There presently live five peoples in Britain, […] to these can be added in our time a sixth nation, that is the Flemish, who from their own land came to the region of Mailros in the confines of Wales at the orders of King Henry in order to settle there. Having until then gathered in the island in large numbers, no less powerful in weapons and soldiers than the indigenous population, they have made large acquisitions there for themselves as fighters under the Normans.
As the chronicler Alfred of Beverley c. 1143 describes in his Aluredi Beverlacensis Annales, large numbers of Flemings were present in Britain in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest and were resettled in South Wales on the orders of King Henry I. Studies of pre-Conquest relations suggest a growing interaction between Flanders and Britain in the late tenth century, focusing on ecclesiastical relations and political marriages across the Channel. Economical and commercial contacts are also receiving more attention. Dumolyn et al., for example, suggested the growing importance of the mercantile function of Bruges within a wider network along the North Sea from the middle of the tenth century onwards.
The Norman Conquest, in which Flemings had an active role as parts of the invasion army, would have created opportunities for migration. Following the Conquest, Flemings played a variety of roles in politics and society, whether as lords, settlers, merchants, or mercenaries. In Domesday Book, for example, men identified as Flemings held estates in twenty-seven counties, and fifteen names could be retained as tenants-in-chief.
The aim of this essay is to provide a critical overview of current research on Flemish planted rural settlements in Flanders and Britain. Drawing on a broad range of national and international literature (in languages including English, French, German, and Dutch), this essay will offer a platform for renewed research into the influence of a small yet dynamic medieval county on its North Sea neighbors. In the first section, we present an overview of historical and archaeological research into Flanders’ rural medieval landscape during the last hundred years. The second section engages with research on Flemish immigrants and settlements in twelfth-century Britain. Finally, we will indicate the potential of combining new data and techniques in Flanders and Britain for achieving a better understanding of the Flemish settlement landscapes.
Reform is one of the most frequently referenced, but least understood, aspects of monasticism’s development in the tenth to early twelfth centuries. Its status as a key paradigm in discussions of that period originated with contemporary apologetic commentators who relied on reform to support a broad range of auctorial agendas. Some of these individuals were seeking to justify ongoing or recent interventions by reformist agents in the life of monastic groups, while others, writing from an a posteriori perspective, used accounts of reform as a means to construct a heroic memory for past spiritual and institutional leaders, to project certain ideals relevant to the current state of monasticism, or to justify the actions of reformers living in their own age. All, or nearly all, of these discourses supported an interpretation of monastic reform as an abrupt, sometimes traumatic, but nearly always beneficial procedure, rooted in the desire to realize a more authentic experience of the cenobitic ideal and remediate some of the challenges facing monastic communities, such as the decline of discipline, bad leadership, and interference from secular society.
Until recently there was a tendency in the study of medieval universal historiography to privilege texts that were regarded as original, in that they had brought something new to the genre and could be relied upon to illustrate new trends in historical writing. Other texts were also singled out because they deviated so clearly from a particular norm or tradition that they were deemed to be exceptional, or because they had enjoyed extraordinary popularity, and therefore were thought to have impacted on a relatively large cross-section of society. Such a focus on the exceptional, or the exceptionally popular, of course refers to more general trends in how past generations of medievalists have thought about relevance when studying medieval narrative texts. But it is important to realize that such a methodological position risks overlooking a substantial body of evidence that does not match any of these criteria.
These overlooked sources belong to a group of what I call – for want of other ways to classify them – ‘boring’ universal chronicles. They lack originality as regards the contents, in that they add little to what was already being transmitted in older or more prestigious works; they represent a way of thinking about the past that was, in some way or other, behind the times; and they failed to reach an audience beyond their authors’ immediate circle, remaining virtually unread until they were discovered by modern scholars. None of these factors – or, indeed, all of these factors combined – constitutes a good argument for dismissing these texts as irrelevant to our understanding of medieval historiographical culture, and of the various (social, educational, other) uses of chronicles. Although many are known through only one or two copies, as a ‘subgenre’ works of this type are extremely well attested in the manuscript evidence and in medieval booklists. Furthermore, the simple observation that there was a demand for such texts (however redundant they may look to us from an intellectual or creative viewpoint) – and the fact that substantial numbers of such texts were acquired in addition to what we consider to be the canon of medieval historiography – justifies us asking questions about why they were produced in the first place, what interests and concerns they reflected, and who found them useful.
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