The Heraldry of the Weavers’ Guild of Augsburg: Mythical Origins and Everyday Display of Corporate Heraldry in Clemens Jäger’s ‘Weberchronik’

Fig. 1: The coat of arms of the weavers’ guild. Image from: Langenmantel, David, Historie des Regiments in des Heil. Röm. Reichs Stadt Augspurg [etc.] (Frankfurt [Oder]; Leipzig: Mertz und Mayer, 1725), plate m.

Fig. 1: The coat of arms of the weavers’ guild. Image from: Langenmantel, David, Historie des Regiments in des Heil. Röm. Reichs Stadt Augspurg [etc.] (Frankfurt [Oder]; Leipzig, 1725), plate m.

Clemens Jäger’s Weberchronik [1], a sixteenth-century chronicle dedicated to the history of the weavers’ guild of Augsburg, is a formidable example to demonstrate how urban chronicles can be used to analyse the importance of heraldry in urban society, especially in terms of coats of arms as an element of civic identity and collective representation.

In this blog post, I am not so much interested in the heraldic illuminations that were also part of the Weberchronik (although I will come back to them at the end), but in mentions of the guild’s coat of arms in the textual narrative of the chronicle. Here, an elaborate history of the weavers’ heraldic sign is given, in whose course the origin of their coat of arms, too, is linked to an event that was remembered as a constitutive event of the weaver’s history. In addition to that, the Weberchronik gives a glimpse into the everyday display of the weavers’ coat of arms as part of their representative strategies, and the importance of the sign in the civic rituals that remembered the guild’s history.

The Battle of Lechfeld: The Weavers’ Claim to Fame (and a Coat of Arms)

In an analysis of hundreds of ‘heraldic legends’, Luc Duerloo has concluded that ‘ [a] great way to pick up a dazzling shield is by participating in one of the battles that changed the course of history’. [2] What Duerloo observed for an exclusively noble set of examples also holds true in the case of Augsburg’s weavers, who, although of a lower social standing than other crafts in the city, claimed a most ancient and dignified history of their craft in general, and their coat of arms in particular.

The chronicler Clemens Jäger traces back the origin of the weavers’ coat of arms to the famous Battle of Lechfeld in 955, in which Otto I won a decisive victory over Hungarian tribes. The weavers of Augsburg, according to the chronicler, were part of the battle and, of course, excelled in feats of arms. However, there is more to the story: ‘In this fortunate battle the honourable craft of the weavers gained its ancient and laudable shield and coat of arms, which the honourable guild of weavers still rightfully uses today.’ [3] In contrast to other guilds, one seems to be suggested to think, the weavers’ had not simply assumed a coat of arms or were granted it—they had earned it through their military prowess.

Jäger sets out to explain the exact chain of events that led to this moment: Since the guild of weavers had fought together in a joint effort, God granted them the fortune to slay a Hungarian noblemen: ‘They wrestled from him his coat of arms and banner, for the glory, honour and dignity of themselves and all descendants of the honourable craft of weavers. As a token of their victory they kept and cherished it, and many congratulated and praised them for it.’ [4]

Whereas, of course, the Battle of Lechfeld dates back into the ‘pre-heraldic era’, Clemens Jäger argues that the design of the coat of arms itself must be taken as prove that his historical account is correct. Anyone, he explained, who had knowledge of coats of arms, was able to witness that its particular appearance, colours and divisions proved it to be a Hungarian coat of arms. [5]

In this narrative, as in any other ‘heraldic legends’, a semantic dimension of coats of arms becomes evident that went beyond merely identifying their armiger. Coats of arms had a historical dimension, too. In order to understand this historical significance of their coat of arms for the weavers of Augsburg, it is first of all important to emphasise the simple fact that the guilds’ arms are mentioned in the chronicle at all. Chronicles reflected the mind-set of their authors just as they might have, to some degree, anticipated the expectations of the intended audience. [6] Their contents may therefore hint at the ways in which people in the past perceived their world, and suggest the importance of certain elements because they were, intentionally or unintentionally, deemed noteworthy. That the coat of arms of the weavers’ became part of their historical narrative points to its importance in the self-perception of the guild. Since the history of the guild was crucial to its members, as evidenced by the fact that it was extensively recorded in the Weberchronik, so was the coat of arms.

For the weavers there must have been a close connection between the heraldic sign and their history. For this reason the origins of the sign were pursued back to the formative moments of the guild’s history, and explained to be a result of this history itself. The coat of arms became a reminder and indeed a witness of the guild’s history.

Furthermore, it was presented as the result of a history in which, typical for urban historiography, core values of medieval civic identity such as honour and unity were exemplified through the actions of the protagonists. In this particular case it was the feats of arms of ancestors of the sixteenth-century weavers of Augsburg. In the Weberchronik, the capture and appropriation of the coat of arms was held to be evidence for the unity, valour, and power of the weavers, which only increased the representative significance of the weavers’ heraldic sign as a visible witness of their history and values.

