Flanders and Hainault

Flanders- Fiefdom of West Francia

After the Treaty of Verdun the new border between East and West Francia and the Middle Kingdom was established. The Middle Kingdom – wedged between the two giants –  would for centuries remain an area where the

County of Flanders

French Kings and the German Emperors would try and extend their power and influence. This battle started immediately after the Treaty was signed and the emergence of Flanders was a direct result of this. Despite the interference of the super powers, Flanders was able to remain largely independent until it became part of the Duchy of Burgundy in 1405.

Dating back to Merovingian times the region attracted a number of important monasteries. Many of these monasteries received large donations of land both for religious purposes as well as for the protection of their properties against subdivision according to Frankish inheritance rule. Very large areas of low laying lands along the coast – in the old pagus of Flandrensis – were donated to monasteries as they had a very low value. The only use for this land was sheep farming and this became the basis for the important cloth industry that started to emerge in the 11th century, that would make Flanders one of the wealthiest parts of Europe.

Baldwin I ” Iron Arm” (830-879)

After the break up of the Carolingian Empire, central power had weakened greatly and this allowed  a local functionary at the court of the West Francia King  Charles the Bald,  Baldwin (Baudouin, Boudewijn) whose family stemmed from the middle Rhine and Alsace region, to elope, in 862, with Judith the daughter of  Charles the Bald.

With the help of the East Francia  King Louis the Stammerer, he was able to  settle in the area that he was send to on official duty, Flanders. After an initial fury, Charles settled down and accepted the couple and he even bestowed Baldwin with a series of counties, including pagus Flandrensis a strip of coastal plains between the deep estuaries of the Zwin and the Yser as well as the abbey of St Bertin (near St Omer in Artois).

Baldwin II (865 – 918)

After his death in 879, his son became Baldwin II. Central power had further weakened and  in order to defend his land against the Vikings he erected wooden citadels at St Omer, Bruges, Ghent and Kortrijk (Courtrai). Arnold II  reinforced it with stone from Roman ruins at Oudenburg.  He also utilised the opportunity to seize the royal and ecclesiastic estates which were abandoned by their owners during the Viking raids. It has been argued that the success of Flanders in following centuries was at least partially based on the strong leadership and its military success to fight the Vikings, in 892 he successfully defended the area from his fortification in Bruges.  Neighbouring France at the same time had to secede what became known as Normandy to these Vikings.

The count also successfully extended his territory to the south, adding the wealthy abbey of St Vaast in Arras. He had to overcome various Carolingian contenders who held properties in these lands, including Herbert I count of Vermandois, who traced his link back to Louis the Pious.

The West Francia King had not much choice other than to  recognise the lands, properties and rights that Baldwin had appropriated and in 888 King Odo accepted him as his vassal. The fact that the conquered lands are referred to as ‘the lands of Flanders’ indicates that the emerging county  in its origin included more than just the pagus. The legacy of this is still felt today. Territories with Germanic speaking people were added to the dominant Gallo-Roman population of the south. Parts of the county was under the direct vassalage of the King of West Francia, while parts in the east of the country were – since 1056 – held in fief of the Empire.

He also stabilised relations with Britain, he arranged to marry  Ælfthryth (Ælfthryth, Elftrude, Elfrida) of Wessex, a daughter of King Alfred the Great of England.

Arnulf I (890-965) and Baldwin III (940-962)

The fortification of the cities and the links with Britain proofed to be of enormous importance to the future of Flanders. After his death in 918 his son Arnulf inherited a rich and powerful Flanders (he was named after his distant ancestor St. Arnulf of Metz; this was intended to emphasize his family’s descent from the Carolingian dynasty).

Arnulf I greatly expanded Flemish rule to the south, taking all or part of Artois, Ponthieu, Amiens, and Ostravent. He exploited the conflicts between Charles the Simple and Robert I of France, and later those between Louis IV and his barons.In his southern expansion Arnulf inevitably had conflict with the Normans, who were trying to secure their northern frontier. This led to the 943 murder of the Duke of Normandy, William Longsword, at the hands of Arnulf’s men.

A clear sign that this was frontier territory (march) is that Arnulf is often referred to as ‘Marquis’.

Arnulf I had made his son Baldwin III co-ruler in 958 three years later he married Mathilde Billung of Saxony, daughter of Herman, Duke of Saxony, by whom he had a son, his heir Arnulf II.  Baldwin died before his father and was succeeded by his infant son Arnulf II, with his grandfather acting as regent.

Arnulf II (960-987)

After Arnulf’s death in 965, LotharII of Lotharingia felt strong enough to claim the Flemish Princedom. However the local nobles instead appointed the son of Baldwin III,  Arnulf II , Lothar than grabbed Arras in the south of the County. This new situation undermined the central power of the Count of Flanders and it allowed the smaller entities within this area  (the later cities) to obtain greater decentralised autonomy.

Baldwin IV (980-1035)

In 988 his son Baldwin IV became the new count and he started to extend his powers and established as such a greater authority over his territory.  He was able to muster 1000 knights and formed one of then largest military forces of Europe. In 1018  he recaptured Ghent  from the  Count of Holland (descendant of the first count who was a viking ruler). He also extended his territory further to the north into Zeeland and in the south he was able to obtain Valenciennes and parts of Hainault. This brought him in conflict with his overlord the German Emperor and one of the casualties in this power struggle here were the Counts Flamenses who had supported the  Emperor, as a consequence they had to flee and became the founders of the Counties of Gelre and Kleve (see: Gelre and Kleve).

His first was Ogive of Luxembourg, daughter of Frederick of Luxembourg, by whom he had a son and heir Baldwin V. He later married Eleanor of Normandy, daughter of Richard II of Normandy, by whom he had at least one daughter Judith who married Tostig Godwinson and Welf I, Duke of Bavaria.His granddaughter, Matilda of Flanders, would go on to marry William the Conqueror, therefore starting the line of Anglo-Norman Kings of England.

By around the year 1000 Flanders would have had a population of around 40,000 people (roughly 20% of the total of the Low Countries).

Baldwin V (1012 – 1067) and Baldwin VI (1030-1070)

During a long war (1046–1056) as an ally of Godfrey the Bearded, Duke of Lorraine, against the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III, he initially lost Valenciennes to Hermann of Hainaut. However, when the latter died in 1051 Baldwin married his son Baldwin VI to Herman’s widow Richildis of Hainaut and arranged that the sons of her first marriage were disinherited, thus de facto uniting the County of Hainaut with Flanders (see below). Under his reign also most of Brabant was,  between 1056 and 1085,  incorporated into Flanders.

