Charter a Week 18: Murder in Autun!

Y’know, I didn’t mean this to work out so well. Two weeks ago we did Neustria, last week Aquitaine, this week Burgundy – it’s all worked out quite well, not least because each document neatly encapsulates something important about all these groups: the Neustrian charter involved Saint-Martin, lay abbacy, and a somewhat queasy relationship between formal and informal structures of governance; the Aquitanian charter was about family and capillary governance; and today’s document is about bishops and murder.

Before we get to the murder, though, I’m going to make you sit through a discussion of terminology. You see, I used the word ‘groups’ above, which is a bit weak sauce, but is really about addressing a problem. If you say ‘Neustria’ or ‘Aquitaine’ or ‘Burgundy’, then you end up with an image of a territorial polity – a straightforward equation between land, people, and political group, so that all the people in the land of Neustria are Neustrians and are ruled by the Neustrian ruler. This is, though, not really how medieval politics works full stop, and certainly not what these things look like. We saw with William the Pious how network-y and variable rule was, and this is fairly generalisable. In fact, both German and French have better terms for what we’re dealing with: Machtkonstellation in German and mouvance in French. I like both because of the imagery. Machtkonstellation (lit: ‘power constellation’) suggests an actual constellation, points of light linked together rather than a uniform field, and reminds us that there’s a lot of gaps between nodes of power. Mouvance I like even better, although the imagery is a little less straightforward to explain. Have you ever been swimming, and tried to move your arm in the water? The water tends to follow your arm, but there’s resistance and little eddies and swirls breaking off and going in other directions, and it requires you to keep pushing to do things. This is what I imagine a mouvance as like: it’s not a ‘command’ structure properly speaking. The ruler moves, and most of his followers move with him, some don’t, there’s a fair bit of grumbling, and constant effort is required.

But, murder! One of these mouvances is that associated with Richard the Justiciar, known to history as the first duke of Burgundy. We’ve already encountered Richard abandoning his brother Boso and going over to King Carloman II, and in the meantime he’s been slowly becoming more important. By the late 880s, he was well-placed to take advantage of the civil war between Odo and Charles the Simple, and take advantage he did. We’ve seen that the major figures in late Carolingian Burgundy were its bishops, and Richard acted not least to subdue them: he imprisoned Archbishop Walter of Sens, he blinded Bishop Theobald of Langres, and as for our old acquaintance Adalgar of Autun – well….

Flavigny no. 25 (1st May 894, Chalon-sur-Saône)

In the year 894, in the 12th indiction, there was birthed like a miscarriage an infamous rumour in the monastery and public castle of Flavigny, inspired by jealousy and springing up from evil men, concerning a certain levite and monk of that place, Girfred, who performed the office of prelate: that he had murdered the most pious father and reverend bishop lord Adalgar, bishop of Autun, with a deadly poison. The extremely unjust accusation of this crime, equally horrifying to God and men, beat at the ears not only of that church but also literally the whole of Gaul, and was fully recorded in an infamous list of charges.

The aforesaid levite and monk, though, was utterly horrified at being accused of such an outrage, since the number and magnitude of the benefices that he had gained from that sweetest of fathers was fully and abundantly clear to everyone. Concerning this matter, he first sought out the counsel of his successor the glorious bishop lord Walo [of Autun], and confirmed in his presence with God Who is judge of all and sees the hearts of men as witness that he was innocent from such an abominable sin not less in intention than in deed.

Eventually, the bishop, so greatly and so very lofty, learned as well in matters divine and human, supported by the counsel of the sons of the Church, did not want a sheep entrusted to him to perish. Rather, he piously and mercifully employed a poultice of exhortation and the medicine of divine eloquence, so that, if the Devil’s blandishments had by any chance instilled anything similar in his heart, he might at the least by the Holy Spirit’s suggestion and the infusion of its word be healthfully cured and purified in accordance with what the Church has instituted. The said levite and monk, though, completely ignorant of such a shameful act, proposed that he receive the judgement of the Holy Spirit, and unhesitatingly advised in every way that he would be judged by any test in accordance with ecclesiastical custom.

Wherefore the aforesaid bishop, hesitant to decide so great and so unheard-of a crime by his own judgement, decided it should be discussed and determined at a holy provincial synod in the presence of the well-known Archbishop Aurelian [of Lyon] and his other fellow bishops. He, insofar as he was free from other burdens, did not at all delay doing this.