Representing the Guild: Displaying the Weavers’ Arms in Augsburg

In addition to this myth of arms, Clemens Jäger’s Weberchronik also gives an idea where the heraldic sign became part of the guild’s representative strategies in warfare, during public rituals, and indeed on everyday objects: ‘Until today’, Jäger states, ‘the weavers display their coat of arms on their houses and homes, properties, silverware, seals, furniture, and indeed everything that pertains to an honourable guild’. [7]

The coat of arms also had its place in the rituals of the guild, ‘which have long been tradition’, and which, as the authors referring back to the heraldic legend, still took place at the same time the Battle of Lechfeld was won. Such rituals included a ‘dancing day’ (täntzeltag), and a mustering (feldtzug) ‘where the honourable craftsmen carry their laudably conquered coat of arms and banner in their armour’. Participation in these events and thus representation through the guild’s coat of arms is jealously guarded by the its members: ‘Without the guild’s admission and agreement no-one may walk under their flag and banner.’ [8] During the ritual in which the community of weavers remembered and perpetuated the narrative of their glorious past, the heraldic sign acted as a visual reminder of this story, as it was believed to have derived from the Battle of Lechfeld.

A similar display was to be expected when the guild actually did go to war, as the chronicler explains that ‘the honourable weavers marched to battle under their conquered coat of arms and flags, they stormed, fought and always returned them into the city with honour’—in a way re-enacting the Battle of Lechfeld in which they believed to have received their coat of arms in the first place. [9]

Such references to the practices of displaying coats of arms in urban space and ritual render the Weberchronik an ideal example to explore the importance of coats of arms in urban society, and the functions they served as part of the representative strategies of townspeople. The fact that an elaborate ‘myth of arms’ that demonstrated the courage, honour and dignity of the weaver’s guild was constructed to explain the origins of the coat of arms points to the central importance this sign must have had for the weavers, who believed that it must indeed come from a history that is as significant as they weavers perceived or hoped—the sign and themselves to be. In return, the association of the coat of arms with this myth served to even increase the significance the coat of arms already had as a collective sign.

Coda: The Visual Context of the Weberchronik

The Weberchronik is a source rich in heraldry in other aspects as well, although this fact may go unnoticed when looking at the edition of the chronicle only, as the edition in most cases only mentions and describes the appearance of heraldic signs. We are told that the preface is decorated with the coats of arms of the Empire, the weaver’s guild and the arms of Augsburg. [10] The Battle of Lechfeld is also alluded to twice: First in an illumination at the beginning of the manuscript, depicting two armoured weavers holding a spear and leaning on a shield, the beaten Hungarians to their feet. [11] Later, there is another depiction (fol. 63b) of a weaver in armour and red and yellow livery, waving the red and gold flag of the guild. There are also (fols. 54–55) coloured depictions of the old seal of Augsburg, and the Wappen von den ‘Herren’, the coats of arms of those patrician families that had had to sign a charter increasing the participation of the guilds in urban government following the .

The preface to the third part of the chronicle is again decorated with a coat of arms of the weavers placed above three slain Hungarians, crowned by a banner proclaiming: ‘Hereafter follow the mayors of the honourable guild of weavers.’ [12] Accordingly, Jäger displays those weavers that—according to the chronicler—had risen to the rank of mayor of Augsburg, depicting the mayors themselves accompanied by their coat of arms, and adding short biographical notes. [13] This third part is the only part of the manuscript whose illuminations have been printed in the edition (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Fifteenth- and sixteenth century mayors of Augsburg, depicted in the manuscript of Clmens Jäger’s chronicle. Image from: Weberchronik, pp. 5–6.

Fig. 2: Fifteenth- and sixteenth century mayors of Augsburg, depicted in the manuscript of Clemens Jäger’s chronicle. Image from: Weberchronik, pp. 5–6.

Conclusion

Clemens Jäger’s Weberchronik is a source rich in heraldry, both as textual topic and visual display. Even this brief analysis indicates urban attitudes towards heraldry, and demonstrates the applications of coats of arms as a means of representing collective identity in urban society. Firstly, the aetiological narrative that is laid out in the ‘heraldic legend’ suggested that in cities, too, coats of arms tended to be perceived in relation to the past, as a result and indeed a witness of history. The claimed antiquity of the heraldic sign is furthermore linked to a narrative in which core elements of the urban mind such as unity and (military) bravery are exhibited, and the coat of arms is as a result fashioned to be an expression of these elements of corporate identity. Secondly, Jäger’s remarks on the use of the coat of arms in the sixteenth century demonstrate how this historical allusion was evoked in the daily life of the guild, in contexts such as corporate festivities and communal warfare, displayed on buildings, chattels, seals, or flags and banners. Finally, the additional heraldic display in the manuscript’s illuminations is a further reminder of the ubiquity of heraldry in an urban setting, and its prominence in the mindset of a sixteenth-century burgher.


[1] Die Chroniken der schwäbischen Städte: Augsburg, (Die Chroniken der deutschen Städte vom 14. bis ins 16. Jahrhundert, 34), (Stuttgart and Gotha, 1929), ix, henceforth cited as Weberchronik. The edition only entails parts of the chronicle that deal with the guild of weavers itself, omitting a considerable chunk of text that would be been vital to investigate the full context of the chronicle.

