Charter A Week 89: Ottonian Happy Families?

Easter 965 was a high-point for Ottonian hegemony over western Europe. In that year, the extended Liudolfing family gathered at Cologne to celebrate the festival season, and numerous chroniclers noted the splendour of the event and the magnificent role that Otto the Great played as master of ceremonies. Besides Otto himself and his second wife Adelaide, those present included Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, their mother Queen (later Saint) Matilda, and Queen Gerberga and Lothar at the head of a West Frankish delegation.

Ottonian suzerainty over the West Frankish kingdom had, since Lothar’s accession, been fairly light-touch. Otto himself had displayed little active interest in the West since the great invasion of 946 itself, and he left managing West Frankish politics to Bruno. Bruno had his own problems in Lotharingia, and also was not always working with instead of against his sister Gerberga. Part of the reason for this is that Gerberga was not the only Ottonian sibling in the kingdom. Their other sister, Hedwig, had married Hugh the Great, meaning Hugh Capet and his brothers were also Otto and Bruno’s nephews. As Lothar worked to undermine their inheritance in the late 950s, this put Bruno in an awkward position, having to reconcile the interests of both sets of nephews, and indeed Ruotger’s Vita Brunonis describes Bruno’s mission not as backing Lothar, but as enforcing the settlement of the late 940s: ‘[Bruno set out for Compiègne] in order to recall his squabbling nephews to concord… and by the Lord’s assent confirm to each what should equitably be theirs’.

Nonetheless, Otto loomed large in Lothar’s political life. As an example, at around this time Lothar abandoned use of a traditionally West Frankish-style seal for royal diplomas and adopted one in imitation of Otto’s. Too, as long as Rheims remained a keystone of Carolingian power, Ottonian authority would be key. In 962, Archbishop Artald of Rheims had died and the Vermandois brothers had reopened the case of their brother the deposed Archbishop Hugh. Instead of Hugh, though, the role went to Odalric, a Lotharingian abbot with close ties to Bruno. And, of course, there was Cologne:  

Otto’s seal (left) vs Lothar’s (right). The source for Otto’s seal is Schramm, Reichsapfel; I’m not sure about Lothar’s but it’s probably cropped out of the Diplomata Karolinorum. This is what happens when you use images you put in your PC’s folder eight years ago…

D Lo, no. 23 (2nd June 965)

In the name of our lord Jesus Christ the Saviour and the individual Trinity.

Heraclius [bishop of Liège], servant of the servants of Christ, to all the sons of the catholic and apostolic Church. 

When each prudent man, who takes care of himself and his own, considers how difficult and how important it is to willingly exercise self-control, give oneself up to virtue, and restrain from vices, I know not whether anyone living this life can do anything more sublimely if ‘man should’ nonetheless ‘leave off’ from mental consideration ‘and go forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening’. After by my Lord’s will it was said: ‘Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee’, I then anxiously thought otherwise; then, indeed, sorrows arose for me on all sides, and I knew not what I should choose. A plan was supplied to me by the frequent urging of the highest and incomparable man lord archbishop Bruno that, if I could, I should collect men for apostolic discipline, where ‘the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul’: that is, indeed, unless I am mistaken, what the Psalmist shows, ‘how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’, a lifestyle suitable for for all monks but not monks alone. 

And that the ancient place of Our see itself should too be held honourable in perpetuity, and suffer no loss on account of the beginnings of Our labour, I entrusted a place full beautiful on the high peak of the mount whose name is Publémont, whither I transfer both Our see and that which is called the Bishop’s House by the authority of lord archbishop Bruno, to whom I owe everything, and also by the command of Otto, great emperor and caesar augustus, and by the assent of Our clergy and people, by which anyone can be a better man. I sent the Lord’s flocks which might hear the voice of the Highest Shepherd into a church there whose foundations I laid in honour of the most blessed mother of God and virgin Mary and Lambert, holy pontiff and martyr of Christ, to graze from the estates which I brought together either from precarial grants or by any device, or which I was reasonably able to add to them from the older goods of the church in accordance with the statutes and decrees of the canons and by the counsel of my confreres whom it concerns, with royal precepts,

We establish their life: that they should take one meal so that they may sleep, they should obey their prelates, they should have no law beyond that written above; in sum, that they should be conquerors of their own will, that ‘there may be peace on Earth to those men of goodwill’. 

That this might be known not only by whose who live now but also to our posterity, We had this monument of confirmation written, which We also wish be reinforced by imperial authority and the assent of princes and the notice and pious favour of all good men, in which too We ratify that the estates which suffice to produce food and clothing in the aforesaid place for servants of God and the witness by which they can be proven be written: a church in Bechtheim, Buzin, Onesheim, Witterschlick, a church in the estate of Bengen, Flerzheim with a church, the estate of Breust with the church of Houtain, the estate of Cannes with a church; 3 manses in the estate of Hees, 1 in the estate of Vieux-Hoesselt; 2 in the estate of Hahest; 5 in the estate of Frera; Utheri, Gerdingen, Waremme with a church, Velez with a church, Ruvanseis, Sluzin, 1 manse in the estate of Siedes, Scozes, Malgreis, a church in Ouffet, Summa, Sumenthusmont, Marchin, Lize, Assesse with a church. 

Sign of the most invincible caesar Otto [the Great]. Sign of the most serene king Otto [II]. Sign of King Lothar. Sign of Bruno, archbishop of Cologne. Sign of Theodoric, archbishop of Trier. Sign of Odalric, archbishop of Rheims. Sign of Heraclius of Liège. Sign of Baldrick of Utrecht. Sign of Hildebald of Münster. Sign of Lantward of Minden. Sign of Drogo of Osnabrück. Sign of Thierry of Metz. Sign of Wicfrid of Verdun. Sign of Gerard of Toul. Sign of Enguerrand of Cambrai. Sign of Abbot Enguerrand. Sign of Abbot Albert. Sign of Prior John. Sign of Gilbert, Natrand, Bodo, Rothard, Robert. Sign of Duke Hermann [Billung], Duke Frederick [of Lotharingia], Godfrey, Warner, Richer, Arnold, Ausfrid, Robert, Simmo, Everard, Waltger, Folcuin, Franco, Arnold, Elinand, Gerenbard, Voinvir, Grifo, Waltelm, Ermonrand, Lietbert, Hillin, Heribrand, Linno.

I, Bruno, by God’s grace archbishop and chief scribe, witnessed.

Given on the 4th nones of July, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 965, in the 8th indiction, in the 30th year of the reign of the august emperor Otto, in the 5th year of King Otto.

Enacted at the palace of Cologne, happily. 

Before talking about the content here, we need to do a little bit of admin on the language and the deck-clearing. The first thing is that this charter’s arenga is one of the harder ones I’ve had to look at, and I’m still not 100% sure it’s 100% correct. So, if you have any comments, I’d be interested in hearing them. The second thing is that I keep coming across references to this charter being an eleventh-century forgery, but no-one explains why they think that. The best lead I have is to a monography from 1977 which I can’t get hold of. Prima facie, I can’t see why this should be dismissed entirely. The final section looks like an interpolation of some kind of estate survey, as we’ve seen before in the case of Acfred of Aquitaine’s act for Sauxillanges; but the rest of it looks kosher enough.

Anyway, I suppose I should say a little bit about the content of this charter before talking about the bit which is really interesting here, which is the witness list. Bishop Heraclius (sometimes his name is given as Bishop Everacer) is generally taken to be founding the abbey of Saint-Martin in Liège. I have actually been to Liège and seen the abbey, but only from a distance, because it’s on top of a massive hill. I have to say that neither Liège cathedral nor the episcopal residence is there any more. I don’t know how long Heraclius’ move endured, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t very long – I wouldn’t want to tramp up and down that hill on episcopal business either.

With that out the way, let’s talk about that witness list. The order of witnesses is carefully calculated to display Ottonian dominance over their West Frankish counterparts. Thus, Odalric of Rheims is listed last amongst the archbishops, after Cologne and Trier. It’s a major comedown for an archbishopric which had at the end of the ninth century hoped to exercise superior jurisdiction over both! Questions of relative precedence amongst archbishoprics were live in the middle and later tenth century, and as a prelate whose position ultimately depended on outside support, Odalric was not in a strong position to argue his case.

But compare that to Lothar! For context, Lothar was at this point in his mid-twenties, and had been king for over a decade. He was a practiced political operator who had struggled against, and largely been successful against, much older and more experienced rulers such as Robert of Troyes and William Towhead of Poitiers. He had, more-or-less, succeeded in cutting the Robertians down to size. He was about to get married, even. And yet, and yet, look who’s third in the ranking of kings, not even meriting an adjective. And ahead of him? That would be Otto and Adelaide’s son, Otto II, who had been crowned as co-king at Pentecost in 961, aged about six, and who would have been about ten in 965. (I always find it ironic, given the general behaviour of most children of that age I’ve encountered, that he’s given the epithet ‘serene’.) Otto II was a little boy who’d had his kingship handed to him on a plate, who hadn’t had to endure the decade of fighting Lothar had, but who nonetheless got, in front of the great magnates of the Frankish world, to enjoy precedence over the West Frankish monarch. I am, naturally, speculating here. Nonetheless, given the relationship these cousins would go on to (and I use the word loosely) enjoy, I don’t think I’m wrong in not only seeing a formal expression of Ottonian triumphalism in this charter, but also in imagining that it engendered resentment in Lothar.

PS: in any case, it’s not completely imaginary. Widukind’s Res gestae Saxonicae, written shortly after this, and thus after about twenty-odd years of Ottonian hegemony over the Carolingians, says that ‘up to today… there is strife between the Carolingian and East Frankish kings over Lotharingia’, so evidently the existence of bad blood was known at the time.


The Rebel and the Apostle

Gratia Dei id quod sum. With these words, Boso of Provence foreshadowed his bid to become king, the first king not from the Carolingian dynasty in over a century. It’s a famous phrase, but there’s an aspect to it I’ve never seen discussed before (although some Googling revealed that it *is* analysed in a few places in passing), and never would have thought of had I not been on a weekend’s holiday in Prague. We got to St Vitus’ Cathedral too late to go in, and so we sloped off to go and have a drink in a nearby abbey brewery, but just as we were about to leave the Prague Castle complex, I saw this:

A statue of St Paul at Prague Castle (source)

‘This’ is a statue of St Paul, with an inscription above it from 1 Corinthians 15:10: gratia Dei sum id quod sum, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’. Being as it is well over a decade since I read the Epistles, I’d not recognised Boso’s title in Paul’s words, but there it is, clear as day. So what’s going on?

