Who Were The Preceeding Kings?

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.

Prayer Communities and the Bishops of Clermont

In 945 and again in 962, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont founded the cell of Saint-Germain-Lembron, and gave it to the major Auvergnat abbey of Brioude. In both cases, he kicked off the charter by listing a community to be prayed for. Here’s the 962 example:

‘for my lord King Lothar and the soul of his father King Louis, and the soul of my parents Robert and Aldegard and my stepmother Hildegard and my uncles, to wit, Eustorgius, Matfred and Guy, and my cousin Stephen, and my brothers Eustorgius and Robert and my uncle Armand and his son Amblard and my uncle Eustorgius and his sons Eustorgius and William, and also Abbot Robert and his parents and brothers, and all my kinsmen and relatives and friends and enemies and Our followers…’

The (frankly rather good-looking) abbey of Brioude as it exists today (source)

This list of titles does not quite make it clear that Stephen’s relations, friends, and followers encompass basically everyone in the Auvergne. His father Robert and brother Robert were both viscounts of Clermont; his uncle Armand was also a viscount, and married to the (perhaps) sister of Archbishop Amblard of Lyon; his other uncle Eustorgius was co-lord of Brezons with Bertrand, son of Heraclius, father of Viscount Stephen of Gévaudan, the donation itself was given to Brioude, whose abbot was the local viscount, Dalmatius…

I could go on, but other than establishing once more that the tenth-century Auvergne saw a disproportionate number of people called Eustorgius, it’s clear that Stephen is establishing a wide network of both kinship- and non-kinship alliances in his regional environment. Also interesting is that this is basically the core group of the followers of Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine, founder of Cluny, and his nephews and successors William the Younger and Acfred. OK, admittedly not the actual core group, given that Acfred died in 927 and this is some thirty-plus years later, but their direct descendants. The end of Guillelmid (i.e., all the of the Williams) rule in Aquitaine meant a shift in power away from the Auvergne towards Poitiers and Toulouse, and neither the counts of Poitiers nor those of Toulouse ever managed much pull in the Auvergne.

So far, so regional; but what’s the king doing here? Well, once more, tenth-century royal pull shows up as being more substantial than you’d imagine. King Louis IV showed up several times in Aquitaine, and Bishop Stephen was always one of his most important followers. In this case in 962, matters get even more interesting. In the late 950s, it looks as though the Auvergne slipped into, if not civil war, at least endemic violence. Bishop Stephen took a major role in dealing with this violence, and became the unchallenged locally-preeminent figure. However, King Lothar also played a role here: in the early 960s, he was involved in negotiations in southern Burgundy which led to the resignation of the Duke of Aquitaine, William IV ‘Iron-Arm’, count of Poitiers, and almost certainly received Stephen as his man.

So what this charter looks like is that a connection to the kings, actively sought by the bishops of Clermont, is being used to establish a regional community of prayer with the bishop at its head, legitimated through his royal ties. Thus, the Guillelmid network of power was sustained, but with an episcopal rather than lay chief. It’s interesting that this happened in Clermont, which is a rather liminal space; the kings are good at pulling those in, rather than in Deep Aquitaine (say, Cahors or Bordeaux). It’s an important reminder that, used well, kings never stop being useful to localities.

Source Translation: A Royal Privilege of Free Election

Hello readers. I meant to post something about my research today, I really did; I realised last week that the last time I actually posted directly about it was over a month ago. However, my time at the minutes is taken up with finishing everything I need to do in Brussels before I move to Germany, which would be fine except it turns out that the last bit of writing that’s got to be finished before the end of this month is really hard, you guys. With that in mind, here’s a translated source that I’m using for that very piece, a diploma of Best King Ever Charles the Simple, issued in 913 to the Church of Trier, granting them the right to freely elect their bishops.

