Capetian Kingship and Neustrian Tradition

So back when I was puzzling over the caritas-prologue in the diplomas of Robert the Pious, I mentioned off-handedly that I disagreed with Geoffrey Koziol’s theory about Robert’s use of the cross monogram; and given the topic’s fairly interesting, I thought I might discuss it further today.

First of all, what’s a monogram? Well, it’s this*:


That is, a visual symbol of a ruler’s name, made as a sign of their authority.  Here, for instance, we have a diploma and a coin of Charles the Bald, and you can see the Latin form of his name – Karolus – here, the K on the right, and the thing in the middle acting as AO, and U. These things are very common under the Carolingians, and for much of the tenth century they look like this:


Under Robert the Pious, however, the form changes to look like this:

Robertus; note the longer arms

Geoff argues in this article** (which includes prettier pictures, such as can be found here) that this change is a very personal one for Robert, reflecting his particular devotion to Christ’s holy Cross; an innovation in his kingship and deriving from the very particular context of his reign. And sure, it is a new innovation in terms of Frankish kingship, but not, I would argue, a novel expression of Robert’s authority. Rather, it appears to me more likely that it’s an amalgamation of a very long-standing tradition of Neustrian rulership into Robert’s kingship.

As long-time readers will know, Robert the Pious came from the so-called Robertian family, who had been rulers of the Neustrian March in western France for much of the tenth century. One peculiarity of Neustria was that lay abbots in the region (such as Robert’s family) sign charters with the signum sanctae crucis (the sign of the Holy Cross), as it’s usually expressed. I can find examples of this in a Neustrian context back to the early ninth century; and, moreover, I can’t find it outside Neustria, at least not in the regions of the West Frankish kingdom I know the evidence for – no Aquitanian or Burgundian parallels here.

Signing charters with the sign of the Cross, by the mid-tenth century, was one of the few visible markers of Robertian status they didn’t share with other Neustrian magnates. It’s a consistent, if low-key, part of the visual repertoire of their authority: they sign with the Cross because they’re just that little bit closer to God than everyone else. What I think is happening in Robert’s reign, then, is that this Neustrian tradition of the sign of the Cross is mixed with that of the royal monogram, not so much putting Robert’s personal mark on Frankish kingship as a wider Neustrian one. After all, when the non-royal Robertians became the royal Capetians, they inherited a lot of Carolingian traditions of how to be a king – but they had their own century-long tradition of rulership as well; and this particular example is a nice little case of how that influenced earlier Capetian kingship as well as the flashier traditions of the descendants of Charlemagne.

(This does of course raise questions about timing, such as why Hugh Capet didn’t do it, and why it took Robert until 1019 to start, which I need to think on; but that will wait until another day.)

*So it turns out I can’t do my usual trick of putting image sources in the captions, so I’ll put them here instead:

Diploma of Charles the Bald 

Coin of Charles the Bald

Diploma of Charles the Simple

Diploma of Ralph of Burgundy

Diploma of Louis IV

Diploma of Lothar

Diploma of Robert the Pious

**Which I actually really like, for the record; I just happen to think he’s wrong about this specific point.


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