Source Translations: Hugh the Abbot and Roman Freedoms

Another new feature! I do a lot of translation, so some of it may as well get polished up and put here for the benefit of other people. To kick things off, a charter of 885, in which the prominent nobleman Hugh the Abbot, in his capacity as abbot of Saint-Aignan of Orléans, makes a cleric named Reginald free, not so much because I have a great deal to say about it, but more because, well, it’s really odd. (Original text here.)

While the most Christian and religious Emperor Louis [the Pious], by the helping aid of celestial protection invincible Augustus, was earnestly improving the holy mother Church, among other efforts of his holy devotion he supported it regarding the very aberrant and reprehensible practice, which seemed for the most part to blacken its reputation, to wit, that people of servile and unfree (originariae) condition had until that point been carrying out sacred and divine ministry against the canonical statutes. By a precept of his authority, they were beaten away from it; and with the consent of his pontiffs and grandees, he took care to establish that thereafter when men of this sort of background were found suitably useful to the Church, they should be rescued from the bonds of servitude and promoted to a suitable condition. The venerable descendant of the same emperor, the invincible King Charles [the Bald], agreed to honour the holy Church of God in equal measure.

Therefore I, in the name of God, Hugh, by the mercy of the Lord abbot of the church of the most glorious confessor of Christ Anianus, in accordance with the precept of the said most pious Augustus, leading you, Reginald the cleric, born of the familia of the same Saint Anianus, that is, from the villa of Achères, before the holy altar and into the presence of the brothers of Saint-Aignan, by the pleasure of the same brothers, at the request of Archbishop Adalald [of Tours], who holds the said villa of Achères in benefice, publicly absolve you from the chains of servitude, for love of our lord Jesus Christ, to whose soldiery you were chosen. I establish you as a Roman citizen, so that from this point, by Christ’s favour, existing under your own right and power, you might thus live as a free man and Roman citizen, as if you had been born of free parents; and owe no injurious service to Us or Our successors. Rather, you should remain during your lifetime in the full and complete freedom which you are worthy of accepting due to the dignity of the sacred order; so that, having been rescued through this absolution from the fetters of servitude to which your birth has until now made you liable, you might, with the Lord’s help, be able to more freely and securely serve divine power. And so, in order that the title of this absolution, venerably celebrate for the veneration of worship, might for all time obtain firm vigour, We strengthened it below with Our own hand, and We determined it should be witnesses by the most noble clergy of Saint-Aignan.

S. Abbot Hugh. S. Archbishop Adalald. S. Waramund. S. Emmo. S. David. S. Martin. S. Solomon. S. Gozbert.

Given on the 3rd Nones of December [03/12], in the 1st year of the reign of Emperor Charles [885].

Hopefully that should be fairly clear. Earlier Carolingian kings (and this charter was composed during the reign of Charles the Fat, grandson of Louis the Pious and nephew of Charles the Bald, who was from the East Frankish branch of the family, so there may be a dynastic agenda here) thought that it simply wouldn’t do to have the unfree carrying out divine service, because it dishonoured the church that its priest were not free men.  Consequently, they agreed that if any unfree person was found who would make a good priest, they should be given the status of a free person so that they could profit the Church without hurting its reputation. As such Hugh, with the permission of Archbishop Adalald, the current possessor of the estate where Reginald lives, grants him freedom so that he can carry out his priestly duties more effectively.

Saint-Aignan today, from Wikipedia

What interests me most about this is that this is expressed in terms of granting Roman citizenry. Documents of enfranchisement are not unknown from this period, but it’s never phrased this way. Roman identity, indeed, is not supposed to have been that important during this period – isn’t the desirable identity that of the free Frank? There are a couple of indicators, mostly from Aquitaine, that the idea of the ‘law of Roman citizens’ was still a going concern in some people’s thought worlds, but quite what prompted Hugh and/or his scribe to decide to phrase this in such a classicising manner, I have no idea…

6 thoughts on “Source Translations: Hugh the Abbot and Roman Freedoms

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