Source Translation: A Royal Privilege of Free Election

Hello readers. I meant to post something about my research today, I really did; I realised last week that the last time I actually posted directly about it was over a month ago. However, my time at the minutes is taken up with finishing everything I need to do in Brussels before I move to Germany, which would be fine except it turns out that the last bit of writing that’s got to be finished before the end of this month is really hard, you guys. With that in mind, here’s a translated source that I’m using for that very piece, a diploma of Best King Ever Charles the Simple, issued in 913 to the Church of Trier, granting them the right to freely elect their bishops.

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity and singular Godhead. Charles, by the preordination of divine providence, glorious king. Since the whole body of God’s holy Church should be cared for by priestly oversight and administration and royal tutelage, and since royal majesty ought to be of one mind with the ministers of the Lord, We judge it equitable to proffer assent to the petitions of Our pontiffs, beseeching Us concerning churchly business, by whose prayers We believe that We and the state of Our realm are ceaselessly supported. Therefore, let the industry of all who follow the Christian religion and Our faithful men, present and future, know that Ratbod, the venerable metropolitan of the holy see of Trier, and Our archchaplain, providing for and mindful of the welfare of the church committed to him in future like a provident and good shepherd, asked Our Highness that We might conceded a privilege of Our authority to his see concerning episcopal elections after his death. Freely acquiescing to his pious petition, out of respect for the divine and reverence of the blessed Peter, and due to his love and faithfulness, We commanded this privilege of Our present letters be made, earnestly commanding and sanctioning with the inviolable stability of perpetual firmness that after the death of this bishop, whomsoever the clergy and people of Trier might by common consent elect from amongst the very sons of the same Church should be given to them, by God’s favour, as bishop without contradiction from any party; nor might they be compelled against their will and against canonical authority to receive as a pastor any person they have not chosen. And if, perchance, which We little believe will come to pass, no-one suitable can be found in that church, who is worthy of being given up to an honour of this kind, let an election not be denied to them thereby and Our privilege broken, but rather let them receive from royal majesty whomsoever else they might wish to elect. If it should come to pass, moreover (as is seen to have happened recently in the election of certain bishops) that the votes of the electors are divided, let royal authority favour the part of him on whom the clergy and the men of better intention agree, those who are proven to pursue God’s cause and the salvation of the Lord’s flock, and let the one so chosen be established over them as bishop in accordance with their election. And that this authority of Our privilege might in God’s name obtain firmer vigour of everlasting stability through all times to come, and be inviolably conserved by Our successors, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be marked with the impression of Our seal.

Sign of the most serene king, lord Charles.

Gozlin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the ides of August (i.e. the 13th) in the 1st indiction, in the 21st year of the reign of the most glorious king Charles, in the 16th of his renewal, in the 2nd of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at Thionville. Happily in the name of God, amen.

(I actually have no idea what the reference to contentious elections in other sees is referring to. The ongoing disputes over the bishopric of Strasbourg in the 900s and 910s, maybe?)

trier_dom_bw_1
Trier Cathedral today (source)

The writing style here is a little unusual; like many contemporary diplomas for the Church of Trier, it appears to have been written by that church’s writing staff, with less involvement by royal personnel. Nonetheless, there’s an intriguing sign here of attitudes to royal involvement in episcopal elections. There was a simmering dispute in the ninth century about whether or not royal involvement should be active or passive; that is, whether or not the royal power actually played a role in making a bishop a bishop or whether it simply removed itself as an obstacle. Men such as Florus of Lyon and Hincmar of Rheims (the latter of whom said ‘kings only agree, they don’t elect’) argued at one time or another for the latter, but over time it is clear that the former position removed competition.

This is neatly illustrated by this charter. Compared to other, earlier, diplomas granting similar rights, Charles actually gives up more power – usually, for instance, kings reserve the right to pick someone if no-one suitable can be found within the recipient church; here, it is specified that Trier can pick anyone, even if from outside Trier itself. However, it also rhetorically emphasises the role of kings more: royal authority and royal majesty play an active part as agents, even if what this might involve in practice has probably not changed all that much. The difference is that here and now, it is being perceived as being much more active and participating much more directly. This, I think, is a key part of that specifically-late-Carolingian political culture that we’ve discussed here before, and it would go on to have knock-on effects that would reach for centuries – but that is perhaps something for another time…

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