Heralds in Medieval Hesse (Otfried Krafft)

Until the early 15th century the principality of Hesse in the centre of western Germany was in a very difficult position, as for many decades it was struggling with different coalitions of neighbouring nobles and princes. With landgrave Louis I. (1413/16-1458) this situation was solved almost unexpectedly in July or August 1427, when he and his supporters won an important victory over the archbishop of Mainz, who had been their most stubborn enemy. After that the landgrave gained great political influence in the empire, as he even was admitted to be present at the election diet in 1438. Louis I. was also enabled to reorganize his court and his administration by first installing offices like the chancellor. A number of jousting tournaments in his country was also organized by him. Thus, we can assume that there also was a need for the services of heralds, at least for princely representation rather than for military functions.

Although we have some exhausting studies on the administrative personnel of Hesse, there are no mentions of heralds at all. However, there are some reliable hints proving the existence of a Hessian herald in these years. In the rolls of the internal administration the payment of messengers was noted. Among them the name Hessenland appears, especially after the mid-1430s. That name resembles the official names of other German heralds, like Romrich, Beierland or Missenland.

Only in one Hessian charter the defunct Hessenland was declared as a herald, who was succeeded by his son, who bore the same name, however not being a herald yet. We do not know much about their respective services for the landgrave, but these probably did not have an exclusive character. On many occasions when the need for representation on the Hessian side was imminent, the two Hessenland did not appear, but the tasks were fulfilled by members of the gentry.

The sources hinting towards heralds in Hesse become silent after landgrave Louis I. died in early 1458. Obviously his successors did not see any need in maintaining this office. The reasons for this quick rise and decline have to be discussed further. In general, I would assume that having a herald for Louis I. of Hesse soon became a kind of dispensable luxury.


Torsten Hiltmann

Torsten Hiltmann is Juniorprofessor for the High and Late Middle Ages and Auxiliary Sciences at the University of Münster. He is interested in new approaches to late medieval and early modern heraldry, the medieval notion of kingship and the methods and technologies of Digital Humanities. On hypotheses.org, he is maintaining, among others, the blog “Heraldica Nova”.

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