In its Biblical context, Paul is laying out his doctrine on the resurrection of the dead, and prefacing it with his claim to authority.  Paul had not been part of the Christian community during Jesus’ lifetime, and his claims to be an apostle couldn’t be buttressed by references to his actual memory of Jesus. Given that he was trying to compete for status within the early Church with Jesus’ original disciples, up to and including his brother James, this was a problem; and it is this which he addresses in the opening verses of Corinthians. An expanded version of the quotation (1 Corinthians 15:5-10, NIV) goes:

[Jesus] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

That is, it’s not that Paul was directly in the lineage of Jesus’ disciples. Rather, through hard work and grace he had achieved the same status.

You see where this is going? We know from the record of Boso’s election at Mantaille that his circle’s strategy for legitimating his kingship was engaged with the state-of-the-art of Carolingian political thought. Boso and his followers argued that by his own virtues, hard work, and God’s grace, he was entitled to a crown (even though he was not part of the ruling dynasty).

It is therefore easy to see the parallels between Boso and Paul. Neither had the kind of straightforward claim to authority – royal descent or proximity to Jesus – that their competitors had. Nonetheless, both still pressed their claims. In Paul’s case, this made him the single most important figure in the early Church after Jesus’ death. It also made him a model which Boso could emulate. After all, who was more authoritative than the man whom charters from the period regularly refer to as the Apostle? Ultimately it didn’t work – but it’s the authority behind Boso’s challenges to Carolingian rule which made him such a threat.

A Rough Guide to Leeds International Medieval Congress

Normally on the blog we try to pitch our posts to a reasonably broad audience. We want what we write to be interesting and useful to people inside and outside the academy. Whether we always succeed in this ecumenical ambition may be open to question, but at least that’s the general idea. This post is a little bit different, as it’s primarily targeted at postgraduate students and post-doctoral researchers in medieval studies who are contemplating attending Leeds International Medieval Congress for the first time. As a result, it’s more inside baseball than we generally aim for. That said, I hope that what follows is interesting for readers who don’t fall into that category, and I would particularly invite people who have attended the IMC in the past to comment with thoughts, comments and ringing denunciations of my suggestions, qualifications, moral character, and personal hygiene.

What is Leeds International Medieval Congress?

Leeds IMC is the second-largest annual conference in medieval studies (the largest being the International Congress on Medieval Studies held in Kalamazoo.) In the first week of July several thousand medieval scholars take over the centre of the University of Leeds for four days of papers, book launches, wine receptions and sundry other shenanigans. It is reportedly the largest annual academic conference in Europe. Last year over 2,400 people attended and over 1,800 papers were delivered, and that was a down year because of understandable covid-related concerns. Although the dominant discipline represented is History, you will find papers on Literature, Archaeology, Musicology and a bewildering array of other medieval subjects, ranging from late antiquity to the beginning of the early modern period, with a healthy dollop of medievalism and medieval reception as well. Participants come from all over the world, although there is a strong skew towards Europe and the United States.

Should I go to Leeds IMC?

I love the IMC. It’s medievalist summer camp and I have attended 7 of the last 8. That said, the answer to that question is maybe and depends on your answer to the following two questions.

1.     Will someone pay for you to go?

Leeds IMC is not cheap. This year, full registration costs £266, while concessionary registration (which students qualify for) goes for a mere £145. Add in travel costs, accommodation and food, and you’re looking at a serious financial investment. The IMC does offer bursaries for those in need, but they are extremely competitive. See if you can get money from your institution to go.

2.     Are you giving a paper?

Here I break with conventional wisdom, which says that going to your first IMC without giving a paper is a good way of dipping your toe in and getting a feel for the event. I disagree. First, it is much easier to get funding bodies to cover your expenses if you’re giving a paper. Second, giving a paper provides you with a clear task which you have successfully performed before and which is largely in your power to carry out. This helps concentrate the mind and mitigates the more stressful aspects of a major conference. Third, it will help you meet the people you want to meet by putting your name and research interests in the programme, giving them an opportunity to see you in action. Fourth, ‘what timeslot have they given you?’ is the easiest conversational icebreaker at Leeds, a chance to bond in shared commiserations or congratulations.

How do I give a paper at Leeds IMC?

This is the hard part. Generally, you want to start thinking about this a year before the next IMC. The deadline for submitting panels for Leeds IMC 2024 is 30th September 2023 whereas the deadline for submitting an individual paper is 31st August 2023 (we’ll talk about the difference below.) In around May, the organising committee will announce the theme of the IMC for the next calendar year. While you certainly don’t have to give a paper on that theme, it won’t hurt your chances of being selected, so it may be worth thinking about the topic as a springboard. But don’t be too discouraged if no obvious connection emerges. The majority of papers won’t directly connect to the theme.

Because of the scale of the IMC, people normally organise and submit panels of papers. Each panel normally consists of 3-4 speakers and you can submit 1-4 panels, although they all have to be linked as part of the same set. Your panels are much more likely to be selected if they include a range of scholars from different institutions, countries, and career stages. Alternatively, you can submit an individual paper directly to the organising committee.

Both of these routes are fine, but if you can, try to get on a pre-organised panel. If you successfully submit an individual paper, you will be placed on a panel with other people who did likewise. The organising committee will try to make sure these papers are thematically linked, but they can’t work miracles and the results can be somewhat miscellaneous in nature. This can have an impact on your audience, who, faced with choosing between 30 panels running at the same time, may prefer to go to a panel that more consistently speaks to their interests. There’s also a certain risk aversion in play. Being part of an organised panel acts as a vote of confidence, indicating that other academics valued you enough to involve you in their work and stake their reputation on your performance. (This does unfairly penalise people with smaller networks, often junior scholars from small departments or from countries that haven’t traditionally sent people to Leeds.) That said, it is by no means a disaster to give a paper as an individual submission, and it is well worth doing.

A great deal of luck goes into joining your first participant organised panel. In an ideal world, you’ll be invited to participate by the organisers. In practice, you may have to be more proactive. Ask your supervisor or mentor if they have any leads, as well as around your department more generally. Panel organisers often advertise on medievalist Facebook groups, or on Twitter. Keep in touch with people you meet at other conferences. It is far from easy so don’t be discouraged if the right constellation of events fails to come together.

Finally, my instinct is that organising your own panels for your first Leeds may be a step too far. It’s hard work and a lot easier to do once you’ve seen what it looks like. 


One thing to bear in mind right at the start is that while Leeds is a decent sized city of about 800,000 inhabitants, several thousand medievalists descending on it for a week will have a noticeable impact on transport and accommodation.

Transport will obviously differ based on where you’re coming from. The closest airport is Leeds-Bradford. I personally favour flying into Manchester and taking the pleasant train ride over the Pennines.

[Ed.: My preference is actually to fly into London and get a train from King’s Cross. I’m less enamoured of the Trans-Pennine Express than Sam is – I find it slow (only about an hour faster to get to Leeds than the London equivalent), frequently crowded, and much less reliable than the LNER service from London – and often the extra cost of the train from King’s Cross is offset by the price of flying to Manchester rather than London. Also, book well in advance for lower prices, and consider if getting a railcard is worth it.]

Leeds train station to the university campus is walkable and I normally take advantage of the opportunity to admire the grand Victorian architecture, but it is about a mile uphill and I am weird. The chances are that the station will be full of people making their way to the IMC, so splitting a cab can be a viable option.

[Ed.: there’s currently long-term road works in Leeds city centre and the one-way system is a nightmare, so a) don’t bother with a car; but also b) although the buses can’t be caught from outside the station, they are fairly close by.]

In my experience getting away from Leeds is a lot more stressful than arriving. People tend to trickle in in the days leading up to the IMC, but leave on the last day of papers (Thursday), sometimes missing the last session. As a result, trains tend to get filled up by exhausted people with too much luggage. It only takes one cancelled train (and there’s usually at least one) to have a ripple effect down the line. Likewise, although I’ve never tried it, the reports I’ve heard about Leeds-Bradford in the aftermath of the IMC have not been promising. If you don’t live in the UK, it might be worth taking a couple of days holiday to explore the country and avoid the immediate exodus.

When you register for the conference, you will be offered the opportunity to book accommodation on campus. I would strongly recommend this, but do it quickly because it fills up fast. Staying on campus gives you more of a rest in the morning if you’ve been up late networking in the bar. It also provides you with a convenient base during the day, where you can deposit things, or take a nap if things are getting a little overwhelming. Finally, it also comes with a hearty English breakfast that, combined with the cheery smiles and buoyant mood coming from one’s fellow medievalists, will surely set you up for the day to come.

You can also pre book lunch and dinner. I generally don’t because I prefer having the freedom to continue conversations begun in the sessions or to meet up with friends. In addition to the main canteen, there’s a number of food places and a mini-supermarket in the depths of the central building that makes grabbing a quick lunch pretty easy. For dinner, there are a couple of bars in the complex serving standard British pub fare. Leeds also has a large number of restaurants if you would like to escape campus.

[Ed.: and please do try to escape campus! Getting medievalists out of the campus can be like pulling teeth, but the food and drink options are cheaper and better in the town centre!]

At Leeds IMC 2022, the militia is raised upon reports that a nineteenth-century specialist has been spotted on campus (photo by author).

The conference

The sheer scale of Leeds IMC can be a little overwhelming at first. The programme should be available online ahead of the conference. I would advise going through it in advance to get a rough sense of what looks interesting (I myself may or may not put together a spreadsheet…). When you arrive, you should be issued with a list of updates. This will include details of any papers that have been withdrawn or last-minute substitutions.

Generally, I would advise choosing which to panels go to based on how interesting they sound to you, rather than whether you feel you have to (this obviously does not apply to the panel on which you’re speaking). This is your best opportunity all year to learn something new and broaden your horizons. Given the sheer number of papers and panels you’re also much more likely to retain information if you go to ones that sound like fun.

