Source Translation: Charles the Bald’s Proclamation against a Traitor Archbishop

Today finds me en route to charming Aberdeen, where I’ll be taking part in the Bishops’ Identities, Careers and Networks conference (and as I write this I realise I’ve forgotten my little cartoon Lambert of Liège badge, which makes me very sad). However, lest you should fear that I would abandon you, dear readers, I have (for once) prepared something special for today: a translation of the Libellus contra Wenilonem. This text, usually thought to have been written for King Charles the Bald perhaps by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (whom this blog has encountered before, it being hard to avoid him when dealing with the Frankish episcopate) in 859. In 858, Charles’ persistent difficulties with the Neustrian part of his realm had come to a head, and a group of major nobles had invited Charles’ elder brother King Louis the German to become ruler in the West Frankish kingdom. Thanks in large part to his support from the West Frankish episcopate, Charles was able to beat off Louis and re-establish his rule.

There was one major exception to the general support Charles received from his bishops, and that was Archbishop Wanilo of Sens. Wanilo had crowned Charles, but switched sides to Louis and; well, let’s hear Charles’ side of the story:

[EDIT: Latin text here.]


The outline of lord king Charles’ case against Wanilo, archbishop of Sens, promulgated by his own hand before archbishops Remigius of Lyons, Herard of Tours, Wanilo of Rouen, and Ralph of Bourges, chosen as judges from amongst a holy synod of twelve provinces, held in the diocese of Toul, in the suburb of the same city which is called Savonnières, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 859, in the 7th indiction, on the 18th kalends of July [i.e. 14th June].

Chapter 1: Because, as Saint Gregory said and you know to be true from time immemorial, kings in the kingdom of the Franks come from one dynasty, by divine provision, my lord and father Emperor Louis of pious memory gave me, like my royal brothers, a part of the realm. In this part of the realm, the metropolitan archbishopric of Sens happened to be lacking a pastor; so, in accordance with the custom of my predecessors as king and with the consent of the holy bishops of that archbishopric, I gave it to Wanilo to govern – at that time, he was serving me as a cleric in my chapel. He commended himself to me after the fashion of free clerics, and swore an oath of fidelity, and I got all the bishops of my entourage to ordain him as archbishop in Sens.

Chapter 2: After that, there came to pass between my brothers and I the well-known settlement concerning the division of the realm, as a result of which I received a portion of the division to hold and govern, with mutual oaths on the parts of us and our followers, in the manner whereof the leading men of the whole realm had devised. Like the other bishops present, Wanilo swore to me and my brothers, with his own hand, to uphold in future this division between me and my brothers in future as, in essence, my supporter. Wanilo also confirmed the peace and agreement of mutual aid between me and my aforesaid brother Louis with an oath.

Chapter 3: After his election, by the will, consent and acclamation of the rest of the bishops and the other faithful of Our realm, in his diocese, at the city of Orléans, in the church of Sainte-Croix, Wanilo and other archbishops and bishops consecrated me as king in accordance with Church tradition, and anointed me to rule the kingdom with sacred chrism, and elevated me to the throne with a diadem and royal sceptre. As a result of this consecration, I ought not to have been overthrown or supplanted by anyone, at least not without a tribunal of and judgement by bishops, by whose ministry I was consecrated as king, who are called the ‘Thrones of God’, in whom God sits and through whom He declares His judgements; and to whose paternal reproofs and castigatory judgements I was prepared to submit myself and now submit myself to.

Chapter 4: Then, when sedition had begun to grow within Our realm thanks to impudent men, by the consent of Our bishops and other followers, we wrote a mutual agreement concerning how I, with the Lord’s help, intended to act towards them, and how Our same followers ought thereafter to bring me solace through help and counsel. At the estate of Bayel, Wanilo subscribed this document with his own hand, as you can now see.

Chapter 5: After that, when Our followers and I had, as you know, gone to fight the pagans [the Vikings] at the island of Oissel on land and sea, some defected from Us and fled. Wanilo, however, returned to his own see, saying he was too infirm to go to Oissel. But while We remained there, girded for battle although under strength, Our brother Louis, as you know, invaded Our realm from his own with hostile intent, accompanied by seditious men. Wanilo went to his assembly without my agreement and permission. He knew that he wanted to supplant me. No other bishop from Our realm did this.

