Charter a Week 7: Neustria and Burgundy

I’ve briefly mentioned Hugh the Abbot before, but we’ve never had cause to talk about him properly, and we should probably remedy that. So, Hugh the Abbot. By origin, he’s very closely tied to the Carolingians. He was the cousin of Lothar II through his mother, of Charles the Bald through his father, and through his father as well the nephew of Louis the German. As such, he spent the 850s and 860s bouncing between the three kingdoms, at one point being granted the archbishopric of Cologne by Lothar II (albeit unsuccessfully). When that gambit failed, Hugh went back to Charles the Bald, and did so with remarkable good timing.

In 866, Robert the Strong was killed at the Battle of Brissarthe. He wasn’t the only Frankish magnate to be killed by Vikings, but his death left a very important vacancy. The western parts of the West Frankish kingdom – the region around the Loire valley known as Neustria – were something of a disaster area for Charles the Bald. He was crushingly defeated there a number of times, and there was always something to worry about – if it wasn’t Frankish rebellion, it was Viking raids; if it wasn’t Viking raids, it was Breton attacks; and usually it was several of these in combination. The Bretons were perhaps the most dangerous: Charles had to make significant territorial concessions. To give you some idea of the significance of this, Rennes is still part of modern Brittany (and Nantes only isn’t due to local rivalries): these areas have never been recovered. The solution Charles hit on was to put Robert the Strong in undisputed charge of the Neustrian March, loaded up with so many resources and so much status that he could not be seriously opposed. Robert, though, was killed only a year after taking up the role, and Charles handed it off to Hugh.

Hugh did a fantastic job. We spoke a couple of weeks ago about how Viking attacks could be warded off by being more dangerous than elsewhere, and, after a bad patch in the 850s and 860s, Hugh’s tenure on the March saw a couple of decades of respite. This was bad for the Anglo-Saxons, where the Great Army of the late 860s and 870s probably had rather more reinforcements than would otherwise have been the case, but good for the Franks. This was not a purely military thing, moreover: Hugh the Abbot led a trend toward ‘governmentalising’ Neustria, making its government more formal and its society more rigid. But that’s a post for well down the line – today, let’s talk high politics.

You see, from the late 870s onwards, and especially under Carloman, Hugh the Abbot became the magnate in the West Frankish kingdom. He wasn’t quite utterly predominant, but he was clearly front of the pack. And this had its benefits:

DD LLC no. 66 (23rd January 883, Compiègne) = ARTEM no. 757 = DK 5.xxxvi

In the name of Lord God Eternal and our saviour Jesus Christ. Carloman, by grace of God king.

If We lend the ears of Our Piety to the petitions of servants of God and pay heed to their advantage, We are confident that God Almighty will make repayment on the matter.

Concerning which matter, We wish it to be known to the industry of all the people of the holy Church of God and Us, both present and future, that after the death of the venerable abbot Sadrebert, the requests of the monks came before Our Clemency through the intercession of Hugh [the Abbot], most venerable of abbots. They humbly asked, displaying on hand the precepts of Our grandfather and father, to wit, the august Charles [the Bald] and Our pious father and most pious of kings Louis [the Stammerer] of divine memory, in which is contained how Our grandfather and father enriched from their goods of their property a little monastery founded in honour of the Holy Saviour in the district of Atuyer, which was once named Alfa, for their everlasting reward, and place Abbot Rotfred from Montiéramey which is called the New Cell, an active man, in charge therein during his lifetime.

Therefore, the monks of the aforesaid place appealed to Our Royal Highness that we might receive the same little monastery, in memory of Our grandfather and father or Our grandmother and mother, under Our immunity; and confirmed by a precept of Our authority whatever had been bestowed there by Our aforesaid grandfather and father. And because they had lately lost Abbot Sadrebert, a man worthy before God, they humbly asked that We might establish a man named Rotfred as abbot in his place, whom they witnessed was commendable in his life and habits.