Inevitably there will be sessions when multiple interesting panels clash. In such a situation it can be tempting to try to race from one to another to try to catch different papers from each. I would resist that urge. Not only is it likely that they will be held in different buildings, but the chair’s discretion over when to have questions makes it hard to predict when a paper will start. Also, it just feels rude to me and will be slightly heart-breaking for any speaker who watches the audience melt away when they stand up to speak.

Equally inevitably, there will be sessions when nothing particularly leaps out at you. While it can be annoying, I would advise using that time as a chance to catch your breath. You can check out the book sale, with stalls from academic publishers and second-hand bookdealers. It can be an opportunity to practise your paper somewhere secluded (I favour St George’s Fields close to the campus). Particularly as the conference goes on, this time can also be a chance to sit quietly or have a quick nap.

[Ed.: entirely agreed. Don’t feel obliged to attend every session: five days of six hours-plus of papers and socialising is tiring. It’s like Disneyland: militantly trying to squeeze as much ride time out of your stay as possible is a recipe for stressful exhaustion.]

Giving your paper

This is the area that requires the least comment. Most papers will run for twenty minutes followed by ten minutes for questions. Depending on the nature of the panel, the chair may decide to combine all the question sessions at the end. Because of the large number of panels, sessions are scattered across the main campus, so it’s worth making sure you know where the room is in advance. The rooms come in all shapes and sizes, although they should all come with the standard AV setup and there will be a team of local students helping you to set up any presentation you might have. The organising committee will try to assess how large each panel’s room will need to be, but they don’t always get it right, so you may end up speaking in a packed closet, or presenting to an empty lecture theatre.

Otherwise, you’ve probably done this or something like it before. Depending on the room, it may be worth pitching your paper slightly more broadly than you would to a more specialist conference. Be aware that if you’re going to discuss someone else’s work it is by no means impossible that they will be in attendance. While I can say from personal experience that it’s very enjoyable as an audience member to watch someone get ambushed by the person they’ve just spent the last twenty minutes attacking, it may be less fun if you’re the one standing behind the lectern. Sometimes, no matter how good your paper is, the question session will focus on the other papers on the panel. Your chair should try to get you involved and ask you questions, but try not to take it personally.  It will say as much about the composition of the audience as it does about your work.

A final thought here. Leeds International Medieval Congress is, well, an international congress (about medieval things, held in Leeds), which means that papers can be given in several languages. Speaking as someone who is aware of the immense privilege he holds as a native English speaker, I would strongly recommend that you give your paper in English to maximise your audience. This is your opportunity to share your scholarship with a wider group of people and the best way to do that is to do it in the global lingua franca.

Meeting People

Leeds IMC can be a tricky place to attempt to network at, and not just because academics tend to be socially awkward at the best of times. The sheer scale of the event turns individual academics into a faceless crowd, which can complicate making connections. Whereas at a smaller conference everyone sees the same papers, eats meals in the same places and may stay at the same hotel, those shared experiences are much rarer at an event the size of the IMC. Further, Leeds offers more established academics an incredibly precious opportunity to catch up with old friends who now live in other cities, countries or continents. This is one of the great attractions of the IMC but it means that senior scholars tend to have less time and energy for talking to new people.

This means that it is surprisingly easy to find yourself alone in the crowd, particularly if you don’t have any buddies from your own institution. This is never a pleasant situation to be in, and it’s easy to feel gloomy. If it happens, try not to let it get you down. Even the most assured and gregarious of the people you see before you have moments when they walk into a room full of strangers. Bear in mind that most of the scholars at the IMC feel much less confident than they look and that you are probably not the only person feeling uncomfortable.

Precisely because the IMC is the sort of place where a lot of people are feeling a bit out of place, it’s an excellent opportunity to strengthen existing acquaintanceships. People you vaguely know from previous conferences and workshops will be extremely glad to see a familiar face and you should build on that. In terms of meeting new people, there are a couple of things you can do. If you enjoyed someone’s paper, go up and tell them so. Everyone likes talking to people who appreciate their work. If they’re not looking busy you can explain why you were interested and maybe ask a follow-up question. The same applies to people whose scholarship you’ve read elsewhere (or to people whose blogs you follow).

There will be a range of social events throughout the conference that offer chances to get to know people better. The highlight of any IMC (apart from the paper I’m giving, which is always a work of genius that is as scholarly rigorous and philosophically profound as it is rhetorically splendid) is of course the legendary Wednesday night disco. I find the sight of one’s bibliography cavorting before one’s eyes humanises senior scholars considerably. This may be a somewhat intense space to meet people, although if you fancy saying hi, I’ll be the incredibly handsome tall blond guy doing a pogo stick impression across the dance floor.

[Ed.: be careful: he flails.]

More low-key are the wine receptions that take place in the evenings. In addition to offering free refreshments, they offer a venue where people have shown up specifically to chat to strangers. Also popular is the casual football match normally played in the mid-morning break on Thursday.

If all else fails, my go-to strategy is to locate the nearest group of Americans and make friends. In my experience, Americans tend to be (1) outgoing, (2) eager to make friends while in Europe, and (3) easy to find. International conferences would be much less fun without them.

Two thoughts to close this section. Thought the first, no one likes being ‘networked’ at. It can be dehumanising if it feels like someone is only talking to you because they’re interested in what they can get from you. If you’re in conversation with someone, aim to find the things about them that are genuinely interesting. That doesn’t mean turning every chat into a deep excavation of your interlocutor’s soul, but it means treating people as worthy of attention for who they are, rather than just for what they might be able to do for you. Not only will this encourage the people you meet to spend time with you, you’ll also have a lot more fun doing it.

Thought the second, this is an international conference (that takes place in Leeds, featuring medievalists). As scholars get better at collaborating with each other and paying attention to work done in other countries, medieval studies can feel like a single community. It’s useful to bear in mind that the people you will be talking with come from dozens of countries with different intellectual traditions. This means that the big names, ideas and sources that you’re familiar with may not be household names for everyone else in the same room as you. This is an incredible opportunity for you to share what you know with other people and learn from them in turn, but it can be disorientating.

It also means that the ways that medieval studies interact with the wider political and intellectual landscape that scholars come from will also be different. Terms and ideas that are controversial in one environment may not be in others. By all means, challenge bad behaviour. By all means, defend your ideas and practices. But unless you have strong reason to suspect otherwise, I would suggest operating under the assumption of good faith.

Closing Thoughts

Leeds IMC is fantastic precisely because it brings people from across the world together. Part of the miracle is that we don’t fully appreciate how wondrous this is. In Europe, it is barely two generations since the language skills and cultural knowledge of our forebears were drafted in the service of war against each other. Even now, one of the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is that it has become increasingly hard for Russian scholars to participate in events like the IMC.

It’s not for everyone. You can have a stellar career in medieval studies without setting foot in Leeds IMC. It’s expensive, exhausting and overwhelming. But I love it. I’ve learned a huge amount about the medieval past from attending, developed my skills as a scholar and a communicator and made wonderful friends. And I hope this (monstrously long) post is of some help for anyone thinking of attending it for the first time.

Charter A Week 88: The English are Coming

Usually I try and avoid controversy in the documents I pick to translate. I’ve chosen a few documents with dodgy elements before – and will do again as we hit the 970s, to give you fair warning – but normally I’ll select documents whose authenticity is basically undisputed. This week, things are different. Today’s charter is probably the dodgiest document I’ve done since Pope John VIII’s letter to Saint-Gilles way back in 878.

I have often complained about the archives of the abbey of Sint-Pieters of Blandijnberg in Ghent. The monks of the abbey were prolific forgers throughout the early and central Middle Ages, and indeed this won’t be the last time we see an act made suspicious by their touch. Still, I generally tend to favour arguments seeing some kind of historical core to most of these documents, and so too in this case; but boy, it’s a doozy:

Van Lokeren, no. 38 (August 964; recte early 970s?) = S 728

With our lord Jesus Christ reigning in perpetuity. 

The outstanding agonist said in divine scriptures: ‘all things which are seen are temporal; but things that are not seen are eternal. Therefore, the honey-sweet divine pronouncements of heavenly proclamations persuade Us with frequent prayers that with God’s help an enduring kingdom should be constantly acquired from this fleeting and (without doubt) transitory little possessions. 

Wherefore I, Edgar, by the help of celestial power, emperor and chief administrator of the English, putting aside the vile and transitory like scourings of refuse, and choosing the supernal in the image of precious necklaces, to enjoy the mercy of honey-flowing sweetness and the pleasure of infinite joy, make it known to everyone that I soberly gave to God and His blessed apostle Peter and the abbey-dwellers of the church of Ghent whom, having been taken over the seas, is placed on Blandijnberg a certain amount of land, that is, in the place where the soil-tillers by ancient use imposed the name of Lewisham, with everything pertaining to it, that is, Greenwich, Woolwich, Mottingham and Coombe and all their appendages appendages and with everything which the Lord of the Heavens created in that shoot of land both in known matters and in unknown, in small and in great, and in all its customs and rights which pertain to it, to be freely and unchangeably possessed and free by every royal right. 

I granted all this all this of my own free will from my possessions of the royal fisc without any contradiction by the prayers and friendly words of my devoted and most good-willed friend Archbishop Dunstan [of Canterbury], under whose governance and patronage the same church of Sint-Pieters of Ghent had remained ruled from the time of my brother King Eadwig, which same archbishop also passed some time as an exile in the same church because of the same king, for the subsidy of the victuals of the monks perpetually serving God and the blessed apostles therein, for the stability and peace of my realm, for the honour and glory and praise of God and that holy apostle, with churches, cemeteries, with lands cultivated and uncultivated, incomes and renders, ways in and out, fields and thick forests,in accordance with the borders and limits anciently conserved for a long time, in pastures, meadows, and waters and watercourses, swamps, fishing rights, fishermen, reeds, mills and tolls and with every utility which can come forth therefrom for all time, completely free from royal demands and any lesser human demands for service, by the customary law of liberty as well and as full as I myself possessed it better and more royally, with God (it turns out) as my helper, under the very dominion of my right, and just as once my kinswoman Ælfthryth, with the favour, advice and consent of my forefather King Edward [the Elder], and the son of that uncle of Ælfthryth, for the salvation of her soul and that of her lord Count Baldwin [the Bald] and their sons Arnulf [the Great] and Adalolf [of Ternois], bequeathed to the said church liberally and eternally, without the detestable yoke of servitude in in perpetuity, I, with the consent and advice of my bishops and best men, freely and generously concede and confirm to be held in perpetuity by the aforementioned church of Sint-Pieter of Ghent.  

