Charter a Week 39: Big Synods and Big Problems

Since we last checked in with William the Pious, duke of Aquitaine, things have not gone well for him. A bunch of his important allies – including the archbishop of Bourges – have died, and Charles the Simple and Robert of Neustria are breathing down his neck in the north. Meanwhile, Charles the Simple was consolidating his control of Lotharingia, Rudolf I of Transjurane Burgundy had died (in 912), and Hugh of Arles is looking pointedly at the Italian throne. This is the context for one of the most frustratingly fascinating sets of documents to have come out of the early tenth century. In 915, a murderer’s row of bishops set up a council at the church of Saint-Marcel-lès-Chalon, and transacted the following business:

Cartulaire de Saint-Vincent de Mâcon, no. 144 (915)

When in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the venerable archbishop lord Auster was residing in the suburb of the city of Chalon, in the church of Saint-Marcel the martyr, with a college of archbishops and bishops (that is, with Ardrad, venerable bishop of the same town; Gerald of Mâcon; Archbishop Aimoin of Besançon; Archbishop Agius of Narbonne; Bishop Elisachar of Bellay; Odilard of Maurienne), that is, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 915, in the 3rd indiction, and they were canonically settling no few matters therein for the rights andconcerning the state and advantage of the church, a certain priest named Bererius approached their presence, making a complaint that a certain priest named Ivo had usurped a certain estate named Lente, in the parish of Saint-Clément which Bererius held, against ecclesiastical right. The pontiffs, looking with diligent inquiry into his complaint, decreed that the said estate of Lente should revert to its former holder, that is, to the mother church of Saint-Clément, i.e. from the public road which begins at the Saône, which flows to Fredeco’s Hate before it goes across to the road which goes to the spring at Le Bioux; concerning which matter the aforesaid bishops commanded this writing of testimony, which they call a ‘restoration document’, be made in this wise, such that in future the church of Saint-Clément should endure no calumny concerning its parish. And that it might be held more firmly, they undersigned it with their own names.

So far, so clear. Things get wonkier with the next one:

Sixteenth-century text, from Paradin’s book (source)

G. Paradin, Histoire de Lyon, II.xxvi (915)

“Raculf, count of Mâcon, wishing to take his part of the spoils,had occupied the goods of the church of Saint-Clément of Mâcon, assured of the favour of King Carloman [sic], on whose behalf he was an échevin in the duchy of Burgundy. And this belief was justified, knowing the service which his father Bernard had done for King Carloman in recovering the city of Mâcon, knowing King Boso, who had been chased out of it thanks to his said father. The bishop of Mâcon, named Gerald, seeing himself lesser in credit and favour, did not know what better thing he could do than to take himself to Auster, archbishop of Lyon, his metropolitan, to whom he complained of the wrong which Raculf, count of Mâcon, had done to him. Then Archbishop Auster brought up with the king the affair of the bishop; he, unwilling to sadden Raculf nor to favour him in his wrongdoing, ordained that the affair should be decided by a provincial council of bishops. They forthwith convened at the priory of Saint-Marcel, outside the town of Chalon, and present there were Auster, metropolitan archbishop of Lyon, who presided; Archbishop Aimoin of Besançon; Archbishop Agius of Narbonne; Bishop Elisachar of Bellay; Odilard of Maurienne; Ardrad of Chalon; and Gerald of Mâcon. It was demonstrated to them, through Auster’s own words, that those who in earlier times had stolen the goods of the Temple of God has been visibly punished with strange punishments, like Antiochus, Heliodorus, Nicanor, Shoshenq, and others; and that the kings were the protectors of churches, not meaning that lords should undertake to take them and enrich themselves from the goods which had been donated by their predecessors for the support of ministers of churches and of the poor. It was quite possible to recognise this from the benefactions of the great emperor Charlemagne, of Louis the Pious, Charles the Bald, Louis the Stammerer, father of the present kings; therefore he was of the opinion that Count Raculf should restore to the church of Mâcon everything which he had occupied there. After this remonstrance, the assembly of bishops made a decree by which the count was condemned to restore the goods he occupied, directly or indirectly, to the church of Mâcon. He did this, as much out of fear of the excommunication which was appended to the decree, as through that which he saw was not advised by the king in this detention…”

So, to start with there are problems of preservation here. The first charter is from the cartulary of Saint-Vincent de Mâcon, and is thus less problematic (although there has clearly been some corruption – the name given above as ‘Archbishop Agius of Narbonne’ is actually gibberish in the text itself). The second section of text here, as you can see in the image, is actually an Early Modern French paraphrase made by a Humanist named Guillaume Paradin in the late sixteenth century. It’s not clear precisely what he was basing it on, either, although odds are good it’s a synodal document of some sort.

