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Archive for October, 2010

Heraldic Flags and Standards Part 1

One of the most evocative symbols is that of the flag or standard. Such objects of attention are as old as history itself. Flags have borne heraldic symbols since the advent of heraldry. Heraldic designs appear on the Bayeux Tapestry on the flags and pennants of the Flemish contingent in Duke William’s army. On the opposing side King Harold’s standard-bearer displays the “wyvern” or two-legged dragon of Wessex. The lance pennants of the Normans and Flemish at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 were made of cloth but it would seem that the standard of Wessex was carved in metal or wood. Whatever the materials, both armies at the Battle of Hastings made use of flags of some sort and they were almost certainly meant as objects of veneration, for both individuals and for entire army units.

One particular type of the flag, the banner, gave its name to a class of medieval military men, the knights banneret, or bannerets for short. These high-ranking commanders were able to bring a body of men to a battle under their own banner- a square or oblong flag bearing the knight’s own Coat of Arms. In the 12th and 13th centuries the banner had a width one third of its length, later in the Middle Ages it became square in shape. The banner was a most important indicator to the troops of their commander’s presence on the battle-field. Held high above the banneret’s head , the banner went wherever he did, and the two were never separated, unless the banner-bearer was killed in action. Two other types of heraldic flag were popular with the knightly class. One was the pennon, a triangular flag that could bear either Coat of Arms or a badge. The other was the standard, a long tapering flag, larger than the pennon, which could have a split or rounded end. Instead of the bearer’s Coat of Arms, the standard usually displayed the badge or device of the bearer. This could appear once or several times and would often by accompanied by the motto or cri-de-guerre (battle-cry). The “hoist” of the standard (the area at the top of the flag close to the pole) tended to bear the national device, for example the Cross of St. George for English knights. The main background of the standard was made up of the livery colors of the bearer. The medieval English standard was larger than the other flags, and its size varied with the owner’s rank. The Cross of St. George usually appeared next to the staff, and the rest of the field was generally divided per fess (horizontally) into two colors, in most cases the livery colors of the owner. “With some principal figure or device occupying a prominent position, various badges are displayed over the whole field, a motto, which is placed bend-wise, having divided the standard into compartments. The edges are fringed throughout, and the extremity is sometimes swallow-tailed, and sometimes rounded

Standard of Henry Stafford 1475


Castle of the Week, Tsarevets Fortress, Bulgaria

From the late 12th century until the end of the 14th century the Second Bulgarian Kingdom  was the largest and the most powerful state in Southeastern Europe. Tsarevets Fortress is on a hill bearing the same name in Veliko Tarnovo. The castle was the primary fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1393, housing the royal and the patriarchal palaces. The Tsarevets Hill was the main fortress of the medieval Bulgarian capital Veliko Tarnovo. The hill itself was inhabited as early as the 2nd millennium B.C. The ancient settlement existed even during the Iron Age, but was abandoned in the first centuries of the Roman rule. In the 4th century it was populated again, and at the end of the 5th century it had already became a strongly fortified early Byzantine town. The medieval fortress had been raised during the 12th century on top of the foundations of the early Byzantine one.

The whole stronghold is girdled by thick walls up to 10 feet thick and was served by three gates. The main gate was at the hill’s westernmost part, on a narrow rock massif, and featured a draw-bridge. The second gate is 60 feet away from the first one and the third one, which existed until 1889, is 100 feet further. The royal palace is located on the hills central and plain part, which was a closed complex encircled by a fortified wall, 2 towers and 2 entrances, the main at north and the other at south. It featured a throne room, a palace church and a royal residential part and encompassed 4872 square meters.

Above all these the complex of the Patriarch’s Palace was raising its walls high towards the sky. It was restored in 1981 in honor of 1300 years from the creation Bulgaria and it was painted in 1985 in honor of 800 years from the liberation of Vizantia. The interior of the Patriarch’s Church has been decorated with modern wall painting, representing miscellaneous moments of the history and culture of Medieval Bulgaria.

