Early Heraldic Literature, part 2

Heraldic literature huntingOne of the most interesting cases of early Heraldic literature comes from a woman, Dame Juliana Berners who wrote the Boke of St. Albans. Very little is known about Dame Juliana beyond her authorship of this book. She was supposedly a Prioress of Sopwell, a convent near St. Albans in Hertfordshire in the south of England. The book was first printed in the Abbey of St. Albans which gives it it’s name. The book is divided into 5 sections and contains  a Treatise of Hawking, of Hunting, of Coat Armour, of Fishing, and Blazing of Arms. The third and fifth portions of the work concern Heraldry, but the whole composition represents a dissertation on some of te main accomplishments of a 15th century gentleman in England.

Dame Juliana is acknowledged to have used Upton’s earlier work in completing her Treatise. In her fifth section she incorporates a great deal of his work on Heraldry. Nevertheless, she does shed new light on the origins of Heraldry: “ Note here well who shall give coat armours. There shall none of the nine orders of regality but all only the sovereign king give coat armours. For this is to him impropriated by law of arms. And yet the king shall not make a knight without coat armour before.”This would seem to favor the viewpoint thatnone but “ properly granted “ coats of arms were genuine. However, with the iconsistencies which mark so many ancient writers Dame Juliana follows her assertion with a contrary one: “ Every knight, chieftain,in the field may make a coat armour knight.” Other chapters describe the case of a man whose father had not coat of arms but his mother had, and he may bear his mother’s arms. Elsewhere she says : “ Some men say that a Christian manovercoming a Christian man fighting in the listshall bear the coat armour of him that is overcome.” And “ a yeoman christened may bear the arms of a gentleman Saracen ( i.e. a pagan) if he kill him.”

Dame Juliana Berners

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