Chapter 6: Moreover, when I, in the company of those faithful to God and me, marched against my aforesaid brother and my enemies and those with him, who plundered the Church and pillaged the realm, he sent no help, either in person or through the due assistance which my royal ancestors and I had been accustomed to have from the church committed to him, even though I sincerely asked this of him.

Chapter 7: I then had reason and need to retreat from my aforesaid brother at Brienne. My brother Louis returned to my kingdom for this reason: that he might steal my nephew [King Lothar II] from me and take my men from me and violently oppress my followers. Wanilo went to my aforesaid brother Louis with all the help he could muster, acting against me. With him were excommunicate and seditious men of this realm, concerning whose excommunication he had received letters from his fellow bishops. And Wanilo celebrated public masses for my brother and the seditious men who accompanied him, in my palace of Attigny, in the diocese and province of another archbishop who was loyal to Us, without the permission and consent of his fellow bishops, and for excommunicates and the accomplices of excommunicates. And it was in that council and by his counsel (as much as Lothar’s counsellors’) that my nephew Lothar was stolen from me through lies, and the consolation and help due from him and promised by an oath was taken from me.

Chapter 8: Wanilo was no less present amongst the counsellors of my aforesaid brother in dealings both public and private, with his special favourites and amongst the foremost of his entourage, along with, as We said, those excommunicated by episcopal judgement and condemned by the judgement of the realm. This was so that my oft-mentioned brother might gain and I might lose that part of the realm concerning which my same brother and Wanilo swore an oath to me, and in which Wanilo had consecrated me as king.

Chapter 9: Wanilo advised and discussed how the bishops who owed me sworn fidelity and ought to give me the counsel and help they had confirmed with their own hands might desert me and give their service and obedience to my brother Louis.

Chapter 10: He obtained from my brother Louis a precept concerning the abbey of Sainte-Colombe and goods and honours in my kingdom, and asked for letters to send to agents who could retake the same abbey, Heccard and Theodoric.

Chapter 11: In the same letters to the aforesaid agents, Wanilo procured my brother Louis’ order that they should have permission to take stones from the wall of the castle of Melun, which rightly belongs to royal power. This shows how he endeavoured to cherish and tried to support him amongst all the people of the realm bestowed on me by God.

Chapter 12: Wanilo was present in council and dealings with the aforesaid excommunicates, where it was considered how those men who were loyal to me and had promised me loyalty with an oath might willingly or unwillingly swear loyalty to my brother Louis and give him help, and how he could obtain my kingdom from me. And Wanilo was not only present in council, but he himself gave the same counsel to my brother Louis, against the loyalty which he had promised me by an oath.

Chapter 13: Wanilo, both in person and through his companions, to wit, the abovesaid excommunicates, got my brother Louis to give a vacant bishopric, to wit, that of the city of Bayeux, to his kinsman, my cleric Tortald, who had commended himself to me and sworn an oath of loyalty. He, acting unfaithfully towards me and against the loyalty he had promised me, accepted the same bishopric with the consent of my brother Louis.

Chapter 14: Finally, after God, through the assistance of my followers against my brother, had given me the strength to recover, I came to Wanilo’s city. He knew to come to me against my brother to recover my realm; and offered no help, either in person with the counsel he had promised and signed off on, or through the soldiers who are usually provided by the church committed to him.


Wanilo reconciled with Charles later in 859, although his name became a by-word for treachery in later generations. There are a few things that could be said about this, but in the name of space I’ll limit myself to just one, relating to Chapter 3. It’s been said that there was no theory of deposition in Carolingian times, but Charles’ statement that he could, in theory, have been removed as king by a council of bishops looks very much like one. It does look as though Charles is accepting the legitimacy of the very procedure whereby his father Louis the Pious was deposed in the 830s (although in that case the deposition didn’t stick). It’s also remarkably favourably to the Church – admittedly correcting the ruler and giving him admonition and guidance is very much a bishop’s role at this point; but I have trouble imagining this idea coming from the court of Charles the Simple whilst it was justifying itself in handing out bishoprics like Halloween candy. So I have a question for the audience, if anyone’s working on a later period: does this ever get cited?  I can imagine Gregory VII (as a bishop who claimed the right to depose rulers) enjoying this one, but does it ever actually come up?

Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 1

Well, my list of the #top10charters has now come to an end, so here and in an upcoming post I’ll list them for posterity, and for those of you not following me on Twitter. It was a fun little experiment. What makes a charter top ten material is wildly subjective: some of them show interesting things about the way documents were used, others about specific historical moments, others about longer-term trends; some were the most elevated of politics, and others snapshots of individual life. Into this latter category falls:

No. 10: Adalelm the knight donates some land and a silver crucifix to the abbey of Fleury, 975.

“… I offer to our Lord and Saviour… an exquisite silver cross… with the wish and desire that He who, by his death hanging on the wood of the Cross, destroyed death and defeated the Devil might deign to wipe out the weight of my crimes…”

It goes without saying that the Cross has always been important for Christians, and this was no less true for tenth-century Christians. The abbots of Saint-Martin of Tours – who, by 975, had also been the Robertian rulers of Neustria for almost a century, and whose contemporary representative Hugh Capet was Adelelm’s lord and host the assembly at which this gift was made – had as one of the key visual representations of their authority the fact that they signed their documents, explicitly, with the sign of the Holy Cross. Nonetheless, Adalelm is doing something interesting here. He’s participating in a renewed Cross-focussed spirituality, and he’s also picking up on an artistic trend for making large, monumental crucifixes, which at this time were becoming more common in the Ottonian empire. This was quite important for the Church in the area around Orléans – this 975 charter is actually the first evidence for monumental crucifixes in the Orleanais. And it was pretty substantial – thanks to a later description of it, it seems likely that this cross was made of about ten kilos of silver.

In light of the solemnity of the occasion, the charter offers a meditation on the role of the Cross in the salvation of mankind, and it’s this which makes it worthy of a spot on this list. The role of charters was to communicate information, but this information wasn’t just legal. A charter was as much a sermon as a notification of donation – in the charter, Adalelm communicates to the audience not just that he’s given Fleury some holy bling and land near Sens, but why he’s done it and how the sacrifice of Jesus works for him and the whole world.


No. 9: Albert III of Habsburg donates a hunting horn to the abbey of Muri, 1199.

“Let everyone who sees this horn know that Count Albert… enriched this horn with sacred relics…”

Photo by author.

As the picture indicates, this is not a single sheet of parchment, or a cartulary copy of a text. This is in fact an ivory horn. But it is no less a charter – the text inscribed on it uses the formulae of charters, albeit in this case of a short charter. What’s particularly interesting about this one is that the donation and the text recording it are identical. This isn’t how we use documents nowadays, but it was much more common in the earlier medieval period. At least in some cases, the issuance of a (parchment) charter text served itself as a symbol of the donation, aiding in the performance of handing over property from one party to another. This horn is probably the epitome of this way of using the written word.

No. 8: Robert of Neustria donates land to the abbey of Saint-Denis, 923.

“…by divine clemency, because the situation made it necessary, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to steer the ship of the kingdom…”

This is the only charter on this list that isn’t important to me because of work I’ve done on it, but rather because, if it weren’t for Geoffrey Koziol’s work on this charter, I’d never have worked on any of the others. We’ve mentioned here before how Robert of Neustria rose in rebellion against Charles the Simple; and, as Koziol, demonstrates very clearly, this document is not simply a donation, but a manifesto very specifically justifying Robert’s actions and his claim to the throne. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says, but his article is fantastic.


No. 7: Geoffrey Grisegonelle confirms his reformation of Saint-Aubin d’Angers, 966.

