Source Translation: Unknown Knowns In Eleventh-Century Compiègne

It’s a busy couple of weeks ahead, so this post and the next will be translated sources rather than anything more substantial. This week, though, it fits neatly with how things have turned out at work… You see, over the weekend, I was reading one of the handful of surviving charters from tenth- and eleventh-century Soissons, and came up with this gem (text here):

 In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, holy and indivisible Trinity. We wish it to be known to all of the faithful that the holy church of God at Compiègne, which was founded by Emperor Charles [the Bald] and his successors and superbly enriched from their benefices, was consecrated by the holy John [VIII], the Supreme Pontiff and Roman pope, and seventy bishops, and ennobled with privileges such that anyone who presumed through violence to take away or steal anything would be without any doubt struck by anathema and incur apostolic damnation and the displeasure of the terrible Judge.

But later, as times and customs changed, wicked men arose, whose violence erupted into such madness that not only did they not give thanks to God for the benefices given to them, they gave themselves over to pride and abused God’s goodness and patience. Rising against God’s holy church, they oppressed God’s servants and laid waste church estates until finally, completely mixing up right and wrong, they would think little of any anathema. Whence it happened that the incursions of the evildoers grew crueller as time went on, and a certain allod named Cappy, which King Charles had given to the same church – the gift of which had been confirmed by his own hand in the privileges of the same church – was ripped away from the aforesaid church of Compiègne by the violence of certain princes, and remained utterly lost to the church for the course of many years.

Cappy, with Péronne and Compiègne also visible

But by the favour of God’s clemency, there arose amongst the successors to the princes of Péronne one, named Odo, son of Robert, a very devout Christian, who was splendidly elevated to the principality of Péronne. Since he clasped the aforesaid church to the bosom of his heart with worship and reverence, when he heard that certain parts of the aforesaid allod were, by ancient custom, named ‘the fields of Saint Cornelius’ by the inhabitants and neighbours, inspired by the Lord, he did not neglect to come to the aforesaid church of Compiègne. Rereading there the privileges in the presence of certain clerics who had come with him, he learned without any ambiguity that Cappy pertained to the church of Compiègne. When this was done, since – although unknowingly- he had learned that until that point he was subject to anathema, he humbly implored the brothers of the church that they should forgive him. After he had procured indulgence and absolution from the merciful brothers serving in the same church, he restored certain parts of the said allod to the church.

When this had been done, the brothers of the same church restored to him the same parts which, as we said, he had restored to the church, on the condition that, each year, as long as he lived, he should pay twelve solidi to the canons of the church of Compiègne as rest on the feast of Saints Cornelius and Cyprian. After his death, the brothers of the church of Compiègne should hold a memorial on the anniversary of his death; and on that anniversary day, his successors should always pay those twelve solidi to the brothers of the church of Compiègne without any delay or any change in the established date. He also agreed that if any of his men who held any of the aforesaid land should wish to restore that same land which they held into the authority of the aforesaid church, he would praise and confirm that restitution as being fixed and firm. And that this institution might endure firm and undivided, he commanded this precept and this subscription be made, which he confirmed with his own hand and the impression of his seal, and made fixed and firm under an anathema.

Enacted at Péronne, in the 1091st year of the Incarnate Word of God, in the fourteenth indiction.

Sign of Odo, lord of Péronne. Sign of Lucy, his wife. S. Dean Andrew. S. Stephen the treasurer. S. Gillan the chancellor. S. Fulk the cantor. S. Castellan Odo. S. Efred of Ancre [modern Albert]. S. Gerard. S. Mainer. S. Roger. S. Odo. S. Albert. S. Drogo. S. Roric of Ancre.

The names of the canons of Compiègne who were present: S. Willibert the priest. S. Canon Hezelin. S. Canon Robert. S. Canon Guy.

There are a few interesting things here. The first is that the little account of the house’s history at the start is about as stereotypical as it gets – it shows up in a royal diploma of the same time about something entirely different. It’s also gainsaid by the charter itself, because what really interests me about this document is how the canons of Compiègne don’t seem to have been particularly concerned about enforcing the rights they nominally possessed. It’s only, apparently, when a particularly devoted lord of the area, Odo, overhears some farmers talking about the fields of Compiègne’s patron saint Cornelius that anyone feels motivated to go and dig in the archives to see whether or not the abbey actually has any claim to the land (based on the seminar I was at today, modern scholars are still sometimes surprised by discoveries you can make talking to local farmers). The local inhabitants, equally, preserved a connection between Cappy and Saint Cornelius, but seemingly didn’t associate this with Compiègne’s lordship.

Compiègne before the French Revolution (source)

It looks rather as though the canons didn’t actually want the land all that much. Cappy is a ways away from Compiègne, but right next door to Péronne, so may have been difficult to keep control of. Notice how Odo keeps the land, but pays a reasonably-significant rent (census) for it – this looks rather like the canons thought it was better to have a powerful regional lord in their debt than to control a few fields of land which fell largely within someone else’s sphere of influence (which makes a good deal of sense when phrased like that). Some rights were more useful in abeyance.


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