The Shadow of a Patronage Network

Over on Twitter in the last couple of days, there’s been a bit of discussion about the Reichskirche, after I claimed that there was such a thing as a West Frankish version. We have discussed on this blog before about the nature of the Reichskirche, so that old post is the easiest place to read up on the concept. Over the course of discussion, it became clear that the idea of an Ottonian Reichskirche, which I had thought had been qualified sharply but nonetheless persisted in a ‘weak thesis’ form, has in fact been kicked down the stairs. But, someone has asked, what do I think was happening in the West Frankish kingdom? And as it happens it’s a story longer than a few tweets, and I need a blog topic today, so that’s the post you’re now reading.

To start with, we’re dealing with the last half of the tenth century and with the eastern half of the West Frankish kingdom, the ecclesiastical province of Rheims and Burgundy. What I think you get hints of here is that a) Lothar is interfering more directly in episcopal selection than his immediate predecessors; and b) most (but not all) of the bishops he picks appear to come from roughly similar backgrounds.

(and, of course, c) I never went very far with this because it turns out we don’t really know anything about the late tenth-century West Frankish episcopate.)

Between c. 950 and 986, there are about thirty-five episcopal selections. Of those, we can’t say anything at all about roughly half, including any of the bishops of Senlis, Thérouanne, Beauvais, Troyes, and probably Nevers, Autun, Amiens and Soissons as well. This is a lot.

Of the other 17 or so, there are three bishops of Noyon elected in short order in the early 950s where Louis IV didn’t have anything else to do with things. In the case of three of the four bishops of Mâcon, there’s no explicit evidence either way but their background is such that adding royal involvement is an unnecessary variable. Both new bishops of Auxerre are unlikely to have had anything to do with the king. So that’s 8, mostly towards the very beginning of the period.

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For the rest, there’s explicit evidence of royal involvement in selecting both bishops of Laon, both archbishops of Rheims, three archbishops of Sens, and a bishop of Langres. I also think there’s a very good circumstantial case for seeing Lothar’s hand behind another archbishop of Sens, a good case for a bishop of Noyon, a weak case for a bishop of Mâcon, a very weak case for a bishop of Autun (and a very, very weak case for a bishop of Amiens, but that’s so weak I only mention it to vent my frustration that Gallia Christiana is so inconsistent about citing its sources…) Of these bishops, most of them, although not all, share either being royal kinsmen or alumni of the school at Rheims, or both.

As I said on Twitter, the idea that Lothar had a semi-coherent patronage network involving putting people with royal connections in place in major bishoprics fits with what evidence we have; but as I also said, we don’t have enough evidence to do more than insinuate. It’s not really a thesis, it’s the ghost of one.

As for why I liked calling it a Reichskirche, it’s because I wanted to look for an external model. As Lothar and his two predecessors knew from the Rheims dispute, fiddling around with actual elections can get very dicey. Louis IV ended up doing a good line in patronising bishops who were selected by local communities into being his allies – it’s not like choosing a bishop guarantees their loyalty or anything, not at all. So an Ottonian milieu where the kings were interfering at the source, as it were, seemed like a good place to pick up the notion, although this doesn’t really stand up to the East Frankish stuff now. I have suspicions about Bruno of Cologne in this regard, but given how rickety a foundation the source base is for anything more than a big list with lots of question marks on it, it’s not exactly a research priority.

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