Zoltán Rihmer answers some of my questions about Machaut

More information on the heraldry of MS A.

I recently received a very generous email communication from Zoltán Rihmer, who introduces himself as a ‘Latin philologist (ancient, medieval and modern) and a liturgical scholar from Hungary, with an earlier institutional background in legal history (Roman and canon law)’ who is ‘passionate about early music, including medieval polyphony’. With his permission, I post his answer to one of my earlier questions arising from my post accompanying my web-only article proposing a patron for Machaut MS A.

Question 4: Can anyone identify the heraldry of the flags in the MS A pictures or are they just generic?
   The flags depicted on fol. E of manuscript A do bear a certain resemblance to the arms of the kings of Hungary, but are certainly not a representation thereof. I happen to have a lively interest in heraldry for decades, and as a Hungarian I have read a lot on the history of the coat-of-arms of my country. The significant difference is in the number of the stripes, technically called “bars”. In order to explain the problem, I attach some pages selected from three works on Hungarian and international heraldry. [Right click here to download ZR additional materials.]
   No. (1) is from József Laszlovszky: A magyar címer története [The history of the coat-of-arms of Hungary], Budapest 1989. Picture (a) and (b) show the golden bulls of kings Imre (Emeric) and András (Andrew) II from 1202 and 1222, respectively. These are the seals on which the barry arms of the Árpád dynasty first appear, but the colours are not identified and there are also a number of lions, disappearing some decades later. The technical descriptions of these arms are “[argent,] four bars [gules] and six lions passant” (1202) and “barry of eight [gules and argent], six lions passant and one lion guardant” (1222). The numbers of both the horizontal lines and the lions differ from each other. The next two pictures show another symbol used by our kings on their seals: the patriarchal cross. Picture (c) is of Wenceslas’ seal (king of Bohemia as Wenceslas III, and the late brother of the wife of John of Luxembourg, Machaut’s principal patron), while picture (d) depicts the reverse of the seal of Charles of Anjou, king of Hungary as Charles I Robert. Later on, these two arms were combined on a single shield to form the traditional (and current) coat of arms of Hungary.
In the middle ages, however, they were used separately, and current Hungarian scholarship holds that the barry arms were first adopted under Emeric and his son, Andrew II, whose son, Béla IV exchanged them with the patriarchal cross, by then an established symbol of royal authority. Although from this time on until the extinction of the Árpád dynasty (1301) royal seals and coins exhibit only the latter one, yet the former, barry arms did also survive as attached to the members of the dynasty. Tamás Körmendi in his article A magyar királyok kettőskeresztes címerének kialakulása [The beginnings of the Hungarian royal arms with the two-barred cross], Turul 84 (2011) 73—83, at 83 summarises the development as follows: “The original, barry version could well have represented both the dynasty and the royal power intimately linked with it, while […] the shield with the the two-barred cross — precisely because of its later origin — could only be entrenched in royal representation as a heraldic symbol of the king’s authority.” What is interesting here is that higher officials of the realm did also use the barry shield in their capacity as representatives of the king; one such instance shown on No. (2) — Picture 8 from Körmendi’s paper — is that of Petrus de genere Aba, magister tavernicorum regalium from 1281. And here we come to the point: for this unusual version of the royal arms is “barry of five” (i.e. having two stripes), apparently “gules and argent” (i.e. red on a white background) — the very same “heraldic achievement” we find on the little flags in Machaut manuscript A! Can there be any connection, then?
The answer is, I am afraid, in the negative. First of all, the official arms of Hungary, well known outside the kingdom itself, were by the fourteenth century fairly established as “barry of eight”, see picture (e) on No. (1) from the Zurich roll of the 1320s. On every artefact from the Angevin period, where these arms are usually combined with the traditional lilies of that dynasty, we find the same number of bars, see the coins of Louis I the Great, the exquisite cope clasp from the Anjou chapel in Aachen (1367), the war banner in the depiction of the battle of Rozgony from the Hungarian Chronicon pictum (before 1360), the glazed tile from the Historical Museum of Budapest etc. It is, therefore, highly improbable that Machaut, who visited Hungary more than once, and in 1335 even spent weeks at the royal court of Visegrád in the entourage of John of Luxembourg would not have been aware of what the arms of Hungary looked like exactly: “barry of eight gules and argent, impaling azur semée of fleurs-de-lys or”. Thus, the little flags on top of the house from where Machaut is stepping out are definitely not related to the arms of Hungary at the time.
If one wishes to identify the bearer of those arms, the best way is to look it up in a heraldical dictionary, such as the trilingual one by Ottfried Neubecker — Wilhelm Rentzmann: Wappenbilderlexikon / Dictionnaire heraldique / Encyclopedia of heraldry, Munich 1974. The rest of the attached images, Nos. (3a) to (3f) are from this work, in ascending order of the bars on the escutcheon. (3a) shows the basic level of “barry of three”, going on to (3b) “barry of four”, (3c) “barry of five”, (3d) “barry of six” and “of seven”, (3e)  “barry of eight” and, finally, (3f) “barry of nine”. Some of the drawings do not indicate colour, while others do; in the latter case red (“gules”) is shown by vertical bars. To consider the evidence strictly, possible candidates only emerge in category (c), where Oldenburg, Haselünne, Isenburg and Bicken are depicted as purely “barry of five”. Alas, neither of these corrensponds to the colour of the Machaut-flags. On the other hand, one could go on to examine the red-and-white versions with more or less stripes on the shield, but any relationship thus posited remains highly speculative.
A possible conclusion can be, confirmed by personal communication from Professor Iván Bertényi, the foremost authority on heraldry in present-day Hungary, that the flag represents a fictional coat-of-arms, in other words it is just an invention of the artist, a purely decorative element and devoid of any heraldic meaning. Since François Avril demonstrated that the two lavish illustrations at the beginning of manuscript A were executed in Paris in an atelier linked to the royal court, while the rest of the illumination was probably done locally in Reims, the hypothesis of the fictionality of the coat-of-arms (or, at least, its unrelatedness to the person of Machaut) may gain further support.
This is, unfortunately, a negative solution; but I would repeat what I was taught by my secondary-school teachers in mathematics: “It is also a solution that the equation has no solution, provided it is conclusively demonstrated.”
In addition to these, I am happy to provide an answer to a question of yours posed in note 54 of the same paper: “This is an assumption based on knowledge of later English practice. If any reader knows of any evidence that shows archbishops referred to by the name of their See rather than their personal name in documents of this period, please let me know and I’ll add it here”. Drawing on my knowledge of the language of canon law, I propose this was a fairly general practice in the middle ages. When prelates were mentioned in the third person rather than addressed directly, the office seemed to be more important than the person who held it. A famous example from the period in question comes to mind. It is in the response given by pope Boniface VIII in the consistory of 24th June 1302 to the legates of the king of France some months before the promulgation of his bull Unam sanctam (quoted by Denzinger—Schönmetzer’s Enchiridion, in the introduction to n. 870, on p. 305 in the current Portuguese edition): Dicimus, quod in nullo volumus usurpare iurisdictionem regis, et sic frater noster Portuensis dixit, viz. Matthaeus ab Aquasparta OFM, cardinal bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina, who is credited with the drafting of the bull. To find some parallels from the period for the archbishop of Sens, one might like to google the phrases ‘frater noster Senonensis’, ‘fratrem nostrum Senonensem’ etc.

