19.01.11 Moll, ed., A Heraldic Miscellany

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D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton

The Medieval Review 19.01.11

Moll, Richard J., ed. A Heraldic Miscellany: Fifteenth-Century Treatises on Blazon and the Office of Arms in English and Scots. Exeter Medieval English Texts and Studies. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2018. pp. xii, 298. ISBN: 978-1-78138-248-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
D’Arcy Boulton
University of Notre Dame

As its title suggests, this book--by a Canadian professor of medieval English literature at the University of Western Ontario--is composed primarily of critical editions of texts on broadly heraldic subjects. Six such texts are included in the "miscellany"--the term for the type of heterogeneous collection in which such texts have typically been preserved in manuscripts. The last three texts have been preserved (along with numerous other texts) in a single manuscript compiled by a Scottish "pursuivant" or apprentice herald, and the other three texts in from one to ten distinct manuscripts or incunabula of the same general type. All six texts are fifteenth-century translations (with more or less extensive modifications) of somewhat older works or parts of works in either Latin or Middle French (themselves composed no earlier than 1394), the first three rendered into fairly standard Middle English, the last three into Middle Scots. They include works of most of the more important types composed on subjects of professional interest to contemporary heralds, and together constitute the most comprehensive modern collection of such texts in the dialects of fifteenth-century Britain, and probably those in any language of any contemporary region. Furthermore, among the texts edited here are all but one of the families of their type (the numerous versions of what is called John's Treatise on armory) expressed in any form of English before about 1486. Since the heralds themselves only began to employ English in their official documents in the 1440s, and few early examples survive, the texts edited are of considerable interest to historians of the technical terminology of English armory. The works edited also include a good deal of material of interest to social and cultural historians of the English nobility (whose origins and nature many of them discuss), and their often complicated place in the universe of contemporary discourse on such subjects in continental Europe (where most of them originated) should make them of interest to scholars of both English and Latin Christian intellectual history.

The three texts in standard Middle English are (1) a translation of the well-known Tractatus de Armis or "Treatise on Arms" by the still-unidentified Johannes de Bado Aureo, composed in Latin c. 1395; (2) a translation of a very popular Latin work called in the best English manuscriptsEneas de heraldis, included in a letter written in 1451 by the famous Italian humanist and future pope Eneas Silvio Piccolomini to his friend Johann Hinderbach; and (3) the closely related composite text called in its Middle English version Dionisius, Furst Institutoure, preserved in a single manuscript, which begins as an English paraphrase of Piccolomini's work, but goes on to include various other materials. The three texts in Middle Scots--The Lawe of Armes within Listis, The Persewant, and The Origynall Determynyng of Blasonyng of Armes are similar but unrelated to those just identified. The first seems to be an original composition in Scots, the second is a composite work derived from various Latin and French sources, and the third appears to be derived from a single lost original, probably in Latin. They are associated through their inclusion in a collection made (and personally copied) by the Scottish pursuivant Adam Loutfut in the last decade or so of the century, and were chosen to represent some of the other types of text found in most such miscellanies, as well as to include a distinctively Scottish perspective.

All six of Moll's editions are preceded by scholarly introductions discussing the history both of the text and of the various manuscripts in which it survives (both normally rather complicated), and the collection as a whole is preceded by a very useful general introduction whose nature I shall discuss below. The editions are also individually provided both with brief textual notes at the base of the page, and with much more extensive editorial notes in a series of appendices (pp. 199-253). In these Moll explains his choice of English words, comments on the relationships of passages or sections of each work to their apparent Latin or French sources, identifies various persons mentioned in them, and provides references to all of the relevant works from which they or their ideas were derived. These appendices are followed by a list of works cited (including on pp. 255-256 forty-three manuscripts; on pp. 256-260 printed primary sources, and on pp. 260-266 secondary works); by a very useful glossary of technical terms on pp. 267-288; and finally by an index of proper nouns and select subjects on pp. 289-298. All of these elements of the scholarly apparatus are presented with admirable clarity and thoroughness. The book also includes a significant number of illustrations, all reproducing those of the manuscripts in which the edited texts are preserved, but detached from their original setting and inserted into the printed text. Among these are the splendid frontispieces of two of the works (the Tractatus and Eneas de heraldis), the purely illustrative figures in the former (including the twenty 'beasts' whose meaning is explained, and the 61 shields of arms chosen as examples of other types of motif), and finally the comparable set of 161 shields of arms presented for the same purpose in the manuscript of The Origynall Determynyng.

