Case Study

Sovereignty and Silence: The Creation of a Myth of Archival Destruction, Liège, 1408

By Ron Makleff
August 2017

1 United States Senator Kenneth McKellar (Democrat, Tennessee) argued on the Senate floor in 1944 that a professor of archival administration at American University in Washington, DC, was part of an elaborate plot to destroy the archives of the United States. Ernst Posner—the former Berlin State Archivist living in exile—was a close associate of head US Archivist Solon Buck, who had helped Posner secure a visa and a university position. Never mind that Posner, from Jewish stock, had been rounded up and imprisoned at Sachsenhausen for six weeks after Kristallnacht in November 1938. McKellar claimed that the true goal of Posner’s recommendation to house National Archive materials in cardboard rather than steel cases was to expose the national patrimony to German bombardment.1 In fact, Posner was actively informing the CIA on his former German colleagues. Nevertheless, McKellar’s attack was damaging enough that it cost Posner a chance to direct the library and archive mission of the Roberts Commission to salvage European artistic and historic monuments after the war. Leave a comment on line 1 0

2 Posner’s classic Archives in the Ancient World has received renewed attention among the flurry of recent writing on the history of the archive,2 but two short articles of his written during World War II dealt specifically with the history of archives in times of war and regime change.3 Posner was a historian of classical antiquity, but his wartime studies of archival conquest focused on Louis XIV and Napoleon,4 thus following the conventions of his late-nineteenth-century predecessors (and mainstream Renaissance and Enlightenment assessments before them) of the medieval as a period of stasis. According to Posner’s argument, well into the seventeenth century the “destruction and spoliation of archives, libraries, and monuments and objects of art were regarded as the natural rights of the invader.”5 Transfers of territory in medieval times were essentially “transfer[s] of real estate,” and the documents involved were handed over in accordance, as evidence of “ownership or feudal rights acquired.”6 Posner’s argument essentially flattens the medieval archive. It could either be seized as a kind of proof of ownership or destroyed at the whim of the conqueror. Only with the conquests of Louis XIV (r. 1661-1715) would administrative archives come to be seen as part and parcel of ceded land: “Whenever a country was conquered by the French armies, legal experts began to search its archives for titles on which new claims could be based. Louis XIV called this discovering new countries. The archives no longer followed the flag; the flag seemed to follow the archives.”7 There is no doubt that the later seventeenth century is an important turning point in the history of European archives,8 but decades of scholarship now see medieval archives as sites of complex power relations both symbolic and pragmatic.9 Leave a comment on line 2 0

3 A related but separate bent of the recent scholarship inspired in large part by the 1995 Jacques Derrida lecture “Mal d’Archives” has also placed “the Archive” firmly within a discourse about political power, violence, and legibility. Archives are institutions of which the victor is gatekeeper, and it follows that “archival silences” are the results not of chance but of power—whether explicit and intentional deletions, or implicit omissions reflecting the character of what Sonia Combe has called the “patri-archive.”10 Certainly, archives can also be silent because certain fonds could not be accommodated, were lost, rained on, or burned; but Derrida-inspired scholars have tended to emphasize the sovereign right to decide what deserves to be archived. Radical (especially queer) archivists have begun to confront archival silences by inserting marginalized populations whenever and wherever sources become available,11 and anthropologists and art historians, among others, have “read along the archival grain”12 to understand the colonial epistemologies that helped create archival silences within colonial knowledge. Historians seeking out the voices of subalterns have admirably confronted these archival silences, but with older subject matter the task can become more difficult.13 Leave a comment on line 3 0

4 Forging a connection between the more theoretical treatments of “the Archive” and the more hands-on treatments of archival practices is currently well under way.14 In this spirit, I have two goals in confronting a supposed archival silence in this essay. First, I complicate Posner’s dismissal of medieval archives as simply property: medieval documentary culture was enormously sophisticated, and the scribal and ceremonial practices of subjugation surrounding documents in times of war are a valuable and under-utilized lens into the workings of late medieval sovereignty. Second, even when proto-state powers aimed to silence certain aspects of that archival record, what may seem like archival silence can often be put back into words. To do so, I focus on an almost-forgotten early-fifteenth-century episode involving the archives of rulers, towns, guilds, and individuals, through both narrative accounts and extant archival sources—especially inventories.15 This episode exemplifies the role of archival documents in both ceremonies and practices of subjugation, places the fate of archives in times of war firmly back within a discourse of sovereignty that predates Louis XIV by at least 250 years, and suggests that archival practice itself may be a key strategy for filling in archival silences. Leave a comment on line 4 0

5 In 1408, the City of Liège rose against its Prince-Bishop Jean de Bavière, who had taken his episcopal seat as a seventeen-year-old eager to dismiss the city’s privileges and autonomy, refusing even to join a religious order before becoming bishop. Twelve towns joined Liège in 1406 in opposing and expelling Bishop Jean, but his allies soon defeated them at the Battle of Othée.16 The aftermath was bloody, including decapitations and drownings; remarkably, though, three of the first four articles of the towns’ capitulation dealt with the handover of documents from the towns to the conquering princes. Leave a comment on line 5 0

6 For centuries, it was thought that the archives of the City of Liège and its allied towns were confiscated and destroyed soon after the battle in 1408, and erased from history. According to the Flemish chronicler Cornelius Menghers of Zantfliet, the fate of Liège’s documents came swiftly: within a week of the battle itself, the newly reinstated Bishop Jean had all the city’s documents destroyed, ordering that “each and every writing, letter, instrument, register, and muniment rendering the liberties, privileges and franchises of the city and its guilds be brought to him, all of which along with the banners of the guilds were burnt up by fire and annulled.”17 Leave a comment on line 6 0

7 Zantfliet’s version of the aftermath of Othée was repeated by the father of modern Belgian (and economic) history, Henri Pirenne, for whom Othée was an episode in the conflict between autonomous “democratic” towns in the late medieval Low Countries and their rulers. Pirenne reported (based on another, related chronicle), that Jean de Bavière “delivered all the banners of the city [of Liège] to the flames, confiscated all its charters, abolished its guilds, and suppressed all its elective positions.”18 Leave a comment on line 7 0

8 Later historians have agreed that the fifteenth century was indeed a high point in the conflicts between “voracious states” and “obstructing cities.”19 Liège had powerful trade guilds deeply involved in urban politics; well-established privileges from Emperors, bishops, counts, and dukes; a collective memory of urban autonomy; and a law code that had been shared—in a common form of medieval urban solidarity—with numerous neighboring towns.20 The seat of a bishopric, and thus ostensibly autonomous of all but its own Bishop Jean de Bavière, Liège was nevertheless within the sphere of influence of a set of powerful allied princes tied to the court of the Duke of Burgundy, Jean the Fearless.21 The duke and his allies had every intention not only of restoring their deposed cousin Bishop Jean de Bavière to his episcopal seat, but sought also to delegitimize the very idea of the autonomous city and the urban league. This was to be done through the exorbitant and humiliating punishment of the rebellion.22 Leave a comment on line 8 0

9 Because the dukes of Burgundy had probably the most lavish court of all Europe, they sponsored a number of ducal chroniclers who also left us with incredibly detailed, if not always accurate, accounts of the events.23 According to one of these chronicles, the armies of the allied towns were holding Bishop Jean under siege in the town of Maastricht when the ducal armies of Jean’s allies approached.24 Fifty-thousand strong by some accounts, the townsmen were led by Thierry Lord of Perwez and his son (appointed bishop after Jean’s ouster) to meet a smaller but better-armed and trained force commanded by Duke Jean and Count Guillaume; the latter’s victory was swift. By the time Jean de Bavière arrived at the scene of the battle (the siege having been lifted), he found the rebel leader Perwez’s head on a lance.25 Leave a comment on line 9 0

