Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine I: For Richer, for Poorer

Hello all. Recently I’ve been thinking about a topic this blog has discussed before, Louis V’s kingship in Aquitaine. As so often with the later part of the reign of Lothar, it’s got me scratching my chin, so this week and next week we’ll look at two different aspects of it and hopefully one of the blog’s readers will have something helpful to say! It will help if we’re all singing off the same hymn-sheet, and so I’ve translated all the relevant sources I know of for Louis’ Aquitanian sojourn and put them below in a PDF file*:

This leads us naturally to the first question, which is: have I missed something? If you know any source with a direct bearing on this, please do put it in the comments!

Anyway, as you can see most of what we think we know about Louis’ kingship derives from Richer, and so this post is going to be a hatchet job on his account, because I don’t think it’s at all reliable. Before I say why, it’s probably worth giving a summary of what Richer says:

  1. After the Treaty of Margut, which Lothar signed with Emperor Otto II, Hugh Capet was very angry with the king, and visited Otto in Rome to forge an alliance against him. Discord between Lothar and Hugh went on for some years.
  2. However, they were eventually reconciled.
  3. With Hugh’s backing, Lothar had his son Louis crowned king at Compiègne.
  4. Hugh then commenced to look for a spare kingdom for Louis.
  5. However, some unnamed people decided to take over this task themselves.
  6. They advised Lothar’s wife Queen Emma that Louis should marry Adelaide, recently widowed from Raymond, duke of the Goths.
  7. Thanks to her connections, Louis would be able to win control of Aquitaine.
  8. Thanks to Geoffrey Grisegonelle, count of Anjou, this was achieved.
  9. Adelaide received Lothar and Louis at Vieille-Brioude, where she and Louis were married and she (and maybe Louis but I don’t think that’s grammatically necessary) was crowned queen.
  10. However, from the beginning none of this helped them exercise any real power.
  11. Also, they didn’t like each other because he was young and she was an old woman.
  12. So the marriage fell apart.
  13. Louis, without any councillors, gave himself over to a life of debauchery and lost everything.
  14. Lothar heard about this, came back to Brioude, and picked Louis up.
  15. Adelaide went to Provence and married Count William of Arles.
A manuscript folio of Richer’s autograph (source)

So, the problems with this account fall into three kinds, which we’ll go through in turn: 1) it doesn’t accord with other narrative sources; 2) it doesn’t accord with other non-narrative sources; and 3) it’s internally contradictory. Let’s start with the first point, conflict with other narrative sources; and here I’m just going to lay the contradictions out without trying to resolve them. There are two main contradictions to be had here. First, Ralph Glaber clearly places the marriage in the north, and only puts the visit to Aquitaine after it has already fallen apart. Second, Adhemar of Chabannes doesn’t think Louis and Adelaide actually separated at all, until death actually did them part. (One could put the Annales Sancti Germani minores’ statement that it was Hugh rather than Lothar who brought Louis back, but that’s more an inconsistency than an outright contradiction.)

Our second point, that Richer’s account doesn’t accord with non-narrative sources, is rather more significant, above all because his chronology is wrong. Richer wants Louis’ coronation at Compiègne to be in the early-to-mid 980s, whereas we know it was in 979, well before the 980 Treaty of Margut. He then wants the coronation at Vieille-Brioude to be immediately after Louis’ coronation, rather than (as I think we can say with confidence) in 982, three years later. He then wants Louis’ sojourn to have lasted almost two years, but to have concluded in around autumn 982 – at least, if he actually did think that Otto II’s military defeat in southern Italy happened at around the same time that Louis returned to the north. On another note, Richer also wants Adelaide to be an old woman (anus, not a very nice word), despite the fact that she can be deduced from charter evidence to be relatively young. We know her first marriage took place at such a time that she had teenage children by the mid-970s, but was also still having children in the late 980s. You can push her older, but I think a more plausible chronology is more compressed, putting her date of birth in the late 940s, making her in her mid-thirties in the early 980s – still about twenty years older than Louis, but not exactly the crone Richer wants her to be. The safe conclusion, I think, is that Richer knows basically nothing about the absolute chronology of the events he is describing and not all that much about their relative chronology.

Finally, let’s talk about the internal contradictions in Richer’s narrative. We’ll start with the two smaller holes in Richer’s plot logic: first, Hugh Capet’s concern is supposed to be that co-kingship detracts from royal honour, but this is not a concern in Book IV when Hugh does it himself with his own son; and, second, the original plot is supposed to be against Hugh despite his and Lothar nominally being allied at this time. (This last one may not in fact be a contradiction – but only if it’s a rhetorical construction of Richer’s designed to help his presentation of Lothar as unusually deceitful.) These two are appetisers for the main contradiction, which is that in III.94, Louis’ kingship is a dead letter from the get-go, whilst in III.95 his moral failings and bad decisions turn what had started as a going concern into a failed venture. The takeaway here, I think, is that Richer has no idea why Louis’ kingship failed, or when. It seems to me that Richer is filling in the holes from his limited knowledge with moralistic tropes from other sources. In fact, the parallels between Richer’s account of Louis V in Aquitaine and the Astronomer’s account of Louis the Pious’ kingship in Aquitaine seem striking to me. Like Louis V, the Astronomer’s Louis the Pious was sent into Aquitaine at a young age, and had to beware of ‘foreign customs’ and privation in his domestic affairs (Richer doesn’t borrow a lot of the Astronomer’s language, but mos peregrinorum and res familiaris are shared between the two authors in the same contexts.) Richer’s editor, Hoffmann, believes that Richer did know the Astronomer based on verbal echoes elsewhere, so this is plausible. What Richer’s story reads as, then, is supposition based on historical parallels: Louis the Pious had good instructors, Louis V didn’t; so the latter-day Louis’ kingship becomes a dark mirror of his ancestor’s. (Notably, such concerns were live when Richer was writing: his main practical criticism – that Louis started wearing Aquitanian clothing – is something his contemporaries and those in the generation immediately after him were concerned about in their own times.)

