Source Translation: The Spectrum of Kingship in Ninth-Century Brittany

And we’re back. Hello everyone, happy 2017, hope your new year hasn’t had as many onrushing deadlines as mine has. This week, I want to show you a Breton charter from 869. It’s a long ‘un, but a good ‘un. The scenario: Salomon, ruler of Brittany, is giving a grant to the abbey of Redon, on the borderline between Breton-speaking Brittany and the former Frankish province of Nantes, now under Breton rule. The charter goes as follows (and I’ve experimented in this translation with using a slightly more formal register, which may or may not work…):

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Salomon, by grace of God, prince [princeps] of the whole of Brittany and a great part of the Gauls.

Be it known unto all of Brittany, as well bishops as priests and all the clergy, and also besides counts and other noble leaders [duces] and mighty warriors [milites] and all those subject to Our dominion, that the venerable abbot Ritcand, with certain of his monks, though yet bringing the petition of all the others, approached Our presence, in my monastery which is in Plélan, in which place I had aforetime held my court.  Yet under the threat of the Northmen, Abbot Conwoion, carrying the prayer of his monks, approached Us and Our venerable spouse Gwenvred, and sought not once nor even twice a place of refuge for him and his monks in the face of the Northmen. Proffering assent to them, We not only gave unto them the aforesaid hall, but also ordered be built from Our public goods in the same place a monastery by no means base in honour of the holy Redeemer, as a refuge for the aforesaid monks, to gain a heavenly inheritance and the redemption of our souls, and forsooth for the present and everlasting prosperity of Our offspring, and all Our realm, and for the most peaceable steadfastness [stabilitas] of Our fideles; which place also We wished to name ‘Salomon’s monastery’.

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The Cartulary of Redon, in which this charter is preserved (image source)

Therein even now Abbot Conwoion lies interred, and Our venerable spouse Gwenvred too rests honourably interred; and therein I as well, by the counsel of the nobles of Brittany, both priests and laymen, vowed to have my body buried, should the most pious clemency of God deign to grant it me. And, for the increase of the joy and peace of all Brittany, I had the most holy Maxentius, the greatest gift passed unto Us by God, placed therein, a thing the like of which was unheard of amongst Our people in times past [OR: a man who had not been heard of as coming amongst Our people in times past], to Aquitaine’s sorrow and Brittany’s light, praise, and honour.

And then, coming to this place on the 15th Kalends of May [17th April], the day of the Resurrection of our Saviour, to pray to the holy Redeemer and the venerable Maxentius, I bestowed on the aforesaid holy Redeemer and Saint Maxentius and the aforesaid monks other gifts from Our treasury which were with me, as much as pleased Our inclination at that time, to gain the Kingdom of God and for the redemption of Our soul and the stability of the realm. That is:

  • a golden chalice of fine gold, made with marvellous workmanship, having 333 gems, costing 10 pounds [libras] and 1 shilling [solidus]; and its paten, having 145 gems, costing 7 and a half pounds;
  • and the text of the Gospels, with wonderfully-made golden cover, costing 8 pounds and having 120 gems;
  • and a great golden cross, of wonderful workmanship, weighing 23 pounds and having 370 gems;
  • and one case [capsa] wonderfully carved from Indian ivory, and – which is more precious – full of most splendid relics of the saints;
  • a precious priestly chasuble, chequered on the outside and interwoven with gold [extrinsecus interstinctae {sic} ex auro cooperatam], which my godfather [compater], the most pious king of the Franks Charles [the Bald], sent to me as a great gift – for such it is;
  • and a pallium of wonderful size to go over the saint’s body;
  • and, to cap the wonders, and in sooth by the virtue of Saint Maxentius, sent, by God’s providence, before his dispatch to Brittany, I acquired for that holy helper a Gospel-book honourably bound in gold and ivory;
  • and moreover a sacramentary [liber sacramentorum] covered in Indian ivory, then and now intended for the saint;
  • and another book decorated in silver and gold within and without;
  • and a Life of Saint Maxentius composed in prose and poetry, and containing a Life of the holy martyr Leodegar;
  • to say nothing of other gifts which I had already given beforehand, that is, an altar fashioned of silver and gold;
  • and a cross made of silver on one side and having on the other side the image of the Saviour made of the finest gold and gems;
  • and another little cross made of gold and gems;
  • and two priestly vestments;
  • and precious changeant;
  • and 3 cloaks of wondrous size.

That same day, the aforesaid Abbot Ritcand, coming with his monks, besought Us that We might deign by royal custom to receive under Our defence whatsoever Our ancestors, that is, Nominoë and Erispoë, had given, and also what I myself had given, and what other good and noble men, each in accordance with his measure, had given or would give to the holy Redeemer and the monks serving in the aforesaid monasteries [i.e. both Redon and Plélan] under the Rule of Saint Benedict; and for this We would surely be made in addition a sharer in the alms of all the said people. They also sought that We should grant to them whatever was received by Our dominion from their men and from the abbey of Saint-Sauveur [Redon], as well from dependant peasants [coloni] as from serfs and freemen [ingenui] dwelling on their land, from both meadows and woods and waters as much as from forests, in return for a hundred-fold reward in the life eternal.