In those years, well back in time, the slopes of the hill were studded with residential districts and craftsman’s quarters, numerous churches and monasteries. Archaeologists on the hill of Tsarevets have found more than 400 residential buildings and 18 medieval churches. Restoration of the building began in 1930, when the first of the three gates of the main entrance to the fortress were reconstructed. The Baldwin Tower was among the first parts to be rebuilt, while the citadel on the top of the complex was reconstructed in 1981 and decorated four years later. Today, a popular spectacle is the the Sound and Light (Zvuk i Svetlina) audiovisual show conducted in the evenings, using laser lights, floodlights, music and church bells.

The Medieval Herald Part 2

By the time of the late 14th and early 15th century the Herald had become a permanent fixture in the households of royalty and major nobility. Their primary functions was to act as emissaries, arrange tournaments and advise their master on matters relating to chivalry. While lesser nobles might have only one herald, the households of ruling dukes, princes and kings were more likely to have a number of Heralds with their own hierarchy according to experience and years of service. The Heraldic staff was headed by a King of Arms which was the highest ranking officer of Arms. The followers, known as “ Pursuivants” were apprentice Heralds. All Heralds wore the Coats of Arms of their master, together with certain other insignia designating their exact rank, and by the 15th century the Heralds had assumed a more respectable role than in earlier times. During battles in the Middle Ages, the pecking order of the nobility took precedence over strategy and tactics. The Heralds were attached to the retinue of the marshal who led the army, and assisted him in marshaling the forces on the battlefield, in camp and on the march. Heralds were given the medieval equivalent of diplomatic immunity, even when they were traveling in enemy country. The Heralds duties included negotiating with the opposing forces, helping with prisoner exchanges, or in the ransom of knights. They were kept busy on missions of national and royal importance.

When Heralds were on missions in different countries the fraternized with other Heralds and they would regard each other as members of an international brotherhood and would often speak each others language. At this time French was the international language of the educated and also for commerce and most Heralds were fluent in it. This degree of companionship between Heralds went so far as keeping council with each other on the field of battle and exchanging tallies of the dead. An account of a battle between the French and the English in 1453, at Castillon in France, illustrates the nature of medieval warfare and the relationship between Herald and master. Among those killed in battle was the English commander John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. His body was so badly disfigured that Talbot’s personal Herald was unable to identify his lord, he placed a finger in the lord’s mouth feeling for a prominent gap between his teeth. Upon finding it he took off his tabard, signifying the end of his office as Herald, and only then did he mourn the death of his master.

Earl of Shrewsbury Arms

The Medieval Herald Part 1

Early references to  Heralds in French medieval literature seem to suggest that they share a common ancestry with the minstrels, storytellers and messengers in the households of the nobility. Other 12th and 13th century writers refer to freelance individuals who followed the newly popular sport of Tournament Jousting or “ Tourneying” across Europe, employed to cry out the names of knights and recount their lineage and acts of prowess. The term “herald” seems to have its origins in the Old German word beerwald, meaning a caller or proclaimer to the army. Heralds became interested in matters armorial as at tournaments and in battle they needed to recognize and memorize the Coats of Arms of the participants. For the purpose of recalling and tabulating the different Arms of the nobility the heralds compiled the first registries if Coats of Arms which came to be known as Heraldic Rolls. The Rolls of Arms were initially rolls of vellum paper or parchment and over time were transferred to books but were still referred to as rolls.

In the early 1300’s heralds were attached to noble households, where they were employed as messengers, proclaiming challenges for upcoming tournaments on their master’s behalf. It seems that the herald was allowed to travel for some length of time to collect information on the tournament on the potential opponents that his master might meet at such tournaments. The Herald would also advise the noble on all matters related to chivalry because if his lord wanted to be seen as a man of knowledge and high-birth he was expected to be well acquainted with such matters. Originally the freelance heralds had taken their titles at will, but as they became accredited to certain noble households they took their official names from their masters’ own titles or badges, or from charges that appeared on the masters’ Coats of Arms. “The Golden Fleece” ( Toison d’or) was the Herald of the order from Burgundy in France that bore that name. Montjoie took his name from the cri-de-guerre of the French Kings; “Mont joie de Saint Denis”, and the name Blanch Sanglier ( “White boar”) came form the personal badge of Richard Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III. Heralds themselves do not normally figure on the family Coat of Arms, but one notable exception is for the Spanish family of de Armas, which descends from the Herald Juan Negrin, king of Arms to the kings of Castille. They bear on the shield an arm holding a banner charged with the Arms of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon. Early references to the Herald were not always complimentary, sometimes written by minstrels who saw the Heralds as a threat to their position of power within the noble household. They often vied with each other for their masters’ attention. One poet from the late 13th century, Henri de Laon, thought that the Herald pursued an idle profession, one worthy only of greedy men.

