Louis the Blind had a really weird career, starting right with his by-name (although sat as we are in 890, there’s still over a decade to go before he’s blinded in an Italian misadventure – of course, unless your name is ‘Otto I’ and it’s after the 950s, I’m not sure anything happens in tenth-century Italian politics which couldn’t be described as a misadventure…). To start with, this is currently year three of dealing with the new kings following Charles the Fat’s succession crisis; but Louis was the only one who didn’t get crowned in 888.
Largely I think this is due to the nature of the Frankish overkingship we spoke about before. Louis’ status is a bit paradoxical: at the same time, his position is very strong and very weak. On one hand, of all the kings who came after Charles the Fat, he’s probably got the strongest claim to legitimacy via his ‘adoption’ – whatever we think happened, it definitely involved receiving Charles’ imprimatur qua kingship. He’s also (as we’ll see this week) got a fairly solid amount of local backing: the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Lyon and Vienne, as well as further south, and a fairly substantial chunk of magnates. On the other hand, he was also the son of a sort-of king and his royal legitimacy was thus heavily tied in to the Carolingian system. This necessarily put him in a strange position after the accession of Arnulf of Carinthia: Louis might have been adopted by Charles the Fat, but what would happen next?
DD Provence no. 28 (890, Varennes)
In the 898th [sic] year from the Incarnation of the Lord, in the 8th indiction, when Queen Ermengard and all the princes of Louis, son of Boso, had convened at an assembly at the place which is called Varennes-le-Grand, there came before her presence the monks of the monastery of Gigny, that is, Abbot Berno and the others placed under his rule, lamenting and bewailing with monastic humility that the same queen’s vassal Bernard had possessed their goods by a wrongful invasion, that is, the cell of Baume, which they had previously acquired through a precept from King Rudolph [I of Transjurane Burgundy]. Both this most beneficent and venerable of queens and all the princes, who had come together from all over, diligently paying attention and more diligently listening to this, summoned the aforesaid Bernard into their midst and questioned him as to by what right he held the same goods.
He responded that he believed that he held the aforesaid goods through Louis’ gift. The queen did not agree with his responses, nor did the others deem that It was worthy to consent to them.
And then he, by the queen’s command, quit the said place in the presence of everyone, and promised that he would not invade the same goods anymore. Then, when this had been done, the lady queen commanded both the abbot and the other brothers to write this notice of confirmation, so that they might quietly hold the aforesaid place, contradicted hereafter by no-one.
And, that this notice might be able to endure firm through the course of many ages, she confirmed it with her own hand and asked it be affirmed by the hands of both the bishops and the magnates who had had come together there from all over.
S. Bernard, who made this quitclaim. S. Queen Ermengard, who commanded this be done and asked it be confirmed. S. Archbishop Rostagnus of Arles. S. Bishop Ardrad of the holy church of Chalon-sur-Saône. S. Bishop Isaac of Grenoble. The glorious Count Richard [the Justiciar] confirmed this. Count Guy [of Oscheret] confirmed this. Count Hugh [of Bassigny] confirmed this. Count Adelelm [of Valence] confirmed this. Count Rather [of Nevers] confirmed this. Count Theobert [of Apt] confirmed this. Count Ragenard [of Auxerre] confirmed this. Ansegis confirmed this. Raimbald the herald confirmed this. Gormar confirmed this. Adelard confirmed this. Aldemar confirmed this.
Enacted at Varennes.
So, as you will have noticed, as of this point Louis is not in fact king. This is particularly interesting because it means we need to change tack dramatically and talk about Ermengard. We’ve met her before providing the ballast of legitimacy to Boso’s claims for a throne, but here she is the queen, and that’s very strange. Carolingian queens could be very important; Ottonian queens even more so; and this effect is amplified when we’re talking about Italy. Ermengard’s mother Engelberga remained a potent force in Frankish politics after death of her husband Louis II even though she was not the mother of any sons. However, in both the Carolingian and Ottonian periods it’s generally predicated that the power of queens rests largely on their status as consort, regent for an under-age king, or queen mother and here – well, stop me if I’m wrong and I will immediately qualify this sentence, but is Ermengard not here a ruling queen?
OK, sure, looking at things in terms of the big picture her power in Provence rests on the eventual accession of Louis the Blind. But here in 890, and presumably for several years before that, we have a situation where there is one person with a royal title making the decisions and it’s not Louis. In fact, Ermengard is directly and on her own authority overruling Louis here: what seems to have happened is that the princeling tried to reward a follower and the queen no-selled it. This is perhaps understandable – Louis is, maybe, eight years old at this point – but in equivalent situations, for example with Otto III, the royal child was still treated as a full king. Thus, Ermengard’s power seems unusually explicit here.
That’s not the only interesting thing about this charter. The political response to 888 was as we have noted at length heavily improvised, and it’s very striking that here major figures from what would later be ‘West Frankish’ Burgundy are attending court with ‘Provençal’ magnates. We’ve commented before on the fluid nature of politics in the region south of the Vosges, west of the Rhine and the Haut-Jura, north of the Vercors and east of Velay, Forez and the Morvan – basically, northern Provence, southern Burgundy, and what is now western Switzerland. I like to call this the Transararian Fluidity Zone (after the old name for the river Saône, which lies in the middle of its core), and it’s here in full force. Exactly where the border between Louis’ sphere of influence and Odo’s in this region actually was is very fuzzy. Odo has by this point received the submission of northern Burgundy as well as Adalgar of Autun, but not of the southern bishoprics of Chalon and Mâcon. Moreover, Richard the Justiciar and his followers are here in force, many from north of Chalon, and I don’t think it’s really right to classify them as belonging to one kingdom or the other – they are equally well parts of both. These guys are by now used to working together, and whether or not they’re currently dealing with Louis or with Odo probably doesn’t matter all that much.
There is a bit of personal advantage in this. Richard the Justiciar, as we will also see on Wednesday, appears in Louis’ early documents as a very high-status figure indeed, much higher than he appears in West Frankish contexts at this point; and the same extends to his followers. Ragenard of Auxerre up there is otherwise almost universally known as a viscount, not as a count. But a lot of it is simply the natural flow of politics in this region – note how the meeting is enforcing a grant by Rudolf of Burgundy (who, if you remember, had as one of his first acts in 888 made a major grant to Richard’s wife Adelaide), adding an extra king to the proceedings.
It almost wouldn’t matter who the judgement was on behalf of, except that Abbot Berno will show up again. This is the first presaging we have of one of the most significant developments we’ll be covering: Berno, in 890, is abbot of the Juran abbeys of Baume and Gigny; but he also has ties to Aquitaine, and in about twenty years, these are going to come to fruition…