Charter a Week 65/2: Kings in Flanders, of Various Vintages

The archives of the abbey of Blandijnberg in Ghent can do one. I’ve actually been to the abbey on holiday, it’s an interesting visit and I liked the site – but the archives are something else. The monks of Sint-Pieters are some of the most notorious forgers of the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Koziol has described the Blandijnberg archives as retreating into ‘an Escher-like dimension where fact and fiction become indistinguishable’. Charters have been worked up out of whole cloth, reworked thoroughly, lightly touched up. Their dating clauses have been stripped and remade on the basis of – seemingly – nothing. And how tainted any given charter is is going to vary wildly depending on which diplomatist you’re talking to. As such, it’s quite pleasant to note that the charter establishing the reform of Blandijnberg, issued by Count Arnulf the Great in 941, has not only been given a generally clean bill of health, it’s also really interesting.

Dip Belg 53 = DiBe no. 538 (8th July 941, Ghent)

Arnulf, supported by the clemency of the King on High margrave, to the followers of the Holy Church soldiering catholically for God anywhere and in any order of society.

We read in the divinely-written books of Maccabees that God’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the most nefarious of kings Antiochus, but that after many and most weighty triumphs in battle Judas Maccabeus rebuilt and decorated it with the gold and silver which he had acquired from the spoils of the enemy; by which deed, to wit, he believed he would receive help from the heaven of the King of the Stars.

Therefore, urged on with keen desire to follow this example, I, the most humble Arnulf, wishing with every sinew of my heart to share in the benefits of those who, obeying the Lord’s commands, have transferred a worldly patrimony for heavenly treasure, was animated by the exhortation of religious and truthful men and – so to speak – rising as if awoken from a deep sleep, I began in silent contemplation day and night to reflect upon a certain monastery, under my rule, anciently sited by the most holy Amand, a pontiff worthy of praise from the good, next to the river Scheldt in the castle of Ghent, which he called Blandijnberg, and which, by Christ’s favour, he solemnly ennobled with relics of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and many saints which he brought with him on his second return from Rome. He did this at the time when Pope Martin [I] ruled the Roman Church, 75 years [sic] after the blessed Peter, keymaster of Heaven’s hall, in the time of the famous King of the Franks Dagobert [I], while Eligius of wonderful sanctity presided as bishop of Noyon and Tournai. I rejoice, truly, that the said monastery is made illustrious in so many ways by the relics of such saints; but I sorrow greatly that it lacks the honour with which the saints these relics came from shine in the court of Heaven; with which, if I had my way, I would raise up relics of such dignity on Earth.

Finally, with the permission of King Louis, and having taken counsel with Bishop Transmar [of Noyon], to whose diocese the place pertains, and with my friends and especially with my followers, I made returns and restorations to the holy place, partially of those renders from the land which the most blessed Amand sought from the kings who at that time subjected themselves to divine laws; and which, out of love for the prince of the apostles Peter, he gave in perpetual right to those dwelling in same abbey; and partially of those which faithful people in divers times and places have bestowed from the time of the aforesaid King Dagobert up to Our days. And if not everything, I have at least returned some of what was taken away from there in the time of my predecessors; and which I estimate will suffice the monks dwelling there for love of Christ.

That is: I concede to the relics of the aforesaid monastery the census which is taken from the houses sited in the port of Ghent, from the river Scheldt up to the confluence with the river Lys; and the tithe which those dwelling in that port should pay to God for the remedy of their souls; and the fare exacted from passing traffic; and the floral meadows which lie next to the port.

I cede to their power 1 mill in the place which is called Afsnee; 1 chapel named in honour of St Mary in the estate of Mariakerke; the vineyard which I rebuilt next to the monastery and the land which lies adjacent to it up to the port; and the other farms which are next to the monastery, on which they may built suitable workshops and gardens in which they may plant vegetables appropriate for the monks; and I restored and strengthened with my own hand the other things which are written in the charter of Abbot Einhard.

In the district of Flanders, next to the castle of Oostburg in the place named Merona Bennonis, pasturage which can suffice 120 sheep; and in another place next to the sea named Kommerswerve, land to feed 100 sheep; and in that district half my fisc which is called Snellegem, the half-part of which lies next to the eastern part; of which I consent to give 1 manse to the abbot and brothers of the aforesaid monastery whilst I live; and desire with all my heart that they should have, hold and possess the part of the remaining half after the end of my life.

In the district of Hainaut, on the river Selle, I restore to them the estate which is called Douchy-les-Mines with its appendages.

Moreover, in the district of Waas, on the river Scheldt, there is an estate named Temse in which for a long time rested the body of the most blessed virgin Amalberga, which she was seen to possess in hereditary right while she lived; and because of this I restored it to those who keep vigil attending her holy body day and night.

All though all this seems a bit small in quantity and number, let the crowd of monks and their abbot established in the aforesaid monastery perpetually obtain them, provided with solace from which they may be able to indefatigably serve the Lord, putting aside all grumbling, which is generally typical of monks.

