Bellenville’s two armorials

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.7v (click on image for original source)

The »Bellenville« armorial is one of the most famous and admired of the Middle Ages. Its production context however remains shrouded in mystery. This brief blogpost discusses the relations between its two main sections and demonstrates how focus on the material aspects of the manuscript can clarify a somewhat confusing statement in the most recent heraldic edition of the armorial.

The manuscript

The manuscript with the »Bellenville« armorial consists of 75 folios with over 1700 coats of arms.  Jéquier dated in his edition all individual segments and concluded that the manuscript was made in several phases from ca. 1355/1360 to 1380[1]. Pastoureau and Popoff rightly noted in their edition that dating the individual segments does not necessarily provide an unambiguous view on the production period of the entire manuscript. They argued that the first phase of painting was realized between 1375 and 1385, and that the work was continued to 1395-1400[2]. Most legends are written in Dutch and most coats of arms (60%) represent nobles from the Northern Netherlands and Lower Rhine area, so probably the production context of the manuscript should be situated in this region[3].

Pastoureau and Popoff observed that different hands had worked on the legends and coats of arms[4]. They assumed that the manuscript was made by various heralds[5]. There are indeed two pictures of heralds in the manuscript (one on f.63r, bearing the Guelders coat of arms on his tabard, and one on f.70r, bearing a coat of arms on his tabard that is often attributed to king Arthur), but it is uncertain how these should be interpreted. Since there are no direct indications no solid statement can be made on who produced the manuscript.

Two sections

The manuscript consists of two parts, presenting two different sorts of armorials. In this blogpost I will refer to these as ONE and TWO. ONE is the largest part and displays coats of arms of kings, dukes, counts, and other nobles[6]. These are mainly from the northwestern part of Europe, but some southern European regions, such as Aragon, are also included. The coats arms are presented on a six by four grid, but not all pages present 24 coats of arms. Some are unfinished and the main coat of arms of a segment is often presented larger, tilted, and topped by a crest (whereas others are without crests).

TWO displays coats of arms of persons that were present at certain events: some tournaments and probably mostly Preußenfahrten, travels to Eastern Europe to battle against the pagans [7]. There are eleven of such groups in the back of the manuscript, on the folios: 55r-58r, 60v-63r, and 64v-72v. Some of them have a similar presentation form as the rest of the manuscript (55r-v; 57r-v; and 60v-62r), but most are different: a four by three grid, shields tilted, all crested, and the first arms holding a banner.

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.64r (click on image for original source)

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.64v (click on image for original source)

Joined independent sections?

Clearly, there are differences between ONE and TWO, both with regard to the content and presentation. The thought that these are two independent armorials that are joined later therefore automatically presents itself.

Yet Pastoureau and Popoff also saw similar elements. The manuscript shows different hands for the painting of the coats of arms, but these hands seem to appear in both parts[8]. Further, they observed that a couple of folios (58 and 64)  have a segment of ONE on the one side and a segment of TWO on the other[9]. Still, they stated on the first page of the edition that »La réunion des deux parties héraldiquement distinctes en un seul et même volume a peut-être été faite tardivement«[10]. It seems that the current disordered state of the manuscript is the reason that they refrained from making more specific statements on the relations between the two parts and therefore left open the possibility that these are two independent armorials that were joined later[11].

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.58r (click on image for original source)

Rulings & Prickings

Clearly, if one folio contains a part of the one armorial on the recto side, and a part of the other on the verso side, they are related in a way. This does not match well with the possibility that these are two independent armorials that were joined later. I will try to clarify this slightly confusing statement by focusing on specific material aspects that can provide further insights: the rulings and the prickings.

