The Counts of Boulogne Who Mostly Weren’t

Sometimes you just end up chasing ghosts. I’ve addressed the tenth-century counts of Boulogne before in print (which you could read right here and now if you so chose!) but only in passing as part of the game of ‘Which Arnulf?’, which used to be my go-to example of obnoxious prosopographical questions before it became clear to me that compared to some others it was pretty entry-level. More recently, I’ve been revisiting the question whilst dealing with Flanders and Lotharingia in the 970s, and it’s become clear to me just how murky the history is. For this week, then, I thought we’d take a step-by-step look at the tenth- and early eleventh-century history of Boulogne and ask: what do we really know?

A quick bit of early tenth-century background first. ‘County of Boulogne’ is a bit of a vague term, because it can also (but doesn’t always) cover Ternois, and more generally the western part of Flanders, as well. Around 900, Boulogne seems to have been under the control of a man named Erchengar, who seems to have been reasonably important but who also probably lost control of Boulogne to his neighbour, Count Baldwin the Bald of Flanders, who also ruled Ternois. When Baldwin died in 918, his inheritance was split between his two sons: Arnulf the Great got Flanders proper, and Adalolf got the western portions including Boulogne and Ternois. In 933, Adalolf died and Arnulf brought his brother’s inheritance under his own power.

At this point, we hit our first stumbling block. Back in the ‘40s, Jan Dhondt brought up a passage of Flodoard’s Annals under the year 962:

‘King Lothar, having spoken with Prince Arnulf, made peace between him and his nepos of the same name, whom the count held to be his enemy owing to the killing of the brother of the same, whom the same count had put to death having discovered he was disloyal.’

Nepos can mean either ‘grandson’ or ‘nephew’ (although for what it’s worth in Flodoard it seems to mean ‘nephew’ every time). Dhondt argued that this nepos ought to be a son of Adalolf, based on the emergence shortly after Arnulf the Great’s death of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne. Dhondt put this in relation to the death of Arnulf the Great’s son Baldwin III in the winter of 961/2 to argue that Arnulf’s sudden weakness gave his nephews the opportunity to try and win back their paternal inheritance. Dhondt admitted that this was ‘a supposition, pure and simple’; but his supposition has become the historical consensus.

I argued in the article cited above that Dhondt was wrong, but to recap: we have two genealogies and a narrative source from this period which mention Adalolf, and don’t give him any legitimate heirs. It could be argued that one of these genealogies (that of Witger) is pro-Arnulf propaganda, and that the author of the narrative source, Folcuin (writing precisely during these events), was deliberately passing over contemporary controversies to protect himself; you could even argue that the second genealogy (known as the De Arnulfo comite) is completely untrustworthy or itself a political production. However, once you’ve done that, all you’ve done is to defend a hypothesis for which there is no direct evidence – it is, basically, letting the argument dictate approaches to the evidence not vice versa. Moreover, some of these arguments are unconvincing – the De Arnulfo comite and especially Folcuin (who was not Arnulf’s panegyrist) have no reason not to mention sons of Adalolf, if any existed. In fact, Folcuin actually does mention Arnulf the Great’s nepos Arnulf in passing, without mentioning any connection to Adalolf. Dhondt’s arguments, before they passed into the lofty realm of consensus, were rejected by some of his own, equally distinguished, contemporaries – his friend Philip Grierson, for instance, argued against them in his Cambridge fellowship thesis.

Compared to my 2017 article – which was written in 2014 – I can actually go one further now. The charter on which Dhondt bases the existence of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne after the 960s is, as we technical diplomatic types say, ‘well dodgy’. It purports to be a 972 grant by Count Arnulf II of Flanders to the abbey of Sint-Pieters of Blandijnberg in Ghent, granting them the estate of Harnes, near Lens. In the witness list, one does indeed find the signum of ‘Arnulf, count of Boulogne’. However, in its current form this act is a mid-eleventh century forgery. It does seem to have been based on some sort of real act – Harnes shows up in a more or less unsuspicious royal act from a few years later – but its forged status is really significant for our purposes. Tenth-century charters almost never have a count’s jurisdiction in their titulature in witness lists, so the ‘count of Boulogne’ appears very suspicious. This is especially so because there are clear grounds for confusion here. A figure who in the 970s was closely associated with the Flemish court was Count Arnulf of Valenciennes. However, by the mid-eleventh century the area around Lens was a key part of the patrimony of the contemporary counts of Boulogne. We may very well be dealing with a situation where the forger saw a ‘Count Arnulf’ in the witness list and assumed it must be the count of Boulogne. In any case, this forged document is a bad foundation for a ‘Count Arnulf of Boulogne’.

This is doubly so given the evidence adduced by Vanderputten and others that the Flemish still controlled the Ternois at the very least for several years after Arnulf the Great’s death. This evidence is not entirely conclusive, but abbatial witness lists from the abbey of Saint-Bertin do suggest that the lay abbacy was held first by Arnulf II’s regent Baldwin Baldzo and then by Arnulf II himself until the early-to-mid 970s. The loss of the abbacy could – emphasis on could – mean that Arnulf II lost control of the region then – but this is a decade after 962 and doesn’t give any link to the ‘nephew of the same name’ mentioned by Flodoard.