“…so that the mercy of the pious Redeemer might be well-disposed to concede His help and aid to me, Geoffrey, caught up in the whirlwinds of worldly wars…”

I’m going to be a bit less fulsome with these last two. Here, it’s because I wrote about this charter for my thesis and when that eventually becomes a book, this document is going to feature prominently; so, you know, spoiler warning…

What I will say about it is, whatever my own very particular theories, this charter commemorates what may be the single most cynical ‘reform’ of a monastery in the tenth century. Saint-Aubin had been ruled by Geoffrey’s ancestors as count of Anjou as lay abbots, but by the 960s it was under the rule of his brother Guy, who might have been a cleric but probably wasn’t a monk. A very strange charter exists in which Guy appears to say that he tried and failed to be a good abbot, and so turned it over to monks out of Saint-Remi de Rheims. However, Geoffrey appears to have used the opportunity to assert his control over the abbey, and Geoffrey’s son Fulk Nerra even more so: the counts of Anjou appear to have disposed of Saint-Aubin’s land to reward their own followers. This lack of interest in reform for its own sake comes through in the document itself: ‘Supposedly,’ Geoffrey says,  ‘monasticism flourished in the monastery once upon a time; but because there’s no obvious proof, We don’t care whether it flourished or not’.

No. 6: Liutgard of Vermandois and Godeleva make a bequest of land to the abbey of Saint-Père de Chartres, 979.

“I myself, and another woman dedicated to God, Godeleva by name, joined to me in both body and soul…”

This one I won’t say anything about at all, because I have promised a whole blog post about the Lesbian Nun Property Magnate Commune of Chartres before, and by thunder, a whole blog post you will get… Possibly soon, although not this week. The week after is a possibility, though. Also, I’ll be posting part 2 of this countdown soon, outside my normal schedule for posts – so stay tuned!

Charter Top Tens: The Sunny South


Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ralphtorta *winks*) probably already know that, this week, I’ve been listing my Top 10 charters. This has provoked a little response, because, as one might expect, my favourite charters (almost) all come from my research period and area, that is, tenth-century northern France. However, the world of charters is vast and endlessly fascinating, and as evidence of that Thomas Lecaque (@tlecaque) posted his own list of documents from Languedoc. So this week’s blog will be something of the text equivalent of a response video*, as I talk about what struck me about these documents as an outsider to the area. I won’t respond to them all, but I will list them all – let’s get started.


10: ARTEM no. 3960, Bernard of Peyrolles to the Holy Sepulchre, 1060:

What struck me is that Bernard doesn’t give directly to Jerusalem, but to Rodez cathedral, instructing Dieudonné Bordet, the sacristan, to send the Holy Sepulchre itself a cash sum each year. This might not be a banking network, but at the least it’s an indication that people think you can move money over long distances reliably enough for it to be worth doing.

9. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin no. 133, a notice of the end of the quarrel between the canons of Saint-Sernin and Saint-Etienne de Toulouse, 1076/7:

Here, the elderly bishop of Lectoure, Raymond Ebo, wants to go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, but has to resolve a dispute over some land he holds: in addition to being bishop, he is prior of Saint-Etienne, but holds the land from Saint-Sernin, so both sets of canons claim the land. I have to say I don’t agree with one element of Thomas’ comments here:

I’m not sure Raymond Ebo’s role here is much of a problem… As the cartulary of Saint-Florent de Saumur amongst many others could show, reformed monks are no strangers to petty litigiousness, and Raymond Ebo’s links within Toulouse do actually have enough pull to get a settlement to stick, at least temporarily. Which, as an old man wanting the kids to shut up long enough to go on pilgrimage, is presumably all he wanted…

8. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin, no. 546, Count William IV of Toulouse and Bishop Isarn of Toulouse permitting Peter Benedict to set up a hospital, 1075-1078:

7. Cartualire de Saint-Sernin, no. 291, Count William IX of Poitou and his wife Philippa to Saint-Sernin, 1098:

I have nothing to add to this, but it’s great.

6. BNF MS Lat. 9189 fol. 25v, Raymond of Saint-Gilles to Lezat, c. 1058:

Thomas highlights the apocalyptic rhetoric here, and the introductory phrase ‘appropinquante etenim mundi termino et ruinis crescentibus’ (For the end of the world draws nigh, and desolation groweth) in the context of the apocalypticism of Raymond of Saint-Gilles’ Crusade army. I’m more interested by his implication this formula is rare in the Languedoc, because it’s incredibly common in the north – this implies, at the very least, something about the transmission of documentary forms southwards…

5. ARTEM no. 2676, Pons, Geoffrey and Bertrand to Raymond of Saint-Gilles, 1103:

Ooh, vernacular text!

