Charter A Week 51/1 – Dismembering Aquitaine

One disadvantage of the ‘Charter A Week’ format is that charters which are important but not prima facie interesting don’t usually make the cut. Last week is a case in point: there are  pair of related documents in the name of one Gerbald for the abbey of Cluny, which are by themselves not that interesting, but which reveal William the Younger, duke of Aquitaine, gathering his men – and Archbishop Anskeric of Lyon – about him as part of a rebellion he was launching against Ralph of Burgundy. One thing we didn’t cover when we looked at his first diploma is that the Aquitanians refused to play ball with Ralph for a while – that diploma was issued when he made a very carefully stage-managed visit to the Loire to receive William’s homage.

Part of the problem was that Ralph had been fighting William for years well before he became king. We know from various sources that Ralph and Robert of Neustria won and lost possession of Bourges several times in the years around 920. When Ralph became king, as I just said, this hostility carried over, with an extra dollop of ‘he’s really a usurper’ on top Thus, even after William submitted in 924, things were not well and warfare had broken out again by 926. Ralph led an army against Nevers, which was being held by William’s brother Acfred, and was intent on pressing further into Aquitaine until he had to turn and deal with rumours of an Hungarian invasion. The next year, though, William the Younger died.

His was not the only big-name death that year. Abbot Berno of Gigny, the first abbot of Cluny (amongst many other places) also died in 927. His will divided his abbeys between his nephew Guy and a rising star of the monastic world named Odo. Guy objected to the will and started muscling in on Odo’s position. Thanks to Odo’s papal connections, he was able to get a warning against Guy, but the pope’s response also put a burden of protection on King Ralph, pushing Odo and Ralph together.

Odo_Cluny-11

An eleventh-century image of Odo of Cluny. You know, for some reason I’d always imagined him clean-shaven. (source)

Thus the following:

D RR no. 12 (9th September 927, Briare)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Ralph, by God’s grace pacific, august and invincible king.

Because it is certain that “God is mighty but despith not any” [Job 36:5], and indeed “without Him there is no power” [Romans 13:1], thus it is also clear that He will examine the works of the mighty, and because of this We should take great care that, since by His dispensation We are able to either help or hurt, We should subject Our potential completely to His will in order that it might do what will increase His holy Church’s honour.

Wherefore, let it be known to everyone, both kings and persons of other dignities, that is, either present or future, that William [the Pious], that great and magnificent man of his time,built through the hand of Berno [of Gigny], a certain reverend abbot, a certain monastery named Cluny in honour of the leading men of Heaven, to wit, Peter and Paul, and made this same place free from all worldly dominion under a great and terrible abjuration, and subjugated it to the Apostolic See to be protected (and not to be dominated).

We, rejoicing in his work and favouring what he established, establish through this precept of Our authority that the place – in accordance with what he decreed through a testament – should be completely free and absolved from disturbance and domination both from kings and from all princes, or kinsmen of the same William, and indeed of all men; that is should remain in the monastic order and be administered in accordance with the tenor of the testament which he made thereof; that the inhabitants dwelling there under the order of the Rule might elect for themselves from amongst themselves an abbot in accordance with the rule of St Benedict after Odo, whom Abbot Berno left for them; that they should possess their common goods, either those which they have now or those which will be acquired in future, to wit, whether they be from Our liberality or from the largess of anyone else, without domination or contradiction from anyone; that they should pay no toll on market days; that no-one should distrain their men, free or servile, against their will; that they should have their indominical tithes for the hospice; that they should hold the allod which Gerbald gave to the aforesaid monastery, and they should similarly claim Blanot with its appendages in perpetual right; that no-one should accept any produce-fee from woods where they have a part and from assarts except them; that they should also possess the curtilage which is called La Frette (which the aforesaid Berno, taking from Gigny, freely turned over to Cluny – for it was through him, actually, that each place was founded) on the conditions which he established, with the allod of the late Samson, and the bondsmen and manse which were Larvin’s, with perennial dominion.

Naturally, in accordance with the earnest entreaty which the aforesaid William prayed for, We too, in Christ’s name, command and appeal to God that it should never be subjected to any mortal through any kind of agreement, but that they should be permitted to live in accordance with the tradition which they are seen to hold in Our days. If they turn away from it, then by God’s judgement let them be preserved for correction of their rule, and let no donation made to God and the saints ever be taken back.

But that this constitution of Our precept might perpetually endure unbroken, We undersign it with Our seal and We command Our leading men to undersign it.

Sign of King Ralph.

Ragenard witnessed on behalf of Bishop Abbo [of Soissons].

Enacted at the estate of Briare, in the twelfth indiction, on the fifth ides of September [9th September], in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation nine hundred and twenty seven, also in the fifth year of the reign of King Ralph.

This diploma is, first and foremost, targeted at Acfred. As Odo’s ally, Ralph had plausible deniability when it came to not exercising dominion over Cluny; Acfred did not, and this act makes a point of noting that as William’s kinsman he has no place at the abbey. Such a gesture is perforce more effective when it’s being issued by a king at the head of an army. At this point, Ralph was returning north from the Mâconnais proper, on his way to Berry where he would receive the submission of William the Pious’ old – if inconsistent – ally Ebbo of Déols. In one fell swoop, he had managed to detach both Berry and the Mâconnais from the Guillelmid family – a hefty chunk of land, and in the case of Mâcon a significant one, given how tightly embedded William the Pious had been there.

Of course, what you may well be thinking – especially given how many royal diplomas we’ve seen on this blog – is ‘what on Earth is happening with the diplomatic here?’ This is the first of a little series of diplomas written in a recognisably ‘Cluniac’ style. We’ve seen elsewhere that the question of Cluniac influence on kingship would become very vexed in the early eleventh century, but there is a case to be made that it was really the years around 930 when Cluny, or at least Abbot Odo (which is not quite the same thing), had the most influence on West Frankish kingship. The preamble to this diploma sets out a coherent, if brief, political theory which is both evidence for Odo’s attitudes to kingship and an explanation of his politics. A king needed to be the humblest of all, because he had the most potential to do either harm or good. Ralph, willing as king to prostrate himself before God (or, at least, to safeguard Odo’s interests, which was more-or-less the same thing), had legitimacy Acfred did not.

So what did Acfred think of this? For the first time in a while, this Charter a Week comes in two parts; and as further evidence of the increasing inapplicability of the name, we’ll see the second part next week.

6 thoughts on “Charter A Week 51/1 – Dismembering Aquitaine

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