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.

Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 2

We’ve already covered the first half of the #top10charters list I put up on Facebook a couple of months ago; so without any further ado, let’s get on with the second half!

No. 5: Robert of Neustria to Saint-Martin of Tours, 892.

‘I’m supposed to steal the property of Saint-Martin and the brothers and hurt my soul for three shields?’

Roman Deutinger is sceptical of the authenticity of this charter. I’m not: his reasons basically boil down to ‘it’s weird, and it doesn’t look like a trial record’, to which I would respond ‘it’s not that weird, and that’s because it isn’t one’. It’s a notice wherein the brother of Saint-Martin and advocate Adalmar of whom we have spoken go and get some land of Saint-Martin of their abbot Robert; it’s interesting institutionally, and it’s got some nice echoes of personality in it.

No. 4: Richard the Fearless to Saint-Denis, 968.

‘Wherefore let the provident industry of both peoples, to wit, the Franks and the Normans, know…’

This is the foundational document of Norman identity. I’d write more about it, but as it happens I’ve already done that at length elsewhere, so you can read that if this interests you.

No. 3: Louis IV to Saint-Remi of Rheims, 953.

‘…the most blessed bishop, who was specially bestowed by God on Our royal bloodline as a pastor and patron…’

The middle of the tenth century was a crucial time of change for West Frankish kingship. Briefly, after about 920 everything went to hell and stayed there for about thirty years. It took Louis IV his entire reign, quite a lot of desperate improvisation, and in the end the help of some absolutely vast Ottonian armies to establish his throne on solid ground, and when he did so its ideological basis was distinctly different. Key here was the see of Rheims, and this charter exemplifies that, drawing links between the Carolingian bloodline (which is otherwise unusual), the patron saint of Rheims, Remigius, and the office of king.

It also has links to a diploma of Otto I issued at around the same time, linking the three protagonists – Carolingians, Ottonians, and the see of Rheims – together in an ideological framework which reinforces the hegemonic role of the Ottonian kings in stabilising West Frankish kingship.

No. 2: Charles the Simple to Saint-Denis, 917.

‘…similarly let them carry out my memorial, and memorial of my dead wife Frederuna…’

Rather like no. 4, I’ve already written about this elsewhere. Suffice to say, it is the greatest love story of the entire century.

No. 1: Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours to Bourgueil, 995.

‘…and unless he repents, let him join Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and those who followed them as persecutors of martyrs in the eternal fires of Gehenna’

Coming from the same tradition as number 6, this charter, purely and simply, validates my whole approach to these documents, by proving that questions of legitimacy mattered enough to fight over, and being one of the view direct responses to ideological claims by lay magnates. That legitimacy mattered should, you’d think, be self-evident, but apparently not: I have been told, by a senior scholar as well, that no-one in the tenth century cared about legitimating their power because they were all bloodthirsty warlords who only spoke the guttural tongue of violence.

But no! The situation here is fairly simple. Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, and Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours were fighting for dominance of Brittany. In the year 992, Fulk had fought a battle with Count Conan of Rennes at a place called Conquereuil, and massacred him and his army. This was a big deal – killing Christians was never seen as a good thing, and was increasingly frowned on at this time. Thus, when, two years later, Fulk’s castle at Langeais was besieged by Conan’s patron Odo, before setting off to defend it, Fulk issued a charter ‘in penitence for the exceedingly great slaughter of Christians which happened on the plain at Conquereuil’, evidently issued in order to gain divine favour before the siege.

The author explaining all this at the tenth-century donjon of Langeais, which still survives. 

The siege of Langeais lasted for some time, beginning in or around May or June and continuing into the next year. Things got desperate for Fulk, sufficiently desperate that he offered to surrender to Odo. These terms, as recorded in the history of Richer of Rheims, were humiliating: Fulk offered to pay compensation for the death of Odo’s ally Conan of Rennes, to give service to Odo, and to pledge his son to Odo’s service. However, news reached Fulk that reinforcements were coming, and he withdrew the terms. After this, and almost certainly in response to it, Odo issued this charter.

