Charter a Week 19: The Attempted Conquests of King Zwentibald

Enough hanging around in the provinces! Let’s get to where the action is really happening: the civil war, baby! We’ve had cause to mention a couple of times that, beginning in 893, there was a rebellion launched against Odo in the name of Charles the Simple. The underlying cause for this appears to be that, for whatever reason, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims did not like Odo – he had, in 888, tried to crown his relative Guy of Spoleto king instead, although that hadn’t taken – but more broadly, given that the rebels were largely confined to the north-east, the immediate catalyst seems to have been Odo’s execution of his cousin Walker, who held the castle of Laon. (There may be parallels as well to the north-east’s distrust for King Carloman II a decade earlier.)

Things did not go terribly well for the rebels. After Easter 893, Fulk and Heribert I of Vermandois, with the young Charles and an army, set out against King Odo. When they met him, the Latin of our main source, the Annales Vedastini, does not make it fully clear what happened, but it is evident that the rebels lost an important political struggle to win over Richard the Justiciar, William the Pious, and Count Adhemar of Poitiers, who were won over to Odo. Odo then won a strategic victory against Fulk that autumn, forcing him to leave the kingdom and spend the winter negotiating for peace (probably, in Fulk’s case, in bad faith).

The following year, Odo took Rheims, forcing Fulk and Charles to flee to Arnulf of Carinthia, who apparently received them warmly but did not give them any support against Odo. Charles now went to Richard the Justiciar, who looks to have been at best lukewarm about having Fulk and Charles there. By the start of 895, then, Charles and Fulk were in a bit of a spot.

All was not lost, though. Whilst this drama had been playing out in the West, Arnulf himself had been trying to make his bastard son Zwentibald king of Lotharingia. In 895, he succeeded. Zwentibald, however, appears to have felt like expanding his kingdom. Thus, although his father Arnulf was a supporter of Odo, Zwentibald provided military support for Charles. And thus, this week’s charter:

DD Zw no. 3 (14th August 895, Trosly)

In the name of the holy and inseparable Trinity. Zwentibald, by the assent of supernal clemency king.

Let all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us know that Our beloved and faithful archbishop and chancellor Ratbod [of Trier] appealed to Us that We might concede something to a certain congregation of monks which is the congregation of the holy archangel Michael for their prebend. We, not refusing his petition, for the increase of Our reward, conceded to them a manor named Buxières-sous-les-Côtes and Heudicourt-sous-les-Côtes with everything which pertains to that benefice, that is, forty-four manses, and one manse in Refroicourt with a mill, as well as one chapel in Bannoncourt with its appendages, and it is sited in the district of Verdunois, in Ricuin [of Verdun]’s county; and in the district of Scarponnais, in Iremfred’s county, one chapel in the estate of Essey with its appendages.

And all this which We concede to the aforesaid abbey used to previously pertain not in fact to the allowance for the monks, but was specifically rendered to the abbot. But We considered their poverty, which stemmed from the oppression of the gentiles, and with the consent of their abbot Stephen We concede to them the aforesaid goods with everything which is seen to pertain there, that is, bondsmen, fields cultivated and uncultivated, mobile and immobile goods, meadows, vineyards, pastures, woods, waters and watercourses, with paths and impassable land, with roads out and in, with incomes claimed and to be claimed, so that they might more freely and faithfully pour out prayers for Us before the Lord.

For this reason, We commanded this precept be written on this matter, so that the present concession might endure firm and uncorrupted. In addition We, holding the pen in Our hand, signed and confirmed this, whereby this donation might be firmer, and We commanded it be imprinted this Our seal, that it might persevere perpetually undisturbed.

Sign of lord Zwentibald, most glorious of kings.

Sign of lord Louis [the Child], most serene of kings.

I, therefore, Waldger the notary, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the 19th kalends of September (14th August), in the year of the Lord 895, in the 13th indiction, in the first year of King Zwentibald.

Enacted in the township of Trosly-Loire, next to the city of Noyon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Given on the 16th kalends of September (16th August), in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 908, in the 11th indiction, in the 9th year of the reign of lord Louis.

Enacted at Frankfurt.