“ What’s more, lords would give shelter to up to four of these ne’er-do-wells who tended to talk more than good folk of other callings, yet at the same time do very little”

Coat-of-arms of Anthony of Burgundy as Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece

Heraldry Funeral Hatchments Part 2

In Medieval times, the trappings of knighthood were carried in the funeral procession and afterward laid in the church near the grave of the deceased. In the Low Countries (Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg) a new practice arose in the 16th century whereby the actual pieces of armor, swords, gauntlets, helm, and tabard were replaced with painted reproductions, usually made of wood. These were grouped in a frame, together with the shields of the paternal and maternal grandparents. The background of the display was painted in mourning black. Such framed displays were known as cabinets d’armes or cabinets d’honor. This practice led to the use of Hatchments (a corruption of ‘achievement’), the diamond-shaped mourning boards, many of which are still found hanging in parish churches in England today. The hatchment was hung outside the home of the deceased for a period of mourning, perhaps as much as a year and a day, indicating to to visitors that a death had occurred in the family.

From the background of the funeral hatchment and the composition of the arms, it is possible to identify the sex and marital status of the deceased. For a single person (bachelor, spinster, widow, or widower) the background was all black. Where no marriage had existed, a shield for a man or a lozenge (diamond shape) for a woman bearing the patrimonial arms was shown. In the case of a bachelor the helm and crest also appeared. As the diamond-shaped lozenge is thought of as a plain shape a blue bow was sometimes added for decoration. Things became more complicated when a marriage was involved. When one of the couple survived the other, the background of the hatchment was divided vertically black and white, with black- as the color of mourning- behind the deseased’s half of the arms and white behind the survivor’s half. When a wife died before her husband, her hatchment bore a shield with no crest (sometimes a bow was substituted), and the right-hand half of the background was black. If the husband died first the whole achievement was shown, with black behind the left half. If the hatchment was for a widower, an all-black background was shown with shield, crest, and marital coat of arms. If it was for a widow, the marital coat of arms appeared on a lozenge. These are the simplest cases, and there were many hatchments whose composition taxes the onlooker and can be very difficult to interpret: in the case of a man who has married several times, for instance, the arms of all his wives may appear, with separate backing for each marriage.

Although a family motto often appeared on a man’s hatchment, it was just as likely to be replaced by a Latin phrase relating to death and resurrection such as Resurgam (“I shall rise again”), In coelo quis (“There is rest in heaven”), or Mors janua vitae ( “Death is the doorway to life”). While many English parish churches contain one or two hatchments to a lord of the manor, or previous vicar, some have great collections for a whole family: such as that of the Hulse family of Breamore, Hampshire, where the church displays a set of hatchments that date from the early 18th century.

Heraldry Funeral Hatchments Part 1

In the late Middle Ages up until the 20th century funeral hatchments were used to proclaim the death of a member of a titled or landed family and were emblazoned with the arms of the deceased person. The custom of displaying coats of arms in connection with funerals dates from the early days of heraldry, but the diamond shaped canvas in a wooden frame -the hatchment – was apparently introduced into Britain, from Holland, around the time of the Restoration. The word itself is a corruption of achievement, which means a coat of arms with all its appropriate accessories, such as helmet, crest, mantling and so on. Hatchments remained in fashion for about two hundred years. During the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, their use was general among the titled and landed classes. Normally, they remained hanging on a house front for about a year after a funeral. After the funeral these hatchments were hung in the church. While some of these memorials were temporary, others were permanent, and were mainly aimed at maintaining the status quo- the chief weapon in the armory of status being heraldry. On early memorials, in stone or brass, enameled or carved, the heraldry included was limited to the bearer’s own personal shield and crest.

