chapter  5
26 Pages

‘United we stand?’ Representing revolt in the historiography of Brabant and Holland (fourteenth to fifteenth centuries)

ByDirk Schoenaers

In his introduction to From Mutual Observation to Propaganda War, a collection of essays devoted to transnational representations of premodern revolt, Malte Griesse hypothesised ‘that many

descriptions of uprisings in foreign countries were at the same time, or at least to some extent, reflections on analogous phenomena at home’. He further suggested that as far as revolts were concerned, ‘foreign observers, [although they were] less familiar with political and cultural specificities of the country they were writing about, were freer in their interpretation and in their quest for explanations’. For reasons of loyalty, local reporters had little leeway in articulating politically divergent opinions about domestic uprisings.5 Consequently, when it came to local seditions, their narratives often agreed with the perspective of the dominating elites. Quite plausibly, chroniclers intentionally sidestepped the risk of antagonising municipal, regional, or national regimes, who, for their part, made every attempt to frame the disruptions according to their own needs and purposes or to erase the upheaval from public memory altogether (damnatio memoriae). This might explain, at least in part, why relatively few extant reports of domestic revolts tell the events from a rebels’ perspective or express sympathy with the insurgents’ point of view. Reports of foreign uprisings could circulate more openly and therefore were also suited to transmit covertly information about the organisation and management of dissidence ‘at home’. Although Griesse’s observations are mostly grounded in examples from early modern Europe, there is little reason to believe that they are not also transferrable to representations of revolt in the late medieval period. In the same volume, Helmut Hinck and Bettina Bommersbach proposed that, in general, two very basic factors, ‘attention’ and ‘interest’, governed the transnational coverage of revolts. A first prerequisite was that foreign reporters had access to information about the incident (e.g. as an eye-witness, through various information networks or written documentation) and that they were sufficiently impressed not to ‘dismiss [the uprising] without further consideration’. Second, whether or not an uprising made international headlines depended on its narrative or explanatory potential and the local implications for audiences abroad.6 Their analysis of crossChannel reports of revolts in France and England during the Hundred Years War further confirmed the findings of Neithard Bulst, who had previously suggested that representations of these revolts came in regional variants. The accounts of French chroniclers tended to be stereotypical and focused on the atrocity of the events, while their English equivalents were more concerned with exploring the deeper motives behind the disturbances.7 Interestingly, besides the perhaps obvious observation that it was not uncommon for authors to take sides and reports were potentially biased, it also appeared that some transnational reports of rebellion were construed as a critique of foreign adversaries.8