Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Neumes. Throne. Bible.
Long Reads

The Success Story of the Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry

What Asinus Teaches

  1. The Legend of Clovis and the Fleur-de-Lys
  2. The Fleur-de-Lys in Medieval Heraldry
  3. The French “Copyright” on the Fleur-de-Lys

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

>>> Link to the original Reddit post

Of all the medieval motifs to choose from, why is the Fleur-de-lys so popular? Why don’t we see Papal staffs or English lions on fence posts, organisation logos and flags everywhere?

Side question: Where does it actually come from? It’s often listed as the coronation of Clovis in the 6th century, but some sources (not very trustworthy ones mind you) claim that the symbol dates back older than that.

My Answer

Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?

In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, we need to consider a few things.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Kings. King of France. Kings of France. Angels. Angel. Royalty. Power.
Allegory of the French Royal Power – Paris, BnF, fr. 2598, f. 1r

1. Clovis Has Nothing to Do with It

By the second half of the 14th century, Charles V of France was all busy patroning the arts and the writing of many new lavish manuscripts—he wasn’t only bailing out the upcoming commander-in-chief of his army with his royal treasury. He had his own army of translators. They would offer French renditions of major Latin cultural texts; e.g. Raoul de Presles translated Augustine’s City of God.

Why the well would I bring up such pointless trivia?

The fact is that the whole Clovis legend you mention is mentioned in Raoul de Presles’ translation of Augustine’s City of God and that is because medieval translators didn’t only translated what they read, they also augmented their translations with new prologues, running commentaries and full-on exegeses. Don’t ask me why they did it, we’d be here for another hour at least. The fact is that they indulged themselves with such fancy rhetoric.

Raoul de Prelses translated the City of God for Charles V of France, therefore he wrote the latter a letter justifying his scholarly work and placed it at the beginning of it. Raoul de Prelses went on to talk about many things but first he had to remind how great, wise and noble Charles V of France actually was. Therefore he reminded the legend tying Clovis to the fleur-de-lys. Do you remember how Constantine converted to Christianism? Hold on to your seat because we’ve got some major flashback incoming.

According to the legend, Clovis was about to face a Saracen king who cut his way through Germany (not Spain) and was now threatening France. It was on this very battle that the battle-cries of “Monjoye” and “Saint-Denis” were shouted for the first time—just like La Hire would then shout them at Montargis, in 1427.

Montjoye!

On the eve of battle, Clovis had a dream. He dreamt of three fleur-de-lys. The next day, he wiped what was then his emblem, three crescents (this version of the legend makes Clovis a Saracen himself!—in other versions of the tale, his emblem was made of three toads*), and replaced it with three fleur-de-lys. He then marched on to victory.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Clovis. King. King of France. Baptisme. Genealogical Tree. Holy Spirit. Religion. Pope.
Clovis’ Genealogical Tree – Toulouse, BM, 988

Raoul de Presles exposed as an obvious evidence that the legend was true that the Abbey of “Joie-en-Val”, which was allegedly founded after the battle—and is better known as the Abbey of Saint-Denis—still carried three fleur-de-lys on its escutcheon by his own lifetime. Let’s reckon that Raoul de Presles was very creative with archeological and heraldic materials but that he didn’t just made up the legend either. Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, French official and chronicler, first came up with the idea in the 12th century. It was strongly passed on through the 13th century with the production of stained glasses and sculptures. Raoul de Presles merely revived the legend when he translated Augustine’s City of God, by the early 1370s, because around those very years, Charles V of France was changing the royal French coat of arms from “Azure semy-de-lys or” to “Azure, three fleurs-de-lys or”. As such, Charles V of France wished to symbolically tighten the knot between the French monarchy and the Holy Trinity, placing the kingdom of France under the direct protection of God—and himself, the king, as His direct representative on Earth.


 * Michel Pastoureau (“Une fleur pour le roi. Jalons pour une histoire médiévale de la fleur de lis”, in Une histoire symbolique du Moyen Âge occidental. Paris: Seuil, 2004, p.110-124) quotes the manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 22912, f. 3v and writes “crapaulx” (toads) instead of “croissans” (crescents) but this is a paleographic mistake. However, I didn’t have the time to cross-reference this finding with the latest edition of the BnF, fr. 22912 (Olivier Bertrand (ed.), La Cité de Dieu de saint Augustin traduite par Raoul de Presle (1371-1375), livres I à III, édition du manuscrit BnF fr. 22912. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013).

** The semy-de-lys didn’t vanish, though. However, only the “three fleur-de-lys” came to symbolise the French king as a person and individual once Charles V of France was done with it, whereas the “semy-de-lys” became more of a general emblem related to the royalty.

2. When and How Did It All Start?

If it didn’t start with Clovis? When did the big fashion for fleur-de-lys emblems actually begin? Was it with Charlemagne? Was it with Hugues Capet? None of the above! The first died in 814 and the second in 996. As stated before—we live and die by our mantra, each and every one of us—coat of arms only came into fashion by the 12th century. It is only then that fleur-de-lys emblems started to sprout all over Europe.

The fleur-de-lys had many thing going for it to promote its success. First, its abstract representation was pretty. It matters. Second, it was a flower named in the Holy Bible. In the Song of Songs no less! “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. | As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song 2:1-2) Those verses were picked up in the Middle Age to further the devotion to the Virgin Mary. The lily became Mary’s flower. She was depicted either surrounded by lilies or holding a lily into her hand on several French coins and ecclesiastic seals during the 12th century.

When the time came for the kings of France to choose their own symbol, they liked the idea of placing their realm under the protection of the Virgin Mary. Since the lily was her flower, they would be crowned while carrying great blue coats covered with golden lilies (instead of stars, that other regal figures fancied). That way, as a symbolic gesture, they placed themselves under the protection of the queen of Heaven, the mother of God, Mary. The symbolism was quite long in the making*. It took a few kings to be properly picked up but by 1211, a royal French figure is for the first time depicted on a seal with a shield that displays a “semy-de-lys”.

  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Charles VII. King. King of France. Lily. Lilies. The Virgin Mary. The Holy Trinity. God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. Angels. Throne. Bible.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Jesus. The Virgin Mary. Baby Jesus. Prayer. Lilies. Lily.
  • Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Angel. The Virgin Mary. Lily. Lilies.

By then, however, the fleur-de-lys was a proper heraldic emblem, only second in popularity to the lion, the eagle, or a few geometric figures. It was often encountered in various places such as the northern Low Countries, the Rhine valley, the duchy of Brabant, the county of Artois, the duchy of Tuscany, many regions in France, etc. On seals, it ranks among the most used symbols in Normandy, Flanders, Zeeland and Switzerland. It was imprinted on the emblem of peasant families, urban communities (such as guilds) and cities. The city of Lille, in France, bears the lily on its coat of arms because it makes up for a great pun. In Latin, the lily is called lilium, it resembled “Lille” enough to draw a visual parallel.


