A journey in traceing our old seals...
There are few families having there own coat of arms. And even fewer whos shieldmark originates from the time before the heraldic was introduced. The von Knorring coat of arms is one of these few.
Heraldics, i.e. the use of coat of arms, began around 1250. The cause to paint figures on shields was the use of armament, as the knights appearance then became more or less anonymous. Thereby, there were no longer possible to distinguish between friend and enemy.
Despite that the original need for a coat of arms came to an end, the use of it continued and developed. One example of that can be seen in the use of weaponshields in Houses of Nobles. A nobelized person also had to create his own coat of arms.
However, everyone was not allowed to bear a coat of arms, only certain nobel families. Their shieldmarks was carefully registered, and new ones was controlled in order not to be mixed up with the already present ones. And in charge for this was the herold.
As well as many other aspects, even the heraldics was influenced from the time being. That´s why we can see rather simple geometric figures from the beginning, while examples from the 16th and 17th centuries often shows pictures of plants and animals, and increasingly imaginative figures. And a regents coat of arms was oftenly combinations of its ancestors shieldmarks, or even their complete coat of arms.
As the original need for a simple and easily indentificated figure had ceased, shieldmarks also was allowed in more imaginative shapes.
Accordingly there where few persons, and later families, allowed to bear a coat of arms.
What figure could they choose as their shieldmark? Oftenly, a rather simple and stylized figure was made, based on the bearers profession or social position. That´s why for example a millwheel, or other mill parts came to be a rather common model among sovereigns who posessed water- and millrights.
But some families already had their own symbols even before the heraldic was introduced. For those, it was very natural to continue with the figure already in use, and maybe had been for several generations. This is about what´s called sfragistics, meaning the science of seals.
Originally, the seals purpose was to confirm an written agreement, as most persons where unable to write. Oftenly, a monk was hired to write the document, and there after the parties "signed" the agreement by pressing there seals in the warm sealing wax.
Few persons privileged
As within the heraldics, there where few persons and families allowed the use of seals. And as within the heraldics, both shape, size and figures came to vary with the owner. For example, princes, sovereigns, bishops and popes oftenly had big oval seals, with themselves pictured on a throne.
Seals and genealogy
As several of the von Knorring ancestors where knights, and active within the upper society, we have access to both heraldic and sfragistic sources. That is also the cause while our known genealogy starts from ca 1070 A.D. As "usual" family research mostly is based on traceing family names, there are no possibilities to reach that far, as family names came in use much later. For the time before family names came in use, a family researcher therefore can take advantage of coat of arms. And for the time before the heraldics (ca 1250), the search for seals can lead even longer.
This is the explanation for the utmost completely researched von Knorring genealogy.
While traceing the genealogy of a noble family, a researcher usually maybe can find few documents with heraldic symbols, and even fewer containing preserved seals.
However, in our case there are no less than 43 seals found today! Dated from 1297 to 1413. Not bad...
All of these seals are kept in different German archives. In our family book (Ätterna Knorring, main author the former genealogist at the Swedish House of Nobles mr Pontus Möller) a number of these seals can be seen. Some of them as graphite drawings made in 1906, others as photographs.
The latest contribution to this assortment was discovered in autumn 2006, at the county archive of Sachsen-Anhalt in Magdeburg, Germany, see below.
My traceing was following the tracks of the seals published in the family book, with the ambition of getting my eyes on them for the first time being, and with a special interest in the originals to the drawings from 1906, all togehter 14 items.
The preparing correspondence with the different archives for this journey could not fully confirm where to find these seals. The only way was to get there, and start searching in their different registers.
And what´s more, some of the given archives showed to be false. Either by missprint, or as a consequence of the original documents had been moved to other archives after 1906.
During the traces of the oldest von Knorring seals, the tour lead to the city of Magdeburg in mid Germany. According to the source, (Vårt släktvapen by Gotthard baron v. Knorring, also reprinted in the family book Ätterna Knorring), there should be a number of the reproduced drawings to find in the city archive. That showed not to be the case. But maybe they where archived there, by the time the drawings was made. There have been many changes in the German society since then...
Thanks to the staff there, I found them instaed in the county archive of Sachsen-Anhalt, at the other end of the same city.
