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From Merkelbeek to Märckelbach:
A Social History with Deep Roots


heraldry, n, Science of a herald; armorial bearings; heraldic pomp

Last revision: April 9, 2008
Chapter 22. Our heraldry  

Bearing personal armorial insignia on shields and banners became widespread in feudal times and was a wise thing to do. A knight on the battlefield, with face covered by iron, somehow had to be recognized quickly. During the Crusades, it became custom to wear these markings on the surcoat that covered a knight's mail; hence the term "coat of arms."    3

Insignia were not hereditary at first and knights were free to choose their own symbols, as were wealthy individuals, families, towns, lordships, abbeys and other groups who had gained the favor of the reigning monarch. However, with duplication and growing confusion, a simple form of identification became rather a mess on the ladders reaching up to enhanced social status.    4

A coat of arms is not defined by a picture, but by a description, called a blazon. Here are the rules for creating a blazon:
* A blazon begins by describing the field (background), e.g. argent.
* Next come the principal charges which are named with their tincture(s); e.g. croix du gu.
* The description of a principal charge is followed by descriptions of any charges placed around or on it.
A composite shield is blazoned one panel at a time, proceeding by rows from chief (top) to base, and within each row from dexter (the right side of the bearer standing behind the shield) to sinister, i.e. from the viewer's left to the right. A tincture is sometimes replaced by "of the first", "of the second" etc. to avoid repetition of tincture names; they refer to the order in which the tinctures were first mentioned. A given coat-of-arms may be drawn in many different ways, all considered equivalent, just as the letter "A" may be printed in many different fonts while still being the same letter. For example, the shape of the shield is almost always immaterial. French is very much the language of the blazon; old French, that is, hence red is not rouge, but gueules or gu; blue is not bleu, but azure; black not noir, but sable; purple is purpure; and green vert. These are the so-called dark tinctures. The light, or metallic, tinctures are: or (gold) and argent (silver). For the purpose of quick identification, heraldry uses only these seven basic colors.    

Heraldic structure became standardized in the middle of the 12th century. By this time, coats of arms were inherited by the offspring of armigers (persons entitled to use a coat of arms) across Europe. In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, heraldry became a highly developed discipline, regulated by professional officers of arms. As its use in jousting became obsolete, coats of arms remained popular for visually identifying a person in other ways--impressed in sealing wax on documents, carved on family tombs, and flown as a banner on country homes. The first work of heraldic jurisprudence, De Insigniis et Armiis, was written in the 1350s by Bartolus de Saxoferrato, a professor of law at the University of Padua.*    8

Coats of arms may or may not be embellished with a crest. Such a crest would reflect a crest made of wood or boiled leather worn on top of a knight's helmet. Typically, the crest corresponds to the charge on the shield. In the example given, the crest is a dragon head and corresponds to the winged snakes on the shield. Below the crest we see a wreath and mantling. The mantling reflects the mantle often worn by a knight in shining armor to shield him from the burning sun.    10

The portrait of Johann George Merckelbach (1609-1680) we saw in Chapter 2 shows two coats-of-arms. The one at the bottom his; the one above of his employer, the Marquis of Baden and Hochbergen, etc., with numerous charges attesting to his exalted position. Complexity of a single charge begins with the expansion of family. Upon his father's death, an eldest son inherits his father's coat-of-arms, but the others have it differentiated by labels (which are small, added designs) or changes in colors. A married daughter acquires a coat-of-arms that is split with her husband's to one side and her father's to the other, a process called impaling. A few generations of impaling and a coat-of-arms becomes complex indeed.    11

For further study: Site by Dr. Bernhard Peter.


Temper of the times  19
Schuttersgilden (Brotherhoods of Citizen Soldiers)*

The Dutch province North-Brabant boasts today more than 200 "schuttersgilden" (guilds of citizen soldiers) whose members practice playing the drums, waving flags, and shooting with rifle or crossbow. They are attired in colorful finery that pass for being traditional, but, if truth be known, are of recent design. All in the interest of cultural revival and instilling traditional values. Actually, those guilds had gone through a long period of decline with booze and unseemly behavior being the main causes.  19B

The schuttersgilden are rooted in medieval times. In Brabant and Limburg thee were brotherhoods devoted to protecting cities and villages against harmful forces and so the brothers regularly refined their military skills by exercises and participating in tournaments. They played a large social role as well. They took care, not only of one another, but of the downtrodden and sick as well. If a member passed away, it would be his brothers who took care of the funeral. Because of the guilds larger social role they were strongly connected with the Roman Catholic church.  19C

The guilds also contributed much to public festivities and this eventually led to their own increasingly excessive consumption of alcoholic libations. After all, shooting brings about a healthy thirst. And a great appetite too. Members of the Saint-Catharinaguild in Vlijmen were permitted to unbuckle their trouser belt during dinner so as to be able to stuff their bellies to the fullest. Brothers of the Sint-Oudenrode guild added to the regular entertainment at their three-yearly festival by going, accompanied by willing maiden, to the local graveyard for a stint of jumping and dancing among the gravestones - all of which began to annoy the clergy mightely.  19D

In 1909, the pastor of Dommelen and the Roman Catholic association against alcohol managed, along with the leaders of the guild of Sint-Martinus of the Holy Sacrament, to tackle the problem. Rules were modified: on some special occasion that used to be marked with members receiving a generous helping of gin, they were handed three cigars instead.  19E

The predominantly Calvinistic North has always been more staid. Not that their citizen soldiers detested alcohol, but they did not go to the same excess as the people south of the Rhine and Meuse rivers. One thing their officers loved though, if they could afford it, was having themselves eternalized on canvas. They paid the artist according to their place in a group portrait. The most famous of those artists strayed from the commonplace. In his The company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, Rembrandt made artistic endeavor his primary concern, notably by showing much and varied action. He also applied a technique known as clair-obscur or chiaroscuro, an exaggerated contrast in an alternating light and dark. The gradual darkening of the varnish on an already dark painting led to the painting's name De Nachtwacht.    19F


From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraldry. This source provides additional informative links.  return   fn1

For a rich source of heraldic nomenclature click here.  return   fn2

Mostly a condensed translation from Carlo Bijvelds, "Van 'Zuipschutjes' tot Cultuurdragers: Verval en herstel van de Brabantse schuttersgilden tijdens het Interbellum." Brabants Heem, 1998.  return   fn3

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