At the end of the war the young Emperor Henry IV was also forced to handover control over large parts of  Zeeland (Walcheren) and Beverland) this became known as Imperial Flanders in contrast to Crown Flanders, the Count held in fief from the King of France.

He most likely was also the founder of the great feudal court and reorganised the domains in castellanies (kasselrij) , the forerunners of the counties.

They original five were (many others were added later or further subdivided):

  • Bruges (Brugse Vrije)
  • Ghent including Land van Waas: kasselrij of the Oudburg
  • Sint-Omaars (Saint-Omer)
  • Kortrijk
  • Doornik (in Henegouwen)

They were headed by a viscount (castellan burggraaf) who had  military, judicial  and administrative duties under the count. Clerical clergy were provided to assist in the administration. Some of these castellans became powerful in their own right and would become a serious threat to the Count (see Count Charles the Good).

Taking advantage of the economic revolution that took take place at that time, Balwin, in his reforms, also firmly stipulated the growth of the towns in the central coastal strip lying between the coastal plain and the Scheldt valley. In order to safeguard this growth the count, in 1030, introduced the Peace of God, this soon turned into the Peace of the Count and this was ruthlessly pursued with severe punishment to those who broke the peace and warred without the explicit permission of the count. This severely curtailed the powers of the local vassals – and their possibilities to increase their wealth –  which increasingly led to tension between these local rulers and the count.

In order to facilitate for the population growth, land reclamation was undertaken in the coastal plain, by Baldwin and his subsequent successors. This land became automatically part of the count’s domain, thus also increasing his wealth.

Arnulf III (1055 – 1071) and Robert I the Frisian (1032 – 1093)

Baldwin VI early death left Flanders and Hainaut in the hands of his young son Arnulf III, with Richildis as regent.

The succession was challenged by Baldwin’s brother,  Robert the Frisian he got his name because  he was married to the Dowager Countess of Holland (Frisia), Gertrude of Saxony, widow of Floris I, Count of Holland and daughter of Bernard II, Duke of Saxony and Eilika of Schweinfurt.

In 1071 Robert invades Flanders from Holland and the two parties met at Kassel in the southern parts of Flanders. Arnulf was supported by the King of France, Duke Henry II of Brabant and William the Count of Normandy.  Despite the fact that the odds were against him, he did win this battle and became count Robert I of Flanders. Shortly after this he was able to gain the friendship of King Philip I of France by offering him to marry his stepdaughter, Bertha of Holland.

All clear indications of the important status that Flanders now had reached within the European context.

In order to counteract the growing power of the Anglo-Normans after the invasion of England by William the Conqueror , Flanders formed, in 1070,  an alliance with Denmark against William. However, after the death of William, Robert II signed a secret feudal bond with the English King Henry I;  in exchange for a large sum of money Robert would provide military aid under certain circumstances to Henry.

Robert II (1065 – 1111)

His son Robert II of Flanders became  count in 1093, before that time he had already undertaken an impressive pilgrimage to Jerusalem (1086) he also joined the First Crusade in 1095  and made – during his absence – his wife Clementia of Burgundy regent in Flanders.  This was necessary as the  Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV had tried to seize imperial Flanders. Robert responded by supporting the revolt of the Commune of Cambrai against the emperor.

In Dover he also signed another  secret treaty with the King of England Henry I further increasing his powers in the region. Peace was restored in 1102 and Robert paid homage to the emperor for imperial Flanders, but after 1105, the new emperor, Henry V, marched on Flanders, with the aid of Baldwin III, Count of Hainaut and an army from Holland. Robert stopped them outside of Douai and a new peace was signed, in which the emperor recognised Robert’s claim to Douai and Cambrai.

During his reign revenues from domains, tolls, payments in goods and in money had increased to such an extend that in 1089 the count had to appoint a permanent chancellor (the first in Europe) as the receiver general of all the revenues. He had the supervision of all of the notaries, chaplains and clerics serving the count’s court. Obviously this position held immense authority and money that should have gone into the county’s treasury ended up in the pockets of the chancellor and his family clan. This would soon lead to power struggles with the county (see Charles the Good below).

Baldwin VII (1093 – 1119)

Baldwin VII succeeded his father when he died in 1111. Based on an typical medieval family intrigues and twists (involving William Clito – see below) he reversed the earlier alliances with England and fought against Henry I , on behalf of Louis VI of France. He  died – aged 24 – after being wounded at the Battle of Bures-en-Brai.

Another outcome of these intrigues was that the childless count, when he was dying  – against the will of his mother Clemence – Baldwin declared his cousin Charles of Denmark as his heir. Charles was born of the above mentioned Danish alliance.

Charles of Denmark/ Charles  I  the Good of Flanders (approx.1083 – 1127)

Charles I was born in Denmark, only son of King Canute IV (Saint Canute) and Adela of Flanders (the daughter of Robert I). His father was assassinated in Odense Cathedral in 1086, as a consequence Adela fled back to Flanders, taking the very young Charles with her. Charles grew up at the comital court of his grandfather Robert I and his uncle Robert II, in the company of his younger cousin the above mentioned Baldwin VII.  He was soon separated from his mother, as Adele in 1092 was send off to marry Duke Roger of Apulia in southeastern Italy. Like his grandfather Charles also visited the Holy Land either on a pilgrimage or as part of  a military support team for the crusaders.

During the reign of his younger cousin, he became his trusted adviser.  As a reward for his support during a battle with the Normans in 115, he received the castle of Encre (near Dijon?). Around 1118 (the younger) Baldwin arranged Charles’ marriage to the heiress of the count of Amiens, Margaret of Clermont.

Soon after his unopposed appointment as Count of Flanders, a rebellion broke out. He went on a campaign and burned the caste of Hugh of St Pol. Next Clemence (see above) revolted it was not too difficult for her to get neighbouring competing counts involved. She was supported by Baldwin of Hainault, he was secretly supported by the king of France. Clemence had in the meantime  married Godfrey I of Leuven (emerging Brabant) who assisted her in her claims of the illegitimate child William of Ypres. Charles however was successful in suppressing this succession challenge.

This led to a short period of peace. However, the above mentioned tensions with the local nobility festered on and reached its climax in 1127.  Charles had taken action to prevent grain from being hoarded and sold at excessively high prices, that was leading to increased poverty especially in the cities. Prodded by his advisers, he also began proceedings to reduce the influential Erembald family, which was heavily engaged in this scam. The Erembalds were the viscounts of the castle of Bruges. On the one hand they profited enormously – through corruption –  from the fact that the Count had made Bruges his administrative capital (chancellor). However, the Count was adamant to fight this corruption and this of course undermined the power of the Erembalds.  As a result Bertulf  (son of Erembald) the provost of the church of St. Donatian in Bruges (and chancellor of Flanders) , masterminded a conspiracy to assassinate Charles and his advisers.