* Though it was long in the making, the symbolism also lasted very long. In the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which is a 19th century construction, we find a gorgeous mosaic of Louis XIII begging Mary to give him a son and secure the future of his realm. The prayer was heard and a son was born. He grew up to become Louis XIV. The Virgin Mary so appears, on several mosaics of the basilica, to have granted her special protection to the kingdom of France through the ages. Isn’t it amazing? How long symbols can survive?

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Charles V. Books. Books in the Middle Ages. Reading. Reading in the Middle Ages. King of France. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King. Heraldry. Bible. Song of Songs.Charles VI. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Semy-de-Lys. Fleur-de-Lys. King of France. King. Heraldry.
Charles V of France and Charles VI with Semy-de-Lys garments and furniture

3. The Fleur-de-Lys, Joan of Arc and the Medici

By the 15th century, the king of France started to share his emblematic fleur-de-lys to people, families and communities that supported him through hard times. I’ve already touched on it in my post about Joan of Arc’s origins but I don’t mind to cover the topic again. It’ll give me the opportunity to pile a few more details on the stack for you insatiable history geeks. 

Joan of Arc's coat of arms.
Joan of Arc’s coat of arms.

Some people have believed, because Joan of Arc was granted the right to carry a fleur-de-lys on her own coat of arms, that Charles VII secretly acknowledged her as his secret royal sister. What a prank! By the 15th century, French kings had already begun a long-lasting political strategy that we could tag as the hostile public takeover of power symbols. Just like they claimed that only them and no other could have inherited their aristocratic title “by the Grace of God”, they wished to monopolize the fleur-de-lys as their own symbol. The fleur-de-lys, despite its wide and ancient popularity, belonged to them, represented them, and was for them to “offer” to their most precious allies.

French kings would grant people the right to bear the fleur-de-lys on their coat of arms as a symbolic gesture of binding friendship. Joan of Arc wasn’t the only one to “receive” the fleur-de-lys from Charles VII. John Stewart of Darnley, Constable of the Scottish Army in France, was also granted the fleur-de-lys on his personal coat of arms, back in 1426, three years prior to Joan’s epic. Two cities at least, Tournay (1426-1427) and Saint-Maixant (1440) were also awarded fleur-de-lys for their valiant resistance against the “English”. Louis XI, who succeeded Charles VII, might have hated his father, but he understood the political finesse behind gifting the fleur-de-lys. He awarded it himself to the Medici family in 1465 for their precious aid.

The fact that two daughters of the Medici family later became queen of France certainly furthered the popularity of the fleur-de-lys. If you happen to visit the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, you will end up in a room which walls are covered with fleur-de-lys.

Conclusion: Charles VI, the Winged Deer and the Fleur-de-Lys

I started with the mystery of Charles VI’s winged deer. I haven’t forgotten about it. Truth is that the deer, just like the fleur-de-lys, carried a religious meaning. The deer had been interpreted by scholars and theologians as a “red beast” (meaning, a good beast) and as a symbol of Christ—for various reasons that would be too long to enumerate here. The lion, too, was a symbol of Christ, though it is a predator. On the contrary, wolves, bears or boars had become devilish avatars.

Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Three Fleurs-de-Lys. Heraldry. Fleur-de-Lys. Winged Deer. Deer. Coat of Arms.
Charles VI’s Armorial: Two Winged Deers Holding the Three Fleurs-de-Lys – Paris, BnF, fr. 2608, f. 1r

To conclude on that note, the popularity of the fleur-de-lys was boosted by its perception as a religious and then regal emblem. It quickly became a popular emblem on coat of arms from the very start, but its political (and spiritual) appropriation by the kings of France only made it more visible, meaningful and desirable.

Medieval Torture. Impaling. Illumination. Illuminated manuscript.
Long Reads

How to Torture People in the Middle Ages?

What Asinus Teaches

Medieval illuminated manuscript. illumination. Torture. Strappado. hanging from the arms.
Medieval torture: The Strappado – Avignon, BM, 659, f. 189v

Wild Reddit Question Appeared!

>>> Link to original post!

What did you have to do to get tortured in the medieval days?

Would they do it to any criminal or did they only use torture for more serious crimes? Would they often torture innocent people for entertainment as well?

My Answer

Ça alors! I was just reading my notes on that very topic earlier today. I hope you don’t mind if I share and translate them 😉

The Introduction of Torture in the 13th century

Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.

I was brave enough to conclude that “hard evidence is hard” in a former contribution but what is–you may ask–a proper piece of evidence?

When trials by ordeals where the norm, you were deemed innocent if you won a duel or if you had forty men to swear on a bible that you didn’t do what you had been accused of doing. Things like that. Depending on the case and the local customs.

Roman law, however, doesn’t work that way. You don’t have to prove your innocence. You’re innocent until proven guilty. The law doesn’t wait on someone to blame you for something. State officials have to record a crime to start an investigation. It is their job to find all the evidence that work for you or against you. In that regard, the Common law is a hybrid system.

Since you’re not guilty from the get-go according to the principles of Roman law, how do anyone prove you’re guilty of anything? What could be considered as a proper piece of evidence?

Case number one: you’ve been caught doing the crime you’re being charged with by sworn officials. Your crime is notorious and known to everybody. You head straight to sentencing.

Case number two: state officials find witnesses that can testify you did what you’re being charged with. There needs to be two of them and they must be male adults. This is sometimes quite difficult to find… Therefore medieval legists came with a work-around. A single male adult witness can be replaced by two women or two minors–because women are litterally viewed as minors in regard to the law and they will remain as such in most Western countries until… the 20th century.

Case number three: you CONFESS!

Medieval illumination. Torture. Waterboarding.
Medieval torture: Waterboarding – London, BL, Harley MS 4375-1, f. 70v

Confession, according to Roman law, is the queen of all evidence. However, what can you do when someone refuses to confess? That’s when torture comes into play. Back then, it was called “to put someone to the question.” The first mention of such practices date back from the 13th century. We’re not talking here about sentencing people to a horrible fate, but well about intimidating people with threats of pain or actual suffering in order to get confessions.

In the 16th century, Joos de Damhouder wrote a book about criminal practices (which quickly became a best-seller) and defined the use of torture. Some people couldn’t be put to the question: doctors (of laws, not physicians), knights, officials, children under the age of 14, pregnant women and old people (with exceptions in cases of regicide or witchcraft). Torture had to be done on people who were heavily suspected to be guilty of the crime they were being charged with and common gossip don’t make up for such practices. You must have at least half a proof that the person as commited the crime (which translate into one male adult witness or two minor witnesses).

However, a confession said under torture ALWAYS had to be repeated out of torture. It litterally got Joan of Arc out of it since she maintained to her judges, at Rouen, that “Should you tear my limbs apart or split my soul from my body, I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. Should I tell you otherwise, then I would always argue that you forced me to.” She must have known what the deal was and how torture worked as a judicial procedure. Moreover, if you didn’t confess during the act of torture, the evidence collected against you were exponged and the proceedings had to start from scratch all over again. Meaning you just couldn’t torture someone on and on again just for the kick of it.

