Talkin’ Angevin, Talkin’ Burgundian: Geoffrey Grisegonelle of Anjou and his rule in Chalon-sur-Saône

This may well come as a surprise to readers who’ve been following the blog the last few months – or indeed to anyone who’s sat opposite me in a pub – but I’m not just an antiquarian/aspiring story-writer. My thesis, and even more so my book as it’s developing, is fundamentally about legitimacy – how did people in charge persuade people not in charge that they should be in charge. I mean, think about it: if every serf had banded together and obstinately refused to provide renders to their lord, could the lords have stopped them? You can’t repress everyone all the time, and you certainly can’t kill all your productive workers. (In fact, the Carolingians were perfectly aware of this, which is why they were so worried about associations amongst the peasantry.) If that’s the case with serfs, it’s much more so with lower-level members of the elite. You might get away with whipping Bellerophon the serf, but you definitely can’t do that with Corbo by God’s grace the noblest of knights – you have to persuade him that you have right on your side.

My fundamental argument about the West Frankish kingdom by the end of the tenth century is that the way you do this, as a ruler, has fractured. Rather than one landscape of political discourse, there is a proliferation of them, in a way which would make ninth-century Carolingian reformers blanch. Some of these are really obviously both new and local: the development of Norman identity which is so beloved to my heart is an example of this. But there are more subtle examples as well.

One admittedly not subtle example is the case of Anjou. I will undoubtedly talk about Anjou more in future, but for now let it be said that, by the end of the tenth century, the Angevin counts have developed a regionally-peculiar discourse of legitimacy, wherein they are in charge because they are saved – as in, Jesus Christ has guaranteed the posthumous state of their souls – and their followers, whilst committing the same sins, aren’t. This is ‘proven’ not least through some entertainingly brazen misuse of Biblical quotations in their charters; but it’s fairly consistent for the last quarter of the tenth and first decade or so of the eleventh centuries.

However, the counts of Anjou weren’t just counts of Anjou. Recently, we spoke about how transregional aristocrats didn’t just go away with the end of the reign of Charles the Fat, and Geoffrey Grisegonelle, count of Anjou from c. 960 to 987, is a prime example of this. This is actually one of the things which the only English-language author on Geoffrey, Bernard Bachrach, gets absolutely right – despite Bachrach’s apparent belief that the counts of Anjou are infallible crosses between Napoleon and Brainiac, he is very, very good at pointing out that they have interests all over the West Frankish kingdom; and in fact we’ve already met them in eastern Aquitaine.

One of Geoffrey’s most direct interests, after about 980 or so, was the southern Burgundian county of Chalon-sur-Saône. The local count, Lambert, had recently died, leaving behind a minor son named Hugh and a widow named Adelaide. Geoffrey, a widower himself, married Adelaide and ruled Chalon with her for the next half-decade or so. How did he do it? Not least by adopting the language of legitimacy which Lambert had developed, one quite different from that of Anjou.

Chalon-sur-Saône cathedral today (source)

At some point during his reign, Geoffrey and Adelaide issued a charter in favour of Cluny. (<Looks to see if we’ll be covering it on Charter a Week> Eh, it’s a maybe.) It’s a valuable bit of evidence, because Geoffrey’s time in Chalon is pretty obscure. But what this shows is Geoffrey adapting himself to the different rhythms of discourse prevalent in southern Burgundy.

First off, it’s a charter in favour of Cluny. At this time, Cluny is not the world-conquering monastic empire into which it will mutate in the early eleventh century. It’s big, certainly, but its penetration north of the Loire is pretty minimal – Abbot Odo of Cluny may have been asked to reform Saint-Julien at Tours (but the evidence for that is late and there’s no sign of Cluniac influence on the ground) and although he did reform Fleury, that one really didn’t take and his time at the abbey was quietly forgotten there. When Geoffrey himself tried to reform the abbey of Saint-Aubin in Angers, he brought in monks not from Cluny but from Rheims. Here, though, he patronises Cluny. In doing so, he puts himself into the tradition of Count Lambert, who was also a noted donor to the abbey. (In fact, elsewhere Geoffrey copied Lambert’s lead in this regard even more closely.)

The next thing is that the land, in the delightfully-named village of Jambles, is donated for the soul of Geoffrey and Adele’s fidelis Aimo. As it happens, we have Aimo’s own charter donating the same land to Cluny in 984, so we can say some things about him. First off, he’s quite a significant figure, being an archdeacon of the cathedral of Chalon. That’s a man of local influence – his charter is witnessed by Geoffrey, Adelaide, and Bishop Ralph. Second, he begins his charter with a prologue beginning ‘with the end of the world approaching and ruins increasing…’, a prologue which is relatively familiar elsewhere in the West Frankish kingdom but basically-unknown in the Cluny archive. In fact, the very nifty online edition of the Cluniac charters means that we can say that these two of about only five charters which begin like that before the mid-eleventh century – and that Geoffrey is copying the specific wording of Aimo’s. Geoffrey is having himself written into local languages of legitimacy – he’s not just donating to Cluny, he’s not just donating to Cluny for Aimo, he’s not even just donating to Cluny for Aimo in the same words Aimo had; he’s inscribing the rightness of his rule through the medium of Cluniac patronage, placing himself and the leading men of the Chalonnais in relation to one another via their relationship with Cluny.

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