A modern-day statue of King Zwentibald. (source)

Now, qua diploma, this diploma isn’t all that interesting (except the confirmation of it by Zwentibald’s half-brother and successor Louis the Child, which is interesting but we’re not going to deal with it now). Its content will become relevant shortly, but not today. No, what’s interesting about it is where it’s issued: in the West Frankish kingdom. The closest analogy here is Hugh of Arles’ diplomas from Provence – Zwentibald is doing king stuff in a kingdom, but how far he’s trying to claim it as his kingdom is up for debate. (Remember, Charles the Fat became West Frankish king precisely by coming to the kingdom and doing king stuff.)

That said, Zwentibald’s aggression is much more evident than Hugh’s. Zwentibald is not helping Charles out of the goodness of his heart. Charles’ supporters had promised him part of their kingdom, and whilst Charles and Zwentibald are besieging Laon, some of Charles’ men swap sides and go to Zwentibald – including Baldwin the Bald of Flanders. (There’s even a Flemish charter dated by Zwentibald’s reign, which is a very suspicious document but I think the dating clause is right because – well, no-one likes Zwentibald, why make it up?) After that, Charles’ men are worried Zwentibald is planning to kill him. So this alliance doesn’t really work out.

What is interesting about it, though, is that it’s one of the few efforts to conquer a bit of a kingdom that I know of from this period. Most invasions are with the aim of taking the whole lot. Admittedly the old Middle Kingdom has some fuzzy borders, so Zwentibald might feel like he has more wiggle room; and some of his key supporters, including Reginar Long-Neck, are from precisely the north-west area he’s trying to expand into. Still, it’s an unusual thing, and makes me think that the Charles/Odo civil war is a lot stranger and more important than the Annales Vedastini’s terse reportage implies.


Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 10: The Dukes of Aquitaine and the Peace of God

Do you know it’s been over a year since the first of these came out? This isn’t the last post – there’ll be a wrap-up to follow – but it is the last with actual content. We’ve gone to some unexpected places over the course of this story, and not least is the Peace of God. Today, we finish the story by returning, once again, to the counts of Poitou – or, as we can now reasonably call them, the dukes of Aquitaine.

Since we last saw them in the 950s and 960s, it’s been a fairly quiet few decades for William Fierabras, count of Poitou and son of William Towhead(*). The big innovation is that he has begun to fairly consistently take on the title of ‘duke of Aquitaine’ in a way which none of his predecessors managed, but his rule is still basically limited to the greater Poitou region and perhaps Limousin, although Poitevin control there looks to have been rather tenuous. This all changes in a big way in 989, when all of a sudden William’s entourage blows up. In that year, a council was held at Charroux featuring all the Aquitanian bishops; if we are to take a twelfth-century Chronicon from the abbey of Maillezais at all seriously, William was closely involved in organising this. At the beginning of the year, William appears in a charter for the abbey of Saint-Hilaire with Count William of Angoulême, Viscount Guy of Limoges, and Bishop Hildegar of Limoges – not too far-flung, but wider than is typical. But this is just the start of an expansion of Poitevin power which is clear from the charter evidence extending from this point well into the reign of William the Great.

  What’s going on? The short answer is that I’m still not sure. Historians consistently take the Council of Charroux as being self-evident – as in, ‘what else are bishops going to do?’ – but as we’ve talked about before, it really isn’t. I’ve since found evidence to push the last provincial council presided over by an archbishop of Bordeaux to the seventh rather than the third century, but this is not typical behaviour. I have speculations about what’s going on, none terribly convincing. What I would like to emphasise for you is that this is not a Peace of God council. For one thing, the Peace of God doesn’t exist yet. Even otherwise, the Council of Charroux doesn’t mention peace, and there’s no mention of oath-swearing either. If you just had the text of the decrees without names or dates (or hindsight), this looks basically like any other Church council.

Charroux today (source)

What is interesting to me is the point where developments in Greater Poitou overlap with those in east-central Aquitaine, which seems to be at the Council of Limoges in 994. Getting a handle on what happened here is tricky, because there are lots of sources but they’re all later and many of them are written by one man, Adhemar of Chabannes, famous for being a liar and possibly a lunatic. What we can say is that it was a) big, b) convoked without overt ducal influence and c) saw the bishops of Clermont and Le Puy present. These two are interesting. They were not regular figures in the councils of ducal Aquitaine, and their presence here is unusual for that reason. It also provides a conduit for the bringing of a discourse of ‘Peace’ into conciliar developments in western Aquitaine.

