An Armorial Cushion for Count John of Nassau-Saarbrücken as a Knight of the ‘Ordre du Croissant’ of King René of Anjou
René of Anjou (1409–1480) was the ruler of a vast complex of territories dispersed over parts of France. Being the titular king of Sicily and Jerusalem his courtly representation was particularly splendorous as René furthered chivalric culture in many ways. In 1447/48, he founded the Order of the Crescent.1 René had religious motives for this move, in the first place his veneration of St Mauritius of Agaune, but he obviously made use of the order to bind his nobility closer to his person.2 The first members were a number of knights originating mostly from René’s own territories. When René started to reclaim the kingdom of Naples, a number of Neapolitan noblemen entered the order, too.3
Apart from the Italians, only a few knights in the order were neither subjects nor vassals to René. One of them was John III (also II) of Nassau-Saarbrücken (1423–1472).4 His territorial position at the fringe of Lorraine made him an ideal candidate for the Order of the Crescent and by his French mother, Elisabeth of Lorraine-Vaudémont, John was related to a number of its members. The exact date of his admission to the order is not known from contemporary sources. Accordingly, count John is only noted in a later armorial of the order, dating from around 1462.5
A Discovery in an Unlikely Place
From John’s side until lately there was only one known source indicating his membership in the Order of the Crescent. His mother allegedly translated the epic ‘Loher and Maller’ from French into German. On the first page of a manuscript containing this text, the initial letter was adorned with John’s coat of arms including the emblem of the order.6
There is another example in an early modern genealogy of the counts of Nassau-Saarbrücken that is kept in the archive of Wiesbaden. The archivist Johannes Andreae compiled this ‘Genealogia Saraepontana’ in 1637/38.7 He wrote most of the manuscript, but sometimes included original archival or printed sources. Where Andreae mentioned count John’s admission to the Order of the Crescent in 1455, he referred to a sketch on a big leaf bound into the volume. On this paper folio he added the rubric ‘Description of the arms of count John of Nassau-Saarbrücken, when he was in the Order of the Crescent’. According to the watermark the same type of paper was also used in Siegen during the years 1466/70. The writing hand obviously dates from the second half of the 15th century.
The big folded folio contains a sketch of John’s coat of arms with the emblem of the order, a crescent-shaped plate with the motto ‘Los en croissant’. A little shield in the middle contains the arms of John’s first wife, Johanna of Heinsberg-Loon (died in 1469). The whole sketch is drawn in brown ink. The tinctures are indicated by instructions in German written on the margins. There are also hints to the colours on the shield. All these annotations were jotted down and corrected more than once. However, they contain valuable hints concerning the use of the folio, as or and argent in the shield were to be embroidered (stitched, ‘gestickt’) in Cyprian gold or silver. These are technical terms referring to the use of threads coated with thin metal foils. Obviously, the Wiesbaden folio is an instruction for embroidering arms onto some kind of textile. In principle, this could refer to a mantle, a banner or a tapestry, like it was preserved at the Jacobin convent in Angers.8
The Use of Cushions in the Order of the Crescent
There is some evidence for another explanation. The statutes of the Order of the Crescent contain a number of paragraphs describing the organization of the annual chapters. Even though the robes worn by the noble members of the order did not show their arms, their cushions did. These cushions were visible signs to mark the seats of their owners whether they were present or not. There was also a ceremonial function attributed to these cushions. At the opening mass of each chapter the pursuivant ‘Croissant’ had to carry the senator’s cushion to the high altar, the senator being the leading knight of the order. In the time between the chapters all cushions were to be stored in big boxes in the chapel of St Maurice that was used by the order.9
Size, cloth and ornaments of the cushions were all specified by the statutes: They had to be made of crimson velour or satin and they had to measure one and a half square feet. In the centre, the arms of each owner had to be embroidered, but only his shield with the added emblem of the order without helmet, crest or mantling.10 Obviously, these guidelines were followed, as we know from an early modern manuscript containing pictures of a number of cushions which had once belonged to some members of the Order of the Crescent. After their death, these cushions were kept by the cathedral chapter of Angers, some of them being converted into liturgical garments.11
I suppose that the Wiesbaden sketch is a pattern for the cushion that was made for John of Nassau-Saarbrücken. The same sort of paper can be found in the times when John had already entered the order. For this reason, the whole instruction possibly referred to a replacement in the years before 1469. Compared to the other cushions of Angers it was rather unusual that the count added his wife’s arms. Whether this design was ever executed is not known; at least the sketch remained among the count’s records. Although much of the archives of Nassau-Saarbrücken was destroyed in early modern times, the above-mentioned folio survived by chance because Andreae transferred it into his book. The Wiesbaden sketch is a rare example of medieval heraldry in its preparative stage. It certainly highlights the importance of the material side of chivalric culture.
