Armorial Beyeren

The Armorial Beyeren contains no fewer than 1096 drawings of coats of arms of medieval knights. The book was compiled by herald Claes Heynenzoon. Around 1400, he was one of the most important diplomats in the service of the Count of Holland, Albrecht of Bavaria.

Knights and heralds in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, knights were almost unrecognizable because of their helmet and armor, both at tournaments and on the battlefield. They could distinguish themselves with a coat of arms. In addition, the weapons were used to indicate to which lord a knight belonged.

Heralds administered the coats of arms and introduced the knights to tournaments. Knowledge of the international network of knights was therefore part of their task. Claes Heynenzoon (ca. 1345-1414) was the most important herald of Holland around 1400. He wrote down his knowledge of international knighthood in the Armorial Beyeren.

The history of the Armorial Beyeren

Herald Claes Heynenzoon completed the Armorial Beyeren in 1405. It is not known who acquired it after his death. It did not appear again until 1581. The book is then in the possession of Cornelis Claesz. van Aecken (ca. 1514-ca. 1586), goldsmith and wine tapper in Leiden. He had the armorial bound by Louis Elsevier (ca. 1540-1617). The book is still in this binding.

In the 19th century, the book slowly gained more publicity. For example, owner Jan François Leonard Coenen van 's Gravesloot (1817-1885) wrote an article about it in a heraldic magazine in 1875. In 1933 the armorial was on display at an exhibition in The Hague. In 1958 it was exhibited in Delft. The book was not available for research during that time.

That only changed in 2009. After the death of owner Johan Anthony Beelaerts van Blokland (1924-2007), his widow and children donated the book to the State of the Netherlands, which placed it in the Royal Library. It is now accessible to everyone.

5 series of coats of arms in the Armorial Beyeren

There are 5 series of coats of arms in the Armorial Beyeren:

  1. 337 participants in a tournament in Compiègne in February 1238 (possibly written down incorrectly instead of 1278)
  2. 191 participants in a tournament in Mons in 1310
  3. 191 participants in a tournament in Mons in 1310
  4. 122 participants in the siege of Gorinchem in 1402
  5. 14 series of 'Three Bests' (three best Jannen, Willemen, Adolfen, Dirken, etc.)

Claes Heynenzoon himself compiled the collection of weapons of the participants in the siege of Gorinchem. He derived the information for the other series from other sources.

More work by Claes Heynenzoon

Before Claes Heynenzoon entered the service of the Count of Holland, he worked for the Duke of Gelre. During that time he created the Gelre Weapon Book. This book is now in KB Brussels.

Even more material from Claes Heynenzoon has been preserved. For example, the KB keeps a collective manuscript of his with chronicle fragments and a historiographical draft book.

How to browse the Armorial Beyeren online

You can view this masterpiece online. The images can be viewed via Wikimedia Commons. You will find this masterpiece in the KB catalogue under request number KW 79 K 21.

Want to know more?

Ed van der Vlist
Conservator medieval manuscripts