$title = "Watervliet's Prehistory" ; include "body_st_2017.php" ; /* $width_center = "908" ; */ ?>

Watervliet's Prehistory

Here is a word or two about Watervliet's prehistory. Most of what follows is translated from a great book called Watervliet, a King's Wish and a Knight's Dream.  It was written by Jozef De Paepe and published by Taptoe in 1999.  We are most grateful to the author and the copyright holder for allowing us to publish this material here for you.

The territory now called Watervliet was already part of Flanders before Flanders even existed !  That of course is verbal wit.  The meaning of the first Flanders is not the same as the second.  Formulated like that it looked funny.  The explanation will follow in due course.

And for that explanation we must go back to the time when the old county came into being and this puts us back in the 9th century.  The grandchildren of Charlemagne [Charles the Great] managed only with great difficulty to divide the great empire among themselves.  Indeed, Charlemagne had died in 814 and his son, Louis the Pious [Louis I, Louis Le Pieux, Louis the Debonair] was a weak figure.  He reigned until 840.  But even before his death the quarrels among his sons had started.  And they would continue until the Treaty of Verdun in 843.

Charles the Bald received Francia Occidentalis (France), in other words the western part, which on its eastern side bordered on the Scheldt river.  We were part of that.  Francia Media reached from Friesland to Rome to the right of the Scheldt and left of the Rhine.  That became the country of Lotharius I.  But it didn't last very long. The northern part of it went to Lotharius II and was called Lotharingen (Lorraine).  Francia Orientalis was the share of Louis the German and was therefor called Germany. However, Lotharius inherited the emperor's crown. Charles the Bald as well as Louis the German coveted that crown but also possession of the Rhine; that means France wanted the Rhine as its eastern border while Germany preferred the Meuse as its western border.  And that's how the fighting started between the two countries.

A fight that would last until the second half of the 20th Century.  An eleven hundred year long quarrel ! First Charles the Bald had the upper hand but in the end Louis was the winner and that's how come Germany had Kaisers till after WW I.

The start of this fraternal quarrel that clouds relations between Charles and Lotharius was also marked by the invasions of Norsemen or Vikings.  Seen through the eyes of our ancestors these were trouble makers from the North, more particularly from Scandinavia. They crossed seas and rivers with their longships, they penetrated far inland plundering and killing. The population was very frightened indeed of these gangs who no doubt at certain times unleashed a reign of terror in the regions where they operated.  On the other hand we should perhaps take the point of vue of those days with a pinch of salt.  The mindset of this period in these regions was what it was: it was fear personnified deservedly or not.  They couldn't count on the weak-willed successors of Charlemagne because they were suffocating in their self-esteem and in their own little problems.  Which is why they left the job of governing more and more in the hands of dukes and counts. And that were not titles of nobility for the simple reason that there didn't exist a nobility.  They were more like some kind of administrator, but they bequeathed themselves so well of their tasks that they became the only hope for the people to support them and to liberate them in those troubled times from the scourge of these Norsemen. They largely won their authority and consequently it is from their ranks that the nobility came.
Watervliet, a King's Wish and a Knight's Dream, Jozef de Paepe, Taptoe, 1999, p.13

The country itself was divided in smaller entities called districts, in Latin "pagi", singular "pagus" and each one had its own name. They called the region around Bruges the "Pagus Flandriensis" or "Flanders County".  It was governed by a count called Boudewijn (Baldwin).  Because he stood up very bravely to the Vikings and because he was feared by the latter he received the byname of "Baldwin with the Iron Arm".  He was praised not only for his good heart but also for his strenght and courage.  And that is the reason why some also called him "Baldwin the Good".  It appears from all this that he was very well liked by the people of his pagus, maybe only for practical reasons because during his life his pagus was never attacked by the Vikings; on the contrary it was carefully avoided.  His pagus comprised three deaneries: Bruges, Oudenburg and Aardenburg.