Why take it up, though? Here we turn back to the high politics. In the third quarter of the 990s there was a big brouhaha involving a bunch of people in northern Aquitaine, most notably for our purposes William the Great and Boso II of La Marche. We don’t need to go into the details – if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Greater Poitevin politics in this period is insanely complicated – because what matters to us is the outcome: a peace agreement between the two men which involved William marrying Boso’s widowed sister-in-law Adalmodis. Why does this matter? Because of who Adalmodis is. Remember Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou, quondam queen of Aquitaine, sister of Guy of Le Puy and mother of Count Pontius of Gévaudan who helped Guy overawe his subjects at Saint-Germain-Laprade? Well, she’s also Adalmodis’ mother. The marriage took place in around 997/998, and shortly thereafter, around 1000, we find another council being summoned at Poitiers. This one looks much more like those held by Guy of Le Puy and before him by Stephen of Clermont, and not least because the council’s surviving acts start with a big ol’ declaration that ‘splendid is the name of peace’. The language of peace has taken over the conciliar tendency of western Aquitaine.

At the same time, William’s entourage begins to display evidence of a push to the east not seen since the 950s. Specifically, his brother-in-law Count Pontius of Gévaudan witnesses several ducal charters in the 1000s and 1010s. At the same time, we have also got precious evidence from an unpublished charter of William’s in favour of the abbey of Saint-Léger d’Ébreuil in Auvergne itself – the first evidence of ducal patronage in the Auvergne since the 930s. Equally, William’s reach extended north to Berry, where he wangled Odo of Châteauroux into his following. Bourges was the metropolitan of Clermont and Le Puy and the archbishop had taken part in Limoges in 994 and approved of Saint-Paulien a little before that, so the peace-councils discourse might have had purchase there as well.

The ‘Aquitanian Peace of God’ movement, as it developed in the early eleventh century, has therefore a place not just as the precursor to the Peace of God proper which would spread across Europe from the 1020s and 1030s, but as part of the history of attempts to control Auvergne. Assimilated into a Poitevin tradition, the ‘Peace of God’ movement reaches back to Stephen II of Clermont, and is part of an attempt to harness his legacy and replicate his influence in east-central Aquitaine.


(*) OK, that’s not true, but trust me, you don’t want to know the details, which are detailed.

Charter a Week 18: Murder in Autun!

Y’know, I didn’t mean this to work out so well. Two weeks ago we did Neustria, last week Aquitaine, this week Burgundy – it’s all worked out quite well, not least because each document neatly encapsulates something important about all these groups: the Neustrian charter involved Saint-Martin, lay abbacy, and a somewhat queasy relationship between formal and informal structures of governance; the Aquitanian charter was about family and capillary governance; and today’s document is about bishops and murder.

Before we get to the murder, though, I’m going to make you sit through a discussion of terminology. You see, I used the word ‘groups’ above, which is a bit weak sauce, but is really about addressing a problem. If you say ‘Neustria’ or ‘Aquitaine’ or ‘Burgundy’, then you end up with an image of a territorial polity – a straightforward equation between land, people, and political group, so that all the people in the land of Neustria are Neustrians and are ruled by the Neustrian ruler. This is, though, not really how medieval politics works full stop, and certainly not what these things look like. We saw with William the Pious how network-y and variable rule was, and this is fairly generalisable. In fact, both German and French have better terms for what we’re dealing with: Machtkonstellation in German and mouvance in French. I like both because of the imagery. Machtkonstellation (lit: ‘power constellation’) suggests an actual constellation, points of light linked together rather than a uniform field, and reminds us that there’s a lot of gaps between nodes of power. Mouvance I like even better, although the imagery is a little less straightforward to explain. Have you ever been swimming, and tried to move your arm in the water? The water tends to follow your arm, but there’s resistance and little eddies and swirls breaking off and going in other directions, and it requires you to keep pushing to do things. This is what I imagine a mouvance as like: it’s not a ‘command’ structure properly speaking. The ruler moves, and most of his followers move with him, some don’t, there’s a fair bit of grumbling, and constant effort is required.

