Source Translation: The 829 Council of Paris on Kingship

Council of Paris 829 on Kingship

You know, it’s just not the same without the big chunk of text above whatever I’m writing. In this case, though, the passage was just too damn long to legitimately work in the usual format. What you’ll find if you click the finely-crafted hyperlink above is an English translation of Book 2, Chapters 1-5 of the 829 Council of Paris, an intensely important source of norms about how Carolingian kings were supposed to be.

And, my God, this was a thrill. I’m a tenth-century man, you all know that, but translating this source… Well, I felt like a seventeenth-century Highland sheep farmer going to London, overwhelmed by the riches. At the very least, it’s given me more insight into all of you ninth-century types.

As you know if you’ve got this far, there’s a lot to say here, but most of it is my actual research and so I guarantee it’ll come up again later. One thing which isn’t, really, so I can talk about now, is something the source doesn’t focus on, but which is in there, and which fits in nicely with my previously-documented views on Carolingian dynasticism. What these passages do is provide an idea of how the situation we seem to see in the Carolingian kingdoms, where kingship is in practice hereditary but in theory very easily not.

When it talks about fathers being succeeding by their sons, notice that it doesn’t talk about kingship descending because of the right of the sons, but due to the moral qualities of the father. A son who follows his father does so not because he has the crown by hereditary right, but as an expression of the successful rule of this father. What this justifies is a situation where father-son succession is key (because refusing the son would undermine the whole system by saying that the previous king was no king at all, but a tyrant) but family rights are not. (It’s striking that you start getting the first non-Carolingian kings at a time when the ‘father’ is Louis the Stammerer, who is notoriously a bit useless; maybe calling him a bad king was felt to be more palatable than Charles the Bald or Louis the German…) This then explains why so few people seem to care all that much when non-Carolingians spring up everywhere in 888: because father-son succession has until now been a fact, not a principle; and because in principle, kings are derived from doing right not from blood.

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