Galbert of Bruges’ ‘Journal’: From Medieval Flop to Modern Bestseller
By Jeff Rider
Verhalende Bronnen: Repertoriering, Editie en Commercialisiering, edited by L. Milis, V. Lambert, A. Kelders (Ghent, 1996)
Introduction: Galbert of Bruges’ De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum is an account of the assassination of Charles, count of Flanders, while he was at prayer in his castral church of Saint Donation in Bruges on March 2, 1127, and of the events which led up to and immediately followed, the murder. Galbert was a resident of Bruges and had served in the count’s administration for at least thirteen years by the time of the assassination in 1127. He was well-acquainted with legal and administrative procedure, was in a position to know what was happening at the court, in the town, and in the county, and was familiar with the count, the clergy and the townspeople of Bruges, and most of the prominent people of the country. He either witnessed the events he described or based his description on the testimony of eyewitnesses and various kinds of documentary evidence, and his account was written in the form of a journal, a daily report of the events as they unfolded.
Galbert’s text was an utter failure in the Middle Ages. No medieval copies of the journal survive and there is no reason to believe that more than one copy of it every existed during the period. The earliest surviving evidence of its existence is a brief French resume of Galbert’s account of the servile and adulterous origins and ultimate fate of the family behind the assassination of Charles the Good, which Roland or Antione de Baenst, members of one of the most important families of Flanders with implantations both in Ghent in Bruges, copied into a family record book at the end of the fifteenth century. The journal if not mentioned again until the great Flemish historian Jacob de Meyer praises it in 1561 in the section until the great Flemish historian Jacob de Meyer praises it in 1561 in the section of his Commentarii sive Annales rerum Flandricarum devoted to the reign of Charles the Good. Galbert’s account thus seems to have held absolutely no appeal for medieval audiences of any kind and never seems to have been recopied and circulated in the Middle Ages.