But, murder! One of these mouvances is that associated with Richard the Justiciar, known to history as the first duke of Burgundy. We’ve already encountered Richard abandoning his brother Boso and going over to King Carloman II, and in the meantime he’s been slowly becoming more important. By the late 880s, he was well-placed to take advantage of the civil war between Odo and Charles the Simple, and take advantage he did. We’ve seen that the major figures in late Carolingian Burgundy were its bishops, and Richard acted not least to subdue them: he imprisoned Archbishop Walter of Sens, he blinded Bishop Theobald of Langres, and as for our old acquaintance Adalgar of Autun – well….

Flavigny no. 25 (1st May 894, Chalon-sur-Saône)

In the year 894, in the 12th indiction, there was birthed like a miscarriage an infamous rumour in the monastery and public castle of Flavigny, inspired by jealousy and springing up from evil men, concerning a certain levite and monk of that place, Girfred, who performed the office of prelate: that he had murdered the most pious father and reverend bishop lord Adalgar, bishop of Autun, with a deadly poison. The extremely unjust accusation of this crime, equally horrifying to God and men, beat at the ears not only of that church but also literally the whole of Gaul, and was fully recorded in an infamous list of charges.

The aforesaid levite and monk, though, was utterly horrified at being accused of such an outrage, since the number and magnitude of the benefices that he had gained from that sweetest of fathers was fully and abundantly clear to everyone. Concerning this matter, he first sought out the counsel of his successor the glorious bishop lord Walo [of Autun], and confirmed in his presence with God Who is judge of all and sees the hearts of men as witness that he was innocent from such an abominable sin not less in intention than in deed.

Eventually, the bishop, so greatly and so very lofty, learned as well in matters divine and human, supported by the counsel of the sons of the Church, did not want a sheep entrusted to him to perish. Rather, he piously and mercifully employed a poultice of exhortation and the medicine of divine eloquence, so that, if the Devil’s blandishments had by any chance instilled anything similar in his heart, he might at the least by the Holy Spirit’s suggestion and the infusion of its word be healthfully cured and purified in accordance with what the Church has instituted. The said levite and monk, though, completely ignorant of such a shameful act, proposed that he receive the judgement of the Holy Spirit, and unhesitatingly advised in every way that he would be judged by any test in accordance with ecclesiastical custom.

Wherefore the aforesaid bishop, hesitant to decide so great and so unheard-of a crime by his own judgement, decided it should be discussed and determined at a holy provincial synod in the presence of the well-known Archbishop Aurelian [of Lyon] and his other fellow bishops. He, insofar as he was free from other burdens, did not at all delay doing this.

Hence, with God propitious, on the prearranged day of the kalends of May [1st May], there gathered at the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, in the church of the blessed precursor of Christ John which is in sight of the same town, sacred pontiffs: Aurelian [of Lyon], first of all Gaul, with his most illustrious fellow bishops Walo of Autun, Ardrad of Chalon-sur-Saône and Gerald of Mâcon, as well as messengers from the notable Bishop Theobald of Langres. There, canonically promulgating the institutes of the holy fathers in accordance with the rules and diligently dealing with Church business, they laboured to examine with precise inquiries and many questions the said monk placed before them and oft-marked with infamy. The same monk, learned in every judgement, both ecclesiastical custom and the experience of human law, could discover neither anyone making open accusations about this infamous act nor anyone who would proclaim anything certain about it. Commanding this to be cried out three times under the witness of the Holy Spirit, and discovering nothing at all with the appearance of truth about it, they enacted by common counsel that, because they had found neither proof of guilt nor a confession despite the fact that the trial had been publicised and news of it had been disseminated everywhere, he should be made completely free from any suspicion in a more local synod which Bishop Walo, worthy of all reverence, should celebrate for the sons of the Church. By the ordeal of the body and blood of Christ, which alone is proven more true and believed to be more terrible, or rather more life-giving, he should be purified publicly of the outrage he was said to have committed. To wit, in this way: he should be solemnly told in advance that if he is guilty in any way of such a crime, he should not come and accept the host, and if he should rashly presume to do so, by the censure of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Prince of the Apostles, he would be denied the life-giving price of our redemption and, with Judas, who betrayed the Lord, he would be irrecoverably doomed and damned to eternal suffering. But if he truly knew himself to be innocent of everything, trusting in the mercy of God, he should not despair of most beneficially gaining the gift of such a prize for the remedy of his salvation. This was completely satisfactory to everyone.