Finally, if anyone (which We do not wish for) might consent to violating this Our gift through perpetrating a fraud, let them consider themselves hereafter the account to be rendered to before God on the Day of the Final Judgement, and that they will suffer atrocious punishments in the eternal fire with the rejected to whom it is said ‘Go ye from me ye cursed’, if they do not correct themselves with appropriate penitence before bodily lamentation. 

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 964, in the first indiction, I, Edgar, by concession of Christ’s grace, king and ruler of the English, in the month of August, marked and confirmed this my donation with the effigy of Christ’s cross. 

I, Archbishop Dunstan [of Canterbury], rejoicing at this royal donation, confirmed with the sign of the cross. I, Bishop Ælfstan of the church of London, co-signed. I, Bishop Æthelwold of the church of Winchester strengthened this. I, Bishop Æscwig of the church of Dorchester added to this. I, Bishop Theodred of the church of Elmham, consented. I, Bishop Athulf of the church of Hereford subscribed. I, Bishop Ælfric of the church of Crediton said amen. I, Abbot Wulfsige [of Westminster]. I, Abbot Sigeric [of St Augustine’s]. I, Abbot Leofric. I, Abbot Alfred. I, Abbot Ælfweard. I, Ealdorman Ælfhere [of Mercia]. I, Ealdorman Æthelwine [of East Anglia]. I, Ealdorman Thored. I Thegn Edwin. Thegn Eadric. Thegn Eadsig.

Many personages of illustrious men besides and princes of the realm of divers orders have been left out, who were similarly witnesses and helpers of this confirmation with most pious feeling.

If anyone tries to overturn this decree in any way, or extend old or new letters, let them be anathema. Amen. 

The man himself, from the New Minster Charter (source)

As it stands, this charter has definitely been at minimum interpolated, and we can say this for two reasons. First, the grant of Ælfthryth to which it refers is known to be a forgery not just of an era later than she lived but of an era later than Edgar’s day too. Relatedly, the witness list here cannot be legit. Theodred of Elmham, and Ælfric of Crediton, for example, are figures of the early-to-mid 970s, and Æscwig of Dorchester probably can’t come from Edgar’s reign at all as his predecessor Ælfnoth was still witnessing charters into the reign of Edgar’s successor Edward the Martyr (albeit that act is not unimpeachable itself). So we have prima facie reasons for suspicion.

Yet how far should we take this suspicion? There is a historiographical divide here. Scholars of tenth-century Flemish history (most recently Steven Vanderputten) follow Jan Dhondt in saying that the core is basically kosher. By contrast, scholars who work on the history of contemporary England think it’s junk, most notably Simon Keynes, who dismissed it in a footnote – albeit without explaining why. In discussion with specialists in English history, I have heard the sentiment expressed that the content of the grant is inherently unlikely, that it is tremendously improbable that English kings would be granting land to Continental institutions before the Norman Conquest of 1066.

However, we have already seen the close ties between England and Flanders at this time, and Arnulf’s letter was not alone. We have epistolary evidence from a variety of institutions bordering the Channel, from Brittany to Paris, and most of them ask for help and resources. It would be one thing if we were dealing with an institution in, say, southern Aquitaine (although the cartulary of Conques does record a son of Harald Harefoot being made prior there), but this is Flanders: a region tied by trade, blood, and political allegiance to the English kingdom for decades. In short, were Edgar to have made some sort of grant to a Frankish institution, it would have been this one.

We also have to address the question of models. The opening of this charter has no parallel in Continental diplomatic, but does have clear English parallels: the quotation from St Paul is found, introduced with the same phrase, in acts of Alfred the Great and Edmund I; and the phrase after Edgar’s title is taken from the elaborate Latin of the early/mid tenth-century composer known as Athelstan A. Athelstan A was, as his name suggests, writing for Edgar’s predecessor King Athelstan, but scribes writing on Edgar’s behalf did re-use his prologues in Edgar’s acts. By contrast, it is hard to imagine where a Ghent scribe would have got hold of it to use as a model. I of all people am not going to tell you that arengae to royal acts can’t move around between institutions, but when we see third-party arengae appear in acts of other institutions there’s usually a clear channel of transmission. In this case, we would need someone very familiar with pre-Conquest English diplomatic practice willing to concoct a document out of whole cloth on behalf of a Ghent monastery. It seems to me easiest to argue that such a person did so because they were actually ordered to produce a royal act by Edgar’s court (which was then used as the basis for a later interpolated act). Ultimately, if this looks like a queasy mash-up of English and Frankish diplomatic it’s because it is; but that doesn’t preclude a genuine grant of Edgar’s from the second quarter of the tenth century.

Moreover, if there was such an act, it says interesting things about English influence in Flanders. There’s plenty of work on English politics vis-à-vis the Frankish world; but sadly most of it tends to stop at Athelstan, with the rise of the Ottonians. Yet England remained a powerful player, even if it’s less visible. In this context, it’s a real shame that there is such a big question mark over the date of the original act of Edgar’s. If we go by the witness list and assign the act to the 970s, we could see this act as part of a wider competition for influence in Flanders. I’ve written before on the blog about how Lothar and Otto II contested Flanders and Lower Lotharingia in the years around 970, but given how closely connected England and Flanders were, and how important it was for English security and trade, it would make perfect sense that Edgar might try and add his own two-penn’orth. By contrast, if we take the dating clause at face value and put the act in 964, then we could even hypothesise that Arnulf’s letter asking for an alliance worked. If Arnulf was hoping that Lothar would guarantee his posterity, he may well have been hoping for the same from his English relatives. In either case, though, this act is a salutary reminder that England was not a non-presence in Frankish politics after the 950s.  

The Early History of the Thibaudines

Recently, a very nice person got in touch via the blog’s contact form to say thanks. This is always appreciated, but what inspired this post was the reason they were reading the blog in the first place. It seems that genealogical enquiry had got them as far back as the ninth century, to the emergence of the so-called Thibaudine family. We’ve met their most famous early representative, the memorably-named Theobald the Trickster, trying to assert his own authority in the Neustrian March against Hugh Capet in the late 950s, and it’s safe to say that this mid-tenth century point is their ‘big bang’ moment. Eventually, they’ll go on to be counts of Champagne and even kings (of Navarre) before dying out in the early fourteenth century. Their emergence in the ninth century, though, is obscure; and given that the topics are interesting (and also that a surprisingly high proportion of this blog’s traffic comes from Facebook genealogy groups and the like) I though that addressing some of the myths and realities of the earliest Thibaudines would be worthwhile.

It has to be said that the reality is pretty easy to cover. The first Thibaudine to emerge into the light of the documentary sources is Theobald the Elder, viscount of Tours, who first appears in 908 already in post. Theobald, rather like his colleague Fulk the Red in Angers but even more so, basically came out of nowhere. However, we know a little bit about Fulk’s background and connections, enough to know that his family had some royal ties, some marital connections to local Church magnates, and maybe a couple of more important distant relatives (although the evidence for this is rather more circumstantial than I would like). We know none of this for Theobald. By analogy, we can say that he was a ‘man in the middle’, a member of the local elite who by dint of ability or connection was granted an office by Robert of Neustria and who parleyed that office into a lasting family legacy. But that’s it.

This hasn’t stopped people trying.

Probably the first was Richer of Rheims, whose work spends a remarkable amount of its opening pages on the counts of Blois. Per Richer’s telling, during the reign of King Odo, a royal standard bearer named Ingo distinguished himself in battle against the vikings, and was given the castle of Blois. When he died, he left it to his young son Gerlo. Richer doesn’t actually make Gerlo an ancestor of Theobald. However, by the beginning of the twelfth century, Lambert of Saint-Omer made this Gerlo not a little boy but a ravening pirate, and explicitly placed him as the founder of the Thibaudine line. These figures are all inventions. None of them are found in the – relatively good – contemporary sources. Equally, we have no reason to think that Richer had any good sources of information about the later ninth century, and his genealogical statements about the period (such as giving Robert the Strong a father named Wichmann) are demonstrably incorrect. Lambert too had no good contemporary sources, and his use of Richer and other later sources simply piles legend on legend. In short, we are in the realm of genealogical myth.

The château of Blois as it is today (source)

Next in line comes the mid-eleventh century historian William of Jumièges, who places the inception of Thibaudine rule not in a genealogical line but one of office-holding. According to William, after his many ravages King Charles (it’s unspecified which one) granted the city of Chartres to the viking Hasting, who held it for some time. However, when Rollo began to attack the West Frankish kingdom, Theobald tricked Hasting into selling Chartres to him, after which Hasting disappeared and Theobald’s power was consolidated. Again, this is central medieval myth-making: the historical Hasting is pretty well-documented and none of his activities happened at that time or in these places. Equally, Thibaudine dominion over Chartres didn’t come about until the mid-tenth century. What’s happened is that William has read Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Gesta Normannorum and combined two themes: that Hasting was an evil predecessor to Rollo and that the Norman War of the 960s against the Thibaudines was a turning point in Norman history. By having Hasting as the forerunner of the Thibaudines in office-holding, William paints the Thibaudines as the Rollonids evil mirror, all the better to savour their defeat under Richard the Fearless. The historical Hasting has no place in the history of the Thibaudines.

This brings us to modern historians. Perhaps the most fun theory was that of Ferdinand Lot. Lot, attempting to keep Richer’s evidence in the picture, argued that Theobald was born from an illicit union between Gerlo and Charles the Bald’s widow, the Empress Richildis (thereby also explaining a letter to the empress from Fulk of Rheims castigating her for her bad behaviour in widowhood). Unfortunately, this theory is completely vitiated by Lot’s false belief that Theobald the Elder and Theobald the Trickster were the same person. As it happens, we think – although it’s not completely certain – that it was Theobald the Trickster’s mother who was called Richildis, and there’s no good reason at all to identify this figure with the dowager empress. Richildis is not exactly an uncommon name.