Many people had to attend the act of torture for it to be valid too, among whom a physician.

It is not to say that some didn’t play fast and loose with torture or that some tortured souls didn’t enjoyed it. There must have been some cases. However, torture was a heavily codified judicial procedure and the judges who ordered it were well-educated men who dreaded the concept of appeal more than they cared for human lives. Especially by the 16th century, torture to be applied had to be approved by superior courts largely made of intellectuals who didn’t care much for brutality and violence.

Torture was ultimately challenged in the 18th century and deemed as an uneffective procedure. Voltaire led the charge during the “Affaire Calas”. The judicial authorities were already questioning the usefulness of torture. Only 5% of tortured people confessed in France, 30% in the Low Countries and, well, 50% in the Holy Roman Empire. It mostly depended on the legal conditions of torture. In France, by the mid-17th century, someone could only be put to the question two times for an hour and then the torture had to stop. In the Low Countries, someone could be put to the question up to seven times for a total time of 30 hours! In general, protestant countries were more prone to torture than catholic countries. Witchhunts in the protestant principalities of the Holy Roman Empire killed far more people than the infamous Spanish Inquisition.

Furthermore, I will note that the numbers I gave do include two types of torture. Someone can be put to the question to make him confess, that is one thing, but once he’s recognised as guilty, he can be put back again to the question! On that second “torture run”–which was generally far more brutal–he’d be asked to denounce his associates. This was, of course, the perfect occasion to blame someone you wanted to bring with you to the grave and it sometimes led to entire villages being accused of witchcraft and heresy when torture was implemented too quickly and neighbours didn’t like each others.

Medieval illumination. Torture. Bench. Ropes.
Medieval torture: The Bench – Paris, Arsenal, 5080, f. 392r

The 6 Most “Promising” Ways of Torture People in the Middle Ages

#1. The Strappado

Hanging someone by his arms as he is bound behind his back. Weights can also be attached to his feet for good measure.

#2. The Bench

Burning someone’s flesh with the help of ropes.

#3. The Waterboarding

Did you even think we only came up with it? Water was sometimes replaced with oil or vinager.

#4. The Waffle Iron

This was not a Belgian delicacy (for Belgian didn’t exist yet that torture had already been banned in the Low Countries), it involved pincers.

#5. The Spanish Boot

(Widely used in France.) You strap wooden planks tightly to someone’s leg then you hammer wooden wedges between the planks and the leg.

#6. The Collar

(Quite “popular” in Brabant and in the principality of Liege.) Someone stands up with his neck strapped in a piked collar. The pikes, of course, are facing inward. The collard is held up by ropes attached to walls. If you fall asleep… your neck will pay the price.

One Random Fun Fact

People who were put to torture often tried to assuage the pain that was inflicted to them. My “favourite” drug they used was–you can believe me or not, I’ve actually tracked down the source a long time ago (but it took me several days so I won’t do it again)–Marseille soap.

I was so shocked when I heard it from my university professor’s mouth that I stopped everything and said, out loud: “Did they farted soap bubbles?” He looked at me. His face was blank. I honestly don’t remember what he answered–I think he said yes (!?)–but he carried on like a pro.

True story.

One Solid Reference

Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Judicial Torture in Canon Law and Church Tribunals: From Gratian to Galileo”, in Catholic Historical Review. 2015, Vol. 101, Issue 4, p. 754-793.

Short Reads

Did Medieval Towns Have Gardens and Yards?

What Asinus Teaches

  1. Definition of a Medieval Town
  2. Its Various Types of Neighbourhood
  3. Its Yards and Gardens

Wild Reddit Question Appeared!

>>> Link to the original post!

What would the yards between buildings in a Medieval European city be used for/occupied by? [image included for reference]

I stumbled into the excellent Layers of London website and was exploring a map of London from about 1270-1300. We can confine my question to that time and place if that helps. I also looked at some old maps of other cities in the 13th century like Paris, and while they’re a bit tricky to interpret, I think they have the same quality I found.

Here is a screenshot of a closeup look at some neighborhoods. The darker brown is keyed as “houses and other buildings forming a built-up front-age,” the white negative space is road, and the slight off-white occupying the space in between “blocks” of houses is keyed as “yards and gardens in the urban area.” That’s the part I’m curious about.

What’s so confusing to me is that it seems to occupy such a vast amount of space relative to actual buildings. When I read about medieval urban spaces, I’m told that it’s incredibly cramped and jam-packed with buildings. Watching/reading guides for drawing medieval cities for something like D&D show the only negative space to be the major roads between buildings.

Who owns/has permission to use the “yard” between everyone’s buildings? Does your business extend out into the open? Are there agreements between neighbors about how that space can be used? Is it more of a communal thing that is privately shared by every resident of that “block”?

Gardens in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination.
Urban Garden – Wien, ONB, Cod. 2617, f. 53r

My Answer

What Defines a Medieval Town?

Our post-industrial conception of urban and rural areas is very black and white. The city and the countryside seems like two opposites in our modern worldview. However, green areas constituted the best part of most cities before the 18th century and medieval towns, especially, were tightly connected to their surrounding countryside or contado. Though international trade was a real thing, globalization hadn’t taken over local commerce. Cabbages were not imported from another country because you fancied them, they were found in your own very region if not in your own backyard.

Medievalists are often at odds when it comes to define what a medieval town was. Was it the walls? Was is the bourgeoisie (a class of priviledged town-dwellers)? Was it the population number? The medieval town is nothing like an ancient Greek or Roman city. It’s messy.

It grew organically around a few landmarks: a church, an abbey, a castle, a mill or all of those things! Privileges were first acquired by the end of the 11th century. Walls rose from the ground around the 12th century. Town really started to be clustered by the 14th century when the Black Death pushed many countrymen to cut their losses in the countryside and take their chances in the big cities.

However the city didn’t only include one single species of inhabitants. Beyond the social human diversity you’d also find cattle: cows and pigs for the most part. The first were popular for their milk, the latter litteraly cleansed the streets and also made up for tasty meat. Nevertheless, roaming pigs became a daily pest. It happened that a young French king died in Paris when his horse fell unexpectedly upon a pig. In Amiens, the town had to ban pigs from within the city walls several times during the 14th and 15th century. Really, medieval towns looked a lot like rural areas.

Aristocrats, Religious Congregations and Burghers

Gardens in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination.
Royal Garden – London, BL, Egerton MS 3781, f. 1r

As I’ve already stated in a former post, medieval cities held several seats of power. In Paris or London, the king had his castle (the Bastille or the Tower); the powerful aristocrats had their mansions; the archbishop had both his cathedral and his palace; many priests had their own church and parish; religious orders were scattered all over town in their convents; the burghers had a towncentre, several indoor and outdoor market places; craftmen were regrouped into streets… Each of those members of society had their own rights and privileges, they had their own assembly, they answered to different political players. Not only was the town an actual maze of narrow streets, it was also a labyrinth of a political chess! Keeping everybody in check proved to be very difficult. Urban revolts were quite common during the 14th and 15th century, to the point that Richard II of England and future Henry IV came close to death when the good people of London stormed the Tower. Philip the Good, a few decades later, found himself trapped within Bruges and barely made it with his life.