10 In the weeks after the battle, the dukes went from one rebellious town to the next, appointing new urban leaders to agree to their demands, and beheading and drowning in the Meuse dozens of individuals found to be most responsible for the uprising.26 According to the chronicle of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, the new urban leaders submitted lists of those townsmen who had been most active in promoting the rebellion, and suggested individuals to be taken as hostages to guarantee the fulfillment of the Sentence.27 Several chroniclers—even those sympathetic to the princes’ cause—note with dismay that churchmen and lay women were among those executed.28 Representatives of the subjugated towns were forced to capitulate unconditionally. On the same day as a series of decapitations and drownings of alleged rebels, oaths were taken pledging urban submission to whatever conditions the dukes and the bishop might demand.29 Leave a comment on line 10 0

11 The conditions dictated in these oaths were then spelled out in detail several weeks later, on October 24, 1408 at a ceremony in Lille, an administrative and financial center of the Duke of Burgundy. The Chateau of Lille was the site of an important fifteenth-century ducal archive known as the Trésor des chartes,30 already an agglomeration of documents acquired from various Low Countries’ locales as they were absorbed into the Burgundian polity.31 On the day of the Sentence’s proclamation, hundreds of people gathered in the Grand Salle at the Chateau of Lille to hear the conditions of the towns’ capitulation: Duke Jean and Count Guillaume and their courts; Bishop Jean and representatives of the cathedral, churches, town, and land of Liège; the two hundred or so hostages who had been marched from Liège to Lille as guarantees for the conditions of the Sentence; and other townsmen assigned to be present to hear the reading of the Sentence.32 Leave a comment on line 11 0

12 Yet for all the hyperbole of the descriptions of the handing down of the Sentence in October 1408, the narratives of the chroniclers become extremely unreliable at this point, in part thanks to a multimedia propaganda campaign launched by the Burgundian court.33 Extant contemporary evidence indicates that the archives of Liège and its allied towns were not unceremoniously burned near the battlefield, as Zantfliet had suggested—or at least not right away. First, the cities’ charters were put through the laborious machinery of late medieval administration.34 The Sentence proclaimed was indeed extraordinarily harsh, and it was also inordinately concerned with the fate of the towns’ documents: “First, we [will] take into our hands all the franchises, customs, laws and privileges … of the City of Liège and [the] other towns” (article 1).35 All letters of “alliances, confederations, and pacts” in the possession of the conquered cities were also to be handed over (article 3).36 Any towns that failed to do so would have all their documents seized permanently (article 2). All the relevant documents were to be presented under oath at the Abbaye des Écoliers in the town of Mons to six officials, three representing each prince.37 It would be up to the dukes to order and do with the documents as they pleased38—a designation sufficiently vague as to strip from the towns any sense of control over the documents at the center of their urban “civic liturgies.”39 Leave a comment on line 12 0

13 The dukes seem to have understood quite well the centrality of documents to urban communities. While the seizure of documents from conquered lands certainly has its antecedents in antiquity,40 it seems in 1408 to have been a relatively rare practice in Western Europe. There is scattered evidence in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France that royal officials made use of the archives of regions incorporated into the kingdom, including the triage of documents taken from Languedoc in 1245.41 Several fourteenth-century charters mention that they are being reissued to replace copies seized after conquest, and they seem to point to an uptick in princes seizing archives in response to urban rebellions in the early decades of the fourteenth century.42 Leave a comment on line 13 0

14 Even in a largely illiterate society, all urban record-keeping helped to forge a “textual community” because texts could be activated orally as part of administrative routines or political spectacles,43 of which the narrative sources of the fifteenth-century Low Countries leave us particularly graphic descriptions.44 To Geertz, such performances utilize urban space as a backdrop for political spectacle that shows or refuses sovereignty and control.45 Urban privileges were especially crucial; not only did late medieval northern European cities value privileges as texts that granted them certain rights, and established the formal parameters of their municipal institutions, they were often important enough as objects that towns might claim to have lost one in a fire, “simply a ploy to obtain yet another icon representative of the town’s chartered status.”46 Leave a comment on line 14 0

15 Just how diffuse within urban society archival documents could be is indicated by a notarial record from November 8, four days before the cities’ documents were to be delivered by the towns to ducal officials in Mons. City officials order the burgers and inhabitants to turn in any requested document—letters of franchise, customs, laws, privileges, ordinances, alliances, confederations, and pacts—to their fellow townsmen appointed to deliver the town’s documents.47 While historians of the archival turn have largely tended to discuss the archive as it was held in the town hall, the sacristy of a church, or the cupboards of a chancellery office, it was conceivable to these fifteenth-century men that various important documents could also be stored in homes.48 Leave a comment on line 15 0

16 Three weeks after the Sentence declared at Lille and several days after the call to deliver records in Huy, representatives of the conquered towns appeared in Mons, where notarial records describe their documents’ delivery to the abbey at Mons on November 12.49 The defeated towns sent via certain deputies “their documents of privileges, laws, franchises and liberties, …, alliance, confederation and pacts”50—a list taken directly from the text of the Sentence. At the abbey, the deputies “affirmed and swore on their own souls and those of the aforementioned city and towns that had sent them, that all the documents [of these types] that were in their possession and could be found,” were being delivered into the hands of the ducal officials. They formally renounced the validity of any other documents “fraudulently retained.”51 Leave a comment on line 16 0

17 Six men delivered the documents of the city and guilds of Liège, carrying them “in two sealed, iron-clad baskets” that contained all the relevant documents in the city’s possession: 152 documents and two registers—volumes into which scribes copied charters, receipts, and other documents. The deputies even volunteered some information about other relevant documents that, due to the disarray of the rebellion in Liège, were not in their possession, but had been taken by Perwez and other rebel leaders and could not be located.52 To attest to the truth of their statement, fifty-seven burgers of the City of Liège—who had been marched back from there in the ducal retinue and were being held hostage as collateral in Mons—were present at the handover of the documents.53 A list of the hostages’ names and professions has been preserved; they formed a wide swath of society, including a peasant, a lawyer, a baker, and an apothecary.54 Huy’s seventy-four documents and its guilds’ forty-two were delivered the same day, in an act witnessed by twenty-three of its burgers—though there is no evidence that any of them were hostages like the Liégeois witnesses.55 The presence of the hostages at the delivery of Liège’s documents would have provided the dukes with an additional guarantee that the conditions imposed in their Sentence would be enforced.56 Soon, many of the documents themselves would come to serve a similar function. Leave a comment on line 17 0

18 According to the Sentence, the delivered documents were to be subjected to triage: “After the inspection [visitation] of said letters of privileges, franchises and liberties, several may be returned,” but “new privileges will not be given without our counsel, advice and consent or that of our successors” (article 4).57 Within a month, Duke Jean and Count Guillaume had each assigned three officials to oversee that triage and to create inventories of the delivered documents, though it would be almost a year before they got to work.58 The inventories they created were later discovered and published by the City Archivist of Liège in the 1930s and are held today at the Archives départementales du Nord in Lille.59 Leave a comment on line 18 0

19 However, if the documents were delivered from urban and guild archives across the countries of Liège and Loos to the abbey at Mons on November 12 and subsequently inventoried, what can be made of Zantfliet’s description (quoted above) of the documents’ burning in the aftermath of the Battle of Othée in late September? Zantfliet’s Chronicon covers the history of Liège and the Low Countries through the 1460s, but he only became a monk shortly before 1430 and certainly did not begin his chronicle until well into the 1440s. In fact, entries in the Chronicon seem only to become his original contribution around 1421, long after the Battle of Othée.60 It is extremely unlikely, then, that Zantfliet was an eyewitness to the burning of the privileges and other documents he describes here. Leave a comment on line 19 0

20 As was customary with medieval chroniclers, instead Zantfliet copied entire sections from older chronicles to which he had access. One of these was certainly the anonymous Chronicon regni Johannis de Bavaria, itself the continuation of an older chronicle. It was written primarily from a local Liégeois perspective.61 The only printed edition of the Chronicon regni Johannis omits any mention of documents after the Battle of Othée,62 but the manuscript held at Norbertijnen van Averbode Abbey in Belgium presents a strikingly similar account: Leave a comment on line 20 0

