Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine II: Divide and Fail to Conquer

Last time, we looked at Richer of Rheims’ account of Louis V’s kingship in Aquitaine and I suggested that it may not be worth taking it entirely seriously as an explanation for why Louis failed. This time round, we’ll be looking at the situation in Aquitaine around 980, and I’ll be suggesting my own explanation for what went wrong. Let’s start by zooming on the woman at the centre of events: Louis’ wife Adelaide-Blanche. Louis was Adelaide’s third husband, the first two being a nobleman named Stephen of Gévaudan (although he was never count), with whom she had two sons named Pons and Bertrand; and Raymond dux Gothorum, with whom she had a son named William Taillefer. These two men take us into the two key regions of Auvergne and Toulouse.

Auvergne we’ve largely covered already in other posts, but to summarize: Bishop Stephen II of Clermont, the most important man in the area for decades by now, is getting very old and probably dying. Other important figures – notably Amblard of Lyon and Stephen of Gévaudan himself – have died. There are a number of people who want to re-carve the pie, including Bishop Stephen’s nephew Viscount Guy of Clermont and Adelaide’s sons Pons and Bertrand. Toulouse is a little more complicated, although the most complicated thing is the genealogy, which we’ve already got out of the way. This does means that I get to reveal to you that this particular extended digression actually has a point! The upshot is as follows: sometime in the early 970s, Count Raymond son of Ermengaud seems to have usurped Toulouse from Raymond ‘the Disinherited’ (to use Sébastien Fray’s useful nickname), the grandson of Raymond Pons. (Perhaps he owed his good fortune to the backing of dowager countess Garsindis, Raymond Pons’ widow, with whom he appears in a charter for Saint-Michel de Gaillac and who in turn richly endowed his son Hugh in her will; possibly she preferred her brother-in-law and nephew to her stepson.) He in turn was succeeded in the mid-970s by his own son Hugh (II), but Hugh disappears from the scene relatively shortly afterwards. Hugh’s successor wasn’t a son or brother of his, nor a scion of Raymond Pons’ family, but a cousin of both Hugh (II) and Raymond ‘the Disinherited’, also called Raymond. This Raymond appears to have had pretentions: Richer calls him ‘duke of the Goths’ – not a technical term, because as previously established Richer doesn’t have much in-depth knowledge of Aquitaine in this period – but a marker of someone whom Richer thinks is really important in the area. Moreover, what we can see of Raymond’s activity suggests very widespread ambitions indeed: on one hand, his marriage to Adelaide-Blanche, giving him a potential ‘in’ to the area around Mende, Vieille-Brioude, and even Le Puy; on the other hand, we are fairly confident he is the (unnamed) count of Toulouse who launched an attack on Count Roger the Old of Carcassonne around 980. My best guess is that having usurped Toulouse the young conqueror was trying to vindicate his position through military glory. His death shortly afterwards, along with the situation in the Auvergne, led to a power vacuum.

It was this power vacuum that Lothar was trying to exploit. Louis’ marriage to Adelaide put him right in the middle of these networks, with Pons and Bertrand as his stepsons, their uncle Bishop Guy of Le Puy – an old ally of Lothar’s – backing him, and Toulouse up for grabs. Lothar also tried other means to win allies – it’s far from certain, but there’s a decent chance that contrary to what I have previously implied, Guy of Clermont received his comital title from Lothar at this time.

So, the year is 982. (At the moment, the impression I get is that the scholarly consensus is that Louis’ reign lasted from 980-982, and I don’t think that’s right. The basic belief here is that the diplomas of Lothar dating to 982, which are unquestionably in Auvergne, are from the king’s second trip south, to pick up Louis rather than to drop him off. However, there are two pieces of evidence which point in favour of the later date. The less convincing is that Adhemar of Chabannes’ Commemoratio of the abbots of Saint-Martial in Limoges has Lothar arriving in Limoges in 983/4. The more convincing is that a charter for the abbey of Fleury is dated to 982, which it specifies is Louis V’s first year as king. This cannot mean the year of his coronation – the abbot of Fleury was at Louis’ coronation in 979 – and it’s unlikely that Fleury, an abbey whose abbot was appointed by Lothar, would have got his regnal years wrong (they don’t habitually in other charters), so the logical follow-on is that it refers to Louis’ first year as king in Aquitaine.) Louis is packed off to Aquitaine. Two years later, he’s back again. What went wrong?