In it, there is one key clause in the charter which demonstrates that the siege of Langeais was an ideological as well as a literal battleground (slide 27). Odo threatens violators of his grant thusly: ‘let him be associated in the flames of eternal gehenna with Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and their followers as persecutors of martyrs.’ This formula is unique in tenth-century France, and it is a directly and unsubtle attack on Fulk Nerra: Fulk was a killer of Christians, Fulk was an insincere penitent, Fulk would not get the salvation he claimed.

The greatest princes of tenth-century France, then, were sufficiently concerned about justifying their rule to go beyond simple school-bully tactics. They developed and contested ideological claims, going beyond simple coercion to develop strategies of legitimacy which not only existed, but mattered. For Odo, denying Fulk the moral high ground was as important as denying him the literal high ground.

Charity and Kingship: Eleventh-Century Royal Diplomas

Yesterday was going so well. Writing the last bit of written work I’ve got scheduled for while I’m still here, I polished off one section, and prepared to move onto the next. So, King Robert the Pious’ chancellor puts together a new prologue to his charters, does he? Let’s pull out the textual models of that, write about how the historiographical consensus is wrong about him and monks, and then all I need to do is spend a few days counting witness lists and I can spend my last two months in Brussels napping and playing video games.

Several hours later, I’d spent so much time staring at the damn thing that I’d most of it memorised, but textual parallels weren’t going so well.

So what this means is that today on the blog, I’ll be using it for the purest form of its intended purpose: as a sketch pad. I’m going to take this new standard prologue, read it in excruciating detail, and try and work out what it means about Robert the Pious’ kingship. First, the text:

Cum in exhibitione temporalium rerum, quas humana religio divino cultui famulando locis sanctorum et congregationibus fldelium ex devotione animi largitur, tam presentis quam perpetue vite, ut jampridem multis expertum est indiciis, solatium adquiratur, saluberrimus valde et omnibus imitabilis est hic fructus primitive virtutis, scilicet caritatis, per quam et mundi prosperatur tranquillitas et felici remuneratione eterna succedit felicitas.

Since (as has been proved by many tokens) it is in the presentation of worldly goods, which, by the soul’s devotion, human religion bestows on the places of the saints and the congregations of the faithful for the service of divine worship, that the comfort of both this life and the next is acquired, such an action is very beneficial and imitable by everyone; it is the fruit of the first of the virtues, charity, through which the peace of the world prospers and eternal happiness follows by a happy repayment.

First appearing just after 1020, this prologue is the work of a man named Baldwin, chancellor under Kings Robert the Pious and Henry I. It will go on to be the standard opening of royal documents for most of the eleventh century, so it’s quite important. To deal with it, I’ll start by doing bullet points of each of the individual words, and then pull together some overall observations at the end.

  • Exhibitio temporalium rerum: An exhibitio is literally a handout, but it’s slightly unusual in the context of royal diplomas. Usually one would expect to see a word like largitio (grant), which emphasises royal generosity. Exhibitio suggests something more public – it’s an exhibition of generosity, geddit – which does fit with a consistent theme of Robert’s reign, which is that a lot of his kingship is performed in public, before large crowds.
  • Humana religio: This is an odd one. Religio can mean religion, in the sense that we’d use it day-to-day, but it’s also reverence, and religious awe… Mostly around this time, it would be connected to words like ‘divine’ or ‘sacred’, with the first meaning predominating. Here, though, it’s clearly being used as an opposition to divinus cultus (divine worship), which has the interesting function of really stressing the mediation provided by the clergy between the human and the divine.
  • Congregationes fidelium: This is particularly so in light of the use of the word congregatio, which literally means ‘assembly’ but almost always by the early eleventh century means ‘organised group of clerics’, and – as far as I can tell – usually monks. The word congregatio derives from the phrase for ‘to flock together’, and the word for flock, grex, is almost entirely associated with groups of monks in this context.
  • Fructus primitivae virtutis – Describing royal action as motivated by caritas (usually translated as ‘charity’ but better thought of as ‘lovingkindness’) is again unusual. The reference here is to Galatians 5:22: ‘the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith’. Caritas has a long Christian history, which Guyotjeannin points out about this formula, but it’s hard to find precise textual parallels for how its described here. The closest is perhaps the eighth-century scholar Alcuin’s treatise on Virtues and Vices. He describes caritas as ‘first place in the precepts of God’: to love both God and your neighbour with every fibre of your being.
A diploma of Robert to a church in Châlons, featuring a recognisable predecessor of this formula. (Source. Turns out its a lot harder to find nice images of Capetian royal diplomas than Carolingian ones. You know, the first three Capetians don’t even have their diplomas properly edited yet.) 