21 Thereafter, on November 8, 1408, on order of the said princes, all the writings, charters, privileges, instruments, registers, and muniments concerning franchises and liberties of the citizenry of the said towns and the guilds they were accustomed to using were sent in bundles to the dukes in the same form and transmitted, to be put into order and arranged as it pleased each [prince]. On Monday, December 3, all the banners of the Liège guilds were burned up and the prior franchises, liberties, and privileges were renounced.63 Leave a comment on line 21 0

22 Some details from Zantfliet’s depiction are clearly lifted from this passage of the Chronicon regni Johannis: the list of documents to be delivered is identical, as is the juxtaposition with the fate of the guild banners. But Zantfliet baldly manipulates or badly misunderstands his source. As to the collection of documents, he turns “the said towns and the guilds” into “Liège and its guilds”; the figure ordering the collection of documents has in Zantfliet become “Bishop Jean” instead of “the said princes” (Duke Jean and Count Guillaume) in Chronicon regni Johannis; and Zantfliet has transformed the burning of the guild banners and renunciation of the franchises, liberties, and privileges into the burning and annulling of all of Liège’s delivered documents.64 Leave a comment on line 22 0

23 Still another source for Zantfliet’s chronicle, and probably for the Chronicon regni Johannis itself is the Chronique Liégeois of Jean de Stavelot, who became a monk at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Laurent in 1403.65 Stavelot seems to be the only chronicler who was physically present for a portion of the events described, but his perspective is exclusively local, describing in great detail the selection of hostages to be sent by the towns to Flanders and Hainaut as guarantees of the fulfillment of the Sentence handed down by the dukes.66 Leave a comment on line 23 0

24 Stavelot’s version does not mention the burning of any documents either. It describes the sending of, “all the letters of franchise of the city and the other bonnes villes of the land of Liège,” to the officers of the dukes on November 8,67 and on the following Saturday, November 17, according to Stavelot, the banners of the guilds of Liège were burned—“arses”—but without any mention of the documents themselves. This would seem to confirm further the version in the Chronicon regni Johannis and the evidence of the archival inventories: the documents of the towns were never destroyed on or near the battlefield by the victors; instead, they were filtered through the sieve of ducal administration.68 They may have been slashed (a manner of invalidating documents),69 burned later on,70 left in Mons,71 or they may have been retained by the archivists of the Duke of Burgundy in Lille or Brussels.72 But the chronicle version passed down through to Pirenne was certainly false. Leave a comment on line 24 0

25 Thus, over the course of the first decades of the fifteenth century, a series of chronicles building on the information in the previous ones gradually transformed the aftermath of Othée. From the delivery of documents by municipal officials accompanied by the sworn guarantee of dozens of hostages, ordered by two princes as part of a sworn ceremony; into the wholesale burning and annulment of all the towns’ documents along with their guilds’ banners in a dramatic (but fictional) ceremony of subjugation. As the account was diffused from Stavelot and the Chronicon regni Johannis to Zantfliet and later accounts, and as the Battle of Othée passed from current events into recent memory and on into legend, the residents and chroniclers of the defeated cities transformed seizure into destruction. They created a myth of archival silence where the story was far more complicated. Leave a comment on line 25 0

26 Instead, after being delivered to the abbey in Mons in November 1408, the baskets, bags, and chests of documents were left in the abbey’s care.73 Initially, the dukes hoped their officials could review and summarize the documents in the form of an inventory as early as January 1409.74 They seem to have gravely underestimated the difficulty and quantity of work, however, and asked that the “inventoire ou répertoire” be sent to them for their perusal and advice after being enclosed and placed under the officials’ seals.75 After several lengthy delays, the documents were eventually subjected to an exhaustive examination by the team of officials appointed by the Duke Jean and Count Guillaume;76 however, they would create not one inventory but a total of twelve, detailing 582 documents and five register-books.77 The documents of each town or guild were recorded separately in sections (and the documents of Liège, were further separated into letters of alliance between Liège and the Duke of Brabant, letters of alliance between Liège and other lords, and law codes). Each entry could stretch from several lines to several folios in length; the date of the document being described was almost always recorded; the actors involved were listed; and the thematic contents of the document were likewise included. Documents judged to be of particular interest were to be copied out in full.78 The inventories were probably created over the course of two weeks of intensive work in June 1409.79 Leave a comment on line 26 0

27 The full purpose of these inventories, however, was already hinted at in the Sentence of October 1408: after a triage of documents, some could be returned or reissued (article 4).80 So, once the inventories were complete, Thierry Gherbode—Duke Jean’s first secretary and “garde des chartes” (archivist) of Flanders—and his five colleagues made notes in the margins of the inventories describing the documents held at the abbey. These marginalia would decide their fate: either an “r” for restituatur (returned) or a “d” for destruatur (destroyed) appear next to most entries. In some cases, destruction was not enough: these were to be “destruatur cum inhibitione ne de cetero fiat,” prohibiting the future creation of any similar documents.81 Still other documents were to be “R[estituatur] cum protestatione” (returned accompanied by some kind of warning or instruction).82 When the officials could not decide what to do with a certain item, they wrote “loquatur” in the margin, indicating that its fate would have to be “discussed” with the lords. Leave a comment on line 27 0

28 By this time, it seems already to have been decided that the Sentence of 1408 was too harsh: even its supposed beneficiary, Bishop Jean de Bavière—who from the affair of Othée gained the nickname “the Pitiless”—was moved to ask his brother and cousin Count Guillaume and Duke Jean, respectively, to moderate the Sentence.83 An important part of this moderation entailed the return of documents taken more than half a year earlier. On June 30, 1409, after the inventories were complete and the preliminary designations were decided upon, Gherbode was summoned to the town of St. Quentin by Duke Jean, Count Guillaume, Bishop Jean, and representatives of the church and cathedral chapter of Liège, “bring[ing] with [him] all the repertoires and extracts [they] had made of the charters and documents”84 of Liège and its allies. After discussion with the dukes and bishop, the majority of items marked “loquatur” were eventually designated for destruction, indicating that the dukes and Liégeois episcopal officials may have been less liberal in their evaluation.85 Leave a comment on line 28 0

29 The creation of the inventories was laborious, but the result was by no means a neutral administrative product. The inventories they created resulted from a deliberate process aiming to document and eliminate what—to the princes—were urban abuses.86 While no specific guidelines for the triage of the seized documents survives, a close reading of the inventories and their marginalia indicates a rough set of parameters based on the princes’ perception of hierarchical propriety. Documents by which a city autonomously granted powers to other corporate bodies, or made an alliance with another city against its lord, or suggests even the slightest whiff of urban autonomy over matters external to city governance, were marked with a “d.” Meanwhile, those documents that were slated for return to the towns were almost exclusively those granted by a lord—whether a king, duke, count, bishop, or pope—from whom sovereign authority could “properly” emanate. Documents originating from urban guilds, seen as prime instigators of urban unrest, were not even marked individually in the margins; instead, a single marginal note on the first folio of these separate inventories for guild documents insists that “none of the [136] documents of the guilds of Liège mentioned below is to be returned.”87 The documents of the guilds of several other towns were also subjected to such blanket judgments. Leave a comment on line 29 0

30 In short, documents were categorized according to the model of sovereignty they evoked. More important than which princes or dynasties had granted a privilege to a town was the fact that any lord had granted it. As long as a town had not granted a privilege or a guild had not received one, the document could be interpreted by ducal officials as legitimate, and thus returned to the towns. In the inventory listing a series of Liège’s letters of alliance, for example, the only one spared was also the only one accompanied by an imperial confirmation (vidimus).88 The purpose of the ducal triage of urban documents was thus to wipe out any documentary evidence of or precedent for the very concept of urban autonomy. The princes hoped to eradicate the legitimacy and record of urban mutual aid. Leave a comment on line 30 0

