PhD Project: Structure and Function of Medieval Armorials – Part 2
In the last blogpost concerning my PhD project, I briefly sketched some of the starting points of my research. These remain largely unchanged, but I have refined my view on them. In this second blog post, I will highlight one of the approaches in my research on the structure and function of medieval armorials.
Armorials and Codicology
One of the first things I noticed when I started studying armorials is that they are very complicated sources, not only concerning the content, but codicologically as well. The structure of armorials often seems disordered, frequently one sees that parts were added or omitted and sometimes one finds that a clear coherence between an armorial and other parts of the same manuscript is absent.
In recent research, scholars have only rarely discussed the codicological structure of an armorial. One of the few exceptions is Marie-Françoise Damongeot’s article in Emmanuel de Boos’ edition of Armorial Le Breton.  We know that the current state of this manuscript is somewhat disordered, but luckily the folia in this work contain three different foliations from the 15th and 16th centuries. The sequence of these three foliations, written in Roman numerals, does not coincide. Hence the order of the manuscript has been altered at least twice in the 15th and 16th century. Damongeot’s efforts to reconstruct the order of the folia in the manuscript do not only clarify our view of the order of the armorial in the different stages of its existence, but it might also have the potential to provide insights on the use of armorials in this period. Her short article demonstrates that, to understand armorials properly, codicological research is a necessity, and I am glad Emmanuel de Boos included this article in his edition, since it immensely increases our understanding of the Armorial Le Breton.
Armorial in the Schichtbuch
In the last few months I studied the armorial in Hermann Bote’s Schichtbuch, and, again, I experienced that codicological study of a manuscript may be of major importance. Hermann Bote’s Schichtbuch is a reasonably well studied document from the early 16th century that discusses different civic revolts in the history of Braunschweig. The sizeable armorial (more than 100 folia) in the back of the manuscript has never been subjected to extensive research though. This might not come as a surprise, since in my last blogpost I already pointed out that historians tend to neglect armorials as a source, and the lack of research on the armorial in the Schichtbuch affirms this statement. What might be more astonishing is that such an important manuscript as the Schichtbuch has never been examined in terms of its codicological structure. The manuscript consists of various segments, and the textual part of the Schichtbuch holds no references to the armorial, nor vice versa. A study of the material aspects of this source will greatly enhance our understanding of the relations between the armorial and the rest of the Schichtbuch.
The Source and the Project
These two examples demonstrate the importance of codicological research. One should realize that not only the contents of the manuscript are transmitted to us, but that we are lucky to have the whole manuscript with all its material elements. It would be a pity if one neglects this material part of the historical source, since it can provide answers on challenging questions such as the dating, order or the relation between the different parts of an armorial.
This focus on the material part of the source is not only an essential aspect of my own research, but is central to the entire project Performanz der Wappen. This project aims for a critical and historical reassessment of the development and use of coats of arms through combining cultural historical approaches with auxiliary sciences.
Of course, my research does not only consist of codicological studies of manuscripts. This is merely an important first step on the long way towards understanding the structure and function of armorials. Other vital aspects include the historical development of armorials and the visual aspects of the sources; topics I will discuss in the next blogposts.
 Marie-Françoise Damongeot, ‘Analyse codicologique’ in: Emmanuel de Boos et al., L’Armorial Le Breton (Paris, 2004), pp. 27-31.