Lecture on the Armorial of Guillaume Revel by Mathieu Lescuyer and Olivier Matteoni at the Bibliothèque National de France, 27 May 2014
The fifteenth century has witnessed the birth of many beautifully executed armorials, some of which are richly decorated, while others contain interesting literary and symbolic representations. In this group of armorials, the Armorial of Guillaume Revel (also known as the Armorial d’Auvergne, du Bourbonnais and du Forez) stands out. This book not only includes miniatures on the first pages of the manuscript and evidently a great number of coats of arms, but it is adorned with many detailed views of towns and castles as well. Furthermore, this extensive armorial has a very local scope, only dealing with the regions of Auvergne, Bourbon and Forez, which it covers extensively. This makes the Armorial Guillaume Revel an interesting source for many disciplines, ranging from genealogy to architectural history and visual communication to military history.
The background of the armorial is largely covered in mist. We do not know a lot more of the composer than that his name was Guillaume Revel. Dating the armorial has been a difficult task, but Emmanuel de Boos plausibly states that it has been produced in the 1450’s. The areas covered are the lands of Charles I duke of Bourbon (d. 1456), but in the preface king Charles VII is addressed as well. The exact purpose of the armorial is unclear. It gives an overview of the possessions of Charles I in these regions and of the nobles living there. Given the careful execution and the high artistic quality, it appears to be a luxury manuscript rather than a working tool, but this does not give a lot more clarity on the intention and the function of the armorial. The book contains 3151 shields, only about 25 % of which have been actually filled with a coat of arms. This means this project was far from finished. One might find that a shame, but it does give some fine insights on the way the armorial was produced. It was definitely not the work of a sole artist. De Boos distinguishes three handwritings, three painters for the coats of arms and another three for the town views.
Such a special armorial deserves to be thoroughly studied, and to some extent it has been. The castle views of the Auvergne part have been researched by Gabriel Fournier in 1973 and in 2011 Pierre-Yves Laffont has filled a lacuna with his work on Forez town and castle views. Emmanuel de Boos has taken on the demanding task of making a heraldic edition of this armorial, with identifications of the bearers of the coats of arms, which was published in 1998.
Despite of these valuable undertakings, much is still unknown about the Armorial of Guillaume Revel. As noted above, we still have little understanding on the use and significance of this work. How should this armorial be placed and understood in his historical context? It was produced not long after the ‘Praguerie’, when the French nobles revolted against their king, in which Charles I played a part as well. This armorial might provide insights on the management of the relations between the king, princes and nobles in this turbulent period of French history. The conference held by Mathieu Lescuyer, head of the manuscript department of the BnF, and Olivier Matteoni, history professor of the Middle Ages, will deal with these kind of questions. In doing this, they will primarily focus on the mostly neglected preface of the armorial, which might contain valuable information on the historical context.
The studies on the Armorial of Guillaume Revel and this conference demonstrate that armorials can be approached from numerous points of view, all revealing a different aspects of these rich works that have the potential of being fruitful sources for scholars in many fields of research.
The conference will be held on the May 27th 2014 at 18h15, in the Intsitut national du patrimoine – Auditorium de la Galerie Colbert, 2 rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris. The Armorial of Guillaume Revel has been digitized and can be consulted on the Gallica-website of the Bibliothèque National de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8470455b
For more information on the presentation please see: http://www.inp.fr/index.php/fr/manifestations_scientifiques/conferences/programme/l_armorial_d_auvergne_francais_22297
 The information of this paragraph is mostly based on Emmanuel de Boos’s fine edition of the armorial: Emmanuel de Boos, L’armorial d’Auvergne Bourbonois et Forestz de Guillaume Revel (Nonette, 1998).
 Gabriel Fournier, Châteaux, villages et villes d’Auvergne au XV° siècle, d’après l’Armorial de Guillaume Revel (Genève, 1973) and Pierre-Yves Laffont ed., L’armorial de Guillaume Revel. Châteaux, villes et bourgs du Forez au XVe siècle (Lyon, 2011).