31 Beyond the symbolic subjugation of the towns in public ceremonies such as that of October 24, 1408, there were practical implications of the loss of the municipal archive. Any attempts to form an alliance or pact with neighboring cities—whether against Bishop Jean or any other territorial ruler—would ostensibly face the predicament of creating the text of such an agreement from scratch, without reference to a preceding example. In an administrative world ruled by the culture of the copy, but both the originals and the registers (copy-books) had been handed over to the princes, urban authorities would have been forced to reinvent the mechanics of urban government. Moreover, though we cannot be sure, because the returned documents seem to have gone missing sometime in the seventeenth century, the privileges returned to Liège seem to have been annulled or cancelled in some way. Another returned document seems to hint at this physical desecration of the documents: a 1328 privilege granted by Adoph, Bishop of Liège, to the City of Liège describes how the alliances between Liège and other cities “are null, slashed, and recalled for all time.”89 Leave a comment on line 31 0

32 Among the documents seized from the eleven towns of Liège and Loos after the suppression of their rebellion, privileges are probably those that most closely embodied an ethic of urban self-rule;90 yet the majority of items delivered to Mons were not “monuments” of this sort. But the oldest items were not necessarily relegated to the dustbin, either. In fact, some of Liège’s most prized thirteenth-century charters were among those documents eventually returned to the city, presumably because they affirmed that princes ought to be the ones granting them (and, presumably, because these specific privileges were seen as somehow more beneficial to the princes).91 Seventeen of the oldest twenty-two documents delivered by the City of Liège were returned in 1409, though very few survive.92 Indeed, almost none of the most recent documents, coinciding with the most recent urban revolt, were returned; only two of the twenty-three newest documents inventoried from Liège were returned in 1409.93 Yet other documents that the towns would have considered far more ordinary were destined for destruction. In total, 142 documents were returned, almost a quarter of those originally collected, including sixty-nine to Liège, twenty-seven to Huy, and thirteen to Dinant.94 The wording of a document drawn up during the ceremony—also at Lille—at which the Sentence’s moderation was declared and the documents seem to have been returned, suggests that the towns had expected never to see their confiscated documents again. They “agreeably received” the letters being returned and “expressly renounced” all the others as “of no value.”95 The dukes also expressed their disappointment that Viseit had not delivered any documents to Mons back in November 1408, and that Liège had apparently neglected to provide its foundational law code.96 Leave a comment on line 32 0

33 It was not until 1417 that Emperor Sigismund would grant the City of Liège a new privilege to replace those handed over in November 1408 to ducal authorities, formally reversing the Sentence of Lille. The privilege issued by Sigismund is vague and flatters the Liégeois, repeatedly employing a series of words to describe his granting of the privileges: “innovation, approbation, ratification, and confirmation.”97 Yet Sigismund’s privilege is essentially a compilation of earlier ones; it even quotes in full the privilege Philip King of the Romans granted to Liège in 1208, from the management of debts to the price of bread. Moreover, many of its provisions had already been quietly granted by Liège’s Bishop Jean de Bavière in 1414 and 1416.98 Still, Sigismund was eager to emphasize (per Jean de Stavelot) that “by his grace he amplified and enlarged the said privileges more grandly than his predecessors.”99 From the text of the privilege of 1417, it is clear that Sigismund and his scribes in Constance certainly had access to copies of earlier privileges that Emperors had granted to Liège, privileges that had been confiscated in 1408 but were returned to Liège in 1409; and while we do not know how he accessed them (Sigismund may have had access to his own originals, copies, or registers containing the texts of these privileges), we can be sure that he imbued the centuries-old texts with new meaning. First, he says he is having the privilege translated from Latin into French,100 presumably to facilitate the granting of the privilege by his official, Walthier de Mestit, at a public ceremony in Liège in February 1417. Second, he seems to have had a very clear goal in mind: Sigismund himself arrived in Liège on Christmas Eve, ten months later, to great acclaim, and received from the ecclesiastics of Liège not only a golden cross adorned with precious stones and a golden orb, but also a loan of 5,000 florins.101 Thus Sigismund granted the Liégeois a renewed but largely meaningless version of their ancient privileges, which had been returned by the Duke of Burgundy but had seemingly been annulled, in exchange for valuable gifts. Leave a comment on line 33 0

34 The dukes insisted in their moderated Sentence that the return of documents in August 1409 was an act of magnanimity in response to complaints about the harsh treatment of the lands of Liège and Loos after the defeat. In any case, their detailed triage ensured there was a record on hand describing the documents they returned as well as those they seem to have destroyed.102 Moreover, the towns had been kept in the dark about the fate of the documents taken from them. Some were indeed designated for destruction, but others apparently sat in Lille under the guard of Thierry Gherbode until 1416, when another fifty-two documents were returned to the Liégeois. In fact, it was in St. Jacques, the very abbey where Cornelius Menghers of Zantfliet wrote his chronicle alleging that the entire archive of Liège had been burned after the battle, that on December 19, 1416, a set of documents was returned by Duke Jean and “placed in a coffer in the abbey,” according to Michael Delewarde, who saw an inventory of the returned documents there in 1714.103 Leave a comment on line 34 0

35 There are many possible explanations for Zantfliet’s perversion of his sources: he may have sought to turn Jean into a legendary, powerful bishop to bolster the repute of his own abbey; to suggest to future Liégeois readers of his chronicle that urban autonomy was destined to end in tragedy; or simply misread or treated his Latin sources too loosely. Whatever the reason, Zantfliet created the illusion of an archival silence where, in fact, copious documentation remained, presumably in the very building where he was writing. In Zantfliet’s version, the destruction had been unilateral and swift. But in fact, far from rampaging through the towns of Liège and Loos and swooping up the conquered archives by force, the victorious dukes chose to pursue a policy that obliged the conquered cities to sworn compliance.104 Much like in the practice of medieval hostage-taking, the documents had been handed over voluntarily by the conquered cities as a guarantor.105 In the aftermath of Othée, confiscation of urban archives was guaranteed by a kind of forced cooperation that depended on layers of guarantees: the towns’ pledges to deliver all documents of a certain type were guaranteed by oaths, by witnesses, by hostages, and by the threat of renewed violence. Thus, this battle to shape sovereignty took place not only on the battlefield or in ceremonies of castigation and destruction, but also in the scriptorium. The administrators oversaw a patient, structured, and almost obsessively documented—but also partial, measured, and essentially voluntary—collection of the documents that were of particular interest to them.106 Leave a comment on line 35 0

36 The Sentence of 1408 placed great emphasis on confiscating the most valued urban documents, indicating just how eager the dukes were to wipe from the archival record any “graphic artifacts”107 suggesting urban autonomy and to forge new relationships with the towns on their own terms, free from “improper” precedents. But while in Zantfliet’s version, the archival silence imposed had been comprehensive and all documents were burned, in fact the enforcement of the Sentence entailed the considered and careful triage of documents, not their indiscriminate erasure. So far was this situation from archival silence, in fact, that—even when the dukes returned seized documents, which they claimed as a mark of their generosity and magnanimity, they had a detailed record of all the documents being returned and destroyed and had made a point of copying out in full into the inventories the documents deemed most “dangerous.”108 What fifteenth- and twentieth-century writers alike called the silencing of the archives of Liégeois towns in fact sheds new light on the pervading documentary culture, archival practice, and understandings of sovereignty in the Low Countries in the early fifteenth century. Leave a comment on line 36 0

37 Louis XIV, the hero of Ernst Posner’s account of archives under conquest (and of many historians on many other scores), indeed conquered Liège in 1678. Some memory of the Battle of Othée apparently persisted; the City Council petitioned their new conqueror hoping to recover registers, documents, and papers concerning the city’s history, which they believed “were currently held in the town of Ghent and had been taken over two centuries ago.”109 Instead, Louis would send his own archivists and royal historiographers to the newly-conquered Low Countries, especially to the vast archives of Lille and Ghent. There they conducted their own version of triage, making vast inventories and indexes, copying documents into registers, and bringing particularly important originals with them back to Paris, where they make up, among other collections, the 182 Colbert at the Bibliothèque nationale. But as the case of Othée suggests, Louis’ officials were certainly not the first to treat archives with sophistication as crucial tools in the forging of sovereignty. Leave a comment on line 37 0

