The Basilica of St Servaes, Maastricht

The Basilica of St Servaes, Maastricht

When the year 1000 had passed and the world had not come to an end, an irrepressible energy took hold of the European population. At least that was the opinion of a Burgundian monk who wrote that it was as if an awakened earth exchanged her nightgown for a shining robe of churches. This monk, Raoul Glaber, noted that everywhere busy believers were renewing cathedrals, monasteries and chapels. You could ask yourself if this building craze really arose from relief that the Last Judgment had been postponed, or because of the fact that after the year 1000, a period of economic expansion dawned.

The provinces on the North Sea also profited from this prosperity. The monks in charge of updating the chronicles made meticulous notes of what they felt the most important results should be: the rebuilding of churches such as the basilica of Our Blessed Lady and the church of St Servaes in Maastricht, the Nicholas Chapel at the Valkhof in Nijmegen, Utrecht Cathedral and the terp churches. Unfortunately, the devout scribes paid little attention to the more worldly consequences of the economic expansion, such as the very extensive reclamation of the peat-bogs to the east of the dunes of Holland. Sometimes, however, they did refer to them in passing. The excerpt quoted below from the work of Alpertus of Metz, the first historian from the Netherlands, is an example of this. It is true that he describes an event which led to a military intervention by Bishop Adelbold, mentioned above, but in the story about the church official, there is a hidden reference to peat-bog development.

A war broke out on the coast because of the following reason. A group of Frisians had abandoned the area where they had been living and had gone to live in the Merwede forest. There they had joined up with a group of bandits and together with these bandits they robbed merchants. (As it happened, the Frisians themselves were later subdued by these same bandits, who gave each one a piece of land to develop, ordering them to cultivate it and to pay rates.) Repeatedly, the merchants from Tiel went to the Emperor and asked him if he in his mercy would protect them from these bandits.

Because the emperor wanted to keep the trade routes open to traffic, he summoned Bishop Adelbold and Duke Godfrey. He ordered them to advance against the Frisians, chase them out of the areas they were illegally living in and drive the bandits away. On the basis of this order, they gathered together an enormous army, which was made up of the most distinguished men, eminently experienced in conducting warfare.

You could not call these words objective. The bandit chief was in fact no other than the Emperor’s representative in these lands, Dirk III, count of the coastal strip which would later be called Holland. He had built fortifications in Vlaardingen and subsequently invited peasants from the area to grow crops for the garrison. Once everything was in place, he had demanded toll from every passing merchant ship. This was an act of unknown legality, but it is going a little too far to typify him as a ‘bandit chief’.

Adelbold and Godfrey’s police action ended in bloody failure. Their men did indeed succeed in coming ashore, but once there, they found that the peasants had taken cover behind ditches and dykes. When the duke gave orders to outflank the enemy, his men understood this to be a call to retreat, whereupon ‘the most distinguished men, eminently experienced in conducting warfare’ turned face in panic and swam to their ships. These then capsized under the weight of the escaping men. Those who remained behind on land were, again according to Alpertus, killed by the spears of the peasants. The badly injured duke survived because he was lucky enough to fall into the hands of the ‘bandit chief’, who could demand a high ransom for him. This battle took place on 29 July 1018, but in the following February peasants were still coming across bodies in the ice.

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