There are several slightly different systems of rulings and prickings for section ONE, but for the question concerning the relation between the two parts of the armorial just the one that appears on the first folios (at least from f.1 to f.14) already delivers interesting results[12]. The rulings are very softly drawn with a pencil. There are thirteen horizontal lines: six double lines that touch the bottom and top of the shields of each row plus one single line on the top of the page. Further, there are five vertical lines, running between the coats of arms. These rulings create a grid of 24 boxes, ideally one box for each coat of arms. Although many pages do not hold 24 coats of arms, since the arms of the head of the segment is usually depicted larger, the grid of the 24 boxes is clearly made to serve as a fundament for the basic presentation form of the coats of arms in ONE. The prickings correspond to these rulings, with on the edges of the pages six pairs of two holes right next to each other for the six double horizontal lines. This system of prickings and rulings can also be discerned, albeit with difficulty, on the online digitized version of the manuscript, for example on f.7v (the first image in this post).

Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.70v (click on image for original source)

Interestingly, these rulings are not only on the folios in the beginning of the manuscript, but also in the back. This includes folios of TWO; the groups of participants of Preußenfahrten and tournaments. This obviously is the case for the couple of pages on which the coats of arms are presented in the same way as in ONE, but also for the other pages in which the coats of arms are presented differently. For instance, on f.58r the structure of rulings of six double horizontal lines and five single vertical lines is clearly visible. This structure of rulings does not suit the four by three presentation form of the coats of arms on these pages, since some of the horizontal lines cut through the shields and crests. Since these rulings are apparently not made for the presentation form of TWO, it seems that the maker used folios of ONE for TWO.

58r is the folio that on the other side contains a section of ONE (f.58v segment of Lüneburg). Other folios that exclusively contain TWO in the four by three presentation also have the same prickings and rulings as those of ONE. This is for example clearly visible on f.70v. On some pages the rulings were not drawn, but these do hold distinctive pairs of double prickings or onsets of rulings, as for instance on f.66v. These are intended for drawing the six double lines for the six by four grid of ONE that does not match the four by three presentation of TWO.


Popoff’s and Pastoureau’s observation that f.58 and f.64 hold parts of both ONE and TWO already strongly suggested that the two parts of this manuscript were connected in some way. This view is not only confirmed by an examination of the rulings and the prickings, but also sharpened. The fact that pages with TWO have the rulings and prickings made for the presentation form of ONE rules out that TWO was made prior to ONE, or that these are two separate armorials joined together later. If Popoff’s and Pastoureau’s observation that the same hands appear in both parts is correct, then TWO was made to be an integral part of or an addition to ONE. This blogpost is only a small clarification of a confusing statement and we are still largely in the dark on the context of production. Yet it has shown the potential of focus on the material aspects of this manuscript to shine some light on this issue, even without tearing the manuscript apart.


Access the digitized manuscript (Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230) on: Gallica 


See also the blogpost on the potentials of focusing on the material aspects of the »Berry« armorial:


[1] Léon Jéquier, L’armorial Bellenville, Paris 1983 (Cahiers d’héraldique, 5), pp. 16–24.

[2] Michel Pastoureau and Michel Popoff, L’armorial Bellenville. Volume d’introduction, d’étude et d’édition, Lathuile 2004, p. 18.

[3] For an overview of the proportional distribution of arms: Ibid., p. 5–6. For an analyisis of the language: Ibid., p. 12–13. Werner Paravicini assumed, based on these facts, that the manuscript is probably produced in the Northern Netherlands or the Lower Rhine area. Werner Paravicini, “Bellenville”: Wappenbücher, Herolde und Preußenfahrten in europäischer Forschung, in: Francia 32 (2005), pp. 185–190, pp. 186–187.

[4] Pastoureau and Popoff, L’armorial Bellenville (as in n. 2), pp. 13–14.

[5] Ibid., p. 8.

[6] Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 5230, f.1r-f.54v, f.58v, and f.64r.

[7] On these groups, often described as occassional rolls, see Jéquier, L’armorial Bellenville (as in n. 1), pp. 27–28; Pastoureau and Popoff, L’armorial Bellenville (as in n. 2), pp. 9–12. For a critical discussion on the attributions by Jéquier, Popoff and Pastoureau see Paravicini, Bellenville (as in n. 3), pp. 187–189.