38 For Posner’s generation of archivists and scholars, of course, the fate of archives in times of war was far from academic. Following two French historians who had examined the treatment of French archives during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, Posner had concluded that nineteenth-century Prussian archival policy was outdated; 1871 represented seizure and reorganization on a scale not seen since some imaginary Middle Ages of archival barbarousness, when “the annexing power’s first care was to seize the charter treasury and to bring it to his capital as if a trophy of victory.” Louis XIV became, for these twentieth-century historians surrounded by the barbarism of twentieth-century warfare, an exemplar of abandoned modernity.110 Leave a comment on line 38 0

39 Thus Posner insisted on a view of conquered medieval archives as war booty rather than a set of texts to be administered. Twenty years into our present archival turn, this tension between archive as a precious object and as a set of texts remains—often in parallel to gaps between theoretical treatments of the archive and more technical treatments of specific archival practices. Supposed archival silences like that of Othée are transformed by looking beyond the material seizure of an archive by a conquering power to the treatment of texts triaged, inventoried, copied, and returned to their original owners. In order to interrogate archival silences, scholars must enter into the intricacies of the system which processed seized archives, reading along the archival grain of state administration. In this way, deliberate gaps in the archival record become a sap preserving the contemporary documentary culture in all its complexities. Leave a comment on line 39 0

40 In the past several years, scholars have sought to investigate an apparent archival silence with striking parallels to Othée, this one emanating from the Israeli repression of Palestinian institutions in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982. Soon after taking Beirut, the Israeli military loaded boxes of archival materials onto tanks and trucks, moved them to Israel, placed copies of them in the Israel Defense Forces Archive, and later returned the bulk of the originals to the PLO in Tunisia as part of a prisoner exchange with the PLO.111 The medieval precedent of Othée yields an important lesson: that archival seizure must be viewed not only as a colonial practice of subjugation but also as a set of textual interactions. Archival silences are best not mourned but investigated; and they are most revealing when viewed as the product of state strategies in the establishment of sovereignty. Inventories of seized documents—which were apparently112 made by Israeli military archivists in the case of some seized Palestinian materials—can serve to transform the seized archive from a disappeared material object into a collection of graphic artifacts: at once object and text, treasure and document. Within the inventories of these supposedly silenced archives are tales about documents’ destruction, their treatment as textual hostages, and revelations about the hierarchy of society. The oaths sworn over their confiscation, the inventories, extracts, and marginalia used to describe them can help outline the mechanics of sovereignty and undo archival silences more complex than Derrida imagined. Leave a comment on line 40 0

