Report on the second ‘History of Heralds’ workshop (Münster, 25-27 March 2015)

Between 25-27 March, Münster was home to the second ‘History of Heralds’ workshop. This workshop was a continuation of last year’s session with the same main goal: producing a book that puts the herald in a new perspective in a collaborative effort. The longing for a new work on this subject stems from the common belief that the herald has been misunderstood as a historical phenomenon. The classic notion of an official that was primarily concerned with coats of arms needs to be reassessed. Through an exploration of various aspects of this topic the papers of this workshop confirmed last year’s findings that heralds had a wide array of functions that developed between the 12th to the 18th centuries, and that differed in each studied region, ranging from Portugal to the Holy Roman Empire. To make sure the main goal of the ‘History of Heralds’ workshops will be achieved, this workshop session also featured a hands-on sessions that dealt with all aspects of collaborative book writing, and involved group discussions in which the participants laid the foundations for a new history of heralds.

 Session 1


Herald on the Haarlem Panels. Source: Beeldbank Noord Holland

The opening presentation of WIM VAN ANROOIJ focused on the Haarlem panels and successive works. The Haarlem panels are a series of 19 panels, together measuring 30 meters in length, containing paintings of the counts of Holland from Dirk to Maximilian, accompanied by a chronicle which was probably made by the Carmelite prior Johan Gerbrandszoon van Leiden. Interestingly, a herald, wearing a tabard with the quartered coats of arms of France and the Empire, had an important position in these series. He was depicted on the opening panel and he addressed the viewer with his prologue in the first person. Maximilian commissioned these panels in 1493 and they were placed in the Carmelite monastery of Haarlem, which, remarkably, had a close relation with the Brederode family. Even more surprising, the text accompanying the panels referred to the Brederode family as descendants of the counts of Holland. Since the Brederode family was seen as a rival of Maximilian, these panels present an inriguing tension. Further, Van Anrooij showed that the text of the panels was translated in French in the early 16th century, and this book the text was also accompanied by the image of a herald. Another series in the late 16th century contained the same prologue as on the panels and again an image of a herald that narrated the history of the counts of Holland.

The function of the herald on these panels and in the successive sources was one of the discussion points. His image in this context is remarkable, since the text was not written by a herald. Was he depicted to authenticate the scene? The juxtaposition of herald and death was also discussed, since the last panel of the series presented an image of death. Was this a sort of danse macabre? Further, the relation between heralds and history was discussed. It was noted that a task of heralds was recording the deeds of their commissioners and telling the deeds of nobles. Nuancing, a participant argued that heralds were not experts on history in general, but on family and genealogy. In England, it was added, the family histories were written in the 13th and 14th centuries by chaplains, but heralds appeared to take over this function in the 15th century. It seemed that there was a development of heralds becoming experts on family history. The discussion also concentrated on the curious tabard of the herald in all three images Van Anrooij presented, which contained both the arms of the German emperor as well as the French king’s. Perhaps, it was argued, this was a reference to the Frankish empire (since it corresponded to the coats of arms of Charlemagne), or perhaps it was an incorrect presentation of the coat of arms of Maximilian.

STEEN CLEMMENSEN dealt with heralds and their intentions for making armorials. His main question was: Were the armorials that were produced by heralds made because of an antiquarian interest (i.e. gathering and storing knowledge for oneself) or business purposes (writing for commissioners or the market)? Determining whether armorials were written by heralds or armorists (i.e. people that collected coats of arms) is difficult, since there are no characteristics on which this can be determined, as Clemmensen had shown in his paper of last year. Some armorials are, however, known to have been produced by heralds. What followed was an overview of various armorials made by heralds, of which Clemmensen discussed the particularities with regard to production, content and possible purpose. His conclusion was that armorials were made for business purposes (in Clemmensen’s sense of the word), so that they were for sale, for gift or for the commissioners. Further, he stated that heralds used notes rather than copies to make their armorials and that they cooperated with artisans in the production process.

In the following discussions other sources were brought up which were probably made for commercial purposes, such as the 16th century work on heraldic baronages by Robert Cooke. The idea was raised that heralds would not keep the expensive painted works for themselves. However, other participants showed reservations towards these conclusions. While Clemmensen claimed that the armorial Gelre was produced in one session from notes, others argued that the production of Gelre took place over a long period of time and that the herald in question, Claes Heynenzoon, first made a framework to which he occasionally added coats of arms. Further, a participant warned for generalization. It should be kept in mind that just a couple of armorials are actually known to be made by heralds and that although some armorials were probably made for business purposes, others might not.