One thought on “Zoltán Rihmer answers some of my questions about Machaut

  1. Dear Mr. Rhimer, I greatly enjoyed your analysis of the heraldry (or lack thereof) in the pennants which grace the turrets of Rheims and/or Machaut’s home in the Prologue images from BnF, ms. fr. 1584 (MS A).

    As you probably know, I wrote about this subject in my dissertation. I do not have your expertise in the matter, but do know that the heraldry – d’argent a deux fasces gueules – is that of Renaud de Chartres, who was archbishop of Reims from 1413-1443, and a chancellor of France. The likelihood that MS A was in his possession, however, or in the cathedral library is highly unlikely.

    The extraordinary quality of the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy in all likelihood marks this manuscript as a royal possession. It is out of the question that the heraldry on these pennants are purely decorative. I have spent many years studying this particular artist’s output, and I can assure you that the insistence on repeating this heraldic motif on all ten pennants is extraordinary in all respects.

    This is an artist of great finesse, who delights in representing minutiae, and has a command of style and iconography which is vast and breathtaking. The ‘avant-garde’ application of this talent rightfully marks these images as the most important and intellectual of his oeuvre – arguably, as Francois Avril and I have argued, in late-14C French ms illumination in general.

    His subtle attention to nuances invests these images with a plethora of loose signifiers which coalesce, as charged puzzle pieces, into a meaningful whole – a ‘tessellated’ surface, if you will, where each tessera glistens and invites the viewer to create various visual ‘solutions’ with this encoded information.

    My heart quickened its pace while on a journey to Karlstjen Castle where I discovered a pennant bearing the same armorial behind an image of St. Wenceslas in St. Catherine’s Chapel (c. 1356).

    I cannot solve this conundrum. Could you comment on this?

    At one time it was believed that a passage in Machaut’s ballade B30 also referred to this, but here is G. Raynaud’s translation:

    “C’est là très probablement une expression équivalente au terme de blason Taureau passant : l’auteur s’adressant aux armoiries d’une dame allemande, en lieu et place de cette dame, l’assimile à un Taureau passant d’argent (blanc) et de gueules (vermeil) sur champ de loyauté, c’est à-dire d’azur” (G. Raynaud, Romania 38, 1909, 462).

    Here I must stop! I look forward to your thoughts (and you, Liz!) on this matter.

    All Best,
    Domenic Leo, PhD

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