On this page you will find a general introduction to the Nassau-Vianden armorial. If you want to go straight to the digitised book, with introductions (in Dutch), please click on the image below.
The armorial as ancestral history
In the Middle Ages, a nobleman's status was determined by his lineage. A family tree (genealogy) with coats of arms was indispensable to assert a nobleman's entitlements to regions which had been acquired by marriage or inheritance.
Knowledge pertaining to the ancestry of the nobleman and his family's coats of arms was recorded by his herald, in this case the herald Nassau-Vianden. He was in the service of count Engelbrecht II van Nassau (1451-1504). In this armorial, the herald charts 200 years of Nassau lineage.
Herald Nassau-Vianden takes off his hat to pay tribute to his lord's coat of arms (at right)
The coat of arms is surrounded by the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Engelbrecht II was the first of his lineage to be admitted to this prestigious order in 1473. His coat of arms combines those of Nassau and Vianden.
Origins of heraldry
Coats of arms originated in the twelfth century, when knights' armour had evolved to cover their entire body and face. In order to distinguish friend from foe, the knights adopted identifying marks which were displayed on their shield, on banners and on their horse's caparison.
Medieval knights in combat. Coloured woodcut from the Kattendijke Chronicle dating from the same period, KW 1900 A 008, fol. 182-183.
Originally, the coats of arms identified a single individual. As the knights had to be identifiable at quite a distance, rules were laid down for the layout of their coats of arms. Only primary colours were permissible and basic shapes and forms.
In their master's service, heralds gathered information about the many coats of arms in use in so-called armorials. The KB's Beyeren armorial (1405) is an early example. It lists the coats of arms according to the battles or tournaments in which the knights participated.
Gradually, the coats of arms became hereditary. When noblemen acquired new territories, the respective coats of arms were added to the extant ones to reflect who was associated with particular territories. Engelbrecht II of Nassau-Vianden also controlled Breda, Lek, Diest, Roosendaal, Nispen and Wouw.
The Nassau-Vianden armorial
Engelbrecht II was the son of Jan IV of Nassau-Dillenburg (1410-1475). The armorial displays the coats of arms of Jan's paternal and maternal ancestors. In the guided tour that accompanies our digitized book, you will find details per page (in Dutch). Click on the signpost in the black field.
The majority of coats of arms in the armorial can easily be placed in Jan's lineage, but there are a few exceptions. It is unclear why the kings of England and Scotland are included. Perhaps their inclusion was an attempt by the herald to embellish his master's status, as many heralds were known to do.
As women did not fight on the battle field, their coats of arms were often shaped like a diamond rather than a shield.
Provenance of the Nassau-Vianden armorial
On the inside cover a leaf of parchment has been pasted in with the coat of arms of William of Orange (1533-1584). It is quite possible that William of Orange owned the book at some time, as it deals with his ancestors as well. His coat of arms, however, has probably been pasted into the book by a later owner, possibly the German heraldic artist Otto Hupp (1859-1949). Fol. 1r displays a note by an owner from the 17th century, probably Jacques Wijts (1579-1643), an army captain closely connected to the Orange-Nassau family.
In 1898 the armorial was owned by Otto Hupp. The KB acquired the manuscript in 2017 at the TEFAF in Maastricht, financially supported by the Mondriaan Fund, the Prins Bernhard Culture Fund and the Association of Friends of the KB.
Description of the manuscript
The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, request no. 1900 A 016
Brabant (Breda or Brussels), ca. 1490
Produced by herald Nassau-Vianden for count Engelbrecht II of Nassau (1451-1504)
215x145 mm, 38 fols., paper
Coats of arms in pen and wash
Cover of limp parchment, original.
Downloads and reuse
Jpg files from the armorial are available at Wikimedia commons.