  1. Rodney A. Ross, “Ernst Posner: The Bridge between the Old World and the New,” The American Archivist 44, no. 4 (1981): 305, 309. []
  2. See, most recently, the excellent discussion of Posner in Randolph C. Head, “Configuring European Archives: Spaces, Materials and Practices in the Differentiation of Repositories from the Late Middle Ages to 1700,” European History Quarterly 46, no. 3 (July 1, 2016): 498–518. []
  3. Ernst Posner, “Effects of Changes of Sovereignty on Archives,” The American Archivist 5, no. 3 (1942): 141–55; Ernst Posner, “Public Records under Military Occupation,” The American Historical Review 49, no. 2 (1944): 213–27. Only twenty years later would he publish the book that made him a fixture of archive training curricula for a generation, Ernst Posner, Archives in the Ancient World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972). []
  4. This choice by an exiled German academic to examine Louis XIV in the years after leaving Germany was not unique. In the case of Norbert Elias, some have even suggested that, for theoreticians examining the emergence of modernity, Louis XIV became a surrogate for the figure of Hitler. See Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, Rev. ed (Oxford, UK; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000). []
  5. Posner, “Public Records under Military Occupation,” 213. []
  6. Posner, “Effects of Changes of Sovereignty on Archives,” 143. []
  7. Ibid. []
  8. Jacob Soll’s account of the French information state under Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Secretary of Finance to Louis XIV, reinforces many of Posner’s suggestions on this front. Jacob Soll, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System, Cultures of Knowledge in the Early Modern World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009). []
  9. The literature has become vast. To name only the most recent contributions to this history of medieval documentary practice, see Warren Brown et al., eds., Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). Recent special issues of European History Quarterly 46, no. 3 (2016) and of Past and Present 230, Supplement 11 (2016) also includes a number of examples of late medieval and early modern archival culture that help to complicate Posner’s narrative. A peerless classic is M. T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066-1307, 3rd ed. (Chichester, West Sussex, UK; Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). []
  10. Sonia Combe, Archives Interdites: Les Peurs Françaises Face À L’histoire Contemporaine (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994). Quoted in Jacques Derrida, Mal D’archive: Une Impression Freudienne (Paris: Galilée, 1995). []
  11. Rodney G. S. Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence,” Archivaria 61 (2006): 215–33. []
  12. Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). []
  13. It is done masterfully in Amitav Ghosh, “The Slave of Ms. H. 6,’,” in Subaltern Studies VII: Writings in South Asian History and Society, ed. Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 159–220. []
  14. See note 9 above. []
  15. The narrative sources are numerous. Hubert Carrier found fifty-seven more-or-less contemporary chronicles which mentioned the Battle of Othée, his analysis of which yields a fascinating view of medieval networks of communication and the malleability of events in the hands of chroniclers. Yet beyond an investigation of the portrayal of the different actors involved in the battle, Carrier does not engage in close textual analysis of the events, and doesn’t touch on the spoliation of the towns’ archival documents. Unlike Carrier’s focus on the spread of the news, I look at versions of the story of Othée found in local chronicles from the Burgundian court and Liège itself. Hubert Carrier, “Si Vera Est Fama. Le Retentissement de La Bataille d’Othée Dans La Culture Historique Au XV e Siècle,” Revue Historique 303, no. 3 (619) (2001): 639–70. []
  16. Contemporary documents call them, “the City of Liège as well as the towns of the country of Liège, the county of Loos and the land of Hesdin, Saintron and the land of Buillon.” Stanislas Bormans and Matthieu Lambert Polain, eds., Recueil des ordonnances de la principauté de Liége: sér. 974-1506, I (Brussels: F. Gobbaerts, Imprimeur du Roi, 1878), 423. They are the City of Liège and the towns of Huy, Dinant, Saint Trond/Truiden, Tongres/Tongeren, Thuin, Hasselt, Herck/Herk-de-Stad, Bilzen, Masseyk, and Beeringen, Viseit, and Loos. []
  17. Translations are mine throughout. Zantfliet, col. 392-3. In the original Latin: “…jussit sibi deferri omnes & singulas litteras, cartas, instrumenta, registra & minumenta confecta super libertatibus, privilegiis & franchisiis civitatis & ministeriorum, quae omnia cum vexillis minisetialium igne concremata sunt & annulata.” Annulata can just as easily be translated as “annulled” or as “annihilated.” []
  18. Henri Pirenne, Histoire de Belgique, 3rd ed., vol. 2 (Brussels: Lamertin, 1922), 260. []
  19. Wim Blockmans, “Voracious States and Obstructing Cities: An Aspect of State Formation in Preindustrial Europe,” in Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, A.D. 1000 to 1800, ed. Charles Tilly and Wim Blockmans (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), 218–50. []
  20. Geneviève Xhayet, Résaux de pouvoir et solidarités de parti à Liège au Moyen Age (1250-1468) (Geneva: Droz, 1997); Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change, Princeton Studies in International History and Politics (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994), 163 n. 57. []
  21. His title is worth noting in full, to get an idea of the type of “composite state” he controlled: “Jehan, duc de Bourgongne, comte de Flandres, d’Artois, et de Bourgongne palatin, seigneur de Salins et de Malines.” With Jean’s marriage to Guillaume’s sister, the Dukes of Burgundy would soon also be “comte palatin du Rin, comte de Haynnau, de Hollande, de Zellande, et segneur de Frise.” On the composite state, see J. H. Elliott, “A Europe of Composite Monarchies,” Past & Present, no. 137 (November 1, 1992): 48–71. On the rise of the Burgundian dukes and for a general overview, see the four biographies by Richard Vaughan, especially John the Fearless: The Growth of Burgundian Power, vol. 2, 4 vols., The Dukes of Burgundy (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2002). []
  22. Alain Marchandisse, “Vivre en période de vide législatif et institutionnel : l’après-Othée (1408-1418) dans la principauté de Liège,” in Faire bans, edictz et statuz: Légiférer dans la ville médiévale. Sources, objets et acteurs de l’activité législative communale en occident, ca. 1200-1500. Actes du colloque international tenu à Bruxelles les 17-20 novembre 1999, ed. Jean-Marie Cauchies (Publications Fac St Louis, 2001), 540. []
  23. The prestigious list of Burgundian court writers includes figures such as Jean Froissart (1337-1405) and Enguerrand de Monstrelet (c. 1400-1453) and Georges Chastellain (c. 1405-1475). The chronicle tradition was of course strong in cities and religious institutions as well. See, for example, the chronicles of Jean de Stavelot (1388-1449), Cornelius Menghers de Zantfliet (d. 1461), and the anonymous author of the Chronicon regni Johannis de Bavaria, just for the City of Liège in the early fifteenth century. []
  24. Enguerrand de Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, ed. J.A. Buchon (Paris: Verdière, 1826), chap. 47. []
  25. Versions vary regarding the timing of Jean de Bavière’s arrival at the battlefield. It was around midnight the day of the battle, according to Jean de Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, ed. Adolphe Charles Joseph Borgnet and Stanislas Bormans (Brussels: Hayez, 1861), 119–20. Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, chap. 50, has him arriving the next day around noon. Jean arrives the next day but orders Perwez’s head put on a lance himself in Sylvain Balau, ed., “Chronicon Regnis Johannis de Bavaria,” in Chroniques Liégeoises, vol. 1, 2 vols., 43 (Brussels: Kiessling, 1913), 143–214. Delewarde, 339-341, following Zantfliet, col. 391, collapses the events into a summary account. []
  26. By October 3, the representatives of Liège were already denouncing Perwez and his son. See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 420. The narrative accounts give a brief glimpse of the replacement of an urban patriciate and the re-distribution of power and goods from rebels to loyalists. Those citizens said to have been skeptical of the rebellion are given immense power, including the right to choose the hundreds of citizens who would be sent as hostages to Mons, Lille, and Ypres as guarantees of the towns’ promises to the victorious dukes. See Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot; Cornelius Zantfliet, “Chronicon Cornelii Zantfliet Ab Anno MCCXXX Ad MCCCCLXI (1230-1461),” in Veterum Scriptorum Monumentorum Amplissima Collectio, ed. Edmond Martène and Ursin Durand, vol. 5 (Paris: Montalant, 1729). For more on the use of hostages as guarantees of the Sentence of 1408, see also Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 322 n. 1; Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, chap. 47; Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 123. On the redistribution of seized land, see Yves Charlier, “La Bataille d’Othée et Sa Place Dans l’histoire de La Principauté de Liège,” Bulletin de l’institut Archéologique Liégeois 97 (1985): 226–27. []
  27. Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, chap. 50. []
  28. On these executions, there is ample evidence in the relevant chronicles. See, for example, ibid. []
  29. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 420. []
  30. This archive is, broadly speaking, the subject of my dissertation. According to Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, chap. 50 (vol. 2, p. 25), the presentation of the Sentence was to have been in Tournai, but the city leaders feared they would not be able to provide for such a great assemblage of persons. []
  31. Gérard Sivéry, “Non-Literary Sources in the B Series of the Archives of the Department of Lille for the Period 1250-1330,” in Pragmatic Literacy: East and West, 1200-1330, ed. R. H. Britnell (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 1997), 74–75. []
  32. The crowd is reported differently in several chronicle accounts. Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran, chap. 50, has the hostages, “or at least most of them” as well as other townsmen present. Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 131, has the dukes, the bishop, church, and town officials there as well. []