On the morning of March 2, 1127, as Charles knelt in prayer in the church of St. Donatian, a group of knights answering to the Erembald family entered the church and hacked him to death with broadswords. The brutal and sacrilegious murder of the popular count provoked a massive public outrage, and he was almost immediately regarded popularly as a martyr and saint. Anarchy broke out and lasted for more than a year.

The notary Galbert of Bruges who wrote a day by day account of the period following the murder of Charles expresses his horror as he found out that most of the nobles directly or indirectly are part of the plot. [1. The murder of Charles the Good, Galbert of Bruges, 1967] They all of course had sucked up to the Erembalds and as the outcome remained uncertain. This situation also attracted lots of knights (milites/soldiers) whose profession was fighting and the situation in Bruges at that time was very conducive for such activity.  The nobility – of which the knights were not seen as being part of it – only gradually started to distant themselves from the rather small group who had plotted the murder.

Foreign powers also started to infiltrate in the local political situation and many fractions of nobles, merchants and ordinary city folk now started to fight each other. They all were jockeying for the best position during this period where there was a clear power vacuum. During the turmoil merchants fled the city. Eventually the Erembalds were arrested and tortured to death by the competing nobles as well as the commoners of Bruges and Ghent. King Louis VI of France, who had first  supported the revolt against the Erembalds now used his influence to select his own candidate, the Normandian William Clito, as the next Count of Flanders. This was supported by the towns people in return for a charter of liberties and mercantile privileges.

William Clito (1102 – 1128)

William was the son of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, after his father’s defeat and capture by Henry I of England at the Battle of Tinchebrai (1106) the young William fell into the king’s hands. However, with the assistance of supporters he was able to escape and ended up at the court of Count Baldwin VII of Flanders, William’s cousin.

Together with Baldwin they try and recapture Normandy but after the sudden death of Baldwin the rebellion collapsed. William now received the support of the French king Louis VI. The murder of Charles gave him a chance to further William’s fortunes. He marched into Flanders at the head of an army and got the barons of the province to accept William as their new count.

Initially, William did well, securing most of the county by the end of May. But English money and the emergence of a rival in Thierry of Alsace led to a deterioration of his position. Thierry even made more promises to the townsfolk and they happily switched their support from William to Thierry. Saint-Omer, Ghent, Aardenburg and Bruges declared war against William. However, he struck back at Bruges and defeated Thierry with his Norman knights and French allies.

At this point he was joined by his father-in-law, Duke Godfrey of Brabant, and together their armies besieged Aalst. But he was wounded and the wound became gangrenous and William died at the age of twenty-five on 28 July 1128.

Thierry (Dietrich) of Alsace (1099 – 1168)

After the murder of his cousin Charles the Good, Thierry claimed the county as grandson of Robert I, but William Clito became count instead. After his death Thierry was the only claimant to the county.

He set up his government in Ghent and was recognized by all the Flemish cities as well as King Henry, who had his Flemish lords in England swear fealty to him. Thierry himself swore homage to Louis VI after 1132, in order to gain the French king’s support against Baldwin IV, Count of Hainaut, who had advanced his own claim on Flanders.

In 1139 then went on the first of many pilgrimages as a crusader to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and married Sibylla of Anjou, daughter of King Fulk of Jerusalem and widow of William Clito; a very prestigious marriage.

During one of these pilgrims he had to returned to Flanders to put down a revolt in the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia, ruled at the time by Godfrey III of Leuven.

During his reign Flanders prospered during a period of relative peace.


Prominent Crusaders

Flanders has played a key role in the crusades between 1095 and 1291. Godfrey of Bouillon has arguably been the only successful crusader and this saw the start of long term involvement of Flemish nobles in the Holy Land with titles such as Kings of Jerusalem and Emperors of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.

When Pope Urban II called for a holy war against the Islamic forces, Godfrey of Bouillon of Lorraine took out loans on most of his lands, or sold them, to the bishop of Liège and the bishop of Verdun. With this money he gathered thousands of knights to fight in the Holy Land. In this he was joined by his older brother, Eustace, and his younger brother, Baldwin, who had no lands in Europe.

Robert of Flanders joined the Brabantine and Lorraine forces in the First Crusade.

Holy Blood

Legend has it that Dietrich of Elzas Count of Flanders   received the Holy Blood from bis brother in law Baldwin III of Jerusalem, he brought it to Bruges from Jerusalem, where it received magical veneration. Another version is that the reliquary was a donation from Baldwin IX, Emperor of Constantinople . The crystal silo the relict is kept in, indeed points to workmanship from this city. It is still kept in the Holy Blood Basilicum in Brugge.

There is a 3rd legend linked to Flanders and the Holy Blood, according to a different story Judith of Flanders, daughter of Baldwin IV and married to Duke Welf I (or IV) of Bavaria brought back the blood soaked earth of Jesus that had been retrieved by one the Roman soldiers. On her deathbed Judith bequeathed the reliquary to Weingarten Abbey in Bavaria.

Dieter’s son Philip I of Flanders died in the Third Crusade during yet another siege of Acre.

Another Flemish member of the family, Baldwin IX was one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade and became, as Baldwin I, in 1204 the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. He failed to make peace with the Bulgars and – year later – was killed by them. His son Henry of Flanders was more successful, he became the 2nd emperor of Constantinople and under his reign the Latin Empire reached its height of power. After Henry’s death, Baldwin daughter Johanna (Jeanne) of Flanders ruled as empress. However, she could not seriously oppose Philip Augustus King of France. He took effective control over Flanders and Hainault. Under his influence Peter II of Courtney was appointed at the next Emperor of the Latin Empire Peter was married to Johanna’s’s aunt Yolanda of Flanders who became the rent of the Latin Empire.

Of course the Flemish resisted French domination and when Philip Augustus died in 1223 there were rumours that Baldwin would rise to once again take control. A fantasy that fitted nicely in the eschatology and chiliastic believes of the Middle Ages. A year later a hermit from around Tournai was recognised as Baldwin. He was instantly accepted by the cities as well as by the nobility as the Count. Civil war saw the deposition of Johanna. In 1225 he was officially crowned as Count of Flanders and Emperor of Constantinople and Thessalonica.