This social diversity called for a greater architectural diversity. Lords and prelates often held actual lands within city walls. Behind the strong façades of their buildings–mansions, convents, churches–they’d entertain vast gardens or actual fields and pastures. Some of those well kept areas have been turned today into public parcs, big or smalls. Burghers who belonged to the upper-middle class also enjoyed their own private gardens. Yards were more common than we could expect.

Recreative Gardens, Urban Agriculture and Medicinal Horticulture

Gardens in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination.Gardens in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination.
Allegorical Gardens – London, BL, Harley MS 4425, f. 12v VS PAris, BnF, fr. 143, f. 198v

People of the Middle Ages enjoyed having a garden as much as we do today, if not even more. They had no TV nor printing press to distract them. Spending some time in the yard after a long day of work was quite the release. Friars were invited to have a gentle stroll in their gardens instead of napping after dinner. The rose already obsessed many people for its unique scent and beautiful shape.

Cities had often been placed next to rivers and marshes. When those marshes were dried up it became the perfect spot for in-walls agricultural fields. It wasn’t enough to help a city go through a siege, but it could help in times of generalized famine. Religious congregations were quick to capitalize on such parcels whilst aristocrats rather paid for the services of professional gardeners (they had lands in the countryside and didn’t bother to grow crops within city walls).

After the Black Death struck, it was also advised by many authors to maintain a medicinal garden. It’d be the jewel of a few hospitals and convents. Really, gardens were everywhere though parcels were divided and turned into construction areas to make room for more houses when rural exodus peaked. A few neighbourhoods were always quite densely populated though and in those cases gardens were more often replaced by courtyards.

Lyon, which is a very ancient city dating back from the Roman Empire, has many what we call “traboules”: secret shortcuts within neighbourhoods only known by the locals that formed over time because of the very high density of buildings. These are more than narrow alleyways. They go up and down buildings, connect various streets together and made Lyon a proper nightmare to manage and control for the authorities. However, the case of Lyon is quite unique. Most medieval cities, since they were not former Roman colonies, had gardens, alleyways and courtyards, in-walls fields and pastures or private parcs.

Urban Gardens in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination.
Urban Gardening – Paris, Arsenal, 5196, f. 357v

References

  • C. Rawcliffe, “‘Delectable Sightes and Fragrant Smelles’: Gardens and Health in Late Medieval and Early Modern England”, in Garden History, 36 (2008), 3-21.
  • E. Gesbert, “Les jardins au Moyen Âge : du XIe au début du XIVe siècle”, in Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 46/184 (2003), 381-408.
Gardening in the Middle Ages. Illuminated Medieval Manuscript. Illumination. Garderner. Gardening. Strawberry. Third Estate.
Gardening in the Middle Ages – Paris, BnF, nal 3134, f. 32v
Short Reads

How Do Historians Evaluate the Thruth of a Claim?

>>> Original comment on AskHistorians

Historians don’t state facts randomly. They don’t fabricate them either. They follow what we call the Historical Method, or Quellenkritik, or Critique historique.

What’s the Purpose of the Historical Method?

Human societies leave written or non-written documents. For the sake of this argument I will only focus on written documents, especially since non-written documents are more often related to archaeological or art history studies than historical studies. Those scientific disciplines are deeply connected and they feed off each other but they each present specific methods related to their fields of inquiry. The written document is the specificity of the historian. Therefore I’ll mostly focus on that.

The 17th century saw the rise and triumph of centralized states in Europe. Those states heavily relied on an administrative workforce to control, regulate and expand their authority. If the verbal agreement was still paramount in the 15th century, it wasn’t the case anymore. However, a greater number of “paper pushers” meant that you needed to ascertain the validity of written documents. How could you be sure that a royal or papal letter was legitimate? You had to know how the documents were made and what they displayed. It became even more crucial when kings and princes pushed territorial claims as casi bellorum to legitimize going to war with their neighbors. Louis XIV, for example, became an expert at that game.

In the meantime, Jesuits were poking anywhere they could. They were highly educated, quite erudite, and they loved to prove people wrong—which partially contributed to their downfall. A group of them, the Bollandists, settled in the Low Countries and specialized in proving that hagiographies (the biographies of saints) were full of nonsense and historical inaccuracies. It threatened the livelihood of several religious congregation which relied on popular pilgrimage. Who would worship a relic that contained the bones of a made-up saint?

Dom Mabillon rose to the challenge, on the matter of old Merovingian charters, and came up with a method to prove or disprove the validity of a document. He fathered diplomatic, the study and science of authentic documents. Do you wonder how Sherlock Holmes solved A Scandal in Bohemia? Well, he showed quite the diplomatic prowess in the very first chapter when he identified the origin of the paper upon which a letter was sent to him. We know Sherlock Holmes only solved murders through hard science: Sir Conan Doyle obviously thought of diplomatic as one of them.

The scene is actually a very good imaginary depiction of what a diplomatic examination should go for.


The note was undated, and without either signature or address.

“There will call upon you to-night, at a quarter to eight o’clock,” it said, “a gentleman who desires to consult you upon a matter of the very deepest moment. Your recent services to one of the royal houses of Europe have shown that you are one who may safely be trusted with matters which are of an importance which can hardly be exaggerated. This account of you we have from all quarters received. Be in your chamber then at that hour, and do not take it amiss if your visitor wear a mask.”

“This is indeed a mystery,” I remarked. “What do you imagine that it means?”

“I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. But the note itself. What do you deduce from it?

I carefully examined the writing, and the paper upon which it was written.

“The man who wrote it was presumably well to do,” I remarked, endeavouring to imitate my companion’s processes. “Such paper could not be bought under half a crown a packet. It is peculiarly strong and stiff.

“Peculiar—that is the very word,” said Holmes. “It is not an English paper at all. Hold it up to the light.

I did so, and saw a large E with a small g, a P, and a large G with a small t woven into the texture of the paper.

“What do you make of that?” asked Holmes.

“The name of the maker, no doubt; or his monogram, rather.”

“Not at all. The G with the small t stands for ‘Gesellschaft,’ which is the German for ‘Company.’ It is a customary contraction like our ‘Co.’ P**, of course, stands for ‘Papier.’ Now for the** Eg**.** Let us glance at our Continental Gazetteer.” He took down a heavy brown volume from his shelves. “Eglow, Eglonitz—here we are, Egria. It is in a German-speaking country—in Bohemia**, not far from Carlsbad**. ‘Remarkable as being the scene of the death of Wallenstein, and for its numerous glass factories and paper mills.’ Ha, ha, my boy, what do you make of that?” His eyes sparkled, and he sent up a great blue triumphant cloud from his cigarette.