From there¸ the most pious pastor Walo, moved by mercy, brought together a holy synod of his own church at the abbey and public castle of Flavigny, and, in accordance with what was established by the aforesaid bishops, having led solemn masses, he brought everyone who was present together in the foremost church of Saint-Pierre and warned the aforesaid man that he must decide for himself whether to accept the host or refuse it as his conscience dictated. He did not hesitate, and most faithfully invoking as his judge and witness God and that which will secure the price of redemption, in view of everyone, he fulfilled in every way the vow laid out above. Therefore, after he was given such a gift, lest he should be further hurt by such wounds from the jealous, he asked that this writing should be related by the aforesaid lord Walo and his colleagues (who are written below), and corroborated by their hands.

Walo, humble bishop of the holy church of Autun, related and subscribed this.

Ardrad, humble bishop of the church of Chalon, subscribed. Gerald, ruler and humble bishop of the holy church of Mâcon subscribed.

You’ve been seeing a lot of pretty original documents, but this is more often what we have to work with: the cartulary of Flavigny has been lost for centuries, so this is one of the Early Modern copies which preserve it (specifically, grace of the BNF, MS Baluze 40 fol. 47r).

Despite the text’s claims, historians have been fairly sure that Girfred was in fact guilty of Adalgar’s murder. This began very early, in fact – a short history of the abbey known as the Series Abbatum Flaviniacensium makes reference to Girfred’s guilt. So why was Adalgar in the way? As we’ve seen, Richard was already count of Autun, and that was one thing, but Adalgar of Autun was much more important – it’s quite possible Richard was the local second fiddle. This might not have mattered whilst Adalgar was supporting King Odo and Richard had close ties to Louis the Blind, but Richard can’t be seen in Provence after the very early 890s, and it looks like he was taking advantage of the disruption caused by the civil war between Odo and Charles the Simple to retrench himself in Burgundy.

This comes through clearly in Adalgar’s replacement. Bishop Walo there is actually Richard’s nephew, and he’s basically a tame prelate. This is one reason why historians have been fairly confident that Girfred was the murderer: when accused, he immediately fled to the one person who benefitted most directly, the new bishop, who had been ordained by an archbishop of Lyon so new that he technically wasn’t allowed to do it. (The charter actually covers this up by substituting the name of Archbishop Aurelian – the long-lived former archbishop – for Archbishop Argrim, who actually carried out the consecration.) Given how important bishops were in Burgundy, Richard needed to get them in line to have a shot at regional dominance.

Doing this by violence, though, is unusual. Of Richard’s immediate contemporaries, Robert of Neustria was mostly appointed to his honores and William the Pious largely inherited his. Both men had to fight at one point or another – Robert of Neustria, as we breezed over two weeks ago, was involved in an unsuccessful fight to become count of Poitiers; and William the Pious (on the other side) successfully fought to prevent a candidate of King Odo named Hugh from becoming count of Bourges in his stead. But straightforwardly launching multiple coups de main and having them succeed is out of the ordinary for this period, and I’m still not clear how Richard gets away with it. The civil war is a key element – Odo is a busy man, and Richard is able to play him and Charles the Simple off against each other for recognition – but there are missing elements here. Still, Richard the Justiciar’s emergence is quite important precisely because it is violent and to a degree unprecedented. Whereas William and Robert are very much late-Carolingian potentates, Richard has aspects of something else…

Name in Print V

Small, but significant: this week, my first ever book review came out in The Medieval Review. The work in question is Katherine Cross’ Heirs of the Vikings: History and Identity in Normandy and England, c. 950 – c. 1015, and although I had some issues with bits of it (the charter section, natch, but mostly the parts about genealogy) it’s really rather good. If you’re interested in identity or Norman or Anglo-Saxon history of the latter tenth century, then you could do a heck of a lot worse than swinging by the Boydell and Brewer website and picking yourself up a copy;  but if you want to read in detail what I thought, you can do do here.

The Gritty Details: Again, not very gritty. Got the invitation in June (I do have a bit of a track record with the book’s subject, after all…), received the book three weeks later, read it cover-to-cover two or three times during the holidays, wrote the thing up by August and it’s out now – not bad considering they’re explicitly running quite behind.