I desire and greatly wish that the monks in the aforesaid monastery should serve Christ according to the Rule for all time, as was enacted in the time of the said most holy Amand; and let them, living in accordance with the norm of St Benedict, place in charge an abbot in accordance with their choice and the consent of that lord and margrave who might have succeeded me in the chief position after my death. Animated by his exhortation and rule, let them put aside the worldly and endeavour to meditate on the heavenly.

If any of my successors should endeavour with abominable daring to calumniate or diminish these benefices of my restitution which We restored out of love of God and the holy prince of the apostles Peter and the other saints whose precious remains are kept within, unless they quickly come to their senses let them incur the wrath of God Almighty, for Whom St Amand, the builder of this place, sincerely soldered; and the offence of the keymaster of the stars Peter and the outstanding teacher Paul and the miraculous virgin Amalgberga and of all the saints; and let him endure forever deprived of their company, indissolubly joined to the company of demons. The company of all good men and I say amen!

Enacted at the abbey of Blandijnberg, on the 8th ides of July, in the 6th year of the reign of Louis, son of the imprisoned King Charles.

Sign of Arnulf, most clement count and margrave, who asked the writing of this document be done and confirmed.

[col. 1] + Bishop Transmar [of Noyon]. + Bishop Fulbert [of Cambrai]. + Archdeacon Bernacer. + Archdeacon Odilbald. + Archdeacon Wulfard. + Dean Ingelfred. + Tancred. + Wibert.

[col. 2] + Baldwin [III], son of Margrave Arnulf. + Count Isaac [of Cambrai]. + Arnulf his son. + Count Dirk [II of Holland]. + Winemar, advocate [of Blandijnberg]. + Fulbert, vicar [of Ghent]. + Wolbert. + Baldwin. + Leutbert. + Anskeric.

[col. 3] + Everard. + Heribrand. + Otgaud. + Siward. + George. + Everard. + Ebroin. + Dodo. + Blithard. + William.

[col. 4] + Fulcard. + Arnulf. + Erembald. + Theobald. + Onulf. + Lambert. + Ralph. + Ebroin. + Robert. + Adso. 

The original of the charter (sourced from DiBe as above).

Before looking at the content, let’s address what at first sight appears to be the most suspicious thing about this charter: the seal. A layman’s seal on a charter from this early is by itself a massive red flag to Continental diplomatists, because lay seals don’t start showing up, really, until well into the eleventh century and only explode in popularity in the twelfth. However, I want to make a small attempt at defending both this example and others. All the examples of sealed lay charters (most only now known through later descriptions and/or drawings) come from the Channel coast – Flanders, Normandy, Brittany. This is significant because lay seals are a well-known phenomenon in England. There aren’t huge surviving numbers, but they definitely existed, and existed this early. Given the geographical proximity and political-cultural influence of England on the coastal parts of Gaul, I think there’s at least a meaningful possibility that lay aristocrats in these areas adopted – even if only temporarily – Insular sealing practices. (And, in fact, Jenny Benham has pointed out that an Anglo-Norman treaty of 991 makes reference to Normans carrying seals.)

In terms of the content, the most interest thing to me is the arenga. A big part of my research is the use of charters to transmit ideology and communicate legitimacy to audiences, and this is one of the most straightforward examples. The witness list of this charter is relatively amenable to prosopographical investigation, and once you’ve done that the result is that they are all what Flodoard calls maritimi Franci: men from the seaside parts of Flanders around Saint-Omer and Ghent, and more generally people on the wrong side of the river Oise, which is where West Frankish kings tended to make their stand against Viking fleets. Men like these had borne the brunt of the viking attacks for generations by 941, and in particular Arnulf himself had likely led many of them against the Northmen of Rouen about ten years earlier. By casting himself as Judas Maccabeus, Blandijnberg as Jerusalem, and the vikings as the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, Arnulf was able to relate their shared experiences to a well-known and prestigious narrative which bolstered his own position by analogy.

However, it’s not quite enough. Striking in a charter otherwise so replete with Arnulf’s own authority, the count puts right up front that he is doing what he is doing with the permission of Louis IV. This added legitimacy to Arnulf’s games with Blandijnberg. For a man so heavily involved in Church reform, Arnulf’s actions could be breathtakingly cynical, and historians have consequently speculated about his motives. The most recent hypothesis is that reform removed the final vestiges of royal rights over the abbey, but I don’t find this convincing. There had been no royal intervention in Flanders for decades at this point. Rather, I suspect that Arnulf was using royal authority to expel local rivals. In the case of Blandijnberg we don’t know who those were – there are some very scattered and/or iffy hints that the Robertians had a presence there – but it’s likely that Arnulf’s control of Ghent was not as good as is usually imagines.

However, although Louis had in fact visited Flanders multiple times in the run-up to this charter, this reminder of Arnulf’s Könighsnahe would have sounded awkward in 941. Arnulf was temporarily on the outs with Louis, having been part of the Ottonian-led coalition which attacked him the previous year. The mention of Louis, then, can also be seen as aspirational on Louis’ part. Arnulf’s hostility to Louis had a pretty clear policy objective: compelling him to abandon his designs on Lotharingia and resume the alliance with Otto the Great which Arnulf had originally brokered. In this context, the 941 charter also shows Arnulf and his supporters dreaming of the great things king and count could do together.

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.