Book Review(s): The Fictional Macbeth

I like reading historical fiction. I know this is a controversial opinion amongst historians – it’s like getting physicists to watch The Core – but, provided it’s sufficiently well-researched, it’s nice to see people I know from work in more informal settings. Plus, when I say ‘well-researched’ I actually mean ‘they know enough to get the right bits wrong’. One novel I read, which was fun if a little trashy, pushed the Norman poem Moriuht as far back as it could go and then some so the author could include a scene of Werner of Rouen reciting it in limerick form in there, which I certainly appreciated. Recently, I’ve been reading a couple of books which were both about the same thing – the reign of Macbeth, king of Alba in the mid-eleventh century: Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter and Susan Fraser King’s Lady Macbeth.

From a historian’s perspective, Dunnett’s book is prima facie less accurate: the book’s entire gimmick is ‘what if Earl Thorfinn the Mighty of Orkney was the same person as Macbeth?’ Once you roll with that, though, it’s surprisingly solid, particularly in one key way. Dunnett’s Thorfinn-Macbeth is constantly thinking about the entirety of Europe, from the Atlantic to the Polish border – he is tied by friendship or family ties to England, Norway, hefty chunks of the German empire, and a fair portion of France.

The cover doesn’t have much to do with much, mind. (image taken from the link in the text above, where you can find how to buy a copy should it so take your fancy)

This fits nicely with the career of the real Macbeth, who visited Rome, a visit which takes up a fair portion of the middle of King Hereafter. From a literary perspective, it does mean that there are loads and loads of characters, but Dunnett does a very good job of giving each one a distinct voice, so that a) Ælfgar of Mercia and Kalv Arnesson are not easy to mistake for one another and b) you need to know what’s happening in both the English Midlands and Norway to understand the plot. By contrast, King’s Macbeth is seemingly permanently isolated in a misty glen, far from outside influences.

This is no accident: King’s particular tack is to present a Scotland which is anciently, mystically, Romantically Celtic, and by that I mean a cross between Xena: Warrior Princess and a Clannad album. Gruadh, the titular Lady Macbeth, is the book’s narrator, and frequently muses on the ancient Celtic traditions of warrior women, worshipping Brigit and the other Celtic gods, doing Celtic magic, and opposing the non-Celtic influences of the English and the Roman Church. If that seems like the word ‘Celtic’ is used too many times, then you’re not going to like the book. Sometimes ‘Gaelic’ is used instead. Honestly, it’s really grating.

(One minor character is actually called ‘Enya’, and at first I thought this was entirely Freudian, before discovering that this is a real historical figure. Her name is not usually spelled that way, though, so it’s still indicative.)

Admittedly, Dunnett’s book is in its way as anachronistically nationalist as King’s. In particular, (mild spoilers) during the middle section of the book, when things are going well for Thorfinn, the author stops referring to the kingdom as ‘Alba’ and starts instead calling it ‘Scotia’, the clear implication being that the goal of all Thorfinn’s acts is to produce modern Scotland, rather than the Norse/Celtic warring mish-mash of Alba. This is, I must say, rather better from a literary point of view than King’s Scotland, which is already timelessly and undeniably Scottish, and which can only be diluted by change. This is doubly no not least because (spoilers for a fifty-year old book, a four-hundred-year old play and a historical event from a millennium ago) at the end Thorfinn-Macbeth fails, killed by Malcolm Canmore.

That phrase, ‘from a literary perspective’, is probably the key difference between the two books full stop, actually. Essentially, Dunnett is a much, much better writer than King; and whereas Lady Macbeth is a bit of a slog, King Hereafter zips by despite being at least twice as long. This isn’t to say that King Hereafter is perfect. There’s an emotional distance throughout – Thorfinn is a scheming, calculating machine of a man, and his ironical and detached persona bleeds through into the writing more generally. There are moments of high drama in the novel, but I felt like I was watching them at something of a remove. King’s writing, by contrast, is simply not particularly good: Gruadh herself is largely a vehicle to explain the different aspects of the misty Celtic twilight in which she lives (particularly the ‘ancient Celtic tradition’ of warrior women, which gets brought up again and again. It’s never a plot point and it never turns out to be the centre of a major character beat, so I think it’s there to serve the dual purpose of reassuring the reader that this eleventh-century character has the right twenty-first century attitudes and of reminding the reader that Scottish Celtic culture is inherently better than its contemporaries – eye-rolling in both cases.) Macbeth is worse, a non-entity defined largely by the fact that everyone loves him. (Gruadh’s first husband, Gillecomgan, comes off as rather more compelling because he actually gets to have a personality – a flawed but appealing one, no less!)

I’m not going to rate either book as history. Both are fiction (although King, rather unfortunately, spends an Author’s Note at the end insisting that it’s as accurate as possible, which it very much is not), and insofar as both authors clearly take the period and the history seriously even as they twist and change it for their literary purposes, that’s all one can really ask. As fiction, though, I can’t honestly recommend Lady Macbeth. It’s not offensively bad by a long stretch, but it is just a bit bobbins. By contrast, King Hereafter is very good, especially if you have a good head for names, and if you’ve got a long flight coming up it’s very worth your time.


Charter a Week 11: Governing Burgundy with Bishops

Has it really taken this long to get to a private charter? Huh. I guess back when I was going to talk about Neustrian governmentality under 882 the overwhelming predominance of royal diplomas up to this point seemed less obvious; but that’s been moved well down the schedule; and so it’s come to pass that up to this point it’s been all kings all the time. To some extent, of course, this is a function of the nature of the surviving material. Private charter preservation (although there is a small blip in the 890s and 900s) doesn’t really ramp up until we’re dealing with material from the mid-tenth century, so to some extent it was inevitable, especially given that I prefer to be dealing with documents which are individually significant.

Today, though, we’ll be talking about, not Neustrian governance, but Burgundian. During the mid-to-late-ninth century, the West Frankish rulers lashed together their rule out of a series of regionally-customised compromises, deals, and experiments which meant that, despite the presence of a common political culture, different regions can look quite unlike one another under the hood. Burgundy is no exception here. Where in previous weeks I was able to use phrases like ‘Hugh the Abbot basically was Neustria’, I couldn’t say the same about Burgundy. Instead, the figures we’ve been meeting from that region are men like Adalgar of Autun and Geilo of Langres: super-bishops, who despite not being archbishops or provincial metropolitans, are very rich and very powerful; and I think it is they, rather than lay magnates, who are the Carolingian kings’ go-to guys for dealing with certainly southern Burgundy. Which brings us to 887 – what does this look like in practice?

MGH Conc. 5 no. 21C (18th May 887, Chalon-sur-Saône) = ARTEM no. 146

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 887, and in the 2nd year of the imperial rule in Gaul of the most serene emperor augustus lord Charles, in the 5th indiction, on the 15th kalends of June [18th May], a sacred convent of bishops was in the name of Christ brought together at the church of the holy martyr Marcellus in the suburbs of Chalon-sur-Saône to establish the peace and tranquillity of the holy Church of God and settle Church business. Present there were the lords and most holy archbishops Aurelian [of Lyon], Bernoin [of Vienne], Theotrand [of Tarantaise], and as well the most reverend bishops Adalgar [of Autun], Geilo [of Langres], Stephen [of Chalon], Gerald [of Mâcon], Adalbald [of Belley] and Isaac [of Valence].

Then, the abovewritten Geilo, reverend bishop of the church of Langres, along with the aforesaid fathers residing in this sacrosanct convent, brought to their attention the edict of a precept from the aforesaid lord and most excellent of emperors the ever august Charles, bestowed on him, that is, concerning all of the goods of the church committed to him by God, both those which emperors and kings had presented to his aforesaid church in ancient times and restored by a precept of their authority, and also those which he had acquired in his own time through precepts from the most glorious lord emperor, so that through this aforesaid edict not only he, but all of his successors, should in the name of God be able to rightfully hold onto them without disturbance from anyone.

In fact, here are the names of these goods: that is, the castle of Dijon, where there is a church in honour of the blessed protomartyr Stephen, and next to the same castle the monastery of the holy martyr Benignus, and in the district of Tonnerrois the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Molosmes, and the castle of Tonnerre itself, where there is a church in honour of the blessed Anianus, with all the things properly its own; as well in the same district the little abbey of Saint-Symphorien, in the place which is called Ligny-le-Châtel, and many other goods lying in the same county. Finally, within the walls of the same city of Langres is the abbey of Saint-Pierre, and nearby, in the suburbs of the same city, two little abbeys, to wit, Saint-Amateur and Saint-Ferréol, and the monastery of Saints-Geômes; moreover, in the district of Atuyer, the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Bèze. There are many other goods, little abbeys and possessions of divers other goods which this same church of Langres is seen to justly, reasonably, and rightfully hold onto.

It was also shown in the same edict that the abovementioned bishop had in his time acquired through precepts from the aforesaid lord and most serene emperor augustus estates and other goods properly his church’s in castles, moneying-rights, markets, and immunities: that is, in the district of Tonnerrois, the abbey of Moutiers-Saint-Jean; and in the district of Mémontois, the abbey of Saint-Seine; and in the district of Atuyer, estates of these names: Gray-la-Ville, Pontailler-sur-Saône, Montigny-sur-Vingeanne, and as well Rancenay; and in the district of Lassois, and in the castle of Mont-Lassois itself, the little abbey of Saint-Marcel; and in the district of Troiesin, the estate which they call L’Ormeau.

Later, the same venerable Bishop Geilo humbly appealed to the aforementioned lords and most holy fathers and bishops, with as many prayers as he could, that they might deign to corroborate the edict of this precept by a privilege of their authority, so that it might be held more firmly and certainly and lest it be able to be infringed by anyone’s thoughtless obstinacy.

The aforementioned lords and most holy fathers, lending the ears of Their Mildnesses to his most pious and praiseworthy of solicitations, confirmed the aforesaid edict established concerning all the goods of the church of Langres through this privilege of their authority in this manner, and in confirming it established by their episcopal sanction that, in the manner in which the said emperor augustus had confirmed these aforesaid goods for the church of Langres by his imperial institution, so too do we confirm them by our canonical and episcopal authority, to wit, on the terms that no prince or any judicial power hereafter, or any presumptuous person, should presume to impede, disturb or sacrilegiously invade them; rather, let them be inviolably and perpetually held in their entirety in the same state as they are currently united to and stabilised for the said church of Langres.

But if anyone, overcome by thoughtless and sacrilegious obstinacy, and blinded by unshakeable greed, presumes to infringe in any way that which We have confirmed by Our and God’s authority, let them know that they shall pay the penalty of eternal damnation and be burned in the everlasting fire with the Devil and his angels and with Judas, the betrayer of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ and tortured by a perpetual penalty with Dathan and Abiram; and in addition, let them be kept from the threshold of the holy Church of God and from the company of all the Christian faithful for as long as it takes until they repent of their criminal obstinacy and take care to assuage the wrath of God Almighty, which they feared not to incur, with worthy penitence and satisfaction and amends.

And thus, in subscribing We marked down a very clear confirmation of these enactments with Our hands below, and We requested it be similarly corroborated through Christ and in Christ with the no less worthy subscriptions of absent priests.

Geilo, humble bishop of the holy church of Langres, related, consented to, and subscribed this privilege. Aurelian, poor bishop of the holy church of Lyon, in the name of Christ, strengthened this privilege. Bernoin, humble bishop of the holy church of Vienne, subscribed. Adalgar, bishop of Autun, subscribed. Stephen, humble bishop of the holy church of Chalon-sur-Saône, subscribed. Adalbald, bishop of the church of Belley, subscribed. Gerald, bishop of the holy church of Mâcon, subscribed. Isaac, humble bishop of the church of Valence, subscribed.

Langres - Rue du Cardinal de la Luzerne - View NNW on Cathédrale Saint-Mammès 1768
Frustratingly, although this is an original charter, there aren’t any pictures of it I can find. Instead, this is what Langres cathedral looks like now. (source)

Pretty high-powered, huh? Three different archbishops, most of the major bishops of southern Burgundy and northern Provence… it’s all happening. This actually reflects some of the fallout from the death of King Lothar II decades previously – at this point, the ecclesiastical provinces of Vienne, Lyon and Tarantaise all make a sensible political unit. In that light, this synod can only be seen as a way to run that unit.

What we can’t do is see this as a strictly ecclesiastical affair. Synods are something bishops are supposed to do in any case, but when all the most important figures in your region are bishops, a synod becomes not simply a tool of ecclesiastical governance but a tool of, well, governance-no-qualifier-needed. Most of our evidence for the synod of Saint-Marcel comes from acts like this, charters in favour of Geilo of Langres’ churches. If you look at the language, these are in fact often confirming diplomas of Charles the Fat. That is to say, in practice, they are mediating the emperor’s authority and deciding on how (and indeed if) it is going to be applied in their area.

There’s also a political context here. At this point, Geilo has fairly recently returned from the emperor’s side in Alsace. Boso of Provence, long a friendless fugitive in the hills around Vienne, has finally died; and this raises the question of what to do with his son Louis the Blind. Louis’ mother Engelberga was negotiating with Charles in February, and Charles and Louis were reconciled that summer, with Charles adopting Louis (whatever that meant). This is particularly significant in light of the attendance here: Aurelian of Lyon, Adalgar of Autun, and Theotrand of Tarantaise had been supporters of Boso in 879, and Stephen of Chalon, Gerald of Mâcon and Isaac of Valence were successors of men who had. MacLean proposes quite reasonably that Geilo’s role here is to work through the Charles-Louis deal with these men, reinforcing his status both as the most important imperial fidelis in Burgundy and as the Burgundian bishops’ point man at court. The synod, then, comes across even more as a political assembly of the regional potentates; and we will see in upcoming months how this transitions into the tenth century. But first: 888.

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 8: Becoming the Counts of Clermont

If Louis V was the new hotness, the career of Bishop Stephen of Clermont’s nephew Guy shows that the power of the more rooted families was by no means old and busted.

Pictured: Guy of Clermont and Louis V (source: property of Columbia Pictures)

Guy’s attempt to assert his power in Auvergne after Stephen’s death was less showy than that of the Carolingians, but led to longer-term success. Guy appears a few times in Stephen’s reign, first appearing around 950-960 when he must have been fairly young, and then appearing in the Rigald charter we discussed previously as a viscount, signing after his brother Robert. Robert appears to have been the older brother, and to have died around the same time as Bishop Stephen: a charter of May 980 (which is, frustrating, the only document of Guy’s dossier which is dated) has Guy, ‘viscount of the city of the Auvergne’, making a donation for the souls of both men.

It’s an interesting document. May 980 is more-or-less right the time that Louis V is being made king of Aquitaine, so it’s interesting that the donation is of property in southern Burgundy to the abbey of Cluny and that most of the ‘old families’ of the Auvergne appear to be witnessing – it implies they’re not in Aquitaine at that moment. Guy does Bishop Stephen’s old trick of putting himself at the head of a prayer association of his relatives. The introduction of the charter announces that this should be known to ‘everyone… to wit, kings and dukes and counts’, which is very much not Stephen praying for the reigning monarch but hasn’t cut them out the loop either. It’s also interesting that Guy is called viscount rather than ‘count’ here. My suspicion is that this is Guy – and the ‘old families’ more broadly – hedging their bets and waiting to see how Louis V’s kingship works out. After all, Louis’ connections, although significant, weren’t with them…

After the early 980s, though, Guy was more open about his power. At some point, perhaps in 984, Guy was at some more gatherings of the ‘old families’. Two charters, one to Sauxillanges and one to Brioude, feature two different men named Viscount Bertrand donating to these abbeys with Count Guy as their overlord: the donation of Bertrand, husband of Faith, has Guy as Bertrand’s almsman, to whom he entrusts the carrying-out of the donation; the other charter is by Guy’s brother Bertrand husband of Arsinda, where he is viscount and Guy is count. There is some overlap in the witness lists – a scribe named Stephen, a guy named Gozbert – which makes me think these donations are connected. If so, 984 would be a reasonable guess at the year – the first donation is a larger gathering, which suggests a church festival. It took place on a Sunday in March, and as it happens between the early 980s and Guy’s death c. 990 the only year Easter took place in March was 984. This logic ain’t exactly watertight, but it’s a reasonable stab, and in any case I’d be mildly surprised if Guy wasn’t up and running with his full suite of claims to authority by the mid-980s anyway. The difference here would be the chronology – I suspect that these charters are the ‘old families’ actually acknowledging that Guy is now preeminent amongst them, although obviously I can’t prove that.

Certainly, by what must have been the mid-980s because Guy’s career isn’t that long, he was referring to himself in a charter as princeps Arvenorum, ‘prince of the men of the Auvergne’ (coincidentally this was what Vercingetorix was called, but I’m 95% sure that’s a coincidence), again donating for Stephen’s soul. He makes appearances in a couple more charters, always with some specific reference to his predominant position – for Prior Eustorgius of Clermont Cathedral, Guy was ‘my lord’; for Hugh the priest – who was evidently a member of the same social cluster – he was ‘our defender’.

Guy died around 990, but his brother William became count in his stead, and his descendants after him. The later counts don’t appear to have had to fight for their position in the way Guy did, so clearly he did a good job. In fact, the right of the rulers of Clermont to be counts was retroactively accepted around 1020 – when King Robert the Pious confirmed Guy’s 980 donation to Cluny, Guy was named as count, not as viscount. The line of counts continued until the fourteenth century, so of all the attempts to rule Auvergne it was the longest-lasting. However, that longevity came with a price. We’ve seen Guy using some of the same techniques of legitimation as Stephen, but on a smaller scale. The prayer community wasn’t as large, nor was it any longer connected to the kings. In fact, Guy seems to have worked largely on getting his face-to-face subordinates to acknowledge his superiority in their own documents. This led to a shrinking of the political community, pretty much back to just the ‘old families’ of the Auvergne. There was, however, a closer successor to Bishop Stephen in terms of reach and ambition if not blood, and like Guy he would leave a long-term legacy to the European world – but his would go far beyond the confines of the county of Clermont.

Charter a Week 10: The Robertians

It’s time to introduce another important member of our cast of characters. By late 886, Hugh the Abbot, ruler of Neustria and dominating figure in West Frankish politics, was dead. His command passed to the son of its original ruler Robert the Strong: Odo, count of Paris. Odo’s rise to command the Neustrian March was by no means inevitable. After his father’s death, Charles the Bald had taken his father’s remaining honores away from Odo and his brother Robert – neither of whom can have been terribly old at the time – and they went to live with their relatives in the Rhineland, where Odo can be seen with his uncle Megingoz I of Wormsgau giving land to Lorsch in 876. Megingoz died in around 880, which might have been the impetus for Odo to move back west. Frankly, the beginnings of Odo’s career are very shady: how a relative/client of an East Frankish count went from being a no-one in 876 to being count of Paris in 882 is open to speculation.

But hey, I love speculation! One interesting piece of evidence is an interpolated diploma which can be dated to summer 884, probably in the general area of Worms or Metz, which features a Count Robert as intercessor. This Robert is identified by historians as a) Odo’s brother Robert of Neustria and b) count of Namur, for reasons I in the first case don’t really understand and in the second case think is a dubious assumption – to wit, that because the document deals with land in the area, Robert must have been count there. However, if the identification of Count Robert as Robert of Neustria is correct, then that might be Odo’s in – Robert of Neustria used his family connections to become a count, and then, when Charles the Fat took over the West Frankish kingdom, the emperor was able to appoint the brother of one of his more conspicuously loyal Lotharingian followers to the important stronghold of Paris. This requires Odo’s appointment to be in 885 rather than 882, but we have no solid evidence pinning him to Paris until that year anyway. (It also implies although doesn’t require that Robert is Odo’s older brother rather than vice-versa; but historians are always very quick to assume that the most successful brother is also the oldest. See also Ralph of Burgundy, although I think in that case his not necessarily being the eldest brother is rather easier to make a case for.)

Anyway, in 885 Odo became the West Frankish celebrity count. That year, a huge Viking army besieged Paris, and Odo, Bishop Gozlin of Paris (who died during the siege), Abbot Ebalus of Saint-Denis, and Gozlin’s eventual successor Anskeric led the Frankish resistance, which was eventually successful, although it took over until 886 for Charles to lead an army to relieve the city.

Some Carolingian soldiers, from the Golden Psalter of St Gallen (source)

In the aftermath, and with Hugh the Abbot having meanwhile died, Charles granted Odo the Neustrian March. Odo was Charles’ favourite in the West Frankish kingdom.

DD CtF no. 143 (27th October 886, Paris)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by mercy of the same God Almighty emperor augustus.

If We clemently lend the ears of Our Imperial Dignity to the petitions of servants of God and Our followers, and We furnish the work of Our Munificence for their advantage, We little doubt that this will benefit Us both in the state of Our empire and in the reward of perpetual repayment.

And so, let the industry of all Our followers, to wit, present and future, know that one of Our followers, Count Odo, made known to the highness of Our Dignity how, by a tenancy agreement, the venerable abbot the late Hugh [the Abbot], that is, Our dearest kinsman, with the consent of the canons of Saint-Aignan [d’Orléans], gave to certain venerable bishops, Archbishop Adalald [of Tours] and also the brother of the same, Bishop Raino [of Angers] a certain estate named Aschères-le-Marché, in the district of Orléanais, in the vicariate of Lion-en-Beauce, with all its appendages and goods appertaining to it, by a tenancy agreement as We said; and in recompense for the same service, they gave from their own goods to Saint-Aignan and to the same Abbot Hugh and the canons dwelling in the abbey 7 manses with bondsmen of both sexes, with a chapel constructed therein in honour of the mother of God Mary, such that as long as the aforesaid bishops lived, they should hold and possess everything , all the same goods, to wit, the estate of Aschère and the estate of Bracieux, where the aforesaid 7 manses are located, in the district of Blésois in the vicariate of Huisseau-sur-Cosson, quietly, on the condition that they pay each year 5 silver solidi for the lighting of Saint-Aignan, and in addition that they should pay the tithes from the demesne labour and from the demesne vineyards and from the corvées to the canons of the aforesaid Saint-Aignan, for the hospice of the same saint.

They appealed to the serenity of Our Highness on this matter, that We might deign to confirm it through a precept of Our authority.

Observing their petition to be valid, We commanded this precept of Our rule to be made for them by imperial custom, through which We decreed and at the same time in ordering command that from this day and in time to come, the aforesaid bishops should hold and possess all the aforesaid goods in their dominion and power, corroborated by Our authority, quietly, by a tenancy agreement, without disturbance from anyone, rendering each year the rate laid out above.

But that this imperial authority liberally conceded by Us to the same might be observed more freely and devotedly by everyone, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be authenticated by the signet of Our Dignity.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of august kings.

Amalbert then notary witnessed on behalf of Liutward [bishop of Vercelli].

Given on the 6th kalends of November [27th October, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 886, in the 4th indiction, in the 6th year of Emperor Charles’ empire in Italy, the 5th in Francia, the 2nd in Gaul.

Enacted in Paris.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

In terms of Odo’s career, this diploma is fairly straightforward. One of several diplomas Charles the Fat issued at Paris in the aftermath of the Viking siege, this diploma honours Odo, the hero of that siege, by showing him as the emperor’s counsellor. It also shows him as ruler of Neustria, written in as successor to Hugh the Abbot, and intervening on behalf of the two main bishops of the Neustrian March, those of Tours and Angers.

In fact, it is one of a series of diplomas issued in late October 886, almost all of which deal in one way or another with the siege of Paris or Hugh the Abbot’s legacy. Thus, Charles issued a diploma in favour of a man named Germund who is almost certainly one of Odo’s followers. He issued a diploma for Saint-Martin (although interestingly the petitioner there is Archbishop Adalald rather than Odo – maybe Odo hadn’t been invested at that point); and he issued a diploma for Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, where Hugh the Abbot had been buried. Unlike Neustria, Saint-Germain went not to Odo but to Bishop Anskeric of Paris: next time we see it, in 889, Anskeric is the abbot. It’s possible that it was given to him by Odo in 888/889, but I think it’s more likely it was given to him by Charles the Fat at this point, in 886, as another reward for a hero of Paris.

A final point: Odo’s ending up in Neustria was largely accidental. The fact that his father had also been marchio there can lend it a whiff of familial right, but this is mostly illusory. It just so happened that an important military command had opened up at the same time that Odo proved himself militarily competent. Had Hugh the Abbot lived an extra few years, I think it likely that Odo would have been reward with honores elsewhere, perhaps in Burgundy or Lotharingia; and history would have taken a very different course.

Talkin’ Angevin, Talkin’ Burgundian: Geoffrey Grisegonelle of Anjou and his rule in Chalon-sur-Saône

This may well come as a surprise to readers who’ve been following the blog the last few months – or indeed to anyone who’s sat opposite me in a pub – but I’m not just an antiquarian/aspiring story-writer. My thesis, and even more so my book as it’s developing, is fundamentally about legitimacy – how did people in charge persuade people not in charge that they should be in charge. I mean, think about it: if every serf had banded together and obstinately refused to provide renders to their lord, could the lords have stopped them? You can’t repress everyone all the time, and you certainly can’t kill all your productive workers. (In fact, the Carolingians were perfectly aware of this, which is why they were so worried about associations amongst the peasantry.) If that’s the case with serfs, it’s much more so with lower-level members of the elite. You might get away with whipping Bellerophon the serf, but you definitely can’t do that with Corbo by God’s grace the noblest of knights – you have to persuade him that you have right on your side.

My fundamental argument about the West Frankish kingdom by the end of the tenth century is that the way you do this, as a ruler, has fractured. Rather than one landscape of political discourse, there is a proliferation of them, in a way which would make ninth-century Carolingian reformers blanch. Some of these are really obviously both new and local: the development of Norman identity which is so beloved to my heart is an example of this. But there are more subtle examples as well.

One admittedly not subtle example is the case of Anjou. I will undoubtedly talk about Anjou more in future, but for now let it be said that, by the end of the tenth century, the Angevin counts have developed a regionally-peculiar discourse of legitimacy, wherein they are in charge because they are saved – as in, Jesus Christ has guaranteed the posthumous state of their souls – and their followers, whilst committing the same sins, aren’t. This is ‘proven’ not least through some entertainingly brazen misuse of Biblical quotations in their charters; but it’s fairly consistent for the last quarter of the tenth and first decade or so of the eleventh centuries.

However, the counts of Anjou weren’t just counts of Anjou. Recently, we spoke about how transregional aristocrats didn’t just go away with the end of the reign of Charles the Fat, and Geoffrey Grisegonelle, count of Anjou from c. 960 to 987, is a prime example of this. This is actually one of the things which the only English-language author on Geoffrey, Bernard Bachrach, gets absolutely right – despite Bachrach’s apparent belief that the counts of Anjou are infallible crosses between Napoleon and Brainiac, he is very, very good at pointing out that they have interests all over the West Frankish kingdom; and in fact we’ve already met them in eastern Aquitaine.

One of Geoffrey’s most direct interests, after about 980 or so, was the southern Burgundian county of Chalon-sur-Saône. The local count, Lambert, had recently died, leaving behind a minor son named Hugh and a widow named Adelaide. Geoffrey, a widower himself, married Adelaide and ruled Chalon with her for the next half-decade or so. How did he do it? Not least by adopting the language of legitimacy which Lambert had developed, one quite different from that of Anjou.

Chalon-sur-Saône cathedral today (source)

At some point during his reign, Geoffrey and Adelaide issued a charter in favour of Cluny. (<Looks to see if we’ll be covering it on Charter a Week> Eh, it’s a maybe.) It’s a valuable bit of evidence, because Geoffrey’s time in Chalon is pretty obscure. But what this shows is Geoffrey adapting himself to the different rhythms of discourse prevalent in southern Burgundy.

First off, it’s a charter in favour of Cluny. At this time, Cluny is not the world-conquering monastic empire into which it will mutate in the early eleventh century. It’s big, certainly, but its penetration north of the Loire is pretty minimal – Abbot Odo of Cluny may have been asked to reform Saint-Julien at Tours (but the evidence for that is late and there’s no sign of Cluniac influence on the ground) and although he did reform Fleury, that one really didn’t take and his time at the abbey was quietly forgotten there. When Geoffrey himself tried to reform the abbey of Saint-Aubin in Angers, he brought in monks not from Cluny but from Rheims. Here, though, he patronises Cluny. In doing so, he puts himself into the tradition of Count Lambert, who was also a noted donor to the abbey. (In fact, elsewhere Geoffrey copied Lambert’s lead in this regard even more closely.)

The next thing is that the land, in the delightfully-named village of Jambles, is donated for the soul of Geoffrey and Adele’s fidelis Aimo. As it happens, we have Aimo’s own charter donating the same land to Cluny in 984, so we can say some things about him. First off, he’s quite a significant figure, being an archdeacon of the cathedral of Chalon. That’s a man of local influence – his charter is witnessed by Geoffrey, Adelaide, and Bishop Ralph. Second, he begins his charter with a prologue beginning ‘with the end of the world approaching and ruins increasing…’, a prologue which is relatively familiar elsewhere in the West Frankish kingdom but basically-unknown in the Cluny archive. In fact, the very nifty online edition of the Cluniac charters means that we can say that these two of about only five charters which begin like that before the mid-eleventh century – and that Geoffrey is copying the specific wording of Aimo’s. Geoffrey is having himself written into local languages of legitimacy – he’s not just donating to Cluny, he’s not just donating to Cluny for Aimo, he’s not even just donating to Cluny for Aimo in the same words Aimo had; he’s inscribing the rightness of his rule through the medium of Cluniac patronage, placing himself and the leading men of the Chalonnais in relation to one another via their relationship with Cluny.

Charter a Week 9: Imperium

Charles the Fat rather fell into his empire. For sure, he acted decisively to take proper control of it; but the circumstances he took advantage of were the result of complete coincidence. As we’ve seen over the course of the last couple of months, male, adult Carolingians in the 880s just would. Not. Stop. Dying.

In 885, the most relevant recent death was Carloman II, who died in December 884. This was a bad time for him to die, because Charles the Fat – the only crowned king in the Frankish world and thus, absent any other debilitating factor, the king – was in northern Italy, and couldn’t show up in the west until the snows melted. In practice, this turned out to be in May, although he was preparing months in advance. By 20th May, though, Charles was in Burgundy, where he issued three diplomas featuring Geilo of Langres, of which this is one:

DD CtF no. 117 (20th May 885, Grand) = ARTEM no. 793 = DK 7.ii

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by favour of divine clemency emperor augustus.

If We proffer assent to the just and reasonable solicitations of venerable pontiffs, which they recount to Our Serenity’s ears for the advantages of the churches committed to them, and We busy Ourself to bring them to the effect of perpetual stability, We not only exercise imperial custom, but truly as well do We not doubt that this will benefit Us to pass through the present life in happiness and to lay hold of future blessing as quickly as possible.

Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, both present and future, ascertain that Geilo, the reverend bishop of the church of Langres, came and made known to Our Excellence that he had for love of God Almighty and the blessed Benignus and in memory of Us and Our wife and offspring restored to the abbey in honour of the blessed Benignus, the extraordinary martyr, next to the castle of Dijon, in which the same outstanding martyr rests, certain goods once consigned to the same place and since taken away from there, that is, in the district of Dijonnais, in the villa of Plombières-lès-Dijon, to wit, 12 manses to perpetually serve for lighting the same monastery.

Therefore, bringing himself before Our Majesty because of this, he humbly requested that, for love of God and the honour of the same blessed Benignus, We might deign to confirm the aforesaid goods restored to the aforesaid place through a precept of Our authority, lest henceforth in later times they should be diminished or stolen therefrom by anyone’s obstinacy or thoughtlessness.

Lending the ears of Our Domination to his praiseworthy petitions, We commanded this precept of Our Sublimity to be made, through which We decree and establish and confirm through Our imperial authority that the aforesaid goods should in the name of Christ persevere in future times as they are seen to have been restored there with all their dependencies, to wit, meadows, vineyards, woods, pastures, waters and watercourses, and bondsmen of both sexes, for the purposes which were ordained above, perpetually, without disturbance from anyone.

And that this authority of Our confirmation or permission might endure firm and undisturbed for all time, and endure stable in future, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it in God’s name to be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of the most glorious and serene Charles, ever augustus.

Chancellor Amalbert witnessed on behalf of Archchancellor Liutward [of Vercelli].

Given on the 13th kalends of June [20th May], in the year of the Incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ 885, in the 4th indiction, in the 5th year of Emperor Charles’ imperial reign in Italy, the 4th in East Francia, the 1st in Gaul.

Enacted at the estate of Grand.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

cw 9 885
Charles’ diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

This diploma is interesting from a diplomatic point of view not least because it was written in a Langres hand – that is, it was Geilo himself who showed up with the diplomas. This is significant because the meeting at Grand featured a number of powerful men: Anskeric, later bishop of Paris (a rival of Gozlin), Pippin of Vermandois, Bishop Wibod of Parma, and Rudolph of Transjurane Burgundy. Geilo, by having no fewer than three diplomas – which he had written himself, or had his clerics write for him; and which favour his close followers or himself; and which, in this case, presents him as the epitome of a proper bishop in restoring property to his church – was pushing himself to the top of the heap, all in a huge Gallo-Roman amphitheatre.

What did Charles get out of this? Simply put, he got Geilo and his clients, and he got to be king. These diplomas are one of Koziol’s key examples in arguing for the performativity of diplomas, and for good reason. Charles was claiming to be king ‘in Gaul’, and these diplomas made him such. When the Gauls were calling him king, and he was commanding them like a king, in what respect was he not king?

Source Translation: The Last Carolingian Capitulary

 The Capitulary of Ver (March 884, Ver)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Carloman, by grace of God king, to all the venerable bishops, abbots, counts, judges and all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us.

When, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 884, the fifth year of Our reign, in the second indiction, in the month of March, We and a group of Our followers with Us had convened at the palace of Ver, it was pleasing that certain statues of the sacred canons and certain capitularies of Our ancestors should be renewed. For We deeply and solemnly grieve that through the impediment of sin and the abounding malice of wicked men they have become worthless beyond measure and are nearly destroyed, especially those which were promulgated against the evil of robbery and plundering by the holy fathers and confirmed with royal authority by most Christian kings.

Indeed, so far and wide has this poison been spread and dispersed everywhere that now everyone, infected and corrupted in body and soul, quite freely takes advantage of this disease which is so very sinful and deadly, not acknowledging that which Paul said – or rather God Almighty through him – ‘Nor thieves shall possess the kingdom of God’ [1 Corinthians 6:10], nor that which the apostle said elsewhere, because if we bite and devour one another [see Galatians 5:15] (that is, if we plunder), we ill quickly fall. Therefore it is fulfilled in us – through us, even! – that reproach cast by God Almighty through the prophet Isaiah, saying ‘they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm’ [Isaiah 9:20], that is, lay waste the possessions of their brother. For he devours the flesh of his arm and drinks the blood of his arm who takes the possessions of his neighbour, from which he should get his sustenance.

It is not surprising if pagans and foreign nations have dominion over us and take from us temporal goods, since everyone takes from their neighbour by force their means of subsistence. Therefore that which God Almighty threatened through Isaiah the prophet justly applies to us, saying ‘Woe to thee that spoilest, shalt not thou thyself also be spoiled?’ [Isaiah 33:1]. We despoil our brothers, and therefore the pagans deservedly plunder us and our possessions.

How, therefore, can we securely proceed against the enemies of the holy Church of God and us, when the spoil of the poor is in our houses [Isaiah 3:14]? And not only is it kept in the house, but also it often happens that some people march off to battle with a belly full of spoil. And how can we defeat our enemies when the blood of our brothers drips from our mouths, and our hands are covered in blood and our arms are weighed down with the burden of miseries and robberies, and all our strength of soul and body is crippled? God receives not our prayers, because the clamours and wails and heavy sighs of paupers and orphans, wards and widows come before and forestall our prayers, which are weighted down with the bloody flesh of our brothers and so become hoarse, having none of the full, rich sound of virtue.

There are many who are seen to give alms from this spoil, not understanding that Isaiah says this of such acts: ‘Whoever offers the Lord an offering from spoil, it is as if he slaughters a son before his father.’ (*). There are no few people who seek counsel and penitence for murders, adulteries, perjuries, and arsons and think nothing of the evil of robbery, not understanding that as often as someone robs the poor and puts them in danger from hunger and nakedness, he perpetrates that many murders, for he kills his neighbour when he takes from him their means of subsistence. We know from the saying of Paul the apostle that ‘no murderer hath life in the kingdom of God’ [see 1 John 3:15], and ‘adulterers God will judge’ [Hebrews 13:4].

Because, therefore, ‘no thieves shall possess the kingdom of God’ unless they return that which they took and do penance as well, let us flee this great evil, from which so many and such terrible other evils come forth; and let us love our neighbours as ourselves, fulfilling the Law, which says ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.’ [Exodus 20:17], because otherwise we can neither resist our enemies nor possess the kingdom of God.

Cap. 1: And thus We wish that Our palace should be established in the custom of Our predecessors and the worship of God and royal honour, as well as the habit of religion and the concord of unanimity and the order of peace; and that the peace preserved in Our same palace by the enactments of Our predecessors should be brought forth to be followed throughout the realm.

Cap. 2: Therefore We decree that everyone dwelling in Our palace or coming to it from any place should live in peace. But if anyone violates the peace and commits robbery, let them by Our royal authority and the command of Our representative be brought to an audience at the palace so that they might be punished by a legal judgement, in accordance with what is contained in the capitularies of Our ancestors, with a threefold fine and the royal ban.

Cap. 3: If anyone without a lord either within the palace or living near it does the same, let Our representative approach him, and by Our command order him to come to the palace. But if they rashly spurn coming, let them be brought to Our presence by force to be subjected to the enactments of Our predecessors. But if they spurn both Us and Our representative and do not want to come to Us and is killed there while defending himself, and any of his relatives or friends want to begin a feud against Our followers who killed him, We will authoritatively make them swear not to, and We will help Our followers in the matter by royal authority.

Cap. 4: It also pleased Us and Our followers that whoever robs or plunders anything within Our realm should pay a fine of triple the total value, and pay the royal ban, and in addition do public penance for it, as is contained in the capitularies of Our ancestors. But if they are a cottar or serf, let them similarly pay a fine of triple the total value, or their lord on their behalf, and receive sixty firm blows, and in addition let them do public penance for it, the nature of which should rest within bishop’s judgement in accordance with the magnitude of the deed, because from them come forth fornications and adulteries and murders and arsons, drunkenness and many other vices. If anyone, however, denies the deed, if it not clearly proven, let them clear themselves by swearing an oath with their own hand, except Our royal vassals, on whose behalf their better men should swear the oath. This will carried out in this way with the greatest diligence.

Cap. 5: The bishop in whose diocese anyone who plunders anything lives will by his admonition, canonically, through his priest, summon him once and twice and if necessary three times to make amends or to pay the fine or to penance, so that he might give satisfaction to God and the Church, which he has wounded. If, however, he despises and spurns his admonition and very salutary invitation, let him strike him with the pastoral rod, that is, a sentence of excommunication, that he should be separated from the communion of the holy Church and all Christians until he provides appropriate satisfaction and makes worthy amends. The same bishop ought to notify his lord of this excommunication, and all his fellow bishops, let they receive him before he has made amends.

Cap. 6: Concerning those who do not have benefices and allods within the diocese and are parishioners of another bishop and commit robbery and plundering within a diocese when they go to court or make a journey from place to place, it pleased Us and Our followers that, if it is done sufficiently close to the bishop that their plundering can be made known to him before they leave his diocese, he should send an active and prudent priest who should summon them on his behalf to reasonably make amends, which should be the kind of fine and amends outlined above, if, having been summoned, they wish to come. If, though, they proudly spurn the summons and admonition of the bishop, let them be struck by a similar sentence of excommunication, lest they leave the diocese before what is established above has been carried out. Their excommunication should be communicated to their lord and their own bishops, lest they receive them before they return to where they committed robbery and make full amends there.

Cap. 7: And because the bishops, who are occupied with Us and their people and the common needs of the Church and the whole realm, cannot oversee everything which is perpetrated within the limits of their diocese alone, We establish that, whenever bishops leave their own city, each one should leave such helpers in their city who can carry out everything in that city with the highest degree of prudence, and whom the poor forever redeemed by the blood of Christ might find present in the city, from whom they might receive an answer and some solace. Let each bishop establish in townships and estates far away from the city reverend and careful priests, temperate in the prudence of their habits, who can on his behalf carry out in a disciplined manner what is established above, and let other junior and less careful priests refer their case to them.

Cap. 8: It pleased Us and Our followers, for common advantage and imminent need, that no bishop should gravely sorrow if another bishop excommunicates one of his parishioners due to plundering of this kind.

Cap. 9: And because it is necessary that episcopal authority should be helped by judicial power in eradicating and removing completely such an ill and fixing and establishing such a good, it pleased Us and Our followers in common that royal representatives should faithfully aid them in this matter generally, and the count should order his viscount and his vicars and hundredmen and other officers of the commonwealth and Frankish men learned in the documents of worldly law that, for love of God Almighty and the peace of the holy Church and loyalty to Us, each time bishops or their ministers or also the poor themselves appeal to them on this matter they should help in this, insofar as they usefully can, both by themselves and with ministers of the Church, such that officers of the Church should have the authority of their bishop and officers of the count should have Our authority and that of their count.  

Cap. 10: We also wish that, if anyone staying in a county or making a journey rashly thinks nought of episcopal or royal authority, and spurns making amends legally for what they unjustly stole, and becomes a rebel, if they are killed there, let no-one begin a feud against any of Our followers who killed him, nor should they pay any fine for his death. If any of his relatives or friends wants to begin a feud about this matter, We will authoritatively make them swear not to, and We will help Our followers in the matter by royal authority.

Cap. 11: Concerning Our royal vassals, We command that, if any of them takes spoil, the count in whose power they are should summon him to make amends. If anyone does not want to hear the count or his representative, let them be compelled to make amends by force, as the law teaches, and as is specified in the capitularies of Our ancestors as king, in the same place where the despoiling was committed. If they declare formally that they want to be distrained before Our presence rather than before the count, let him be permitted to come before Us through credible securities or through the oath of a better person, so that pleas of this sort might be resolved there. We concede, certainly, this honour to Our royal vassals, that they should not swear an oath with their own hand like others; but one of their better and more credible men should not delay doing it instead. If they despise, though, what We said above, and do not wish to make amends in any way, and remain in contempt, and are killed there, We will harbour no rage against those who killed them. And if any of their relatives or friends wants to begin a feud about this matter, We will authoritatively make them swear not to, as was said above, and We will help them in this by Our royal authority. If they say that in fact the count has not acted in regard of them in accordance with the law, but has done this out of some rage or jealousy which he previously held against them, let the count make satisfaction to them before Us, in accordance with what pleases Us, that he has acted for no other reason than for the robbery they committed.

Cap. 12: To remove any excuse for robbery, We wish that priests, who should provide a good example of charity to everyone, should be hospitable, as the apostle says: ‘use hospitality to one another without grudging’ [1 Peter 4:9], and let them offer hospitality to those making a journey, because some people pleased God through being hospitable when they gave a warm welcome to His angels.  

Cap. 13: It pleased Us and Our followers that priests should admonish their parishioners that they should be hospitable and deny hospitality to no-one making a journey, and – to remove any excuse for robbery – sell nothing to passers-by more dearly that they could sell it in the market. If they want to sell something more dearly, let the passers-by refer this to the priest, and let them sell to them ethically by his command.

Cap. 14: We wish that priests and comital officers should order the villeins that they should not form the organisations which they call in the common tongue ‘guilds’ against those who rob anything. Rather, let them refer their case to that priest who is the bishop’s representative, and to those who are the count’s officers about this in these places, so that everything may be prudently and reasonably corrected.

* Isaiah says nothing of the sort; the line has vague parallels to Isaiah 66:3.

Capitularia_ _Lex_Salica_ _[...]_btv1b10548477k
Picture of a king in state from one of the manuscripts in which the capitulary is preserved, BNF Lat 9654, probably from Metz. Image from Gallica.

It’s really hard to find people writing about the Capitulary of Ver, which is odd, because it’s a very rich text. To put it in perspective, Monday’s charter, short and weird as it is, has more in-depth scholarly commentary than this lengthy bit of lawmaking. But look how interesting it is! Not least, it’s got the sermon conveying the rationale for this particular bit of legislation bundled in with the chapters themselves, which illustrates just how pragmatic a response to Carloman’s problems this is.

We’ve been mostly looking at internal Carolingian politics these last few weeks, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is all taking place to the background of incessant Viking raids. I don’t think anyone, either now or then, thought that there was a serious chance that the Northmen would conquer Gaul or Germany outright, but at the same time there just didn’t seem to be any hope that things would get better. This is admittedly an impression gained from the thoroughly miserable Annals of Saint-Vaast, but we saw it in Monday’s charter as well and this capitulary too makes it clear that the king’s circles don’t think that as matters currently stand they can fend off the Vikings.

It’d be nice to know who wrote this. One scholar said it was Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, which would be an impressive achievement as he’d been dead for a couple of years at this point. (The scholar in question knows that perfectly well; what it reads like is a slip of the pen on the assumption that if it’s grandiloquent, hectoring and late ninth century it must be Hincmar’s…) Hincmar’s successor Fulk is not particularly close to the royal court at this point, although we can’t rule him out necessarily. In any case, there are enough Francian bishops around who could produce something like this we can’t narrow it down.

What are they saying? On Monday, we saw that Carloman was trying to build up support for a renewed attack on the Vikings in autumn 884, and this is a key part of it. God’s favour cannot be won for the Franks as things currently stand because rampant theft has despoiled the poor to such an extent that He cannot hear their prayers for victory: ergo, to defeat the ‘pagans and foreign nations’, theft must be suppressed. This rings, to my ear, quite Anglo-Saxon, less in the language than in the priorities. Later, in the tenth and early eleventh centuries, King Athelstan’s law codes would be remarkably punitive towards thieves; and Æthelred the Unready responded to Viking attacks in his time not least with attempts to win divine favour. So this is very much a document of 884.

Is it addressing real problems? I’m inclined to think not. Theft was a perennial problem for earlier medieval lawmakers (although it’s interesting that here it’s theft rather than, say, orthodoxy or runaway slaves). This isn’t quite a Patrick-Wormald-esque case of law-as-royal-performance: I don’t think Carloman is simply mouthing empty platitudes to look appropriately kingly. This is fairly comprehensive legislation, aiming to address the causes of theft as well as the act itself – hence chapter 13, forbidding gouging travellers. (When we brought Ver up on the blog before, it was in the context of Geoffrey Koziol using it as an example of ‘unpragmatic’ Carolingian lawmaking – that seemed wrong then and seems bizarre now.)

Certainly, it was taken as an authoritative bit of rule-making over the course of the next century. I remember reading somewhere someone claiming that it wasn’t received, and certainly I don’t know how it compares to the manuscript tradition of other capitularies, but Ver shows up in three manuscript collections from the tenth and early eleventh centuries, one from as far away as southern Germany.

With that said, I’m not sure it’s a healthy sign for West Frankish politics. Some historians have suggested that, had Carloman lived, he would have proven particularly effective; and certainly he appears to have been an energetic and able ruler. But this kind of hyper-moralising response to military defeat is uncomfortably reminiscent of Louis the Pious and particularly Æthelred – I can’t help feeling that, had Carloman kept on ruling, West Frankish political culture would have ended up with a case of perpetual hysteria in the face of their inability to deal once and for all with Viking raids (the causes of which were, after all, out of their control). In that regard, the accession of Charles the Fat was probably a much-needed cooldown of West Frankish politics.