There was mass hysteria around this ‘saviour’ and poor and rich bestowed him with whatever they could lay their hands on. This ‘saviour’ status was certainly helped by the fact that Flanders in that year had one of its worst famines ever. He signed a treaty with Henry III of England, who did see in him a powerful ally against France. This saw the French King Louis VII form an alliance with Countess Johanna. Louis exposed that the hermit; he could not recall important elements of Baldwin’s activities during the Fourth Crusade and he established that he in fact was a serf named Bertrand of Ray from Burgundy, who had participated in that crusade as a minstrel.

While he initially still had popular support, Bertrand lost his nerve and fled from city to city – on the run for the King of France – finally he was caught and hanged in Lille.

See also: Crusades.

Philip I (1143-1191)

His reign began in 1157, while he acted as regent and co-count for his father, Thierry, who was frequently away on crusade. He defeated Floris III, Count of Holland and stopped the piracy. Floris was captured in Bruges and remained in prison until 1167, at which point he was being ransomed in exchange for recognition of Flemish suzerainty over Zeeland. By inheritance, Philip also recovered for Flanders the territories of Waasland and Quatre-Métiers.

In 1159 Philip married Elisabeth of Vermandois, also known as Isabelle, elder daughter of count Raoul I of Vermandois and Petronilla of Aquitaine. When his brother-in-law died (1167), his wife inherited the county of Vermandois. This pushed Flemish authority further south, to its greatest extent thus far, and threatened to completely alter the balance of power in northern France.

Philip governed wisely with the aid of Robert d’Aire, whose role was almost that of a prime minister. They established an effective administrative system and Philip’s foreign relations were excellent. He mediated in disputes between Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, between Henry II and Thomas Becket, and arranged the marriage of his sister Margaret with Baldwin V, Count of Hainaut.

Philip and Elisabeth were childless. Philip’s brothers Matthew and Peter also died without surviving children, so in 1177, before going on crusade, he designated Margaret and Baldwin as his heirs.

Margret I (+1194) and Baldwin VIII (1150 1195)

She was the daughter of Thierry, Count of Flanders and Sibylla of Anjou, and the heiress of her childless brother, Philip of Flanders. In 1160 she married Ralph II, count of Vermandois and Valois, who died of leprosy in 1167. Two years later she married Baldwin V, Count of Hainaut, who became her co-ruler.

Baldwin – son of Baldwin IV – was count of Flanders as Baldwin VIII  from 1191–1195.

Further administrative reforms saw the comital chancery develop into a functional and organised financial administration office, headed by the chancellor who at the same was the provost of the chapter of St Donatian in Bruges. Under him resided several magistri (masters), clerici (clerks), capellani (chaplains) and notarii (notaries). At this stage they were all clergy who had received their basic education in a (comital) chapter school.

Baldwin IX (1172 – c. 1205),

Baldwin took possession of a much-reduced Flanders, lessened by the large chunk, including Artois, given by Philip of Alsace as dowry to Baldwin’s sister Isabelle of Hainaut, and another significant piece to his own wife. Isabelle had died in 1190, but King Philip still retained her dowry, on behalf of Isabelle’s son, the future Louis VIII of France. The eight years of Baldwin’s rule in Flanders were dominated by his attempts to recover some of this land, culminating in January 1200 in the Treaty of Péronne, in which Philip returned most of Artois.

In this fight against the French king, Baldwin allied with others who had quarrels with Philip, including kings Richard I and John of England, and the German King Otto IV. A month after the treaty, on 23 February 1200, Baldwin took the cross—that is, he committed to embark on a crusade. He spent the next two years preparing, finally leaving on 14 April 1202.

He was one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade and as Baldwin I the became the first  Latin Emperor of Constantinople. He lost his final battle to Kaloyan, the emperor of Bulgaria, and spent his last days as his prisoner.

Baldwin left behind his two-year-old daughter and his pregnant wife, Countess Marie, the elder daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Marie was regent for Baldwin for the two years she remained in Flanders and Hainaut, but by early 1204, she had left both her children behind to join him in the East. They expected to return in a couple of years, but in the end neither would see their children or their homeland again. In their absence Baldwin’s younger brother Philip of Namur was regent in Flanders, with custody of the daughters.


Sisters Joan (1212- 1244) and Margaret II (1244-1278)

They were the daughters of Baldwin I of Constantinople, who was also count of Flanders and Hainaut, and Marie of Champagne. He left on the Fourth Crusade before Margret was born, and her mother left two years later, leaving Margaret and Joan in the guardianship of their uncle Philip of Namur.

After her mother died in 1204, and her father the next year, the now-orphaned sisters remained under Philip’s guardianship until 1208, when he gave their ward-ship to King Philip II of France. The French King had used the opportunity to increase his control over Flanders he had already annexed Artois in the south of Flanders and after the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, Flanders was now well and truly under the control of the French king.

In 1212 Joan was given in marriage to Ferrand of Portugal, the son of Ling Sancho I of Portugal. Margaret was married out to Bouchard d’Avesnes, a prominent Hainaut nobleman, they had 3 children. Being the eldest Joan became Countess of Flanders, not surprisingly as such a young age and with many conflicting nobles involved in the governance of Flanders, an succession conflict with her sister Margaret grew violent and Bouchard was captured and imprisoned in 1219. He was released in 1221 on the condition that the couple separated. Joan convinced Margaret to remarry, this time to William II of Dampierre, a nobleman from Champagne. From this marriage Margaret had two sons: William and Guy of Dampierre.

After the death of Joan in 1244 Margaret succeeded her, partly together with her husband and partly as a regent of her son.

Like her sister, she conducted an economic policy designed to encourage international commerce. She removed restrictions on foreigner traders, despite pressures from local traders, who wanted to maintain monopolies. She also issued a new coinage. Her policies helped Bruges turn into an international port. In 1278, she abdicated in Flanders in favour of her son Guy. She ruled Hainaut until her death in 1280.

Both sisters had a reputation of having effective power, this meant that their power did not depend on their husbands, sons or male guardians. They ruled the County well and they had the support of the people and were able to control the competing nobility. This was also obvious during the succession conflict when the King of France interfered and in this process attacked Lille, however its citizens declared their allegiance to Joan and the price they had to pay was the destruction of their city.

William III (1224 –  1251)

He was the lord of Dampierre from 1231 and from 1247 until his death also count of Flanders. His mother Margaret II of Flanders had inherited Flanders and Hainault in 1244. This led a succession war between William and his brothers – the Dampierre claimants – and the children of Margaret’s first marriage to Bouchard . Margaret favoured William and declared him her heir. In 1246, Louis IX of France intervened to arbitrate the conflict and declared Flanders to William and Hainault to John I of Avesnes.

