British Ancestry
Medieval Treatises on Heraldry

There is a general belief that Western European heraldry began in the Flemish Anglo-Norman arena towards the end of the 12th century, though there is considerable evidence of what some have termed proto-heraldry for a century or so beforehand, deriving in turn from battle standards going back into the dark ages and Roman times. Printed books on the history and development of heraldry, its terms and language do not appear until the 15th century, the first being printed by Wynken de Worde in 1486 at Westminster "the treatyse perteyning to Hawkyng, Huntyng, and Fyshyng with an Angle; and also a right noble Treatyse, which specyfyeth the Blasying of Armys by Julyans Berners, Pierre le Caron le Blason de Toutes Armes et Ecutzwas printed in Paris in 1495. Further printed works appeared at increasing intervals through the 16th century. Generally based upon these and De Officio Militari allegedly by one Nicholas Upton dated 1454, copies of which with coloured drawings of coats of arms appear in British Library Additional MS 30946, Cotton MS Nero CIII, Harleian MS3504, 61060 and in College of Arms MS Sheldon 444. Sir Edward Bisshe published this treatise in print in London in 1654 as Nicholai Vptoni, de Stvdio Militari, Libri Quatuor, Johan. de Bado Aureo, Tractatus de Armis. This was the subject of a printed treatise by Professor E.J. Jones of Cardiff in 1943, Medieval Heraldry, and throughout the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, many copies were made of this tract with variant forms of the text. It all appears to relate to the text of John de Bado Aureo who was possibly Bishop Sion Trevor, whose tractatus first appeared in Latin in 1395 and is related to the British Museum Additional MS 3744, also from the 14th century. The treatise is in French in some twelve chapters with arms in gold and silver in colours is in the British Library Additional MS 26708 dating from the 15th century.

However, the earliest source of heraldic lore derives from De Heraudie, written in Anglo-Norman about 1300 by an unknown author and included in the Formularium of St Alban's Abbey, which was compiled sometime after 1382. The internal evidence suggests that the original manuscript was copied about 1300. It was edited by Dr Ruth J. Dean as "An Early Treatise on Heraldry in Anglo-Norman" published in Romance Studies in Memory of Edward Billings Ham, edited by U.T. Holmes (California State College publication no.62, 1967), pp.21-29.

The law of Arms was dealt with by the famous Italian jurist Bartolo di Sasso Ferrato (1315-c.1359) as De Insigniis et Armis, Latin MS of c.1355, published in a complete edition by Professor Evan J. Jones in Medieval Heraldry (1943) appendix 1, pp.221-252. He gives invaluable notes on the manuscript sources and other editions that have appeared, giving a straightforward account of the technicalities and practice of armory in the language of the time. Later there came parts of treatises devoted to the laws and art of war with short sections on armory, and then later parts devoted to ceremony, nobility and the duties of heralds. Of the former kind, Christine de Pisan or Pezano (1364-1429) appeared in French about c.1400 as Le Livre des Faits d'Armes et de Chevalerie. Caxton published a version of it in 1620 and there is a good edition by A.T.P. Byless in the Early English Text Society Vol.189 (1932). Clément Prinsault's Treatises dates from the early 15th century and is in French and there are several copies in the Bibliotheque Nationale MS FR5936, FR5939, FR14357, with an augmented version in Lansdown MS 882 at the British Library, and L.C. Douet d'Arcq wrote a version of it in Revue Archéologique 1st Series Vol.XV (1859) pp.257-274, and 321-342. Bibliotheque Nationale MS5930 has an armorial fos.33-63 and an heraldic treatise dating from the 15th century of unknown authorship. It consists of much the same material as other treatises and goes on with some description of heralds' duties. MS FR5241 is similar and allegedly by Merlin de Cordeboeuf and l'Art Heraldique in FR1983 is much the same, though with different arrangements. The armorial of Gilles de Bouvier, Bury King of Arms, dating from about 1450 in French in FR5931 edited by M. Vellet de Virille as Armorial de France Angleterre Allegmagne Italia et autre isances???(Paris 1866), besides arms, contains a treatise.