  33. The day after the battle, Duke Jean sent a letter to his brother Antoine, Duke of Brabant, describing the glory of the battle. This text was subsequently diffused through the chronicle of Enguerrand de Monstrelet. Several months later, Jean paid Jehan de La Ruelle to write a panegyric poem about the battle, entitled “La bataille de Liège.” Finally, in 1410 the duke commissioned a set of tapestries depicting the submission of the Liégeois to the Sentence of 1408, which would be hung on the walls during the Congress of Arras in 1435 and subsequently on the walls of the ducal palace. See Alain Marchandisse and Bertrand Schnerb, “La bataille du Liège,” in Écrire la guerre, écrire la paix, ed. Simone Mazauric (Paris: Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2013), 37; Charlier, “La Bataille d’Othée et Sa Place Dans l’histoire de La Principauté de Liège,” 246–49. []
  34. A set of inventories drawn up in 1409 and a number of letters and administrative memos from the year or two after the battle make up the primary corpus of items mentioned here. Some have been published and others are at the Archives départementales du Nord (ADN) in Lille and the Archives Générales du Royaume in Brussels. []
  35. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 420–21. []
  36. Ibid., 422. []
  37. The letter commissioning Gherbode and his colleagues (Guillaume Bonnier for the Duke of Burgundy and Broignart de Henin and Baudin de Fromont for the Count of Hainaut) to take charge of the documents is Charte de la cathédrale de Saint-Lambert no. 940, published in Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 421. []
  38. ADN B835 n. 21200. []
  39. Brigitte Bedos-Rezak places the documentary practices around northern French municipal archives at the center of such a civic liturgy in Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, “Civic Liturgies and Urban Records in Northern France, 1100-1400,” in City and Spectacle in Medieval Europe, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and Kathryn L. Reyerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994). []
  40. Posner, Archives in the Ancient World; James M. O’Toole, “The Symbolic Significance of Archives,” The American Archivist 56, no. 2 (April 1, 1993): 234–55; Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), chap. 2. []
  41. Olivier Guyotjeanin, “French Manuscript Sources, 1200-1330,” in Pragmatic Literacy: East and West, 1200-1330, ed. R. H. Britnell (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 1997), 62–63. []
  42. Pierre d’Etampes became the first French royal archivist in 1307 Ibid., 62.; Philip of Valois assisted the Count of Flanders in punishing some rebellious cities and seems to have facilitated the seizure of the towns archives in 1329 Jules Viard, “La guerre de Flandre (1328),” Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes 83, no. 1 (1922): 378. []
  43. On textual communities see, Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1983). On the application of textual communities to medieval urban archives in northern France, see Bedos-Rezak, “Civic Liturgies and Urban Records in Northern France, 1100-1400.” For a rare reference to peasant archives, see Randolph C Head, “Knowing Like a State: The Transformation of Political Knowledge in Swiss Archives, 1450-1770,” The Journal of Modern History 75, no. 4 (2003): 760. On the uses of script to forge urban solidarity see also Andrew Butcher, “The Functions of Script in the Speech Community of a Late Medieval Town, C. 1300-1550,” in The Uses of Script and Print, 1300-1700, ed. Alexandra Walsham and J Crick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 166. []
  44. See, on the role of documents in urban-ducal conflict, Peter J. Arnade, Realms of Ritual: Burgundian Ceremony and Civic Life in Late Medieval Ghent (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1996). See also the work of Eric Ketelaar, “Records out and Archives in: Early Modern Cities as Creators of Records and as Communities of Archives,” Archival Science 10, no. 3 (September 1, 2010): 201–10; and Marc Boone, “Urban Space and Political Conflict in Late Medieval Flanders,” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 32, no. 4 (2002): 621–40. []
  45. Clifford Geertz, “Toutes Directions: Reading the Signs in an Urban Sprawl,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 21, no. 3 (1989): 299, 302. []
  46. Bedos-Rezak, “Civic Liturgies and Urban Records in Northern France, 1100-1400,” 74–75. []
  47. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 423. See there an edition of Charte de la cathédrale Saint-Lambert, n. 943. []
  48. This popular documentary culture deserves far more attention, as it has in Brown et al., Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages. While there has been some work on the social significance of archives as foci of “textual communities,” there is still much to be done to investigate the private possession of urban documents. On textual communities, see Stock, The Implications of Literacy. On the application of textual communities to medieval urban archives in northern France, see Bedos-Rezak, “Civic Liturgies and Urban Records in Northern France, 1100-1400.” For a rare reference to peasant archives, see Head, “Knowing Like a State: The Transformation of Political Knowledge in Swiss Archives, 1450-1770,” 760. []
  49. Sentence de 12 août 1409 of Dukes Jean sans Peur and Guillaume de Hainaut, published in Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 429–44. []
  50. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 432. []
  51. Such items would be “renounced and no longer be of value.” From the August 12, 1409, Moderation of the October 24, 1408, Sentence. See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 432. []
  52. The documents were carried in two sealed metal panniers. See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 422, n. 1, for an edition of this document from Charte de la cathédrale Saint-Lambert, n. 941. They also noted that a number of letters of alliance remained in the hands of one of the leaders of the rebellion, Thierry de Perwez—though the Duke of Brabant ought to have copies of some of these. It could also be, they noted, that some of governors of Liège guilds had died during battle with relevant document in their custody—if such were found, they would be subsequently sent to Mons. []
  53. According to Monstrelet, these prisoners had been marched to Mons as a guarantee of the towns’ goodwill by Jean Duke of Burgundy as he returned to his lands after his brief occupation of Liège. See Monstrelet, La Chronique d’Enguerran de Monstrelet En Deux Livres Avec Pièces Justificatives 1400-1444, chap. 47. []
  54. See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 422, n. 1. There was the peasant “Tenoul d’Aleur,” the lawyer (or advocate) “Gerar de Flemar,” “Henry Werexehal,” baker, and “Gerar l’apotikare.” []
  55. These twenty-three were “specially declared and named for this.” See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 422, n. 1, an edition of Charte de la cathédrale Saint-Lambert, n. 943. The hostages were held for years. In 1411, those hostages from Liège held in Brabant were apprehended anew because Liège had not paid all of its war debt to the dukes. They were held until June 1412 after being held away from home for over three years. Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 124–25. []
  56. Adam J. Kosto, Hostages in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). []
  57. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 424 (article 4). []
  58. On December 13, 1408. See Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 422 n. 1. []
  59. The archivist, Emile Fairon, was fully committed to the publication of these inventories as an act of civic patriotism, especially as a means of further understanding the urban constitutions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, many of which were lost in 1408. Emile Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), Académie Royale Des Sciences, Des Lettres et Des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. 47 (Bruxelles: Palais des académies, 1937). []
  60. Pieter-Jan De Grieck, “Menghers, Cornelius,” ed. R. Graeme Dunphy, The Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, ed. R. Graeme Dunphy (Leiden: Brill, 2010). []
  61. Ibid. []
  62. Balau, “Chronicon Regnis Johannis de Bavaria,” 204. []
  63. Emphasis mine. The two folios relating to the destruction of Liège’s documents are inexplicably omitted in Balau, “Chronicon Regnis Johannis de Bavaria.” I have consulted the only known manuscript, which is at Abdij der Norbertijnen van Averbode, Archief, IV, Hs. 9, fols. 116-140v. “Chronicon Regni Johannis,” n.d., fol. 133r, Archief, IV, Hs. 9, folio 116-140v, Adbij der Norbertijnen van Averbode. The quote in the original Latin, on folio 133r: “Denique die 8.e novembris de iussu dictorum principum omnes littere, cartes, privilegia, instrumenta registra et munimenta super franchisiis et libertatibus dictes civitatis oppidorum, ac ministerialum uti consueverunt fordellata fuerant eisie?, ducibus in eadem forma transmissa ad ordinandum faciendum et disponendum de ipsis ad eorum libitum voluntatis. Die Lune 3.e decembris fuerunt combusta omnia vexilla ministeriorum Leodiensis et renunciarunt francisiis libertatibus et privilegiis pristinis.” Professor Geoffrey Koziol helped me conclude that “francisiis, libertatibus et privilegiis pristinis” is in the dative because the chronicler was thinking in either German or French, in which the verb “abschwören” or “à renoncer,” both take the dative, and not because the privileges, franchises, and liberties were burned along with the banners. []
  64. This may in part be due to his focus on the religious elements of the conflict between the dukes and the towns; his narrative is soon to shift to the Council of Pisa, which tried to resolve the Papal Schism by deposing both papal claimants and choosing a new one. Zantfliet, “Chronicon Cornelii Zantfliet Ab Anno MCCXXX Ad MCCCCLXI (1230-1461),” col. 393. Moreover, the date given (November 8, the date of the collection of documents in Huy), indicates that either the author of the Chronicon regni Johannis or Zantfliet may have conflated the collection of documents with their destruction. []
  65. R. Graeme Dunphy and Christian Dury, “Jean de Stavelot,” ed. R. Graeme Dunphy, The Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, ed. R. Graeme Dunphy (Leiden: Brill, 2010). []
  66. He even uses the first person to describe his experience of the battle: “And I left the battle.” Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 119, 123. The depth of detail he provides and its focus on the goings-on within the conquered towns themselves means his account is relatively trustworthy, if not exhaustive. For example, Stavelot does not mention the second Sentence handed down on August 12, 1409, which includes descriptions of a number of documents being returned to the cities. For more on the chronicle versions see also Carrier, “Si Vera Est Fama.” []
  67. Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 140. []