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What Redon abbey looks like now; the buildings are mostly twelfth-century (image source)

Favouring their petition, by the counsel of Our nobles, We, to gain the Kingdom of God and for the redemption of my soul and my relatives and sons, and for the stability of the whole Brittanic realm, released unto them wholly and entirely as much as is owed to me and my men from their abbey, both from the upkeep of horses and dogs [pastu caballorum et canum] and from messenger service [angariis] and all dues, and thus I give and transfer it from my dominion to their power, such that whatever was received for Our advantage should thereafter all benefit their advantages and the brothers’ stipends, so that the monks might delight to pray to more joyfully and devotedly exhort the mercy of the Lord for Our salvation and that of the Christian people. We forbid that no-one should after this day presume to disturb them over this matter in Our times or those to come.

We also establish and command that any cause or quarrel concerning the monks or their men which was not aired against them or their men in the time of Abbot Conwoion should never be aired; and should anyone endeavour to receive any toll or census or any render from their men carrying out their business whether by sea or on land or on any river; rather, let everything profit the advantages of the aforesaid monks.

This was done in the pagus called Poutrocoët, in Plélan, in the aforesaid monastery which is called Salomon’s monastery, on the 15th Kalends of May [17th April], on Sunday, on the 1st day of the lunar cycle, in the 2nd indiction, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 869.

Salomon, prince of all Brittany, who gave this donation and asked it be confirmed, witnessed. Abbot Ritcand, who acceped, witnessed. Riwallon and Wicon, sons of the aforesaid Salomon, witnessed. Ratvili, bishop of Alet, witnessed. Pascwethen witnessed. Bran witnessed. Nominoë, son of Bodwan, witnessed. Ronwallon, son of Bescan, witnessed. Drehoiarn witnessed. Iaruocon, his son, witnessed. Ratfred witnessed. Tanetherht witnessed. Hinwalart witnessed. Catworeth witnessed. Hetruiarn witnessed. Sidert witnessed. Trethian witnessed. Kenmarhoc witnessed. Guethenoc witnessed. Arvidoe witnessed. Salutem witnessed. Hedrewedoe witnessed. Hidran witnessed. Gleudalan witnessed. Koledoc witnessed. Balandu witnessed. Tenior witnessed. Arthnou witnessed. Eucant witnessed. Woran witnessed. Gleu witnessed. Chourant witnessed. Abbot Ronwallon witnessed. Judhocar the priest witnessed. Bili the cleric witnessed. Conwoion the cleric witnessed. Haelican the priest witnessed. Egreval the priest witnessed. Richard the priest witnessed.

There are several interesting things to note here, but the one I’d going to concentrate on is that Salomon is, basically, putting on airs. This charter takes many of its forms from Carolingian royal diplomas – the invocation of the holy and indivisible Trinity, the address clause (‘be it known’), the way Abbot Ritcand humbly approaches Salomon, the fact Salomon acts ‘by royal custom’, the way he forbids his men from taking revenues from abbatial land (a clause taken from an actual Carolingian diploma issued for Redon by Charles the Bald); all this is very much biting Carolingian style.

Thing is, Salomon’s kingship is a bit up-in-the-air. Sometimes, he is called a rex – a king; other times, he is a dux or (as in this case) a princeps. Sometimes, indeed, he’s both a king and not a king in the same charter. Of course, this needn’t necessarily mean that he’s less a king – the current king of Spain, for instance, is also duke of Milan, representing the fact that, historically, the kings of Spain were also dukes of Milan. The royal title doesn’t lose meaning because of the ducal one.

However, Salomon is not a modern monarch, but an early medieval one, and things are a bit different there. This charter is a good example of that – the scribe borrows some but not all of the features of a royal diploma. Carolingian kings, for instance, don’t have witness lists. Could the scribe have left out the witness list? Sure: evidently Salomon’s royal status wasn’t seen as sufficiently convincing that simply assuming wholesale the features of Carolingian kingship was a viable move. Salomon is a kind of quasi-king, assuming some but not all of the attributes of kingship.

In a Breton context, this makes sense: in 869, Breton monarchy was a relatively new idea. Before the time of Charlemagne (and here I repeat the arguments of Caroline Brett), most references to Breton rulership, at least in the eighth century, refer to multiple, unnamed rulers, implying a situation where the Bretons were ruled by many chiefs rather than one king. The transition to a situation under which Brittany was ruled by only one ruler appears to have happened under Frankish pressure, and at least in part with Frankish collusion – Nominoë, the most important sole ruler of the Bretons, was actually set up by the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious in the early ninth century. Breton monarchy was new, and it was also unstable. Salomon had murdered Nominoë’s son Erispoë to get the throne and would in turn be murdered about five years after this charter was issued. Under such circumstances, it makes sense that his political presentation might involve a degree of caution.

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He still got canonised, though, because that’s how nationalism works (image source)

There are other things that could be said about this charter – the significance of books as gifts to the saints, the amount of moveable wealth Salomon can draw on, the fact he has the effrontery to try and gain the benefits of the alms given to Redon by Erispoë, the man he murdered. Still, in the name of not testing your patience, I’ll stop here. Next week, a research post on violence and the tenth-century.

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