Charter a Week 19: The Attempted Conquests of King Zwentibald

Enough hanging around in the provinces! Let’s get to where the action is really happening: the civil war, baby! We’ve had cause to mention a couple of times that, beginning in 893, there was a rebellion launched against Odo in the name of Charles the Simple. The underlying cause for this appears to be that, for whatever reason, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims did not like Odo – he had, in 888, tried to crown his relative Guy of Spoleto king instead, although that hadn’t taken – but more broadly, given that the rebels were largely confined to the north-east, the immediate catalyst seems to have been Odo’s execution of his cousin Walker, who held the castle of Laon. (There may be parallels as well to the north-east’s distrust for King Carloman II a decade earlier.)

Things did not go terribly well for the rebels. After Easter 893, Fulk and Heribert I of Vermandois, with the young Charles and an army, set out against King Odo. When they met him, the Latin of our main source, the Annales Vedastini, does not make it fully clear what happened, but it is evident that the rebels lost an important political struggle to win over Richard the Justiciar, William the Pious, and Count Adhemar of Poitiers, who were won over to Odo. Odo then won a strategic victory against Fulk that autumn, forcing him to leave the kingdom and spend the winter negotiating for peace (probably, in Fulk’s case, in bad faith).

The following year, Odo took Rheims, forcing Fulk and Charles to flee to Arnulf of Carinthia, who apparently received them warmly but did not give them any support against Odo. Charles now went to Richard the Justiciar, who looks to have been at best lukewarm about having Fulk and Charles there. By the start of 895, then, Charles and Fulk were in a bit of a spot.

All was not lost, though. Whilst this drama had been playing out in the West, Arnulf himself had been trying to make his bastard son Zwentibald king of Lotharingia. In 895, he succeeded. Zwentibald, however, appears to have felt like expanding his kingdom. Thus, although his father Arnulf was a supporter of Odo, Zwentibald provided military support for Charles. And thus, this week’s charter:

DD Zw no. 3 (14th August 895, Trosly)

In the name of the holy and inseparable Trinity. Zwentibald, by the assent of supernal clemency king.

Let all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us know that Our beloved and faithful archbishop and chancellor Ratbod [of Trier] appealed to Us that We might concede something to a certain congregation of monks which is the congregation of the holy archangel Michael for their prebend. We, not refusing his petition, for the increase of Our reward, conceded to them a manor named Buxières-sous-les-Côtes and Heudicourt-sous-les-Côtes with everything which pertains to that benefice, that is, forty-four manses, and one manse in Refroicourt with a mill, as well as one chapel in Bannoncourt with its appendages, and it is sited in the district of Verdunois, in Ricuin [of Verdun]’s county; and in the district of Scarponnais, in Iremfred’s county, one chapel in the estate of Essey with its appendages.

And all this which We concede to the aforesaid abbey used to previously pertain not in fact to the allowance for the monks, but was specifically rendered to the abbot. But We considered their poverty, which stemmed from the oppression of the gentiles, and with the consent of their abbot Stephen We concede to them the aforesaid goods with everything which is seen to pertain there, that is, bondsmen, fields cultivated and uncultivated, mobile and immobile goods, meadows, vineyards, pastures, woods, waters and watercourses, with paths and impassable land, with roads out and in, with incomes claimed and to be claimed, so that they might more freely and faithfully pour out prayers for Us before the Lord.

For this reason, We commanded this precept be written on this matter, so that the present concession might endure firm and uncorrupted. In addition We, holding the pen in Our hand, signed and confirmed this, whereby this donation might be firmer, and We commanded it be imprinted this Our seal, that it might persevere perpetually undisturbed.

Sign of lord Zwentibald, most glorious of kings.

Sign of lord Louis [the Child], most serene of kings.

I, therefore, Waldger the notary, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the 19th kalends of September (14th August), in the year of the Lord 895, in the 13th indiction, in the first year of King Zwentibald.

Enacted in the township of Trosly-Loire, next to the city of Noyon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Given on the 16th kalends of September (16th August), in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 908, in the 11th indiction, in the 9th year of the reign of lord Louis.

Enacted at Frankfurt.

800px-zwentiboldbrunnen_muenstereifel
A modern-day statue of King Zwentibald. (source)

Now, qua diploma, this diploma isn’t all that interesting (except the confirmation of it by Zwentibald’s half-brother and successor Louis the Child, which is interesting but we’re not going to deal with it now). Its content will become relevant shortly, but not today. No, what’s interesting about it is where it’s issued: in the West Frankish kingdom. The closest analogy here is Hugh of Arles’ diplomas from Provence – Zwentibald is doing king stuff in a kingdom, but how far he’s trying to claim it as his kingdom is up for debate. (Remember, Charles the Fat became West Frankish king precisely by coming to the kingdom and doing king stuff.)

That said, Zwentibald’s aggression is much more evident than Hugh’s. Zwentibald is not helping Charles out of the goodness of his heart. Charles’ supporters had promised him part of their kingdom, and whilst Charles and Zwentibald are besieging Laon, some of Charles’ men swap sides and go to Zwentibald – including Baldwin the Bald of Flanders. (There’s even a Flemish charter dated by Zwentibald’s reign, which is a very suspicious document but I think the dating clause is right because – well, no-one likes Zwentibald, why make it up?) After that, Charles’ men are worried Zwentibald is planning to kill him. So this alliance doesn’t really work out.

What is interesting about it, though, is that it’s one of the few efforts to conquer a bit of a kingdom that I know of from this period. Most invasions are with the aim of taking the whole lot. Admittedly the old Middle Kingdom has some fuzzy borders, so Zwentibald might feel like he has more wiggle room; and some of his key supporters, including Reginar Long-Neck, are from precisely the north-west area he’s trying to expand into. Still, it’s an unusual thing, and makes me think that the Charles/Odo civil war is a lot stranger and more important than the Annales Vedastini’s terse reportage implies.

3 thoughts on “Charter a Week 19: The Attempted Conquests of King Zwentibald

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