Fundamentally, I think the problem was one of mismatched expectations. Lothar clearly expected Adelaide-Blanche’s connections within the region to be used to cement Louis’ control. However, sources show that Adelaide’s position was nowhere near as strong as the northerners thought. For one thing, she was in open conflict with the abbey of Brioude, which resulted in her and her sons’ excommunication, a serious blow to their legitimacy. Even once Adelaide backed down in the quarrel, the canons of Brioude refused to acknowledge Louis as king. Even more, Pons and Bertrand don’t seem to have wanted to play ball. Around this time, they captured Prior Wigo of Le Puy, a favourite of Bishop Guy, and imprisoned him in Mende. This particular conflict seems to have been one where Guy of Auvergne was on the other side. Guy was an ally of other cathedral dignitaries from Le Puy, and eventually lost his life in an attack on Mende. Given the importance of these people to any regime in Auvergne, Guy of Puy and Guy of Auvergne versus Pons and Bertrand was a cleavage right down the middle of Louis’ regime.

At the same time, Adelaide’s position in Toulouse was evidently shaky. Her son William Taillefer was young at the time, and either Raymond the Disinherited or his son appears to have taken the opportunity to force their way back into power there. Around 983, an unnamed count of Toulouse (but definitely not William) forced Abbot Bernard of Solignac into the abbey of Beaulieu by force of arms. Indisputably, by the early eleventh century, Raymond the Disinherited’s family was firmly in place as counts of Rouergue, a position they are likely to have consolidated by precisely such actions as the conquest of Beaulieu. In Gothia like in Auvergne, Adelaide’s family connections were not building-blocks, they were highways directly into conflict.

There was also one particular rivalry without these regions. Recall that Raymond dux Gothorum had been defeated c. 980 by Roger the Old of Carcassonne. Roger’s family was relatively new-come to its comital rank, and after that rank had been attained around the mid-tenth century Roger seems to have spent about twenty years chilling. However, when things kicked off in the region in the late 970s, Roger made his own bid for regional hegemony. Seemingly convinced that St Hilary fought in person by his side, he defeated his northern and southern neighbour and by the early 980s assumed the titles of ‘duke’ and ‘margrave’. It is a little dangerous arguing from this, but in a charter of 984 he switched from dating by Lothar’s reign to AD dating. This could indeed be a coincidence, but it could also signal a rejection of royal authority. If Louis’ aim was to step into the shoes of Raymond dux Gothorum, he was stepping directly into the role of Roger’s rival, and there was no reason for the count of Carcassonne to accept him.

Carcassonne today (source)

What we have, therefore, is not the situation Richer describes, where Louis’ fecklessness led him inexorably to personal and political ruin; but the result of an array of difficult challenges, most notably pre-existing cleavages in what was supposed to be his support base. Lots of people wanted him there, but they wanted him to come in and support them against their foes. He entered the game positioned as a player rather than as an umpire. His key power, that of being the fons et origio of legitimate authority, was pre-broken – his allies couldn’t help him because they were caught up in local quarrels and he couldn’t help them because he was already parti pris

5 thoughts on “Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine II: Divide and Fail to Conquer

  1. A really interesting post, and a nice illustration of the limits to where konigsnahe can get you in early medieval politics – it can be a great thing to have, unless it prevents the konig you have nahe to from exercising effective authority where you need him. This is when Konigsferne comes in handy – if the king is equally distant from all parties concerned, yet still commands at least some reverence and respect, he can be wheeled in to play the umpire role with some success, as Louis the Fat undoubtedly did on various occasions in the early twelfth centuries. Even with Flemish succession crisis in 1127 – 1128 it worked out to begin with, and Louis successfully installed William Clito as the new count of Flanders, and if it didn’t completely work out in his favour in the long run, that was thanks to the events that followed his intervention, namely the machinations of Count William’s uncle, King Henry I of England


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