Political Dating in Ninth-Century Aquitanian Private Charters

So I discovered something really cool but also quite frustrating, not least because although it’s been noticed by a few people before as far as I can tell I’m the only one whose ever thought it noteworthy, and it’s giving rise to one of those situations where I’m convinced the problem is my ability to find literature despite the increasing probability that the literature just isn’t out there. What I’ve found is an unusual pattern in Aquitanian charter dating clauses. At the end of most charters, there’s a date given, often in the king’s regnal years (e.g., ‘the tenth year of King Charles’, or suchlike), and these can as you’d expect have political overtones – so if you don’t accept the legitimacy of any of the claimants to the throne, for instance, you might put ‘two years since the death of the last emperor’, or in one particularly striking case I saw ‘with Hugh reigning, but hoping for Charles’.

But first, some background. Charlemagne had the dubious good fortune to outlive all but one of his sons, so when he died there was relatively little controversy about who got what – the empire went to Louis the Pious. Louis, on the other hand, had no fewer than three sons, and trying to divvy the empire up between them was difficult. Louis’ firstborn son Lothar was crowned co-emperor, and reigned alongside his father; the other two sons, Louis the German and Pippin I, got sub-kingdoms (Bavaria and Aquitaine respectively). So far, so good; but Louis the Pious remarried and had another son, Charles the Bald, which meant he needed to provide a kingdom for the new kid. This meant that the Carolingian family was divided between Louis (trying to take their inheritance away from them to provide for their half-brother) and Lothar (trying to assert an unfraternal predominance over them; and also kinda take their inheritance away from them), and there were coups and plots and tension and it all got very messy and resentful. In 838, Pippin I died, leaving two sons; but rather than giving Aquitaine to Pippin II, Louis decided to give it to Charles the Bald instead. Some Aquitanian nobles made Pippin king anyway, and Louis and Charles invaded, which was what Louis was doing when he died in 840.

Pippin II’s key support in these early years belonged to a family descended from Count Rodulf of Cahors, and included especially Count Rodulf’s son, also Rodulf, whom Pippin made archbishop of Bourges. Rodulf of Bourges had a complicated career over the next decade-and-a-half, flipping between Charles and Pippin, until Pippin’s royal ambitions came to an end in the mid-850s (which is another story).

What no-one seems to have picked up on are some charters from the abbey of Beaulieu. Rodulf founded Beaulieu, and what seems to have happened is that his personal archive got shoved in with that of the abbey, because there are several charters there from before its founding which are not directly connected with it. Of those charters, there are about half-a-dozen which deal with the period between 840 and 855. All of them feature Rodulf and/or close family members (mother, sister), and all of them are dated not by the reign of Pippin II, and certainly not by the reign of Charles the Bald, but by the reign of Emperor Lothar.

As in this case, a charter of 841 from the Beaulieu cartulary, BNF MS NAL 493 (source, image from Gallica)

Lothar did provide important political support to Pippin at several points, but that Rodulf so consistently dated his charters by Lothar suggests that the archbishop of Bourges – Pippin’s core supporter – wasn’t Pippin’s core supporter so much as Lothar’s. This does actually make some degree of sense in understanding Rodulf’s flip-flopping, but it raises a whole bunch more questions about things like how far Pippin II was conceived of as a ‘real’ king, how far the Frankish polity was still conceived of as a unity, and how far Lothar’s position in the Frankish world genuinely was a kind of proper overkingship of the kind we’ve discussed before (and whilst these questions are interesting, they are not helping make the book sub-chapter this came up whilst researching any more a manageable length!).

Just as interesting is that after Lothar’s death and Pippin II’s political eclipse in 855, Rodulf, equally consistently, dates his charters by Charles the Bald’s son, King Charles the Child of Aquitaine. What we have here is a case where a ‘pan-imperial’ political operator seems to have dramatically changed register to being a ‘regional’ one; and also a case which does seem to be an ‘any king but Charles the Bald’ party in Aquitanian politics – which does make me wonder, what was their beef?

(Lots of Aquitaine lately. I should do a Burgundy post…)

Charter a Week 17: Brothers and Sisters

Do you know what we haven’t really dealt with? (In this series, anyway…) Aquitaine. It came up in passing when dealing with its submission to King Odo, but that was five years ago now and a lot has changed. For one thing, none of the major figures who submitted to Odo in 889 are still around. Frothar of Bourges died. Ramnulf of Poitiers and Ebalus of Saint-Denis died, the latter in rebellion against Odo. (There’s a whole story about what happened to Poitiers which we can’t deal with, but basically Odo tried to make his brother Robert count of Poitiers and it looks like he rather mismanaged the whole affair, leading to a revolt in Aquitaine which led to a further revolt which will actually be relevant this week.)