The paper was made in Bohemia,” I said.

“Precisely. And the man who wrote the note is a German. Do you note the peculiar construction of the sentence—‘This account of you we have from all quarters received.’ A Frenchman or Russian could not have written that. It is the German who is so uncourteous to his verbs. It only remains, therefore, to discover what is wanted by this German who writes upon Bohemian paper, and prefers wearing a mask to showing his face. And here he comes, if I am not mistaken, to resolve all our doubts.”


The first thing you look for in a document is the date, the signature and the place it was made if there is any indication of it. Most medieval charters were already very specific on such things and mentioned who ordered the document, who wrote it, who signed it, to whom it was addressed, where it’d been written, etc. Sherlock had no such luck: no date, no signature and no address were displayed on the Bohemian letter.

That’s why he looked at the material aspect of the document: the paper. Merovingians documents were often written on papyrus (that’s why many of them didn’t survive the passing of time). Late medieval charter was commonly written on parchments. Early modern documents are often written on paper. There are several kinds of papyri, parchment and paper. Those many and various types have been recorded by historians since Mabillon. Brichet has given an extensive directory on watermarks, for example. That’s what Sherlock goes for once he’s observed the letter was written on paper. Paper very often displayed a watermark before the industrial era. It showed its place of origin, which workshop had crafted it. I personally observed watermarks in a 15th century manuscript and it greatly helped me to date when it was made thanks to Brichet’s directory.

Last but not least, Sherlock delves into a bit of philology. His observations are a bit blunt but they illustrate what to go for once you’ve dealt with the material aspect of a document: look closely at grammatical structures, lexicography and syntax. That’s how Lorenzo Valla proved, back in the 16th century, that the pope’s territorial claim to central Italy was based on a fake document! Once you know how Cicero wrote, for example, you can spot whether he’s the author of a Latin text or not.

There is one thing Sherlock left out, however, and that is paleography: the study of the written word. What are their shapes? We do not write today as people used to write. There are regional and historical trends. I could open a digitized manuscript online and determine whether it dates from the 15th or the 14th century or if it was made in Italy or Germany only by looking at its scripta. I do have Derolez’s directory about gothic scripts at home.

So this is the purpose of the historical method: to ascertain through empirical observations whether a document is true or false.

The Heuristic Process

So let’s say you have a document, any kind of written document. Nice! What do you do first to ascertain its authenticity? Well, you don’t directly look for clues. No. You build a database. You try to find as many documents as you can relate to the very document you have at hand. That’s what Mabillon did. He went all over Europe to find more and more medieval charters to help him come up with his method. How do you know if a Merovingian charter is authentic or not? You first have to look at hundreds of them, very closely.

Today you could go on Google and type what you’re looking for but, believe it or not, most of the time it won’t help you if you’re searching for a very specific historical subject. Google is specifically designed for commercial purposes. Websites that comply to SEO tactics will get better chance to appear on the first page. It’s not a neutral search engine. You have to know about other databases too. Or you can go old school: dive into a bibliography about the topic that sparked your interest. A bibliography is basically a book that only contains book titles and gosh is it useful!

You can find bibliographies at the end of monographs or scientific articles too. Historians are especially fond of them. We have rules on how to write them, with Latin abbreviations and everything. A good history book has pretty much as many pages of notes and bibliography as it has of ‘content’. Every single fact stated MUST be based on a document of some kind: either another peer’s research or a primary source.

The aim of the heuristic process is to know as much as you can about the chain of information. Someone claims something: where did he get it? What’s the very base of his claim? Is it grounded on an authentic primary source? Sometimes you’ll find contradicting information and that’s when things get really interesting.

The External Examination of Documents

A document always rely on a specific material. Is it paper? Parchment? Stone? Something else entirely? What is it made of? As we’ve seen with the Bohemian letter, the material aspect of a document can tell us a lot about it.

The external examination of a document doesn’t stop there. How was the document made? Which process did it go through? Scientific contributions, for example, are not only written and published, they’re also read and validated by other scholars before being published. Then, they can be discussed through reviews. Reading book reviews are a lot of fun sometimes: if you’re lucky that’s where academics go very ugly and personal on each other. It doesn’t help you a lot in your research, sure, but it’s quite entertaining. It’s like a Twitter brawl but with style.

The material aspect and the writing process of a document are very important to ascertain its value. Those famous Lincoln’s quotes of yours, where can you find them? Are they written on a letter written by Lincoln himself? Who wrote them down? When? How? And why? I could claim Gandalf said the Force is strong with Bilbo Baggins but I couldn’t come up with a single line in the Hobbit to back up my claim unless I forge my own edition of it, for example. I’m not saying that Lincoln’s quotes are false. I’m just saying: where do you find them? What’s the original document that contains them? Is that original document an authentic or fake document? Those questions need to be answered before moving forward on any interpretation about Lincoln’s presidency and political ideology.

The Internal Examination of Documents

Once we’ve seen what a document’s made of and how it was made, we can start to look at what it contains. Now that we know what ink was used to write on that 13th century parchment, what do we read?

The internal written structure of a document is often predetermined by its pragmatic goal. Why was the document written? Is it an executive letter from a government official? Is it a judicial record? Is it a personal journal? Is an article in a newspaper? Those various forms of written documents each show a very different use of language. A poem could be full of very valuable historical information, but it’s also designed to sound pretty or to be thought-provoking, for example. In the Late Middle Ages, verses were considered to be only fit for fiction on the basis that the truth couldn’t be conveyed if the language had to abide to too many rhetoric rules. Did it rhyme? It couldn’t be historically accurate, clerics thought. We know today that prose chronicles also show a lot of literary prowess and expertise that tarnish or embellish the truth. That’s why we can’t only rely on Froissart’s to understand what happened during the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. We have to look at official records, accounting documents, pieces of legislation, judicial archives, etc. Archive documents tend to be closer to facts than narrative sources because they’re less concerned with literary reception and social praise. A few medieval chroniclers understood it pretty well and actually copied official records within their narratives to give it more weight and legitimacy.

Let’s get back to that Lincoln’s quotes. Let’s say they were found in actual 19th century documents. Do the letters in which we find them match Lincoln’s literary style or lack thereof? I stated that it was quite easy to identify Cicero once you knew his style, the same goes for every author. If you push it even a bit farther, you could conclude a thing or two about an author’s psychology. The act of writing implies making choices. What choices did your author do? Why? If he was writing freely his choices and his psychology will appear even more clearly than if he were writing from a pre-established form. Knowing about an author’s psychology can help us ascertain if he’s being truthful or not.