The next bit of evidence for a count of Boulogne comes from ‘988’, and a charter of Baldwin the Bearded for Blandijnberg. At the bottom of this charter one finds the signa of Count Dirk [II of Holland], Count Arnulf [probably Arnulf of Ghent, Dirk’s son], Count Artold, Count Baldwin, and another Count Arnulf. These last three have been identified as the counts of Guînes, Boulogne and Ternois respectively. However, as the scare quotes above probably suggested, this charter is another eleventh-century forgery – and in some respects blatantly anachronistic, as in the attribution of the title of ‘Queen’ to Baldwin’s mother Rozala-Susannah well before her marriage to Robert the Pious could have taken place. The identification of Artold and Arnulf ‘of Ternois’ was certainly accepted by c. 1200 – both men show up in the legendary early parts of Lambert of Ardres’ History of the Counts of Guînes – and the forged 988 charter is certainly passable evidence that there were other counts in the Flemish sphere of influence by the late tenth century, but who these men were, where they were based, and how they were related to each other or to the counts of Flanders is unknown.

Beyond this 988 charter, I know of three more-or-less unimpeachable references to counts of Boulogne/Ternois in the decades around 1000.

  1. A papal letter of perhaps c. 995 inserted into the Chronicle of Hariulf of Saint-Riquier addressed to ‘Count Arnulf, Count Baldwin and his mother’. (Zimmerman thought that this was a forgery but he was probably wrong about this.) Baldwin and his mother are pretty clearly Rozala-Susannah and Baldwin IV, so the Count Arnulf is not Arnulf II of Flanders but a count in the area between Ponthieu and Ternois.
  2. An unnamed count of Boulogne was also mentioned by Hariulf as having been killed in battle by Enguerrand, first count of Ponthieu. This can’t have been Count Eustace I of Boulogne – first attested, to my knowledge, in 1024 (although the charter he appears in is also dodgy) – so must be one of his unnamed predecessors.
  3. Finally, we have our most important source, the miracles of St Bertha of Blangy, written in the early eleventh century, which identify a Count Arnulf of Ternois in the years after 1000. This Arnulf has both a wife and children, but the miracles give no other genealogical information.

As far as I have been able to trace, everything else we claim to know about the counts of Boulogne or Ternois before the 1020s/1030s is based on either indirect evidence or very late and legendary thirteenth-century sources.

The first record I know of of Count Eustace I of Boulogne: a forged charter of Baldwin IV of Flanders nominally dating to 1024. Taken from ARTEM, no. 367 (source)

One final note before I sum up is that later genealogies of the counts of Boulogne don’t give Eustace I a father. This is mostly a reflection of their interest in the Carolingian descent of the counts via Eustace’s wife Matilda of Leuven, but I think it also relates to the fact that they don’t know anything in particular about his descent because Eustace basically comes out of nowhere – as Nieus points out, there’s little connecting the two families.

So what do we have? The existing scholarly picture is that a cadet branch of the counts of Flanders, usurped for most of the mid-tenth century, took advantage of a succession crisis to strong-arm their way back into their paternal inheritance in 962. After Arnulf (II) of Boulogne died after a reign of at least a decade, the county was partitioned between his sons, Baldwin (IV) of Boulogne and Arnulf (III) of Ternois. Arnulf died in 1019* and Baldwin in 1023, whereupon the county passed to his son or brother Eustace. What I think we can say after reviewing the evidence is that very little of this is demonstrably true. The emergence of late tenth century counts in Boulogne/Ternois has nothing to do with the events of 962, and should probably be dated to the years around 980 at the absolute earliest. The only evidence of a Count Baldwin in Flanders other than Baldwin the Bearded is the 988 charter, which is not great; and there is nothing connecting him to Boulogne specifically. Arnulf of Ternois is better attested, but was probably only one person. If there was a kinship connection between them and the counts of Flanders, and there may well not have been, they were certainly not a cadet branch. Arnulf may have been the count killed by Enguerrand of Ponthieu; if he wasn’t, we know nothing at all about background of the man who was. Finally, it is overwhelmingly probable that the later counts of Boulogne are nothing to do with these shadowy figures.

You may be wondering, do you have anything constructive to add, or is this demolition work? Well, mostly the latter today. However, there is more to say on this matter. In the next few weeks, I will follow this post up with one looking at King Lothar’s relationship with Flanders after Arnulf the Great’s death in 965. There’s also going to be as much supposition in that post as in Dhondt’s work, and I wanted to keep the directly evidenced-based stuff separate from the more hypothetical material (not to mention that this post is running long)! However, when we get there this post will be important background for royal politics in late tenth-century Flanders – so stay tuned!

Also, this is definitely a case where chasing the threads is a complicated job and I’m slightly out of my comfort zone. This post represents my current understanding, but if you know of a source which contradicts or adds to anything I’ve said, please put it in the comments!

*As far as I can follow it, the reasoning for this is such: there is a record of a siege of Saint-Omer by Robert the Pious in 1020. The assumption is that 1) Robert was pushing against Baldwin the Bearded and 2) Baldwin was taking advantage of Arnulf’s death to conquer Ternois. These seem like pretty big assumptions in the absence of other evidence.

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