The Medieval Review

Rider, Jeff and Alan V. Murray. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2009. Pp. 297. . $37.95 pb ISBN 978-0-8132-1719-2.

Reviewed by:

David Defries
Univ. of Tennessee

On 2 March 1127, members of a powerful Flemish clan ("the Erembalds") murdered Charles the Good, count of Flanders (1119-27), while he prayed in his castral church at Bruges. The murder was apparently the clan's last-ditch effort to preserve its position in the face of the count's attempts to bring its members to heel by having them admit to being his serfs. After the murder, the family's crisis erupted into a general crisis when a coalition of nobles and burghers besieged and exacted harsh revenge on the assassins while different candidates fought to succeed Charles in a civil war that ended in the summer of 1128 with the accession of Thierry of Alsace (1128-68). These events inspired several contemporary accounts, including one by Galbert of Bruges known as the De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum (The Murder, Betrayal, and Assassination of the Glorious Charles, Count of Flanders). The De multro-- variously referred to as a journal, chronicle and diary in this volume of collected essays--has long been an important source for historians of the Middle Ages. Galbert, an official in the comital bureaucracy at Bruges, was an eyewitness to many of the events he reported, and he wrote in a gripping, realistic style. Despite over a century of intense scrutiny of the text by modern scholars, however, no consensus has emerged regarding what exactly prompted Galbert to write or the basic message he intended to communicate. This volume continues these debates in a most fruitful way by presenting arguments that intersect, sometimes contradict and yet still complement each other. In particular, they all point to Galbert's attempts to use historiography to restore a sense of order to his world. The quality and accessibility of the essays in this book, along with its selective bibliography, make it an essential scholarly introduction to the De multro, as well as an excellent tool for both graduate and undergraduate courses on the Middle Ages or historiography.

The book begins with an informative introduction by its editors Jeff Rider and Alan Murray, both of whom have already published on the De multro. After outlining its contents, they discuss how the text was still unfinished when Galbert stopped writing. As a result, only one copy (now-lost) seems to have survived until a Flemish historian discovered it in the sixteenth century. Although Rider and Murray point to the "popular" character of the text as the key to its success in the modern period, I wonder if the fact that Galbert was never able to contain the disorder of his time in a standard genre did not play a larger role in scholars' enthusiasm for it. As the introduction discusses, the lack of consistent generic markers allowed positivists, beginning with Henri Pirenne, to treat the De multro as a naively transparent window into twelfth-century Flemish society, while more recent scholars, as demonstrated by the essays in this volume, have filled this void with multiple historiographic approaches.

In Chapter One (the only essay in Part One), Rider summarizes the meticulous analysis of the De multro he completed for his monograph, God's Scribe (2001). In his summary, he writes that the text "is in fact three different works written one on top of the other so to speak, all of them incomplete." He states that Galbert originally began taking notes about a week after the murder for an account (descriptio) of the siege at Bruges. Later, Galbert decided to "publish" his descriptio as a hagiographic passio, and added sections to illuminate Charles's status as a martyr. Finally, in 1128, several cities rebelled against the Norman William Clito, who had become count (1127-28) with the backing of the French king Louis VI, prompting Galbert to resume writing. Rider also argues that the De multro was a mental and spiritual exercise in which Galbert explored the wonder (admiratio) he experienced as a result of contemplating God's role in the chaos in which he lived. The text, Rider concludes, "is not a product of thinking things through, it is a thinking-things-through [emphasis in the original]." Rider adds a new twist to his analysis from God's Scribe by connecting this admiratio to new works in twelfth-century philosophy, particularly to Hugh of St. Victor's De tribus diebus. Here, I am not certain that the monastic rhetorical tradition described by Mary Carruthers and mentioned later in this volume by Nancy Partner could not account for most of Galbert's reflective approach.