We can also learn a lot someone’s intellectual background only by reading his writing closely. There is an actual field of study dedicated to account for every explicit or implicit quotes in Latin medieval chronicles. When he edited De rebus circa regni Siciliae curiam gestis, Eduardo D’Angelo (2014) established the exact proportion of quotes from Pagan and early Christian authors within the text. We know that the author of De rebus Siciliae actually read Cicero’s Pro Sestio, for example, or Virgil’s Aeneid. These kinds of observations can help us to date a document when everything else fails. Monstrelet talks about Froissart’s chronicle: he obviously wrote later than him. It’s like spotting a Starbucks cup on a popular fantasy TV show. It’s evidence.

Why Do History Change Over Time?

It’s very simple: the more we study a subject, the more we know about it. When historians first wrote about the Crusades in the 19th century, there was a lot they didn’t know about it because there were still tons of documents to uncover. We have miles and miles of unclassified archives. I mean metric tons of paper, parchment and whatnot that contain God knows what. We still have a LOT to discover.

When Huizinga wrote about the “Fall of the Middle Ages” he didn’t take many sources into account. He built his view of the 14th and 15th centuries solely on narrative sources. Vale has shown how the results of his compulsive monograph were biased because of that. Now add non-written documents to your analysis and it’s another story altogether that you have to write!

The main difference between the historian and the conspiracy theorist is that the historian will not only show you one compelling proof: he will show you ALL the evidence he found, acknowledge what he didn’t take into account (and why) and discuss everything said evidence for what they’re worth. A conspiracy theory flashes forward from one argument to another to build its case. The historian takes his time and his book might be Bible heavy instead of ten-minute YouTube short.

Someone is making wild claims? Slow him down. Stop him every. Step. Of. The. Way. “Where did you get your information? Is that source reliable? Why do you trust it? Etc. Etc.” And don’t let any fancy rhetoric fool you. Hard evidence is hard.

Long Reads

Age of Empires 2 | Joan of Arc. 3, The Cleansing of the Loire (The Battle of Patay, 1429)| Historical Account, Tips and Guide

The Facts

On this day, today, 591 years ago, La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles took a decisive victory at Patay over the “English”.

Orléans had been freed from the English siege at the beginning of May. The French army, for once, acted quickly and pressed its luck further. Jargeau, Meung and Beaugency were liberated from Lancastrian rule between the 11th and the 16th June. The lock on the Loire valley broke and the French could push further north.

Three most able captains were still holding the line on the English side. John Falstolf, John Talbot and Thomas Scales were regrouping and waiting for reinforcements at Patay. They still could turn the tide back to their advantage if the French proved slow enough to react, as they’d been several times in the past.

However, the actual leader of the French army had return from exile. In defiance of his many enemies at court and direct orders from the king, he wished to take back his rightful place at the top of the military hierarchy. The connétable of Richemont had learned from his many past mistakes and he knew better than not to trust the skilful captains that were serving under him despite their obscure origins. Now that he was there to lead them, they could finally circumvent the etiquette disputes that had plagued the French military strategy in the past. Now that Richemont was among them, there was no need to sit and wait for this or that duke to show up late and try to claim the spoils of victory for himself. They could charge head on and act upon every tactic advantage they mustered.

A few months ago, La Hire and his brothers-in-arms had encountered an English convoy but the duke of Bourbon had sent them orders not to attack until he’d reunited with them. It left all the time in the world for the English to reinforce their position and turn their carts into improvised fortification walls. Never a defeat had been more bitter-tasting to La Hire and his friends. However, as Richemont, their official military leader, was backing them, they could move swiftly around the Loire valley, track down the English and fall upon them as thunder on a mountain pass. Which they did!

Talbot and Scales were captured. Falstolf managed to flee. Since Agincourt (1415), the backbone of the English army had been made of longbowmen. Most of them were slaughtered and the loss of those many veterans proved to be an invaluable loss for the English army. The Loire valley was definitely secured and Orléans, once and for all, out of reach from Lancastrian grasp. Charles VII of Valois, despite the quibbling of his advisors, had won a decisive victory. He could attempt to retake Paris or chose to march onto Reims.

What about Joan of Arc, you may ask? While La Hire was pushing the vanguard forward as he’d done so splendidly in the past, she remained with the main corps of the army, besides the connétable of Richemont and the duke of Alençon. Louis de Coutes, her personal page, recounted many years later how she felt frustrated to be kept away from the action. She’d been kept in the dark at Orléans and it had driven her mad. She was to repeat the experience. The English were already routed when she arrived upon the battlefield. Falstolf attempted to take refuge at Janville but the city kept its gates shut. The English lord had to push even farther up north, to Étampes, then Corbeil. He’d been cheated from a chivalrous death to insure the retreat of his troops and Talbot, who ended up captured and put to ransom, never forgave him. As a result of the feud, Falstolf lost his status has knight of the Garter for several years, pending investigation, before he was reinstated.

How Age of Empires 2 Plays It Out

Following the siege of Orléans, the battle of Patay is the next installment of the Age of Empires 2 Joan of Arc campaign. If Orléans made you sweat, expect to end up out of breath at the end of this scenario. It isn’t a single castle that you need to destroy this time, but three of them! Moreover, the enemy is more vicious and obnoxious than ever. Building your economy while fighting off endless raids on your base will prove quite the challenge. It is time to wake up the micro-nerd within you, adapt and overcome your adversaries. You can do it! I believe in you!

General Tips to Triumph on your Own

Mind the fact that you actually begin with a large army. Take advantage of it! Time runs against you. The more time you grant the AI, the stronger it will get. Be like La Hire, especially since La Hire is actually among your troops during this scenario: cross the river, scout the enemy, find a weak spot and storm in as soon as possible!

First, micro.

Then, eco.

Once you’ve inflicted a decisive starting blow to your enemy, secure as many resources as possible. Fall back on your classic Fast Castle build order, move up to the Castle Age and build town centers and castles near as many gold and stone mines as possible.

Beware not to over-extend though. You must secure your footing and push back against enemy raids. Don’t neglect your military production. The first strike may have drained your troops and you’ll need to replenish them. This may actually delay your Castle time but you can also build walls to help you in securing your base.

Once your economy is running properly, move on to the next enemy. You can either take down castles directly or attack another adversary player that didn’t feel like hiding behind walls to take him down. Once you attack castles though, you should expect a fierce comeback.

You can’t go beyond Castle Age. Trebuchets are not an option! You’ll need to come up with battering rams. Take advantage of the Frank unique units to counter your enemy’s army compositions. There were no throwing axemen anymore by the time Joan of Arc revived the French cause against the English, but who cares as long as it’s fun?

The Players on the Map

You are now getting into the more detailed part of my guide. Make sure to stop reading and come back later if you don’t want to get spoiled and make it on your own like the true connétable that you are!

You start the game South of the Loire with a substantial starting army made of two hero units (Joan of Arc and La Hire), several knights, pikemen and crossbows. You also have at your disposal three villagers, two transport ships, two demo ships and a scout.