- Margaret L. Kekewich: The Good King. René of Anjou and Fifteenth Century Europe, Basingstoke / New York 2008, pp. 187–191; Malcolm Vale: War and Chivalry, Warfare and Aristocratic Culture in England, France and Burgundy at the End of the Middle Ages, London 1981, pp. 51–62.
- For the political implications cf. Michael T. Reynolds: René of Anjou, King of Sicily, and the Order of the Croissant, in: Journal of Medieval History 19 (1993), pp. 125–161 ; Christian De Mérindol: L’Ordre du Croissant. Mises au point et perspective, in: Noël Coulet / Jean-Michel Matz (ed.): La noblesse dans les territoires Angevins à la fin du Moyen Âge. Actes du colloque international organisé par l’Université d’Angers, Angers–Saumur, 3–6 juin 1998 (Collection de l’École française de Rome 275), Rom 2000, pp. 499–509, especially pp. 503–508.
- There is a useful list of the members given by Émile Perrier: Les chevaliers du croissant. Essai historique et héraldique, Vannes 1906. For René’s recruitment of supporters from Southern Italy cf. Reynolds, p. 155–158.
- For him cf. Albert Ruppersberg: Geschichte der ehemaligen Grafschaft Saarbrücken, Teil 1,Saarbrücken 1899, pp. 212–227.
- Paris BNF Ms. fr. 25204; that manuscript was described and analysed by Michel Popoff: L’Ordre du Croissant. Dossier, in: Histoire et généalogie. Annales de généalogie et d’héraldique 37 (1991), pp. 41–59, 38 (1991), pp. 55–64, 39 (1992), pp. 57–63, 40 (1992), pp. 49–55, especially in vols. 37, 38, and 39, pp. 57–8.
- Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Hamburg, Cod. in scrinio 11, fol. 1r. This initial is reproduced in: Hans-Walter Herrmann, Lebensraum und Wirkungsumfeld der Elisabeth von Nassau-Saarbrücken, in: Wolfgang Haubrichs / Hans-Walter Herrmann (ed.), Zwischen Deutschland und Frankreich. Elisabeth von Lothringen, Gräfin von Nassau-Saarbrücken (Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Saarländische Landesgeschichte und Volksforschung e.V. 37), St. Ingbert 2002, pp. 49–153, p. 122.
- Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden, Abt. 1002 Nr. 4, fol. 84a. I will soon publish a more detailed study including a critical edition of the annotations describing the arms.
- L. de Farcy: Tapisserie du chœur des Jacobins d’Angers entre 1448 et 1478, in: Revue de l’Art Chrétien n.s. 4 (1886), pp. 71–73.
- The statutes were printed by Popoff, L’Ordre, for the use of the cushions see p. 56 (vol. 38) § 106, p. 63 (vol. 39) § 211, pp. 51–53 (vol. 40) §§ 232, 242.
- Popoff, L’Ordre (vol. 37) p. 56 § 91.
- They were copied in 1695, the drawings are in Paris BNF Ms. Clairambault 1309.