Thus: it is in giving alms to religious institutions, allowing them to mediate between God and the laity, that relief is acquired in both this life and that to come. This almsgiving is the product of an internal caritas, a virtue which is necessary for both worldly and heavenly success.

               It’s not very royal. This is important, because charter prologues are usually imbued with the language of, specifically, royal majesty; but not here. Note that the whole thing is written mostly in the passive: solace ‘is acquired’, for instance. If you parce it, the element of the sentence actually acting is the animus, the soul of the individual believer. It’s therefore noticeable that almsgiving is described as ‘imitable’; it looks rather like the king is being set up not as a figure separate from his subjects, but as an example for them to follow; as a man, not as a king. Geoff Koziol has written about Robert’s self-presentation as a Christian rather than as a king; as it happens, I disagree with him about his specific example (the use of Cross monograms) – I might write about why in the near future, actually – but the idea might be applicable here…

               Well, that was a helpful exercise. Much to chew over there, but it was good to get things written down. Am I missing anything? Please let me know if you have any comments – this formula shows up so often that unlocking it is a big deal.


Career News

As it says on the ‘About’ page of this blog, I am currently a Fondation Wiener-Anspach postdoctoral fellow at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (please ignore the unfortunate hair). This is a fine place to be, but in just over two months, I will in fact cease to be here. Happily, I do now have other places to be, and this post is to communicate the news that I have a new job! Two, in fact, sequentially.

               From the end of August (after two months in Schwäbisch Hall to get my German up to scratch, or try to, anyway), I will be taking up a six-month Alexander von Humboldt Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Tübingen, to work with Steffen Patzold. I have been here once before, and of course Steffen knows a thing or two about Carolingian bishops, so I’m really looking forward to it on those grounds. I’m also looking forward to it because it will involve living in a town with a river going through it once more, but that’s a slightly lesser reason.

               After that, from May 2018, I will be, thanks to the Leverhulme Trust, moving to Leeds, where I’ll be an Early Career Fellow for the next three years, working with Jonathan Jarrett, he of late Carolingian kingship and charters and bishops fame (as well as being, in his spare time,  author of my single favourite blog post about tenth-century episcopal charters). The university has an entire annex in the library basement devoted to charter collections, so if this blog suddenly stops updating for a few weeks next summer, that’s where to send the rescue party.

               In both Leeds and Tübingen, I’ll be working on a project which is an extension and development of what I’m doing in Brussels: that is, tracing the evolution of the interrelationship between royal and episcopal authority in the late and post-Carolingian periods. Getting to keep doing my own research right through into the next decade is a tremendous privilege, and that I’m at this point is the result of the work of an awful lot of people who’ve given up their time and energy to write references, go over forms, and endure draft after draft of my research proposal. Some of them read this blog, so to you (and the rest) I say a very heartfelt thanks.

               Next week, there will be actual, real, yarr!content on the blog, I promise; but if in the meantime you want to read more of what I’ve written, I’ve set up in the sidebar a link to my publications, most of which are open-access, which I will keep updated as and when new things come out. Otherwise, I’ve actually had my first request for a blog post – which I will fulfil at some point, although I need to do a bit of reading around the subject first – so if there’s anything you want me to write about, please let me know!

