Which Ralph? Italy, Provence and the Succession to Louis the Blind

Happy New Year, y’all. Apologies for the delay in blogging – I had meant to start yesterday, but I’ve been polishing off an article for the proceedings of the Power of the Bishop conference I went to last year, and between that and the Humboldt Lecture I’m supposed to be giving at the start of February, things are fairly hectic. It’s a shame, because what I really want to be doing is tapping away at writing a detailed narrative history of post-Carolingian France (well, that and working my way through a) Adhemar of Chabannes and b) the charter evidence from Limoges). But I’m putting in the odd hour on it here and there, and at the moment I’m writing about the year 928. 928 is an important year, once again because of a succession crisis (I am finding, a bit, that you can write the entire history of the century as one succession crisis after another). Specifically, the death of Louis the Blind, emperor and king of Provence, in June of that year.

This is an issue for me, because I hardly ever go that far south-east, and because Italian history is largely a closed book to me. But because it’s clear that King Ralph gets involved in the transfer of power in the region to – well, that’s one of the questions – it behoves me to get involved. And I’ve got a question about Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, which hopefully someone can answer for me, and the question is this. In Antapodosis 3.48, Liutprand describes how the Italians ‘sent for Rodulfus in Burgundia’; whereupon Hugh of Arles, king of Italy since 923 and old right-hand man of Louis the Blind, promised him all the land he had in Gaul in return for a promise that Rodulfus wouldn’t interfere in Italy ever again.

Historians are, as far as I can tell, almost unanimous in dating this to around 933, largely because it comes in the text after a description of Hugh of Arles’ expulsion from Rome, which according to Flodoard happened around this time, and his granting the march of Tuscany to his brother Boso, which happened shortly before 931. Equally unanimous is the opinion that the Rodulfus in question is Rudolf II, king of Transjurane Burgundy: Rudolf had been an active contestant to be king in Italy for several years, and the deal described by Liutprand seems to explain how Provence ended up under Burgundian rule. But, there are some issues here, at least if we follow Janet Nelson (who isn’t concerned with this story and brings them up quite separately): first, Burgundian rule in Provence appears to be, in practice, several decades later. Second, Rudolf may have given up his claims to rule in Italy years earlier, in 926. Third (and this is me), the Italians had kicked Rudolf out only a few years previously. I know Italian politics is turbulent, but is it that turbulent?

Here’s another story. The Rodulfus and Burgundia aren’t Rudolf and Transjurane Burgundy, but Ralph (which is the same name as Rudolf) of West Francia and ducal Burgundy. A faction of Italians invited him to be king as the closest living already-royal relative of their one-time ruler Louis the Blind (his first cousin), and Hugh of Arles bought him off with a grant of land which is the same as Flodoard records in 928.

This story also has problems. First, it requires Liutprand to have made an error. Evidently, this is not so implausible – in the aforementioned story about the Romans expelling Hugh of Arles, he makes it sound as though the local bigwig did it with the Pope’s help rather than (according to Flodoard) imprisoning him. Plus, Rudolfus and Burgundia could well be quite confusing without other qualifiers. But still, it’s an issue. Second, the 928 grant of land Flodoard describes is the land of ‘the whole province of Vienne’ being given not directly to Ralph but to the son of Count Heribert II of Vermandois; whereas Liutprand describes Hugh giving Rodulfus ‘all the land he had in Gaul’. This could be poetic license (if ‘province of Vienne’ means ‘ecclesiastical province’ rather than just ‘region of’, it’s not actually that much poetic license), but it’s another issue.

It also fits oddly into the political context. On one hand, it explains why Ralph isn’t in the north of the West Frankish kingdom for the whole of 929 – he’s dealing with matters in the south which are a bit more important, trying and (eventually) failing to assert himself in the region. It also explains why so many diplomas in the region keep being dated by the reign of the late Louis the Blind – that’s what you do when kingship is contested. On the other hand, Hugh of Arles spent the latter months of 928 issuing diplomas for recipients in Vienne and the surrounding regions, which implies that he made a deal and immediately abrogated it. (On a third hand, this is also fairly odd anyway, given he’s supposed to have granted it to Heribert’s son.)

As you can tell, I’m not fully convinced by the Rodolfus-is-Ralph story. So what do you think? Is there any outstanding reason to favour one version over the other?

8 thoughts on “Which Ralph? Italy, Provence and the Succession to Louis the Blind

  1. ‘I know Italian politics is turbulent, but is it that turbulent?’ – Louis II did get kicked out of Southern Italy in 871 only to be called back in later that year (although admittedly there was the matter of the Aghlabid invasion).

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    1. Yeah, the emphasis of the question is on the ‘is’ not the ‘that’. This is one reason why I have trouble with Italian history – it makes Heribert of Vermandois look straightforward…

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  2. Longtemps, la théorie dominante a été que le “Rodolfus” dont il était question dans l’Antapodosis de Liutprand de Crémone était le roi Rodolphe II de Bourgogne. Comme vous l’avez écrit, à la suite de la mort de Louis III l’Aveugle (juin 928), en 933, Hugues roi d’Italie et marquis de Provence, aurait cédé les terres du royaume de Provence au roi de Bourgogne pour le dissuader de revenir réclamer la couronne royale d’Italie (comme il l’avait fait en 926). Mais effectivement, la prise de possession de Vienne (capitale du royaume de Provence) par le roi de Bourgogne Conrad le Pacifique (fils de Rodolphe II) se fait seulement dans les années 940 avec la soumission de Charles-Constantin, comte de Vienne. Donc cette hypothèse ne colle pas chronologiquement.
    En réalité, vote intuition est probablement la bonne : le “Rodolfus” dont il est question chez Liutprand est très certainement le roi Raoul de Bourgogne. Après la mort de cousin Louis l’Aveugle, Raoul aurait revendiqué la suzeraineté sur le comté de Vienne, avec l’accord d’Hugues d’Italie, en essayant d’imposer comme comte de Vienne le jeune Eudes, fils d’Herbert de Vermandois. Mais la manoeuvre aurait échoué car ils n’auraient pas réussi expulser le véritable comte, Charles-Constantin (fils de Louis l’Aveugle). Liutprand ferait référence cet évènement. L’arrivée des Rodolphiens de Bourgogne à Vienne se ferait seulement plus tard.
    Pour creuser la question vous pouvez vous reporter aux travaux de Laurent Ripart (Université de Savoie) et surtout à ceux de François Demotz (Université Lyon III) spécialiste du royaume de Bourgogne, notamment à son livre issu de sa thèse “La Bourgogne, dernier des royaumes carolingiens”.
    Laurent Ripart dresse une rapide historiographie de cette question au début de cet article (voir n.2 de la p.434) : http://www.academia.edu/6787859/_Le_royaume_rodolphien_de_Bourgogne_fin_IXe-d%C3%A9but_XIe_s._dans_M._Gaillard_M._Margue_A._Dierkens_et_H._Pettiau_dir._De_la_mer_du_Nord_%C3%A0_la_m%C3%A9diterran%C3%A9e_Francia_media_une_r%C3%A9gion_au_c%C5%93ur_de_l_Europe_c._840_-_c._1050_Luxembourg_2011_p._429-452

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    1. Merci pour votre commentaire érudit. J’attend avec impatience de lire le livre de M. Demotz – malheureusement nous ne l’avons pas ici – mais comme vous avez dit, le contexte bourguignon suggère que _Radulfus_ était Raoul de Ouest-Francie, même si ce n’est pas certain.

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