Medieval - The Murder of Charles the Good

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Dec 9, 2018.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    While I have been trying to keep my collecting focus on coins of the Normans, I have a hard time resisting other coins of historical significance, or are related to my studies. One of the moments where an understanding of the Middle Ages really began to click for me was when I read The Murder of Charles the Good, by Galbert de Bruges. This remarkable work was written as a day-by-day account of the murder of the Count of Flanders by the members of the Erembald clan. While no coin no from this time exist for Flanders, I did pick up something which is tangentially related.

    Flanders in 1127, the year Charles was murdered.

    Flanders was caught in a potential disaster with the rise in power of William the Conqueror in Normandy. While Flanders initially had an alliance with William, his conquest of England caused the alarmed counts to form an alliance with the Danes, and to strengthen their feudal ties with the Kings of France. With William the Conqueror’s death, count Robert II renewed an alliance with the English, accepting a money-fief from Henry I in return for the promise of military aid. Charles was the nephew of Robert II, his mother, Adele, had been married to the sainted King Canute VII of Denmark, and after Canute’s assassination, the two would live at Robert’s court (Adele was eventually sent to Apulia in 1092 to marry Duke Roger Borsa, son of Roger Guiscard. Adele would give birth to Roger’s son, William of Apulia, who apparently died of grief upon hearing of the assassination of his half-brother, Charles the Good).

    Med-14-INAp-1085-Roger Borsa-Fol-xx.jpg
    While not technically a coin of Roger Borsa or William count of Apulia, this imitation of a Byzantine Class J Follis has a terminus post quem 0f 1081. Its small size and weight, in addition to its find location in southern Italy suggests it is Norman in origin. While it is possible it was issued during the final years of Robert Guiscard, it is more likely an issue of Borsa or later after Guiscard's failed invasion of Greece. The size and weight is close to the issues to Borsa and Adele's son, William III in Apulia.
    Norman Italy - Apulia
    Roger Borsa (?), r. 1085-1111
    AE Follis, 19.08 mm x 2.2 grams
    Obv.: Bust of Christ facing, cross behind, wearing pallium and Colvin , raising right hand in benediction, Gospels in left, crescent above, IC - XC flanking
    Rev.: Cross with globule and two pellets at each extremity, large crescent below, four globules around each surrounded by pellets

    Charles’ cousin, Baldwin VII became count on the death of Robert II. Charles was active in Baldwin’s court, witnessing many charters, and was appointed Baldwin’s successor when he died in 1119. While appointed heir and confirmed by the Barons as count, the irregularity of not being a direct heir, his own lack of an heir, and his Danish heritage would be somewhat of an issue in his reign. While given the epithet “the Good” posthumously, Charles had earned the name by having a stable administration, seeking internal justice, and caring for the poor. Despite this, there were those who clearly hated the Count, and a long list of those who conspired to kill him was revealed after his death. This may be a product of Flanders’ growth: new land was being added by draining marshes, but there was not enough for a growing population. This growth would also see the establishment of permanent positions to aid the count, and some people of a lower status, such as members of the Erembald clan, raised up to serve the count. In an attempt to protect the rights of the count, Charles attempted to assert the servile status of the Chancellor and Provost, Bertulf of the Erembald clan. This would spark a series of chain reactions leading to Bertulf murdering Charles, the castle of Bruges besieged by the citizens of both Bruges, and the Burghers of Ghent, and the eventual execution of Bertulf and others by “precipitation” (i.e., throwing them off a tall tower to their death).

    British Library, Royal MS 16 G VI 123.jpg
    A 14th century depiction of Charles' murder. British Library, Royal MS 16 G VI 123.

    Its in the wake of Charles’ murder that the cities of Flanders began to gain more independence. Attempts were made to appoint a new Count, including the King of France pushing William Clito, the son of Robert Curthose of Normandy to become the next count (which he would for a short period of time). William Clito had a rival in Thierry of Alsace for control of the County, and he began losing the support of the increasingly independent cities to Thierry in 1128. It’s this increase in independence, given to the various cities of Flanders as men jockeyed for control which lead to the minting of small coins by the individual cities of Flanders, rather than through the authority of the count.

