[Paper:] History on the Walls and Windows to the Past: Heraldic Commemoration of Urban Identity in Late Medieval Town Halls (Marcus Meer)

King Henry IV, Henry V, and the Emperor Constantine in the stained glass of the north window in St Mary's Guildhall, Coventry. Image: Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Medieval Stained Glass in Great Britain, inv. no. 013805.

King Henry IV, Henry V, and the Emperor Constantine in the stained glass of the north window in St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry. Image: Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Medieval Stained Glass in Great
Britain, inv. no. 013805.

In medieval town halls, coats of arms were a prominent visual means of expressing urban (civic) identity. A core element of this identity was the commemoration of an urban history that was not at all limited to the texts of city chronicles. To the contrary, in this presentation I will explore the commemorative function of heraldic signs as part of urban material and visual culture in German and English cities.
This entails the representation of larger narratives, the commemoration of specific urban events, and personal memoria: In Cologne, for example, the Nine Worthies bearing their arms remembered the ‘who-is-who’ of history, and in Coventry nine English kings were singled out in the guildhall windows, literally clad in their coats of arms. In the town hall of Reutlingen, names and arms remembered the burghers fallen in a battle in 1377, and in Lübeck, London, and Norwich coats of arms perpetuated the memory of former mayors. I will argue that heraldry in medieval town halls had a double function in communicating urban history: To visitors such as kings, nobles, and churchmen, it conveyed the grandeur and dignity of the city; to the burghers and aldermen, it inculcated and inspired the ideals of urban government and community one felt represented in urban history.

Marcus Meer completed a BA in History and Linguistics at Bielefeld University, followed by the MSt in Medieval History at Oxford University. In 2014/2015, he was part of the research project ‘The Performance of Coats of Arms’ at Münster University, which aims to re-evaluate heraldic sources from the perspective of cultural history. My PhD project, part of the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme at Durham’s Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, investigates and compares the use of heraldry as a means of visual communication in medieval cities of England and Germany that reflected, reinforced and negotiated structures and hierarchies of urban society.


The paper will be given at the international workshop: Heraldry in Medieval and Early Modern State-Rooms: Towards a Typology of Heraldic Programmes in Spaces of Self-Representation – Münster, Germany, 16-18 March 2016

 

Cite the article as: Heraldica Nova, "[Paper:] History on the Walls and Windows to the Past: Heraldic Commemoration of Urban Identity in Late Medieval Town Halls (Marcus Meer)", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 29/02/2016, Internet: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4313.

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