Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2020
GILBERT'S CHRONICLE COVERS the history of the county of Hainaut from 1071, when it came under the rule of an ousted branch of the house of Flanders, to 1196. By 1169 Gilbert was a chaplain at the court of Baldwin IV, count of Hainaut (1120–71), then court chaplain to Count Baldwin V (1171–95), whose chancellor he became by 1178. He held many offices under Baldwin V but none under Baldwin VI, count of Flanders and Hainaut (1195–1205). Gilbert served as an envoy to the court of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1152–89) and his son Henry at least eight times, and on one occasion acted as a judge at the request of the emperor. He also mentions that he acted as an envoy to the count of Champagne. He was familiar with neighboring powers England and France. As a cleric he was richly rewarded with ecclesiastical offices, being especially devoted to the abbey of St Waudru of Mons of which he was Provost. Gilbert wrote his work in the years 1195–96 and had access to documents and memories of the past. His narrative before the late 1160s is uneven especially on military matters. Thus we are told Baldwin IV and his wife resisted “continual assaults of war” from Thierry of Flanders with no details. But he is often very detailed for the same and even more remote periods on matters that would have been in his records, like noble inheritances. Gilbert's work is invaluable for the prosopography of the Low Countries and is notably useful for identifying noble women though he is occasionally inaccurate. As a cleric deeply enmeshed in court affairs and diplomacy, he is comparable to Roger of Howden, whose chronicle is also very useful for the study of warfare.
The work must be understood in the context in which it was written. Hainaut was one of a group of small powers sandwiched between the county of Flanders, the German Empire and the kingdom of France. The dukes of Brabant, the counts of Namur, the counts of Looz, the counts of Guelders, the counts of Vermandois, of Holland and of Champagne all had family and tenurial connections.