The Order of the World

The cover page of the Catalogus Mundi.

Barthélemy de Chasseneuz, Catalogus Gloriae Mundi

Printed by the Frankfurt printer and publisher Sigmund Feyerabend im Jahre 1579

Barthélemy de Chasseneuz (1480–1541) was a lawyer, and he was neither a narrow-minded one nor a bad one – quite the opposite. He had attended French and Italian universities and had been the student of some of the most famous teachers of his time. The talented legal scholar had acquired experience at the court of the duke of Milan and even at the court of the Pope himself. And yet, he returned to his home country in 1506 where he took up high offices.

He was probably very different from his colleagues: He knew his rights, and he knew them well. Additionally, he had common sense. That’s why he defended rats. Yes, you got that right: The rats of Autun were being prosecuted because they allegedly destroyed the grain harvest of the province. And that is not everything: Chasseneuz defended heretics. Although he was a devout Catholic himself, he represented members of the Waldensians, which had been accused of heresy.

In the legal world, Barthélemy de Chasseneuz is known for having written an extensive commentary on the customary law of the County of Burgundy. This work was so important that, even 250 years later, it was still useful to the writers of the Code Napoléon.

Today, we will turn our attention to another, less well-known book written by him: the Catalogus Gloriae Mundi – in English: the Catalogue of the Glory of the World.

The order of kingdoms. The emperor is depicted as the highest ruler on the left side at the very top of the illustration with the court of arms featuring the imperial double eagle. Immediately to his right, Chasseneuz gives the answer to the everlasting dispute regarding the ranks of the Kings of France, England and Aragon. According to his opinion – after all, he was a citizen of France – the King of France was of the highest rank, followed by the King of England and, finally, by the King of Aragon. Copper engraving by Jost Amman.

Everything Has an Order

As his contemporaries, Barthélemy de Chasseneuz was convinced that everything on earth had a precise order. He believed that any kind of dispute arose solely from the fact that humankind was unaware of the exact structure of this order. It was obvious that the King of France was of higher status than a juggler. But what about the King of France and the King of Aragon? Who of them was of higher status?

Being a good lawyer, Chasseneuz sat down and studied the sources. He wrote more than 1,000 pages setting out which office held which rank based on all theological, philosophical and legal sources available to him – from the hierarchy of the Heavens to the social ranks of humankind and to animate and inanimate nature. In 1529, this book was published for the first time.

The regal council. Copper engraving by Jost Amman.

Let’s admit it. Legal texts tend to be somewhat difficult to understand, especially if they are written in Latin. Nevertheless, Chasseneuz’ book was of huge importance to all those who had to deal with issues of ceremonial protocol. All princes and city councillors had enough money to afford an expensive book. That’s why, at some point during the 70s of the 16th century, Sigmund Feyerabend from Frankfurt decided to publish a new edition of Chasseneuz’ work.

Feyerabend was one of the most successful publishers of early modern times. He was one of the richest citizens of the trading city of Frankfurt and thus extremely wealthy. His recipe for success was a certain degree of ruthlessness – Feyerabend was repeatedly involved in lawsuits because he had produced illegal reprints and ignored imperial patents – combined with an excellent feeling for the market and a good taste when it came to choosing his employees. His edition of the Catalogus Gloriae Mundi of 1579 proves all that. He did not simply reprint the first edition, instead, he hired the famous book illustrator Jost Amman to transform Barthélemy de Chasseneuz’ theoretical considerations into impressive – and easily understandable(!) – copper engravings.

The hierarchy of the Heavens. Copper engraving by Jost Amman.

Thanks to Jost Amman’s illustrations, readers of early modern times immediately understood who had which rank within the hierarchy. Let’s take a look at this engraving: The Trinity is enthroned at the top with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit at the exact same height, Virgin Mary is depicted immediately below. At the next level, we see the archangels in the middle, to their right some saints led by John the Baptist.

To the left of the archangels, angels, cherubim and seraphim, the Catholic hierarchy unfolds: popes at the very top, below them cardinals, then archbishops, bishops, founders of religious orders and prelates and so on and so forth. The illustration summarises many, many pieces of information in a condensed form. In fact, there are so many details that we do not have the space here to look at all of them.

The Order of the World in Words and in Pictures

If you want to understand the early modern world, you have to study authors like Chasseneuz. His work makes it clear that the individual holding an office was absolutely insignificant at that time. Whether a cardinal was a stupid, lazy and selfish person or an intelligent, hard-working, altruistic one did not affect the social rank of his position. The office was what people honoured, not the person holding it.

Whereas today we firmly believe that individuals can determine their own rank by themselves and that they are capable of moving up (and down) the social ladder, in early modern times, social mobility was neither desired nor intended. Nevertheless, this mobility existed – but people ignored this fact just like today we do not want to admit that the social status of a person depends much more on his parents than on all the abilities he or she might have.


Unfortunately, the 1579 edition of Chasseneuz’ Catalogus Gloriae Mundi is not accessible online yet, however, the Bavarian State Library provides you with a digitalised version of another edition, which was published in 1571 in Venice.

The British Museum displays the 12 illustrations made by Jost Amman shown in Chasseneuz’ book at “Collection online”.

Barthélemy de Chasseneuz’ career was even put into a movie – however, the plot was only inspired by his life a little bit and the story isn’t told accurately. You can find the two-hour movie “Hour of the Pig” on YouTube – probably in the form of a bootleg video.