Charter a Week 30: A Property Transaction in Three Acts

Technically speaking, I’m spoiling you today, because this week’s Charter A Week is in fact not one, but three charters. In fact, as you’ll see, that’s probably overselling them. Most medievalists are familiar with the concept of the chirograph, where two copies of the same charter are written on the same piece of parchment with the word chirographum in the middle which is then cut through so each party can have a copy of the transaction which can be compared against the other. Here, though, something more complicated is happening:

DD CtS no. 54 (7th September 906, Laon)

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

Whatever We confer by Our clemency on places given over to divine worship at the suggestion of Our followers, We should truly trust God to repay Us thereafter.

Therefore, let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, both present, to wit, and future, know that Our most beloved follower Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, approaching Our Serenity, made known to Our Highness that he had sought from the monks of the aforesaid abbey certain of their goods, once given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for their particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to him in Our service, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that they might concede the same goods to him in benefice for his lifetime alone. But lest his petition should seem absurd and burdensome, and lest he should hence incur the offence of God and His most dear of priests Amandus, and lest he be seen to inflict any harassment on the servants of God because of this act and lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources fail them, insofar as it can be done, he requested from Our Mildness that We might consign from that abbey and from his demesne the estate which is called Dechy with all of the goods pertaining to it to their particular needs, and that We should deliver it up perennially from the present day to benefit their uses.

We proffered assent, thinking his request just and reasonable, and We commanded this precept of Our authority be made about this matter, and We gave it to the same monks, through which We enact and wish to firm in perpetuity that the said estate of Dechy, which We concede to them at present with everything pertaining to it, should be yielded forever to their demesne, and after the death of Our follower Robert, the cell of Barisis with everything legally pertaining to it should be recalled to their dominion without contradiction from any abbot.

In addition, We decree that whatever was bestowed on the same holy congregation by emperors and kings, Our predecessors, or any good people, in any districts or territories, as We previously confirmed in Our edict made for the same monks at the petition of Archbishop Fulk [of Rheims], should also in the same way now endure perennially undisturbed under the fullest tutelage of immunity.

And that this precept of Our Royal Majesty might obtain inviolable firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be sealed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 7th ides of September [7th September], in the 9th indiction, in the 14th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 9th of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at the castle of Laon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

DD RR no. 46 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

In the name of God, Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, to the beloved brothers of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that I sought from you some of your goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for your particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to me in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that you might concede the same goods to me in benefice for my lifetime alone. Because I wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as I ought not to, but rather having before my eyes the just judgement of God, and lest I incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest I inflict any harassment on you thereby, I sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail you because of this act, insofar as it can be done, I requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from Our demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to your particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit your uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that I should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which I accepted from you as long as I live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, I should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever I can in any fashion, and each year I should have 12 pennies paid on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After my departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to your dominion without contradiction from any abbot. No less should the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in your manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of Saint-Amand, in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Sign of Abbot Robert.

[Column 1:] S. Bishop Robert [of Noyon]. S. Count Altmar [of Arras]. S. Count Odilard [of Laon]. S. Count Hilmerad. S. Count Richer [of Astenois]. Count Erlebald [of Châtresais].

[Column 2:] S. Ralph. S. Letrand. S. Eilfred. S. Frodo. S. Walter. S. Ingelmar.

[Column 3:] S. Hugh. S. Rainard. S. Madelgaud. S. Ermenfred. S. Rainald. S. Hagano.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

800px-saint-amand-les-eaux_-_tour_de_l27abbaye_280229
One of the surviving bits of Saint-Amand (source)

DD RR III.1 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

To the venerable in Christ Abbot Robert of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amand, we, the brothers of the congregation of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that you sought from us some of our goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for our particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to you in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it – that is, Vallemont, Haidulphi cortis, Bouvincourt, Mactaldi cortis, Normezières, Fresnes, Pierremande, Mennessis, Cessières, Marcilly, Hauteville, Persicus – that is, that we might concede the same goods to you in benefice for your lifetime alone. Because you wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as you ought not to, but rather having before your eyes the just judgement of God, and lest you incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest you inflict any harassment on us thereby, you sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail us because of this act, insofar as it can be done, you requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from your demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to our particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit our uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that you should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which you accepted from us as long as you live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, you should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever you can in any fashion, and each year you should have 12 pennies paid to us on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After your departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to our dominion without contradiction from any abbot. And as well, let the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity. And on the anniversary of your demise, a great feast shall be prepared from that estate of Dechy in memory of you, after solemn masses and offerings for you have been carried out.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in the same manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of the blessed Amandus in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Prior Ricfred.

[Column 1:] S. Theobert the priest. S. Ageric the priest. S. Ludio the priest. S. Motgis the priest. S. Eligius the priest. S. Madalgar the priest.

[Column 2:] S. Stephen the priest. S. Hildebrand the priest. S. Rodualus the deacon. S. Magenard the priest. S. Gerard the deacon. S. Everbern the priest.

[Column 3:] S. Rather the priest. S. Mainer the priest. S. Blitgar the deacon. S. Dumher the deacon. S. Winebert the subdeacon. S. Lideric the subdeacon. S. Fredenod the subdeacon.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

So what we have here isn’t an identical copy of an exchange: it’s both sides of a contract, confirmed by a royal diploma. This isn’t as odd as it sounds. There are a fair few Carolingian royal diplomas from the ninth century confirming exchanges, and if I had to guess I’d say that charters like those of Robert of Neustria and the monks formed the basis of those transactions but weren’t subsequently preserved because they weren’t as authoritative as a royal diploma. This raises interesting questions about why there were preserved, though. I can’t think of any other examples of this where we still have all the documents – perhaps some of my learned readers can help?

In any case, these charters are not just rare diplomatic birds, they also provide important insight into West Frankish politics at this point. The first thing to note is that, despite his by-name, Robert of Neustria – for it is he – wasn’t just limited to Neustria in terms of his power-base. Saint-Amand was an important abbey in the kingdom’s north-east, and as its abbot Robert was able to draw on its resources. Not, however, its ideological resources. Note that the scribes felt the need to reclad the transaction in appropriately royal garb for Charles’ diploma, but with Robert’s charter they just changed the pronouns from the monks’ own act. For one of the first so-called ‘territorial princes’, Robert’s authority is not visibly either territorial or princely…

Robert’s charter does, however, shed some light on the composition of the royal court. The witnesses there are all figures from the royal court rather than Robert’s own entourage. We’ve already met Odilard of Laon last week, and from our past and future narrative sources, we know that Altmar of Arras and Erlebald of Châtresais were Charles’ allies. What we seem to have here, then, are some of the more important people at Charles’ court at the time. The problem is, this isn’t a full snap-shot. We have a witness list full of – insofar as we can place them – entirely north-eastern figures, but the transaction is also taking place in the north-east, and the witnesses are thus probably being selected not just for prestige but for relevance. That is, there is probably a selection bias against people who don’t come from the area, meaning that although we can say that Charles appears fairly well-planted in the north-east, we can’t say he isn’t outside of that region. The witness list hides one other bit of foreshadowing, though. See that guy Hagano who susbscribes last in the third column? We’ll see him again in future…

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