A "burg" was a place of higher ground, a mount or a fortress.  Oudenburg means "Old Fortress" and Aardenburg means "Eearth Fortress".  Aardenburg is now a very modern town on the other side of the Belgian-Dutch border (in Zeeland of course.  "Zee" = sea.)

Of course we're concerned here with the delimitation of territory because the deanery of Aardenburg, to which Watervliet belonged came only into existence around 1295.  Our Baldwin, who could help it, fell hopelessly in love with a princess of royal blood: Judith.  One might suspect that this was now the dawn of a golden age for the couple but that was definitely not the case. You must know that Judith was the daughter of the king of France, Charles the Bald, the big boss of our little count. And when his daughter was 12 Charles had already given her in marriage to Ethelwolf, the highest king of the Anglosaxons. He had survived the wedding for only two years. The successor to the throne was the king's eldest son, Ethelbald, who had also given her the glad eye. Therefore he doesn't just take the throne but also weds the oh so young widow.  For the second time queen of England she knew just how to use her charms that her second husband wasn't any better able to withstand the rigours of married life and two years after the wedding party he too said farewell to this earthly vale (?) of tears.  It is not clear whether the young woman was inconsolable. She was badly slandered because her second marriage to her son-in-law was considered incest by the people, even though it had been recognised by the Church. And so she was expelled from England and her father had her locked up in a convent at Senlis near Paris.

But this was not to the taste of Baldwin who in the mean time, God knows where, had fallen head over heels for the girl.  He went to see the king to ask for the hand of his daughter but he came back empty-handed.  She who had been queen of England, could she now marry a simple "comes" (count) from up north somewhere?  Deep sadness for the young couple; but a sadness which was the source of inspiration for a bald plan. What's more the plan succeeded. Baldwin went to Senlis, plucked Judith from the convent and fled back to the pagus Flandriensis.  Because they had the king on their heels they emigrated to Lorraine with which Charles had a quarrel for reasons already described. Of course there they were safe, or so they thought.  But the anger of the French king was so great that he threatened the emperor of Lorraine with the seven plagues of Egypt and actually frightened the living daylights out of him. And the emperor thought of handing over the couple to turn the French rage away from him.

Then Baldwin grabbed the ultimate weapon. He threatened to join the side of the Norsemen and to fight, plunder and rob together with them.  The world held its breath: that was the very worst anyone could possibly imagine. Even the Pope, Nicolas I started shaking and offered his services as mediator.  And his meddling in other peoples business was crowned with success: Charles the Bald accepted Baldwin as his son-in-law and the wedding received his royal blessing. And indeed not only that: he gave them also a couple of pagi as a wedding present. Thus came into being the new county composed of several pagi.  It was extended later in several ways, such as by acquisition, extorsion and the like. Not all means could stand the light of day but it came into being under Baldwin and his successors. He never fought for expansion, that must be said.  But some of his successors did.  Together with his lovely wife they were the ancestors of the Flemish counts. And he gave his county the name of his first pagus: Flanders.  And that's why we can say that Watervliet already belonged to Flanders (the pagus) before Flanders (the county) existed.  Watervliet is not unique in that but it finds itself in a unique position together with the towns of the three deaneries which would come later.

Little by little we come closer to the end of the prehistory of Watervliet. Perhaps it's already behind us.  But that is something we cannot know except by new discoveries.  In 976 for the first time it is written about by emperor Otto II of Germany.  The charter in which he wrote: "Ostholta iuxta Waterflit" is quite something even if several authors stuck on it different dates separated by more than a century.  I believe that i.a. Prof. Dr. Gottschalck draws a definitive line and sticks 976 on it.  That looks a lot more logical than many other years, if only because Otto II reigned from 973 till 983.
Watervliet, a King's Wish and a Knight's Dream, Jozef de Paepe, Taptoe, 1999, p.14-15

"Watervliet, a King's Wish and a Knight's Dream"
Back to Watervliet
More pictures of Watervliet

include $foot ; ?>