This, finally, brings us to a whole dossier of claims, made by historians as distinguished as Karl Ferdinand Werner and Jacques Boussard, attempting to link Theobald, or Richildis, or both, to ninth-century figures. Werner believed Theobald the Elder derived from a distinguished Franco-Burgundian lineage; Boussard connected them to the counts of Bourges; others have tried to link them to the Robertians, the Rorgonids, and others. The evidence for all such claims is scanty and can be summarised as relating to either onomastics or office/property-holding, or both. Thus, for instance, Werner’s argument relies in great part that ‘Theobald’ was also the name of Hugh of Arles’ father; and Boussard makes much hay from the fact that Theobald the Trickster’s (half-?)brother Richard became archbishop of Bourges, ‘doubtless’, he says, ‘because of his mother’s family ties with the counts of the city’. I’ve written before about the problems in using onomastics to make genealogical arguments, so all I will say here is that the presence of the name ‘Theobald’ amongst the highest echelons of the Carolingian aristocracy has very little probatory value when it comes to connecting them to figures on the other side of the Frankish world who were by all other accounts fairly minor and it certainly doesn’t explain anything about their careers. On the other hand, Boussard is making a leap, and I think a fallacious one, which is very common if rarely articulated amongst a certain kind of prosopographer: that the only way for property or office-holding to be gained or passed on is via family ties. This is demonstrably untrue, and the fact that it is demonstrably untrue significantly weakens any kind of argument based on succession.

So where does this leave us? When it comes to tracing back the Thibaudines beyond the early tenth century, nowhere. That’s not a bad thing, though. The temptation to give ancestral figures glittering genealogies or careers more exciting than our sources warrant can be strong; but ultimately the figure of a local elite making a prosperous but unremarkable career as upper management has more explanatory power than any amount of myth-making.

Peace through Pain: Mutually Hurting Stalemates in the Carolingian World

It was not entirely surprising when, in the year 800, Charlemagne declared war on Benevento. Relations between the southern Italian polity and the Franks had been complicated ever since Charlemagne conquered northern Italy in 774. The Carolingian ruler was of the opinion that Duke Grimoald III of Benevento (r. 788-806) was his subject. Grimoald, who called himself Prince, believed otherwise. So when Charlemagne sent his son, King Pippin of Italy (r. 781-810), south with an army, it was hardly unexpected. Nor was it surprising when Pippin returned to Benevento the following year, or the year after that, taking Ortona and Lucera in 802. Grimoald responded by retaking the latter city, capturing Count Winigis of Spoleto in the process. What happened next is more surprising. Or rather, what didn’t happen. For ten years after 802, nothing seems to have happened. Grimoald released Winigis in 803, but after that our sources go silent until 812. In that year, again without any obvious explanation, Grimoald IV (r. 806-817) made peace with Charlemagne, paying the emperor 25,000 gold solidi.

‘Can Grimoald come out to play?’ A stalemate ensues in the Golden Psalter (St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 22, p. 136).

Why was no further effort made to prosecute the war after 802? And why did it take a decade for peace to be officially made? These are questions that we answer with the traditional historians’ tools of source criticism and contextual analysis. But I also think it may be useful to draw upon ideas from the field of International Relations. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m keen on applying concepts from IR to the early medieval period to see if they can be helpful.

The idea I’d like to think about today is that of the Mutually Hurting Stalemate (‘MHS’ – warning, acronyms ahead!). Pioneered by I. William Zartman in 1983 [1], and then subsequently developed by himself and others, MHS is a term used for thinking about the circumstances that may lead to a negotiated peace. This is a technical term with a healthy literature behind it. To summarise though, an MHS emerges in a war when (1) two evenly matched sides cannot defeat each other militarily, and (2) both are suffering as a consequence of the continuing conflict. Crucially, (3) the people running the show on both sides have to be aware of both of these facts. Otherwise, the war can rumble on with the adversaries convinced that one last push will win the day. Zartman suggested that this could lead to peace talks on their own, although others have argued that both parties also need a Way Out (which I will refuse to abbreviate on principle and capitalize only with the most gritted of teeth) in order to encourage them to perceive a Mutually Enticing Opportunity (‘MEO’. You win this time, IR people).

This might seem like an awful lot of capitalized words to say something obvious, but what I think it might offer us is a sort of checklist of features to look out for: a war that is locked in stalemate; where both parties are hurting as a consequence; leadership on both sides is increasingly aware of this; and acceptable outs can be found.

Applying this to Charlemagne’s war with the Grimoalds, we have a state of stalemate. The Franks could send armies down to southern Italy and maybe take cities, but they couldn’t reliably hold them. Lucera was captured and then immediately recaptured when Pippin went back home. But the Grimoalds couldn’t push north. While in the aftermath of Charlemagne’s conquest of the Lombard kingdom Pope Hadrian I had suggested that the Beneventans were plotting to oust the Franks, that plot, if it ever existed, depended on a coalition with various Lombard lords in Spoleto, Friuli and Chiusi. By the early ninth century those leaders were gone, mostly replaced with Franks loyal to Charlemagne. Agobard of Lyons wrote of a widespread panic in Provence that the Beneventans were engaging in biological warfare to spread cattle blight, but while this indicates paranoia, it suggests a lack of direct military force.

Stalemate then, but was this a Mutually Hurting Stalemate? On the Beneventan side, Erchempert wrote of this conflict that ‘frequent warfare distressed the Beneventans so that for the moment there could be no peace.’ He noted that plague and famine were a problem for both parties. Even if there were no major invasions after 802, raiding and hostility seem to have placed stress upon the principality. The war also seems to have been costly for the Carolingians, with Frankish armies decimated by that old scourge of northern armies in southern Italy, disease. As early as 801, Alcuin was advising Charlemagne that the price of war with Benevento might be too high. The abbot of Marmoutier was mourning his friend Meginfred on the campaign when he wrote to the emperor:

you should reflect on what is pleasing to God and profitable to the Christian people over the invasion of Benevento, lest greater loss be suffered there by your faithful subjects.

The mass panic in Provence, which led to the massacre of foreigners in the area, hints at a world where suspicion was placing a considerable psychological toll on the population.

That said, the continuation of this war for over a decade suggests that the conflict wasn’t crippling for either side. These losses might explain why the heat went out of the war in 802, but not necessarily why it ended in 812. I think this is where we come to the next point in the checklist, both parties developing a consensus that this war is unwinnable as well as costly. To understand the timing of this development, we need to introduce another party to the equation: Byzantium. If we believe Erchempert’s account, Constantinople had been indirectly involved in the start of the war. According to him, Grimoald III had married Evantia, a Byzantine princess, alarming the Carolingians. Although Grimoald divorced Evantia, the Franks still chose to interfere. Constantinople viewed Charlemagne’s imperial coronation dimly. From 806 the Franks and the Byzantines were at war over influence in Venice and Zadar.

This doesn’t explain the energy going out of the Beneventan war, which had already happened by 803, but probably does help us understand it’s eventual end. By 810 Charlemagne and Emperor Nicephorus I were starting to negotiate a peace between Aachen and Constantinople. This was finally concluded in 812-813, with Venice and Dalmatia remaining in the Byzantine sphere of influence, while the Frankish ruler’s imperial title was recognized in the East. I suspect this treaty served to focus minds in southern Italy. Benevento had a complicated relationship with Constantinople, and Grimoald III had defeated his Byzantine-backed brother-in-law in battle with Frankish support in 788. That said, Byzantium had been friendly with Benevento. Peace between the emperors of East and West potentially freed up Frankish forces to go south, while also making it unlikely that Grimoald IV could expect any support from one of the few powers that could go toe to toe with Charlemagne.

From Charlemagne’s perspective, the Byzantine war made the continuation of hostilities with Benevento more difficult. The key factor was the death of Pippin from disease while besieging Venice in 810. In place of a veteran commander, the kingdom of Italy was now led by Pippin’s infant son, Bernard, who would need considerable support to establish a new regime. This made waging war in the south harder and much less desirable. Erchempert also suggests that Pippin had been hawkish on Benevento so his demise made peace much easier to discuss. All of this fit in with a wider policy of peaceful relations. The year 812 also saw Charlemagne negotiating with the Danes and the Umayyads.

Because of these developments, by 812 it was clear to the elites of both sides that the war was unwinnable and undesirable. This takes us to final element, the Way Out. On the Carolingian side, this is fairly straightforward. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, Grimoald IV gave Charlemagne 25,000 gold solidi. Gold is welcome in any establishment and the payment could be portrayed as tribute and acknowledgement of Benevento’s client status. This was an easy sell to anyone in the Frankish courts who might otherwise be sceptical about the benefits of peace.

What the off-ramp for Grimoald was is harder to perceive. I can see three possibilities:

1.     Grimoald failed to find a plausible of making the peace of 812 look like a win to people in Benevento, contributing to his assassination and replacement by Sico (r. 817-832) in 817.

2.     The Frankish sources presenting the Beneventans as giving tribute in submission are overstating the case. Grimoald’s envoys actually received fairly hefty gifts in return which allowed him to sell the peace to domestic elites.

3.     Grimoald’s treaty with Charlemagne fit his wider model of peaceful kingship.

The problem with door number 1 is that sending money to the Franks does not seem to have been a losing strategy for Beneventan princes. In 818, Sico himself visited Louis the Pious and gave the emperor large gifts in exchange for acknowledging his new regime.

Possibility 2 is more plausible. Sources linked to the Carolingians tended to portray them to their best advantage and making the agreement with Grimoald look more lopsided than it was by simply not mentioning any return gifts would not be out of character. I also quite like the final suggestion. Erchempert says that Grimoald was ‘a mild and very pleasant man’ who ‘undertook a treaty of peace not only with the Franks but also with all established peoples everywhere,’ most notably Naples. The idea of ‘peaceful kingship’ could be quite potent in the early medieval world, and I could see a political strategy hinging upon Christian benevolence. However Grimoald managed to square it with the key stakeholders of his realm, the peace worked. Benevento and the Carolingians would have straightforwardly peaceful relations for decades until the outbreak of civil war in Benevento prompted Frankish intervention.