Coat of arms of the King of Portugal in the Livro do Armeiro Mor (1509) f.10r

Coat of arms of the King of Portugal in the Livro do Armeiro Mor (1509) f.10r. (Source: Wikipedia)

In the next presentation, MIGUEL METELO DE SEIXAS discussed the role of the heralds at the court of the Portuguese king Manuel (1495-1521). Metelo de Seixas noted that King Manuel presented an image of himself in which he promoted the messianic aspects of his reign and the universality of his power. These aspects were also discernable in the presentations of his coats of arms. The main question Metelo de Seixas posed was: What was the role of the heralds in this presentation of the king? Manuel sent his heralds into Europe to learn about heraldry and this acquired knowledge was used to reform the office of arms and the heraldic system in Portugal. One of the new measures was the introduction of a new structure for the office of arms in the kingdom. From then on, there were three kings of arms, whose names represented three kingdoms (Portugal, Algarve and India), three heralds, whose names represented three capitals (Lisboa, Silves, Goa) and three pursuivants, whose names represented three villages (Santarém, Tavira/Ceuta, Cochim). It should be kept in mind that this was a political-symbolic system and did not represent a political reality. For instance, India was not a Portuguese kingdom. This system remained largely unchanged until 1910. Metelo de Seixas’ conclusion was that in this system the heralds were the second body of the king. The heralds were not merely a representation of royal power, but a crucial part of it.

The discussion focused on the names of the heralds, the continuity of their usage and the comparison with other regions in Europe. It was noted that in, for example, Lorraine the names of the heralds were not as fixed as in Portugal, and were in fact defined by political needs. Further, the emphasis on the number ‘three’ in the administrative structure of the office of arms was discussed. How did this relate to the messianic aspects of Manuel’s royal image? The Portuguese coat of arms appeared to contain multiple references to Christ.

Session 2

A session of three papers followed which were discussed together at the end of the session. THALIA BRERO presented a paper on the heralds as masters of ceremony at the court of Savoy in the beginning of the 16th century. In this period rituals started to play an important role at the court of the Savoy dukes; it became an instrument of power. We can speak of a ritualization of ducal power, and in this evolution of the ceremonial system the herald assumed a central position. He became the specialist. In the same period the Savoy chivalric order was reformed with a new name, new statutes (based on the Order of the Golden Fleece) and new tasks for the heralds who played an important part in this new system. So the heralds participated in the elaboration of ceremonies, but they also wrote works on various topics. Brero presented some examples of the works of one particular herald, Jean de Tournai, Bonnes Nouvelles king of arms. An analysis of his archive indicated that his primary interests lay in the chivalric order of the Annunciation, in genealogy and ceremonies. Concluding one could say that the early 16th century was a golden age of the political ceremonies centralized at the ducal court in Savoy and it was therefore a golden age of the heralds in Savoy who played an important part in these ceremonies. Later in the 16th century a decline of both can be discerned.

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BLANCHARD focused in his paper on one herald in the duchy of Lorraine: Edmond de Boullay. First, his life was discussed. He came from a Norman family and started his career as a maître d’écoles. Shortly after that he became pursuivant at the Lorranian court, and not much later he was ennobled and promoted to the office of herald. Later in his career he would become the herald Valois in French service, while he was living in Reims. Boullay’s predecessor in the office of herald of Lorraine, George Gressy, was a painter. Boullay, however, appeared to be more specialized in writing. In the second part of the presentation Blanchard highlighted some of his works. The various works of his oeuvre can be classified in the following themes: poetry, religion and morale, historiography and genealogy, heraldry, and ceremonies. It cannot be claimed he was a brilliant author, but he did produce a fair amount of books.

In the last contribution of this session, PIERRE COUHAULT discussed the expertise of heralds. He presented a definition of an expert and, using mostly examples of heralds in Habsburgian Spain, he examined whether heralds can be regarded as experts or not. According to Couhault, expertise consists of three elements: knowledge, recognition and solicitation. Considering knowledge, heralds regarded themselves as the keepers of specific knowledge concerning their office, such as knowledge on coats of arms, noble behaviour, etc. This was demonstrated in the myths of origins and the rules of their own office and their practice of learning and generating knowledge through the system of pursuivants and the compiling and translation of texts. With regard to recognition and solicitation, Couhault showed some examples where heralds were consulted by the court, artists and historians. Some were called up for funerals and answered to inquiries of the nobility. It appears that sometimes they were the experts. However, were their services satisfactory? Couhault showed an example where the coats of arms of a certain family were presented wrongly four times by heralds. Furthermore, the heralds’ services were not always employed. So it appeared they were not always seen as the experts.

