There presently live five peoples in Britain, […] to these can be added in our time a sixth nation, that is the Flemish, who from their own land came to the region of Mailros in the confines of Wales at the orders of King Henry in order to settle there. Having until then gathered in the island in large numbers, no less powerful in weapons and soldiers than the indigenous population, they have made large acquisitions there for themselves as fighters under the Normans.
As the chronicler Alfred of Beverley c. 1143 describes in his Aluredi Beverlacensis Annales, large numbers of Flemings were present in Britain in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest and were resettled in South Wales on the orders of King Henry I. Studies of pre-Conquest relations suggest a growing interaction between Flanders and Britain in the late tenth century, focusing on ecclesiastical relations and political marriages across the Channel. Economical and commercial contacts are also receiving more attention. Dumolyn et al., for example, suggested the growing importance of the mercantile function of Bruges within a wider network along the North Sea from the middle of the tenth century onwards.
The Norman Conquest, in which Flemings had an active role as parts of the invasion army, would have created opportunities for migration. Following the Conquest, Flemings played a variety of roles in politics and society, whether as lords, settlers, merchants, or mercenaries. In Domesday Book, for example, men identified as Flemings held estates in twenty-seven counties, and fifteen names could be retained as tenants-in-chief.
The aim of this essay is to provide a critical overview of current research on Flemish planted rural settlements in Flanders and Britain. Drawing on a broad range of national and international literature (in languages including English, French, German, and Dutch), this essay will offer a platform for renewed research into the influence of a small yet dynamic medieval county on its North Sea neighbors. In the first section, we present an overview of historical and archaeological research into Flanders’ rural medieval landscape during the last hundred years. The second section engages with research on Flemish immigrants and settlements in twelfth-century Britain. Finally, we will indicate the potential of combining new data and techniques in Flanders and Britain for achieving a better understanding of the Flemish settlement landscapes.