Human skulls (and death’s heads: skulls lacking the lower jaw) are very rare charges in period heraldry, but they do show up occasionally. The following is a rundown of all the examples I’ve found so far.
The earliest examples are the attributed arms of Awil-Marduk, son of Nebuchadnezzar II, which started appearing in armorials in the mid-15th C (usually recorded as Ewfullmer or something similar).
Starting in the late 15th C, there are also occasional examples of a skull (or death’s head) used in the attributed arms of death.
As for arms that may have been borne by actual people, the earliest example I’ve found so far is a death’s head in the arms of Francesco Carosio, Bishop of Melfi, as they appear in the Chronicles of the Council of Constance. The earliest version of the Chronicles I’ve found the arms in date to 1483, almost 70 years after the Council, so it’s possible these aren’t an accurate representation of the Bishop’s arms.
In the 16th C we find a couple more examples. In France we have the arms of the Count of Macoy with a skull holding a bone in its mouth; and in Germany the arms of Coeis(?), a death’s-head with a lily-of-the-valley plant.
And finally, edging into the early 17th century, there’s a German example in a crest from 1603, and the Italian arms of Bonifaci from c. 1605.
I’ve added over 70 new sources today, so I’ll just mention some highlights.
In the French section we have the 16th C Blasons de Bretagne, which offers some interesting insight into a regional heraldic style that is generally not showcased.
A lot of the French sources I found were collections of the arms of the Knights of the Round table and treatises. Since I had a bunch of both of these already, and since neither of them are the best examplars of period armorial style, I’ve separated them into their own sections.
There were a few neat German finds. There’s a 15th C Wappenbuch (München, BSB, Hss Cgm 8030) with over 2500 items. I noticed a large amount of overlap with Grünenberg, both in content and organization, so I suspect it’s from sometime in the second half of the 15th C.
Then there’s a Wappenbuch from the 15th or 16th C (the art style suggests 15th C, but some of the content seems like it’s from the 2nd half of the 16th C to me, so it’s tough to call) with over 500 items (Weimar, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Fol. 221).
And another Wappenbuch that is dated by the musem as simply 16th C, but based on the number of items in it that I’ve only ever seen in alba amicorum I suspect it’s closer to the end of that period, which contains over 2500 items (Weimar, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, Fol 223)
There’s also a Wappenbuch from Cologne in the 2nd half of the 16th C (Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln, A 99). It’s very roughly sketched, with tricking indicating the tinctures along with sporadic painting. It’s theorized that it was a workbook for an heraldic artist.
And finally from Germany is Stuttgarter Schiessen (Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod.hist.fol.165), a book celebrating a shooting competition in 1562, which has some amazing heraldic art.
One of the new sources added to the Italian section is the lovely Priorista, a catalogue of the priors of Florence. I looked up some of the corresponding arms in Insignia Florentinorum, and it’s fascinating to compare styles between the two.
The biggest component of this update is 39 new alba amicorum, which offer an excellent selection of bizarre heraldry – the below are from Eberhard Werll, Leonhard Bininger, and Johann Georg Nocker, respectively.
Heroica Eulogia, 1567 English (Huntington Library, mssHM 160)
The full list of the 66 new additions is at the bottom of this post, but first some highlights.
Armoriaux et copies de pièces concernant spécialement les Flandres, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 22485) is an unfinished armorial with a lot of uncoloured line drawings that would make for excellent templates.
Confréries de la Cour amoureuse et de l’Épinette ; Traité de blason, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 10469) has a small treatise in the middle, but is mostly real, and nicely drawn, armory.
Recueil de blasons peints, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 17256) is well worth a look. Gorgeous artwork and unusual charges, such as violets, snails, and a mirror. It also has quite a decent selection of Iberian heraldry.
Traité de blason, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 6128) is unfinished; most of the arms haven’t even been inked, so are effectively pencil sketches. Heraldic artists will find this one particularly interesting.
And speaking of heraldic art, I’ll let Traité de blason, avec de nombreuses armoiries coloriées, 16th C French (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 5231) speak for itself.
German Armorial, c 1447-1449 (London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS774) has artwork that is fairly typical of the time (the same artist is responsible for some of the Ingeram Codex), but considering how heavily weighted the German list is towards the 16th C, it’s nice to have some more 15th C examples.
I’m pleased to have added 5 new items to the Iberia section, including Blasón de armas, 1601 Spanish (Biblioteca Histórica de la USAL, Ms. 1683), which has many of its blazons in a Spanish poetic style called copla real (I’m a sucker for heraldry that rhymes); and the charmingly poorly drawn Tratado del blasón/Linages de España, 1464 Spanish (Madrid, Real Biblioteca, II/86).
I’ve also added 18 new items to the Alba Amicorum section, including the earliest one I’ve found so far, that of Johann Hegenmüller (1533-1566), which contains an owl displayed; plus that of Janus Dousa (1563-1597) with a dragon’s jambe; and that of Kurt von Knöringen (1587-1598) with fox’s tails in saltire.
To the French section I added another edition of Jerome de Bara’s Le blason des armoiries, this one from 1581 (Paris, BnF, département Réserve des livres rares, RES-V-626). It has much clearer images than the 1579 edition that’s already there.