A sense that Galbert's admiratio was a terrifying sort of wonder haunts Part Two, which is concerned with the development of institutions. It begins with R.C. Van Caenegem's masterly analysis of how the law was used as the "servant" of political power in four specific cases described in the De multro. The most important was Charles's attempt to re-impose servile status on the Erembalds, which led to the later conflicts and which must be seen, he argues, in light of a general effort by the count to resist the twelfth-century trend toward emancipation. In addition, Van Caenegem, who has been instrumental in opening up the De multro to more sophisticated approaches, also sheds light on the confusing situation that Galbert confronted with his historiography. When Charles died in 1127 without a designated heir, the comital office had not been empty since 862, so long that it was difficult to determine how a legitimate successor should be chosen. One can surmise that this must have led to some of the difficulties Galbert encountered in adopting a consistent moralizing perspective on the civil war. In Chapter Three, Dirk Hierbaut uses the theme of crisis to turn previous work on feudalism in the De multro on its head. For a long time, Galbert's description of the homage, fealty and investiture rendered to William Clito was cited as the textbook example of feudal practice. Hierbaut, however, argues that the events in Flanders were exceptional. Like Galbert's unusual text, they were born of the crises that engulfed the county, and were not exemplary of some overarching feudal ideal. In fact, he argues that Flanders was not a feudal society when Galbert wrote. By contrast, in the fourth chapter, Steven Isaac assumes that feudalism was pervasive and seeks to show how towns were enmeshed in it as significant power centers. He also uses the De multro's vivid accounts of urban siege warfare to argue that burghers moved fluidly between their roles as citizens and as expert foot soldiers in urban militias. This explains why the burghers in Galbert's text can appear both fearful and bellicose, concerned for the safety of their homes yet confident in their martial abilities. He also argues that "the intense interest in stability and order displayed by urban chroniclers such as Galbert resulted from the violent latencies in the medieval city." If he is correct, then Galbert's "wonder" might have owed less to the severity of events than to his own urban sensitivity to violence.

Part Three considers the intersection of politics, gender and historiography. In Chapter Five, Nancy Partner again calls attention to the apparent transparency of the text, and writes that "it is almost easy to overlook what should be there, had to be there, and is not: women [emphasis in the original]." She concludes that Galbert was desperate to regain a sense of order by applying moralistic paradigms in his narrative: "What I see most acutely now in Galbert is a would-be writer almost overwhelmed, a strong and reality- connected mind struggling to control a world gone out of control, despairing and unstrung by the hideousness of events." She argues that the logic dictating the presence or absence of women was not consciously or consistently misogynist. In the next chapter, Martina Hcker disagrees and finds a new development in medieval misogyny. She argues that Galbert consistently used negative traits usually applied to generalized exempla in misogynistic clerical literature to describe individual women in his narrative. Noting two instances in which Galbert reported the execution of witches, she observes that it was about this time that crises in western Europe sparked the killing of witches. In Chapter Seven, Bert Demyttenaere focuses on relations among men in the world Galbert did report. He argues that "the intimate love, be it sexual or not" between Charles and Fromold the Younger had convinced the count to replace Bertulf, the head of his bureaucracy and the leader of the Erembald clan, with Fromold, and that it was this plan that sparked all the trouble.

In Chapter Eight (Part Four), Alan Murray, like Rider, takes a holistic approach to the De multro's narrative. He posits that Galbert placed the events he reported in an Augustinian framework, intending to link them to the Devil's perpetual efforts to subvert divine order. Within this framework, the Erembalds and others who attacked divinely sanctioned earthly authorities became agents of the Devil. In the next chapter, Robert Stein argues that the crisis in Flanders arose when Charles sought to curtail aristocratic power but ran up against the rising power of bourgeois clans like the Erembalds who had appropriated the aristocratic ethos. Galbert was sympathetic to the count's efforts, especially the effort to prohibit vengeance, and sometimes refused explicit recognition to the obvious symbolism of aristocratic acts. Ironically, this bias sometimes aligned his narrative with the interests of the bourgeoisie whom the Erembalds represented. Finally, Lisa Cooper and Mary Agnes Edsall in Chapter Ten and Godfried Croenen in Chapter Eleven compare the De multro to other works of literature--the former to a fabliau seemingly based on the rise and fall of the Erembalds, and the latter to Jean Froissart's Chronique de Flandre. Cooper and Edsall argue that both the De multro and the fabliau Du provost a l'aumuche blame the Erembalds' transgression of class boundaries for the crises that struck their societies. Croenen notes that Galbert's and Froissart's chronicles recount similar events using similar themes. Despite this, Froissart made more room in his narrative for contingency: he did not need to find the divine order in every event.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking collection that will take its place beside Rider's monograph, his Latin edition of the De multro and his new English translation, among other works, as essential tools in the study of the text and its context. Although it appears that the editors took great care in choosing what to include in this collection, there is one significant omission. It needs a chapter devoted to the hagiographic elements in the De multro. Galbert appears to have regarded Charles as an "innocent martyr," an unusual and complex type about which Paul Hayward has written. Much of the confusion about Galbert's intent might be resolved by disentangling themes related to proving that Charles did nothing to merit his death at the hands of fellow Christians (i.e.--he was innocent) and those related to offenses against secular office in an Augustinian framework. The unfinished second and third "texts" within the De multro might be more independent than current interpretations suggest. In this respect, it may be that the strangely redundant title (murder and assassination?) derives from a scribal error in copying a word like mulcta/multa (penalty; suffering) as a synonym for passio.