The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

L.A.J.R. HOUWEN


23. Lions Without Villainy: Moralisations in a
Heraldic Bestiary

Wherever romances of knighthood and of courtly love were read or recited,
wherever crowds gathered to witness jousts and tournaments, wherever
families looked back over their record of honourable achievement and association,
heraldry was in consequence a significant science. This encouraged its
practitioners to infuse all sorts of symbolic meaning into its colours and devices
and to read back its history into the chivalrous past as they knew it, and so to
make of it the erudite branch of secular learning that, in the late medieval
heyday of the heralds, it was ultimately to become.1

Maurice Keen here aptly summarises one of the most characteristic features of late medieval heraldic treatises, namely breadth of learning and the incorporation of this learning into heraldic symbolism. Nowhere is this more clear than in the so-called heraldic bestiaries where animal lore is used in a heraldic rather than the moral-religious context encountered in the bestiaries. One such example of a heraldic bestiary is to be found in the late fifteenth-century Middle Scots Deidis of Armorie.2

The Deidis of Armorie is the name given in the explicit to a loose collection of heraldic and chivalric treatises which have been separated from the surrounding —and quite similar – material by formal explicits. Some attempt has also been made to integrate some of the material into a distinct treatise, although I suspect this had already been done at a much earlier stage. The Deidis is a translation from the French and a copy of the French text, also known as ‘Banyster’s French Treatise,’ is in the possession of the College of Arms in London.3 The heraldic bestiary section of the Deidis forms the bulk of its 2557 lines. On a previous

1 M. Keen, Chivalry (New Haven, 1984), p. 128.

2 BL, Harley 6149; three later copies are also extant (1) Oxford Queen’s College MS 161, from c.1500; (2) the so-called Scrimgeour MS (NLS, Adv. Lib. 31.5.2), copied in the first half of the sixteenth century by John Scrymgeour of Myres (Fife); (3) the Lindsay MS (NLS, Adv. Lib. 31.3.20), owned by Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, who was Lord Lyon from 1591 to 1620, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1994). The Harley text is edited as: The Deidis of Armorie: A Heraldic Treatise and Bestiary, ed. L.A.J.R. Houwen, STS, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1994).

3 MS. M. 19. The treatise is discussed by R. Dennys, The Heraldic Imagination (London, 1975), pp. 73–4. Dennys divides the treatise into 10 parts of which sections iv–ix would seem to correspond with the Middle Scots Deidis of Armorie. Dennys’s division should be treated with some caution since he does not refer to any of the treatises which appear on ff. 130v-54 (between parts ix and x). A more reliable description of the contents of this manuscript appears in L. Campbell and F. Steer, A Catalogue of Manuscripts in the College of Arms, Collections, Volume 1 (London, 1988), pp. 161–66. In their description of part ix the inanimate charges which follow the ‘fishes’ are not mentioned.

-249-

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