The Nuns of Chartres, At Last

Going down my top 10 charters last time, I mentioned that I would finally get round to telling the story of the nuns of Chartres, and so here goes. These particular charters having been bothering me for a while, and I still haven’t worked out what’s going on here. First, a translation of the act, which was charter no. 6 in the list:

I, in the name of God Liutgard, most devoted and faithful of the servants of God. Be it known to all the faithful of the orthodox and catholic Church that I myself and another Deo sacrata, named Godeleva, joined to me both in body and soul [michi tam corpore quam anima conjuncta], having made an agreement, bought a certain allod from a certain man named Otbert, wholly and entirely, whatever was left to him by both his grandfather and his great-grandfather, in the villa which is generally known as Prasville, for an agreed-upon and suitable price, to wit, in the county of Chartres; on the condition that from this day until the end of the world, it might past from his right and person into our dominion and power. This purchase was made in accordance with this condition and vow, that as long as we live, it should remain at our disposition; but after our death, it should pass and go into the power and dominion of Saint Peter, established in the suburbs of Chartres, and the brothers serving God therein, in its entirety, and without calumniation from anyone. That this charter might be believed more firmly and truly, we had it strengthened by our own hand and the hands of the faithful of God’s holy Church.

Acted publicly at Chartres.

Count Odo. Conan, count of Brittany. Landric. Arduin. Robert. Erchambald the cleric. Teduin.

Given on the 15th kalends of September [i.e. 16th August], in the 25th year of the reign of King Lothar.

That ‘joined to me both in body and soul’ is a puzzler, isn’t it? If that were Liutgard and, I don’t know, Hucbert, I’d read it as a poetic description of marriage, but here I think it’s unlikely for two reasons. First, the ‘Count Odo’ in the witness list is actually Liutgard’s son by Count Theobald the Trickster, who we’ve met before. Both these men had lots of enemies, and given how despised same-sex relations were at this time, it seems unlikely that his enemies would pass up the opportunity to criticise Liutgard were she in a prominent-enough same-sex relationship to be putting it in her charters.

The other reason is that Godeleva actually appears elsewhere at around the same time, also donating to Saint-Père de Chartres: ‘Illuminated by [Biblical precepts about the joy of giving] and other proofs of good instruction, and the flame of the Holy Spirit, I, Godeleva, and my mate [compar, a Latin word as ambiguous as ‘mate’ in English] Clementia give… a certain church which we bought… from a canon… named Gerald… to Saint Peter’. So we’re unlikely to be dealing with an elderly nun free love commune.

Saint-Père de Chartres in the Early Modern Period. Source.

Still, this is some very strong language. Fassler says that phrases such as ‘joined in both body and soul’ indicate a kinship link, and I used to think she must be right, but now I wonder whether or not something a little more interesting is going on. Liutgard describes herself and Godeleva as Deo sacrata, a type of religious women who were not strictly speaking nuns, but rather women, often high-ranking widows, who chose to live lives dedicated to God. This seems to be the case here: certainly between them Liutgard, Godeleva and Clementia have cash to throw around and spend on their own salvation.

More than this, though, Godeleva’s language in that second document seems to imply that she perceived herself as perhaps a visionary, ‘illuminated by the flame of the Holy Spirit’. Equally, the use of terms like compar suggests a closeness between the women here which is hard to parallel from other charters in this region. So I wonder if we are not perhaps dealing a semi-communal but non-formalised small female religious community within Chartres: a group of high-status religious women bound together by an unusually intense piety to do acts of charitable giving.

There is another option: these charters are preserved in the cartulary of Saint-Père de Chartres, which was written in the twelfth century by a monk named Paul, who was not above forging documents to better establish his abbey’s claims to land. This does not necessarily make things less odd: instead of a tenth-century property-magnate prayer group, we could be dealing with a twelfth-century monk’s imagining of same…

Anyway, this whole knot still puzzles me somewhat. What do you all think?