[8] Ibid., p. 15.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] Ibid., p. 1.

[11] Ibid., p. 1, 5.

[12] A large part of the manuscript, namely most folio’s from f.18 to f.52, shows a slightly different structure of rulings and prickings. The horizontal lines are the same, but there are more vertical lines: nine. These not only touch the left and right edges of the shields, but also run through the middle of them.

Cite the article as: Elmar Hofman, "Bellenville’s two armorials", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on, published: 07/07/2017, Internet:

5 Responses

  1. The examination of prickings and rulings by Elmar Hofman is a neat (and new) argument for the integrity of the Bellenville manuscript and should be included as a standard element in the physical investigation of any ‘original’ armorial. Unfortunately, physical examination apart from size and material are rarely reported except when a manuscript is taken apart for restoration – even though it may be possible to analyse it with non-invasive methods. The quire structure of the Bellenville was published a few weeks ago (in my Editing armorials, vol. 2, p.65-69, see the previous blogpost of 21/6/2017) and supports the above conclusion. It also shows that the present state of the manuscript is not disordered, but almost certainly in the intended order. I admit that for an examination without knowledge of the quire structure, it looks disordered.

    In my reconstruction, there are 9 quires with a variable number of folded sheets and half-sheets, incl. several blank pages. The contents make 57 segments of which no. 1-44 fills part ONE. The last two segments in ONE are no.43 with 94 arms (Kleve) on fo.52r-53v and no. 44 with 24 arms on fo.54v. The content of no. 44 is actually from the same locality (Berg) as no. 41 on fo.49v-50r. Of more interest is the fact that segment 43 straddles quires 7 {fo.43-52} and 8 {fo.53-62} which means that parts of both ONE and TWO can be found in the same physical unit. There are other segments that straddle quires. The Bellenville-compiler appears to have added the segments rather haphazard and may have entered the two odd segments in TWO (no. 48 Lüneburg, fo.58v; no.52 Hildesheim, fo.64r) on available free pages in part TWO. It would make sense to assume that the compiler (and possible helpers) worked over a considerably shorter period than suggested by Pastoureau and Popoff, and planned the armorial as having two distinct parts, but on completing part TWO found one or two sources that were simply to good to be left out.

    • Alex Maxwell Findlater says:

      I used this technique in ‘Lord Crawford’s Armorial’, published in 2008. If you look at the chapter on ‘Binding, Foliation, Missing Peers and Date’, starting on p 25, you will see that establishing the standard number of folios in a gathering, and then comparing each gathering to the standard is helpful, as is the gaps in the sequence of numberings of the folios in the ‘original’, or at least the oldest foliation. I then compared these with the missing peers, from the known creation dates, and it was thus possible to establish, by reference to the number of missing folios, at what point in time the armorial had been created. As one might expect it was not absolutely cut-and-dried, but it was very helpful. Unfortunately the argument is quite detailed and not very easy to read!

      • Dear Alex, you are quite right, and I apologize that I have not read either of the Scottish armorials as they are later than my focus, but I will have to make up for this now. One problem with ‘standard’ quires is that the compiler or later owners tend to add loose sheets or half-sheets to some quires and even to cut out certain pages (as you note) – the Gelre is in this way a terrible case. When a compiler rehash older material, as I believe the Bellenville-compiler did, it is almost impossible to be sure of what he added and what he left out.

    • Elmar Hofman says:

      Dear Steen, thank you for this addition and for pointing to this examination in your book! It again demonstrates that thorough material analysis, which should indeed be part of any edition of an armorial, can sharpen our view on these sources that are often so difficult to interpret.

  2. Alex Maxwell Findlater says:

    My experience in editing the David Lyndsay Armorial is that an exhaustive analysis of the families presented is very helpful both for the dating, and for seeing relationships between families shown on the same folio. The devil is in the detail!

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