Warfare in Flanders, according to Herman of Tournai

Map of FlandersIn the Restauratio sancti Martini Tornacensis (The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai), written around 1142 by  the monastery’s abbot, Herman of Tournai provides an invaluable account of the history his monastery and the events of Flanders and Hainaut during the late eleventh and first half of the twelfth centuries.  Herman devotes several chapters to the warfare that followed the murder of Count Charles the Good, touching on events not described by other writers.

 [Chapter 28] The Murder of Count Charles the Good (2 March 1127)

Because Flanders was not worthy of such a ruler, Bertulf, prior of the church of Bruges, and his kinsmen, impious men who denied that they were servants of the count, united and secretly conspired against him because of the judgments that he was making. When this was announced to the count at Ypres, many people warned him not to go to Bruges. He answered that he was prepared to die for justice, if God so wished, rather than be kept from doing what was right. He immediately went to Bruges with his knights, burned down a fortification that the conspirators had erected, and went to his own house. He arose at dawn the next morning and went from his palace grounds to the church of St. Donatian. He ordered his chaplain to sing mass for him there, for it was the fourth feria of the second week of Lent. When the speech of Esther in the Epistle was being read, and the count was prostrate in prayer, with an open psalter so that he might read Psalms, a poor little woman came up and begged alms from him. She accepted from his hand one of the thirteen pennies that the count placed upon the psalter according to his custom. When she had taken it, she exclaimed to him, “Lord count, look out!” The count lifted his head to see what it was. Behold Burcard, the nephew of the prior, who had come up to him silently, in armor and with his sword drawn! He thrust his sword into the count’s forehead and added many other wounds, murdering him there in front of the altar.  He killed a man who was with the count, and the others who were there were frightened and ran away.    The sad news straightaway filled the country that the glorious Count Charles had been killed in church.

[Chapter 30] Chaos in Flanders

The body of the count could not be buried at St Donatian’s since, just as soon as lord Bishop Simon, whose sister the count had married, had heard of such great wickedness, he had placed an interdict upon all sacred offices in that church. But the provincial bishops would by no means suffer the body to be moved to another church. Prior Bertulf, wishing to excuse himself from the count’s death as much as he could, quickly had a sepulcher built for him, made of precious marble columns, and located in the very place on the balcony where he had been killed. The body was placed there and remained for almost sixty days. There was such a sudden and great disturbance in all of Flanders that what one reads in the Apocalypse, “After a thousand years the devil will be set free” [Rev. 20:7], appeared to happen in that province to the letter, or at least two-thirds of the letter. One saw everywhere only plundering, robbing, and even killing. It was then so evident that even the most simple person could easily see how much had depended on the power of that ruler alone, who had compelled such a turbulent folk to be as quiet as cloistered monks.

[Chapter 31] Baldwin of Ghent Establishes a Peace and Attacks Bruges (1127)

Seeing such a great disturbance, the lords of Flanders, primarily Baldwin of Ghent, brother of Ivo Nigel, who is now count of Soissons, met upon an agreed day and arranged a peace among themselves. Since such a crime as the murder of their count, if it remained unpunished, would be a lasting disgrace to them, they gathered an army and headed for Bruges. The murderers, with many supporters aiding them, went out with a great force of knights and foot soldiers to do battle against them.

Baldwin, protected by a breastplate and helmet, shouted out in a loud voice, “We do not come against you, citizens, nor do we wish to destroy the fortress of Bruges. We do wish to avenge the unjust death of our lord, lest we also might be accused of his betrayal and be called traitors. If you therefore come to do battle against us, you are allowing yourselves to become participants in this great crime, and you will be much hated for that. I advise you and warn you that it would be better for you to be with us and aid us in confounding the betrayers of our lord.”

When he had said these things, the crowd cried out deafeningly, joined Baldwin, and fought against those with whom they had come. Soon the murderers and their supporters turned in flight. Since they had no other avenue of escape, they fled back into the city. They went into the count’s tower, where they were shut up by Baldwin and were besieged for almost two months.

[Chapter 32] King Louis of France Seeks a New Count of Flanders (1127)

Meanwhile, King Louis of France, the son of Charles’s maternal aunt, of whom we spoke above, was shocked by such grim news regarding his cousin and went to Arras. Since Charles had died without an heir, the king asked the Flemish nobles whom they wished to have as count. The king could not be said to have been particularly close to any of them, and since he had many sons, it was suggested that he should give Flanders to one of them. But the king, turning the matter over like a prudent man, considered that none of his sons was yet twelve. Nor could such an untamed people be ruled without a master who would stick to them constantly. Since it was not always possible for him to be with them, and fearing that some other misfortunes might befall the people of Flanders because of this, he took refuge in the higher counsel of choosing someone from among those of the land.

