. They are the clearest and thickest on the folios with the introduction; on the following folios they are increasingly thinner and shallower until they are barely visible on f.19 and f.20.

On the other parchment folios with the miniatures I have not found traces of these prickings, they are only in this first section. The structure of the large number of prickings indicates that these served the rulings of the introduction; for the folios with the miniatures they have no function, since the rulings there only consist of two horizontal and two vertical lines, demarcating the frame of the miniatures. The fact that these prickings of the introduction are found on the first folios with the seven miniatures, suggests that these folios were behind those of the introduction during the process of pricking. This excludes the possibility that at least these parchment folios with the miniatures were added to the manuscript later.

One could put forward the possibility that the miniatures were painted on these parchment folios later. However, the subject of these miniatures appears to match the table of contents, as it is described in the foreword. On f.14r it is written:

Et le premier Chapitre est du Roy nostre souverain seigneur et d’aucuns des prochains de son sang et des principaulx chiefs de guerre de son royaulme… ”

Indeed, the first miniatures present members of the royal family, constables, and marshals. This means that there are elements regarding both material and content connecting the introduction and these miniatures, which makes a reasonable case for seeing these parts together. Since the other miniatures have exactly the same presentation and execution, this observation might be extrapolated to those as well.

A skeptical mind could question the assumption that all the parchment folios with the introduction and the miniatures should be seen together with the rest of the collections of coats of arms, most of which are on paper. This relation between the paper and parchment sections will be the subject of the following paragraph.

Paper and parchment

De Boos seems to suggest that the miniatures are on parchment and that the “partie armoriale proprement dite”, that is the large collection of coats of arms on shields, is on paper.[8] At first glance this seems to be the case, but after closer examination this distribution appears not to be that clear-cut. Indeed, the introduction and all the miniatures are on parchment and large parts of the collection of coats of arms are on paper, but definitely not all. A number of coats of arms are presented on parchment folios.

For example, in the section of the duke of Berry (his miniature is on f.33r), there are eight banners. Four of those are on parchment (f.34v), representing the barons of Chauvigny, Lignières, Sainte-Sévère and Broce, and the lord of Buzençais. The next four are on paper (f.35r), representing the lords of Orval, Culant, Aubigny, and Sully.[9] On both folios, the presentation of these banners is exactly the same, the legends are written by the same hand, and as far as I can tell from De Boos’s identifications, these are justifiably situated in the section of Berry, so they logically follow the miniature. Parchment and paper seem to connect seamlessly here.

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 f.34v

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.34v. Banners on parchment

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 f.35r

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.35r. Banners on paper

The same goes for the coats of arms on f.117v, which are on parchment, and the coats of arms on f.118r, which are on paper. The hand is the same, the presentation is the same, and the coats of arms can be situated in the same region; Southwest France. Again, with regard to the content and presentation, the different supports show no rupture.

On f.126v to f.132v it appears that a whole section is presented on parchment folios. It starts with two miniatures on f.126v and f.127r, representing the duke of Brittany and the Breton constable Artus respectively. On f.128v there are four banners, and on the next folios there is a collection of coats of arms on shields, all of nobles in Brittany. The hand, the presentation, and the execution of the banners and coats of arms in this section on parchment are exactly the same as in the sections on paper.

Draft or fair copy?

Apparently, parchment and paper in this manuscript connect, at least in some sections, and show no difference in presentation and execution. This suggests that the introduction, the miniatures, and the collections of coats of arms are not individual parts in one codex, but should be seen together. Further, these observations contribute to the discussion to what extent this manuscript was a fair copy. De Boos claims that the collection of coats of arms was a “brouillon”, a sort of rough draft, and that Le Bouvier’s death prevented him from making a fair copy.[10] The manuscript has an unfinished feel, but that does not follow that it was intended to be a mere draft. One could agree with De Boos that the execution of the coats of arms and the writing are a bit hasty. This does not concern the luxuriously executed introduction and the miniatures.

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985 f.129v. Breton coats of arms on parchment. Draft or fair copy?

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.129v. Breton coats of arms on parchment. Draft or fair copy?