Over time the place of burial began to be used as a platform upon which the nobility could show off not only the arms of their own family, but also those to whom they were united through marriage. With the arrival of the Renaissance the grand monuments of the aristocracy had expanded to include a series of shields for family marriages, often borne by figures such as angels and mythical creatures such as griffins and dragons. The offspring of the deceased were also often depicted on the tombs, kneeling with shields for boys and lozenges (diamond shape) for girls. The canopies and sides of the tombs were used to support a display of heraldry. Death itself could be called upon to support the shield, or sometimes the shield of the deceased might be shown upside-down. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, gravestones often bear fully colored arms of the deceased executed in pietra dura, an inlaying technique using a variety of colored stones, but in most countries they tend to be carved in local stone and uncolored. While in Britain the flat stones set into the floors of many parish churches bear the arms of the deceased only, in Germany, Belgium and Holland they often bear a series of shields down the sides of the stone, those on the left for the father’s side, those on the right for the mother’s side.


Castle of the Week Hluboká nad Vltavou Castle, Bohemia, Czech Republic

The town of Hluboká nad Vltavou in southern Bohemia, the Czech Republic is home to a spectacularly romantic Neo-Gothic Castle. One of the most visited castles in the Czech Republic, Hluboká, rises on the northern edge of Budějovické pond basin, on the sharp promontory above the Vltava river. Originally a royal castle, Hluboka (Frauenberg) was founded together with the neighboring town of České Budějovice in the 13th century by the Czech King Premysl Otakar II. The King constructed the early Gothic castle around 1250, this was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century by the Lords of Hradec. Several aristocratic families took turns owning it. The important ones included the Lords of Pernštejn, who founded the nearby fishpond of Bezdrev in 1490, the second largest fishpond in Bohemia. The prominent aristocratic family of the Lords of Hradec purchased the domain in 1561. Two years later, the new owners had the original Gothic castle rebuilt into a Renaissance chateau.

In the late 16th century, the castle came into the possession of the Malovec family of Malovice, who, being Protestants, lost the property in 1619, and four years later Emperor Ferdinand II of Habsburg gave it as a compensation for war claims to the Spanish general Don Balthasar de Marradas. In 1661, Jan Adolf I of Schwarzenberg bought Hluboká from his nephew. The Schwarzenbergs lived in Hluboká until the end of 1939, when the last owner Dr. Adolf emigrated overseas to escape from the Nazis. They lost their property once for all through a special Act, Lex Schwarzenberg in 1947. Thanks to their very well-managed property and large-scale economic activities, the Schwarzenbergs twice rebuilt the chateau of Hluboká, first in the early 18th century in the Baroque style, and later, they carried out an extensive reconstruction of the chateau in the romantic neo-Gothic style of the in the years 1840 – 1871, including a re-arrangement of the park and the surrounding countryside. The rebuilding was influenced by the journeys of the then owner, Prince Jan Adolf II of Schwarzenberg and his spouse Princess Eleonore, née Princess of Liechtenstein, to England. The main model of the project was the royal castle of Windsor. Rebuilding work were started according to the designs by the Viennese architect Franz Beer, and, after his death, the Schwarzenberg builder Damasius Deworetzky continued, especially focusing on designing the splendid interiors. They created an object with 140 lavishly furnished rooms, with eleven towers (the main one is 60 m tall) and bastions, whose indented facade is dominated by a large Schwarzenberg heraldry with the family motto “NIL NISI RECTUM” (Nothing but the right). In the vicinity of the castle, there is the English style Castle Park. In the original riding hall with an open-frame hall, collections of Aleš South Bohemian Gallery are now installed.Today, in the former castle riding school, is situated a South Bohemia Gallery of Mikuláš Aleš, with an outstanding exhibition of Gothic paintings and statues as well as of Dutch and Flemish art from the 17th and 18th centuries and with changeable exhibitions in the main hall. In the mid 19th century a riding lodge was built next to the castle. Today it houses the Aleš South Bohemian Gallery which displays exquisite Gothic paintings and statues.

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