Show me a coat-of-arms: The Lyncenich armorial.
Elmar Hofman recently summarized a number of research problems concerning medieval armorials, among which were: by whom and for what purpose(s) were they made (https:/heraldica.hypotheses.org/4901 on 20/09/2016)? Though I know that Elmar does put great importance on knowing both content and context of any armorial studied, I felt that for the casual reader, he somewhat underplayed the descriptive work needed before any serious discussion can take place. That was the background for an exchange of comments, not a real difference of opinion.
Editing armorials has for more than a century been the playground of the traditional armorist. As even those with an academic background mostly worked outside universities and mainstream scholarly institutions, it should come as no surprise that few tried to extend their descriptive editing to include social and cultural aspects beyond a few axiomatic elements, e.g. that heralds compiled armorials over many years for their own benefit or on occasion as required by their masters. A hypothesis, that is hardly axiomatic.
Fortunately, fashions are changing and possibilities expanding. More people with training in social, cultural and art history become interested in using coats-of-arms and armorials in the wider sense as material for study. Many of the holding institutions have digitized several of their manuscripts, which makes repeated studies feasible even for non-locals. But there are still major obstacles for serious study. One is getting an overview of which armorial manuscripts are relevant or needed for the discussion of possible social and cultural impact on the one(s) chosen for study. Another is the materiality mentioned by Elmar. In an ideal world, the codicological description would be a statutory basis – but in practical terms it is rarely available. That is not solely a question of time or money. For a thorough examination one would need to dismember the manuscripts, conserve and rebind them. To do so is in practice impossible. Most holding institutions have enough problems repairing those manuscripts that need the effort. In some, but not all cases, one may be able to make an approximate analysis of watermarks and quire structure, but that will depend on the quality of the binding and what the institution will allow. A third is getting a copy or sufficient information on non-digitized material. Making the edition of the Lyncenich armorial I encountered many such problems, and they are partly responsible for the many open ends in it.
The armorial known as the Lyncenich has only one version and no known copies. It was once wrongly known as Gymnich, as the result of a misreading. The sole manuscript is Bruxelles, Bibliothèque royale Albert 1er, ms. II.6567, a small thick book of 197 leaves, approx. A5 in size, with nearly 3000 coats-of-arms, hardly any crested helmets, but having 10 miniatures. The paper sheets have several different watermarks, but it was not possible to place them or ascertain the order of quires and loose leaves. Most of the 80 segments are traditional tables of painted arms ordered by territory or rank covering Europe between the Alps and the Baltic Sea including Poland. The manuscript includes four uncommon features: a tournament held in Utrecht in 1441, the personal arms of knights of the Teutonic Order, several 4-ancestor pedigrees and a related set of husband-wife combinations. The artwork is fair, probably mostly brushwork without pre-drawing of figures. The shields are smallish with three rows within 20 centimetres. Two contemporary hands wrote the legends, one a little coarser than the neat primary hand, and a third near-contemporary hand wrote chapter introductions, many of which are now lost. There are indications of lost and shuffled leaves. That nearly a third of the arms are similar to or close variants of other entries comes as little surprise. We find this also in other armorials, though rarely in such high proportion. There are nearly 100 entries as name only, and almost 500 without any name. As can be expected many names are hard to read. The compilation must have been finished around 1442, and most of the entries of people from the Low Countries were active at that time. Other segments were probably copied from older material. The whole manuscript was probably finished within a year.
The above is a short summary of the description, content and dating given in my edition, that is freely available on http://www.armorial.dk/french/Lyncenich.pdf (486 pages, 5 MB, pdf), but referring to Elmar’s presentation of armorials as a historical phenomenon, what can we learn from it? The armorial is unique, but not unrelated. It shares many segments with other armorials in what I call the Toison d’or group (e.g. Toison d’or, Paris, BA, ms. 4790; Bergshammar, Stockholm, Riksarkivet, Codex Bergshammar), the former only as a donor, but the latter as a partial copy. There are also indications that there must have been at least one other contemporary copy containing much of the contents of the Lyncenich, but using a different layout. The two group members have segments that are 40 or 160 years older (from Wijnbergen and Gelre), though Lyncenich only has some markers that points to Gelre. All three also incorporate material that was probably given by Hendrik van Heessel, Austria and Ruyers king-of-arms, a herald who served both Philip the Good of Burgundy and emperor Friederich. Some of these fragments were painted in multiple copies by the same workshop.
Firstly, we may conclude, that there was a fairly widespread interest in armory at the Burgundian court: why else make multiple copies? Though I have not found armorials mentioned in those few medieval library registers that I know of, it is unlikely that armorials were only owned by heralds. With 79 high-quality full-page miniatures, the Toison d’or must have been expensive to make. Manuscripts like these were hardly made as a personal vademecum or as an artistic hobby! Though we cannot rule out that multiple copies in the same style could have been made by an artistically gifted herald (or amateur armorist) for exchanging information, it is more likely that they were made by a professional illustrator for different final customers. Similarly, painting a 400 page armorial within a year or two is more likely to be done by an artisan than by a hobbyist. But it would be costly, and for which purpose? Anything commercial would be probable: for sale, as a gift to obtain a (better) position, or for barter. Even so, we cannot rule out its use as a personal book of reference, just because it was not compiled over many years. Depending on other circumstances, there may be other end-uses.
With nothing definitive on its purpose, are there hints to its maker or his circle? Nothing in writing or image in the manuscript or from the archives, as far as it is known. Its later provenance is irrelevant for this discussion, but the few owners known have some interest. What we have is its membership of a manuscript group: the Toison d’or. The anonymous Lyncenich-compiler must have been close enough to the compilers of the Toison d’or and the Bergshammar and probably also to Hendrik van Heessel to borrow material for his own work. Later he (or a later owner) would lend some to the Bergshammar-compiler, probably in the form of loose quires. From the way the Bergshammar is copied with segments blended from known sources and in one-way sequences, it is evident that around 1455 four surviving armorials were present in the same room: Bergshammar, Gelre, Toison d’or, and Lyncenich. As both Heessel and the by then late Gelre-compiler (Claes Heinenzoon) were heralds, and as the Gelre was probably in part dependent on the work of a herald a generation older, and all of these appear to have had a special focus on matters pertaining to what was by then Greater Burgundy, it is most likely that the near contemporary compilers were heralds employed by the Duke of Burgundy and close colleagues. A parallel to the English College of Arms springs to mind. You do not need a charter to have a professional fellowship. And such a fellowship was tried by French royal heralds in 1407.
If the compiler was a herald, what uses could he have had of such an armorial combining tables of arms of European nobles with selected pedigrees of princes affiliated to the duke and allegorical miniatures? Hardly a commercial use as described above. If so, more entries should have names added, and possibly one would expect a higher quality of presentation. A vademecum is possible, made in short time from sources available from colleagues. But considering that many entries were still in their twenties, they must have come from a recent collation, possibly by the compiler himself. There is a third possibility: it could be derived from combining the two. If there was a general interest in armory, a herald could profit from advising courtiers and ladies on the arms and pedigree of visiting nobles or simply of people mentioned in the court gossip. That is not a new concept, rather an extension of the tournament crier into a court servant, and not a feature available to all heralds. If the herald would be able to show the inquirer an image of the arms (or a pedigree) his status would probably increase. A book or collection of quires, small enough in size to be carried in a scrip, could be an asset worth investing in.