[Chapter 35] Count Baldwin of Hainaut Denied the County of Flanders; the Re-Burial of Count Charles the Good (1127)

Now we shall explain a bit of Count Baldwin of Hainaut. He was a lad when he succeeded his dead father, Baldwin, and married the sister of the count of Namur. When Flanders was deprived of Lord Charles, he was a young man and an able knight.

When Baldwin heard that the king of France had come in order to call a council to appoint a count of Flanders, he went to the king, taking with him the principal nobles and wise men of his land. He complained openly in the presence of the king’s nobles that his grandfather, Baldwin, had been unjustly dispossessed and driven out of Flanders by his great-uncle, Robert, at the time that he went to Jerusalem. He humbly proposed that the king restore his grandfather’s land and property to him and that the king should set a time and a place anywhere in his entire kingdom for him to come prepared to subject his body to the ordeal of arms and battle to prove that no one was more closely connected by kinship, or was more suitable, or had a greater right than he to be heir to Flanders. The knights who had come with him acclaimed his request. They told the king that this would bring a great peace to the entire province and added many other expressions of their wishes in the business at hand.

This most prudent king answered everyone gently, calling the count his kinsman and raising great hopes in the young man’s heart that he would obtain what he had asked for. But, according to Solomon, “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, and whatever He wishes, to that shall it turn.” The king’s pleasure turned in a direction other than that the count would have wished. At a time when many considered it to be certain that Flanders would be given to the count, suddenly, blown by the blast of I know not what wind, it was heard that it had been given to a certain young man by the name of William Clito. William was the son of Count Robert of Normandy, who was still being kept in custody as a prisoner by his brother, King Henry of England, and who had been born of the daughter of Count Robert the Elder of Flanders, as was mentioned some time ago.

Young Baldwin was frustrated in his hopes and left the presence of the king an angry man. He entered Flanders under arms and, after a few days had passed, he attacked a fortified town called Audenarde and burned the entire place to ashes. More than a hundred people of all ages and of both sexes were burned to death in the church of St. Walburg. The king entered Flanders with the new count and came to Bruges. He then sent word to the Lord Bishop Simon of Tournai [1123-1146] that he should gather the abbots of his diocese and come as quickly as possible to bury the body of the most glorious Count Charles. I shall faithfully report what I saw of the body at that time.

The Lord Bishop called upon my humble self together with Lord Abbot Absalom of St. Amand. The tomb that Prior Bertulf had had constructed out of marble columns, as we said a short while ago, was overturned. The body of the count was lifted out of it and was carried by the king and a great procession down to the church of St. Christopher the Martyrs which was located in the same town. On a prearranged day, when the nobles and all the populace were gathered, the church of St. Donatian would be reconsecrated, and the body carried back to it and buried decently in the earth.

We feared that the stench of the body might trouble the men carrying it, since more than fifty days had now passed since his death, but the mercy of God showed us that we had feared everything for nothing. We could smell no noxious odor at all emanating from it, but quite the contrary. What was even more marvelous was that we saw that the linen in which the body was wrapped was clean and whole, and we could discern no stain at all on it, except that of fresh blood. I will pass over how great the sobbing may have been that flowed from all the populace, how great the grief, what cries and moans, and what sort of flood of tears may have poured from the king and all the nobles. The exertion of reading about pious things may be easily avoided by my remaining silent about these subjects.

The church was restored after five days, and the body of the count was properly interred after the celebration of a mass. The king then appointed Lord Roger, a young cleric, to the post of prior, since Bertulf had now abandoned it. When this had been done, the king attacked the tower in which the betrayers were still shut up and besieged. But he was not able to take it so easily, because it was very strong and the besieged stoutly resisted. The following night, Burcard and his uncle Bertulf left the tower by stealth and fled, abandoning all the others in danger of their lives. When these men finally realized that they were resisting for no reason, they surrendered to the king and allowed him to enter. The king ordered them first to be kept imprisoned in the tower for three days, then to be taken out and led up to the rampart of that high tower. There they were to be forced to jump off, one after the other.  He executed thirty men in this fashion. Although they had already left the province of Flanders and had reached Tournai, Bertulf and Burcard were unable to escape divine judgment. Back in Flanders again, they were seized and hanged most dishonorably. They ended their unworthy lives with miserable deaths.


This translation comes from The Restoration of the Monastery of Saint Martin of Tournai, translated by Lynn H. Nelson (The Catholic University of America Press, 1996).  We thank the Catholic University of America Press for giving us permission to reproduce this section.

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