Out now! Editing armorials. Cooperation, knowledge and approach by late medieval practitioners

The title of these books can be interpreted both actively and passively. The active form is when one or more manuscripts are being transcribed, the arms identified and commented on, and the whole analyzed and published. Less effort may suffice and leave the armorial as just a listing of transcribed items with or without identification. More or less critical editions have been published over the years and more are coming. More to the point: active editing is and was the basis for the passive analysis of how people in former times collected images and/or blazons of coats of arms and achievements, sorted and grouped them before painting and writing them on to manuscripts. Passive analysis does require a lot of activity, and one result is my book: Editing armorials. Cooperation, knowledge and approach by late medieval practitioners. I-II. (details and purchase options below).

A lot of active analysis was done before and during the writing of the book. Besides re-reading a lot of books and editions of armorials by other writers, it was, if not necessary, practical, to make some of the unpublished or hard to get armorials available for potential readers of the book. Among these are the Urfé, Navarre and Bergshammar – though only as blazons in English with identifications and without any references. References may be found – if really needed – in the revised version 2.0 (2017) of my Ordinary of Medieval Armorials, which is available in the MS Access database format on the above website. A version in pdf-format with notes on the 17.756 families, 33.163 variations of arms, 16.734 crests, and 87.185 entries in armorials; a multi-language dictionary of blazons; together with a survey of 542 armorials is being published on the website over the coming month. The first files will be uploaded by the end of this week.


The study had three aims: (1) improve awareness of the relations and dependencies between armorials surviving from the late Middle Ages (c.1350-c.1500); (2) investigate how they were conceived, organized, for what purposes; (3) trace changes in form and content over time and space. After a preliminary survey of the present state of research and description of methods, these were used on 45 armorials, most of which could be assigned to six groups named for lead armorials or a region of manufacture: (1) Toison d’or, (2) Urfé, (3) BEL-GEL, (4) Rineck / Lorraine, (5) Bodensee, and (6) Ashmole. A few of the armorials (Berry, Navarre, Vermandois, Wm Jenyns, and Willement) had either an indirect relation or stood in contrast to a group.


The three major trends uncovered are a move from short fairly uniform armorials (mainly occasionals) before c.1350 to large composite ones; adding a wider set of imaginary arms (symbolic and literary figures and fictitious realms) as well as arms of towns, dioceses, institutions and of foreigners (the more insular England is the exception in mentioning foreigners) ; lastly there is a tendency to record the arms of families (many of which the compiler knew little of) rather than of individuals observed by the compiler or his immediate informants. The practitioners involved in collecting arms and producing or propagating armorials are discussed either as groups or by examples, and the cost of making either a blazoned or a painted armorial are estimated.


Heralds have traditionally been associated with the collection of arms during their travels over many years and the making of armorials, mainly as personal references (vademecums). Several people, not least Torsten Hiltmann, have shown that heraldry (i.e. armory, not the ceremonial duties), writing treatises on and granting of arms were not principal occupations of heralds – and have questioned the hypothesis of heralds as compiler-makers of armorials. From my assessment of these late medieval armorials and the little that is known of heralds and their involvement with armorials, the conclusion is that some heralds did make armorials, but hardly as vademecums, rather as presentation volumes for sale or gifts or just to have and show people making inquiries at court or attending events. Even though many armorials must have been lost, it was probably only a minority of heralds that were involved in their making, but those that did take an interest in armory were instrumental in conserving and disseminating this knowledge. In parallel, commissioners used the professionals (scribes, illuminators, painters) involved in the book trade whenever they had such requirements. Though there are extremely few indications of armorials being part of personal libraries or on how they may have been recorded in inventories, some nobles, clerics and wealthy burghers must have owned armorials.

While it is easy to set criteria for including a manuscript in a group, determining use and maker is more difficult, and the criteria overlap. Size, quality, uniformity, presence of miniatures, unusual elements or presentation layouts, prestamping with woodblocks and textual evidence are candidate criteria – but none proved to be sufficient. In the end it is the balance of evidence that determines the outcome – a personal judgement.

Details and purchase options

Steen Clemmensen, Editing armorials. Cooperation, knowledge and approach by late medieval practitioners. I-II. Books on Demand : København 2017. Both (paperback, 380 pp, 220 pp) volumes are available at https://www.bod.dk/bogshop.html at 271 DKK or c. 36 EUR excl. p&p. – or through Amazon a.o. webshops. In a week or so Google, Apple and Amazon will also have it as an e-book (c. 3 EUR), which can be read as pdf-files with Adobe Digital Editions. There is an expanded summary (15 pp) at https://www.academia.edu . My website, www.armorial.dk has a number of supporting documents in addition to the summary for free download.

Cite this blog post
Steen Clemmensen (2017, June 21). Out now! Editing armorials. Cooperation, knowledge and approach by late medieval practitioners. Heraldica Nova. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/pi0u

Steen Clemmensen

born 1948; Danish; retired; biochemist, worked for government, industry and organisation in toxicological research, regulation of chemicals, food safety, occupational health and environmental protection; current interests are medieval and renaissance heraldry, especially armorials from all over Europe, of which I have edited and indexed several, published on my website.

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