Let’s Talk About Sex (And Early Normandy)

Were I to note that Norman sexual culture around the year 1000 appears to have been unusually bawdy in comparison with the principality’s neighbours, I would not be the first to make this observation. This is, after all, the culture which gave us Moriuht, the only Latin poem which requires the phrase ‘homosexual Viking gang bang’ in a plot summary. However, the topic is of more than simply literary interest. In the moments I can snatch between revising dative prepositions, I’m currently writing up a couple of papers I gave last year, about the surprisingly key political role masculine sexuality played in legitimising the Norman dukes; and maybe this will interest you all.

Who am I to not make the most obvious reference I could? (source)

               But first I need to introduce to you Dudo of Saint-Quentin. Nothing about his background suggests he was at all unusual: he had a traditional education in north-eastern Gaul, and a respectable if not distinguished career as a canon in Saint-Quentin, in eastern France. Even his name suggests an origin amongst the middling nobility of the West Frankish/Lotharingian border. However, the work he produced, the Historia Normannorum, is tremendously weird. Written in around 1000, it is a series of biographies of the earliest dukes of Normandy, written in Latin at the commission of Duke Richard I and later his half-brother Count Ralph of Ivry. It presents the first Norman duke, Rollo, and his descendants as saints, blessed by God with the highest level of divine virtue and earthly success. Because of this, it is notoriously unreliable in matters of fact and actively tendentious. However, it also provides key insights into the earliest days of Norman political culture, and in its form and detail is comparable to no other contemporary text about a non-royal ruler.

               And it’s full of sex, in a way which one can’t really parallel from other tenth-century texts, certainly not ones which purport to describe saintly laymen. St. Gerald of Aurillac, whom we have discussed here before, is a case in point: part of his holiness is his rejection of sex, in order to live more like a monk. Even St. Gangulf of miraculous farting fame, whose marriage was accepted by his hagiographer, was sex-neutral.

               In Dudo’s work, however, the right kind of sex is actively good, as it demonstrates the right kind of masculinity, the kind necessary to rule as virile a people as the Normans. Book 3, the biography of Normandy’s second duke William Longsword and easily the most interesting bit of the whole work, illustrates this rather neatly. One of William’s big problems – and believe me, it’s presented as a bad thing – is that he wants to leave the world and become a monk; consequently, he avoids sex. His other main problems is his tendency to avoid fighting. Between them, these are the great detriments to his authority over the Normans, and they are linked – at one point, his men accuse him of being ‘frigid in arms’, and no, you’re not projecting the double-entendre.

               Consequently, the narrative is structured so as to resolve both problems together. This accusation by William’s men as they debate how to react to a violent rebellion against William. William proposes to retreat into Frankish territory to seek help from his relatives, and his men categorically refuse to follow him, making plain the text’s fundamental point: ‘a girly man like you can’t rule over us real men’ (non vales nobis ultra viribus effeminatus praesse). This outrages William, who goes and slaughters the rebels more-or-less single-handedly. As he stands on the battlefield, surrounded by gore and corpses, a messenger comes to tell him that his wife has born him a son. His skill in arms and ‘arms’ proven, no further challenges to his authority arise during the text.

               This is not to say that this is an autochthonous Norman development, however. For one thing, Dudo’s background was not Norman. For another, it wouldn’t do to paint Frankish culture as necessarily prudish. The notoriously-filthy Liutprand of Cremona is evidence enough against that, although his sexual invective is doing very different things to Dudo’s work. From Normandy’s next-door neighbour Flanders, however, comes a genealogy written by a priest named Witger, which discusses God’s special favour for the counts of Flanders in terms of their reproduction and thus, implicitly, sex. It’s nowhere near as explicit as in Dudo, and neither masculinity nor violence play much of a role, though.

               So what I think we’re dealing with in Normandy is a situation where a strand of ideas about sex present but muted in Frankish culture found a more fertile ground in a territory where humour was more risqué and political authority was more explicitly gendered. Dudo’s work is part of an ongoing dialogue of legitimacy between ruler and ruled, picking up on its audience’s ideas and trying to steer them in one particular direction: that the Norman dukes are the best rulers because they are the best men, not least because they have the best sex.

               (Incidentally, at one point Dudo describes William Longsword’s sword as having about six pounds of gold on the hilt; Eric Christiansen did the maths and reckoned that, to be balanced, it would indeed have to have been a long sword…)


What King™?