4. ARTEM no. 3841, Roger II of Foix to Fredelas, 1111:

Again, I’m not sure about the interpretation of reform here. By comparison, Robert of Neustria makes a similar restoration of property to Saint-Martin in 900, but it’s presented as his own initiative; that Roger highlights the papal role in the restoration indicates how far the papacy has managed to infiltrate discourse by the early twelfth century.

(Also, I like how the ‘comes Fuxensis’ gives no Fux.)

3. ARTEM no. 2443, Gerard I of Roussillon makes his will:

2. Arles, BM 1242, f. 55v, no. lx, Prior Peter of Arles exchanges lands with two Jews, 1008:

There are some royal diplomas in favour of early tenth-century Narbonne which repeat each time the same phrase about how the Jews aren’t paying their taxes to the archbishop’s men, which implies either a scribe wasn’t paying attention or that he had the least efficient tax collectors in the world. (Or, y’know, that the text of these things doesn’t alwaysnecessarily matter; but that’s another argument.)

1. HGL no. 365/CCXCVII, Peter of Melgueil donates his entire county to the papacy, 1085:

Wow. This is indeed a great one to finish on – to me, whose ideas of ‘normal’ political behaviour are based on the mid-tenth century, by the point someone’s donating a whole county to the Pope, there’s definitely been a discursive shift, and this is fascinating evidence of that; as well as the shift from the position of count being an office to being a possession – I don’t think a late Carolingian count would even have conceived of their county as being something they could give to anyone, let alone the pope!

Also interesting is that Peter donates the bishopric of Maguelonne (episcopatum Magalonensem). I don’t know if episcopatum has some other meaning in the south, but how’s that for ‘Church in the hands of the laity’?

Anyway, thanks to Thomas for posting that – he’s certainly illustrated the great richness of southern French charters!

I’ll be posting a list of and commentary on my own picks once the countdown is finished, over the weekend. But if you’re reading this and you have your own nominations for #top10charters, then please do put them up with the hashtag – if I can think of things to say about them, I might do this whole ‘response’ idea again…


*(Tweets copied with permission)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, a sort-of medieval movie

As promised, last week I went and saw the new Guy Ritchie film King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, with the intention to review it for this blog. And how appropriate it was that I saw it just after posting something which had as a major point the mash-up pop culture makes of medieval history!

First things first, is the film any good? Well, no, not really. It’s honestly rather inept on a technical and characterisation level. Arthur himself is very evidently supposed to be a loveably cheeky rogue (what with this being a Guy Ritchie movie and all), but he comes across as just a little bit of an asshole, and the bits of the film which are lightly-medievalised versions of your standard Guy Ritchie protagonists sit rather uncomfortably with the more straight-faced and sombre Arthuriana. This may be because the film’s tone changed part-way through the production process, from something more serious to something more stereotypically Ritchie-esque. Jude Law’s Vortigern, equally, was clearly at one point supposed to be a more textured and nuanced villain, what with his love for his family and conflict over doing Bad Things to Certain People; but the only motivation he’s given is that he loves people being terrified of him. On a technical level, the action scenes are shot in that choppy, modern, Michael-Bay-ish way that critics have been decrying for years. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s definitely pushing the lower boundaries of mediocre. Were it not for some – I don’t think deliberate but nonetheless uncomfortable – unfortunate political overtones in the last five minutes, it would be a worthy contender to the 2004 Arthur movie for Bad Medieval Movie evenings.

I’m a bit hesitant to call it a ‘medieval’ movie per se, mind. The first shot of the film is a text scroll telling us how ‘man and mage used to live in harmony’, and then we see Camelot under attack by monstrously large magical elephants, so criticising its historical accuracy is a mug’s game (unlike the 2004 film, which wore its pretentions to accuracy on its sleeve). It is nonetheless clearly supposed to bear some relation to reality: Arthur comes from Londinium and is very specifically king of England (yes, England, I’ll get to that), so this isn’t just the Warcraft movie with the names changed.

