The Battle of Bodegraven in 1023 or 1025?

During the 11th century, the counts of Holland and the bishops of Utrecht were continuously on a war footing. The border between their territories ran through vast peat bogs and was not sharply defined. The counts often claimed lands that actually belonged to the bishop. This tense situation climaxed in the year 1018, on July 29. Bishop Adelbold, with the help of his fellow-bishops and even troops from the German emperor Henry II, attacked count Dirk III in his stronghold in Vlaardingen. Despite their numerical preponderance, the attackers were defeated by the count of Holland.
In this same period, another, rather obscure, battle was fought near Bodegraven, about halfway between Vlaardingen and Utrecht. The root of this conflict is mentioned very briefly in only one contemporary source, which says that count Dirk usurped a feudal benefice that belonged to Utrecht. The area at stake was not very large, but it had a strategical value, positioned directly along the river Rhine. From Bodegraven, the shipping traffic between Utrecht and the North Sea could be controlled. This contemporary source gives no date or year for the conflict.
The actual Battle of Bodegraven is first mentioned three centuries after date, by Johannes de Beke. According to his Chronographia bishop Adelbold tried to recapture his possessions but he failed. Beke names several of the bishop’s men who perished in the attempt and he also gives the precise date: July 11, 1018. If this were true, the Battle of Bodegraven would have taken place only a few weeks before the Battle of Vlaardingen. However, Beke’s date is very unlikely.
Beke is well known for his vivid descriptions of battle scenes, but he is not the most reliable medieval chronicler. His account of the events in the year 1018 is rather incoherent and not in line with the contemporary sources, which mention only one battle during that year. This Battle of Vlaardingen was initiated in April 1018, when the emperor decided that the insurgent count Dirk III should be punished. The next few months were used to set up the expedition to Vlaardingen and for the troops to assemble in the port of Tiel. It would be illogical if, in the middle of these preparations, one of the key players would attack the enemy all by himself. Most modern historians agree that the Battle of Bodegraven must have taken place somewhere after 1018, but no exact year has been proposed do far.
In 2015 I wrote an article suggesting 1025 as the most likely year. The battle must have taken place in or before 1026 because Dirk III’s brother Sicco (died June 5, 1030) participated, and also Bishop Adelbold (died November 27, 1026). Furthermore, Adelbold’s successor Bernold made peace with the counts of Holland, shortly after his appointment in 1027. It seems like the battle took place after the death of Emperor Henry II (July 13, 1024), because Adelbold received no help from the German monarch. The bishop had a good relationship with Henry II, but not with his successor Conrad II. Finally, Beke mentioned a count Wiking of Gelre who fell at Bodegraven. Although Beke’s chronology is dubious, the name may be derived from an authentic obituary from Utrecht. Other sources say that this Wiking has been in office for 24 years and that his predecessor Megingos died in 1001. Based on these arguments and assumptions, 1025 seemed to be the most plausible year for the Battle of Bodegraven.
Interestingly, on July 26 1025, two weeks after the proposed battle date, Bishop Adelbold visited King Conrad II and received confirmation of the privileges in Drenthe given to Utrecht by the former German king. It seems as if the bishop, immediately after the loss of Bodegraven, sought to ensure his position in other parts of the bishopric.
Edo Oostebrink criticized the suggestions I made in my 2015 article. After a pleasant email exchange, I must admit that he had some points. The fact that no support from the German emperor is mentioned does not necessarily mean that Henry II was dead. Throughout his reign, he had enough troubles elsewhere in his empire, and he simply may have been too busy to help his friend in Utrecht. Also, 1001 as the year of Megingos’ death is questionable. This year is mentioned in later medieval chronicles, but contemporary sources suggest that he died somewhat earlier, between 996 and 999. If his successor Wiking fell 24 years later, the battle must have been in 1020 at the earliest and in 1023 at the latest.
The name Wiking (or Wilring) was rather unusual in the early 11th century. In this period, a noble man ‘Wiking’ signed several charters in Paderborn. Bishop Meinwerc of Paderborn was related to the liegemen who held the Bodegraven area from the bishop of Utrecht. Therefore, the Wiking from Paderborn might be the same person as the count of Gelre, who fought and died on the battlefield in Bodegraven. The last charter with Wiking’s name is dated 4 January of an unknown year. It is also signed by bishop Sigebert of Minden, who was appointed after February 19, 1022 (the death of his predecessor Dietrich), so the charter dates from after 1022. This implies that Wiking from Paderborn was still alive in January 1023.
So, if all assumptions are true, the Battle of Bodegraven was fought on 11 July in the year 1023.
In this same year 1023, on June 26, many dignitaries came to in Utrecht for the consecration of the new Church of Saint-Martin. Twelve bishops and even the emperor himself were present. According to a 17th-century historiographer, Wiking from Gelre was also there. This would be the ideal network gathering for bishop Adelbold, to gain support for his military plans against his annoying neighbor, count Dirk of Holland. The Battle of Bodegraven took place two weeks later.

Click here for voor the full article, in Dutch, published in 2015 in Terra Nigra, magazin of Helinium, AWN (Archeologische Werkgemeenschap voor Nederland):
Nieuwenhuijsen, K., De Slag bij Bodegraven in het jaar 1025, Terra Nigra 190, 2015, p. 18-30.
It contains maps and the relevant sources. It is preceded by a new analysis, resulting in 1023.

Another article about the Battle of Bodegraven was published in March 2017 in Boreftse Berichten, the magazine of the Bodegraven Historical Society. This second article focusses on the question how the battle passed into oblivion.

© Dr. Kees Nieuwenhuijsen

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Last update: July 1, 2023
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