Provence Continues To Be Weird

Not about Liutprand this time, you’ll be pleased to hear. Rather, this time I want to zoom out and talk about just how odd Provence is as a kingdom after the death of Louis the Blind. Chiefly what is weird about it is that there are six potential kings, and the one most people seem to recognise is the one who’s already dead, which is to say Louis the Blind himself. Now, Louis himself doesn’t appear to have done much during the last years of his reign. In the early 900s, he got mixed up in Italian politics, which is as bad an idea for tenth-century kings as twenty-first century historians, which is how he ended up blind in the first place. Louis is supposed to have been fairly useless during the last years of his reign – one historian called him a ‘shadow king’ – although I have questions about how far this is just due to the combination of a lack of narrative sources and the fact that (as you might expect, given the constraints upon disabled people at the time) he didn’t get around much. Certainly, he appears to have spent twenty years staying in Vienne and not moving, but looking through his diplomas people did come to him from all over the kingdom. The most important of these people was Hugh of Arles, who became Louis’ right-hand man up to the point in 924 where Hugh himself went to become king of Italy.

Saint-André-le-Bas in Vienne (source)

Louis died in 928. Well, probably. Overwhelmingly probably. We don’t actually know in what year he died, although it was certainly by 932, but scholarly consensus is basically-unanimous in putting his death in June 928 based on circumstantial evidence, and I think scholarly consensus is in this case correct. After Louis’ death, the first bit of weirdness comes into play: Louis had two adult sons, Charles Constantine and Ralph, neither of whom succeeded him. Some people have suggested that Charles Constantine didn’t succeed him because he was a bastard, but the source for his illegitimacy is late – it’s Richer of Rheims – and I strongly suspect that Richer is back-projecting, filling in an explanation for why Charles didn’t inherit, because the detail is not in Flodoard, which is Richer’s only source. In any case, Ralph is very unlikely to have been illegitimate, but he didn’t inherit either. Charles Constantine appears in Louis’ lifetime as Count of Vienne, which is unusual – royal heirs, even with counties, are not usually called counts (anyone got any counterexamples from this time?); and it has been suggested that this means that Louis did not intend Charles to succeed him; but again, this isn’t true of Ralph. (I did play around with the notion that the ‘Ralph, king of Vienne’ who shows up in a number of charters was Ralph son of Louis the Blind; but this doesn’t work chronologically if nothing else.) What this means is that we have a case where a reigning king with adult sons born to him whilst he was a king isn’t succeeded by his son, which I think is the only example from the whole Carolingian and post-Carolingian period. Pippin II of Aquitaine, maybe?

The thing is, if Louis isn’t succeeded by his sons, it doesn’t look like he’s succeeded by anyone. Kings Ralph of West Francia and Rudolf II of Burgundy both nibble away at bits of territory. Rudolf slowly pulls some of the Alpine bits of Provence, such as Belley and maybe Apt, into his orbit; and looks like he made a short-lived play for Lyon – if so, he was probably kicked out relatively quickly. Ralph made a better go of it, asserting his authority over Vienne and as far south as Uzès, which is only a little distance away from Avignon, so very deep. However – and we do admittedly have evidential problems here – it doesn’t look like either tried to become Louis’ successor directly rather than just annexing some of his territory (which in both cases, they were inching towards even before Louis’ death).

Hugh of Arles’ role is even weirder. You’d have thought he’d be the obvious choice to succeed Louis – already a king elsewhere, powerful allies in the form of his brother Count Boso and nephew Archbishop Manasses of Arles, and personally possessed of a lot of land in the kingdom from back when he was its chief magnate. But although Hugh shows up in autumn and winter 928 and issues a bunch of diplomas, it looks to my eyes rather as though he was trying to stay the kingdom’s chief magnate whilst at the same time being king in a different kingdom. (This, incidentally, is why I was asking for help on Twitter from Crusade historians – trying to look for parallels. The closest is William the Conqueror, but even then the situation is only loosely comparable.) Hugh maintains an interest in Provence, right through into the 940s, but it’s unclear that he ever tried to assert himself as king and very, very likely that no-one every accepted him as their ruler – there are, to my knowledge, no charters dated by Hugh’s reign, even those issued in the name of Manasses of Arles.

Rather, most people, especially in the south of the kingdom, seem to have continued to recognise Louis the Blind as king, through to the mid-930s. One charter from 934 refers to Louis as the currently-reigning emperor even though he’s been in the ground (overwhelmingly probably) for six years and (certainly) for two. To me, this says that most people don’t recognise anyone as their legitimate king (and that, for some reason, Hugh of Arles doesn’t want to be king there even though he probably could). I haven’t thought through the implications of all this yet, but it’s striking that Louis’ realm is apparently coherent enough to keep going after his death but that Louis’ kingship laid so lightly on his subjects that no-one needed someone else to keep doing it…

3 thoughts on “Provence Continues To Be Weird

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