Switching Sides in the Tenth Century

That post from a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned the ascendency of the family of the counts of Anjou at King Lothar’s court got me thinking. After all, the Angevins were second-rank vassals of the Robertians, with whom Lothar’s father Louis IV had had some trouble – why pick them for special treatment? Aaaaages ago, we had a brief look at the Neustrian succession crisis of the 950s – and 960s, and that must be something to do with it, but where’s the ‘in’? I’m slightly sceptical that Geoffrey Grisegonelle sent a chap to Lothar with a message along the lines of ‘going to throw off overlord’s authority, fancy giving me a hand?’ and got a hearing sight unseen.

Then it occurred to me – if you look at what the Angevins, and by that I mean Geoffrey and his brother Abbot Guy of Cormery who later became bishop of Le Puy, are doing on the home front, a lot of it revolves around the abbey of Saint-Aubin. Saint-Aubin was the major abbey of the city of Angers, and Geoffrey and Guy’s ancestors had been its lay abbots for several decades. By the 960s, Guy (who was a cleric but probably not a monk) was abbot in turn. He issued a very strange charter in which he seems to say that he tried and failed to become a ‘proper’ abbot and is very sorry about it. Certainly in 966 he gave up the abbacy and a monk-abbot, one Widbold, was put in his place. What’s relevant here is the figure behind this admonition and reform: Geoffrey and Guy’s paternal uncle, Bishop Guy of Soissons, who seems to have paired up with Abbot Hincmar of Saint-Remi, at the time the royal monastery par excellence, to reform Saint-Aubin. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘a royal connection!’

Then I went to look at the career of Guy of Soissons, and it’s actually rather interesting. Guy began his career as a canon in Saint-Martin of Tours (as did so many other tenth-century bishops). In 937, he became bishop of Soissons. Flodoard of Rheims does something very unusual when describing how Guy acquired the see – he uses a word (potitur) which he otherwise only employs to describe the capture of cities or plunder of treasure, so I think he saw this episcopal choice as illegitimate. In context, this is probably because Guy was forced on Soissons by the Neustrian overlord Hugh the Great.

Certainly, Guy was Hugh the Great’s creature for a good decade thereafter. In 940, he was the bishop who ordained Hugh of Vermandois (at the time claiming the archbishopric of Rheims against the king’s candidate Artald) a priest. He shows up again in a charter shortly after Hugh’s ordination as archbishop at what looks like quite an important council of war under Hugh the Great’s auspices. In 945, he did no less than hand himself over to Vikings – they had captured King Louis IV, and Guy put himself forward as a hostage so that they would hand him over to Hugh the Great’s tender mercies. So that all looks pretty partisan.

Thing is, after 946 the winds start blowing strongly for Louis, and in 948, Hugh of Vermandois was condemned at the Synod of Ingelheim. Guy changed sides, coming and committing himself to Louis. This was dramatic – at the Synod of Trier in that year, Guy made full confession and penitence for his sins in front of his fellow-bishops. But it worked – in 949, he was an intercessor in a charter for the abbey of Homblières which has been argued as marking the beginning of a new age for Louis IV’s rule. In 950, he was sent to Burgundy to oversee an important donation at the abbey of Charlieu, and by 959 he was one of the dowager queen Gerberga’s main advisers along with her very brother-in-law Bishop Roric of Laon.

So if there’s an original ‘in’ at the royal court for the Angevin counts, it’s probably him. Yet to conclude today’s post, I’d like to pick out a different aspect of his life. Tenth-century France has a bad reputation for disloyalty. Guy’s career, however, illustrates that swapping sides was, mostly, a rare and dramatic event. After a decade of sterling loyalty to Hugh the Great (would you give yourself to a Norwegian for your boss’ sake?), Guy was proven to be on the wrong side. At Ingelheim, both the man Guy had ordained priest, Hugh of Vermandois, and the one to whom he owed his career, Hugh the Great, had been authoritatively condemned. Sure, we might see it as a stitch-up orchestrated by a domineering Ottonian monarchy to get the West Frankish kingdom to stop bothering it, but content-wise it was an unequivocal condemnation by a council of bishops and the pope. We know that people at this time could do great and terrible things and yet harbour room for doubts. Does it not make sense to see Guy’s sudden and dramatic change of heart as stemming from a realisation that in fact he had been wrong, that the two Hughs’ had no just cause, and that he should henceforth be just as dependable a follower of a new master: the king and his family?

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