REBELS FROM NEIGHBOUR TOWN BESIEGE MAASTRICHT IN THE LATE MIDDLE AGES
In the Emperor's Room of the council house in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, there was hanging in former days
a painting, three metres high and six metres wide, which represents rebels from Liege besieging Maastricht
in 1408. The prince elect of the Walloon city, John of Bavaria, was entrenching himself in Maastricht, to keep his furious subjects
at arm's length. The beholder sees at the background of the painting a burning city and a mountain, and at the foreground
fighting knights. At the moment, the painting is hanging in Burghausen castle. Whoever considers to go there to have a look, should
bear in mind that the town on the painting is just a fancied representation of Maastricht.
Nowadays, Liege is focusing on Paris rather than on Maastricht. However, people from both neighbour towns use to go about with each other in a much friendlier way than in 1408. We can't bear to think they would still punch each other's heads with swords. What exactly was going on? To understand this, we have to begin our story in the seventh century, when Liege didn't even exist.
The origin of the city of Liege
In the seventh century, when the Roman founders of Mosae Trajectum were already lying underneath the daisies
since seven centuries, bishop Lambert was born in Maastricht. He was the last but one in a sequence of twenty-five
holy bishops of Maastricht, where Saint Gervase had established a very Christian society about three hundred years
earlier. So, why did Lambert settle twenty miles to the south, in Wallonia? It must have been
because of the Frankish major-domos, like Pepin of Heristal, who were living there.
I don't know whether Lambert used to speak Frankish with them or Latin. Anyway, they didn't speak Walloon. Now if the bishop wouldn't have rebuked Pepin so recklessly for his indecent conduct, probably nobody would have murdered him in that neighbourhood. Then bishop Hubert wouldn't have moved the episcopal see from Maastricht to the grave of his predecessor. Then the city of Liege would never have come into being next the grave of Saint Lambert.
The origin of the prince-bishopric Liege
The Frankish king Charlemagne, who was born in this same region, was worrying about the threatenings of the Vikings and
the Mussulmen. Therefore, he wished to revive the Roman empire and the peace adherent to it, the pax Romana,
but now in a Christian variant. The pope, too, found this an excellent idea. In 800, he crowned king Charles emperor of the
whole Occident. However, after the death of Charles' son Louis the Pious, the Frankish empire was divided among the three
main heirs. Two of these three parts were to evolve into present-day France and, very roughly speaking, Germany.
In the tenth century, our region belonged to the holy Roman empire of the German nation.
The bishops of Liege received the surrounding country as a feudal tenure from the German emperor. Henceforth, they were called
The first of them, Notger, built beautiful churches and a palace in his residence (but this palace was not the present one). There is a wellknown saying about this: "Liege owes Notger to God and the rest to Notger". About one century later on, the first circumvallation came about. The town became a blooming centre of culture and was called Athens of the north.
Causes of the wars
Ever since Charlemagne, the power of the emperors was gradually crumbling to pieces.
This was partially due to the Frankish hereditary rights. Marriage was a mere tool to gather rights.
Whenever a sovereign needed support from a feudal tenant in a succession war, the tenant became
less dependent on the sovereign, because the latter owed him for his services.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of the
towns became ever richer, especially after the crusades. Whenever a city supported a noble with manpower or money,
it got more independence in exchange. After the battle of the spurs, in which farmers with morgensterns and
hay forks beat knights on horseback, the citizens knew that the nobles weren't unassailable any longer.
Now that I tell you all of this at the same time, you may think there was always war everywhere. Of course, that doesn't fit the facts. The knights were often hunting or taking part in a tournament, the munks were usually engaged in praying and chanting, and the citizens in working and .. feasting. In the middle ages, there were many more church festivals than now. People were going in for it.
Troubles in Liege in the second half of the middle ages
After the eleventh century, the prince-bishopric suffered quite a lot, even apart from the bubonic plague.
First, the popes and the emperors fought for earthly power at the cost of the poor, because the popes didn't restrict themselves
to spiritual affairs yet. Thereafter, the bishops fought against the dukes of Brabant, who wished to
add parts of the Liege country to their own domain. Finally, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the citizens of the
Walloon town had enough of it. They began to free themselves from the tyranny of the corrupted canons and bishops.
