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Cities, Citizens, and their Signs: Heraldic Communication and Urban Visual Culture in Late Medieval England and Germany

MEER, MARCUS (2019) Cities, Citizens, and their Signs: Heraldic Communication and Urban Visual Culture in Late Medieval England and Germany. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Whereas historians and heraldists tend to discuss heraldry in terms of the nobility, this thesis demonstrates that heraldic communication was a ubiquitous and versatile element of urban visual culture in the cities of late medieval England and Germany. To understand its role in urban societies – and in contrast to the systematisation and interpretation of armorial design in traditional heraldic scholarship – emphasis is placed on the contemporary perceptions and communicative functions of coats of arms. Whose arms did townspeople see in the urban space? Which meanings did they attribute to their display? For which purposes did they themselves employ heraldry? Were oft-alleged differences between English and German cities reflected in the heraldic practices of their inhabitants? Four chapters explore these questions with regard to the heraldic signs of burgess families, craft and merchant guilds, municipal bodies, and ‘outsiders’ such as kings, princes, and other nobles in a multi-medial, cross-disciplinary context of textual sources (chronicles, council and court records, legislation, account books, grants of arms), material evidence (houses, town and guild halls, gates, monuments, churches), and ephemeral occasions (processions, entries, funerals, warfare, revolt). Heraldic signs emerge as visual embodiments of their bearers’ identity which functioned beyond mere identification. Late medieval townspeople related heraldry to concepts of chivalry, morality, antiquity, and lineage, and perceived arms in relation to notions of ‘honour’ which formed a fundamental component of individual and collective identity. This perception allowed for townsmen (as well as noble outsiders) to use heraldry and its display—but also its defacement and destruction—to represent, reinforce, and improve their place in the urban hierarchy, to visualise, perpetuate, and alter social relations and political structures, and to communicate, contest, and reassert claims to possession and power in the urban space.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:late medieval history, urban history, heraldry, visual culture, symbolic communication, visual communication, coats of arms
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Mar 2020 12:13

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