In November of that year, William married Beatrice, daughter of Henry II, Duke of Brabant and Marie of Hohenstaufen. They had no children. Meanwhile the fight continued over Namur between the Dampierres and the Avesnes. On 19 May 1250, peace was signed. On 6 June the next year, William was assassinated at a tournament in Trazegnies by a group of knights financed by Avesnes.  In 1253 the war began anew with Guy, William’s younger brother, taking up Flanders and the Dampierre claim.

The eldest son, John I of Avesnes, who was uneasy about his rights, convinced William of Holland, the German king, to seize Hainaut and the parts of Flanders which were within the bounds of the empire. William of Holland was theoretically, as king, overlord for these territories, and also John’s brother-in-law. A civil war followed, which ended when the Avesnes forces defeated and imprisoned the Dampierres at the Battle of Walcheren. Guy was ransomed in 1256 and the death of Margaret’s son John strengthened their position.


Guy de Dampierre (or Gwijde van Dampierre) (1226-1304)

Guy was born in about 1226, son of Guillaume de Dampierre, a nobleman of Champagne, and Margaret of Constantinople. Guy was a younger half-brother of Jan d’Avesnes, the father of Jan d’Avesnes who succeeded as Count Jan II of Holland. Margaret  was determined that her counties of Flanders and Hainault would pass to her Dampierre sons rather than her Avesnes son, which led to years of conflict.

Guy ceded his claims to Hainault, but became Count of Flanders in 1252, jointly with his mother Margaret, who lived until 1278. Tensions between Guy and Philip IV of France in the late 1280s led Guy to become an ally of the English King Edward I.

He betrothed his daughter Philippa to Edward I. However, Philip imprisoned Guy, two of his sons, and Philippa in Paris, and the planned marriage never took place.

His allies, including several of his sons and grandsons, they defeated the French at the Battle of the Golden Spurs (also known as the Battle of Courtrai or Kortrijk). Guy was still in prison at Compiègne, where he died on 7 March 1304, in his late seventies. He was succeeded by his eldest son Robert III, who was already in his mid fifties.

Guy first married Matilda of Bethune in 1246, and she bore him eight children, including: his successor Robert III, Jan II of Brabant’s mother Margaretha, Jan I of Holland’s mother Beatrijs, and Jan, Bishop of Metz and Liège. Secondly, in March 1265, he married Isabel of Luxemburg, by whom he had eight more children, including: Philippa, betrothed to Edward I; Margaretha, mother of Reinald II of Gelderland, and Beatrijs, who married the Count of St Pol.

Both his mother Margaret and Guy were staunch supporters of the Knights Templar. Interestingly however, Guy became financial totally dependent on the Knights for the various wars he was involved in. In 1270 he had participated in a crusade and before he left he had arranged for a debt he had with Florentine merchant to be paid by the Temple of Paris. He had a current account arrangement with both the Temples in Flanders and in Paris. Reinoud I  Count of Gelre was in turn in debt by Guy who was his father in law and many financial arrangements between both counts and the King of France in relation to debts and loans took place through the Temples.

However, shortly before his death, the tables had turned and Gwyde seemed to be on top of his finances again  there is some evidence that this might have been with the assistance of the rich cities of Flanders [2. Krijgers voor God, Michel Nuyttens, 2007, p138].

After a lot of toing and froing Count Gwijde of Flanders ended his vassalage with the king of France and joins the English camp. This needs to be seen in the context of economic interests. England was the key supplier of wool, essential for the flourishing and lucrative textile industry of Flanders on which its wealth and prosperity was based. This led to a war with France which cumulated in the battle of the Golden Spurs. While the Count won the battle the real war was won by France a year later which led to a humiliating peace accord for Flanders, however, they did maintain their independence.

Robert III

During his war with Philip IV of France, Guy  had  essentially already gave up the rule of Flanders,  back in November 1299,  to his son Robert. Both father and son were taken into captivity in May 1300, and Robert was not released until 1305.  Only after his father had died in captivity, was he allowed to return to his county. In 1310 he started to radically resist the French. Both diplomatically and militarily he managed to make a stand against the French King. When he marched to Lille in 1319 the militia from Ghent refused to cross the Leie with him. When his grandson Louis I of Nevers pressured him as well, Robert gave up the battle and went to Paris in 1320 to restore feudal bonds with the French King. He died in 1322 and was succeeded by his grandson, Louis, Count of Nevers and Rethel.


Louis I

He was the son of Louis I, Count of Nevers, and Joan, Countess of Rethel, and grandson of Robert III of Flanders. He succeeded his father as count of Nevers and his grandfather as count of Flanders in 1322.

In 1320 he married Margaret of France, second daughter of King Philip V of France and Joan II, Countess of Burgundy.

His pro-French policies and excessive taxations levied by Louis caused and uprising in 1323. Beginning as a series of scattered rural riots, the peasant insurrection escalated into a full-scale rebellion that dominated public affairs in Flanders for nearly five years until 1328. The rebels, led by Nicolaas Zannekin, captured the towns of Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Ieper and Kortrijk. In Kortrijk, Zannekin was able to capture Louis himself. In 1325 the King of France, Charles IV intervened whereupon Louis was released from captivity in February 1326 and the Peace of Arques was sealed. The peace didn’t last long and soon hostilities erupted again which made the count flee to France. Louis was able to convince his new liege Philip VI of France to come to his aid and Zannekin and his adherents were decisively defeated by the French royal army in the Battle of Cassel.

When the Hundred Years War started, Louis remained steadfast in his French policy, even with the county being economically dependent on England. His actions resulted in an English boycott of the wool trade which in turn sparked a new insurrection under Jacob van Artevelde. In 1339 the count had to flee his lands, never being able to return. Louis was killed in the Battle of Crécy in 1346.


Louis II (1330- 1384), also known as Louis of Male.

He was the son of Louis I of Flanders and Margaret I of Burgundy. He was Count of Flanders from 1346 until his death.

On his father’s death at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, he inherited the counties of Flanders, Nevers, and Rethel. The Guilds, depending on the English wool trade, forced Louis to recognize Edward III of England.

I n 1347, he married Margaret of Brabant (1323–1368), daughter of John III, Duke of Brabant. On the promise of obtaining the English possesions in North France, Louise bethroted his daughter Margaret to Edmund the eldest son of King Edward. However, this was prevented by the French King Charles V who was able to arrange a marriage between her and the Burgundian Duke Philip the Bold.

On the death of his father-in-law in 1355, he took the title of Duke of Brabant, but was unable to wrest the duchy from his sister-in-law Joanna, Duchess of Brabant in the War of the Brabantian Succession. Louis managed to defeat the Brabantians in the battle of Scheut near Anderlecht (17 August 1356) and capture the cities of Mechelen, Brussels, Antwerp and Leuven, but he was unable to acquire the duchy. By the Peace of Ath (1357) he gained the Lordship of Mechelen and the city of Antwerp.