De Boos proposes that perhaps these fair parts and the draft were put together when Le Bouvier died or that the fair parts were added later. That second possibility has been rejected above. The first hypothesis also has its difficulties. For example, the seemingly coherent parchment section of Brittany with miniatures, banners, and coats of arms has the same execution as the sections on paper. Is this parchment section a draft? Or a fair copy? Or partly a fair copy (miniatures) and partly a draft (coats of arms on shields)? To answer this question, it is important to examine whether this whole parchment section is a single quire or not, to determine the relation between the coats of arms on shields and the miniatures here, which is regrettably not possible without taking the binding apart.

Either outcome would raise new questions. If this section would be partly a fair copy and partly a draft, why would the maker make a draft on parchment when he used paper throughout most of the manuscript? But a similar question could also be posed if the whole section would be a fair copy: Why would some parts with coats of arms on shields (for the miniatures it makes sense) be presented on parchment and other parts on paper? Material examination of the manuscript provides more insights into the topics of internal relations, but also produces more questions that deserve further research.

Addition 01.06.2016: Different styles of lions

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.89r

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.89r

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.48v

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.48v

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.42v

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 4985, f.42v










[1] Paris, BnF, ms. fr. f.13v. Transcription by Emmanuel de Boos, Armorial de Gilles Le Bouvier, héraut Berry (Paris, 1995) p. 17.

[2] De Boos, Armorial de Gilles Le Bouvier, p. 5-7.

[3] M. Vallet de Viriville, Armorial de France, Angleterre, Écosse, Allemagne, Italie et autres puissances (Paris, 1866) pp. 52-54.

[4] According to my own count: 114 on paper and 91 on parchment. A recount should determine the right amount.

[5] De Boos, Armorial de Gilles Le Bouvier, p. 8 and 10.

[6] Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to manuscript studies (Ithaca, 2007) pp.15-16.

[7] Paris, BnF, ms. fr. f.14r. Transcription by Emmanuel de Boos, Armorial de Gilles Le Bouvier, héraut Berry (Paris, 1995) p. 18.

[8] De Boos, Armorial de Gilles Le Bouvier, p. 10.

[9] For the identifications see Ibidem, pp. 44-45.

[10] Ibidem, p. 8.

Cite the article as: Elmar Hofman, "The material of the Berry armorial", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on, published: 25/05/2016, Internet:

8 Responses

  1. Vincent Belloy says:

    Thanks for this post about the Berry manuscript, which raises some of the key points in trying to understand the purpose and the “material creation” of the document. For my Masters 2 thesis, I studied this armorial in particular, it doesn’t answer all the interrogations one can have about this manuscript, of course, but I think it’s pretty in depth.
    You can read it here:

    I think the theory of most of the manuscript being a draft does hold some water, considering the amount of variously unfinished shields, the very crude drawing of the figures, the low quality of the painting. Some of the arms have also been corrected after they were painted, i.e. they sport written indications of the correct colors or figures.

    There indeed appears to be many diffferent painters for the coat of arms: there are at least three different types of lions, and also three different types of eagles. The differences are striking enough to suggest it.

    I do subscribe to the thesis of the manuscript, as we know it, is definitely unfinished for the most part (the actual armorial), and that Berry’s introduction and the pages with the miniatures are the only definitive portions of the manuscript. To me the rest was obviously intended to be redone in a clean way.

    Of note is another roll of arm kept in the Kuperstichkabinett in Berlin, which is for the most part a copy of Gilles Le Bouvier’s (without the Scottish arms). The manuscript does take into account the aforementioned “corrected arms”.

    I made a full transcription of the manuscript and compared it to Gilles Le Bouvier’s in my thesis, if you’re interested.