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity and singular Godhead. Charles, by the preordination of divine providence, glorious king. Since the whole body of God’s holy Church should be cared for by priestly oversight and administration and royal tutelage, and since royal majesty ought to be of one mind with the ministers of the Lord, We judge it equitable to proffer assent to the petitions of Our pontiffs, beseeching Us concerning churchly business, by whose prayers We believe that We and the state of Our realm are ceaselessly supported. Therefore, let the industry of all who follow the Christian religion and Our faithful men, present and future, know that Ratbod, the venerable metropolitan of the holy see of Trier, and Our archchaplain, providing for and mindful of the welfare of the church committed to him in future like a provident and good shepherd, asked Our Highness that We might conceded a privilege of Our authority to his see concerning episcopal elections after his death. Freely acquiescing to his pious petition, out of respect for the divine and reverence of the blessed Peter, and due to his love and faithfulness, We commanded this privilege of Our present letters be made, earnestly commanding and sanctioning with the inviolable stability of perpetual firmness that after the death of this bishop, whomsoever the clergy and people of Trier might by common consent elect from amongst the very sons of the same Church should be given to them, by God’s favour, as bishop without contradiction from any party; nor might they be compelled against their will and against canonical authority to receive as a pastor any person they have not chosen. And if, perchance, which We little believe will come to pass, no-one suitable can be found in that church, who is worthy of being given up to an honour of this kind, let an election not be denied to them thereby and Our privilege broken, but rather let them receive from royal majesty whomsoever else they might wish to elect. If it should come to pass, moreover (as is seen to have happened recently in the election of certain bishops) that the votes of the electors are divided, let royal authority favour the part of him on whom the clergy and the men of better intention agree, those who are proven to pursue God’s cause and the salvation of the Lord’s flock, and let the one so chosen be established over them as bishop in accordance with their election. And that this authority of Our privilege might in God’s name obtain firmer vigour of everlasting stability through all times to come, and be inviolably conserved by Our successors, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be marked with the impression of Our seal.

Sign of the most serene king, lord Charles.

Gozlin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the ides of August (i.e. the 13th) in the 1st indiction, in the 21st year of the reign of the most glorious king Charles, in the 16th of his renewal, in the 2nd of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at Thionville. Happily in the name of God, amen.

(I actually have no idea what the reference to contentious elections in other sees is referring to. The ongoing disputes over the bishopric of Strasbourg in the 900s and 910s, maybe?)

Trier Cathedral today (source)

The writing style here is a little unusual; like many contemporary diplomas for the Church of Trier, it appears to have been written by that church’s writing staff, with less involvement by royal personnel. Nonetheless, there’s an intriguing sign here of attitudes to royal involvement in episcopal elections. There was a simmering dispute in the ninth century about whether or not royal involvement should be active or passive; that is, whether or not the royal power actually played a role in making a bishop a bishop or whether it simply removed itself as an obstacle. Men such as Florus of Lyon and Hincmar of Rheims (the latter of whom said ‘kings only agree, they don’t elect’) argued at one time or another for the latter, but over time it is clear that the former position removed competition.

This is neatly illustrated by this charter. Compared to other, earlier, diplomas granting similar rights, Charles actually gives up more power – usually, for instance, kings reserve the right to pick someone if no-one suitable can be found within the recipient church; here, it is specified that Trier can pick anyone, even if from outside Trier itself. However, it also rhetorically emphasises the role of kings more: royal authority and royal majesty play an active part as agents, even if what this might involve in practice has probably not changed all that much. The difference is that here and now, it is being perceived as being much more active and participating much more directly. This, I think, is a key part of that specifically-late-Carolingian political culture that we’ve discussed here before, and it would go on to have knock-on effects that would reach for centuries – but that is perhaps something for another time…

“Who made you count?”

It’s a good question, and one famously reported by Adhemar of Chabannes. King Hugh Capet was fighting Count Aldebert of La Marche, and, when they met, asked him “Who made you count?”, in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. Aldebert replied “Who made you king?”, and it is for that latter that the story is usually remembered, but the former question is perhaps more important. We have a reasonable idea of how Hugh Capet became king having previously been a duke, as it was described in reasonable detail by several sources. How someone becomes a count without coming from a comital lineage is a bit less clear.*

However, a nice little source snippet on this question fell into my lap recently. I was looking at the Vita, or biography, of St. Gerald of Aurillac, and had to deal with the arguments of Matthew Kuefler to the effect that the version most historians are familiar with was written not in the 920s by Abbot Odo of Cluny but after the year 1000 by… well, by Adhemar of Chabannes, actually. I think this is unconvincing, personally, and the question of countship relates to one of Kuefler’s key arguments. He argues (p. 51, as well as elsewhere) that Gerald is referred to as count of Aurillac, but there don’t appear to have been other counts of Aurillac, so this is anachronistic.

However, this rests on the – very Carolingian – assumption that comital office was acquired through administrative mechanisms, that is to say, that one was granted a countship by the king and thus legally became a count. This, though, is not what the text actually says. Key here is Book 1, chapter 27 (not exactly the most up-to-date edition, but the easiest to link to; there’s a translation of the whole thing here):

On the whole route, he was of the highest rank of nobility, and was famous everywhere for his piety and largess. When, therefore, the traders, as is their custom, were going between the tents and asking if anyone wanted to buy anything, some of the better ones came to the lord [Gerald’s] tent, and asked his servants if, perchance, the lord count (for so everyone called him) would command that cloths or spices be bought.