There are very few resources and space South of the Loire (no gold nor stone!), you’ll have to cross the river to establish your base.

North of the Loire, however, you’ll find three enemy players: the English, the Burgundians, and Lord Fastolf (an independant English settlement).

The English have three fortified military bases (with castles) spread all accross the map and one fortified eco base (that also has a castle) at the top corner of the map. You have to destroy three of their castles to win the game.

The Burgundians have an open settlement West and Falstolf also has an open settlement North-East. Those settlements are very vulnerable at the start of the game but they’re quickly infested with defensive guard towers which makes them a nightmare to besiege on the long run.

The English and their allies will hit you with a great variety of military units: knights, longbowmen, battering rams, long swordsmen, onagers, cavaliers… If you remain too long on the defensive, the cost of countering all those units effectively will impede on your progress. Therefore you must act quickly and decisively to win the game.

How to Win Safely?

How to Win… Fast!

Historical Review of the Cleansing of the Loire

The Intro

The Scenario

The Outro

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
Manuscript Illuminations, Short Reads

How to Identify the Knights of the Round Table in Medieval Manuscripts

  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Many wonder if King Arthur was even real. I will not answer to that question. What really matters today, on this 2020 International Heraldry Day, is that Arthurian aristocrat “fanboys” from the late 15th century actually came up with coats of arms for each and every knight of the Round Table.

If you believe that fanfictions are a by-product of contemporary literature only, you don’t know the first thing about medieval literature. Medieval literature is at its core a strong tradition of fanfiction writing. Moreover, you may believe that people have waited the rise of Marvel and DC comics to dress as their favourite superhero, but the late medieval nobility certainly knew a thing or two about cosplaying.

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Medieval tournaments and jousts were often planned out as full on re-enactments of old Arthurian tales. By the end of the 15th century, an extensive set of rules was laid out on the manner to stage “Errant Knights”, a very specific type of tournament which required every participant to impersonate a knight of the Round Table.

Part of the fun was to dress in an old fashion way with an out-dated military equipment, but most importantly, to wield the coat of arm of a knight of the Round Table. Those coats of arms weren’t chosen freely by the participants but appointed by the heralds who coordinated the event.

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Furthermore, every knight was to be followed by a company of servants among whom a herald. The latter also had to wear clothes displaying the Arthurian coat of arms of his master*. That way, if the participants couldn’t tell who another knight was embodying from his coat of arms, the herald could tell him. Added bonus: the participants could even be followed by a couple of ladies!**

This is all fine and dandy, you might think, wondering why I’m obsessing on such trivialities. What really fascinates me though is that Arthurian knights—if they ever existed—didn’t have coats of arms***. Best case scenario, they accomplished their heroic deeds during the first half of the 6th century. However, coats of arms only came into fashion by the 12th century. By that time, mounted knights were so heavily equipped that it was impossible to recognize them from their face as it was totally covered. Therefore, they came up with a new method to identify themselves on the battlefield and let everyone know their name (and wealth), namely, coats of arms. Soon after, bishops, guilds and other members of the medieval society created their own coats of arms. Though the fervour for heraldry (the study of coats of arms) slowly waned since then, it gave birth to commercial logos; the Porsche emblem is nothing but a coat of arms and most football/soccer jerseys also display one, for example.

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Historically speaking, it is impossible that the Knights of the Round Table ever owned a coat of arm. The sole fact that they gathered around a Round Table is already a 12th century invention! Maybe they carried a seal ring like the Romans did. Who knows? Nevertheless, it means that at some point during the 15th century, someone felt the need to give a coat of arms to every single knight of the Round Table. Not only that, but whoever that person was, his work was met with a huge success and soon enough every educated herald in France knew what colours Arthur, Lancelot and Perceval were expected to display on a battlefield.

The fictitious coats of arms of the Knights of the Round Table are still preserved today in several medieval manuscripts. Many of them can be perused online. Here’s a shortlist of four of them (beware that the knight’s name is always written above his coat of arms and sometimes several pages before it, never right under it; red captions are titles, not legends):

Lille, Municipal Library, MS 329

Paris, Arsenal Library, MS 4976

Paris, Arsenal Library, MS 5024

Paris, BnF, fr. 1437

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Those four manuscripts are heraldic treatises. Such books usually displayed actual coats of arms and served as iconographic resources or lavish memorabilia for heralds. The sumptuous Armorial of the Golden Fleece, which is a fantastic specimen of the genre, not only display coat of arms but also knights and noblemen in full attire.

Another fun fact about heraldry and medieval manuscripts is that when actual mighty noble figures were depicted in miniatures, they would be shown with their coat of arms. This mostly concerned illuminated chronicles. As such, kings and queens of England, Scotland and France are easily identifiable in what must be the most broadcasted and advertised copy of Froissart’s Chronicle.

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

All of this brings us to Jacques d’Armagnac, duke of Nemours. To say that this man loved books would be an understatement. He personally supervised the making of several luxurious manuscripts and devoted money to the upkeep of three personal libraries. When he was tried and sentenced to death, his judges, who all belonged to the high end of the French nobility, divided his gilded manuscripts among themselves.

Jacques d’Armagnac possessed religious and encyclopaedic manuscripts—that was a given—several manuscripts containing historical narratives and chronicles, but also manuscripts recounting the epic tales of the Knights of the Round Table. And you better believe Jacques d’Armagnac had something to do with the creation of fictitious Arthurian coats of arms. The miniatures in his Arthurian manuscripts, portraying the Knights of the Round Table fighting on horseback and on foot, provide detailed heraldic characteristics as to identify them. If you were to compare the coat of arms of a knight depicted in those manuscripts, you would be able to find out his name in the aforementioned Arthurian heraldic treatises!

Heraldry. Héraldique. Knights of the Round Table. Chevaliers de la Table Ronde. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

Just… How cool is that?!

Once I discovered that I geeked out so hard that I couldn’t help myself and wrote this very blogpost. Medieval manuscripts have yet so many secrets to uncover!


* A herald always wore the colour of his master, as seen on this frontispiece depicting Jean Lefèvre de Saint-Rémy, also known as Toison d’Or, chief herald to Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, and the Order of the Golden Fleece.

** More on the “Errant Knights” in Maurice Keen, Chivalry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, p. 204.

*** Neither did Alexander the Great. Nevertheless, medieval illuminators gave him one since he was depicted as a medieval knight.

Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
Manuscript Illuminations

Marginalia. Best of Horae ad usum Parisiensem (“Grandes Heures du duc de Berry”)

  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.
  • Book of Hours. Livre d'Heures. Berry. Marginalia. Illumination. Enluminure. Medieval manuscript. Manuscrit médiéval.

The manuscript known as Horae ad usum Parisiensem originally belonged to John, Duke of Berry. It was made during the first decade of the 15th century.

It contains numerous marginalia illuminations, all intriguing, silly or absurd, that are heavily drawn from previous 14th century manuscripts. John’s mother, Bonne of Luxemburg, owned such a manuscript.