In 1307 already, a Liege bishop fled from his subjects to Maastricht, and, before long, some criminals set fire to a Liege church full of nobles - the infamous mal Saint-Martin. So it's quite appropriate that people call Liege the ardent city.
Wise men could still hush up the troubles: at length, there came a treaty between the prince-bishop and his subjects. Henceforth, the prince-bishop was responsible to a tribunal, consisting of twenty-two representatives of the people. That was the beginning of democracy in the city and in the prince-bishopric.
The overall situation in Maastricht
About 1350, Maastricht looked already like our present old town: the stone bridge of Saint Gervase,
both circumvallations, the three large churches, the house called 'dinghuis', and some monasteries were already there.
However, most of the houses were made of wood and loam, with thatched roofs. There was no town hall at the Market yet,
nor any fortification outside the city walls.
At the eastern riverside, the district Wijck was still very small, with a primitive Saint Martin's church. There was no
significant garrison yet, except in times of war. There was no large scale industry, and hence there were no proletarians.
There was a rather large surplus of women.
The composition of the population was complex: as an inhabitant of Maastricht, you could be a noble or a munk, a free citizen or an unfree. The free citizens were united in guilds, like the cloth weavers' guild and the tanners' guild. Things were even more complicated because there were two Lords: the duke of Brabant and the prince-bishop of Liege. Hence the saying: Trajectum neutri Domino, sed paret utrique - Maastricht belongs to neither of both Lords, but to both of them. Unless you were a munk or a nun, you were either subject to Liege or to Brabant. Independently, you could live in the bishop's domain, in the duke's domain, or in the domain that belonged to both Lords together. Mostly there were many pilgrims and other strangers in the town, because the holy grave of Saint Gervase was attracting many visitors. So, whenever the soldiers caught a criminal, it was quite a puzzle to know which authority should judge of him.
John of Arkel
The prince-bishops were ever more often at loggerheads with their own citizens.
The guilds stood up again for their rights and liberties, and for the old customs and traditions, dating from heathen times.
Of course, they made use of party strife among the nobles.
In 1374, bishop John of Arkel fled to Maastricht. Next year, his revolting subjects seriously besieged Maastricht
for the first time.
The bishop asked his highest boss on earth, the pope, for support. He contended that the citizens were very ungrateful. Indeed, he had always been careful with money, and he acquired only recently the countship Loon (which, roughly speaking, fell together with today Belgian Limburg). Pope Gregory XI excommunicated the evil-doers. The siege dissolved.
Within a year, John of Arkel destroyed the surroundings of his rebellious residence. Now the bishop and his people made a provisional new arrangement: the people couldn't directly call the bishop to account.
John of Bavaria
In 1390, the canons elected John of Bavaria their prince-bishop. He was a rough fellow.
He refused the ecclesiatical ordinations and left the church affairs to an auxiliary bishop. He terrorized his
ministers, appeared in armour before the canons, and used to throw his sword on the table whenever
decisions seemed to be difficult.
The man was also arguing about hereditary questions with his niece Jacoba of Bavaria, who became in after years a
wellknown countess of Holland.
This quarrel was an important part of the so-called quarrels of the Hooks and the Codfishes. The Cods
(often the citizens) got this name because of their alleged gluttony, and the Hooks (often the nobles) were the fishing
hooks with which people angle for cods.
In 1402, the prince-bishop fled to Maastricht, where the loyal citizens gave him hospitality. He settled in the castle of the Teutonic Knights, where now the old paper factory is. The famous painter Jan van Eijck was in his suite. Only five years later, in the winter of 1407, the godless rebels from Liege came before Maastricht to bring the bishop to heel. They not only revolted against their lawful prince-bishop, but they also were supporting the Avignon antipope.
It was an extremely cold winter. The rebels came with an army of tens of thousands, raised
in the city of Liege and in the whole prince-bishopric. From a high wooden staging, a so-called cat, they threw
stones, fire bombs, faeces and even corpses into the city. But it was so cold that their horses freezed to death, and the
attackers retired. The bishop pursued them and took revenge in a terrible manner in the villages of the prince-bishopric.