These three papers dealt with heralds in the 16th century and had various themes in common, such as ceremonies, nobilities, and coats of arms. Were these important aspects of 16th century heralds? The examples showed that heralds were still very active in the 16th century, which argues against the common perception that sees a decline of the office of arms from the late 15th century onwards. The concept of change and continuity was discussed with regard to Brero’s paper. Brero observed a great change from the 15th to the 16th century, but one participant wondered whether this change was real, or just a perception as the result of a difference in sources. Further, it was emphasized that the herald was a performative actor and that he was close to the prince. The discussion also treated the thorny topic of expertise. Was Couhault’s definition of expertise a definition of the modern concept and is this applicable to the pre-modern era? Couhault specified he examined the practical expertise of the herald. It was also emphasized that the heraldic expertise was not exclusive to heralds and that heralds had many competitors for the tasks they performed.

Session 3

VINCENT BELLOY’s paper dealt with the presentation of Burgundian, English and French heralds in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles. He concentrated on two elements: the functions of the heralds and the way they were represented by Froissart. In Froissart’s Chronicles heralds mostly performed in a diplomatic context as messengers of letters or oral announcements. In this capacity their immunity was regarded essential. The heralds travelled a great deal for their function. Further, they were occupied with coats of arms in order to recognize the nobles, an expertise which was for example applied when heralds had to register the deaths on a battlefield. With regard to the representation of heralds by Froissart, it strikes that he was remarkably positive about them. They appeared often in his chronicles and they are always treated with respect. Belloy speculated on the cause of this positive view on heralds. It might be that heralds and Froissart had a similar function in representing the nobility and their power and that heralds were an important source for Froissart.

In the discussion, Froissart’s fondness of heralds was emphasized. This observation connects to the paper Henri Simmoneau gave last year, who described an evolution in the esteem of heralds from the first records until Froissart’s Chronicles. This positive view by Froissart coincided with the ascent of heralds as authors of written works, but it was also noted that the chroniclers remained the authorities on history writing and this expertise was not transferred to heralds. Further, the question was raised whether Froissart’s positive perception was shared by the public or whether he tried to establish this positive perception through his chronicles.

The Diet of Augsburg (1530). Herald at right front

The Diet of Augsburg (1530). Herald at right front. (Source: Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek)

MICHAEL GÖBL treated the activities of the heralds in the Holy Roman Empire in the early modern period. He concentrated on two particular aspects: coronations and funerals. Through a series of examples he demonstrated the role of the heralds in these ceremonies. The various images showed that the heralds were often physically close to the emperor in the processions. In the processions of Charles V in 1520 and 1530 the heralds were depicted throwing coins. At the funeral or Ferdinand I they walked in front of his coffin, wearing tabards with the imperial coat of arms. Here they should perhaps be seen as manifesting the idea of the ruler beyond death. At the end of the 16th century the heralds did not seem to have many specific tasks, apart from representing the power and unity of the empire.

The final presentation by JOSÉ ANTONIO GUILLÉN BERRENDERO discussed the Castilian kings of arms and their works through the example of the Guerra family in the 17th and 18th century. First, Berrendero touched upon the intentions and interpretation of the kings of arms and their works. He argued that the kings of arms created imagined communities and that they were agents of the public opinion. Then he focused on two particular kings of arms, of which Juan Alfonso Sandoval was the most important. He was just one of the three Spanish kings of arms that have studied at a university and he has written many works. Concluding, Berrendero remarked that in the debate on the position of the nobility in the society material and symbolic representation played an important part and it was there were the essence of the function of kings of arms lay.

