Charter a Week 21: Breton Quasi-Kingship

So I can’t remember if I said I was going to do this l – don’t think so – but some years, there aren’t interesting charters specifically for that year, or there are interesting but undated charters I don’t have anywhere specific to put. Today, we’re dealing with both: 897 was a quiet year in the West Frankish civil war, and I think it’s time we turned our attention westwards. After all, there are kings in Gaul who aren’t Franks.

Well – sort of…

Cartulaire Noir de Saint-Maurice d’Angers no. 12 (26th November c. 900, Plessé)

In the name of our lord God Almighty on high. I, Alan, by grace of God pious and pacific king of Brittany.

If We lend the ears of Our Highness to the just and reasonable petitions of Our followers and bring them to effect, We repeat works of royal highness and because of this We render them more ready in services of Our friendship and loyalty.

Therefore, let the skill of all the Bretons faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, know for certain that the venerable Raino, humble bishop of the church of Angers, a friend beloved of Us, coming before Our Highness, requested that We might bestow by Our munificence a certain abbey, named Saint-Serge, in the district of Anjou near the city of Angers, to be firmly held and securely possessed by him during his lifetime and by his successors soldiering for the blessed Mauritius through a precept of Our authority, and in bestowing confirm it.

We proffered assent to his reasonable petition for his very worthy services, and We commanded this precept of Our Magnitude to be made and given to him, for the remedy of the soul of Charles [the Bald] and Pacswethen [of Vannes] and my soul and my sons, through which We concede and confirm the aforesaid abbey in its entirety, that is, with fields, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, and also estates justly and legally pertaining there, to be held by him and all his successors for all of their lifetimes, such that if anyone after this day, whether I or any of my successors, which I little believe, might presume to generate a calumny against him, let them incur the wrath of God Almighty and all the saints, and let them be damned by anathema maranatha for ever and ever.

But that this precept of Our largess might endure firm and undisturbed, We commanded it be signed by Our signet and We decreed it be strengthened by my sons and followers.

Sign of Alan, most glorious of kings.

Given on the sixth kalends of December [26th November], in the …th indiction, in the reign of Alan in Brittany.

Enacted at the castle of Plessé.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

[Column 1] S. Oreguen, his wife. S. Bishop Bili [of Vannes]. S. Bishop Fulcher [of Nantes]. S. Guerech, Alan’s son. S. Pacswethen, his brother.

[Column 2] S. Budic. S. Conwalon. S. Camraladen. S. Turimcader. S. Blenlivet. S. Laurence. S. Herluin. S. Trumnal. S. Curbreth. S. Riwallon. S. Salomon.

So this is interesting. I have in fact written about this in print, so if you want to find my publishable thoughts, I’d say go there (or, given how difficult it can be to find easily-accessible copies of Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, e-mail me for a PDF). The abbreviated version, though, is as follows.

There’s by this point a long-standing tradition of several decades within Brittany of having their rulers imitating Carolingian royal self-presentation, but not completely. Hence, Alan the Great here, ‘pious and pacific king of Brittany’, has issued something which could almost be a Carolingian royal diploma, except for the very uncharacteristic presence of a witness list. What this adds up to, I argue, is a status of basically-official quasi-royalty, of the Breton rulers being ‘kind of’ kings.

At the turn of the tenth century, after all, the Bretons have spend decades doing alright for themselves. When they’re in a state of civil war – and often they are – things are bad, but under one ruler, things damp down for long enough to do some real damage to West Frankish interests. Alan’s predecessor(-ish) Salomon managed to grab Nantes and Rennes, as well as what is now western Normandy; and Anjou is similarly a Breton sphere of influence.

A view of modern Angers (source)

This is all going to change with the advent of Viking attacks, but for the moment this charter is a remarkable display of self-confidence of a Breton rulership increasingly presenting itself in language taken from Carolingian kingship.

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