Then the bishop went to the Rhineland, where he recruited some fifteen hundred Bavarian horsemen.
In spring, the stubborn mutineers appeared before Maastricht again. They dammed up the river Jeker, to render the mills useless. In substitution, the Maastricht citizens used ship mills on the islet Griend in the river Maas. A newly started guild of bowmen, the Sebastians, guarded these ship mills. The besieged citizens undertook sallies to the country to provide themselves with victuals.
In June, prince-bishop John of Bavaria returned to Maastricht. His riders broke through the enemy's lines. Meanwhile, the Burgundian duke John the Fearless came to the bishop's rescue with a considerable army. He sent the insurgents flying, and beat them near Tongeren. Eight thousand rebels perished all at once. Between Liege and Maastricht there was no tree but some rebel was hung on it. The burgomaster of Liege was beheaded and quartered on the Vrijthof Square.
How did it come out in the end?
John of Bavaria turned back every privilege of his subjects, and reigned relentlessly henceforth. From now on, he bore the
nickname John the Pitiless. Somebody poisoned him in 1425, when he was just fifty years old. But, after all, the rebellion didn't turn
out very well for his insurgent people.
In Maastricht, people triumphantly carried about the beautiful shrine of distress with the relics of Saint Gervase, which they normally didn't bring out unless in times of emergency. The citizens were allowed to fill in a form for reimbursement of war damage, because they had stayed true to John of Bavaria. At the top of the form, there was a standard text in print, saying: ... dat omme die guede stat van Tricht nyet gelijden en conde des groeten onrechtz ende honnen genedegen lieven here te hulpen stoenden ... , etc. , - ... because the good city of Maastricht could not bear the terrible injustice and came to the aid of their merciful good Lord ... , etc. The Maastricht city archives is still keeping such a damage form, whereby one Johan Moreez declares the loss of a certain quantity of rye.
Because of the intervention of John the Fearless, the prince-bishops owed the dukes of Burgundy gratitude.
In fact, all cities gradually began to support the duke of Burgundy and his policy of unification. Thus, Philip the Good
could unite the Netherlands under his own power after 1430. This was the early beginning of what was to become, later on,
the Republic of the United Netherlands.
In 1467, the Burgundian duke Charles the Bold thoroughly destroyed Liege once again. But in the sixteenth century, the town finally went through a long period of rest and prosperity. Bishop Everhard van der Marck began to build the palace of today.
Just like Maastricht, Liege got an elaborate system of fortifications
in the seventeenth century, and in the next century, it maintained a Dutch garrison. After the French Revolution,
France annexed both Maastricht and Liege, and after the defeat of Napoleon, both towns belonged to the newly
established United Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, since the separation of Belgium in 1830,
they belong to different countries again. Nowadays, the cité ardente is the most important Walloon
city of Belgium.
The Industrial Revolution started in England, and Liege was next. Industrialisation was even more drastic in Wallonia than, a bit later on, in Maastricht. The blooming Cockerill coal and steel factories made Liege a metropolis. In these years, about 1900, relations between both neighbour towns were far more intense than now. But the steel factories are out of date, and now Maastricht is in its turn a booming place.
Literature (mainly Dutch):
Wikipedia: Jan van Arkel, Jean d'Arckel, Jan van Beieren, Jean de Bavière, Johann von Bayern, Hoekse en Kabeljauwse twisten
Farwerck: Noordeuropese mysteriën en hun sporen tot heden; Ankh-Hermes Deventer, 1978
Edmond Jaspar: Kint geer eur eige stad? Schenk-Veldeke, Maastricht, 1968
Charles Thewissen: Oud Maastricht; Wereldvenster, Baarn, 1968
Dr PJH Ubachs: Tweeduizend jaar Maastricht; Schenk, Maastricht, 1991
Dr PJH Ubachs: Historische Encyclopedie van Maastricht; Walburg Pers, Zutphen, 2005
(Maastricht, March 2007, H.Reuvers)