In the discussion several questions concerned the role of heralds in ceremonies in the Holy Roman Empire. Did they just walk in the procession or were there performative acts of the heralds in these ceremonies? Apart from throwing coins, their performativity remained limited in the early modern period. One participant stated that in the christening ceremonies around 1500 the herald had the task of announcing the child’s name. However, in the Habsburgian 17th century they just seemed to stand there wearing their tabards. So there was a development in their function. The case of England appeared to be different, since the heralds in the 15th and 16th century were successful in obtaining a significant role in ceremonies. They were not merely walking in the procession, but were also involved in the organization. Again, this case showed the development of the office of the herald as well as the regional differences. It also demonstrated that there was a competition between the heralds and other officials. This phenomenon of rivalry was another topic in this discussion. In the Holy Roman Empire, for example, there was a rivalry between the heralds and the chancellery. In Portugal there was a very different sort of rivalry, namely between the heralds, who were employed by the crown, and the nobility on the question who was allowed to write texts on heraldry. This, however, appeared to be an exception in Europe. With regard to Berrendero’s presentation, the function of heralds as agents of a noble culture was emphasized. Berrendero claimed this was a European phenomenon, but others nuanced that one should not generalize and that although the office of arms had a similar name throughout Europe this does not necessarily mean that the functions were the same. The heralds in the various European regions certainly had things in common, but there were many differences as well.

The papers presented at this workshop discussed the functions, works and representation of heralds. They dealt with this topic from different perspectives in various time periods and regions. This interdisciplinary and comparative approach resulted in a differentiated view on heralds. Heralds did not have strictly defined tasks and their functioning and reputation was not fixed. It varied from time to time and from place to place. Therefore the keywords for understanding the history of heralds are synchronic differentiation and diachronic development. The main challenge of writing this history is finding the common elements that bind the heralds as a subject of study and simultaneously emphasizing the geographical differences and chronological developments. Preparing the journey to this goal was what the second part of this workshop was about.

Hands-on sessions and group discussions

The aim of this collaborative book project is to write a history of heralds together. Contrary to convention when it comes to presenting the results of conferences, this is not to be achieved through a volume collecting various articles on the subject, but through a coherent, single book that is meant to be composed in a collaborative effort. Such an ambitious project requires solid preparation not only with regard to the structure and content, but also with regard to the technical tools that will be used. MARCUS MEER guided two hands-on sessions in which the participants were familiarised with these instruments of collaborative writing. Google+ will be the platform for sharing and discussing,  and Google Drive will store the documents of the book so that every author will be able to work on the book project at anytime, anywhere and simultaneously with other contributors. Concerning the bibliography, Zotero will be used for collaboratively managing titles and citing.

After these practical preparations the participants set off for a productive discussion in working groups on the contents and approach of the various chapters. These findings were presented during a final discussion where various practical problems were recognized and dealt with. The main challenge of finding a balance between a cohesive general history and the geographical and chronological particularities will be solved through the combination of main text with case studies and highlights in separate boxes. This visual presentation of the content enables the contributors to do justice to the findings of the two Münster workshops on heralds in which the variety and development of the functions, works and presentations of the heralds were central. Through communication and contribution the participants aim to combine their expertise to write an informing and inspiring history of heralds.

The intellectual achievements of the second History of Heralds workshop could not have been made possible without its sponsors. The organizers of the workshop are grateful to the Fondation pour la protection du patrimoine historique, culturel et artisanal (Lausanne) for its financial support. The Performance of Coats of Arms (Dilthey Fellowship of the VolkswagenFoundation) and  the International Office of the University of Münster are also acknowlegded for their sponsorship.


Participants of the History of Heralds II workshop on 25-27 March 2015 in Münster:

Wim van Anrooij (Leiden)

Vincent Belloy (Paris)

José Antonio Guillén Berrendero (Madrid)

Jean-Christophe Blanchard (Nancy)

Thalia Brero (Geneva)

Clive Cheesman (London)

Steen Clemmensen (Farum)

Pierre Couhault (Paris)

Michael Göbl (Vienna)

Alexandre Grosjean (Dunkerque)

Torsten Hiltmann (Münster)

Elmar Hofman (Münster)

Derek Howard (Brussels)

Bernd Klessmann (Cologne)

Marcus Meer (Münster)

Miguel Metelo de Seixas (Lisbon)

Nigel Ramsay (London)

Henri Simonneau (Paris) via Skype

Steven Thiry (Antwerp)



“Fondation pour la protection du patrimoine historique, culturel et artisanal” (Lausanne)



The Performance of Coats of Arms”
(Dilthey Fellowship of the VolkswagenFoundation)




International Office of the
University of Münster

Cite this blog post
Elmar Hofman (2015, April 16). Report on the second ‘History of Heralds’ workshop (Münster, 25-27 March 2015). History of Heralds. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from

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