[2] Duerloo, Luc, ‘Transcending the Frontiers of Reality: The Significance of Heraldic Legends’, in Genealogica & Heraldica: Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in Ottawa, August 18-23, 1996, ed. by Daniel Cogné, Claire Boudreau, and Auguste Vachon (Ottawa, 1998), pp. 349–56, p. 352.

[3] Weberchronik, pp. 42–43: ‘[I]m namen des allmechtigen die ungerische schlacht, so durch den kaiser Otho und des reichs fürsten vor dieser statt Augspurg im neunhundet und fünfunfünftzigsten jar den sechtzehenden tag des heumonats beschehen, in wöllischer glückichen schlat das erber handwerck der weber sein uralt, loblich schildt und wappen, wölliches sich die erber zunft von werbern noch heutigs tags rechtlich geprauchet, nicht mit klainen ehren und sig überkomen und erlanget hat […].’

[4] Weberchronik, p. 65: ‘Dieweil sich aber ain gesellschafft von webern in disem austzug zusamengefonden und gehalten haben, hat Gott und das glück inen vergundt, daß sie ainen mechtigen, fürnemen ungerischen herrn in in disem streit erlegt und im sein wapen und fanen zu irer selbs und aller nachkomen des erbern handtwercks der webern lob, eren und wirden mit gewaltiger handt erobert und nach des krieigs rechten abewonen haben und daselbig vonstundt zu iren handen genomen, daselb zu ainer victori als ain sigzaichen bei iren handen behalten, sich dessen gefreut, und inen von mencklich gegünnet, auch groß lob und ehr inen darumb gesprochen worden ist.’

[5] Weberchronik, p. 65: ‘So mag auch mit allen denen, so der wappen art und augenschaft verstandt haben, betzeugt werden, daß dieses der erberen von webern erfochten wappen an gestalt, farben und aufßtailungen für ain recht ungerisch wappen genent und gehalten werden mag […].’

[6] For an introduction to approaches to urban historiography, see, for example, Schmid, Regula, ‘Town Chronicles’, ed. by Graeme Dunphy, Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 1432–1438, and the references given there.

[7] Weberchronik, p. 66: ‘[Es ist] bis auff diese zeit bemelts erlich wappen an iren heusen, wonungen, eigenthumben, silbergeschirren, sigilen, petschieren, hausrat und an allem dem, so ainer erbern zunft zugehört und [so sie] für sich selbs zu handeln haben, on mencklichs verhindren als für deren von webern zaichen und wappen gepraucht, erkant und darfür gehalten worden.’

[8] Weberchronik, p. 66: ‘Zudem send auch alle ir hergeprachten freihaiten und freudentäg, als täntzeltäg und feldtzug, darinnen das erber handtwerck von webern für andren handtwerken allain gefreit ist und [die sie] langk hergepracht habend, eben in disem monat juli, in wölichem die hungerische schlacht beschehen und gewonen worden ist. Darinnen rägt das erber handtwerck ir loblich erfochten wappen und fanen mit freier kriegsristung in das feldt, und darf on ir zulassen und beweilligen mit inen under irem fanen und paner niemants ziehen, wöliches alles ihres erfochten sigs und redlichen haltens […].’

[9] Weberchronik, p. 65–66: ‘Zudem wirt auch in historischen und dieser statt beschribnen comentari bfunden, daß die erbern von webern under irem erfochten wappen und fanen in der stätt kriegen samentlichen ausgetzogen, darunder gestürmet, gestritten und das allweg mit eren widerumb in die statt Augspurg gepracht haben […].’

[10] See the manuscript description by Friedrich W. Roth, Weberchronik, pp. 36–37.

[11] Weberchronik, p. 37.

[12] Weberchronik, p. 37: ‘Hie nachvolgendt die Burgermaister der erberen zunfft von webern, so sy Seydt anfangs der zunfften gehapt haben.’

[13] Weberchronik, p. 41: ‘[D]as dritt taill dises puchs ist gerichtett auff die herren Burgermaister, das die, so vill derenn aus der Erberenn zunfft vonn weberen zu Burgermaistern Erwelett, darein beschribenn vnnd ire personen und wapen conterfectisch gemacht, auch sampt den namen vnd jartzal laudt angefangner ordnung in künnftig Zeitt nachainander gemacht werden sollen […].’

Cite the article as: Marcus Meer, "The Heraldry of the Weavers’ Guild of Augsburg: Mythical Origins and Everyday Display of Corporate Heraldry in Clemens Jäger’s ‘Weberchronik’", in: Heraldica nova. Medieval Heraldry in social and cultural-historical perspectives (blog on Hypotheses.org), published: 10/06/2016, Internet: https://heraldica.hypotheses.org/4669.

Marcus Meer

Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar at the Department of History/Centre for Visual Arts and Culture, University of Durham, working on a PhD thesis on heraldry as a means of visual communication in medieval cities in England and Germany.

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