Charter a Week 56: Gotta Have Those Bishops

I’ll be honest with you all: these last few years of Ralph of Burgundy’s reign are probably the hardest of the whole period I’m covering with Charter A Week. As I mentioned before, the number of private charters is small; but compared to the earlier period where that’s made up for by a good survival of royal diplomas, the mid-930s (until the reign of Louis IV) are also short on those as well. As such, the next three of these are slightly peculiar in a number of ways. This week, for instance, we’re going a little off the beaten track:

D Burg, no. 23 (932)

By the favouring grace of a supernal gift, Rudolf, king of the people of the Jura to all soldiering perfectly under the yoke of the eternal king, everything more pleasant on Earth and happier in Heaven.

At the time when a multi-faceted and desirable peace, by the largess of divine clemency, was being enjoyed in the areas under Our rule and everyone was rejoicing greatly, Our churches suffered the loss caused by the death of three bishops. For this reason, obeying the statutes of the holy pontiffs which they desired to be fixed in words, that the benediction of the bishops who are to be ordained should not be delayed by too great an interruption (that is, so that the Mother Church should not endure any loss of its members along with the absence of consecration by unction), We sent to the lord archbishop of Besançon, to wit, Metropolitan Girfred, that he, with his remaining suffragans, might deign to succour those basilicas currently widowed by the death of their pastors.

He, acting in accordance with the holy canons and at the same time obeying Our command, ordained bishops for the abovementioned churches, that is: for Lausanne, Bero; for Belley, Jerome; for Sion, Asmund.

This round letter is preserved in British Library Additional MS 15222, which has the marvellous advantage of being digitised such that one can see that this heads up a series of oaths taken to the archbishops of Besançon over the course of the eleventh and twelfth century.


This being that manuscript (source)

It’s essentially a written foundation stone for the right of the archbishop to exercise authority over his ecclesiastical subordinates, and its interesting that it comes from the reign of Rudolf II, a man whose exploits outside Italy are not well-preserved. One wonders if the fact that Girfred had to ordain three men at once stuck in the memory.

Or perhaps it was the inevitable Louis the Blind. I’ve mentioned before on this blog how after Louis’ death Rudolf II gets basically the eastern portion of his kingdom. I’d call it the ‘mountainous portion’ except that I have actually now been to Apt, at least, and if it’s not exactly flat it’s certainly not vertiginous. Anyway, this letter is some of the best evidence for this process. The last time we have a handle on the bishops of Belley they are firmly part of the kingdom of Louis the Blind; now they’re firmly under Rudolf’s control. It’s probably not a coincidence that this comes after the family meeting of 929 which probably divided up Provence between the competing parties. We know that Ralph of Burgundy spent a fair chunk of time around 930 attending to Provençal affairs, and this may be his Transjurane cousin doing the same on his end.

Indeed, there’s lots of diplomacy we don’t have much of a handle on occurring in this and following years, culminating in a meeting between Ralph, Rudolf and the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler on the Chiers in 935. Everything happening there is still murky to me, not least because the Transjurane role is so obscure; but letters like this are an important part of whatever’s going on.

As far as the bishops themselves go, whilst this is as straightforward a case of royal appointment as you’re likely to see, that’s still not very straightforward. If you remember the charter of Bishop Fulcher of Avignon, then you know that there’s a fair bit of manoeuvring behind Rudolf’s relatively bland command – although usually we don’t have such a lovely piece of evidence showing it. (And, finally, the reference to a delay relates to the canonical injunction that there shouldn’t be more than three months’ delay between the death of one bishop and the selection of another – I’ve been reading a lot of the letters of Gerbert of Aurillac lately and he gets very hot under the collar about this after the death of Archbishop Adalbero. That, though, is another story!)

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