For authors

As stated in its organisational regulations of 1st April 1976, the Royal Historical Commission’s mission is:

“to undertake research, to identify, edit or analyse written sources of interest to the history of Belgium, to publish critical studies relating to these sources and to make working tools available to historians”.

The statistics link and the catalogue of publications give a clear overview of these activities.

Whether as a result of the scientific contributions it accepts after review or of the works of its members, the Commission has always played an active part in the field of Belgian history. Its numerous publications are a witness to this fact. With the aid of these examples, it tries to stimulate and guide research by drawing the academic community’s attention to sources which can help create new lines of research in the historical field.

This policy has of course been developed and diversified over the course of time. The help of university professors and archivists within the Commission has always stimulated a spin-off which has been beneficial to all concerned. Guidelines for preparing text editions are available here.

How to introduce a publication ?

Manuscripts sent to the Commission for publication are first submitted for review.
Two referees for each language are responsible for reviewing the scientific quality of each submission. They also check the regulations laid down in the Instructions pour la publication des textes historiques (Stylesheet for the publication of historical texts). Changes to texts must be made according to any relevant comments sent to the authors.

One of the four commissioners then referees the revised version.

Manuscripts should be sent to the following address:
Secrétaire-trésorier de la Commission
Palais des Académies, rue Ducale, 1
B-1000 Brussels

It is advisable to first present projects to the Commission for an initial assessment, especially in the case of large-scale projects. Further information can be obtained by either calling: 32 (0)2 550 22 09, or by e-mail:

Historical developments

The following guidelines have the purpose of placing in context and situating in chronological order the creation of different series published by the Commission. A complete list of titles referring to both aspects can be found in the catalogue of publications.

Originally, the chronological milestones highlight the list and the Commission has been called on to undertake research and publishing with regard to unpublished Belgian chronicles.
Its first publication in this respect, in-4°, nevertheless included in the appendix the publication of charters which were felt to be an indispensable addition in order to have a better understanding of the subject.

From 1837 onwards, the Commission supported the project initiated by Gachard to draw up a chronological table of printed charters and certificates regarding the history of Belgium [Table chronologique des chartes et diplômes imprimés concernant l’histoire de la Belgique], in line with the one L. de Bréquigny had started for France in 1769.
This decision was confirmed by royal decree on 8th December of the same year.
A ministerial decree drew up the regulations on 16th November 1838.
On the death in 1857 of Emile Gachet, who was attached to the Commission to fulfil the task, 16,151 bulletins had been written.
The archivist of the town of Brussels, Alphonse Wauters, was appointed to continue the task.
From a geographical point of view, it was decided to extend the field of study to all regions which, during the course of time, had formed part of the southern Netherlands. The first volume, containing an analysis of acts preceding 1100, appeared in 1866. On his death in 1898, Wauters had produced ten volumes so that the Table covered the period up until the end of 1350. It was the custom to call the work by the name of its untiring creator rather than just by its title.
A general supplement, containing all published acts in the period from 1888 to 1946, brought the work to completion. Volume XI, which appeared in 1971 and contains four parts, includes corrections and indexes. It nevertheless had to be re-written since the analyses gave no information on certified sources of the acts, and unpublished acts were completely missing. This has now been completed as far back as 1200.
The “New Wauters” appeared as a CD ROM in 1997 with the title Thesaurus diplomaticus.

The mission assigned to the Commission involved research into unpublished documents, some of which were then published. Extensive research undertaken in the 19th century in both public and private collections in Belgium and abroad led to a large number of mission reports. These lists of works fill a substantial number of pages in the Bulletin which also includes the publication of numerous works considered to be of interest, De Reiffenberg and Gachard being the most productive in this area. The large number of documentary resources included in the Tables, which were published at regular intervals, enhanced research opportunities in this area.

Again, under the influence of Gachard, the Commission which, from a chronological point of view, had concentrated on the Middle Ages, extended its scope to the 16th century. The volume it published entitled Retraite et mort de Charles Quint au monastère de Yuste. Lettres inédites, launched the in-8° series in 1854. This new series was regarded as a complementary one to the Bulletin and was to comprise studies which were considered too long to be included the latter.

In 1896, Pirenne brought out Instructions pour la publication des textes historiques. These publication regulations were to be reviewed in 1922 and completed in 1940 and 1943 due to the numerous problems which arose. They were completely re-written in 1955 in order to make them more adaptable to the requirements of philological criticism. New additions were published in the Bulletin in 1980 (p. XX-XXIII and LVI-LXV).

Following the death of Alphonse Wauters, Godefroid Kurth was appointed Secretary to the Commission in 1898 and proposed a long-term work plan, the first since 1834. An emphasis was put on the following types of studies: chronicles, records and catalogues of acts, statistical documents, obituaries, collections of texts for the study of Belgian history, diplomatic documents kept in archives abroad and facsimiles. An interest in sources relating to economic and demographic history was a clear illustration of how a new trend was beginning to develop. The influence of Pirenne, who was a pupil of Kurth and had been a member of the Commission since 1891, undoubtedly played a part in this trend. The hitherto small number of trips abroad became more frequent (Lille, Vienna and Naples).

Pirenne launched a new series which aimed at producing high-quality publications based on important narrative sources. These were to be used, among other things, for the training of young historians in the form of university seminars. The first volume from the Recueil de textes pour servir à l’étude de l’histoire de Belgique appeared in 1904.

