Charter a Week 16: Smoke-Filled Rooms in Neustria

For once we’re not going to be looking at high politics, but something a little more domestic. We have actually met today’s charter before, back when I did that list of my top 10 charters. Given that you don’t need much context in advance here, we may as well kick straight off.

DD RR no. 37 (13th June 892, Tours)

A notice of how Prior Erfred, with Adalmar, advocate of Saint-Martin, came into the city of Le Mans on Monday, the eighth kalends of May [24th April], before Count Berengar, and lodged a complaint that his vassal, Patrick by name, was wrongfully retaining the goods of the brothers which Guy had once held due to his advocacy.

Then Count Berengar responded that he was not only his vassal, although he held something from his benefice, but rather a vassal of his friend Robert, because he held more from him in benefice. But he immediately restored that which pertained to him, for love of Saint Martin, saying ‘If he wants to enjoy my benefice, he won’t retain any of the land of Saint-Martin anymore.’ And thus they left.

Still, he was unwilling to give up these goods, but rather began to issue threats. Then Erfred and Adalmar went to Tours, on the ides of June [13th June], into the presence of lord Robert, count and abbot, and they said to him that the canons of Saint-Martin wanted to lodge a complaint before King Odo – who was then present in the city of Tours – concerning his vassal Patrick, who unjustly held the brothers’ goods.

He said, ‘There won’t be a need for you to lodge a complaint before the king, because I’m their abbot and I should do justice regarding others much more than I should consent to injustice done by others. But now, Adalmar, tell me, by the oath you have sworn to me, how many shields you saw he could provide for my service.’

‘Not more,’ he replied, ‘than three.’

‘What, I’m supposed to steal their goods from Saint Martin and the brothers and lose my soul [see Matthew 16:26] for three shields? Who,’ he said, ‘has a wadium?’

Then Erfred took out a dagger from the scabbard which he had with him and gave it to him. He extended the dagger to Adalmar the advocate and said to him, ‘You should take this, because you’re their advocate. And if it is necessary, you will fight for them.’ And thus was the complaint resolved.

Enacted in the presence of the noble men who confirmed below.

Sign of the holy cross of lord abbot Robert, who confirmed this notice with his own hand and commanded his followers to confirm it. Sign of Viscount Atto [of Tours]. […]

I, Maimbert, having been asked to do so, wrote and subscribed, in the city of Tours, on the ides of June, in the 4th year of the reign of lord king Odo.

So, first off, it’s a strange little document. Roman Deutinger for one has argued that it’s not authentic– none of his reasons stand up (to give the least technical one, why would a twelfth-century forger not mention the name of the land in question?), but you can see why he’s puzzled. This looks a lot more like a little bit of a saint’s life than the documents we’ve been seeing so far.

 That’s really more of a problem on our end, though. A ‘charter’ is a kind of historiographical label of convenience. Most ‘charters’ resemble one another perfectly well, but there are several which start pushing into other forms of texts. One of my favourites to illustrate this is something which by every formal external characteristic is a charter, but which is in its text a combination saint’s life/property inventory. So it’s entirely plausible for scribes to be writing these little vignettes.

What does the vignette show? Partly, it shows the growth of Neustrian governance – note the presence and role of Adalmar the advocate, which we’ve discussed before. Adalmar’s role as an enforcer for the brothers is relatively new; we’ll be talking more about this when we reach 908, but here let’s just note that this charter relies on an office which may not have existed in 877 when this series started.

But it also shows the many recourses available for people seeking to resolve disputes. It’s clear that the participants here can slide between formal and informal methods of dispute settlements, and that this had different weights. There’s no particular reason that formal methods were better or more just. The implication Robert gives when the brothers threaten to go to Odo is that they’re rather more embarrassing. This is how studies of dispute settlement have argued that conflict resolution in large chunks of the middle ages happened – the participants switching between different venues to get a favourable result – and it’s nice to see it in action here.

The final thing is a question of scale. Patrick has to provide men for Robert’s military forces, but it’s clear that three men is not considered a major addition certainly to Robert’s armies and perhaps to Patrick’s. This suggests a certain minimum size of aristocratic military forces in the tenth century, although it would be easier to say more if we knew anything else about Patrick. He never shows up again in Saint-Martin’s charter record and my suspicion – given the role of Count Berengar, who was probably based in Rennes, that he’s a point man near the Breton border. This has implications for his social status and certainly for his military preparedness; it’s just a shame we can’t go into any detail about it.

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