Charter a Week 29: Carolingian Normandy

The coast of the English Channel is a highway for ships. This has, as we’ve seen, already caused the Carolingian kings some problems, and it will, spoiler warning, continue to do so in future. The extent to which Charles the Simple could exert any control over Rouen at this time is the subject of some debate. Anything we know here comes from the archaeology: there was a new street plan laid out at some point in the late ninth century, but who was behind it we don’t know. Pierre Bauduin thinks that there was a modus vivendi between the Vikings and the people of Rouen in place by the 890s; Jacques le Maho thinks that the Franks were able to kick out the Vikings under King Odo. And then there’s this:

DD CtS no. 51 (17th December 905, Laon) = ARTEM no. 2045 = DK 6.xv

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by the gracious favour of divine clemency king.

Whoever takes great care to serve the king’s faithful commands should advance honoured by his gift.

Therefore, let the entirety of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, to wit, present and future, know that the venerable bishop Ralph [of Laon] and Count Odilard [of Laon], coming before the presence of Our Highness, made an appeal that We might concede to a certain deacon, Our chancellor Ernust, certain bondsmen of Our property to be held perpetually.

In short, We freely assented to their petitions, and We donate to him these bondsmen from the fisc of Pîtres on the river Seine, in the district of Roumois, to be possessed in right of property, whose names are as follows: Enguerrand, Hildegard, Blismodis, Engelhard, Engelmund, another Enguerrand, Ingelburgis, Ermengard, Elemburgis, Amalberga, and Dominic; and We consign, transfer and make a disposition of them from all right and power into the right and power of the same deacon Our chancellor Ernust, so that from this day forth, with no-one contradicting, he might have, hold and possess them in perpetuity, and freely do through this precept of Our authority whatever he wants to do, and dispose of them at will.

But that this edict of Our Magnitude might be held more firmly and be believed more truly and be guarded and observed more inviolably, having been confirmed below with Our own hand, We commanded it be sealed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary wrote this down and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 16th kalends of January [17th December], in the 10th indiction, in the 13th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 8th of the restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at Laon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

cw 29 905
The original diploma, from Diplomata Karolinorum as linked above.

What’s important about this diploma is that Pîtres is directly downstream from Rouen. It’s maybe half a day’s walk, probably gentler by ship. This act, though, seems to suggest that five years before Charles officially recognised Rollo’s control, he was able to control the royal fisc in what would become Normandy. So what’s going on? Who’s in charge in Rouen – the Normans or the Franks?

Well, there are a few potential options. First, this act is issued in Laon with the local bishop and a local count as intercessors, and it only concerns mancipia (slaves, sort-of) rather than real property. This raises the possibility that the whole transaction is going on in Laon and that Enguerrand, Hildegard et al. could be refugees from Pîtres rather than still living there.

This is possible, but I prefer a second possibility. There is an underlying assumption behind discussions of Rollonid control over Rouen c. 900 that either the Franks or the Vikings were in control. That is, if Rollo was already based in Rouen by 905 then it couldn’t possibly be the case that Charles the Simple (or Robert of Neustria, or whoever) could get anything done there, and vice-versa. Yet historians have at the same time been emphasising the role which Rollo’s ties to the Frankish world played in the concession of Rouen and the surrounding region. There is a tension here.

In fact, if Rollo had decided to settle down, why wouldn’t this involve making deals with local royal agents such as fiscal overseers? There’s no reason to assume that Rollo would have been able to lock the kings out of all the fiscal property on the lower Seine. Assuming that royal and Rollonid power in early Viking Rouen could co-exist lets us untangle several problems: first, it explains why Charles could dispose of property in the Roumois in this diploma. Second, it means that we don’t have to envision a very short time for Rollo to establish himself in Rouen. Third, if there were this longer history between Charles and Rollo, it helps explain the generous grants made by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte – Rollo might not have been completely reliable, but neither was (e.g.) Robert of Neustria. But both had proven themselves reliable enough in the past to be worth rewarding when it was opportune to do so.


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