Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 1: A Duchy without A Duke, c. 920-936

Lately I’ve been writing up my paper for the ‘Revisiting the Europe of Bishops’ conference at Liverpool that you should all totally come to (although someone appears to have put my name on the list next to the respectable people), the which paper is all about revisiting the career of Bishop Stephen II of Clermont. In the process, though, I’ve discovered two things. The first is that Aquitanian history is really difficult. For all that with Flodoard of Rheims you occasionally need to read between the lines, he at least usually says something about a given year in the north-east of the kingdom; and at least Dudo of Saint-Quentin is reliably weird. The scraps of detail you have to pin together Aquitaine are another matter entirely. Possibly relatedly, the second thing I’ve discovered is that a lot of what’s been written on it is eyebrow-raising. In particular, you can’t take Christian Lauranson-Rosaz’s narrative on trust…* (Of course, you can’t take the one I’m about to propose now and over the next few weeks on trust either; this is explicitly a work-in-progress blog…) The ultimate question is how yer boy Steve got to be at the head of the Auvergnat network of fideles bound together in a community of prayer; but this context is pretty damn tricky. So, this is my attempt to reconstruct it, starting with the decades immediately before Stephen emerges.

So, let’s begin around 920. William the Pious, duke of Aquitaine, has recently died. His nephew William the Younger has taken over, and does a reasonable job of holding on to his uncle’s properties. He dies in 927, and his own brother Acfred takes over as duke, but only for about six months or so, as he dies shortly thereafter.

When exactly this was is the first problem. Our source for William’s death is the Annales of Flodoard, so that’s fairly good evidence; Acfred’s will was issued in October 927. The issue is that Acfred was in rebellion against King Ralph of Burgundy, and dated his will to show it, taking Charles the Simple as the real king and addressing Ralph as a fake. He also appointed Viscount Dalmatius of Brioude as one of his executors. But, Dalmatius had issued a charter in February 927 which was dated after Ralph’s reign. This is a disconnect. My solution: Dalmatius’ charter is misdated to the fourth rather than the fifth year of Ralph’s reign, and Dalmatius only accepted Ralph after Acfred died. So far, so simple.

After Acfred’s death, a lot of historians will tell you that there was a war in Aquitaine between the counts of Poitiers and Toulouse over who got to be duke of Aquitaine. (I read somewhere a suggestion that it might have been an ethnic conflict, which, what on Earth?!) This is not really supported by the sources. Flodoard refers to the ‘quarrelling Aquitanians’ in 931; but this is years after Acfred’s death and – importantly – the year after King Ralph has come down, crushed the Viking forces operating in Aquitaine, and made the Aquitanians submit to him. So I don’t think they’re arguing over some putative ducal succession, but over something else, perhaps Königsnahe. We don’t really know, to be honest. In any case, we have charters from both sides, and neither of them claims to be dux in their own documents. This wasn’t a problem for old-fashioned French historians, who could happily see this as being because the king hadn’t filed the paperwork yet; but given we now know that titulature was largely socially-determined (and, yes, you can parallel this with the title dux), it looks more likely that no-one was claiming to be Duke of Aquitaine, quite possibly because no-one cared – you only need to be ‘duke’ if there’s some reason to do so, after all; and it’s striking that although Acfred called himself dux (‘duke’), William the Younger didn’t.

In any case, there isn’t a duke of Aquitaine recorded until 936, which could be a function of the evidence, but I don’t think it is. Diplomas of Ralph after 931 refer to ‘Count’ Ebalus Manzer of Poitiers and Dalmatius of Brioude as a ‘famous knight’, and Flodoard says that ‘Prince of Gothia’ Raymond III Pons of Toulouse submitted to the king; so I think what happens is that we have three regions, Poitou, Auvergne and the south (Gothia), with only a loose connection between the latter two (Dalmatius intervened in a diploma for an abbey in Gothia). In 936, though, Raymond Pons of Toulouse is in Brioude for the foundation of the abbey of Chanteuges, titled as ‘duke of Aquitaine’. Dalmatius and the Auvergnians are there, but the count of Poitou is not.

f08-priorat_chanteuges-0333
Chanteuges today (source).

Why does Raymond claim the ducal title now? The probable answer has to do with the death of King Ralph. In his thirteen-year reign, a lot of things shifted politically, not least in relation to Aquitaine. William the Pious’ and William the Younger’s duchy, which had major investments in the north and west – Nevers, Bourges, Mâcon – was dismembered by Ralph. The ‘frontier’ between the authority of Raymond Pons (or, more practically, Dalmatius of Brioude) and everyone else is now a lot further south and east than it used to be. Ralph claimed Mâcon and Nevers, and the Robertians seem to have taken over suzerainty in a lot of northern Berry.  Now, moreover, the new king, Louis IV, has the Robertian ruler of Neustria Hugh the Great as his main support – basically his puppet-master, although this state of affairs won’t last for very long – and Hugh has claimed a new title, duke of the Franks, dux Francorum, which he alleges gives him a vice-regal position throughout the entire kingdom.

Mostly, I think that Raymond’s claim of the title of ‘duke of Aquitaine’ is defensive, a response to Hugh’s claim of being ‘duke of the Franks’ – he might be duke of the Franks, but he ain’t duke of the Aquitanians, he ain’t vice-regal in the kingdom of the Aquitanians, and he ain’t better than Raymond Pons of Toulouse.

On the other hand, there may be an element of opportunity. Things are in flux. This presents a practical threat to Raymond – it’s possible that figures in Transjurane Burgundy are nibbling around the edges of the Velay at this time – but it also presents an opportunity. The agglomeration of territory ruled by Ralph of Burgundy and before him his father Richard the Justiciar was a recent and wobbly creation, and there are hints than on Ralph’s death it started disintegrating. (But that’s another post!) Here, claiming the ducal title might enable Raymond to push his power outwards into the recently-lost western regions. Whether or not he actually did this… well, I think there are hints he might have done, but this is already over a thousand words, that’s including breaking the Burgundian crisis of c. 936 into another post, and we’re still a decade off of Bishop Steve. So I’ll stop here, and we’ll get back to this next time.

*Pleasingly, the late Professor Lauranson-Rosaz put large amounts of his work, including his big book, online at his Academia.edu page, which you can find through the link; so if you want to find what I’m reacting to, it’s there.

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13 thoughts on “Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 1: A Duchy without A Duke, c. 920-936

    1. Thank you! I had already found your PhD, actually; I was looking for something to refute Kuefler’s (rather silly) arguments about the _Vita Geraldi_ and it came up. And yes, whilst I still have my issues with some of what Brunterc’h says, his article on Acfred’s succession in particular is extremely useful.

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  1. It’s great you work about Aquitania of tenth century. I can give you some other arguments againts Kuefler, but i don’t want to make that on the web. So if you want, email me

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