The Short-Lived Glory Days of Advocacy in Saint-Martin of Tours

This is not one of the promised posts about the Tübingen conference, but it was prompted by a discussion which happened there. You see, last year I was invited to take part in a conference on medieval advocacy at the University of Namur; I was enthusiastic about the prospect, but looked through my evidence and couldn’t find enough to say, so had to sadly decline… So here, as a kind of penance, is the one little story my efforts found: the brief but glorious career of the advocates of Saint-Martin of Tours.

But first I should explain what an advocate is. In the Carolingian period – so from the early ninth century onwards – an advocate is a representative who speaks for another person or institution in court. Overwhelmingly, the word is associated with ecclesiastical institutions. Clergy weren’t really supposed to take part in lay courts – although this requirement was both flexible in principle and often honoured more often in the breach than the observance in any case – and so they had advocates to represent them.

Advocacy is a big deal in the history of Lotharingia – eastern France, western Germany and the Benelux countries – because it became a very important way for lords to exert dominance over churches. Being an ‘advocate’, in eleventh-century Lotharingia, was not simply a way for an abbey to lawyer up, but a parcel of potentially very lucrative financial and judicial rights which could be exploited very effectively. A case could be made, for instance, that the modern country of Luxembourg is just the long-term impact of very effective management of advocacy rights. In France, though, and particularly the further west one goes, the less significant advocacy becomes.

But they did exist. At the important abbey of Saint-Martin in Tours, we can even trace them relatively closely in the documentary record. Institutional advocates there do not seem to have existed before the late ninth century – an 857 trial record records that an individual priest had an advocatus, but it’s not until 878 that we see one Adalmar leading a trial as advocate of Saint-Martin. It’s possible there was another man before him – an 892 charter refers to one Guy having held lands propter advocariam (‘in return for his services as advocate’?) – but he’s not attested in the documentary record.

This time, around the 870s, is a time when the area around Tours is getting organised. The area’s new ruler, Hugh the Abbot, is a man with a lot of responsibilities, and so these years see the growth of structures of delegated responsibilities – it is at this time, for instance, that viscounts first start emerging. An institutional advocate for Saint-Martin appears to be part of this organisational drive.

Adalmar came from the local nobility. He was, among other things, the lord of Monnaie and possessed an allod (i.e. inheritable land) near the church of Notre-Dame-de-Pauvres (now Notre-Dame la Riche, so I guess things have improved in the last thousand years), both very near Tours proper. He and his family appear as vassi dominici, a kind of lower-rank noble, which, for our purposes, means that he and his family were, in a local context, of particularly high status.

Adalmar’s job was the protection and defence of Saint-Martin’s interests. In theory (and here I crib liberally from, among other places, Charles West’s article on the Carolingian advocate), this involved representing the abbey in court, and normative sources specify that an advocate was expected to be learned in the law. Indeed, Adalmar appears in one charter witness list as a legis doctor (‘legal expert’). He wasn’t the only one – charter evidence from contemporary Tours indicates that there was a thriving community of legal experts at this time, including one Amalric legislator who appears several times. The Life of St. Odo of Cluny also claims that his father Abbo knew Roman law, and this may be the same Abbo legislator who appears in a charter witness list from 898.

However, it is very likely that there was a more direct aspect to Adalmar’s advocacy than this. In 892, some of Saint-Martin’s lands were claimed by a man named Patrick, a vassal of the count-abbot of Saint-Martin, Robert of Neustria. Adalmar was able to win possession of the lands from Robert, and was given a dagger (cultellus) by the abbot as a symbol of this, with the words ‘You should have it, because you are their [the brothers of Saint-Martin’s] advocate – and if necessary, you should fight for them’. By my reading, this implies that part of Adalmar’s job was also to enforce legal decisions – to take these knives and force Patrick or his men off the land so the canons of Saint-Martin could reclaim it.

Adalmar was dead by 914, when his heir, Erwig (Hervicus), had taken over his role as advocate. This isn’t necessarily surprising, as advocates were supposed to have strong local ties and other places also provide examples of the position passing from father to son. Erwig, however, did not play the role his father had. He appears as advocatus for the last time in 930, and there’s no evidence that he was involved in the abbey’s lawsuits. In 926, for example, a lengthy dispute in which the brothers tried to reclaim property around Thouars, in northern Aquitaine, was carried out completely without Erwig’s being involved. Part of this may be due to the rise to power within Saint-Martin of Theotolo, dean of the abbey and later archbishop of Tours. Theotolo was associated with contemporary monastic reform movements – he was a schoolfriend of the aforementioned Odo of Cluny, the poster-child of monasteries theoretically immune from lay influence – and it is possible that he belonged to the strain of Church thought which did not believe that the ecclesiastical cases should be heard before lay courts. Evidence from Tours shows that Theotolo made a number of efforts to regain Saint-Martin’s land, all of which involved situations substantially less formal than a formal mallus (court), and none of which involved an advocate.

Erwig himself lived on for a while, and is likely attested for the last time in 957. Whenever he appears, he is either untitled or a vassus, so it’s likely that even if he claimed the role of advocatus, he couldn’t make it stick. His family’s role vis-à-vis Saint-Martin was ephemeral, and flourished only in the brief period between high-political imperatives creating it and developments in ecclesiastical thought rendering it too embarrassing to continue.

11 thoughts on “The Short-Lived Glory Days of Advocacy in Saint-Martin of Tours

  1. Dear Frasier, great blog! i’m working on a paper on advocates – who were important in the East, too, and I did not know very much about Saint-Martin, so thanks for that. Just one little thing: Advocaria, I think, means allowing a person to speak for someone else in court (see Barthélémy, une crise de l`’écrit)


    1. Thanks! It was a bit galling to finish the post, read the word count, and realise ‘hey, I _could_ have got a paper out of this’, but I’m glad it’s helpful. Point taken about _advocaria_ – I thought it unlikely Guy was an ‘advocate’ in the same sense as Adalmar in any case, and this seems to confirm that hunch.


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