Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Question from Carlyn - Emblem books

I have a question in regards to emblem books. Did these books ever contain the emblems of kings and queens or were they more like clip art with morality lessons for the general public?

I think part of the problem is that I am not sure that I completely understand the difference between a king or queen’s royal badge and an emblem. Can you use the word interchangeably?


Anonymous said...

This is well outside my area of expertise, but I do have a colleague (Susan Cogan) who deals extensively in this area. As I understand it, badges were simply identifying markers. Among the Tudor royals, badges included the Tudor double rose, the portcullis, and even the fleur-de-lis. Badges on buildings, clothing, jewelry, and other material things prompt the viewer to connect the item with a specific person or family. In a world that was 95% illiterate, it was pointless to use the written word ("Henry Tudor built this," or "I belong to Henry VIII"), so pictures served in their place to convey the same idea. Badges, in other words, represent people.

Emblems, on the other hand, represent ideas. They carry moral connotations and are meant to inspire remembrance of some moral lesson. Susan Cogan has done a great deal of work on the emblems used on the facades of buildings built by Thomas Tresham, a recusant Catholic in Elizabethan England. He placed religious emblems on his houses both to identify himself as a loyal Catholic and to provide religious inspiration for others. They were not intended to identify him personally ... they did not say "I belong to Thomss Tresham." For that message he had his own separate traditional badge. Instead, the emblems he used said "Remember this or that Biblical lesson."

Emblem books explained to the literate public what the numerous emblems meant, and those who could read were expected to teach the non-literate the meaning of the emblems they were viewing.

In strictest terms, and especially in the Tudor context, the two words "badge" and "emblem" are not interchangeable. They are two very different things.

Bearded Lady said...

Thanks PhD historian. I knew you would know the answer. I was rereading John Guys’s Mary Queen of Scots and he says that Mary took the Marigold as her “emblem.” Antoina Fraser fails to make the distinction too and says Catherine chose the pomegranate as her “personal emblem.” So really there is a difference between your PERSONAL emblem and emblems in general. I don’t mean to sound like I am splitting hairs, but I really think historians should start using the word “badge” instead of emblem because I totally agree with you that they are very different things.

If anyone else is interested in researching emblems, many are online now. It may sound like a dull subject but it is actually really fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the morals of 16th century people. And the imagery is beautiful too. I am going to do a post on emblems in the future.

English Emblems here:

French Emblems here

Here is a funny one of two monkeys that I just cut out and put on my wall (yes I am such a geek)
The motto reads “Love of parents to their children is blind of void of reason” (sigh) so true.


Anonymous said...

I could look at those online emblem books all day. Thanks for posting the links, Bearded Lady.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, Bearded Lady, even professional historians fall victim to misuse of specialized lingo. Interchanging "emblem" and "badge" is just one example. In Prof Guy's and Ms Frasier's defense, neither is a specialist in heraldry (badges) or emblemology, so they may not themselves be aware of the difference in meaning in the 16th century context. You have more knowledge than they in that one regard!