Imitation or differentiation? Documentary writing practices in the exercise of secular governance in Flanders and adjacent territories during the 'pragmatische Wende' of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Start - End 
2017 - 2021 (ongoing)



This project will investigate how and to what exent ‘pragmatic literacy’ — or the competences of reading and writing required to develop and run an administration based on written documents — gradually disseminated among secular governors and their collaborators during late 12th and 13th centuries, a period which is considered as the catalytic phase for the emergence and spread of this phenomenon. The project puts forward the hypothesis that, in the course of the 13th century, lay governors became less dependent on the ‘authoritative’ models offered by ecclesiastical and monastic institutions for the design and wording of their written acts and deeds. Furthermore, it assumes that these governors gradually drew more of their inspiration from their mutual relationships before finally and deliberately seeking to differentiate themselves from each other as respectable social and political identities in their own right, each of them having its own specific administrative practices. On the one hand, around 1200 the royal chanceries of the French and English kings seem to have served as a more important source of inspiration for the Flemish comital administration than did ecclesiastical institutions, at least for the formal appearance of the comital charters. If these royal administrations continued to play such an important role in the shaping of a proper comital administrative identity in the course of the 13th century, this still needs to be examined. On the other hand, since Flanders was a forerunner in the development of a governmental, document-based administration on the territorial level, it is likely that this ‘central’ administration in his turn must have functioned as a model to be imitated for other secular governances within Flanders (local feudal lords, urban governances), as well as for the early developing princely administrations in its adjacent territories. As such, the county of Flanders constitutes a pertinent reference case, for it offers the opportunity to investigate its key position in a cross-border network of pragmatic intellectual exchanges in two directions, namely with both ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ levels of (secular and religious) administration.

The actual objectives of this project are twofold: (a) to gain a clear insight into the way and extent to which the comital chancery, through its charter production, further developed into a predominantly document-based ‘governmental organ’ with a proper secular image that gradually dissociated itself from ecclesiastical influences; and (b) to evaluate its competitive position and its impact on other administrative writing centres in Flanders as a model to be imitated, as well as on the development of administrations in the service of neighbouring principalities (Hainaut, Namur, Brabant and Artois).  




Phd Student(s)