The Seven Deeds of Honor and their Crowns

I’m back with yet another excerpt from the truly wonderful Harley Manuscript 6149, a compilation of heraldy-related items bound into a book by one Adam Loutfut in or around 1494 in Scotland.

This time, I’d like to write about folii 124r-126r, “Þe vii deidis of honour and of þair vii crownnys and of quhat materis þai ar maid of ande for quhat caus þai ar giffin”, which is about crowns given for specific achievements in battle, both on the battlefield and in one case, in the lists. Master Loutfut explains that these were given during the Roman Empire by one Marquinssus Torqueus1, and because the Harley Manuscript also includes a treatise on the history of heraldry “…back to the Archangels” (ff. 50r-51v), it’s not hard to understand why he would include a section on Roman heraldic honors in his book.

I’m still getting used to Master Loutfut’s handwriting (which is, in my opinion, divine, but it’s taking me some getting used to), but lucky for me, Professor Luuk Houwen wrote an article about “The Seven Deeds” in 1993 for the journal “Studies in Scottish Literature” (Volume 28, Issue 1, Article 13). The article happens to be online at the Scottish Literature Collections as Scholar Commons, so by all means, take a look. Professor Houwen is the Chair of Medieval English Language, Literature and Culture at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum.

He has included a transcription of Master Loutfut’s writings and a glossary which, in combination with the Scots Language Dictionary online, allows me to do a really rough translation here.

Dear reader, you should absolutely take all of this with a huge grain of salt, as I am no 15th Century Scots language scholar. But with that caveat, let’s get into it!

The Crown Triumphal

An elaborate crown made of gold, with opals and rubies on alternating oak and strawberry leaves of gold, with arches bearing golden beads and topped by a golden orb with a gold cross on top.

The first is the crown triumphal and is given unto noble men who conquer in armies under a banner displayed, that conquer and win against their enemies and put them to the flight. This crown triumphal is made of gold and fashioned in the form of the crown of an emperor as is here shown, as it accords well to be unto him that through his chivalry does this honorable deed and deserves to have it.

ff. 124v-125r

About the “battles of arrest” (which I have translated, above, as “armies”), Professor Houwen has this to say:

“It is not clear what the author had in mind. Perhaps there is a link here with [the] Medieval Latin verb arrestare, which, in combination with bellum could signify ‘to withstand, face’.  Elsewhere in the text, the author describes a defensive action.”2

However, when describing the crown castrious (see below), Master Loutfut uses the same term (“battles of arrest”) while talking about two military elements that are arrayed against one another, so I am thinking it means “battalion” or “army”.

My take on this Deed of Honor

I would like to propose that this crown is awarded to a noble/military leader whose army or force crushes the opposition such that the enemy breaks their ranks and flees — but that (in keeping with Professor Houwen’s observation about “withstanding”) it would be particularly fitting for someone whose troops started off the battle outnumbered and seemingly unlikely to prevail.

> The Crown Triumphal at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Obsidional

The crown obsidional is given unto him that through his high honor and chivalry rescues those who are besieged within a walled town or castle, that so if a man through his great honor had delivered his friends that are in such distress and conquered their enemies and captured the besiegers by surprise he should be crowned with this honorable obsidional, which is made of gold and the grains of it are like unto the grains of corn as appear here to declare and show this noble act and deed of honor.

folio 125r

Professor Hoewen notes that “custom required that it be made of the grass which grew in the place within which the besieged were confined”3

My take on this Deed of Honor

This crown is awarded to the general or military leader who relieves a siege and, in doing so, defeats and/or captures the enemy besiegers.