(It does feel that way at times, though, although I’d argue the Warcraft movie is better. Mind you, that film’s fairly underrated anyway – not to say it’s great, but it’s perfectly OK.)

In that regard, it’s a good example of the mixing-up of the past I was talking about last week. Vortigern and Arthur share a movie with characters called William and Jack, they live in the city of Londinium (not modern London or Anglo-Saxon Lundenburh), Vortigern’s evil secret police are clearly Ivan the Terrible’s Oprichniki but with evil Roman centurion uniforms that are most reminiscent of 2000’s Jesus Christ Superstar remake; Vortigern’s throne room looks very like Charlemagne’s cathedral in Aachen…

(I tried Googling to find an image of the Roman uniforms in the Jesus Christ Superstar remake, but all I got was an unnerving amount of Pontius Pilate fan-art, which is a sentence I never thought I’d say…)

Like I said, criticising its historical accuracy is self-evidently silly. What’s more interesting is that this must have been done deliberately, because at least someone on the crew knows what they’re doing: Vortigern’s big plot is to build a tower, which is straight out of Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, one of the few sources mentioning Arthur written within five hundred years of his life; and there’s just enough post-Roman window dressing to put us in roughly the right time. The mashing-up of the past above, then, is a useful example of how this kind of historical melange isn’t necessarily bad. By mixing everything up in this way, the film passes from real history into a vague and legendary past – appropriately enough for a movie about King Arthur – letting us know not to think too closely about the details and go with the flow, setting the audience up reasonably well for such a silly film.

New Medieval Podcast, and Sexual Frustration

So, this week Twitter (@ralphtorta, ladies and gents *winks*) informed me that those good folks over at King’s College London have launched a new podcast dealing with medieval matters. So I went and had a look, and, what do you know, it was pretty interesting:

Leaving aside the inherent oddness of hearing my elders and betters having an extended discussion about dildo use and manufacture, there are a couple of things this podcast raises I thought it would be worth talking about.

The first is a question which comes up towards the end of the episode. The idea behind the show is that they answer question sent in by the audience, and this week it’s ‘did medieval people know other kinds of sex?’. That question itself is framed in a rather eyebrow-raising way (what’s the non-other kind of sex?), but it leads our erstwhile presenters to ask: why do people frame the Middle Ages as being sexually naïve?

Their answer is about Church control over lay sex lives. People think that the Middle Ages consisted of people who don’t have sex telling people who do how to have it, and thus, boom, (or indeed not boom), sexual desert. And sure, that’s probably part of it, but I think there’s a little more that can be said here.

I call it ‘Rearview Mirror Syndrome’. When dealing with stuff outside living memory (nowadays, say, before the turn of the twentieth century), everything becomes an undifferentiated ‘past’, so Victorian and Tudor and Norman pasts get mixed up and amalgamated. Sure, this might not happen at the level of the most basic aesthetics – you won’t see William the Conqueror portrayed in a top hat – but that’s about as far as it goes. Hence why people think that medieval people burned witches at the stake (it’s really an Early Modern phenomenon), for instance.

Exhibit A. (source)


This usually works backwards, because most people know (or think they know) more about the Tudor and Stuart periods than the Middle Ages and about Victorian times than the Tudors and Stuarts. Hence, you get a kind of foreshortening effect.

In this case, I think that there’s a train of thought going ‘the Victorians were unutterably prudish about sex, thus the past was as well, and thus the Middle Ages also covered up their legs and had sex through a hole in the bedsheet’: as in the case of witch burnings, people perceive all the past as being the same. Indeed, whilst it would be hard to argue that it’s the most profound job of historians in interacting with the public, one of our most basic tasks is, I would argue, just to remind people that past societies were chronologically varied. At the very least, this way we might get more interesting movies out of it…

(and yes, I will be reviewing the new King Arthur film. Stay tuned…)

The other point this podcast raised for me (wahey) was a question I’ve been asking for a long time. How did medieval people, and in my case specifically tenth- and eleventh-century people, have sex? It’s noticeable that for the most part, the presenters talk about canon law sources and what they prohibit (as memorialised in the by-now world-famous medieval sex flowchart:)


What this doesn’t tell us about, though, is quotidian sex. This is more important than it sounds, especially if you think about queens. One way a queen is supposed to be important, to have influence at court, is that she has the ear of the king during some pretty intimate moments; and it makes a fairly major difference here whether one envisages royal sex as a bit of perfunctory thrusting or a full evening of candles-and-rose-petals-and-sensual-massages.