His foreign policy was one of neutrality in the Hundred Years War, which kept him in favor with both France and England.

The latter years of his rule however were marked by civil strife. In 1379, he obtained aid from his son-in-law, Philip of Burgundy, to put down a revolt in Ghent. The Flemings again rose under Philip van Artevelde and expelled him from Flanders after the Battle of Beverhoutsveld; however, the influence of Philip procured a French army to relieve him, and the Flemings were decisively defeated at the Battle of Roosebeke. However, the citizens of Ghent continued to resist (with English aid) until after his death in 1384. His mother had died two years previously, leaving him the counties of Artois and the Franche-Comté.

After his death Philip the Bold made Flanders the start of the emerging Burgundian empire, which would grew further into the Low Countries. From now on the Burgundian Dukes became the rulers of Flanders. They also became involved in the internal power struggles in France, which even led to a civil war.

The Foundation of Ghent (Gent)

The city receives its name from Ganda/Góntia which was the name of the local Celtic goddess of the moon, the word also means confluence (of the rivers Leie and Scheldt). Archaeological evidence shows occupation throughout the Stone and Iron Ages and during the Roman period. When the Franks invaded the region they most likely also took over the remnants of what had been left over from the Roman civilisation. The Franks established the Merovingian empire and this region became a centre of their activities.

The Merovingian king Clothar II asked if the missionary Amandus could come and preach among his subjects. In 628  he established two small monasteries Ganda  and Mount Blandin; a few years later Amandus was joined in Ghent by (Saint) Bavo.

At the Treaty of Verdun in 843 the Scheldt became the boarder between East Francia and the Middle Kingdom. The Vikings ransacked the city twice and for a while had here their own settlement right on the border near the current Duivelsteen, where today there is still the last remnant of the old Scheldt left. Apart from their plundering the Vikings also stimulated trade and long lasting relations were built with the Viking rulers in what would later become Holland.

Shorty after the Vikings went the town re-centred around Gravensteen [3.  Gravensteen, Sofie Derom, 1995] .

Gravensteen Ghent

The site of the impressive castle right in the middle of Ghent was perhaps already used by the Romans it is positioned on an oblong island formed by the rivers Lys and Lieve.

After the Flemish Count Baldwin had built the first wooden citadel, Arnulf, early in the 10th century, reinforced the site which became known as Novum Castellum. It was a small city where the inhabitants could retreat to in times of war. As an important river portus the current city of Ghent started to grow around the castle. The hotel we stayed in at the Korenlei was oposite the early portus.

By 1180 under Philip I of Alsace, count of Flanders the current castle started too look very recognisable to the people from that time.

As the caste was built for protection purposes, comfort was not a key issue. However, with the growing wealth of the city and the county the Counts were looking for a more prestigious palace and Louis the Male built the Prinsenhof (Counts Court), the first party given here was in 1355. It was also here that the later Emperor Charles V was born in 1500. The only part left of this once extensive complex is a small gate.

The High Court of the Council of Flanders took place at Gravensteen until 1778.

Gravensteen means (stone) castle of the counts. I visited the castle in 2007

The above mentioned monasteries had large land holdings on the marshes (schorren) along the North Sea coast , these were ideally suited for sheep farming. This became the start of the lucrative textile industry that would make Flanders one of the richest regions on earth.

In order to create a shorter link with the sea the city decided to built a canal, utilising as much as possible existing river systems. They built a series of sluices (rabotten) to regulate the water levels.  By the 14th century the walls around the town with 60,000 inhabitants measured 14 kms, encompassing an area of 644 hectares, after Paris the largest city in Europe of that time. However, this remained the largest size the city would reach as stagnation started to occur in the 15th century.


Economic powerhouse

As mentioned sheep farming started on the marshes however  when they were diked in order to create agriculture lands, the merchants had to get their wool from elsewhere and they started to import this from England.

While technically a fief of France, its major trading partner now was England and the 100 year war between England and France was often a major headache for the merchants.

Already before that war had started it was the cloth and weaving industry that became the engine of the Flemish economy. The quality and fine colours of Flemish fabrics were prized throughout Europe, as far afield as in Constantinople

Together with some of the mini states in Italy, Flanders and Brabant were among of the richest places in Europe with important trading cities such as Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp and Mechelen. However, the richness of these cities also made them very powerful and the Count of Flanders/Duke of Burgundy had to continuous negotiate taxes and privileges in order to get the cooperation of these cities. Conflicts between the cities and the counts and dukes continued to well into the 16th century, when finally the centralised government could establish their authority over the for ever divided cities. Also on a political, legal and bureaucratic level they had lost their struggle with the much better organised central government.

The richness of the merchants stood also in stark contrast to the poverty of the majority of the people. Many of these rich merchants didn’t live in these Flanders cities but organised their trade through their (Hanse) kantors. This huge divide between rich and poor also led to several popular uprisings and eventually the Reformation. This also meant the final death-knell for the economic boom, with the fall of Antwerp in 1585 trade moved up to Amsterdam, which rapidly started its Golden Age.

Antwerp and Ghent started to develop its own trading skills in the 10th century. Flemish merchant were already trading in England around that time. Already in the 13thcentury cities such as Ghent, Ypres and Bruges were digging canals to improve their trading facilities.

As was rather unique in Europe the Flemish cities became a dominant political force. They participated in military actions and were involved in decision making process both in relation to national as well as international affairs.

Until well into the 16th century Ghent remained the largest city in northern Europe, larger than London,  Cologne or Moscow . Only Paris started to rival Ghent in the late 14th century.

Early forms of democracy

Until 1302 the city of Ghent was ruled by 39 rich patrician families. This ended with the Battle of the Golden Spurs at the patricians supported the King of France who was defeated by the Count of Flanders, who in turn was supported by the guilds and tradespeople of Ghent and Bruges. From this time onwards these two last groups did receive a greater say in the ruling of the city.

The power of the people of Ghent showed again during the first phase of the Hundred Year war. The Count of Flanders had chosen the side of the King of France against the King of England. England was of critical importance to the city of Ghent as it was the key trading partner in the wool trade and because of the alliance England had stopped the trade with Ghent. This resulted in an economic recession in Flanders. The rich cloth merchant Jacob van Artevelde led the revolt of the weavers against the Count (who fled Flanders)  and in 1339 van Artevelde established a Council of five Chiefs (Audiëntie) of which he was the leader, he was as such recognised by the rest of the Country of Flanders. He established a city alliance between Ghent, Ypres and Bruges (The Three Members) and tried to establish better social relationships between the different groups within the city. He reformed the administration of the city and requested the Count to use Flemish bureaucrats when he was in the County.

