John S. Ott
Department of History
Portland State University
HST 453/553 The Medieval City


Galbert of Bruges, The Murder, Betrayal, and Slaughter of the Glorious Charles, Count of Flanders

This week we will be tackling an extremely rich source for the history of early twelfth-century Europe. Entitled in Latin De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli, comitis Flandriarum, the text plunges us into the middle of a semi-urban society in transition and turmoil owing to the murder of the childless count, Charles of Flanders (r. 1119-1127). For background and context, I heartily endorse the excellent introduction by the editor/translator Jeff Rider (pp. xvii-lvi), or, if you are using the Ross translation, by James Bruce Ross, pp. 3-40.

Should you opt to skim the Introduction, however, the basic events are these: the County of Flanders -- encompassing both a French-speaking and Flemish-speaking population in what is today modern Belgium, part of northern France, and part of The Netherlands -- was ruled by a dynastic line of counts who held the territory as a fief of the French king. Although technically a vassal territory of the French crown, the counts of Flanders were, in the early twelfth century, at least as powerful as the French monarchs, and effectively independent. The murder of Charles on 2 March 1127 prompted a free-for-all of claimants for the throne and led to a siege of the conspirators, who blockaded themselves in the count's castle and then in the church of St Donatian, located inside the castle grounds. succession to the county was unsettled not just because Charles died without heirs, but because the countship had been usurped nearly six decades earlier, in 1071, by a younger brother of the lawful count. (This usurper, Robert the Frisian, and the history of his successful takeover, are mentioned by Galbert.) One (unforseen) result of this earlier murder and usurpation was that multiple families could bring legitimate claims to the county once it became vacant following the death of Charles. Consult the genealogical tables in the Rider volume (at the front, with maps as well) for help untangling the complicated family history.

At the time of Charles's murder, Flanders was growing demographically and economically at a pace unprecedented in its history. The major urban centers of Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, Lille, and Saint-Omer, along with numerous minor towns, possessed rights to markets and fairs and were already becoming established as centers of cloth production (a valuable Flemish export), and had traders active both locally and internationally. The counts had established residences in many of these centers; Bruges was one such comital residence and apparently Charles's favorite.

The murder was a signature event of the times, and is widely mentioned in contemporary and later chronicles and annals, charters, and other narrative accounts.

Galbert, a clerk and notary in the count's service and a member of his chancery, was an eyewitness to the events and knew personally all those involved. His detailed account, which in places proceeds day-by-day, is exceptionally valuable to historians. It was composed in three, or as its most recent editor (Rider 1994, xx-xxviii) thinks, four, stages. Galbert revised his work as he added to it. The stages of composition:

Stage 1 - chapters 15-67and 72-85 (first version, composed between mid-March and late May 1127)
Stage 2 - preface and chapters 1-85 (covering the first phase of events and representing a revision of first draft of Stage 1)
Stage 3 - chapters 86-92 (covering 10 September to 17 December 1127)
Stage 4 - chapters 93-122 (covering February 1128 and after)

Galbert died sometime after 1130. His work survives as a complete text in only two, seventeenth-century manuscripts. It was not widely diffused in the Middle Ages, and modern indications point to only a single medieval manuscript, now lost.

A brief Dramatis personae

I. The principal claimaints to the throne:

William Clito
Briefly Count of Flanders (1127-1128), nephew of King Henry I of England, and Charles's cousin; initially acclaimed by the people of Bruges and other Flemish towns, but ultimately rejected by them in favor of Thierry of Alsace.
Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders (1128-1168)
Victorious claimant to county following defeat of William Clito; like his adversary William Clito was a cousin of Charles.
William of Ypres
Another cousin of Charles; forces fidelity from the townspeople of Ypres; puts the traitor Bertulf to death; eventually besieged at Ypres by William Clito and King Louis VI of France and captured.
Baldwin IV of Mons, Count of Hainaut
Baldwin of Mons/Hainaut, a neighboring county, probably had the strongest direct claim to the throne in light of the fact that he was a grandson of a previous count of Flanders. He was rejected by the French king, however. He remained active in the eastern region of Flanders following the murder.
Thierry VI, Count of Holland
Advanced as a candidate by his mother, Gertrude, at the siege of Bruges, but he was a long shot from the start.

II. The Erembald clan, conspirators in the murder

Bertulf, Didier Haket, and Wulfric Cnop were all sons of Erembald, castellan of Bruges from 1067-1089. The family rose to prominence when Erembald married the widow of an earlier castellan of Bruges.

Bertulf -- Provost of Saint-Donatien of Bruges since 1091, chancellor of Flanders; Charles's chief administrative officer and overseer of the count's chapel, chaplains, and canons, but alleged to have been of servile origin. As provost was well-to-do and very powerful.

Borsiard -- Bertulf's nephew, and a knight (miles).

Dider Hacket and Wulfric Cnop -- Bertulf's brothers and knights; Didier was castellan of Bruges, the count's chief local officer. Although implicated in the treason he survived and continued to serve until 1133. Wulfric Cnop did not.

Isaac -- Charles's chamberlain and nephew of Bertulf.

Guy of Steenvoorde -- Married to one of Bertulf's nieces, a knight and close counselor of Charles.