Source Translation: Dynasty and Rebellion

Flodoard of Rheims, Historia Remensis Ecclesiae, IV.v, pp. 380-383 (c. 894).

[Fulk] sent letters to the Transrhenian king Arnulf [of Carinthia] for the sake of King Charles [the Simple], whom he had anointed as king whilst he was still a boy, and he explained the causes for [Charles’] elevation, for he had heard that Arnulf’s mind had been turned against him because of what he had done. He noted that after the death of Emperor Charles [the Fat], Arnulf’s uncle, he had set out for Arnulf’s service, wanting to receive his dominion and governance – but the king had sent him away without any counsel or consolation. Therefore, since no hope remained for [Fulk] in [Arnulf], he was compelled to receive the dominion of [Arnulf’s] man, that is, Odo, who was unconnected to the royal family and tyrannically abused royal power, but whose dominion he had reluctantly endured until now. So, because he desired Arnulf’s dominion, he therefore set out for his service but after he could get no advice from him, he did the only thing which was left to him, which was to choose to have the only other king whom they had from the royal line and whose predecessors and brothers had been kings.

He also rendered account for why they had not done it before (for which the same king blamed him). Because, when Emperor Charles died, and Arnulf himself was unwilling to receive the rule of the realm, this Charles [the Simple] was still very little, both in body and in wisdom, and was unsuitable for governing a kingdom, and given the threat of persecution by the Northmen, it was at that time too dangerous to elect him. But since they had seen him reach an appropriate age, when he knew to proffer assent to those wholesomely giving him counsel, they received him in a manner appropriate with God’s honour, that he might take care of the realm, wanting to establish him in such a manner that he might be useful to this realm and Arnulf. Against the accusation that they had presumed to do this without Arnulf’s counsel, he asserted that they had followed the custom of the Frankish people, whose custom had always been that when the king died, they would elect another from the royal family and lineage without respect to or inquiry after the wishes of any greater or more powerful king. Having made the king by this custom, they wanted to commit him to [Arnulf’s] fidelity and counsel, so that he might use his aid and counsel in everything, and so that both the king and the whole realm might be subdued to his precepts and ordinances.

Thereafter, because he had heard it suggested to the king that he had done this against the king’s fidelity and for his own private gain, he said that the very Anskeric [bishop of Paris] who was known to have bandied this about had, before the archbishop himself had tried to do anything about this matter, come to him in the presence of Counts Heribert [I of Vermandois] and Ecfrid [of Artois] and sought both counsel and aid on what he should do about the commands of Odo, who had ordered him to do insupportable things. He asked for counsel on behalf of Gozfred’s sons concerning the evil which Odo was trying to do to them; and they asked that a chief should be established by common counsel who was such a man that they might be secure after having submitted themselves to him, intending either on Guy [of Spoleto] or on this Charles of the royal line. At the same time, those who were there considered whom they would be better advised to attend, and it seemed to them, for the sake of gaining the realm’s advantage and out of fear of contradiction on Arnulf’s part, and because the rulership of a royal race is right and proper, that they should go over to this Charles. They believed that Arnulf would be happy for his kinsman, and defend him and the realm.

But he had heard it bandied about that he had done this on behalf of Guy [of Spoleto], so that by this wile he might secretly bring him into the realm and, having dismissed the boy Charles, go over to Guy’s side. He asserted that this was a knowing falsehood bandied against him by the envy of the jealous. For the sort of man who promulgated such slanders knew that he could be accused in the same way; he, on the other hand, knew himself neither to be such a man nor to be born from such parents. The king’s predecessors had never found such trickery in his forefathers, whom they considered proven as completely loyal and useful for the realm, and for that reason they honourably elevated them. Wherefore he blushed on the king’s behalf, that he would believe this of him or brand himself with such infamy.

Finally, because he had heard that it had been said to Arnulf that this Charles was not Louis [the Stammerer’s] son, he asserted that he could not believe that there was anyone who, if they saw him and knew his relatives’ appearance, would not recognise him as coming from the royal lineage: he bore certain signs of his father Louis by which he could be known as his son. He therefore asked Arnulf’s royal majesty that he should worthily accept this truth and that no-one be able to turn his mind against his innocent king, his kinsman, but that he have examined in his presence and the presence of his followers whether matters were as he had stated, and lead affairs to their due conclusion, thinking of how his ancestors had governed the state of the realm and how the descent of royal highness had always hitherto flourished, but how at that time just that prince and his little kinsman Charles remained from the whole royal family; and he should consider what might come to pass if the end due to everyone should ask for him, since there were already some many kings unconnected to the royal family, and there would be yet more who would affect for themselves the name of kings. Who would help his son ascend to the inheritance of the realm due to him after his death, if it happened that his kinsman Charles were toppled?

He also added that it was known that amongst nearly all the peoples, the Frankish people were accustomed to have hereditary kings, offering the witness of the blessed Pope Gregory on this, and adding as well from German books the story of old king Ermenric, who sent all his offspring to die by the impious counsels of one of his counsellors; and he begged that the king should not acquiesce to wicked counsels, but should have mercy on this people and aid the failing royal race, taking care that the dignity of his line should be strengthened in his own time, and that those who became kings from unconnected families, or who desired so to become, should not prevail against those to whom royal honour was due because of their family. He stated that he had sent Aletramnus to suggest to the same Arnulf that he should command any of those who had established Charles as king he pleased to come into his service, and they would reasonably show before his sublimity that matters were as he had described.

He also solicited and prayed that the king should deal with the aforewritten material with a receptive heart, and know of [Fulk’s] devotion to and intent on his fidelity, that Charles should respect [Arnulf’s] counsel in everything he did, and remain protected by his piety, and that no-one should be able to turn the heart of the king away from helping the realm or Charles.

This isn’t the first time justifying rebellion has come up on this blog, and it isn’t the first time that dynasty has either. What’s significant about this letter is that it is more-or-less the key piece of evidence for historians who want to argue that 888 represents a ‘dynastic crisis’ as opposed to just a succession crisis. And if you read it you can see why: if you’re looking for a statement about the paramount importance of blood, it’s right hee.

It’s just a shame the letter itself is such a crock. As we talked about on Monday, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims was using Charles the Simple as figurehead for his own rebellion. This letter was written to defend himself against the charge of – as he puts it – putting his private interests ahead of that of the realm. Thing is, it’s clear from reading it that this is exactly what Fulk has done. He has to defend himself from charge after charge after charge – that he didn’t crown Charles in 888 (he didn’t), that he’s going against Arnulf in crowning him now (he is), that he’s working on behalf of Guy of Spoleto (he probably isn’t, but given that Guy is who he did crown in 888, it’s a reasonable belief), and so on. It’s also clear from the letter that he has few friends at Arnulf’s court, and that some people who he thought were originally on side have turned out not to be – Bishop Anskeric of Paris comes in for a drubbing here. Even worse, he doesn’t have real arguments against the Guy of Spoleto point, which is probably the key charge against his own rhetoric – note how what he says in response amounts to ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

Fulk’s appeals availed him nought. It’s clear that justifying his rebellion in terms of Charles’ Carolingian blood did not gain him much support, and may in fact have caused contemporaries to view his cause with a certain degree of cynicism. Equally, it didn’t persuade Arnulf. If Fulk hoped that an appeal to family would help, he was sorely mistaken. Arnulf stayed on Odo’s side throughout the 890s, fairly constantly, and Fulk himself was given the cold shoulder. I think what is happening here is that Fulk has picked out a fringe idea to legitimise himself in the hope that it’ll appeal to Arnulf’s self-interest, but that idea is in fact too fringe to be convincing.

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