He was killed under rather unclear circumstances during a local uprising in 1345 – perhaps because of his often rather tyrannic regime as some have suggested. However, his legacy as a ‘wise ruler’  survived. His sons fled to England and Philip van Artevelde went back to Ghent in 1360. He organised a range of rather successfulness uprising between 1379 and 1382. He had some success in May that year, however he was killed in  a battle led by the French later on in that year.

In 1386, the ‘Three Members’ became the official Council of Flanders (Raad van Vlaanderen)  under Philip the Bald and was established in Bruges. A new member was added the ‘Franc of Bruges’ so it became known as the ‘The Four Members’. However in 1407 the Council was moved to Gravensteen in Ghent.

The administration of the town was in the hand of 26 justices (schepenen). The guilds and tradespeople held no less than 20 of these seats.

The relationship between the city and the counts remained uneasy. Over the next two hundred years there were regular uprisings, all aimed at keeping the city independence. However, at no time was the remarkable democratic city able to remain totally independent. The situation deteriorated in particular under the Dukes of Burgundy. Philip the Good wanted to wind back the city privileges to the situation before the Battle of the Golden Spurs.  A particular devastating uprising was triggered by a permanent tax on salt that Philips wanted to impose on the city.  This resulted in the Revolt of Ghent (1449 – 1453) when Philip the Good subdued the city in a bloody way – known as the Battle of Gavere – that cost the lives of between 16.000 and 20.000 people.

Over the following period – under the Dukes of Burgundy – a far more sophisticated centralised administrative and legal system was established. The city was never able to match that level of professionalism. Together with the other cities Ghent failed to built a strong unified alliance between these economic powerhouses and the counts and dukes were only to eager to use this to create more division. This escalated under Hapsburg rule, the cities resisted the ongoing centralisation that was put upon them by Charles V.

Ghent revolted again between 1537 and 1539, it refused to pay the extra taxes needed for the Emperor’s war in Artois gainst France. This led to threats from Queen Mary and this in turn led to civil war between her supporters and the more radical and poorer elements in town; known as the creesers (krijsers). The economic situation had deteriorated over previous years and that in it self had also created significant social unrest,  Several diplomatic missions were send to Ghent but all at no avail. The people of Ghent then looked towards the French king for assistance, however he had at that moment no interest in meddling in the imperial affairs. The rebels than turned to the Emperor and tried to convince him of their ancient, but rather obsolete,  privileges. However, they were given a cold shoulder. The people then tore the privileges (known as the Calfskin from 1407) that Charles had confirmed to the city in 1515 apart and rebelled for days throughout the city.

Rather heavyhandedly Charles finally succeeded, in 1540, to end the revolt. He entered the city with 5,000 landknechts (halberdiers) and he settled himself in his birthplace the Prinsenhof. For the quartering of his troops he pulled down a whole district. He severely punished the city, the whole public treasure was confiscated, arms, artillery and ammunition stores  were taken away all of the possessions of the guilds and trades organisations were confiscated, included houses and financial resources. All the leaders were trialled and executed on the spot. He ordered a solemn apology and the citizens were ordered to march barefoot with nooses around their necks. Until this day the people of Ghent are commemorating their fallen comrades from 1540. The people of Ghent are still proudly know as noose bearers (stroppendragers). At the Ghentse Feesten (Ghent Festivities) I was able to get one of these nooses.

The famous ‘Klokke Roeland’ a church bell dating back to 1314 was taken from the Belfort Tower by Charles in 1540 to further humiliate the burghers of his birth town.

He issued a new constitution known as the Carolingian Concession. The Council and other city institutions were abolished and replaced with his own appointees. This  marked the decline of  the proud city state. However, in all reality, by that time the economic power-shift to Antwerp  and from there further north was well and truly under way.

Bruges (Brugge)

It isn’t until 892 before Bruges is mentioned (Bruggia, Bruccia – an old Norse word for landing place or port). There are indications that there could be a link with Bryggen the port of Bergen, Norway. There were indeed early trading links between the two cities.

At the beginning of then 9th century, at the spot where the Roman road from Oudenburg to Ardenburg crosses the river Reie,  a fortress was built around which castle city started to grow. To the north of the city merchants and traders started to establish their own quarter (Grote Vierkant).

Marine inundations in the 4th century had created the estuaries of  the Zwin then Yser. This strategic position led to the building of the first fortifications most likely established in the 9th century, possibly earlier. The warmer climate and the the hard work of land reclamation created the coastal plain ideal for sheep farming, which led to the development of the wool industry and the economic foundation for the enormous success of Bruges. New inundations in the 10th century led to the building of the first dyke system in Europe. Reclaimed land was owned by the Count who offered it to tenants (hospites – ‘guests’) which of course enormously  increased the wealth of the count (see Baldwin V above).

The combination of a secure place and the economic possibilities led, from around the middle of the 11th century, to a process of urbanisation. The port on the Zwin became the centre of this emerging economic powerhouse;  it was able to establish itself as the most important trading city north of the Alps.

However, the silting up of the sea arm (Zwin) that provided the city with a sea port  threatened its future prosperity. A major flood in 1134 however, kept – at least for the next few hundred years – the Zwin open.

In 1127 when Count Charles the Good of Flanders was killed in Bruges, this city basically was still a castle city, however many people had already settled around it. The killing of the Count can totally be placed against the background of anarchy with competing knights with competing interests. This also continued during the period lawlessness that followed the event. And ended as violent as it began with all traitors and expected traitors burned, hanged, decapitated, drowned or quartered on the wheel without any form of trial. There is no one simple explanation of this murder; which indeed shook the emerging nation of Flanders. The County was crying for peace, an end to the unbridled violence and for stability, this led to a pledge for peace by the burghers of Saint Omer and Gent who demanded this in their charters.

During the Golden Age of Bruges (14th century) also the Burgundian Dukes resided in the city and Charles the Bold married here Margarteha of York and together with his daughter Maria of Burgundy he is buried at the Church of Our Lady (Onze Live Vrouwe Kerk).

Tomb of Charles the Bold (next to him his daughter Maria)

During Late Middle Ages we see that the role of merchant changed from a travelling merchant to a residing merchant. Bruges attracted merchants from all over Europe many of them established permanent representations in the city. These merchants, with their international connections, rapidly established international trading networks. Most of the important international business dealings were all done within their own network.