Hence, with God propitious, on the prearranged day of the kalends of May [1st May], there gathered at the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, in the church of the blessed precursor of Christ John which is in sight of the same town, sacred pontiffs: Aurelian [of Lyon], first of all Gaul, with his most illustrious fellow bishops Walo of Autun, Ardrad of Chalon-sur-Saône and Gerald of Mâcon, as well as messengers from the notable Bishop Theobald of Langres. There, canonically promulgating the institutes of the holy fathers in accordance with the rules and diligently dealing with Church business, they laboured to examine with precise inquiries and many questions the said monk placed before them and oft-marked with infamy. The same monk, learned in every judgement, both ecclesiastical custom and the experience of human law, could discover neither anyone making open accusations about this infamous act nor anyone who would proclaim anything certain about it. Commanding this to be cried out three times under the witness of the Holy Spirit, and discovering nothing at all with the appearance of truth about it, they enacted by common counsel that, because they had found neither proof of guilt nor a confession despite the fact that the trial had been publicised and news of it had been disseminated everywhere, he should be made completely free from any suspicion in a more local synod which Bishop Walo, worthy of all reverence, should celebrate for the sons of the Church. By the ordeal of the body and blood of Christ, which alone is proven more true and believed to be more terrible, or rather more life-giving, he should be purified publicly of the outrage he was said to have committed. To wit, in this way: he should be solemnly told in advance that if he is guilty in any way of such a crime, he should not come and accept the host, and if he should rashly presume to do so, by the censure of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Prince of the Apostles, he would be denied the life-giving price of our redemption and, with Judas, who betrayed the Lord, he would be irrecoverably doomed and damned to eternal suffering. But if he truly knew himself to be innocent of everything, trusting in the mercy of God, he should not despair of most beneficially gaining the gift of such a prize for the remedy of his salvation. This was completely satisfactory to everyone.

From there¸ the most pious pastor Walo, moved by mercy, brought together a holy synod of his own church at the abbey and public castle of Flavigny, and, in accordance with what was established by the aforesaid bishops, having led solemn masses, he brought everyone who was present together in the foremost church of Saint-Pierre and warned the aforesaid man that he must decide for himself whether to accept the host or refuse it as his conscience dictated. He did not hesitate, and most faithfully invoking as his judge and witness God and that which will secure the price of redemption, in view of everyone, he fulfilled in every way the vow laid out above. Therefore, after he was given such a gift, lest he should be further hurt by such wounds from the jealous, he asked that this writing should be related by the aforesaid lord Walo and his colleagues (who are written below), and corroborated by their hands.

Walo, humble bishop of the holy church of Autun, related and subscribed this.

Ardrad, humble bishop of the church of Chalon, subscribed. Gerald, ruler and humble bishop of the holy church of Mâcon subscribed.

You’ve been seeing a lot of pretty original documents, but this is more often what we have to work with: the cartulary of Flavigny has been lost for centuries, so this is one of the Early Modern copies which preserve it (specifically, grace of the BNF, MS Baluze 40 fol. 47r).

Despite the text’s claims, historians have been fairly sure that Girfred was in fact guilty of Adalgar’s murder. This began very early, in fact – a short history of the abbey known as the Series Abbatum Flaviniacensium makes reference to Girfred’s guilt. So why was Adalgar in the way? As we’ve seen, Richard was already count of Autun, and that was one thing, but Adalgar of Autun was much more important – it’s quite possible Richard was the local second fiddle. This might not have mattered whilst Adalgar was supporting King Odo and Richard had close ties to Louis the Blind, but Richard can’t be seen in Provence after the very early 890s, and it looks like he was taking advantage of the disruption caused by the civil war between Odo and Charles the Simple to retrench himself in Burgundy.

This comes through clearly in Adalgar’s replacement. Bishop Walo there is actually Richard’s nephew, and he’s basically a tame prelate. This is one reason why historians have been fairly confident that Girfred was the murderer: when accused, he immediately fled to the one person who benefitted most directly, the new bishop, who had been ordained by an archbishop of Lyon so new that he technically wasn’t allowed to do it. (The charter actually covers this up by substituting the name of Archbishop Aurelian – the long-lived former archbishop – for Archbishop Argrim, who actually carried out the consecration.) Given how important bishops were in Burgundy, Richard needed to get them in line to have a shot at regional dominance.

Doing this by violence, though, is unusual. Of Richard’s immediate contemporaries, Robert of Neustria was mostly appointed to his honores and William the Pious largely inherited his. Both men had to fight at one point or another – Robert of Neustria, as we breezed over two weeks ago, was involved in an unsuccessful fight to become count of Poitiers; and William the Pious (on the other side) successfully fought to prevent a candidate of King Odo named Hugh from becoming count of Bourges in his stead. But straightforwardly launching multiple coups de main and having them succeed is out of the ordinary for this period, and I’m still not clear how Richard gets away with it. The civil war is a key element – Odo is a busy man, and Richard is able to play him and Charles the Simple off against each other for recognition – but there are missing elements here. Still, Richard the Justiciar’s emergence is quite important precisely because it is violent and to a degree unprecedented. Whereas William and Robert are very much late-Carolingian potentates, Richard has aspects of something else…

2 thoughts on “Charter a Week 18: Murder in Autun!

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