What, then, did Richer actually know? The vague chronology and the account’s place in the narrative makes me think we’re dealing with the chronicler’s own memories. All of this took place approximately twenty years before Richer was writing, and he would have been perhaps in his mid-to-late twenties, or early thirties, at the time. In short, we’re dealing with decades-old memories from someone who was not heavily involved in these events, which is probably why he can remember the feast date of Louis V’s accession but only roughly when it happened. Richer can remember that Geoffrey of Anjou was involved, but not why (he was Adelaide’s brother); similarly, he can remember that something significant happened in Vieille-Brioude but isn’t necessarily clear what. He knows the marriage failed, but doesn’t know why and fills the void with stereotypes; he knows the reign failed, but doesn’t know why and fills the void with moral tropes.

What, then, can we corroborate from other sources? Unsurprisingly, most of the broad outlines. We can be sure that Louis and Adelaide were in fact married and that the marriage was unsuccessful (a datum found in Glaber and, implicitly in the case of the latter half, in Adhemar). We can also say that Lothar visited Brioude (from royal diplomas). We can guess (based on the Fleury charter in the translations) that Louis was set up with a sub-kingdom. We can, somewhat surprisingly, corroborate Richer’s idea that the plan was to use Adelaide’s family connections to win support (Glaber again, although his idea of how is notably fuzzier than Richer’s). We might also be able to say that Louis stayed in Aquitaine and had to be brought home, if we can take the Annales Sancti Germani minores seriously, although the fact that its chronology is also wildly off does not inspire confidence. A two-year sojourn is also likely (assuming Lothar’s 982 diplomas come from the initial journey down; we can place him back in Aquitaine in 983/4 thanks to Adhemar and we know from the letters of Gerbert of Rheims that the two kings were back in the north by early 984 anyway), but a good part of me wants to ascribe that to coincidence. (It is also worth saying, although it doesn’t directly bear on this incident, that Adelaide’s marriages to both Raymond and William are also attested elsewhere).

What can we not corroborate, then; for what is Richer our only source? A surprisingly large amount, from the motivation for the marriage (that the aim was from the start to set up a sub-kingdom, that the plan was aimed against Hugh Capet), to the setting up of Louis’ regime (notably the marriage at Vieille-Brioude and the fact that Adelaide was crowned at all). Above all, we have no idea why Louis’ marriage or his kingship failed – and looking at the context surrounding that will be our next post.

*There are very good extant translations of both Richer and Ralph Glaber which I normally use myself, but for copyright purposes these translations are my own.

(also unspoken through all of this is that Richer is of course a very rich source for mentalités…)

7 thoughts on “Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine I: For Richer, for Poorer

  1. The proposition that Richer had read Thegan the Astronomer is certainly very interesting, and I think it neatly explains some of his contradictory account for why the Aquitaine venture failed. While Richer’s knowledge of classical texts is very well-known (indeed infamous, depending on who you ask) to those who work on tenth century West Frankish politics, it seems more than likely that he was familiar with many ninth century texts as well. Richer of course says that he’s read the Annals of Saint Bertin in the prologue, and I think its highly likely that he read De Ordine Palatii because he borrows quite a bit of Hincmar’s language for describing late Carolingian assemblies (like Charles the Simple’s one in 898) and thinks of them in terms of Hincmar’s two types. And as always, we’ve got to think about Richer’s audience at Rheims – highly learned, certainly, and most likely full of preconceived ideas about Lothar, Louis V, Hugh Capet and Aquitaine. And I’ve noticed some similarities between his writing style and Einhard’s, which suggests he might have had some familiarity with the Vita Karoli Magni, though both were ultimately drinking from the same Ciceronian trough. I think his view of history may have been informed by the ninth century Frankish past at least as much as the first century BC

    As someone who’s spent the best part of an academic year working on Richer’s Histories, I’ve come to consider myself what I could tentatively call a Richer optimist. I think he was genuinely trying his best to make sense of what was, for him, quite a genuinely confusing situation that neither Flodoard nor Gebert’s letters and Acta could help him with. So, working with the Ciceronian narrative framework he’d learned (quite possibly from Gerbert himself) at Rheims, he tried to piece together his jumbled personal memories of the events of 979 to 984 into a mostly coherent narrative, bar some slip ups and contradictions that he failed to correct in the editing process, with added motivations and explanations according to what seemed plausible to him based on what he and the community at Rheims thought they knew about the personalities and places in question. I certainly prefer that to the approaches adopted by some scholars; that he’s just playing fast and loose with the truth, or that he’s trying to write Roman history in Frankish guise.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s