I shall consider each of the seven parts of Moll's modern Miscellany briefly in turn, beginning with its General Introduction on pp. 1-25. In this, Moll ably situates his texts and their authors and translators (when they can be identified) in the cultural world of the professional heralds and amateur heraldists of Latin Europe in the fifteenth century; to the variety of subjects they attempted to explain; and finally to the various kinds of manuscript in which they have been preserved. It is unfortunate that Moll (2) took as his definition of "heraldry" one proposed by Sir Anthony Wagner based on loose modern usage, as it originally meant (and logically still means) "the whole profession and expertise of the heralds," and should be distinguished from its subfield related to armorial emblems, which is properly called "armory" (a distinction Wagner himself made in other contexts). He is also previous in his use of the expression "cote armour" (7, etc.) to mean "arms;" down to about 1485 it seems always to have designated (like its synonym "cote of armes" the actual garment on which emblematic arms were most commonly displayed in the fifteenth century. But these are small matters, and Moll actually treats as heraldic all of the other matters of professional concern to heralds.

Their variety is clear from the range of topics typically included in heraldic miscellanies, and in Moll's own Miscellany, which begins with one of the earliest "systematic treatments of heraldic design," and goes on to include two important works on the origins of arms and the heraldic profession concerned with them; an "ordinance of battle" setting forth rules for trial by combat (overseen in England and probably in Scotland by the High Court of Chivalrie or martial affairs), a tract on the investiture, employment, duties, and privileges of the heralds; and finally a work on the Ancient origins of knighthood, arms, and the "Office of Arms," or heraldic profession, aimed at armigerous gentlemen rather than heralds. All of these claim a Antique origin for those phenomena, and the intervention of such prestigious monarchs as Alexander of Macedon and Julius Caesar. Moll argues that the collection illustrates the steady growth in the prestige and authority of the heralds during the course of the fifteenth century, beginning by pointing out the small place occupied by heralds in the doctrines of the earliest treatises on armory, composed between the 1340s and the 1390s, and their steadily more prominent place in those of the fifteenth century--many composed by leading French heralds. He goes on to discuss the standardization of the organization of general treatises from the 1430s onward, and the influence of French works on those of other countries, especially England. To someone like myself who is familiar both with these works and with the earlier scholarship on them, with the minor reservations noted above, his introduction appears at once thorough, sound, and clearly expressed, and would be an excellent introduction to the field of heraldic and heraldistic erudition in its formative period.

The first of the particular texts edited in the Miscellany is the unique Middle English translation of the Tractatus de armis, generally attributed to a Johannes de Bado Aureo, whose name is given in the explicit of this translation. As Moll explains, the editor of the Latin original of this text, Evan John Jones (1943) identified him on the basis of his name with a Siôn Trevor, Bishop of St. Asaph (d. 1410), but Moll argues convincingly against that identification (based partly on the name of a much later translator into Welsh), and leaves the author's identity unknown. Bado Aureo claimed that he had composed the work at the request of Richard II's queen, Anne of Bohemia, so it is probably datable to 1394 (the date of her death) or 1395. Moll notes the dependence of the work on the armorial doctrines of the Italian jurist Bartolo da Sassoferrato, who had been a councillor of Anne's father, the Emperor Karl IV, and had composed the foundational treatise in the European tradition, De insigniis et armis, in 1355. It was the latter work that introduced the wholly groundless notion that the both the nature and the posture of the non-geometrical figures in arms (especially beasts), and the "tinctures" or colours of all figures, were symbolic of the personal qualities of their first bearers. Moll does an excellent job in describing Bado Aureo's Tractatus and its own influence, and provides a useful critique of Jones's edition of the Latin original--adding five manuscripts and one early printed version of the text to the four known to Jones, sorting them into the two traditions identified by Jones as Tractatus I and II, and adding a sixth witness in the extensive quotations in a later version of John's Treatise on armory by Richard Strangways--and determines that his English translation was based on yet another Latin version, so far unidentified. As I made a photographic copy of the sole manuscript of the English version (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud misc. 733), I can attest that his edition seems to be accurate.

The second work edited in the Miscellany is the Eneas de heraldis, a fictive account of the origins of the heralds and their profession composed by the great humanist Eneas Silvio Piccolomini--ostensibly on the basis of a Latin translation of a work by Thucidides, but in fact based on one of Arrian's Indikê. Moll argues that the verbal similarities between the Latin Indica and the De heraldis make it clear that the latter was based upon the former, but notes that Piccolomini inserted into his model a whole series of statements on the origins of the heralds. He attributed their creation to Dionysus (portrayed in the Indica as the conqueror of India) rather than Julius Caesar. Piccolomini then proceeded to attribute the contemporary privileges of the heralds to a whole series of later rulers, culminating in Octavian and Charlemagne, and quoted at length from an imaginary 'Lex heraldorum'. Moll argues that the English translation of the De heraldis was based on the Latin version preserved in London, British Library MS Stowe 668, which is itself a late fifteenth-century miscellany with texts in Latin, French, and English, probably owned by John Writhe, Garter King of Arms (1478-1504), who also owned a manuscript containing the English translation of the text, copied in his own hand (London, College of Arms MS Arundel 26). Of the five surviving versions of the English text, indeed, this is the closest to the Latin original, and on linguistic grounds Moll argues convincingly that the translation itself was probably made by Writhe. He goes on to provide thorough descriptions of all five manuscripts, and to establish the complex relationships among them (represented in a useful stemma).

The third text edited in the Miscellany--Dionisius, Furst Institutoure--is a composite work, uniquely preserved in Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 271. It begins as a paraphrase of the Eneas de heraldis, but replaces Piccolomini's account of Caesar's establishment of the heralds with one borrowed from the very influential treatise now called the Traité en forme de questionnaire (composed shortly before his death in 1437 by Jehan Courtois, alias Sicily Herald), and then returns to the former's stories about Octavian, Attila, Theodoric, and Charlemagne. At that point the author goes back in time to discuss such omitted topics as the first tournament, held at Olympia after the fall of Troy (another passage borrowed from the Sicily Herald), and concludes with a discussion of the rights, privileges, and fees due to heralds who assist at tournaments and royal ceremonies, and finally with an account of the procedures to be followed at the investiture of a herald. This section is then followed by one composed of a whole series of short discussions of heralds, distinctions of nobility, orders of knighthood, and comparable subjects, borrowed from a variety of sources in both English and French. Moll ends his general introduction by arguing that Dionysus should be regarded as "a unified work in a single hand."

Space does not permit a comparable discussion of the last three texts in the collection, already introduced above, but it is worth observing that they form part of an unusually comprehensive collection of heraldic texts originally composed in French; that they are all essentially composite works; and that they deal mainly with matters not touched on in the first three: trial by combat in The Lawe of Armes within the Listis(text on pp. 134-145); the ideal qualities of a pursuivant, how that office was to be entered and supported, what legal privileges it conveyed, and how to blazon arms in The Persewant (primarily based on a letter by Anjou Herald, but supplemented from a treatise on armory, text 150-160); and finally, in The Origynall Determynyng of Armes (text and illustrations on pp. 170-98) the relationship between arms and gentility, composed for an audience of armigers rather than heralds, laying a heavy emphasis on the symbolic implications of the tinctures of arms, and establishing a correspondence among tinctures, precious stones, and the nine orders of angels (set out in Table 5).

In general it can be said that Moll has done an admirable job in establishing the sources and relationships among the complex texts he has edited in this volume, and the English texts themselves. The editions themselves all appear to be models of their kind, meticulously reconstructed and clearly presented, and will surely be of considerable use to heraldists and heraldic historians--whose interests in such matters have increased significantly in recent years--as well as to students of Middle English language and literature.

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