HERALDIC MANUAL WITH ARMORIAL OF THE FRENCH NOBILITY AND ARTHURIAN KNIGHTS, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northern France or Flanders, late 15th century]
213 x 145mm. ii + 108 + ii leaves, COMPLETE: 12, 26, 3-158, early foliation 1-112, 25 lines written in lettre bâtarde in black ink between two vertical and 26 horizontals ruled in pale red on ff.4-8, justification: 135 x 85mm, from one to five lines of text above each coat of arms, five one- or two-line illuminated initials in gold on red or blue ground with floral infill, one five-line initial in blue on a reddish ground with decoration in gold, MORE THAN 800 ARMORIAL SHIELDS IN COLOURS AND LIQUID GOLD AND SILVER many blasoned, four to a page (some stains and spotting especially on flyleaves, second flyleaf with old loss of upper corner). Red velvet with two silver clasps (extremities and spine worn).
AN ELEGANTLY WRITTEN AND FINELY ILLUMINATED HANDBOOK CONTAINING THE RULES OF HERALDRY, WITH OVER EIGHT HUNDRED BLASONED EXAMPLES
1. The script and preponderance of armorials relating to Flanders, Artois, and Picardy indicate an origin near the Franco-Flemish border; the exemplar appears to have dated from the mid-15th century as the arms include, for example, those of the Connétable de Richemont before he became Duke Arthur III of Brittany in 1457.
2. The arms of William I the Elder, Landgrave of Lower Hesse, count of Ziegenhain and Nidda (r.1471-93) are added on f.111: if he was not the first owner of the manuscript, he must have acquired it within a decade or two of its production.
3. Giovanni Maria of Prestino: with a long inscription in Italian (full transcription and translation available from the Department) detailing how he bought it from among the chests of loot abandoned by fleeing French troops after the Siege of Como (f.3), and inscribed with the date '1521 a di 28 de no(vem)bri' (f.1); his cipher (f.3) is repeated on f.112.
A manual of heraldry beginning 'Le tresnoble tresvictorieux et trespuissant prince et empereur Julius cesar pour exaulter le nom et la vaillance de ses chiefs de guerre...' ff.4-8v; general armorial with painted and named shields, starting with Jesus and ending with the Conte de Laval ff.9-23; painted and blasoned shields of 151 Knights of the Round Table, beginning 'Sensuivent les noms et blasons des chevaliers de la table Ronde au temps du roy Arthur...', beginning with Galahad ff.23v-42; painted and named tinctures, blazoned ordinaries, sub-ordinaries and charges ff.42v-110v.
This highly decorative book's combination of blasons and depictions of shields - one usefully illustrating the other - is a splendid source for the study of both heraldry and Arthuriana. Apart from the presence of the arms of Le Forestier de Danemarche on f.38v, and the absence of a shield for Herin, the 151 armorials of the Knights of the Round Table follow the traditional imagery established by the mid-15th century and disseminated in manuscripts such as the Noms, armes et blasons des chevaliers de la Table Ronde (see E. Sandoz, 'Tourneys in the Arthurian Tradition', Speculum, 19, 1944, pp.408-20; and A. de Blangy, La forme des tournois au temps du Roy Uter et du roy Arthur, suivie de l'armorial des chevaliers de la Table Ronde, 1897).