  68. The Hutois notarial record of November 8, 1408, mentioned above also confirms the Stavelot and Chronicon regni Johannis chronicles (Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 423). See there an edition of Charte de la cathédrale Saint-Lambert, n. 943. []
  69. The only narrative account that describes the treatment of the charters after their collection is from the Habsburg official and amateur historian, Pierre d’Oudegherst, who wrote in 1571 that those documents not returned in 1409 were slashed, while the banners of the town were returned and those of the guilds and confraternities were sent to the Chateau of Lille. P[ierre] d’Oudegherst, Annales de Flandre de P. d’Oudegherst, enrichies de notes grammaticales, historiques & critiques, & de plusieurs chartres & diplomes, qui n’ont jamais été imprimés, avec un discours préliminaire servant d’introduction à ces Annales, ed. Jean Baptiste Lesbroussart (Gand, P.F. de Goesin, 1789), chap. 187, []
  70. This is the conclusion drawn by Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408). []
  71. This is the conclusion drawn by Marchandisse, “Vivre en période de vide législatif et institutionnel,” 546. []
  72. My research in the archives of Lille, Brussels, and Ghent have not turned any up, nor did the work of Fairon, Carrier, or Marchandisse, or Schnerb. []
  73. “[G]uarded and well-secured in the treasury of the said abbey of Ecoliers.” Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 422. []
  74. A letter dated either December 13, 1408, or January 13, 1409, written for the dukes in Paris was meant to serve as a privilege to be presented to all subjects to diligently assist them. For the copy dated to December 1408, see Ibid. For the copy dated to January 1409, see Léopold Devillers, ed., Cartulaire Des Comtes de Hainaut, de L’avènement de Guillaume II À La Mort de Jacqueline de Bavière [1337-1436], vol. 3 (F. Hayez, 1881), 355–57, []
  75. Devillers, Cartulaire Des Comtes de Hainaut, 3:357. []
  76. The officers were busy collecting massive war reparations payments from the defeated towns, among other things. According to Fairon, the six appointees conducted the work within a period of two weeks in June and July 1409. Felix de Coussemaker, Thierry Gherbode Secretaire et Conseiller Des Ducs de Bourgogne et Comtes de Flandre Philippe Le Hardi et Jean Sans Peur et Premier Garde Des Chartes de Flandre (13….-1421) Etude Biographique (Lille: Imprimerie Victor Ducoulombier, 1902), 96–97;.. Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), xii–xiii. []
  77. The most important documents would have been copied into these registers. Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), xxxiii. []
  78. Devillers, Cartulaire Des Comtes de Hainaut, 3:356–57. []
  79. ADN B287 n. 15154.63.6, dated July 10, 1409, asks Gherbode to be present at Mons to carry out the inventorying work by Friday July 18. []
  80. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 425. []
  81. Archives départementales du Nord, B 834 no. 18406, folio 1r, for example. []
  82. Three copies of the Peace of Winghone of 1328 were described with this marginal note in ADN B834 n. 18406 f10v-11r. []
  83. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 445. August 12, 1409. []
  84. Archives départementales du Nord, B 835 no. 18689, letter from Duke of Burgundy to Thierry Gherbode, 20 June 1409: “bring with you all the repertoires or extracts that you have made concerning the charters of the said land of Liège.” The letter was delivered to Gherbode in Lille on June 25, according to a note on the back, leaving Gherbode five days to make his way to St. Quentin. []
  85. At times, the princes’ decision seemed to be quite emphatic: an undated set of laws in the form of a privilege sealed by the town of Saintron (St. Trond), initially marked “loquatur” in the margin, was so quickly ruled upon and the booklet so quickly closed that the line striking out “loquatur” and the “d” written below it seem to have bled onto the opposite folio even before the ink could dry. ADN B146.4 f16r. []
  86. Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), xxxvi–xxxvii. []
  87. ADN, B146.8 fol. 1r. “Il semble que les lettres des mestiers de Liège dont cy aprez est faire mencion doit estre parlé a plus grand deliberacion mais les visiteurs sont d’opinion qu’elles ne doivent point estre rendues ne doivent aucunement estre rendues , et que en la sentence de mes seigneurs les ducs doit estre declairie que chancun des diz mestiers doit requerir a monS de liege d’avoir ordonnances nouvelles pour et il les leur doit devra baillier bonnes et raisonnables par les avis de nos dit seigneurs que les confermeroms.” The struck-out text indicates that the decision never to return guild documents was confirmed by an authority. In B146.10 folio 2r, the wording is slightly different in dealing with the guilds of Huy. []
  88. ADN B146.5 f3r. The margin contains an “R[estituatur]” above a crossed off notation which seems to read “l[o]q[uat]ur.” []
  89. ADN B146.5 f11v. “… all the alliances that had been [made] between those of the City [of Liège] and the other towns, clerical and lay, to aid and adhere to one another must be nullified and cancelled and forever recalled.” The 1571 account in the Annales de Flandre by Oudegherst, confusingly, suggests that the items not returned were actually “cassées,” or slashed. Oudegherst, Annales de Flandre de P. d’Oudegherst, enrichies de notes grammaticales, historiques & critiques, & de plusieurs chartres & diplomes, qui n’ont jamais été imprimés, avec un discours préliminaire servant d’introduction à ces Annales, chap. 187. []
  90. And charters of privileges are, in fact, the items mentioned whenever modern historians’ accounts mention documents at all in descriptions of the Battle of Othée. While increasing numbers of scholars use both narrative and administrative sources, cultural historians after the material turn have understandably chosen to focus on those documents which have the most value as objects. If, following Matthew Hull, we consider the seized documents to be “graphic artifacts,” we find that even those more mundane documents had symbolic value. See note 110 below. []
  91. The moderated Sentence of August 12, 1409. Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 433. []
  92. See the chronological table in Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), 331–36. []
  93. Ibid., 361–65. []
  94. The inventory returning documents appears in ADN B146.1. It is printed in Bormans and Polain, Recueil, 432–44. []
  95. Chartes de la cathédrale de Saint-Lambert, n. 976 and 979, printed in Ibid., 445. []
  96. Ibid., 430. []
  97. Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 156–57. []
  98. Marchandisse argues that Sigismund was only confirming the transformation of the political system of Liège headed by Jean de Bavière, who realized that the city could not be ruled without a semblance of consent and functioning institutions. The legislative and institutional vacuum left by the Sentence of Lille was filled by the piecemeal re-establishment of earlier urban institutions by Bishop Jean, who found it difficult to rule effectively without them. See Marchandisse, “Vivre en période de vide législatif et institutionnel,” 550-51; Charlier, “La Bataille d’Othée et Sa Place Dans l’histoire de La Principauté de Liège,” 242. []
  99. Stavelot, Chronique de Jean de Stavelot, 152. []
  100. Ibid., 156. []
  101. Ibid., 160. []
  102. The returned documents also had the benefit of presenting a documentary version of “proper” order in the form of the returned copies of the Peace of Bierset, of Wihgne (returned only in 1416), and Waroux, for example. []
  103. Michel Delewarde, Histoire generale du Hainaut, vol. 4 (La veuve Preud’homme & J. Varret, 1719), 343. The inventory has apparently disappeared since. []
  104. Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), chap. introduction. For these eleven towns, located an average of 100 km from Mons, the compliance seems to have ranged from absolute to nearly complete. Emile Fairon has cross-checked inventories of the documents delivered to Mons against later (seventeenth-century) inventories from several of these cities, and found that very few surviving documents pre-dating 1408 would have been among those the dukes demanded the towns hand over. []
  105. Kosto, Hostages in the Middle Ages. []
  106. There is no evidence that any officials ever set foot in the archive of any of the defeated towns in the aftermath of the Battle Othée, though some of the officials traveled to these towns in the fall, winter, and spring of 1408-1409 on matters related to the enforcement of the treaty. See, for example, ADN B835, no. 18689. []
  107. Matthew S. Hull, Government of Paper (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 1. []
  108. Fairon, Chartes Confisquées Aux Bonnes Villes Du Pays de Liège et Du Comté de Looz (1408), 16, 17, 88. []
  109. Quoted in Ibid., xv. []
  110. Quote appears in Gaston May, La Saisie Des Archives Du Département de La Meurthe Pendant La Guerre de 1870-1871 (Paris: A. Pedone, 1911), 13; Louis Jacob, La Clause de Livraison Des Archives Publiques Dans Les Traités D’annexion (Paris: M. Giard & É. Brière, 1915). Posner was surely impacted by his own flight from Germany and the Prussian State Archives. []
  111. The Palestine Research Group’s library was returned along with 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for six Israeli soldiers. On that library and archive and its fate, see Hana Sleiman, “The Paper Trail of a Liberation Movement,” Arab Studies Journal 24, no. 1 (2016): 42–67; Jonathan Marc Gribetz, “When The Zionist Idea Came to Beirut: Judaism, Christianity, and the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Translation of Zionism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48, no. 2 (May 2016): 243–66. According to Sleiman, Mahmoud Yazbak estimates in “Al-Milaff al-Filastini fi al-Arshifat al-Sahyuniyya,” Hawliyyat al-Quds 11, no. 12 (2011): 86-90 [Arabic] that the Israeli State Archives “contain about four thousand linear meters of pre-1948 Palestinian documents seized” (46) from various sources. Considering the history of violence against and ongoing attacks on Palestinian cultural institutions, those responsible for the Research Group archive—assuming it still exists—are likely to keep its fate and location hidden for some time. Likewise, the copy in the IDF archive is likely to remain largely classified. []
  112. In Rona Sela, “The Genealogy of Colonial Plunder and Erasure – Israel’s Control over Palestinian Archives,” Social Semiotics (2017): 1-29, 5, Sela claims that “the archive opened in my presence a list of approximately 1200 films” seized from Palestinian archives; however, in the absence of this document’s publication or proper citation, it will be impossible to analyze. []

Sovereignty and Silence: The Creation of a Myth of Archival Destruction, Liège, 1408

Ron Makleff

PhD Candidate in History – University of California, Berkeley

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