    • Elmar Hofman says:

      Dear Vincent,
      Thank you for your comment! I was unaware of the copy of this armorial in the Kupferstichkabinett, so I am very grateful that you mentioned this source. And I will definitely check out your master thesis; such an in-depth study will undoubtedly reveal new aspects of this interesting armorial for me. I hope you don’t mind if I’ll contact you when I have any questions on this source

  2. Dear Elmar, thank you for this supplement to the de Boos edition. This is a curious manuscript in several ways. From the dedication miniature, it appears to be the work (or commission) of a herald intended as a gift to his employer. For a layman, the artwork appears to be mediocre, both for the miniatures and the tables of arms. Curiously there are three different styles of lions, going from poodles to contemporary rampant ones – probably reflecting the sources used. For the contents, much are reworked from older armorials, not least the Navarre armorial. One may note that segments (e.g. no.7 Berry, fo.30-36) contain both paper and parchment leaves. It is possible to describe the quire structure, e.g. fo.166-179 is folded: 166-168/177-179 on the outside, 169/170 folded, 171-172/175-176 holding 173/174 folded, mostly parchment, but 171/176 and 173/174 paper.
    To me, the unfinishness, the change of materials, the use of off-the-shelf sources, the artistic quality, imply that this was intended to be a high-end manuscript, but that funds and time ran out, forcing the shift in materials. It is a reasonable guess, that the miniatures were commissioned and executed by a professional illustrator, but that most, if not all, tables of arms were executed by Berry Herald himself – and during his last years of life in retirement. The points will be elaborated in a future publication.

    • Elmar Hofman says:

      Dear Steen, thank you for your comment, and for making me aware of the different styles of the lions. The poodle-ones as you a call them, seem to dominate. Could these different styles be the result of different artists? It is just an idea, and I did not do a structural research on this, but at least in some cases the shields with other styles of the lions (that is non-poodle) have legends that appear to be written by a different hand (e.g. f.48v and f.89r). It might be something to look further into.

      • Dear Elmar, I just was looking for some examples of those poodle-styled and regular lions. Could you perhaps add a picture to see the difference? They all seem to me to be executed differently and in a minor quality. But looking for the lions, I noticed the text at the beginning of the manuscript, a genealogy of the kings of France. Could you say anything about the way this text is connected to the rest of manuscript? I mean concerning the content, but also and especially concerning its materiality and execution?

        • Elmar Hofman says:

          I have added pictures with different styles of lions to the post. With regard to the genealogy, De Boos (his edition, p.7) states that it did not initially belong to the manuscript and that it was added later, and I tend to agree. It is an individual parchment quire (this is one of the few quires of which I could see the boundaries), consisting of folios 1-12, with a binding suture between f.6v-7r. And I am not a paleographic expert, but the genealogy and the introduction seem to have been written by different hands (see for example the difference in the execution of the letter e). Some foils of the genealogy do have the same leaf signatures as the rest of the manuscript (see a5 and a6 on f.5r-6r), but as I wrote in the post, I doubt whether these are medieval.

  3. Thank you very much for this very interesting post! Concerning the materiality of the manuscript: Can anything be said about the coulours that have been used? Especially for the metals? Is it metallic, or is it only yellow and white water coulours? And is there any correlation to the material of the foil itself, i.e. whether the foil is made of paper or parchment? The pictures of your blogpost seem to indicate that there is no difference. But would’t this mean that the manuscript is of a lower quality (what then could tend to be a draft)?

    • Elmar Hofman says:

      It is hard to see on the scans, but there is a difference in the use of paint. In the book offering miniature on f.13v and for the metals of many of the miniatures of high nobles a special gold and silver paint was used. This paint is sometimes oxidized or has degraded, but it is definitely fancier than the paint used for the metals of the coats of arms on banners and shields. These miniatures are all on parchment, and therefore this gold and silver paint is also only found on parchment foils. However, for the coats of arms on shields and banners on parchment foils this gold and silver paint was not used for the metals. So it is not that parchment = gold and silver paint for metals and paper = ordinary paint for metals, but miniatures = gold and silver paint and coats of arms on shields and banners = ordinary paint. It is difficult to draw conclusions from these observations. I am positive that the luxuriously executed miniatures were intended to be a fair copy. The lack of gold and silver paint for the metals of the shields and banners, even for those on parchment, does not automatically indicate that those sections were drafts. Perhaps the maker only wanted to highlight the miniatures and the high nobles presented on them by using gold and silver paint for the metals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *