After a nearly two-year hiatus in publishing, my latest article is now in print, and available for anyone to read. It is entitled ‘After Soissons: The Last Years of Charles the Simple (923-929)’, and it can be found – for free – with the good folks at the Rivista Reti Medievalivia this finely-crafted hyperlink.
Charles’ last years haven’t really ever been the subject of historical enquiry, and certainly not in the last, say, seventy-five years or so, so I can say with some confidence that this represents the cutting-edge treatment of the subject. It also features ornery Vikings, Frankish nobles in both conniving and morally-outraged flavours, and Charles’ underwhelming 927 comeback tour. In short: HARDCORE TENTH-CENTURY POLITICS. And it is, as said, open access, so you’ve really got no excuse not to read it.
The gritty details: originally written Winter 2016 for the Chibnall Prize, revised and resubmitted to Rivista Reti Medievali May 2017, one round of revisions, and in print now, five months later. Given some of my stuff that’s still in development hell, this is a fine speed record!
*IMPORTANT NOTE* As you’ll have noticed, I’ve changed the title of this blog. Being in Schwäbisch Hall, I’ve had reason to talk with people about my work, and in doing so have realised that the old title was really hard to Google. Hopefully now it’ll be easier; plus the new title has the happy benefit of better explaining what the blog is about. Anyway, on with the subject.
As half-a-dozen-odd huge volumes of Latin show, there were a lot of Church councils – meetings of bishops and other ecclesiastical figures to determine doctrine and practice – in the eighth- and ninth-century Carolingian empire. These were important occasions: lots of flash, lots of pomp, and lots of opportunities for bishops to admonish the ruler about how he should rule. It’s therefore not surprising to discover that a lot of ideas about the theory underlying the royal and episcopal offices comes through largely in documents from major Church councils.
In the East Frankish kingdom, this tradition continued into the tenth century, and councils such as that of Hohenaltheim in 916 or Ingelheim in 948 are fairly well-known by historians. However, in the West, the tradition ends. The council of Trosly in 909 is the last West Frankish council we have any texts from, and they seem to have stopped entirely from around 930. Why this should have been the case is a question which is increasingly preoccupying me.
An obvious answer to suggest is that of violence: the late 920s also happens to be a time period when the West Frankish kingdom descends into the civil war which will occupy it until about 950 or so, with aftershocks until the late 960s. Maybe the political situation was too disordered to bother holding councils?
This strikes me as unlikely. In the East Frankish kingdom, a comparable, if admittedly shorter, period of civil war in the 910s under King Conrad I produced the aforementioned council of Hohenaltheim, which not only brought together the kingdom’s bishops, but provided a more exalted definition of royal authority than ever – Conrad was referred to as a Christus! Besides, under Ralph, West Frankish councils continued to meet, even if we don’t have documents from them – the last one on record met during the siege of the fortress of Chateau-Thierry in 933. It seems to be in the reign of King Louis IV that the change really takes place.
What I think may be happening is that we’re seeing an honest-to-God Anglo-Saxon influence on West Frankish kingship. Despite its political importance, despite the close ties between West Francia and England, and despite the fact that Louis IV spent his entire pre-royal life in England, after years of searching I have yet to find concrete evidence of Anglo-Saxon practices affecting Louis’ kingship – but here may perhaps be such a thing. As in the Frankish realm, eighth- and ninth-century England had a tradition of church councils such as those held at Clofesho (distressingly, despite the importance of the councils held there, we don’t actually know for sure where Clofesho was…). But by the late ninth century, this tradition had ended, or at least transformed. Not currently having access to a research library I want to be cautious here, but it looks as though the questions which had previously dealt with in Church councils was now dealt with in royal assemblies. This is not to draw a hard-and-fast dividing line between the two types of meetings; but the change in emphasis might have been significant in terms of having different corporate traditions.
If Louis had been raised in such an environment, his ideas of how to deal with significant churchmen may not have involved the calling of capital-C Church Councils; certainly, he didn’t call any in his reign. (Ingelheim in 948, in which he was involved, clearly came out of East Frankish political practice.) Such a change in practice may have led to the changes in mentality that we can see in the latter part of the tenth century. But that’ll be the next post…
Were I to note that Norman sexual culture around the year 1000 appears to have been unusually bawdy in comparison with the principality’s neighbours, I would not be the first to make this observation. This is, after all, the culture which gave us Moriuht, the only Latin poem which requires the phrase ‘homosexual Viking gang bang’ in a plot summary. However, the topic is of more than simply literary interest. In the moments I can snatch between revising dative prepositions, I’m currently writing up a couple of papers I gave last year, about the surprisingly key political role masculine sexuality played in legitimising the Norman dukes; and maybe this will interest you all.
But first I need to introduce to you Dudo of Saint-Quentin. Nothing about his background suggests he was at all unusual: he had a traditional education in north-eastern Gaul, and a respectable if not distinguished career as a canon in Saint-Quentin, in eastern France. Even his name suggests an origin amongst the middling nobility of the West Frankish/Lotharingian border. However, the work he produced, the Historia Normannorum, is tremendously weird. Written in around 1000, it is a series of biographies of the earliest dukes of Normandy, written in Latin at the commission of Duke Richard I and later his half-brother Count Ralph of Ivry. It presents the first Norman duke, Rollo, and his descendants as saints, blessed by God with the highest level of divine virtue and earthly success. Because of this, it is notoriously unreliable in matters of fact and actively tendentious. However, it also provides key insights into the earliest days of Norman political culture, and in its form and detail is comparable to no other contemporary text about a non-royal ruler.
And it’s full of sex, in a way which one can’t really parallel from other tenth-century texts, certainly not ones which purport to describe saintly laymen. St. Gerald of Aurillac, whom we have discussed here before, is a case in point: part of his holiness is his rejection of sex, in order to live more like a monk. Even St. Gangulf of miraculous farting fame, whose marriage was accepted by his hagiographer, was sex-neutral.
In Dudo’s work, however, the right kind of sex is actively good, as it demonstrates the right kind of masculinity, the kind necessary to rule as virile a people as the Normans. Book 3, the biography of Normandy’s second duke William Longsword and easily the most interesting bit of the whole work, illustrates this rather neatly. One of William’s big problems – and believe me, it’s presented as a bad thing – is that he wants to leave the world and become a monk; consequently, he avoids sex. His other main problems is his tendency to avoid fighting. Between them, these are the great detriments to his authority over the Normans, and they are linked – at one point, his men accuse him of being ‘frigid in arms’, and no, you’re not projecting the double-entendre.
Consequently, the narrative is structured so as to resolve both problems together. This accusation by William’s men as they debate how to react to a violent rebellion against William. William proposes to retreat into Frankish territory to seek help from his relatives, and his men categorically refuse to follow him, making plain the text’s fundamental point: ‘a girly man like you can’t rule over us real men’ (non vales nobis ultra viribus effeminatus praesse). This outrages William, who goes and slaughters the rebels more-or-less single-handedly. As he stands on the battlefield, surrounded by gore and corpses, a messenger comes to tell him that his wife has born him a son. His skill in arms and ‘arms’ proven, no further challenges to his authority arise during the text.
This is not to say that this is an autochthonous Norman development, however. For one thing, Dudo’s background was not Norman. For another, it wouldn’t do to paint Frankish culture as necessarily prudish. The notoriously-filthy Liutprand of Cremona is evidence enough against that, although his sexual invective is doing very different things to Dudo’s work. From Normandy’s next-door neighbour Flanders, however, comes a genealogy written by a priest named Witger, which discusses God’s special favour for the counts of Flanders in terms of their reproduction and thus, implicitly, sex. It’s nowhere near as explicit as in Dudo, and neither masculinity nor violence play much of a role, though.
So what I think we’re dealing with in Normandy is a situation where a strand of ideas about sex present but muted in Frankish culture found a more fertile ground in a territory where humour was more risqué and political authority was more explicitly gendered. Dudo’s work is part of an ongoing dialogue of legitimacy between ruler and ruled, picking up on its audience’s ideas and trying to steer them in one particular direction: that the Norman dukes are the best rulers because they are the best men, not least because they have the best sex.
(Incidentally, at one point Dudo describes William Longsword’s sword as having about six pounds of gold on the hilt; Eric Christiansen did the maths and reckoned that, to be balanced, it would indeed have to have been a long sword…)
So, there will be a blog post this week, because this week marks the one-year anniversary of Salutem Mundo going up on the web. If I have a bit of spare time, I might put up a retrospective; but today I wanted to do something fun: counter-factual speculation! I was reading a biography of King Edward II, which made me think that England came reasonably close at one point to a King Gilbert, and this in turn led my thoughts back to my own work. After all, there were three relatively long periods in the tenth and early eleventh centuries where the reigning king was without an obvious direct heir, i.e. a legitimate, adult son. So the question naturally arose: had some accident befallen these kings, who would have ended up as their successor?
The first period is also the longest: the twenty-odd years between 898 and 920 when King Charles the Simple was without a legitimate son. Until the birth of Louis IV in around 920, Charles did not have a direct heir. If he had died before 919 or so, the kingdom’s most powerful magnate and brother of Charles’ predecessor Odo, Robert of Neustria, was by far the most likely candidate to become king. One suggestion I’ve never seen (although some readers may be able to correct me on this) is that this may have been important. After 920, relations between Robert and Charles deteriorated rapidly. I wonder if his participation in rebellion after that year was conditioned by the fact that Louis cut him out of the succession?
Other possibilities for king include Richard the Justiciar, duke of Burgundy (possible, but I don’t see him having the power base or the connections to the throne) or Louis the Child until 911 (good dynastic claim, but he doesn’t seem to have had much connection at all with West Frankish magnates and indeed wasn’t all that close to the Lotharingian aristocracy, from a kingdom he actually did rule).
The next period is in the reign of Charles’ son Louis, between 936 and 941. Here, the situation is complicated by the fact that Louis himself appears to have been something of a compromise candidate between Robert of Neustria’s son Hugh the Great, Count Heribert II of Vermandois, or Hugh the Black, duke of Burgundy and brother of Louis’ predecessor King Ralph. I cannot imagine any of these people letting one of the others have it without a very nasty fight. The probable winner, in my view, would have been Heribert, due to his geographical proximity to the centres of royal power in Rheims and Laon. However, an outside possibility is Roric, Louis’ illegitimate half-brother, who might present another useful compromise candidate. He was a cleric and a bastard, but illegitimacy wasn’t necessarily a disqualifier for kingship; and he may have been able to go back into the world if absolutely necessary, perhaps, although I can’t think of any Frankish examples of clerical sons becoming secular this early.
The final period is the first decade of the reign of King Robert the Pious, between 996 and 1007. Between 996 and his death in 1002, Duke Henry of Burgundy, Robert’s uncle, might have been a plausible candidate, although he was childless and in the equivalent situation in 936, Hugh the Black had been passed over. Thus, my preference is for King Rudolf III of Transjurane Burgundy, nephew of the penultimate Carolingian king Lothar and brother-in-law of one of the most powerful West Frankish magnates, Odo II of Blois. He’s plausible as a king, without being too threatening to established power bases. It is possible that Odo himself might have sought the crown, but I find this unlikely: too many people would have been opposed to the action. Other possibilities include Otto III or Henry II of Germany, who were also closely related to both the Carolingians and the Robertians and whose ties were perhaps closer. However, an actual reunification of East and West Francia seems a bit unlikely to me. The final possibility is Otto or Louis of Lower Lotharingia, children of the last serious Carolingian claimant to the West Frankish throne, Charles of Lower Lotharingia. Certain, in 1012, Louis appears to have been in Poitiers as a potential figurehead for rebellion. With Aquitanian and maybe Ottonian support, a Carolingian restoration might well have been possible.
These are just my speculations, of course. What do you think? I’m interested to hear discussions of this: how people interpret these possibilities is heavily dependent on what they think matters about royal successions, and that’s an area where I am keenly aware of my own blinkers…
Hey folks. I’m currently in the middle of settling in in Schwäbisch Hall, trying to sort out how I’m getting lunch for the foreseeable future; but for those of you who want to read me on other blogs, the good people at After Empire have kindly hosted a guest post at:
Although at the moment I am currently up to my elbows in packing, a bit of good news has come through the pipeline. I recently found out that my essay, ‘Kingship and Consent in the Reign of Charles the Simple: The Case of Sint-Servaas (919)’ was declared proxime accessit (i.e. runner-up) in the TMJ essay competition.
I was dead chuffed, not least because it’s nice to see that my well-known love for Charles the Simple is able to win over others with its evangelical zeal. In this case, about how the long-standing idea of Charles as a wannabe-autocrat is wrong, using an oddity in a pair of charters he issued for the Maastricht abbey of Sint-Servaas. So thanks to the journal, congratulations to the winner, and I’ll keep you all posted as to what happens about getting it into print!
Man, I had such a good idea for my IMC paper next year. I was going to look at every post-Carolingian royal diploma, seeing who named their predecessors, either by name (‘King Odo’) or generically (‘the custom of Our royal ancestors’) and see what changed. Problem was, this was such a good idea that someone else on the panel had already had it, based on their long-standing research… Still, thanks to my collection of West Frankish royal diplomas actually doing the start of the research as a feasibility study only took a morning, and if I can do nothing else with it it can at least serve as a blog post, so here goes. At least this way I don’t have to spend a thousand words on the methodological issues (although I have thought about them!) …
The first thing I noted was that the overall amount of citations in both categories remains fairly consistent between 888 and 1032, at around 66%. There are two major exceptions to this: Ralph of Burgundy, and Robert the Pious. My first thought was that Ralph and Robert both came to power in coups, so might not want to remind people of their – implicitly more legitimate – predecessors; but this isn’t true of Hugh Capet… I still wonder if the ‘don’t mention the predecessors’ reason might be valid for Ralph – who also basically never mentions specific, named, precursors, and who did after all come to the throne after a shockingly-violent battle – but I think in Robert’s case it might fit into a wider pattern in his kingship, the meandering trend towards being less royal about the whole thing. This is also, as far as I can tell, not a universal percentage: I also did the kings of Transjurane Burgundy, and their historical memory is very limited – they hardly ever mention their predecessors, and when they do it’s overwhelmingly their father.
Not that most kings aren’t above all interested primarily in their immediate predecessors, if you look at who they cite by name. This usually, but not always, means their father: Louis IV cites Charles the Simple, and Lothar cites Louis IV. However, this does mean there are some interesting exceptions: Louis isn’t interested in his immediate predecessor (and father’s usurper) Ralph of Burgundy, for instance. More widely, both Charles the Simple and his predecessor Odo of Paris take as their most-cited figure Charles the Bald, not Charles the Fat; probably because Charles the Bald was such a dominating presence that his after-effects were still being felt a quarter of a century later.
Finally, historical memory going further back is a lot weaker. Contrary to what you might expect, Charlemagne is not a normative figure: Odo and Louis IV don’t mention him at all, and in total Louis the Pious is rather more cited than Charlemagne is. On the other hand, exactly in accordance with what you might expect, the Merovingians hardly ever appear. The exception is Charles the Simple, whose memory evidently goes back much further than his fellow-kings’: he cites no fewer than six Merovingian monarchs, and has more time than the other kings for Pippin the Short. Admittedly many of these Merovingian mentions can be accounted for by Saint-Denis’ interest in King Dagobert I and Archbishop Fulk of Rheims’ pulling out all the stops in terms of historical precedent in one particular charter for Saint-Vaast; but not all of them can. It does seem to support Geoffrey Koziol’s idea that Charles is an unusually thoughtful monarch. Talking to a colleague the other day, I was saying that I increasingly get a kind of Joseph-II-of-Austria-vibe off Charles: a policy wonk who happened to actually be the ruler…
On that note, it’s announcement time! As previously said on this august forum, I’m shortly going to be moving countries, and will be trapped in Schwäbisch Hall on an intensive German course for the next two months. Consequently, blog posts will be few and far between. If inspiration really strikes me, I might write something; but I rather suspect my time will be full-up… Thus, normal service will be resumed in November.