Key here is the ‘for so they called him line’, because what this indicates is that countship was not necessarily legal, but social. By the tenth century, a sufficiently noble, wealthy and powerful man of good repute could be called a count not because of any formal process, but because his social position was sufficient for him to be acknowledged as at the top rank of regional society. There are other examples of this – the early eleventh-century counts of Ponthieu, and I think something similar happens in the late tenth century with the counts of Ternois – but the best example is roughly contemporary with Gerald, in the case of Fulk the Red, count/viscount of Anjou.

Fulk had been made viscount of Anjou in the first decade of the tenth century, and in the context of the region, with its formal hierarchy of rank and relatively tight governance, I think ‘appointed’ is the right way to describe it. He appears in a charter of 929 issued in his own name as ‘count’ not ‘viscount’. Despite this, he signs charters of his superior, Hugh the Great, ruler of the Neustrian March, as ‘viscount’ up through into the 930s. What seems to be happening here is that, in an Angevin context, he was a sufficiently big player by 929 that he could reasonably and plausibly claim to be a count as a marker of his social status, but this did not yet look plausible on a wider stage.

In any case, a focus on the juridical aspects of being a count is potentially misleading here. Late- and post-Carolingian counthood could be flexible, not necessarily always claimed, and fundamentally a matter of social status not legal role.

*In Aldebert’s case, I assumed the answer Hugh intended was ‘the king, i.e. me’, referring to the comital office as royally-constituted. In poking around, I’ve found that Aldebert became count of Perigord (which is how Adhemar refers to him) after capturing and blinding his brother, so the intended answer may well have been ‘no-one’, in which case Aldebert’s response becomes a bit more pointed, given that Hugh gained the throne by imprisoning his predecessor’s uncle…

The House of European History

Aaand we’re back. Some of you may well have heard the news that the European Parliament opened a new museum, dedicated to the history of capital-E Europe, and I discovered rather to my surprise that it’s about five minutes away from where I live, in Parc Léopold, where I’m accustomed to go for a walk if staring at my sofa is somehow fails to provide me with inspiration. Given this, I decided it would be a good excuse to give up on work early one day, and so a few weeks ago I went and visited; it is, pleasingly, free.

Très belle, n’est pas?

As a museum, it’s fine. I was expecting it to be distinctly propagandistic, and certainly it has a particular viewpoint, but it’s not overwhelming; I hadn’t expected to find ‘state terror’ proposed as one of the historical experiences uniting Europe. It’s got some very fancy gizmos – you hand over your passport at the front desk, and in return they give you a highly-programmed tablet which has a variety of audio, visual and textual labels about the exhibits. With that said, there’s not a lot of interactivity: I can’t imagine children enjoying it much. It feels like it’s very much for aspiring European policy wonks.


As the above indicates, there’s not actually a lot to say about the House itself. I recommend it if you’re in Brussels for more than a couple of days and you want to do something quiet and sober. What did interest me was how it didn’t quite justify its own existence, or rather how it didn’t quite justify Europe’s existence.

The first floor of the museum asks the question ‘what is Europe’? It fails to answer it, but the way in which it fails to answer it is interesting for this blog’s purposes. It fails, because it asks the question in historical terms. What factors of a European past unite Europeans? It proposes several different answers – Greco-Roman inheritance, democracy, Science!, experience of state terror, amongst others – but none of these encompass every EU state or exclude non-EU ones.

Not joking about ‘state terror’

The clearest historical parallel for the modern EU – the previous historical entity which occupied close to the same space and proceeded with something approaching a reforming agenda and/or central policy making body – is of course one which no current European politician could ever point to as a precedent, because it’s the Catholic Church of Innocent III. Even if they are personally a very particular type of pious Catholic, ‘increasingly-intrusive papacy’ would be a hard sell, y’know?

Although, who knows? It got a bit weird at points.

The problem here, I think, is that the real answer to the question ‘what is Europe’ – ‘a collection of polities bound together with duct tape and spit in pursuit of mutual advantage, driven by the seat of its pants due to the lack of any real historical precedent’ – is generally considered unpalatable. For all that a sense of pan-Europeanism has set itself up as an alternative to national identities, we’re still working off a nineteenth-century concern for the organic. The idea is that the most natural form of community is one which arises out of shared roots in the past, not connections in the present; personally, this all comes across as a bit Völkisch. This, perhaps, is where history can be useful politically without having to be Relevant in terms of concrete policy proposals*: if people can be made to recognise the contingency not only of their specific communities but of their ideas about community, some space can be cleared for the greater legitimation of different forms of social organisation better suited to the resolution of contemporary political and social issues.

My word, that was hard to phrase in a deliberately non-partisan manner…

*(“What do we want? An end to the bipartite estate! When do we want it? Before the millennium of Christ’s Crucifixion!”)