The visits gave two primarly interesting results.
No one of the original seals showed the arched pot-like shape seen on the drawings.
This can be seen very clearly by comparing the seal of Conradus von Rusteberg as it was drawn in 1906, to the original as it was seen in 2006.
Firstly, this detail can be considered as insignificant. Unfourtunately this is not the case. Especially as our shieldmark has shown to be very difficult to interpret, the access of correct information is of absolute importance. Even photographs could of course be distorted, but in this specific example the photo is taken in combination with a detailed and enlarged study.
Two aspects on how the shapes of the seals has been reproduced
From the photo, you can figure out the method used by the engraver. Imagine how the tool which formed the seal must have looked like. In the surface, the engraver obvioulsy must have made the mould in a lower level. Of high importance is that the photo shows that the engraver must have used tools with a straight edge, in order to create these levelled and planed surfaces.
As can be seen, the horizontal surface, as well as its both leaning sides, are levelled.
And this is the case for all of the preserved seals earlier published as graphite drawings. In no case a central figure could be found showing a convex shape, only levelled surfaces.
The fact that the sides are leaning inwards ( / \ ) can be given (at least) two explanations. Partly it can be the result of the original looking just like that, partly the consequence of the mould of the sealing tool must be able to release from the wax. Even more vertical sides ( I I ) would cause problems, and make the use more difficult. Besides, seals with surfaces leaning outwards ( \ / ) from its center, meaning they are broader within the mould, would be impossible to use.
Thus, the shapes of a seal always had to show a gradually decreased volume by its higher relief.
So, why are the drawings showing a clear convex shape?
Maybe the drawer had no access to enlarging equipment. Or the convex shape was the result of how the figure was interpreted at that time, as some kind of a cylindric object.
This cylindric shape occurs on the von Knorring coat of arms from mid 1700th century. Even more diverging from the original seals are the coat of arms originating from the 1900th century with their highly imaginative shapes. Thus, the similarity with the seals from the 1300th century was gone, probably as the result of no one no longer knew what once was reproduced.
By this, I consider it strengthened that our shieldmark does not show a cylindric object like a pot, mortar etc.
To find old documents, with their eventually seals, showed to be a rather lengthy process.
In no one of the archives I visisted, a modern computerized database was to be found. The method to be used was a manually search in handwritten registers. And not in only one, but several. The system was built up by one register referring to a second, which referred to a third and so on. In all, four different thick and big sized old books had to be used. And all of them written by hand, even with old german letters never been in use during my lifetime.
Therefore many hours was given to the understanding of how the registers were structured, in order to finally reach the last identification of a certain document. But after having filled in a form for this purpose, and given to the supervising lady, the cardbox from the basement suddenly appeared very rapidly.
It was really a fantastic feeling to open the box with my own hands. And to hold and study the old documnets with my own eyes. As if I was an archeologist holding some ancient objects...
Imagine, the above mentioned document, carrying the showed seal above, was written for 709 an a half year ago...
Also to be considered is the fact that these documents have survived all the wars and catastrophes that has occured. And yet, so very well preserved, and both the text and the seal.
The sources to the drawn seals was in other words possible to trace.
Day two in the researches hall continued by searching for the rest of the original seals. Thereby, now and then, some notes occured who could referre to documents with some connection to our family. As words like "Rusteberg", "Uder", "Knorr" etc showed up, my alarm rang. Of course, these documents just had to be checked up.
One if these, dated 1361 at the "Day of the Holy Ambrosius", that is on the 4th of April, showed to be another direct hit. Thanks to our family society applied for the permission to publish it, You can here see this document.
And what´s more, this must be one of the best preserved seals. This mixture of bee-wax and lacquer has resisted for more than 646 years, to be seen here today on the internet...
The text in the document is written in a low-German dialect, and is to be interpreted. When finished, it will also be published here. Although its main meanings are already clear.
In this document, the knight Tyderich von Rusteberg seals an agreement with the monastery Teistungenburg, where the monastery will pay Tyderich a sum of money for the right of use of land close to the monastery. They also agree how to bring this deal to an end.
Now I wonder how many more family related documents and seals there are to be found...