Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 7: New Kid on the Block

Last time, we bid a fond farewell to Bishop Stephen II of Clermont and his generation in a few-hundred-word jaunt through twenty years of deeply under-sourced history. (To give some idea of the occasional frustrations of tenth-century history writing, that was as much time as between 9/11 and the present day, with rather less documentation that currently exists for my office furniture.) The sources for around 980 are not substantially better, but we can see a generational shift as three groups of people make a play for power in eastern Aquitaine.

The most ephemeral of these is also the best-recorded and in a lot of ways the most interesting, and that’s the Carolingian kings. In or around 980, King Lothar decided to make his young son Louis V king of Aquitaine. It didn’t work. I’d like to say that this incident has not received enough scholarly attention, but that’s rather unfair – having lavished scholarly attention on it, there’s just nothing there; it’s like post-Carolingian Aquitaine has friendzoned me.

Libellus precum de Saint Rémi.jpg
And here they are: Lothar and Louis V, both on the left. This is a later copy of a prayer book belonging to Lothar’s wife Queen Emma (on the right), and yes, it would be nice if it had survived… (source)

But what happened, you ask? Well, I will tell you what the sources say, and then go from there. To start with, let’s bring in a perhaps-unexpected group of magnates: the counts of Anjou and their family. For reasons I shan’t go into, they were becoming increasingly powerful at court over the course of the 960s and 970s, as well as developing interests in the south. Count Geoffrey Grisegonelle apparently married off his sister Adelaide-Blanche to a man named Stephen, probably in the mid-960s (come on, it’s eastern Aquitaine – everyone’s either Stephen, Amblard, Bertrand or Eustorgius) who was not himself of comital rank but who was nonetheless a big damn deal in the area. Geoffrey and Adelaide-Blanche’s brother Guy, abbot of Cormery, as already mentioned on this blog, was appointed by King Lothar to be bishop of Le Puy in around 975. Then, in 980, when Adelaide’s first husband was dead (and in fact so was her second), Geoffrey’s people at court apparently started trying to persuade Lothar to marry Louis off to her and make him king of Aquitaine which he did.

Lothar went south, had his son crowned at Brioude by the bishops of the province, and left him and Adelaide there to deal with things. This did not go very well – Louis was about fifteen and Adelaide about thirty, and we are told that they had little in common. Louis was unable to get the magnates of the area to listen to him and he was left poor and helpless. His father had to come pack down, probably in 982, and get him. Adelaide fled to William the Liberator, count of Provence, and married him instead. It is not clear that she and Louis V were divorced first. In any case, the attempt to revive a sub-kingdom in Aquitaine was a failure.

I have a few issues with this account. The biggest is that it comes almost entirely from the pen of Richer of Rheims, who is not one to let a good story suffer for want of contact with reality. As it happens the account of a different historian, Ralph Glaber (who I think is independent) corroborates the very basic outline of a lot of this. Nonetheless, between the three main historians of the early eleventh century, Richer, Ralph and Adhemar of Chabannes, we have three quite different accounts. All agree that Louis’ marriage was unsuccessful, but that’s about it. Ralph claims that coming south was Adelaide’s idea, and Adhemar doesn’t mention Louis’ kingship at all, although he does know that Louis married Adelaide and that Lothar was active in central Aquitaine in the 980s. So this makes me uneasy.  

Even taking the account as it stands, however, there are a few things which we can pick out about this. First, it wasn’t a stupid decision either in terms of Aquitanian politics or the wider world. Adelaide-Blanche was connected by blood or marriage to some of the most important people in Aquitaine, and it was reasonable to think that marriage to her would give Louis some sway there – something similar had proven true a century earlier in the case of King Charles the Child. Second, and more importantly, Lothar and Louis weren’t trying to put Louis over any old Aquitaine – they were looking specifically at Guillelmid Aquitaine. Louis V was crowned at William the Pious’ Auvergnat monastery par excellence, at Brioude, rather than at Poitiers or Bourges or one of the old royal palaces. That Auvergne and eastern Aquitaine, rather than Poitou and the west or Limoges and the centre, was chosen, suggests the kings were trying to pull on the ongoing tradition of Königsnahe which Stephen of Clermont had cultivated – Louis’ kingship was not in its envisagement an alien imposition but an attempt to inscribe Louis into the Guillelmid polity as it had developed under Stephen II. It didn’t work, but it was an honourable failure. Next week, we look at something more enduring: the emergence of the Counts of Clermont under Stephen’s nephew Guy.


6 thoughts on “Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 7: New Kid on the Block

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