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Albert Delahaye, heretical on Dutch history

Albert Delahaye, (1915-1987) archivist for the city of Nijmegen from 1946 to 1957, proposed a set of hypotheses that were contrary to popular local ideas about the regional history.

In June of 2005, I got an email from a son of Albert Delahaye, requesting the use of some of my text in the English-language section of the website honorary of his father's work.

Of Nijmegen, Delahaye questioned the common wisdom that Charlemagne built a palace there. This is an important heresy for official Nijmegen, one of whose epithets is "Keizerstad," Or "Emperor's city."

The story is that Charlemagne, or Charles the Great (Karel de Grote, in Dutch) maintained a palace in Nijmegen. The palace, according to tradition, was upon Valkhof hill — the highest point in modern Nijmegen proper, the capitol of the aboriginal Batavians, and currently the site of a city park that includes a couple of pieces of archaeology.

Charlemagne — according to the standard history — would stay at the palace in Nijmegen on his voyages throughout the (Holy Roman) empire.

The location of Nijmegen would have been an important symbol for Charlemagne and his mythos (and — to enter the modern politic — an important mythos for Nijmegenaars) ; Nijmegen had been a border town at the north of the real Roman empire; a market town, with a garrison. The famed/infamous 10th legion was once posted here.

A part of the story of the palace was that Vikings came and took it for the winter in the year 880.

It's not true, said Delahaye. The palace was not there. There's no trace of it. Those ruins are from two different periods, a few centuries later, he wrote.

But he didn't stop there.

Delahaye developed a broader theory of the Low Countries, including the idea that The Netherlands could hardly have been populated in any important way between AD 200 and 800, because it was flooded due to a heightened sea level. He cites tide levels at Dunkirk contemporaneous, and he charges that most of present-day Holland would have been almost uninhabitable.

There are followers of Delahaye's hypotheses, but there are more detractors, especially amongst "established" historians. The followers naturally tend to believe that the detractors are too invested in the standard view to consider the importance of Delahaye's ideas.

Delahaye's main hypothesis, as I understand it, goes about like this:

Classical sources of historic writing are based upon a geography whose orientation is Westerly. Thus, when a Germanic or Latinate writer of that time speaks of "North," he means West.

Delahaye believed that by "Noviomagus" etc, classical writers meant Noyen, a city on a river in northwestern France. The place names there, according to Delahaye, correspond much more closely to the source texts than do those in the area of Nijmegen.

After the Romans left — according to the theory — and for a good time afterward, Nijmegen was mostly unoccupied, because the area directly surrounding the hill was underwater.

It would be understandable that a theory against the existence of Charlemagne's palace would be unpopular. But, also, the theory is a bit hard to swallow — that all of scholarship is misinterpreting the cardinal directionality of the whole body of historical literature.

But the point where Delahaye becomes interesting is this: he wrote that archaeology has not found a single Carolingian* artifact in Nijmegen; let alone the remains of a defended palace. This is the case even since WWII, after which the destruction of most of inner-city Nijmegen brought fresh archaeological discovery.

Delahaye makes one point that is hard to ignore. Nijmegen museums, resplendent with Roman artifacts, do not have a single Carolingian artifact on display.

Of course, the Romans actually lived here and garrisoned here. Charlemagne by tradition visited, only, and his palace was, according to the standard narrative, in some sense mostly ceremonial — a connection to the "first" Roman empire to which he considered himself heir.

But, as Delahaye wrote, theres no evidence — nothing of the Carolingians.

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*Carolingian is the adjective meaning "of the civilization associated with Charlemagne."
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  ↑ Return to "Carolingian"...