Thietmar of Merseburg has a story about Henry the Fowler getting drunk and forcing himself upon his protesting wife St. Matilda. This is interesting for a couple of reasons, not least insofar it indicates that lack of consent to sex was seen as a real problem and a real evil (as Thietmar tells the story, the wickedness of the act allowed the Devil to enter Henry’s semen, impregnating St. Matilda with a baby who would go on to be a prominent and persistent rebel against royal authority); but also because it may, at least to my reading, indicate that this was seen as unusual, and that sex would usually be a more tender affair. Of course, there isn’t anything like enough evidence to tell, at least as far as I know; and there’s also the problem that sex is always particularly charged in medieval histories. Still, it’s one of those things that’s self-evidently sufficiently important to more than just the history of sexual practice that one would like to know…

What Counts As Precedent? Royal Authority over Episcopal Elections

During their heyday, the control that the predecessors of the Carolingian family as kings of the Franks, the Merovingian dynasty, exercised over the choice of bishops within their kingdoms had been quite substantial, both in practice and in theory. In 549, for instance, the council of Orléans had legislated that no-one could become bishop ‘without the will of the king, along with an election by the clergy and people’; and by early medieval standards you can’t say fairer than that. (There was also a long tradition of conciliar statements during this period which were opposed to royal influence in episcopal elections, but they seem to have had less impact in practice.) These conciliar decrees stuck around – the MGH edition is made up of no fewer than eleven manuscripts, which given that someone like, say, Flodoard survives in about three is a pretty generous distribution.

               Consequently, looking at things over the long term, it is fair to say that whatever was happening in the late- and post-Carolingian period, it’s part of an ongoing fluctuation of royal control over bishoprics which won’t actually become overwhelmingly dominant until the Early Modern period. That said, one thing which has been striking me lately is how this longer tradition seems to be ignored by tenth-century figures.

               In 920, a dispute erupted over the bishopric of Liège. A cleric named Hilduin, supported by the ruler of Lotharingia, Gislebert, took over the see with support of Henry the Fowler, king of Germany and against the rule of this blog’s old friend and Best King Ever, Charles the Simple. In response, Charles summoned a council to judge Hilduin and impose his own candidate Richer, and to explain his reasoning he sent a round letter to the bishops of his realm. The claims made in Charles’ favour during the course of this dispute have been called a ‘high point of royal absolutism in control over the Church’, and this letter is no exception. Charles calls Hilduin out, citing ‘the book of royal capitularies, which says that “if anyone presumes to a dignity they have not earned from a prince or just lord, let them be considered a sacrilege.”’ Among other things, this seems to equate bishoprics with other honores the king could bestow, which is quite a spectacular claim.

               What’s interesting here, though, is that it comes from the capitulary collection of Benedict Levita, a ninth-century composition. Looking at the authorities which Charles (or the person writing in his name) cites to justify the king’s position, a pattern emerges. For one thing, virtually everything cited is actually a forgery from the Dionysian Collection of canons; but taking them at face value, most of what is cited falls into three categories: Roman church councils (Nicaea, Chalcedon, an African council), Late Antique papal letters, and Carolingian-era capitulary collections. What’s doubly interesting is what each type of source is cited to justify. The Roman councils are cited against the crime of simony, and most of the papal letters and Martin of Braga against stealing Church property. The big thesis statement about royal control comes from Benedict Levita. Merovingian canons are conspicuous by their absence, be they never so useful in this case.