The Horae is a book of hours. Book of hours were devotional manuscripts containing a selection of prayers and religious texts for laymen.

John of Berry owned several books of hours. All of them were lavishly illuminated. However, none was as “vintage” as this one. Nevertheless, every frontispiece displays plenty of little bears and swans, which are emblematic animals to John of Berry.

The bear became Berry’s emblem following his years of captivity in England. It is a pun that plays on the homophony of bear and Ber-ry. Why did John of Berry also made the swan his emblem? It is clouded in mystery. However, we could argue that it reminds the famous Knight of the Swan who’s story is told in many tales and recorded in numerous medieval manuscripts.

Manuscript Illuminations

What is a “Frontispiece” in a Medieval Manuscript?

Illuminated manuscript. Frontispiece. Running Title. Coat of arms. Presentation miniature. Pen-flourished initial. Lettrine. Enluminure. Manuscrit enluminé. Frontispice. Titre courant. Rubrique. Rubric.
Genève, BM, fr. 77, f. 9r

A frontispiece in a medieval manuscript is a fully illuminated folio that is found at the beginning of the text it contains.

It is worth noting that lavishly illuminated manuscripts count several frontispieces. In that case they are found at the beginning of every main section of the text.


A frontispiece usually displays a full or a three-quarter border that is often filled with an abstract floral pattern. It can contain a running title (1), hybrid creatures (2), a coat of arms (3) seldom accompanied by a motto written in a label, and parodic scenes (4).

Many French and Flemish frontispieces also exhibit a sizable miniature. In this case, we’re faced with a prefatory cycle including four miniatures. The first one is what we call a presentation miniature (5) for it depicts the author handing his work to the lord who ordered it. The last three miniatures of the prefatory cycles depicts various scenes of the upcoming narrative. Presentation miniatures are typical in opening frontispieces and have often been subverted to include hints of the work itself.  

A frontispiece is only complete if it also displays the very first lines of the text. It often begins with a red caption, or rubric (6) and exhibits wonderful pen-flourished initials, or lettrines (7).

Medieval Memes

Medieval Memes #7: Covid-19 Special Edition

Online Teaching

With the spread of the covid-19 pandemic, many schools around the world shut their doors. Everybody was invited to stay at home in order to save lives. However, teachers didn’t give up on teaching. They did it online at the best of their capabilities. It didn’t help to assuage the great divide between priviledged and disenfranchized children but it was certainly better than nothing.

Dating Advice

Online working and online schooling becoming the norm during the great covid-19 pandemic, fathers were faced with the stupidity of their children and couldn’t avoid their idiotic question anymore.

Universal Healthcare

Universal healthcare seems like a given in somes countries. You get sick, you go to the doctor or to the hospital and you don’t have to pay much money for it. However, several countries still uphold healthcare as a private economic sector. Medical bills rise up to insane amounts in such regions of the world. It only led to further unrest and overall stress for the people being ordered to stay at home.

Human Capital Stock

Politicians haven’t always been smart in the way they communicated to the public during the covid-19 pandemic. One of them said that the “human capital stock” (sic) was ready to go back to work. It proved that electors were only numbers for such politicians, not actual human beings.

Making this meme made me very uncomfortable.

I realized a few days later that the bubble at the top right gloomingly foreshadowed George Floyd’s death. I literally created this meme on May 25th, 3 hours before M. Floyd died under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, yelling “I can’t breathe” as he was murdered.

The bubble originally served as a reference to the many royal pardons French soldiers obtained during the 15th century for the murders and various crimes they committed.

However, this time, the police officer who murdered George Floyd was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

History shows that mankind sure is slow to get rid of bad habits!

A dozen days after George Floyd died and many people were made aware of police brutality around the world, the case of women in custody being raped by police officers also reached the 24h news cycle. It seems such events take place in Nigeria or in the United States on a regular basis. I bet many other countries are concerned with that very problem too.

Again, I was only referencing 15th century war crimes at the time I was coming up with the meme. I was only shocked by the “human capital stock” colloquial and what it involved in regards to human rights and how it infringes on human dignity.

A Snowflake, By Any Other Name…

Black communities in Western countries were among the most severely hit by the covid-19 pandemic. Their deathtoll was proportionnally catastrophic compared to the white majority. It obviously shows how the “system” works in a racist fashion. Whilst white people stormed the Michigan statehouse with assault rifles to put an end to the lockdown and litteraly to get back the right to get a haircut, black people were dying by the thousands.

Black Lives Matter

Although institutionalised racism seems to be an exclusive American problem from an European perspective–because Europeans are usually too skittish to talk about this issue–, the many protests around the world that followed the death of George Floyd clearly shed the light on the fact that institutionalised racism was a universal problem.

Global Insecurity

Demonstrations and protests following the death of George Floyd quickly spread around the Western world. However, we didn’t witness any major demonstration in Belgium while the good people of Paris and Amsterdam were boiling with anger. A few statues of Leopold II, former king of the Belgians, though, were rightfully vandalised.

Social Isolation

As for myself I confess that I will not take the streets to protest against institutionalised racism and police brutality. I will stay at home. Mostly because my significant other may be down with the covid-19 for a second time.

Therefore I will keep doing what I do best, I will fight racism on a daily basis whenever it pops up in front of me.

What I can do to fight racism, as a teacher, is to severely condemn black teenagers when they indulge into self-deprecating humor. Internalised racism is a bitch.

What I can dot to fight racism, as a white person, is to protest against the holding and the persecution of my black friends by the police. My best friend could have died in a police cell from diabetes if I didn’t show up to claim him at the station. They only moved him to the hospital once I arrived.

What I can do to fight racism, as a family member, is to warn my relatives against the pernicious side effects of colourblind racism. Sure thing, colored and white people are all human beings, however we need to acknowledge that colored people are being targeted, everyday, by racist behaviors. Therefore we are all truly alike but we don’t experience the world the same way and we can’t fight racism if we don’t begin to address that reality.

In the meantime, remain cautious, take care of yourself and stay safe. We’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to this ugly covid-19 pandemic.

Love.

Asinus.

Short Reads

The Devil’s Ten Commandments

Fresh and dynamic rewrite of my #1 blogpost

Asinus Docet

In manuscripts of old lie forgotten truths. Men, beasts and angels alike have turned away from such ancient knowledge.

It was formerly believed that our world was but a mere reflection of another world, a better world, a divine world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Christ to his disciples (John, 18:36). What did it mean? Medieval scholars pierced the mystery, they thought.

Everything we see, touch and feel on Earth would only be the bodily reflection of a pure and divine concept. Once you understand that worldly facts and earthly beings are symbols to decipher, then everything is open to interpretation. The divine truth hides everywhere.

Only the highest scholars and theologians could delve into the exercise of unearthing the word of God beneath the “mirror” that is our world. Nonetheless they tracked God down to the darkest corner of creation. By the 13th century, even pagan…

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