Being a mostly text-based historian, it’s nice when I get to work with more material-culture stuff, not least because it means that I can put it into blog posts like the following… So, take a look at this:
Good, no? This is the Kriegsfahne (‘war banner’) of Gerberga. It’s not actually a war banner – it’s too small, for one thing – but that name has become attached to it. To give a bit of explanation about the iconography, what we have here is Christ and several saints in the middle, with a ‘Count Rainard’ (Ragenardus comes) kneeling before Christ, several martial verses from Psalm 144 stitched around the outside, and the phrase ‘Gerberga made me’ near the bottom. The textile is currently to be found in the cathedral treasury at Cologne, where it has been since the mid-tenth century. It is usually associated with Queen Gerberga, wife of Louis IV, which is fair enough insofar as a) Bruno, archbishop of Cologne in the mid-tenth century, was her brother; and b) one of the saints on this thing is St Baso, who was only culted in the abbey of Nore-Dame de Laon, which Gerberga happened to own.
The more interesting question, in terms of what this flag is trying to convey, is who Count Rainard is. He’s usually associated with Count Reginar III of Hainaut, a major figure in northern Lotharingia. So the argument goes, Gerberga, Bruno, and Reginar had a major dust-up in the 950s, the flag depicts Reginar defeated and prostrate, and it’s a reminder of her role in Reginar’s overcoming.
I have to confess to being unconvinced by this. First of all, Reginar (Ragenarius, Reginherus, Raginerus) is not the same name as Ragenardus. Second, Ragenardus here is not visibly defeated. For one thing, he’s not wearing penitential clothing; for another, he’s still very visibly wearing a sword, which one would have thought would be an obvious no-no if you wanted to depict a beaten enemy. In fact, the closest parallel to Ragenardus’ position are Carolingian and Ottonian pictures of reigning kings kneeling before Christ.
So what do I think is happening here? Well, first, who is Ragenardus? My answer to that is that it is a man named Count Ragenold of Roucy. Ragenold was Queen Gerberga’s son-in-law, a major figure in Louis IV’s latter years, and a major military leader in the fight Louis and Gerberga led against Hugh the Great. It must be admitted that Ragenardus and Ragenoldus are also not quite the same name, but an L-R elision is not unknown, and in the parallel case of Count Rainald the Old of Sens, you can see contemporary authors making precisely this elision.
If it is Ragenold, then the flag must be presenting him not as a penitent, but as a successful warrior. The words of Psalm 144 around the edge, ‘Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight’, caption an armed figure kneeling before a triumphant Christ. This fits well into the context of Ragenold’s career in the late 950s, where he was involved in a number of Carolingian military expeditions into Burgundy in which both Gerberga and Bruno of Cologne were involved. Given that, thanks to his marriage, Ragenold was part of the extended Ottonian family, imagining this as a gift to the in-laws is far from implausible… This does of course raise the question: why give to the in-laws, and why give this? And for the answer to that, well, you’ll have to wait for the book…