A Multimodal View of Late Medieval Rhetoric: The Case of the White Rose of York


The aim of the present paper is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of heraldry, in particular of para-heraldic devices known as “badges”, in 15th-century England. The case chosen for examination is that of the white rose, one of the major badges of Edward IV.

The data consists of four contemporary texts in which Edward is referred to as the “rose”, analysed against the background of the use of the white rose of York as a heraldic device. This includes surviving artefacts ranging from effigies to stained glass to seals and manuscript illuminations, as well as contemporary descriptions and depictions of those artefacts.

Using the methodological apparatus of cognitive linguistics, specifically the multimodal metaphor and metonymy analysis, the author examines the interplay between language and heraldry. The results show that while the primary function of the white rose and of other badges employed by Edward IV was to emphasize his heritage and thus invite a metonymic reading, the badge inspired other, metaphorical readings, which were employed rhetorically by his supporters. In this context, the concept of the badge may be reinterpreted as a metaphtonymy.

The analysis supports the view of heraldry as an integral element of medieval society. From a semiotic perspective, heraldry should be seen as a dynamic system that could be exploited creatively to suit the needs of its users, which in turn corresponds to the dynamic theory of metaphor.

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