Did we need the concept of the Mutually Hurting Stalemate to explain what happened above? Strictly speaking, probably not. I was thinking about Carolingian-Beneventan relations for entirely unrelated reasons (as you do) and it occurred to me that I had a Mutually Hurting Stalemate on my hands after I’d worked out most of this already. But I do think it was useful for me in giving me a series of features to look out for and a sequence of questions to ask. Perhaps most usefully, it makes it easier for me to compare it with other moments in Carolingian foreign relations by offering a category to group them in.

That said, I do have a couple of thoughts about the specific applications of MHS to the early medieval world. It’s a concept that was developed from observation of peace processes in the twentieth century and that occasionally shows. First, I suspect that combatants hit the ‘Hurting’ part of an MHS later in the early medieval period than today. Unless you’re the United States during the Second World War, prolonged intensive warfare with a peer competitor tends to be bad for industrialised economies. Trade gets disrupted, domestic consumption decreases and weird things happen to your industrial output. You’re also having to pay to mobilise and equip a large chunk of your workforce, redirecting them from their previous occupation in the process. This doesn’t prevent such wars from happening, but the pain becomes much more obvious much earlier.

I think the economies of early medieval polities change the incentives here somewhat. Unless their fields were literally being set on fire, the rents that Carolingian nobility drew from their landholdings were not particularly affected by warfare. Some of their manpower may have been levied, but the vast majority of Frankish armies were made up of military elites who brought their own equipment. Further, warfare could be intensely profitable (at least if you were one those said elites and not the peasant who found themselves caught on the frontline). Even a stalemate could raise revenue in the form of loot and plunder. That doesn’t mean that Hurting Stalemates didn’t occur (otherwise this whole blog post starts looking increasingly pointless), but that the pain might happen much further down the line than in modern warfare.

Second, the idea of an MHS comes from a world where wars are expected to be concluded by a formal peace. It is, above all, a tool for thinking about how hostilities can be ended. Medieval wars could indeed be ended by treaties. But if you were the aggressor, I suspect that it was also relatively straightforward to de facto end the war by just not prosecuting it. From Charlemagne’s perspective, the conflict consisted of him sending armies south. All he needed to do to end the war was stop doing that. This was obviously not always possible, but one of the great advantages the Franks had over their neighbours in the reign of Charlemagne was that they were normally the people who got to decide when a war was over. A fine example is of course the Roncesvalles campaign, which ended with no treaty or formal peace, but with the Franks walking away. In that environment, the necessity of an MHS to coerce a formal peace becomes less important.

I think part of the value of concepts like an MHS for historians comes precisely from the questions they raise when we are forced to think about their limits. Rather than deploying them uncritically to gain authority or claim the fig leaf of interdisciplinarity, when we properly engage with them, we push at our assumptions about how the worlds we study worked, while also making our scholarship more open to comparison with other people playing with the same tools.

[1] ‘The Strategy of Preventive Diplomacy in Third World Conflicts’, Managing US-Soviet Rivalry: Problems of Crisis Prevention, ed. A.L. George (Boulder, CO: West-View), 341-363, explored further in Ripe for Resolution: Conflict and Intervention in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

Charter A Week 87: Family Gifts

This week’s act is short for exactly the same reason as I wanted to put it up: it’s complementary both to two other documents we’ve looked at on this blog, and also to an article I wrote on the Flemish succession.

D Lo, no. 18 (6th January 963)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Lothar, by grace of God king of the Franks.

If We accompany the good will of Our followers which they have, chiefly towards ecclesiastical advantage, with royal favour, We most certainly believe that We – far from doubt – obey the divine will and look after Our salvation. 

Wherefore let it be known to all of the sons of the holy mother Church both present and future that the venerable Count Arnulf [the Great] sent to Us, humbly requesting that We might by Our authority corroborate the gift of the mesnil which is called Quessy, sited in the district of Vermandois, which he made to St Mary and St Hunegund and the monastery of Homblières. And We decreed this be done.

This estate contains eight manses, five on one side of the stream which is called Lehone and three on the other with a mill, with meadows, pastures, and watercourses. 

Therefore, let the aforesaid gift endure, defended by Our privilege, unharmed by any uproar from quarrels, and, stably fixed by royal defence, persist undisturbed and intact. And let anyone who tries to rise up against the tutelage of Our precept, which We little believe will come to pass, first let them experience from God Almighty vengeance for the Church’s injury, and having been convicted by the judgement of Us and all the faithful, let them pay 60 pounds of gold to the royal fisc and let them never obtain anything of what they sought.

Sign of the most glorious lord Lothar, king of the Franks.

Given on the 8th ides of January, in the 9th year of the reign of lord Lothar, in the 4th indiction.

Enacted at Laon, happily.  

Arnulf the Great is by this point an old man – one source refers to him as Arnulfus Contractus, a phrase which doesn’t emerge too damaged in English as ‘Wrinkly Arnulf’. Even worse, his son and heir Baldwin III has just died, leaving only a little baby as the heir to Flanders. We saw with Witger’s genealogy of the counts of Flanders that Arnulf was already trying to entice Lothar into a closer alliance; and we’ve seen with his letter to Dunstan of Canterbury that his strategy for doing so was one he consistently employed, with royal relatives English as well as Frankish: emphasising his kinship connections.

This diploma is relevant because Arnulf also spent several years on a kind of goodwill tour. Starting, again, before Baldwin’s death, he had granted gifts to a number of different institutions patronised by the Carolingians. Witger mentions Compiègne, Flodoard talks about Rheims, we have a charter of Arnulf’s in favour of Saint-Vincent de Laon, and here we have Homblières. Homblières, of course, was not in and of itself a significant place – but it was somewhere with associations to royal authority, and it is into this context Arnulf’s gift should fit.

Lothar’s issuance of a royal diploma (the final Carolingian act for Homblières) must have reassured the old man. It was a sign of alliance, a sign that Lothar supported Arnulf’s interests. As for how that panned out after Arnulf’s death… Well, if  you’ve read my article you’ve already found out, but we will cover that here in a few weeks’ time.

The Kabar Revolt and the Khazar Coinages of 837/8

Ninth-century Khazar political history is, to say the least, obscure. I was reminded of this recently (well, it was recent when I started drafting this, anway…) when giving a paper on political culture and viking coinages, when the discussion ended up focussing on the Khazar issues of 837/8. You see, there are some highly ideologically charged coins minted in that year, and only in that year; and the quite reasonable question from the audience was ‘why’? This brings us into what on earth is happening in the Khazar khaganate in the first half of the ninth century, because most historians think it’s undergoing some big changes but the chronology and nature of these changes are, to say the least, uncertain. However, on reflection, I think a few of them can be brought together in a way which, if not provably right, is at least quite satisfying.

First of all, let’s talk coins. If you’re a merchant in Eastern Europe and the Near East in the early ninth century, you want silver; and your prime source of silver was the Abbasid Caliphate. The Caliphate’s dirhams are found in large numbers all over Europe. However, in the 820s mint output slowed down, and the Khazars began minting imitation dirhams to fill the gap. Then, in 837/8 (AH 223 by the Islamic calendar, a date given on the coins themselves), they did something interesting. They began to adapt the design of the coins. We have examples of three different types. One of these bears the legend arḍ al-Khazar (‘land of the Khazars’), one of them says Mūsā rasūl Allāh (‘Moses is God’s Messenger’), and the other bears the sign known as the ‘tamgha’:

which historians generally consider to be a sign of the Khazar ruling dynasty. Between them, then, these are some quite straightforward symbols of (as Kovalev puts it) Khazar identity (including Judaism). However, these coins appear to have only been minted in 837/8, and not afterwards. So why was this? Kovalev argued that – given these coins are only known from hoards in northern and eastern Europe outside the Khazar core areas – the Rus’ and other viking groups who were their main user-base couldn’t read Arabic and/or didn’t care, and so the ‘trial run’ was not fully implemented. This has, reasonably, been challenged: after all, why would the Rus’ or anyone else outside Khazaria care if the silver was good? My own instinct was that it was a ceremonial issue, but then that raises the question of why these coins are only found outside the Khazar heartlands. Now, admittedly, phrasing the question that way implies a much better knowledge of coin finds within the Khazar heartlands than we currently have, but at the very least these coins are not evident within our current body of hoard finds. So, again, the question is why were the Khazar coinages issued only in 837/8?

One of the ‘Moses’ coins (source)

Second, let’s talk Judaism. The Judaism of the Khazars is probably the main reason people care about them in particular (very few people are that interested in the political and/or religious structures of, say, the Pechenegs). However, the timing, extent, and nature of their conversion to Judaism is highly contentious. Our sources state or imply different dates: a number of sources, notably Judah Halevi (writing in the twelfth century, but this date is also implicitly in some Hebrew-language letters from Khazar writers to external correspondents in the tenth century and the Arabic scholar al-Masudi), give a date for the conversion of the late eighth century; the Moses coins discussed above suggest the late 830s; and a number of other sources from various regions suggest the 860s or so. Personally, I think that the evidence for something having happened in the 860s is pretty strong – the Lotharingian monk Christian of Stavelot, almost certainly working off information derived from Rome (and thus indirectly from the mission of St Constantine), writing around that time, said that the Khazars had converted to Judaism recently. However, recent scholarship has emphasised that the word ‘conversion’ gives the pictures of one dramatic shift in perspective rather than a lengthy and spotty process. Think, after all, of the Roman Empire and Christianity: the ‘conversion’ of Constantine the Great took place against the background of an increasing number of elite Roman Christians, and it didn’t lead to an official conversion of the Roman Empire as a whole to Christianity until the reign of Theodosius the Great over half a century later. Plus, the process of Christianity embedding itself in Roman power structures changed it as well as Rome. We might ask, if the Roman Empire had been extinguished by the Persians in the seventh century and Christianity only survived in the Nestorian Church of East Asia, whether we would even recognise Late Antique Latin Christianity as Christianity… Anyway, my point is twofold: first, that the conversion of (large sections of) the Khazar elite to Judaism took a long time; and second, that it probably caused socio-political friction.