This of course linked in very well with a similar culture that existed in the Hanse and the Hanse Kantor in Bruges became the most important international network junction of northern Europe and Bruges became the first network-city of northern Europe [4. Bruges, Cradle of Capitalism, 1283-1390, J. Murray, 2005]. This not just included these merchants themselves but also the innkeepers, the confraternities, guilds and various other social clubs;  all part of the big network family. These networks also played a social function especially in relation to their widows, orphans their sick and their poor. All highly religious people they also had a much wider positive social effect on the broader community of the city.

The city also was the first one to have a Bourse (since 1309). The name comes from the family who established this institution ‘van de Beurse’. It was at his premises that the merchants gathered to do their financial business and the establishment was soon known as the ‘Bruges Bourse’. For image see also: ‘Money Matters’

Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals against the ruling dukes and counts, which were for the most part harshly contained. However, after the BrugeMatins (the nocturnal massacre of the French garrison in Bruges by the members of the local Flemish militia on 18 May 1302), the population, for once, joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijk on July 11.

At the start of the 13th century the city had 40,000 inhabitants, the third largest city in Europe,

The ongoing threat of the silting up of its harbour continued relentlessly and after 1500 the city started to loose the battle with the water and had to hand over its leading trading position to Antwerp.

Flanders part of Duchy of Burgundy

The French King Charles V was able to arrange a marriage between the Burgundy Duke Philip the Bold and Margaret de Male, the only daughter of the Louis de Male, duke of Flanders. This marriage took place on June 19, 1369 in Ghent and was one of the most spectacular weddings ever seen in Europe. As a gift Charles ceded Walloon to Flanders.  Flanders was now –  all but in name – independent from France.

This was important as England was their main trading party, who was still in the midst of the 100 year war with France. At occasions France demanded Flemish troops and money to fight against the English but equally the Flemish (and Burgundians) were able to influence peace negotiations that lead to trading privileges between the Flemish and the English.

In 1370, Count Louis had the Count’s chapel built in the Church of Our Lady in Kortrijk to be a mausoleum for he himself and to honour the holy Catharina. The Chapel, which we visited in 2007,  contains paintings of all the rulers of Flanders.

Louis died in 1384 and Philip the Bold became the ruler of both Flanders and Burgundy. The county and the subsidiary counties were officially absorbed into the Duchy of Burgundy in 1405. For a while the cities could maintain their independence but under Philip the Good they lost this and slowly that would also lead to their economic downfall.

The title Count of Flanders however, continued until the French Revolution in 1795.

Hainault (Henegouwen)

In Roman times the pagus Hanoniensis was situated in the Roman provinces of Belgica and Germania.

The first known Count (of Mons) Reginar I (ca 850-ca 915) . His father was Gisbert I of Maasgouw (Both sides of the Maas between Aachen, Luik and Nijmegen). Reinier obviously was able to increase his power as he possessed considerable domains between the Maas and the Scheldt, the Abbacies of Echternach, Stavelkot, St Servatius of Maastricht and lands in the Ardennes, Hainault and Brabant. Reginar was linked to the Carolingians through his mother Ermengard, a daughter of Lothar I. Reginar I ‘Longneck’ considered himself the natural leader of Lotharingia.

Reginar was the most powerful nobleman in Lotharingia and played a key role in the European politics of his day, where after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire East and West Francia were continuously at war with each other  with Lotharinghia squeezed in the middle. He is also  the ancestors of the Dukes of Brabant.

The most important cities in Hainault were Mons (Bergen), Cambrai (Kamerijk) and Charleroi.

We also know Reginar from the battle he fought with the Frisian Prince Raboud in 870 against the Vikings See: Frisia)

The County of Hainault was split – after Reginar III was defeated by Bishop Bruno of Cologne in 958 – into the counties of Bergen, and Valenciennes.

In 1021 Emperor Henry II granted Gerard van Antoing from Hainault the lands of Gelre. This is seen as the start of County of Gelre, which became one of the most important regional powers in Low Countries.

In 1071 a succession war had erupted between Robert I of Flanders (or Robert the Frisian) and his nephew, Arnulf III (son of Baldwin VI of Flanders). Arnulf succeeded his father Baldwin in 1070 and was supported by his mother Richilde, Countess of Mons and Hainaut.

However, Robert challenged Arnulf’s succession to the throne of Flanders.

Arnulf’s ranks contained individuals such as the Counts Eustace II and III of Boulogne and Godfrey of Bouillon. He was supported by King Philip I of France since Philip’s aunt, Adèle Capet, married Baldwin V of Flanders. A contingent of ten Norman knights led by William FitzOsborn were among the forces sent by Philip to aid Arnulf. Adele’s and Baldwin’s daughter Mathilda married William of Normandy who in 1066 conquered England. Mathilda was praised by the English chronicler Orderic Vitalis for her intellect in relation to science, reading, writing and the beauty of manners and virtues.

At Cassel, on 22 February 1071,  Robert’s forces launched a surprise attacked on Arnulf’s numerically superior army. Arnulf was killed along with William FitzOsborn while Richilde was captured by Robert’s forces. However, Robert himself was captured by Eustace II. Ultimately, Richilde was exchanged for Robert’s freedom.

The Battle led to the unification of the county of Hainaut as imperial fief.  After the defeat Richilde, tried to sell her fiefs to Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor. He ordered the Bishop of Liège to purchase the fiefs and then return them as a unified county to the countess Richilde under feudal overlordship of the Duke of Lower Lotharingia.

The ‘new’ county of Hainaut, was strategically located in the west of the Holy Roman Empire, near to the borders with the Kingdom of France. Three unification fiefs were:

  • the county of Mons
  • the southern part of the landgraviate of Brabant
  • the Ottonian margravate of Valenciennes

In 1299, after the murder on Floris V, the regency of this County was handed over to Jean I d’Avesnes Count of Hainaut (Henegouwen) who was married to Aleid the daughter of Floris IV. Two weeks later Jan I of Holland dies aged 15 and Jean became as Jan II the next Count of Holland.

From 1299 till 1345 Hainault would be governed under a personal union with Holland. The next set of counts called themselves the Counts of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut (William I and William II). One of William I  daughters, Philippa,  married Edward III of England.

In 1346 – after the death of William II, the male line of the Avesnes dynasty died out in Hainault. The eldest sister of the diseased count, Margaret was married to the German emperor Louis of Bavaria from the house of Wittlesbach. She declared herself a heir to do territory.

This was not tolerated by the neighbours in particular Holland. She had to agree to succeed Holland-Zeeland to her son Willem V. He in turn took also possession of Hainault after Margaret died in 1356, see Holland.

Today the historic county of Hainaut is territorially divided between Belgium and France.

The History of Northwestern Europe (TOC)