Charter A Week 36: Justice is Blind

Whilst Charles the Simple was winning over the Lotharingians, things were going less well for his southern relative Louis the Blind. In 905, Louis’ attempt to become king of Italy had gone horribly wrong and he had indeed been blinded. He then retreated back to Provence. This is a very interesting and unusual period of rule. Being blinded, in the Byzantine world, typically disqualified you for the throne; and traditionally had done in the Frankish one. Yet Louis just keeps on truckin’. Although he never again left Vienne, people continued to come to him, and here’s an example of this:

DD Provence no. 52 (912, Vienne)

While lord Louis, most glorious of august emperors, was residing at Vienne, in the palace of the blessed apostle Andrew, the venerable man Remigiar, bishop of the holy church of Valence, coming before him into the presence of his magnates, lodging a complaint concerning Villeneuve, which his predecessors as king and emperor had conceded to God and the outstanding confessor and pontiff Saint Apollinaris from the tame of Charlemagne, including, most recently, his father, Boso, the most glorious of kings, and his mother, the most glorious Ermengard, along with our said lord the most glorious of emperors, who had presented it to Saint Apollinaris, the extraordinary confessor of Christ, through a royal precept. The famous duke and margrave Hugh [of Arles] held the said Villeneuve wrongfully, and had alienated it from God and Saint Apollinaris.

The aforesaid duke and margrave, hearing the outcry of this pontiff, was struck by piety, and through the command of our lord the emperor and through the counsel of the bishops and through the judgment of the counts, the nobles, and his other followers, restored this land to God and Saint Apollinaris through his wadium, promising that he would never in future be negligent concerning it.

Hearing this, the lord emperor restored that land to the aforesaid bishop through a stick which he held in his hand, ordering that his deeds and the precepts of his predecessors as king and emperor should in God’s name endure for all time.

But that it might be believed by everyone and that the aforesaid estate might never be harassed by anyone, that most glorious of emperors commanded this document to be made and confirmed it with his own hand and commanded that it be strengthened by his followers and ordered it be signed with his signet.

Sign of Louis, most serene of august emperors. Alexander, humble bishop of the holy church of Vienne, confirmed this document. S. Isaac, humble bishop of the holy church of Grenoble. S. Theodulf, consecrated bishop of the holy church of Embrun, confirmed this. S. Hugh, famous duke and margrave. S. Count Boso [of Arles]. S. Count Adelelm, S. Boso his son. S. Gozelm.

Theudo the notary composed this document at the command of Archbishop Alexander of Vienne, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 912, in the 15th indiction, in the 11th year of the reign of our lord Emperor Louis.

Enacted at Vienne.

Happily in the name of God.

cathédrale Saint-Apollinaire
The apse of Valence Cathedral in modern times (source)

My strong suspicion is that this is a Scheinprozess, a fake trial designed to show Remigiar of Valence’s title to the land in a court situation. Hugh of Arles (for it is he) was the most important man in the kingdom, and I don’t think he could have been forced to hand over the land if he didn’t want to. That he is presented as doing it out of his own piety is important here. Although Remigiar makes his complaint to the king, it’s Hugh who hears it – unlike previous cases we’ve seen, there’s no attempt to make a defence, simply an acknowledgement of the duke’s own piety. We know from other sources, notably the Vita Apollonaris, that Remigiar and Hugh were collaborators during this period, so it’s likely that the two men were colluding to confirm the land in the church’s possession.

In fact, the Miracula Apollonaris’ formula for Hugh’s role at this time, ‘ruling the commonwealth under Emperor Louis’ is itself remarkable. This charter shows the remarkable degree of consensus Louis’ regime had built up – we have the most significant figures of the realm here, from north and south, and even – in the person of Theodulf of Embrun – from the mountainous regions to the east. Most – we’ll talk about some exceptions in future, but most – of the great magnates of Louis’ kingdom seem to have been quite happy with his regime. (This is, incidentally, a useful refutation of the idea that Carolingian government had to be itinerant to be effective.) No-one cared that the emperor had no clothes – well, no eyes – because royal rule was going along perfectly well anyway.