This brings us to our third point, what’s happening politically in the early ninth century; and here I want to focus on a group called the Kabars. Virtually everything we know about the Kabars comes from one entry in the De administrando imperio of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. That entry says that the Kabars were Khazars, but there was a civil war and the Kabars were defeated, taking refuge with the Magyars in the territory of the Pechenegs, where they enjoyed a position of some prestige. Some Salzburg annals put them with the Magyars in the 880s, giving us a terminus ante quem; and most scholars put their rebellion around the second decade of the ninth century. I have to stress that this, along with most other theories on the Kabars, are speculative. For instance, we don’t know why they revolted: they have been portrayed as pagan reactionaries, Jewish schismatics, Muslims, or just common-or-garden rebels over issues of power distribution. All of these theories run far ahead of our evidence.

As indeed I am about to do as well! The idea I’m about to propose does link up our three points nicely, but I really must emphasise that they are speculative, filling in gaps between evidence which is too fragmentary to say much that is concrete. But hear me out: what if the Kabars weren’t reactionaries, pagan, Karaite, or otherwise? What if they were ultras? At its simplest, the scenario I am proposing is as follows: the elite of the Khazar empire were a varied lot, with different religious and ethnic groups as well as political factions. After c. 800, an increasing proportion of them were converts to Judaism. Then, in 837 or shortly before, a new regime came to power which was piously Jewish, committed to the khaganal bloodline, and perhaps Khazar-ethnic chauvinist. (I am thinking of something like the accession of Louis the Pious as a rough parallel.) This political programme, either because it was tactlessly handled or just because it was, in and of itself, a divisive idea, and the rest of the elite rose up against it. The ‘ultras’ – that is, the Kabars – were defeated, denied legitimacy by the new regime, and the survivors fled. It was only a generation later that the ruling Khazar regime, having spent twenty-odd years soft-pedalling official Judaism, really started to embrace it.

You can embellish this theory as you like. One source for the conversion of the Khazars refer to one King Bulan, who converted to Judaism; but then also to one King Obadiah some time later, who, like, properly converted to Judaism. This seeming double-conversion has never quite made sense to historians, but if there were peaks and troughs in how tightly the ruling clique embraced official Judaism, this could explain this discrepancy. The Khazars, by the tenth century, were ruled by a dyarchy, a sacral khagan and a beg who ran day-to-day affairs. The first incontrovertible evidence for a beg exercising real power over Khazaria dates to the years around 840. It is easy to imagine such an arrangement coming to pass as the result of a civil war against an overmighty khagan.  A major civil war in Khazaria also gives a background for the disturbances on the Pontic-Caspian  steppe that we can (albeit darkly) make out in our sources in the 830s and 840s. Whether or not it is wise to embellish this theory is a separate question. Schönebaum already argued that the Kabars were Jewish, and Pritsak that the Kabars were fighting on the khagan’s behalf, but because both put a lot of weight on specifics, both theories have received short shrift from scholars (given that Pritsak’s forms part of an overall thesis that the Rus’ were originally Aquitanian, something patently wonky-bonkers, one understands why). Nonetheless, the broad outlines of the scenario I have proposed above do solve the initial question: why were the Khazar issues only minted in 837/838? Because they were discredited propaganda from a regime of expelled hardliners.

Trapped in Time: The Poem on the Captivity of Emperor Louis II (871/872)

Among the occupational hazards of being an early medieval historian is that we tend to find out about things after they happened. On one level this is rather unavoidable when your object of study is from about a thousand years ago. But on another, it reflects the fact that most of our narrative sources tell us about events that are at least a few years removed from the time of writing*. As a consequence, their information is recorded with the benefit of hindsight and tends to result in relatively neatly constructed narratives that come to a clear end. We miss the immediate encounter with events as they unfold which is granted by newspapers or diaries. Carolingianists actually tend to be unusually well-served when it comes to material written in media res. Several of the major Frankish annals were at various points actually compiled year-by-year, with happenings sprawling across multiple entries in a manner that suggests someone trying to get news down (with amusing results when people turn out to be less dead than previously thought, more on which below). We also have a wealth of letters written by people commenting on half-understood information (those of Pope Hadrian I are often particularly good value in this regard.)

And then we have sources that talk about both the very recent past and the very imminent future. One fine example of this is the subject of today’s post, the Poem on the Captivity of Emperor Louis, which I have translated below, which survives in a single manuscript, Verona, Biblioteca Capitolare XC (85), copied in ff. 76r-77v:

Rythmus de captivitate Ludovici imperatoris

Listen, limits of the earth, listen with horror, with sadness, at what crime has been committed in the city of Benevento. They captured the holy Louis, the pious Augustus.

The Beneventans assembled in one council; Adelferi spoke, and they said to Prince [Adelchis], ‘If we send him back alive, doubtless we shall all perish.

He has prepared a great crime against this province: he takes our kingdom away from us, he esteems us as nothing; he has overwhelmed us with evils: it is only right that he should perish.’

They brought this holy pious one out of his palace; Adelferi led him to the praetorium, but he looked at this sight like a martyr.

Sawdan [Sado] and Saducto came out, they longed for power; the holy pious one started to say, ‘Ye are come out as against a thief with swords and staves,

Time was when I comforted you in all things, but now you have risen against me, and I do not know why you want to kill me:

I came to destroy a cruel race; I come to worship the Church and the saints of God; I came to avenge the blood that had been shed on the earth.’

He [Sawdan], known by his name as a crafty assailant [i.e. Sawdan = Satan] put on his head the crown of the Empire; he said to the people, ‘Behold, We are emperor, We can rule you’,

and he rejoiced in what he was doing; but a demon tormented him and knocked him down to earth, and the crowd came out to witness the miracle.

The great lord Jesus Christ has pronounced his judgment: the numerous race of the pagans has invaded Calabria; and arrived at Salerno to possess this city:

but we swear on the holy relics of God to defend this kingdom and to conquer another.

There’s a lot going on here, so some context would be useful. Rather than fighting for power elsewhere in the Carolingian realms, Emperor Louis II (r. 844-875) had focused his attention on the kingdom of Italy. He dedicated much of his reign to fighting Muslims in southern Italy, most notably the Emirate of Bari. In doing so, he spent an unusual amount of time in the Mezzogiorno. This was a region that had theoretically been under the authority of Carolingian rulers since Charlemagne, but had in practice been independent. By the middle of the ninth century it was divided between numerous city-states, including Benevento, Salerno and Capua, and Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi; with the emirates of Bari, Taranto and Amantea adding to the mix. Louis used the danger posed by said emirates as a means of unifying southern Italy around him. From 866 he was permanently in the region, which was unprecedented for a Frankish ruler.

In February 871, Louis had his moment of triumph, when he took Bari, capturing its emir, Sawdan, and taking him to Benevento. Louis and the urbane Sawdan became friendly. Unfortunately for the emperor, this success was to be short-lived and the tables were soon turned. Having helpfully taken Bari out of play, Louis had outlasted his usefulness, particularly as it became clear that he wasn’t going to leave anytime soon. In August of the same year, Prince Adelchis of Benevento (r. 854-878) seized Louis and took him prisoner, possibly with the cooperation of Duke Sergius II of Naples (r. 870-877) and Prince Guaifer of Salerno (r. 861-880). Most of our sources suggest that Sawdan played a leading role in organizing the conspiracy.

Pictured: What happened in Benevento according to Louis II, Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Bibl. fol. 23 31r

The news sent shockwaves across Europe, particularly when it was reported that Louis had been killed in the chaos. Reports of the emperor’s death in the annals were overhasty, and the bishop of Benevento managed to negotiate his release within a month, provided that Louis swore an oath never to return to the south again. That Louis might not have felt entirely happy with this promise extracted under duress is suggested by events the following year, when in May 872 he visited Rome and had Pope Hadrian II (r. 867-872) release him from the oath.

All of this was rather overshadowed by the news that a large Muslim army had besieged Salerno. This host had been sent by the Aghlabid Emir Muhammad II (r. 864-875), the ruler of Ifriqiya, who perhaps saw an opportunity to become the dominant Muslim power in Italy after the fall of Bari. It arrived towards the end of 871. As a consequence, in the one of the more awkward moments in ninth-century history, Prince Guaifer sent his son, Guaimar, to ask Louis if he wouldn’t terribly mind coming back and saving them. (Should I ever gain access to a time machine, you better believe you’ll find me in the audience room for that embassy with a bag of popcorn in my hand and a big grin on my face.) While I think few would be so heartless as to begrudge Louis a moment or two to make the envoys sweat (he apparently temporarily imprisoned Guaimar), he did in fact agree to help, recognizing a gift horse when it trotted into his stable. In 872 a coalition of Frankish and southern Lombard troops drove off the Aghlabid army and relieved Salerno.

The last two verses of the poem tell us that it must have been written during the siege of Salerno at the earliest. It is possible that this is only the first half of the poem, perhaps including the rescue of Salerno and punishment for the villains of the piece. My guess would be that its composition was still fairly close to events. The strong sympathy demonstrated for Louis and the northern Italian location of the only surviving manuscript might suggest that it was written by someone at his court, or at least within the core of the Carolingian kingdom.

Poetry is arguably the hardest type of text to render into another language satisfactorily. One of the things we’re losing in my translation is the alphabetic structure of the poem. Beginning with the opening word, audite, each verse begins with the next letter of the alphabet, sometimes at the cost of some violence to the Latin, as scelus becomes celus in order to begin the third verse. The pattern goes a-b-c-d-e-f-g-k-l-m-i, which is a complete enough sequence to suggest that we have more or less the first half of the poem at least. It is possible that the original poem ran through the entire alphabet. Nonetheless the structure of the surviving part of the narrative is somewhat odd. We see the Beneventans worry about Louis possibly enacting vengeance on them if they release him, yet by the end of the poem the emperor is apparently free with no explanation of how this was achieved.

