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.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s