> The Crown Obsidional at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Mural

The crown mural is given unto him that during the assault through his great manhood and chivalry enters first upon the wall and fights there before his fellows, or where mine or countermine is made enters foremost there unto the invasion of his enemies, and in there weathers the storm of combat, and if a man has done this honorable deed, he shall wear a crown of green laurel which shall be made of this fashion, which is called the sign of victory and honor.

folio 125r

Professor Houwen notes: “The illustration shows a kind of ducal crown in which strawberry leaves alternate with larger laurel leaves.”4 They do not look like laurel leaves to me, for what it’s worth (and strawberry leaves have three lobes in all the reference I’m able to find, not five), but it does not surprise me that Master Loutfut might not have had regular access to laurel or strawberry leaves. In fact, the “laurel” leaves look suspiciously like the oak leaves found in the Crown Civica to me…

My take on this Deed of Honor

The first warrior into the breach or to overtop a wall or breaches an enemy’s defenses through mine-works, and who weathers the storm of battle to allow their comrades to join, is worthy of this crown.

> The Crown Mural at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Castrious

The crown castrious is given unto him that when two armies are put into battle array, one against the other, and are approaching ready to engage, and who due to his own courage and high honor on horseback or on foot passes between the armies as well and does arms with his fellow, the victory remaining with him, and to him that does this high deed of honor is given this crown castrious, which is of this fashion and is made all of gold with prongs like unto the stars of he heaven all of one height in the fashion of a diadem.

folio 125v

My take on this Deed of Honor

I would propose that this crown is appropriate to a military leader who leads their army from the front in a charge against the enemy, or who wades directly into the van to fight the foe.

> The Crown Castrious at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Naval

The crown naval is given unto him that fights on the sea and enters first into the ship of his foe into the top or into the upper deck, or is the cause of the winning of the enterprise, or that does so high a point that it may be known above all his fellows that his is worthy to wear this said crown naval, which should be made of this fashion and all of gold and the prongs like unto the rudder of a ship, therewith he shall be crowned, that does this honorable deed.

folio 125v

My take on this Deed of Honor

This crown is awarded to the ship’s Captain or officer who leads a boarding action at sea, either by leaping across the entangled yardarms (from top to top) or by gaining the deck of the enemy’s ship. However, by stating “…or is the cause of the winning of the enterprise”, I feel like it could be given to anyone who, through extraordinary action, brings about victory at sea.

> The Crown Naval at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Ovalis

A crown, more like a wreath, made of myrtle vines and leaves.

The crown ovalis is given unto him who fights in single battle within the lists and does this arming there and has the victory of his foe, which may be renowned through the whole realm whereof he is born to a great honor if the battle is of that nature. And for the great gladness and honor of that deed he shall be crowned with this most warlike crown, called the crown ovalis, which is of this fashion made of the berries and leaves of myrtle plants, which will longest endure without withering or rotting.

folii 125v-126r

Professor Houwen notes that the word “ovalis” is a Latin word meaning “belonging to an ovation”4.

My take on this Deed of Honor

This crown goes to the fighter in the lists who gets, and keeps, the crowd on its feet (that is, vanquishes a foe in single battle so well that they receive a standing ovation).

> The Crown Ovalis at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

The Crown Civica

The crown civica is given unto him that, in time of battle, if his prince, master, or friend be taken in the hands of his enemies, that through solely his power and chivalry rescues and frees his prince or master as well; another that slays his captor, and he that may come through his endeavor to this honor shall be crowned with this honorable crown called the crown civica, which is of this fashion, and is made of the grains and leaves of the oak tree, which is the hardest tree of nature, in order to show the hardness and danger of doing this endeavor and deed of honor, which is the last crown of the seven.

folio 126r

My take on this Deed of Honor

This crown is awarded to warriors who, at great personal risk, rescue prisoners of war, or who, taken prisoner themselves, slay their captors and escape.

> The Crown Civica at The Book of Traceable Heraldic Art

1 “Marcus Manlius Capitolinus, also known as Torquatus…” (Houwen, p. 158 footnote 2) (return)

2 Houwen, p. 159, footnote 7 “battel of arrest” (return)

3 Houwen, p. 155 (return)

4 Houwen, p. 160, footnote 18 (return)