In 1929, the project designed by the late Godefroid Kurth to create a collection of catalogues of acts, based on the model of the German “regestes”, underwent a radical change on Pirenne’s initiative. It was decided to publish the complete works rather than analyses taken from them. The Recueil des Actes des princes belges was subsequently published. It aimed at publishing all charters relating to national princes before the Burgundian reign. The first volume was published in 1936.

The first work of a new series, the Actes des Etats généraux des Anciens Pays-Bas which was carried out and completed by Cuvelier, was published in 1948. During the period 1861-1866, Gachard had already published in the in-8° series the Actes des Etats Généraux des Pays-Bas, 1576 à 1585. Notice chronologique et analytique. From the end of the 1950’s, an interest in the acts of provincial representative assemblies was also seen in the form of several publications.

In 1954, the Commission managed to produce a budget to finance trips abroad. It was thus able to undertake regular trips to look for documents kept abroad which were of interest to Belgian history. The ensuing project reports, which were published in the Bulletin (1962-1969, 1979-1980), also led to extensive publications of analyses and can be found in the in-4° and in-8° series. The work was carried out in conjunction with the inter-university microfilm Commission, founded in 1949 by the National Fund for Scientific Research. Collaboration was made all the easier by the fact that the Secretary-Treasurer, Professor Paul Bonenfant, also chaired the inter-university Commission. Within a period of ten years, 1,300,000 copies were made available to researchers.

Cette même année, la Commission décida d’accorder une place plus grande à l’histoire contemporaine. Elle prévoyait à cet effet deux séries, finalement ramenée à une sous le titre de Documents relatifs au statut international de la Belgique depuis 1830.

During the same year, the Commission decided to give more attention to contemporary history. To this effect, it planned two series which were afterwards allotted to one only with the title Documents relatifs au statut international de la Belgique depuis 1830.

Within its projects it also made working tools available to historians. The first volume appeared four years later and involved a map of historical geography, La principauté de Liège en 1789, by Joseph Ruwet.

In October 1980, the Commission decided to publish, in addition to the Acts of the Belgian princes, a series which was entitled Regestes des Actes des princes belges. A volume was published in 1991.

In 1995, on the occasion of a press conference honoured by the presence of the Minister for Scientific Affairs, Mr Yvan Ylieff, the first work of a new series was presented, the Sources concernant l’histoire de Belgique durant la seconde guerre mondiale.

The first electronic publication of the Royal Historical Commission, which was produced in collaboration with Cetedoc (Catholic University of Louvain at Louvain-la-Neuve) and the National Committee of the Medieval Latin Dictionary, appeared in 1997 under the name of Thesaurus diplomaticus.

This completes an overview of the series currently being produced by the Commission. The catalogue of publications includes a complete list of the contents of each one. It thereby highlights the way in which the extensive areas of study planned in 1834, and subsequently in 1898, constituted pioneering work in the field.
In line with these established fields of research, scholarship has evolved in conjunction with the evolution of the discipline of history and new interests of historians themselves. Methodology has also been enhanced. Analytical introductions can now take advantage of substantial introductions based on old documents and paleographic sources which sometimes fill an entire volume themselves. The large number of different sources have revealed the wealth and variety of their contents throughout the course of time. The typology of sources has become richer and more diversified with the passing of time.
Without oversimplifying and taking into account the large number of points of interest in a document, one example would suffice to illustrate this development. Thus the relations and correspondences described from 1855 onwards focussed on exchanges between major figures in history or their representatives.
Later, during the 1930’s, the focus was on the commercial relations and correspondence of the Jesuit, Ferdinand Verbiest, Director of the Peking observatory during the 17th century.
With regard the history of ideas, the collection of private documents, in particular, began to develop further: bourgeois newspapers of the 16th century (1969), memoirs of a politician in the 19th century (1989), letters in exile (1991) or emotional memories about captivity (1995).
The field of economic history highlights the variety of approaches even more. The first one involved books about fiefs (1865) and the polyptych of Saint-Trond (1896).
This was followed by a group of subjects including the history of prices (1902), the cloth trade (1906), urban accountancy (1909) and household censuses (1912) which are of a demographic interest.
Far from these lines of research coming to an end, the range of studies was extended even more. Although not all the ground was covered, mention may be made of the following: population censuses (1939), receipts of the princes’ collectors (1941) or their accounts (1962), work contracts (1941), electoral taxation (1959), accounts of markets (1947), abbeys (1962), private companies (1969) or tribunals (1995), and property statements (1979).
Mention should also be made of prices and salaries in 16th century (1962), industrial statistics (1974) and economic records (1978) in the 18tth century, not forgetting metrology (1993).

The plethora of documentation potentially available for publication requires selection. Choices are dictated by both a need for efficiency and financial constraints. Moreover, a rigid framework would slow down the creativity of contributors, who work largely on a voluntary basis and whose initiative often opens up interesting avenues of research. Their proposals, which are always welcome, are examined with great interest.
On the other hand, a certain number of priorities have to be borne in mind. In this respect, particular mention should be made of sources which contribute to ongoing research and are concerned with major international trends in historiography, and of exemplary, lesser known or little used documents.

For further information

Walter PREVENIER, “Randbedenkingen bij het uitgavebeleid van de Koninklijke Commissie voor Geschiedenis aan de vooravond van de 21ste eeuw”, in Handelingen van de Genootschap voor Geschiedenis, dl. CXXXIII, 1996, p. 163-171