Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 4: The Succession to Hugh the Great in Auvergne, 956-959

Postponed but not forgotten! (The last in the coronation ordines series is still on at some point as well; it just turns out I have nothing much to say about Philip I…) Last time in this occasional series about the career of Bishop Stephen II of Auvergne, Count William Towhead had tried to proclaim himself as ruler of the Auvergne, and come to some kind of agreement with the bishop. This agreement didn’t hold up very long, because of the death of Hugh the Great, that inescapable figure of tenth-century history.

We have discussed this before in relation to Neustria, but it had repercussions in Aquitaine as well, although they’re quite obscure. What appears to have happened is that Stephen (and perhaps William Towhead, if his authority was anything other than nominal) lost control over some of Auvergnat nobles. It’s hard to say when this process began – in 956 and 957, our extant sources are focussed on Burgundy – but it came to a head in 958. That year, according to one charter, ‘the princes of the Auvergne rebelled against each other in turn’. Around the same time, there was an Auvergnat attack on southern Burgundy defeated at Chalmoux by Count Lambert of Chalon.* Neither of these documents give the Auvergnats a leader, so I don’t think we’re dealing with anything as grandiose as a civil war. Rather, it looks a lot more like the eruption of a couple of years of endemic banditry. If I had to point to a cause, I’d ascribe it to the shift in leadership the region was undergoing: Stephen’s lord, King Louis IV, had recently died, as had his metropolitan, Archbishop Launo of Bourges, and Hugh the Great, who I am increasingly inclined to see as a peacemaker. Moreover, William Towhead’s – I think the word is fair – usurpation of authority in Auvergne, which may or may not have done him any good, looks likely to have weakened Stephen’s position. The violence of the time around 958, then, appears to be the result of local nobles looking to take advantage of the suddenly-shaky Stephanic regime to settle feuds and grab the upper hand in local disputes.

One thing Stephen did that I’m not going to talk about was to commission a statue of the Virgin in Majesty, which now only survives as this drawing. Image taken from M. Goulet & D. Iogna-Prat, ‘Vierge en Majeste’, in Marie. Le culte de la Vierge, ed. D. Iogna-Prat et. al., p. 405.

Stephen claimed to have restored peace in the region by September 958, although frankly I think this is dubious. Not the least reason for this is that on top of the localised violence, it seems clear that there was ongoing fighting between King Lothar, Hugh the Great’s sons (who were Lothar’s cousins), and William Towhead, with the first two joining forces against the latter whilst at the same time also quarrelling amongst themselves. Thus, in November 958, at Martinmas (possibly in response to the Auvergnat invasion of southern Burgundy?) Lothar and his cousins went to Marzy, a western suburb of Nevers on the river Loire, for a placitum against William Towhead. This is a slightly obscure phrase, and I’m not sure whether it means that there was a hostile meeting or something outright violent. Remember, Nevers was right where the old Guillelmid and Burgundian spheres of influence clashed, and it had passed back and forth between the two several times.

In 959, Nevers castle was captured and a new bishop, Natrand, formerly from the region of Sens, was imposed. This is far from certain, but I think that this is Lothar capturing the fortifications from William. Perhaps in response, but in any case a dramatic assertion of his authority over the region, William is attested for the first time entitled as count not simply of Poitou, but of ‘all Aquitaine’. At the same time, Stephen of Clermont put his affairs in order for a trip to Rome. This is an odd time to make a pilgrimage, you might think; but actually it does make a certain degree of sense. First, Stephen’s position depends on his links to royalty, links which are now jeopardised by William Towhead’s role in the Auvergne. So going to Rome gets him out of the way and means he can avoid any blame for that. Second, going to Rome gives Stephen ties with the papacy to brandish back home to further shore up his legitimacy (and in fact a few years later on we can see this happening).

As the 960s dawned, then, Stephen’s position did not look all that good. But peace (which, as his 958 charter said, rules all) was just on the horizon, and as this post is getting long enough, I’ll deal with that next time.

*Fair warning, this story is coming out of a lot of hypothesising and a strange melange of sources. If you’re interested how I got here, let me know; but this has taken me so long that I’m just going to tell the story.

4 thoughts on “Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 4: The Succession to Hugh the Great in Auvergne, 956-959

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