7 thoughts on “Charter A Week 36: Justice is Blind

  1. This is serendipitous, I’ve been thinking about this charter in the last days! (Or is it more the approach of Leeds than serendipity?)
    It seems indeed that this charter is a cornerstone of understanding Louis’s later rule. Big men from all over his kingdom coming together, the supposed power begins the throne subjugating himself under the emperor’s rule. I’m not sure I quite agree with your hypothesis of a faked case. Why go to this trouble when Louis would happily confirm a church’s possessions for every new bishop? I think the reference to Hugh’s piety seems more like a face-saving concession, similar to his unusually magnificent titles. Those gave rise to Poupardin’s and Manteyer’s complicated ideas of what the county/duchy/march Provence meant, respectively, and when Hugh succeeded to each office (and when he passed them to his brother).
    Hugh undoubtedly is the most important magnate in Louis’s kingdom right now. But is he the shadow king who controls stuff behind the scenes? Or is it more like Thompson argued, that Hugh went to be king in Italy because he couldn’t overthrow Louis in Provence? All this has so many interesting questions for royal legitimacy.
    Do I take it I’ll be seeing more provençal charters here soon?
    Grüße aus Tübingen!


    1. You’re quite right, the ‘fake trial’ idea is only one possible reading of the charter and it’s very possible that we can take it more at face value than it appears in that respect. On the other hand, the only one of Louis’ acts for Valence that we have (Poupardin no. 65) post-dates this trial, so Remigiar might not have expected a confirmatory diploma as standard? I still think the _Miracula_ suggest we’re dealing with two allies carrying out a pre-orchestrated process, but they’re definitely written post facto so could very well be back-projecting a later situation. Such are the joys of our source base!

      As for the question of whether Hugh was the shadow-king controlling everything behind the scenes or whether he couldn’t overthrow Louis… yes? For whatever reason, Hugh doesn’t seem to be able to become king in Provence even after Louis’ death (there’s a blog post about this somewhere), but I think he and his family are the people who give Louis any force. The _Miracula_ are again interesting here: one of the papers at the conference I recently organised in Leeds was Emily Ward arguing that, even in cases where the ruler was a minor, only the king’s actions get to be described as ‘ruling’ (‘regere’) – their guardians or regents ‘gubernare’ or ‘administrare’ but never ‘regere’. That’s in a slightly later period, but it’s potentially important that the _Miracula_ do use ‘regere’ to talk about Hugh.

      There will be at least one more Provencal charter – and, actually, given that you’re here, I might pick your brains about it :p It’s one of Louis’ last diplomas, with Bonus in it, and my question is this: what do you think Bonus’ deal actually is, especially the description of him as ‘fidelissimus obsecundator’? I have two hypotheses, depending on whether Bonus’ rise pre- or post-dates the massive shrinkage of Louis’ influence after the mid-920s. If Bonus’ rise is prior (and maybe causal?), then I wonder if ‘obsecundator’ might not be something like ‘disability support assistant’, and this is how he gets close to the emperor. If it’s posterior, I wonder if it’s not a slightly bitter ‘at least _he’s_ still around’ kind of thing. What do you reckon?


  2. Merci pour votre blog toujours aussi intéressant, en particulier vos posts sur Louis III l’Aveugle, personnage qui m’intéresse particulièrement (c’est d’ailleurs comme ça que j’ai découvert votre blog). Trop négligé Louis l’Aveugle, on peut dire que son échec définitif en 905 le poursuit encore de nos jours et les historiens ne s’y intéressent que très marginalement, à l’exception du bel article que lui avait consacré Pierre Ganivet ” La consolation de l’Empire. Louis III de Provence, dit “l’Aveugle”, ou les ambitions d’un prince” (2002), dans lequel il montrait que Louis avait été le porteur du dernier grand projet impérial du monde carolingien.

    La question des relations entre Louis et Hugues, que vous soulever à travers ce possible “faux procès” mis en scène en 912, est effectivement difficile à appréhender : après 905 Louis s’appuie-t-il “aveuglément” sur son cousin Hugues en lui faisant toute confiance (c’est la position dominante chez les historiens), ou leurs relations sont elles plus tendues que les sources ne le laissent croire ? Après tout, dès la mort de Louis en 928, Hugues s’arrangera pour que son fils Charles-Constantin ne lui succède surtout pas.

    Quoiqu’il en soit, je veux bien continuer à vous suivre dans votre exploration des chartes de Louis l’Aveugle ! 😉


    1. Merci pour vos aimables paroles! (et mes excuses pour le retard de réponse – j’était dans les Etats Unis!)

      Vous avez raison de dire que Louis est sous-estimé – mais j’attends de nouveaux travaux sur son règne de la part de collègues allemands 🙂

      La problème de Charles-Constantine et la succession de Louis est très difficile. En fait, je parlerai de ce sujet à l’IMC à Leeds cette année. Il est donc très probable que je vais traiter ce sujet sur le blog encore. Gardez l’œil ouvert pour cela!


  3. Je serais très intéressé de lire votre communication sur le sujet. Sur quels aspects de son règne portent ces travaux allemands ?


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