Before his death in 1436, Jean Courtois, Sicily Herald, published Le Blason des Couleurs in French. He describes himself as Sicily Herald of Alfonso King of Aragon, Sicily Valence, Majorca, Corsica, and Sardinia, Count of Barcelona, and says that he had for a long time being in Mons in Hainault in The Netherlands. He claimed his work had been compiled with l'Aide de Dieu, princes, knights, squires and all his brothers, kings of arms and heralds. The text was printed by Hibbolyte Cocheris in Paris (1860). Banyster's Treatises and Mowbray's Treatises, both in The College of Arms, M19 and 2nd L12 refer to by Sir Anthony Wagner, p.66 and corrections to 69 and in his Herald and Heraldry in the Middle Ages (1956) pp.57-58, are among those taking similar lines to Sir Richard Strangway's book of c.1447 written in English and Latin. Strangway was a law student at the Inner Temple and died in 1488. This is mentioned by H. Stanford London in some medieval treatisses on English heraldry in the Antiquaries Journal Vol.XXIII pp.94-82 (Additions and corrections to CEMRA in Aspilogia Two (1967) p.274. Harleian MS 2259 is the only copy so far discovered. Bishop Sion Trevor, who died in 1410, wrote a treatise in Welsh, which is almost a verbatum translation of the Tractatus des Armis of Johan de Bado Aureo (Jones Medieval Heraldry). This is also similar to Jones Medieval Heraldry pp.213-220 with several contemporary copies of notes on the grammar of armory, published at the Inns of Courts in London in the mid-15th century (British Library Additional MS 34648, Harleian 6097, and others, including the Ashmolean Tract, which I had published in The Coat of Arms Vol.6 pp.163-170 as Heraldry in School Manuals of the Middle Ages. Similar, but somewhat later, is the Slo Tract which I also published in The Coat of Arms as the first in a series Vol.6 pp.115-123 from Additional MS 3744. While the SloTract has a beginning and end in Latin, the rest, like later treatises, is in English.

From then on, most of the treatises are copies, one from another, based upon the notes of law students of the Inns of Courts, as I have already pointed out. One of the earliest to be published was based upon that of Nicholas Ward in the mid-15th century, largely plagiarised by Gerard Legh in Accedence of Armorie printed and published in London in 1562. Since printing didn't come in to play until the end of the 15th century, it is not surprising that many copies of these early manuscripts survive, slightly modified by each writer of them, running alongside those which are genuinely the noteworks of lecturers or students. Of similar kind is the manuscript located a few years ago in the Chetham Library (Mun E.8.22 named The Adlington Manuscript mid-16th century copy of a much earlier tract [19 R & V]) by my colleagues John and Rita Titterton. Father A. Manning published the Argentay Tract (1983) based upon a treatise of the 15th century. Augusto Nascimento Livro de Arautos des Ministeria Armorum is based upon a 15th century manuscript in the John Rylands' Library in Manchester (published in Lisbon 1977 in two volumes. Our good friends Giacomoc Bascapè, Marcello del Piazzo and Luigi Borgia produced a magnificent treatise Insegne e Simboli Araldica Pubblica e Privata Medievalea Moderna in 1983, but there is little to suggest that before the work of Bartolo di Sasso Ferrato there were any treatises as such in Italy, and those that were written were in Italian. Lorenzo Valla 1560, Petra Sancta, 1634, and the 15th century Codice of Padua Capo Padovano Dilista (1436) and Codice Trivulziano di Milano (1460).

Invariably, many of these provide imaginery and mythical histories to the origins of heraldry but the basis of the lore and law, terms, language and grammar of blazonry which led up to the great works of those like Spena Historia Insignium Illustrium, Seu Operis Heraldici Pars Specialis (Frankfurt 1680) and Insignium Theoria Seu Operis Heraldici Pars..(Frankfurt 1690).

The only treatises for Italy were printed Fiorenza 1580 Historia Delle Famiglie Nobili Napolitane Scipione Ammorato 1580 and D. Francesco Zaggera Della Nobilita d'Italia (Napoli 1615).
3 June 2003

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