So who’s in charge instead? We mentioned Bernard Plantevelue as being one of Charles the Bald’s palatine magnates, but he looks to have died in around 886 and to have been replaced with his son, William the Pious. William’s base of power is rather further east than the word ‘Aquitaine’ might make you think. Do you remember how Bernard took over Mâcon during Boso’s rebellion? The Mâconnais is one of the centres of William’s power. So too is Lyon. The centre of gravity in William’s reign is rather further north and east than it is for Stephen of Clermont, largely because these all get sheared off in the 920s – again, we’ll get to it. The point is that William’s powerbase is big and it’s diverse. His wider interests actually go even further north and east than Mâcon – let me show you.   

CC no. 1.53 (9th November 893) = ARTEM no. 1579 = Plus anciens documents de Cluny no. 2

We are taught by divine and churchly documents that one should before everything do good work in observing a double love: that is, of God and one’s neighbour, so that we who have been pure-heartedly fortified in both might both not be without present assistance and also rejoice in eternal help, because without these it is impossible either to please God or to lead a present life of praiseworthy honour.

I, Ava, a humble servant of Christ, recalling this in divine contemplation, and considering that the nearness of kinship is worth of affection, donate to you, William [the Pious] my brother and glorious count, my certain estate named Cluny, sited in the district of Mâconnais on the river Grosne, in its entirety, with its appurtenances and what is legitimately beholden to it, although only after the course of my present life is complete. After my death, I give and transfer this estate, with everything which pertains to it both in churches and in chapels, bondsmen of both sexes (except 20 bondsmen), manses, portions of arable land, arboreta, fields cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, meadows, mills, waters and watercourses, roads out and in, from my power into your dominion with perpetual right, so that you may have the firmest power in everything to do whatever you want to do with it, whether donation or sale or exchange.

I give and donate this estate to Your Brotherhood on this condition, indeed: that in return for the same estate you should bestow on me a certain allod of your rightful property, which is called Einville-au-Jard, which is sited in the county of Chaumont, for use in my present life; and after my death it should return to you and your kinsmen.

Moreover, if I outlive you and God lengthens my days beyond yours and gives, by divine mercy, the fertility of sons and daughters from a legitimate marriage, let them, after my death, receive the estate of Cluny which I donate to you after my death in perpetual right in the place of an heir, and let them have, hold and possess it as an inheritance, contradicted by nobody.

If anyone, moreover (which I do not believe will happen), either I myself or any of my biological or legal heirs or any person opposed to it, might try to come against or generate any calumny of controversy against this charter of donate made of my own free will, let them be unable to vindicate their claim, but rather let them pay you and your heirs and the associated fisc 50 pounds of gold; and thus let this present donation endure true, free and firm for all time, with this corroboration attached.

Enacted publicly at the estate of Cluny.

Sign of Abbess Ava, who asked this donation be made and confirmed. Sign of Viscount Raculf [of Mâcon].

[First column] Sign of Amalung. Sign of Warulf. Sign of Grimald. Sign of Ramnald. Sign of Fulcrad.

[Second column] Sign of Sigebald. Sign of Achard. Sign of Waning. Sign of Grimo. Sign of Stephen.

[Third column] Sign of Guntard. Sign of Gladirus. Sign of Otbert. Sign of Tullo. Sign of Aloin. Sign of Ungrim.

[Fourth column] Sign of Isengar. Sign of Ernerius. Sign of Heribert. Sign of Amalbert. Sign of Giso. Sign of Eilbert.

Sigebert, having been asked to, subscribed.

I, Ratbod, an unworthy levite, wrote and subscribed this, given in the month of November, on the day of the kalends, the 5th ides of November [9th November], in the first year when two kings contended over the realm, that is, Odo and Charles [the Simple].