His notes, though, were clearly not very good. For one thing, this document evidently does not come from the reign of Carloman II; and the count in question is equally evidently not Raculf of Mâcon. For one thing, the reference to Bernard is clearly to Bernard Plantevelue, who captured Mâcon from Boso of Provence back in 880. For another, Raculf was almost certainly dead by this point. What seems to be happening is that Paradin has mixed up his notes somewhere, and confused Charles the Simple for Carloman II and Raculf for William the Pious.

In terms of content, the first thing to notice is that this is a big, big synod. We have no fewer than three archbishops, and they come from no fewer than three kingdoms. This is the first way in which these documents are frustrating – a trans-regnal synod like this must have been a hub for politics across the Frankish world, but we don’t even know enough about the background to suggest what they might have been talking about. In an Aquitanian context, though, we can make some suggestions. For one thing, the presence of Agius of Narbonne is significant – Agius’ predecessor Arnulf had been murdered in 913, in a chain of events which remain murky but which William was bound up in. Notably, it was in the aftermath of Arnulf’s murder that Viscount Alberic of Narbonne fled to Mâcon – where he married Raculf’s daughter. Bishop Gerald of Mâcon – the beneficiary of the council’s decision in the second document – was not particularly close to William. We may therefore be seeing here an attempt to retrench William’s authority in Mâcon at a time when the duke was weak, putting Alberic in place and dealing with the fallout from events in Narbonne. In this case, perhaps Bishop Gerald was using his position in the region to leverage some advantage for his church off William. However, this document is so fragmentary and so frustrating – the role of the king makes sense in terms of the reign of Carloman II but not of Charles the Simple in the 910s – that we end up scratching our heads. If only Paradin had transcribed the original document!  

4 thoughts on “Charter a Week 39: Big Synods and Big Problems

    1. Thank you, and thank you for the link! My go-to handbook for this sort of thing is Isabelle Schröder’s _Die westfränkischen Synoden von 888 bis 987_ (Munich, 1980), where the Council of Saint-Marcel is no. 34, pp. 205-8; but, of course, that has the disadvantage that it can’t be hyperlinked to…


      1. But it’s surely a better edition!
        Just two points: 1) The editors of conciliar texts knew about this episode but does not give any specific documentation, so, probably it was already lost by then. 2) There’s also the possibility raised by Rameu and Poupardin that Raculf was the same as Ranulf and extended his action well into 930s…


      2. Schröder notes (and I agree with her) that the Sirmond version is simply based on the Paradin, so you’re quite right that whatever he was basing it on was probably lost in the late sixteenth century. (In fact, Lyon was captured and razed by Protestants in 1562, so it’s possible, if speculative, that one reason Paradin’s version is so mixed-up is because the document was destroyed before he published…)

        As for Raculf, he’s almost certainly dead c. 900. Poupardin’s speculation has no firm basis, and the Ramnulf in the 920s documents simply isn’t the same man. There are three main reasons for dismissing Poupardin’s notion: 1) ‘Raculf’ and ‘Ramnulf’ aren’t the same name. It is possible, as he does, to adduce scribal mix-up, but there’s no reason to raise that possibility unless you’ve already decided that they _are_ the same person – ‘c’ and ‘mn’ are not easy to mix up. 2) Raculf’s activity can be pretty securely dated to the 890s, and he completely disappears from the record in the 900s and 910s. Mâconnais charters from this time are pretty thorough so if he was active in both the 890s and 920s we’d expect to see him in the documents from the decades in between. 3) Raculf is (almost) always called either ‘count’ or ‘viscount’ no matter where he appears, and definitely in judicial charters. Ramnulf has no such title. In short, Ramnulf and Raculf don’t have the same name, the same title, or the same chronological sphere of activity.


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