Review of periodical articlesReview of periodical articles
Faculty of Arts. History
Research group
Centre for Urban History
Publication type
Source (journal)
Urban history. - Cambridge, 1992, currens
43(2016):2, p. 306-335
Target language
English (eng)
Full text (Publishers DOI)
University of Antwerp
One of the key concepts of Max Weber's writings on cities was that in north-western Europe, the landed nobility and urban elites were clearly distinguished. For Weber, this was indeed a main reason to locate the occidental city in the north rather than in the Mediterranean. Christof Rolker tackles this question in his Heraldische Orgien und Sozialer Aufstieg. Oder: Wo ist eigentlich oben in der spätmittelalterlichen Stadt?, Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, 52 (2015), 191224. The in-depth analysis of one of the largest and at the same time most widespread armorials in the late medieval Holy Empire, namely that of Konrad Grünenberg (d. 1494), demonstrates that in Konstanz (where Grünenberg lived) guilds (and not the nobility) first insisted on patrilineal descent as a proof of status. Traditionally, Grünenberg is seen as a paradigmatic social climber, as he left his guild to join the society of the local nobility (called Zur Katz). Yet his sumptuous armorial, containing over 2,000 coat of arms mainly from the south-west of the Empire, does not mention any single member of this noble society. Instead, it praises the tournament societies of which Grünenberg was not a member, and highlights chivalric events in which he never participated. This, Rolker argues, indicates that armorials were not only about status already gained or to be gained, but also a manual for contemporaries to discuss the social order in a more abstract way. In his Wappenbuch, Grünenberg constantly explains why he could not join the noble societies he praised, while at the same time he ignored the Zur Katz association of which he was a member. Therefore, Rolker concludes that it was not only members (or would-be members) of the respective social groups who knew and reproduced social codes. So the boundary between noble and urban elites was more blurred than Weber claimed though Rolker is of course not the first to criticize Weber on this. Clearly, Grünenberg's armorial was part and parcel of a wider discussion of origins and kinship, namely patrilineal kinship that took place in several social milieux, rather than simply a book which displayed inherited status.