John S. Ott
Department of History
Portland State University
HST 453/553 – The Medieval City
AND STUDY GUIDE :
GALBERT OF BRUGES, THE MURDER OF CHARLES
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 an urban-rural society in transition and turmoil owing
to the murder of the count of Flanders, Charles (r. 1119-2 March 1127).
For background and context, I heartily endorse the excellent introduction
by the editor/translator Rider (pp. xvii-lvi), or, if using the Ross translation,
Should you opt not to read 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, who was childless, prompted a free-for-all of claimants
for the throne. The situation was in part unsettled because the county 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 the author. 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 (Gand), Ypres, Lille, and Saint-Omer along with numerous
minor towns, possessed various rights to markets and fairs, were already
becoming established as centers of cloth production, 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
The murder was a signature event of the times, and is widely mentioned in
contemporary and later chronicles and annals, charters, and other narrative
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 also revised his work as
he added to it. The stages:
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:
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 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
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
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.