Source Translation: An Early Medieval Love Letter

Apparently when I said ‘tomorrow’ I meant ‘on Saturday’; I would have written this up when I got back from Mons yesterday, but I was distracted by some jousting. What this means is that this week is that it’s some more source translation. A few days ago, I was speaking with some friends about work (I have remarkably few other topics of conversation) and the question of love and marriage came up. There have been a few other things I’ve written about this, and these duly came up; but this raised a question which always gets brought up with these things: how far was marriage transactional?

In response, I mentioned one of my favourite little medieval texts, the only surviving early medieval love letter, preserved in the Formulae Salicae Merkelianae, written probably in the ninth century:

No. 47: Letter to a fiancée [i.e., specifically to a female recipient].

To my sweetest and dearest in everything, my honey-sweet girlfriend [insert name here], I, in God’s name [insert name here], with dearest love and unceasing desire for you whom I miss so much. I send you through this letter greetings for as much joy as is contained within the fullness of our hearts, greetings which walk amidst the clouds and which the Sun and his Moon bring to you. When I go to bed, you are ever on my mind; and when I sleep, I dream always of you. Stay well in the day and sleep well at night. Always keep your boyfriend in mind, and do not forget him, for I do not forget you (*). Come up with a clever way, and I’ll one more acquire, through what kind of trickery we’ll fulfil our desire (**).

Codex Manesse 071v Kristan von Hamle.jpg
A cunning plan! (source)

May He who reigns in Heaven and oversees the whole world lead you into my arms (***) before I die.

(This is a great greeting for two young people; the one sends it to the other and neither gets tired of it (****).)

So, what can I say about this? Well, on a personal level I can tell you that, contrary to what’s advertised, it doesn’t actually work as a Valentine’s Day card; but in terms more relevant to our theme, it illustrates much the same thing as some of the dowry charters I’ve written about before: that, however transactional it might have been in real life, it was expected that relationships be cloaked with what is evidently a close relation of the modern language of romantic affection, right down to the same endearments – ‘honey-sweet’ (melliflua) has been translated an adjective here, but could just as easily have been rendered as a noun; or, in other words, ‘hi, honey!’

Particularly interesting is that it’s in a formulary collection. Scholars have recently become more and more interested in formularies, or collections of form letters, and one of the reasons for this is that they contain lots of things that don’t otherwise survive, such as, indeed, love letters. Its inclusion in a formulary implies that there was demand we can’t otherwise see. This is perhaps due to the predominance in written culture of male celibates… What is a little frustrating is the way the nuances are lost. It’s not completely clear whether the tone of this letter is simply ‘I miss you’ or the more passive-aggressive ‘why don’t you write me?’. I’ve chosen to render it in the first way, but it could well be the second, which has interesting implications; not least that there were other letters of a more straightforward kind, of which this is a slightly acidic sub-variation.

I’ll admit, though, either way it’s not as attractive as talking about Vikings

(Short one today b/c I’m on a train back to the UK for a week; this also means there won’t be a post next week at all.)


(*) OK, a more literal translation here is ‘I don’t do that to you’, but that sounds much pissier in English than in Latin…

(**) This actually is a literal translation, insofar as the metre’s off and one of the words doesn’t quite rhyme, even if you assume that the MS’ altero is supposed to be alterum (as other scholars have, I’m not spitballing here).

(***) Lit, ‘give you into my hands’, but that’s a lot more ‘cartoonishly villainous’ than ‘sweetly romantic’.

(****) That last bit is odd; in Latin it’s neminem sufficit, which literally means ‘it suffices no-one’. My initially guess was that the whole sentence was a marginal annotation from a disgruntled youth, but as it turns out the MS is online, and nope, it’s in the text. This phrase in the translation is based off a French translation I found with a quick Google…

Gondor Fraser Calls For Aid

Hey all. There’ll be a proper blog post tomorrow, but today I wanted to ask for some help. A little while back, I conceived of doing an English translation of the complete works of Folcuin of Lobbes. Folcuin is one of the most important historians of the tenth century, writing histories of the abbeys of Saint-Bertin and Lobbes as well as a biography of St. Folcuin, bishop of Thérouanne; but so far there is only one translation of his works into a modern language, a version of the history of Lobbes in French.

This project has now progressed reasonably far; so I’d like to ask if anyone would be interested in checking some of the translation? I’d be grateful for any help, from a short paragraph to a long prologue (maybe there are some truly hardcore people out there who might want to check the whole thing, who knows). In return, I can offer gratitude and the promise of reciprocal proofreading…

If anyone’s interested, e-mail or message me or leave a comment here – all offers will be very appreciatively received.