Image from ARTEM as linked above

Surprise Cluny! Yes, this charter is the proximate beginning of the history of everyone’s favourite hegemonic medieval abbey. We’ve covered before on this blog the ‘capillary government’ of William the Pious’ Aquitaine, and here we can see another aspect of it. If Gerald of Aurillac was William’s man in Quercy, Ava was his woman in the northern Mâconnais. Thanks to the even-at-this-point-fairly-dense archives of Cluny, we can see Ava with a fairly dense cluster of properties between Cluny and the river Saône, and plenty of ties to local nobles. In particular, an entry in the Liber Memorialis of Remiremont seems to show her with Viscount Raculf; the sons of Warulf of Brancion, Cluny’s second-biggest patron after William the Pious himself in its early years, donated a fair chunk of property for her soul specifically; and so on – these can (from experience) be worked out into a 5000-word paper. We can see some of this in the witness list, where we have a group of local notables, including Raculf, Warulf, and the man whose name I have rendered as ‘Sigebald’, but who appears in Latin as Sievoldus and who might well be Sievertus, the advocate of Mâcon cathedral (orthography can be very inconsistent; but the ‘Sige’=’Sie’ elision is quite uncommon).

William doesn’t actually appear without Ava during her lifetime, so it makes sense to see these people as here because of the siblings as a pair, rather than just as William’s followers. In this sense, Ava is another version of Gerald of Aurillac – a middlewoman between William and the locality. She pulls the locals into William’s orbit, and is herself pulled into William’s orbit by bonds of kinship and – as in this instance – property.

Interesting is that William gives Ava an estate in Lotharingia. William was another actor in that Transararian Fluidity Zone, as we’ll see a bit down the line; but his interests in Lotharingia are largely a blank book, as are what Ava did with it.

A final note is that dating clause: in 893, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims finally got sick enough of Odo to anoint the young Charles the Simple as king and lead a rebellion. This was not thrillingly successful, but a lot of the southern magnates, including William and Richard the Justiciar, hedged their bets at least at the beginning, and this dating clause expresses that in the most direct way possible: both Odo and Charles are acknowledged, as is their fight, without any side being taken.

Odo of Cluny on the Difficulties of Earlier Medieval Governance

It should probably be said right out somewhere on this blog that medieval government was difficult. In terms of relative scale, it was rather harder to govern a Frankish kingdom in the tenth century than to govern the entire world today – in three days, I could leave my apartment and, with enough money, be anywhere in the world; in the 990s, Richer of Rheims took three days to go from Rheims to Chartres (although he notes that that was a particularly difficult journey). Even with the much more limited practical ambitions of medieval governance, preventing your political hegemony from devolving into ultra-fragmented clusters of tiny village cells was a constant effort.

Chris Wickham has this thing he talks about called ‘capillary’ governance, the idea being that you have these local communities as ‘cells’ and then processes which pull them into larger units, and those larger units are in turn pulled into yet larger units by higher-level capillary processes. These processes take different forms in different societies – so in the Roman Empire, for instance, it might be tax collectors coming and assessing your province for tax; in Lombard Italy, it might be new issues of a law code coming to be used in your local courts; and so on. But what about the West Frankish kingdom, where there was no Roman-style tax system and no real ‘legal system’ as we would think of it today?

A neat little window into this is provided by the Vita Geraldi, which at one point has a vignette of its hero, Gerald of Aurillac, being politically courted by William the Pious of Aquitaine. Odo of Cluny, author of the Vita Geraldi, portrays Gerald as a very strange man, largely because he was trying to effect large-scale moral change amongst a lay audience; but to do that he had to drop Gerald into recognisable situations, and he had in fact grown up at William the Pious’ court, so it’s a glimpse into William’s SOP by someone who knew it quite well.

Image of William from a Cluny manuscript, c. 1200, BNF MS Lat 17716 (source, image from Gallica)

What Odo shows is William trying (and occasionally failing) to win Gerald’s loyalty by a variety of measures. He tries and fails to entice Gerald into commending himself to him, despite Gerald’s position as a royal vassal – he fails, interestingly enough, because Gerald has only recently taken the title of count, and presumably needs the royal connection to validate it. He offers to marry Gerald to his sister, only to be thwarted by Gerald’s vow of chastity. He talks to him often and takes his counsel. The two men go on long walks together. They fight together, and build up military camaraderie. All of this shows three things: first, that William was not the lord of all Aquitanians just by default; second, that the degree of his authority of Gerald was extremely negotiable; and third, that it require constant maintenance.

This is entirely typical. William’s Aquitaine was built out of little bundles of local rights, connections and lands, and pulling them together required constant activity, cajoling, threatening, and bribing the people in his following to stay in his following. Exercising real power in the earlier Middle Ages was exhausting work!