Burgundian Blues, pt. 1: The Princely Court? 

Work on the book continues apace. In terms of putting it together, I’m only just at the start, but I somehow ended up doing the theoretical heavy lifting first. You’d have thought that it would be some aspect of charter antiquarianism which would be higher on the priority list but no; to the surprise of even myself, it’s the chapter on ‘what is a prince?’

Starting my research as I did with the Neustrian March, my answer, in contradistinction to most but not all of the scholarship, is ‘basically nothing analytically useful and we should probably stop using the term outside of poetic flourishes’. What I’m currently writing (Chapter 4 Subsection 1, for those you keeping score) is entitled ‘was there specifically princely power?’, and is aimed at all the people who say ‘yes’. In particular, the bit I’m doing right now is about whether there was a specifically juridical princely power. That is, were the greatest magnates of the West Frankish kingdom distinguished by being the specific possessors of delegated and/or usurped sovereign rights? My answer is basically ‘no’, on a variety of levels, and so far my examples are going well – you can’t see the Neustrian marchiones acting in any way other than bigger and fancier versions of Neustrian magnates more generally, the counts of Anjou, Blois-Chartres-Tours and Auvergne don’t look juridically different from their peers, and whilst the Guillelmid dukes of Aquitaine do, I’m happy that’s because they’re weird and the explanation of why is going in Chapter 6.

That said, there is always a sticking point, and this is it:

ARTEM no. 156 (18th May 918, http://www.cn-telma.fr/originaux/charte156/

Richard, count and duke of Burgundy.

We wish it to be known to all of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us that, struck by holy terror while We were considering the honour and reverence of God Almighty and the fidelity of His holy Church, it roared at Us that We should know that certain goods of the church of Saint-Mammès which were consigned to the table of the brothers from antiquity, that is, the rates from the land of the estate of Lucy in the district of Langrois, which Count Amadeus a long time ago acquired for his uses through a rental agreement from the same church in his name and that of his wife and his son Anskar for their lifetimes alone, in accordance with worldly custom. After their deaths, we heard that certain people were consistently neglectful and various seizures threatened and the matter was not managed in such a manner nor diligently investigated, and neither up to this point legally prosecuted by anyone.

Later, verily, reliable prosecutors from the abovementioned church came before Our presence, when they sought from Us a correct judgement to be observed. Having diligently investigated their just and reasonable prosecution, for love of God and for the absolution of Our sins and Our wife and Our sons, and as well the remedy and salvation of our souls, We rendered in their entirety the aforesaid goods, with all their appendages, to the table of the brothers of the congregation of Saint-Mammès, through the appeal and advice of Manasses [the Old, count of Dijon] and Our other followers who were present there, and We restored them to be perpetually possessed in their uses for Our soul’s vow, entreating Our successors with submissive devotion that they should guard the deed of this constitution, established in this manner by Us for the remedy of our souls, to be observed for all time to come, for an eternal repayment from Christ; and in guarding it should consent that it endure unharmed.

Now, that this might be held more certainly and firmly now and forever, We confirmed it with Our own hand, and We asked it be confirmed by the hands of Our wife and Our sons and followers.

Adelaide, who consented. Hugh [the Black] consented. Ralph [of Burgundy] consented. Boso [of Vitry] consented. Aldo consented. Willing consented. Walter consented. Witbod consented. Odalbert consented. Godfrey consented.

I, Arnald the levite, wrote and subscribed this writing of restitution, established by the lord count and duke Richard.

Given on Friday, in the month of June, on the 15th kalends of that month [18th May], in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 918, in the 6th indiction, in the 20th year of the reign of King Charles.

Is this supposed to look like delegated royal authority? I’d quite like it not to, but here’s the dilemma. In terms of the actual language used – ‘diligently investigated’, ‘legally prosecuted’, ‘correct judgement’ – Richard’s authority is being presented in terms of the Carolingian judicial system, not a million miles removed from the discourse which surrounds the advocates of Saint-Martin and the court system in Neustria. There’s nothing in here which can’t be paralleled from other private charters from the time and region, up to and including the language of counsel which surrounds the role of Manasses the Old. On the other hand, if you dress that up in a first-person charter and add in a big prayer clause, it starts looking distinctly royal. Records of non-royal judgements are virtually always in third-person; and in fact Richard the Justiciar himself is the main actor in another charter from 916 which is much more typical of the genre.

So this is the issue: if you look at all the individual trees, Richard’s authority is being presented in the same way as other late-Carolingian legal actors. If you look at the wood, this adds up to a bit more than the sum of its parts…

There is one other option. Some of this language, especially talking about ‘proclamations’, is reminiscent of charters issued at episcopal synods; and there are a few examples of judgement records from episcopal synods written in first person. Given that as we know these are big deals in Burgundy, I wonder if rather than ‘quasi-king’, the intended effect might not be ‘one-man synod’…

So that’s the first thing about Richard which is bothering me at the moment. Let me know what you all think, and part 2 will be up very shortly…

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