Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 2

We’ve already covered the first half of the #top10charters list I put up on Facebook a couple of months ago; so without any further ado, let’s get on with the second half!

No. 5: Robert of Neustria to Saint-Martin of Tours, 892.

‘I’m supposed to steal the property of Saint-Martin and the brothers and hurt my soul for three shields?’

Roman Deutinger is sceptical of the authenticity of this charter. I’m not: his reasons basically boil down to ‘it’s weird, and it doesn’t look like a trial record’, to which I would respond ‘it’s not that weird, and that’s because it isn’t one’. It’s a notice wherein the brother of Saint-Martin and advocate Adalmar of whom we have spoken go and get some land of Saint-Martin of their abbot Robert; it’s interesting institutionally, and it’s got some nice echoes of personality in it.

No. 4: Richard the Fearless to Saint-Denis, 968.

‘Wherefore let the provident industry of both peoples, to wit, the Franks and the Normans, know…’

This is the foundational document of Norman identity. I’d write more about it, but as it happens I’ve already done that at length elsewhere, so you can read that if this interests you.

No. 3: Louis IV to Saint-Remi of Rheims, 953.

‘…the most blessed bishop, who was specially bestowed by God on Our royal bloodline as a pastor and patron…’

The middle of the tenth century was a crucial time of change for West Frankish kingship. Briefly, after about 920 everything went to hell and stayed there for about thirty years. It took Louis IV his entire reign, quite a lot of desperate improvisation, and in the end the help of some absolutely vast Ottonian armies to establish his throne on solid ground, and when he did so its ideological basis was distinctly different. Key here was the see of Rheims, and this charter exemplifies that, drawing links between the Carolingian bloodline (which is otherwise unusual), the patron saint of Rheims, Remigius, and the office of king.

It also has links to a diploma of Otto I issued at around the same time, linking the three protagonists – Carolingians, Ottonians, and the see of Rheims – together in an ideological framework which reinforces the hegemonic role of the Ottonian kings in stabilising West Frankish kingship.

No. 2: Charles the Simple to Saint-Denis, 917.

‘…similarly let them carry out my memorial, and memorial of my dead wife Frederuna…’

Rather like no. 4, I’ve already written about this elsewhere. Suffice to say, it is the greatest love story of the entire century.

No. 1: Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours to Bourgueil, 995.

‘…and unless he repents, let him join Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and those who followed them as persecutors of martyrs in the eternal fires of Gehenna’

Coming from the same tradition as number 6, this charter, purely and simply, validates my whole approach to these documents, by proving that questions of legitimacy mattered enough to fight over, and being one of the view direct responses to ideological claims by lay magnates. That legitimacy mattered should, you’d think, be self-evident, but apparently not: I have been told, by a senior scholar as well, that no-one in the tenth century cared about legitimating their power because they were all bloodthirsty warlords who only spoke the guttural tongue of violence.

But no! The situation here is fairly simple. Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, and Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours were fighting for dominance of Brittany. In the year 992, Fulk had fought a battle with Count Conan of Rennes at a place called Conquereuil, and massacred him and his army. This was a big deal – killing Christians was never seen as a good thing, and was increasingly frowned on at this time. Thus, when, two years later, Fulk’s castle at Langeais was besieged by Conan’s patron Odo, before setting off to defend it, Fulk issued a charter ‘in penitence for the exceedingly great slaughter of Christians which happened on the plain at Conquereuil’, evidently issued in order to gain divine favour before the siege.

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The author explaining all this at the tenth-century donjon of Langeais, which still survives. 

The siege of Langeais lasted for some time, beginning in or around May or June and continuing into the next year. Things got desperate for Fulk, sufficiently desperate that he offered to surrender to Odo. These terms, as recorded in the history of Richer of Rheims, were humiliating: Fulk offered to pay compensation for the death of Odo’s ally Conan of Rennes, to give service to Odo, and to pledge his son to Odo’s service. However, news reached Fulk that reinforcements were coming, and he withdrew the terms. After this, and almost certainly in response to it, Odo issued this charter.

In it, there is one key clause in the charter which demonstrates that the siege of Langeais was an ideological as well as a literal battleground (slide 27). Odo threatens violators of his grant thusly: ‘let him be associated in the flames of eternal gehenna with Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and their followers as persecutors of martyrs.’ This formula is unique in tenth-century France, and it is a directly and unsubtle attack on Fulk Nerra: Fulk was a killer of Christians, Fulk was an insincere penitent, Fulk would not get the salvation he claimed.

The greatest princes of tenth-century France, then, were sufficiently concerned about justifying their rule to go beyond simple school-bully tactics. They developed and contested ideological claims, going beyond simple coercion to develop strategies of legitimacy which not only existed, but mattered. For Odo, denying Fulk the moral high ground was as important as denying him the literal high ground.

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