So, there will be a blog post this week, because this week marks the one-year anniversary of Salutem Mundo going up on the web. If I have a bit of spare time, I might put up a retrospective; but today I wanted to do something fun: counter-factual speculation! I was reading a biography of King Edward II, which made me think that England came reasonably close at one point to a King Gilbert, and this in turn led my thoughts back to my own work. After all, there were three relatively long periods in the tenth and early eleventh centuries where the reigning king was without an obvious direct heir, i.e. a legitimate, adult son. So the question naturally arose: had some accident befallen these kings, who would have ended up as their successor?

               The first period is also the longest: the twenty-odd years between 898 and 920 when King Charles the Simple was without a legitimate son. Until the birth of Louis IV in around 920, Charles did not have a direct heir. If he had died before 919 or so, the kingdom’s most powerful magnate and brother of Charles’ predecessor Odo, Robert of Neustria, was by far the most likely candidate to become king. One suggestion I’ve never seen (although some readers may be able to correct me on this) is that this may have been important. After 920, relations between Robert and Charles deteriorated rapidly. I wonder if his participation in rebellion after that year was conditioned by the fact that Louis cut him out of the succession?

               Other possibilities for king include Richard the Justiciar, duke of Burgundy (possible, but I don’t see him having the power base or the connections to the throne) or Louis the Child until 911 (good dynastic claim, but he doesn’t seem to have had much connection at all with West Frankish magnates and indeed wasn’t all that close to the Lotharingian aristocracy, from a kingdom he actually did rule).

               The next period is in the reign of Charles’ son Louis, between 936 and 941. Here, the situation is complicated by the fact that Louis himself appears to have been something of a compromise candidate between Robert of Neustria’s son Hugh the Great, Count Heribert II of Vermandois, or Hugh the Black, duke of Burgundy and brother of Louis’ predecessor King Ralph. I cannot imagine any of these people letting one of the others have it without a very nasty fight. The probable winner, in my view, would have been Heribert, due to his geographical proximity to the centres of royal power in Rheims and Laon. However, an outside possibility is Roric, Louis’ illegitimate half-brother, who might present another useful compromise candidate. He was a cleric and a bastard, but illegitimacy wasn’t necessarily a disqualifier for kingship; and he may have been able to go back into the world if absolutely necessary, perhaps, although I can’t think of any Frankish examples of clerical sons becoming secular this early.

               The final period is the first decade of the reign of King Robert the Pious, between 996 and 1007. Between 996 and his death in 1002, Duke Henry of Burgundy, Robert’s uncle, might have been a plausible candidate, although he was childless and in the equivalent situation in 936, Hugh the Black had been passed over. Thus, my preference is for King Rudolf III of Transjurane Burgundy, nephew of the penultimate Carolingian king Lothar and brother-in-law of one of the most powerful West Frankish magnates, Odo II of Blois. He’s plausible as a king, without being too threatening to established power bases. It is possible that Odo himself might have sought the crown, but I find this unlikely: too many people would have been opposed to the action. Other possibilities include Otto III or Henry II of Germany, who were also closely related to both the Carolingians and the Robertians and whose ties were perhaps closer. However, an actual reunification of East and West Francia seems a bit unlikely to me. The final possibility is Otto or Louis of Lower Lotharingia, children of the last serious Carolingian claimant to the West Frankish throne, Charles of Lower Lotharingia. Certain, in 1012, Louis appears to have been in Poitiers as a potential figurehead for rebellion. With Aquitanian and maybe Ottonian support, a Carolingian restoration might well have been possible.

               These are just my speculations, of course. What do you think? I’m interested to hear discussions of this: how people interpret these possibilities is heavily dependent on what they think matters about royal successions, and that’s an area where I am keenly aware of my own blinkers…

I R Winner (Sort Of)

Although at the moment I am currently up to my elbows in packing, a bit of good news has come through the pipeline. I recently found out that my essay, ‘Kingship and Consent in the Reign of Charles the Simple: The Case of Sint-Servaas (919)’ was declared proxime accessit (i.e. runner-up) in the TMJ essay competition.


I was dead chuffed, not least because it’s nice to see that my well-known love for Charles the Simple is able to win over others with its evangelical zeal. In this case, about how the long-standing idea of Charles as a wannabe-autocrat is wrong, using an oddity in a pair of charters he issued for the Maastricht abbey of Sint-Servaas. So thanks to the journal, congratulations to the winner, and I’ll keep you all posted as to what happens about getting it into print!

Thanks to Belgian rail’s discounted rates to border towns, I even got to see Sint-Servaas itself this year, albeit on a day which was rather too hot to be wearing a leather jacket…

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…