    Med-05a-FNor-1087-Robert Curthose-D-XXI-17.jpg
    While the identification of these crude deniers of Normandy is somewhat tentative, the current theory behind the issues with initials on the reverse is that they minted during the breakdown of authority during Robert Curthose's reign. Curthose would lose control of Normandy to his younger brother Henry I, and leave to go on Crusade. His son, William Clito, would be put forward as the new Count of Flanders by the French king.
    French Feudal, Normandy
    Robert Curthose, r. 1087-1106
    AR Denier, 20 mm x 0.93 grams
    Obv.: +NOR[MAN]NA. Cross patted with pellets in angles
    Rev.: RI/AV in two lines
    Ref.: Dumas Group D XXI-17, Duplessy 32var., Roberts 3901-9var.
    Ex BRN Collection, purchased from Andy Singer June 2012

    As I wrote above, there are no coins from the time of Count Charles. Bruges would mint coins after his death, but I have yet to see many offered. I have however found a coin from another Flemish town that would take part in besieging the castle of Bruges after Charles’ murder: Ghent. Ghent rose to dominance in the wool trade with England, so much so that by the second half of the thirteenth century, Ghent fabricated more wool cloth than any other European town (DMA 521). With Charles’ murder, Ghent achieved the privilege of self-government, and the politics of the city was ruled by merchant families; particularly those in the wool trade who imported wool from England, and exported fabrics to be sold at the Champagne fairs (see my post on The Champagne Fairs).

    Low Countries - Flanders
    City of Ghent, 4th Period, 1253-1300
    AR Mailles, 11.3 mm x 0.5 grams
    Obv.: Head left within circle of pellets, three rings in helmet, Lisa on top and cross behind
    Rev.: Open cross with bended limbs
    Ref.: DeWitt 1266

    While these “Mailles” of Flanders are tiny, they did avoid the debasement of silver found in many other contemporary coins. The imagery is lovely, with a simplistic head facing left, but clearly wearing a mail coif and helmet. The depiction has often reminded me of some 13th century illuminations of knights, particularly those in the act of slaying Thomas Becket as he knelt praying at the altar (the exact same circumstances under which Charles the Good would die).

    British Library, Harley MS 5102, f. 32.JPG
    British Library, Harley MS 5102, f. 32. The murder of Thomas Becket. While the imagery of his death is easily similar to Charles', Becket was murdered later. The knight confronting the monk behind the altar appears to be wearing the same type of armor as depicted in the Mailles of Ghent.

    Please feel free to pile on with any coins which are relevant: Medieval Flanders in particular! (But French, English, and Southern Italy would all work)

    d’Andrea, Alberto and Vincenzo Contreras. The Normans’ coins of the Kingdom of Sicily. Medieval Italian Coins. Third Edition. Acquaviva Picena: Edizioni D’Andrea, 2016.

    ‘The Anglo-Flemish Treaty of 1101,’ Elisabeth Van Houts (trans.), Anglo-Norman Studies, Christopher Harper-Bill (ed.), 21 (Woodbridge, 1999), 168-174.

    Galbert de Bruges. The Murder of Charles the Good. Translated by Ross, James Bruce. Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 12. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

    “Ghent.” Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Edited by Strayer, Joseph R. Volume 5. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. 520-3.

    Lhotka Jr., John F. Medieval Feudal French Coinage. Rockville Centre, NY: Sanford J. Durst, 1994.
    7Calbrey, Ryro, Deacon Ray and 11 others like this.
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  3. alde

    alde Always Learning

    Fantastic. Thanks for the great history lesson and the contemporary images and especially for showing the great coins. I really admire your research and desire to learn the history associated with the coins. It's something we should all aspire to.
    ominus1 and FitzNigel like this.
  4. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thank you for the kind words @alde - I just love the history and the coins!
  5. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    Brilliant write up, a fascinating slice of history.
    ominus1 and FitzNigel like this.
  6. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Great post @FitzNigel I really enjoy the history of this area. Thanks for such an interesting writeup.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  7. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Thanks guys - while the focus was supposed to be the Mailles of Ghent, I realized as I was piecing the history together that two other purchases made this year were somewhat related. Each of the other coins deserves their own post however - we’ll see if I find time to get around to it (snow day helps to give me time to put this one together)
    Alegandron likes this.
  8. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I love that when it happens: coins / history / different areas all pull together into a greater story that is inter-related. Fun!

    Very nice write-up, very educational, and very cool coins Fitz! How much snow did we get? I saw weather channel stated 12" with 5" coming last nite! WOW!
    FitzNigel and ominus1 like this.
  9. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    good show alde!:)..history is interrelated.
    alde likes this.
  10. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    In my area (just west of the city), we got maybe 8”. None last night, but it started snowing again an hour ago.
    Alegandron likes this.
  11. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    I lived in Pfafftown
    FitzNigel likes this.
  12. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    That was a vey enjoyable read @FitzNigel and the coins are wonderful. I especially like the maillse of Ghent. The armoured head on the obverse has great charm, it's a coin I will have to look out for in the future.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  13. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    I have a sneaky suspicion you may find one in an upcoming auction by a friend of ours. I am warning you, they are tiny - but they have some beautiful imagery
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