               This seems to say something interesting about what Charles’ court considered to be authoritative. When faced with a situation where it needed to make a strong statement about royal authority, it looked towards the traditions of something which was very definitely from its own political culture, not from the Merovingian period. This in turn implies that, whatever one can say about long-term fluctuations in royal authority, Charles perceived himself as doing something that, if not new, exactly, was at least specifically Carolingian.

888 And The Dynastic Crisis Which Wasn’t

Sorry about the lack of posts last week – I was on my way to one conference in Cork having just attended one in Canterbury. I’m back home in Brussels now, though, so this little moment of respite from your drab, wretched lives can once more take up its customary position.

The Canterbury conference provided the opportunity to vent a rant which has been building up for several years now. The end of the Carolingian Empire is usually ascribed to the ‘dynastic crisis’ of 888, when the Carolingian family ran out of legitimate, adult males to be king, and a gourmet selection of new, non-Carolingian, kings emerged. Thing is (to put it as bluntly as possible): I don’t think there’s anything ‘dynastic’ about this dynastic crisis. Carolingian legitimism – the idea that the Carolingian family was specifically owed the crown by virtue of its being the royal family – was either non-existent or the view of fringe weirdos.

Let’s confine ourselves simply to two of the sources most often pointed to as evidence for the legitimacy problem which affected the new kings by virtue of their not being Carolingian. First, Regino of Prüm. Regino wrote his Chronicon in the early tenth century, and here’s how he describes the events of 888:

‘After the death [of Emperor Charles the Fat], the kingdoms which had been under his rule, as though they did not have a legitimate heir, dissolved into pieces, and did not wait for a natural lord, but created kings for themselves from their own entrails.’ [source]

‘Legitimate heir’, ‘natural lord’ – sounds like Carolingian legitimism here, right? Well, not so much. In 887, as Regino describes it, the leading men of Charles’ realm had overthrown him and made his illegitimate nephew Arnulf of Carinthia ruler in his stead. Regino is more-or-less a supporter of Arnulf, and the reason that he talks about natural lords and legitimate heirs is not because Arnulf is a Carolingian, but because he’s already been made king! There’s a ‘natural lord’ because a duly-designated king already exists – and it is noticeable that when the new kings proffer due submission to him as their overlord, Regino starts presenting them as legitimate. Their dynastic affiliation doesn’t change, but his presentation of them does – whatever’s going on here, it’s not dynastic.

The second source is a letter from Archbishop Fulk of Rheims seeking the aid of Arnulf in overthrowing the West Frankish king Odo on behalf of this blog’s favourite, Charles the Simple. Fulk refers to Odo as ‘not a member of the royal family’, and says that he ‘chose to have for his king he… who was from the royal bloodline [i.e. Charles the Simple]’. This is Carolingian legitimism here, but what’s interesting is that it appears to be fringe weirdness. Fulk’s professions of loyalty to Charles are somewhat disingenuous. In 888, he hadn’t supported Charles – or even Arnulf – but his own relative Guy of Spoleto, who became king of Italy, and whom Fulk had invited to become king in the West without any particular success. Fulk clearly indicates that his readers knew this, because he fills a good half the letter with rather weak justifications for why he did this, and it’s clear from context that what he refers to as the slanders and lies surrounding him at Arnulf’s court are in fact the well-justified scepticism of people whose memories stretch back longer than five years.

Fulk, it seems, disliked Odo intensely. He spent most of his reign in rebellion against him on any pretext, and it looks like his support for Charles was yet another one of these. (There’s more to his rebellion than personal dislike, of course, but it doesn’t detract from the main point.) It’s worth saying that his arguments don’t seem to have convinced many people – Arnulf didn’t join the war on Charles’ side, and Fulk’s party was consistently outmatched and defeated.

Carolingian legitimism, then, did exist, but its influence doesn’t seem to have been very great. Viewing 888 as this massive, seismic shift in the politics of Frankish Europe is somewhat misleading – in everything except which womb the king had come out of, the kingdom of Odo and that of the man reigning ten years before him, Louis the Stammerer, were basically similar. The imposition of later ideas about royal succession – and royal families – onto 888 has meant that historians have spent centuries seeing a gap where there isn’t one.