Another curiosity is the minor role played by Prince Adelchis in the poem. He is mentioned once, without being named, but otherwise fades into the background. Among those who take centre stage is the somewhat mysterious Adelferi. Guaifer of Salerno’s father was named Daufer and I’m inclined to speculate that Adelferi might be related to him, hinting at Salernitan involvement. Saducto is a name that appears in Capuan contexts as Sadutto, although it is also strikingly close to seductor or seducer. I’m tempted to think that the author was deliberately trying to downplay Adelchis’ involvement in order to make future cooperation between Louis and the Prince of Benevento easier, shifting the blame to others. Most dangerous of all perhaps is Sado, or Sawdan. Other sources paint him as a hellish figure, something the poem does as well by playing on the similarity between the names Sado and Satan. He is thus the figure with the same name as the tempter who puts on the imperial crown, only to be plagued by demons. 

In the face of the devil, Louis becomes a Christlike figure, referred to repeatedly as holy and pious, come to save the people who parade and mock him. His words to Sawdan and Saducto in the fifth verse are an almost exact quote of Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:55 to the soldiers come to arrest him. The intensity of this moment perhaps explains why we rapidly jump to the end of the poem and the siege of Salerno. Faith and empire intertwine. Through his sanctity Louis proves his right to the crown in the eyes of God, while all would-be usurpers are struck down. The details of the negotiations of Louis’ release would undermine the strength of the scene. The poem thus provides us with an interesting insight into how Louis and his court responded to the humiliation in Benevento.

All of this raises the question of who the audience for this poem is. It is suggested in the secondary literature that this was a campaign song for the men in the Frankish army that marched south in 872. If so, this would be fascinating evidence for how political ideas were communicated down the social ladder to the (still reasonably elite) rank and file. The poem ends with a stirring call to save Salerno and drive back the pagans, and its language is, in Traube’s words, ‘vulgar’, and perhaps meant to appeal to an audience whose Latin was starting to evolve in an Italianate direction. This feels potentially a little thin to me, but at the very least, the poem looks like a strong effort by Louis and his people to redefine the events of August 871, while also shaping those yet to come. As such, it offers a really interesting snapshot of a moment in motion.

*[Ed.: this is what I like so much about charters: it’s not that they’re some kind of ‘factual check’ on the narrative, it’s that they are generally at least contemporary lies!]

Charter A Week 86: Conrad Goes West

We haven’t checked in on Provence for a while, have we? Last time, we were seeing the effects on the politics of the Viennois of being caught between two competing gravitational pulls, and the political vacuum which resulted. However, the West Frankish and Transjurane rulers were far from helpless in this regard, and today we are going to see Conrad the Pacific being a little cheeky:

D Burg, no. 34 (c. 960)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Conrad, by largess of divine clemency king.

If I am able to use the authority of royal highness to more firmly corroborate for places surrendered for divine worship the lands which they possess less firmly, I do not doubt that this will benefit me in running the race of the present life and gaining the wreath of eternal repayment.

Therefore, let the industry of noble men and at the same time the faithful of the whole Church know that the venerable abbot Wulfald of the abbey of Carmery, with some monks serving Lord God and St Theofred in accordance with the Rule, approached Our presence, humbly asking that the estates of lands and villages, which the famous martyr Theofred possesses in the district of Valentinois and Diois by the gift of the famous men Count Odilo and Bishop Achedeus and Sylvius and Trutbert and by the help and alms of Count Geilin might be confirmed by the corroboration of Our precept, that the ruler of the monastery to whom they are subject and his successors and the monks dwelling therein in accordance with the Rule in present and in future, having gained firm stability for these goods, might be able to show due service for God and the nourishing martyr.

Such a petition was laudable in the gathering of all Our men, and seemed pleasing to Us. Therefore, we wish both by the authority of Our rule and that of Our successors, with the consent of Count Geilin and Bishop Aimo [of Valence] and the petitioner Wulfald, that it should remain firm that everything which is now seen to pertain to the monastery of Saint-Chaffre in the district of Diois and Valentinois, whether they be from the royal fisc or from episcopal power or from comital power, or from a franchise, and what the monks are able to acquire therein in future, should all be defended by royal power. 

These goods are sited in the county of Dié and Valence, in the place which was earlier called Savenne, with a church of Saint-Etienne, and is now called Pont-de-Barret, to wit, on both sides of the river, which Count Odilo gave; and in a neighbouring place, which is called Charols, and in another place the estate of Cléon-d’Andran, and that of La Motte with the port.

We corroborated all this, which the monks now possess and which they may be able in future to acquire, with royal authority by these letters so that they might always have the vigour of total firmness and never be able to be violate by anyone’s rashness; and We signed it with the impression of Our seal, and We commanded it be strengthened by the hand of Our followers, whose names are written below:

S. [Conrad]

S. Count Geilin. S. Bishop Aimo. S. Count Amadeus. S. Count Humbert. S. Arnald.       

Saint-Chaffre as it is today (source)

Conrad the Pacific and the West Frankish king Lothar had a surprising amount in common. They weren’t quite of the same generation – Lothar was born in 941 whereas Conrad was probably twelve or thirteen years older – but they were certainly junior figures within the great sphere of Ottonian power. The main difference there was Lothar got to have his Ottonian oversight at arm’s length, whereas Conrad had actually been kidnapped as a boy and raised at Otto’s court. Both of them married not-quite-Ottonian princesses in the mid-960s (Otto’s stepdaughter Emma in Lothar’s case; Lothar’s own sister, and thus Otto’s niece, Matilda in Conrad’s. Otto the Great was adept using cognatic kin and step-families to avoid incestuous marriages whilst still reaping all of their benefits.) And both of them had an interest in the former kingdom of Provence.

You may be wondering what this has to do with the royal diploma given above. After all, confirming land in Valence and the adjacent hill country is a perfectly normal thing for a Transjurane ruler to do, right? Well, there’s some context here I haven’t mention, and the first bit is another charter:

Saint-Chaffre, no. 53 (937/938)

In the name of God on High, amen.

Let it be known to all grades of order, both present and future, that in the second year of the reign of King Louis [IV], when I, Godeschalk, humble bishop of the church of Puy, was overseeing the clergy and people as best I could, the desire arose in my heart that I should, as best I could, restore to its pristine state the place of the abbey of Saint-Chaffre of Carmery, which was once royal and obtained by Our predecessors in royal benefice, and the goods of the aforesaid place were wrongly despoiled through neglect and worldly greed, and by the exigencies of need the state of religious therein was brought almost to nought.

Wherefore having summoned lord Arnulf, abbot of the abbey of Saint-Géraud [d’Aurillac], I beseeched him that he should receive the aforesaid place into his dominion, and assign brothers living there in accordance with the Rule under the norm of Father Benedict. And thus, fearing the recurring madness of greed amongst Our successors, with the assent of Margrave Geilin [of Valence] and many bishops, We gave him licence, as was aforesaid, that they should observe the admonitions of the holy father Benedict, and be mindful of Us, and exhort Christ for Us with daily prayers, and (when it is necessary) with our common counsel they should elect such a ruler who knows how to rule them well; but if – God forbid – at the Devil’s instigation they deviate from the good way of life, let them not only lose that which they have gained, but also that which the Lord has supplied for Us that We might concede it, that is, Rosières with its adjacencies and the estate of Colence from the common property of the brothers, and also Chamalières and Ventressac with their boundaries, which We bestow with a benevolent soul: let these return to Our advantage. 

And We concede these abovesaid goods to them on the condition that from this day forth, except on feast days, they should sing two psalms on bended knee for Us and Our successors, both pontiffs and clerics, and all the helpers and benefactors of Our see and and church; and, when it is possible, a vigil and mass for the dead. 

As for the goods of Saint-Chaffre, which Our, or any worldly, power is seen to hold, let it obtain them in right of benefice from the abbot of the same place and the monks dwelling there, on the condition that it might hold them for a rent as long as it lives, and after their death the ruler and monks of the same place should receive it without any contradiction. If anyone should presume to defile this, let them know themselves bound by the excommunication and eternal damnation of both Us and Our present fellow bishops, unless they come to their senses and endeavour to make amends and give satisfaction.

Sign of Bishop Godeschalk. S. Gerontius, archbishop of Bourges. S. Bishop Bego. S. Bishop Guy [these latter two probably the later bishops of Puy]. S. Abbot Bernard. S. Abbot Dalmatius and signs of many other witnesses.  

Even before I started playing around with the concept of the ‘mandala polity’, the Trans-Ararian Fluidity Zone, an area centred around northern Provence where elites moved fluidly between royal courts, was something I’d been talking about since 888. Le Puy and its region, the Velay, was part of this zone. We can see Bishop Godeschalk there dealing with Ralph of Burgundy and Louis IV, but he was also part of a group of bishops dealing with the case of Rather of Verona. And, as this charter shows, he was – perhaps slightly nervously – dealing with the major Provençal magnate Geilin of Valence, who used his reform of Saint-Chaffre to extend his tentacles into the West Frankish kingdom.

The other bit of necessary context is that, in the late 950s, Lothar and Conrad were playing a somewhat passive-aggressive power game in the region to try and extend their power. Around 960, Charles Constantine of Vienne and Count Leotald of Mâcon and Besançon – two of the most important men in this in-between region – had died. There are several diplomas from Lothar for institutions and people in northern Provence, and it seems like he was trying to angle for support in the area.

Under these circumstances, Conrad’s diploma here appears to be a measured response. It’s not going too far – the land being confirmed lies to the east of the river Rhône, in an area of Provence never claimed by West Frankish rulers. However, the fact that it’s being confirmed to a Velaunian abbey like Saint-Chaffre, well to the west of the Rhône, is significant; so too is the fact it’s being issued at the request of Geilin of Valence. This is soft-pedalled, to be sure, but it’s at least covertly an indication of royal backing for Provençal attempts to extend their influence to the left bank of the Rhône.

Ultimately, it worked. By the end of Lothar’s reign, the Vivarais, a hefty district to the west of the Rhône which had become West Frankish in Ralph of Burgundy’s time, was acknowledging Conrad as king. We’ll see down the line that the bishops of Le Puy, too, kept up ties with their Provençal neighbours as much as with their West Frankish colleagues. In this southern part of his kingdom, despite efforts, Lothar’s attempts to expand his power came to less than nought.