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The Assassination of Godfrey the Hunchback

The Assassination of Godfrey the Hunchback

By Kees Nieuwenhuijsen

Terra Nigra, the magazine of Helinium, a section of AWN (Archeologische Werkgemeenschap voor Nederland): Nieuwenhuijsen, K., De moord op Godfried met de Bult, No. 169 (2007)

Introduction: Godfrey was the duke of Lower Lorraine, an area roughly coinciding with the current Benelux. His death in the year 1076 gave a dramatic turn to the political developments in the 11th century: it cleared the way for Dirk V to re-conquer the county of West-Frisia, and one of the key players in the Investiture Controversy disappeared. According to some historians, the assault was made in Vlaardingen, but others claim that it happened in Antwerp. To find out whether or not the murder can be counted among Vlaardingen‟s feats of arms, I have studied all relevant sources.

Godfrey was born around 1040 as the eldest son of Duke Godfrey the Bearded and Duchess Doda. In 1069 the German king Henry IV appointed him duke of Lower Lorraine, the fifth member of the House of Verdun to hold this position. Godfrey junior was small in stature and had a hunchback, but in spite of his physical handicap, he became a respected leader. Lambert of Hersfeld described him as “prestantis quidem animi adolescens, sed gibbosus”, a young man indeed with an excellent mind, but with a hump. Later, Alberic de Trois-Fontaines said: “corpore exiguous tamen animo eximius”, a small (or weak) body but an excelling spirit.

Godfrey the Hunchback achieved success as a duke, but in his personal life he knew little happiness. He lost his mother at an early age. In the year 1054 his father remarried to Beatrix, widow of the marquis of Tuscany. At the same time, his father arranged a marriage between his son and Matilda of Canossa, countess of Tuscany and daughter of the same Beatrix. The wedding was in December 1069, shortly before the death of Godfrey senior. A daughter, Beatrix, was born in 1071 but died within a few months.

After two years of married life, Matilda returned to her homeland. The next year Godfrey followed her, but this could not improve their relationship. Matilda avoided Godfrey and refused to give him ‘the matrimonial favours (maritalem gratiam)’ and, in fact, paid more attention to the new pope, Gregory VII, who had been elected in 1073, than to her own Godfrey. The pope urged her not to have any more contact with her husband, claiming it would be a sin, due to their consanguinity. 10 On the other hand, for political reasons, he dissuaded a formal divorce.

Click here to read this article from Kees Nieuwenhuijsen’s website

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