Freely acquiescing to their prayers, because they were just and reasonable, We established and confirmed the precepts of Our grandfather and father; and We placed the abbot whom they requested, that is, Rotfred, in charge of that place and congregation; and We subjected the monastery of Alfa there with all its appendages, and as well the goods which were bestowed there through the largess of Our grandfather and father, as is contained in their precepts. That is, on the condition and in such a way that the aforesaid Abbot Rotfred, the same monastery and its monks and their dependents with everything legally beholden to it should perpetually endure under Our mundeburdum and tutelage, corroborated by the authority of this testament of Our Royal Dignity, such that no-one should presume to send a monk from another place into their monastery, not create any officeholder within their congregation except from those who were raised there from infancy in accordance with the Rule, and let them have permission to elect an abbot from within themselves, not from amongst outsiders, in accordance with the institution of Saint Benedict.

We also establish that neither count nor other judicial power should presume to receive or exact any timber-fees or harbour dues or vehicle-fees or mooring-fees or billeting or hospitality or other service or render from them in any places – that is, counties, cities, or markets – in Our realm to which they or their dependents travel for their needs, except in those places in which We have conceded through Our precept that they should be gotten. Rather, let them more freely and devotedly exhort for all time the clemency of God Almighty for Us and Our glorious fathers the august Charles [the Bald] and King Louis [the Stammerer] and Our glorious grandmother Queen Ermentrude and Our mother Ansgard and Our dearest brother Louis [III] and the state of Our realm, and endure perpetually under Our tutelage, as We have established.

But that this largess of Our authority might in God’s name obtain greater vigour of firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be undersigned with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary subscribed.

Given on the 10th kalends of February [23rd January], in the fifth year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the first indiction.

Enacted at the public palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Pray for Honoratus and Leotheric, who ambasciated this, and for their dead brother Helmuin.

cw 7 883
Carloman’s diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above. For those of you wondering why I translated this one and not the Orléans diploma mentioned below, the fact that this one’s in the original was a significant contributing factor!

It must be said that being simply a venerabilissimus abbas is not the most exalted Hugh appears in charters from around this time. About eight months later, in a diploma for the cathedral at Orléans, Hugh got to be the inclitus ac venerabilis Hugo abbas, tutor noster ac regni nostri maximus defensor, which is Latin for ‘like a boss’. So it’s clear that Hugh was a very dominant figure on the political scene – you don’t get to be the king’s ‘famous and venerable guardian and the greatest defender of his realm’ without being powerful indeed.

So why didn’t I translate that diploma? Because this one illustrates a theme which is going to be important for the next century plus. When Hugh first made his appearance in West Frankish affairs, he was made abbot of the monastery of Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, right in the heart of Burgundy. He was chased out in the 860s, but, as this charter shows, kept his interest in Burgundian affairs. Of course, part of his presence in this diploma is simply that he is the go-to man at court, but it’s also that he’s got history with this region as well. We’ll see at other points people connected with both Tours and Paris with Burgundian interests, but this shows quite nicely the dispersed interests of men at the highest ranks of Frankish society.

The word ‘Reichsaristokratie’ (‘imperial aristocracy’) is hovering uncomfortably around this group. The idea here is that the Carolingian super-elite was composed of people whose lands were not simply provincial, but spread around a number of places within the Carolingian empire. This distinguished them from their forebears and from the ‘territorial princes’ who came afterwards, who were basically-provincial, and made them more invested in the continuation of Carolingian government. I say ‘uncomfortably’ because the idea that there was something special about the highest levels of the Carolingian aristocracy having widely-dispersed interests does not seem right to me. Before he was ever king, Hugh Capet (Hugh the Abbot’s successor in Neustria and possible namesake) had interests in the Loire valley, the Seine valley, Burgundy, and Lotharingia. This change therefore looks to me to be a change in historiographical emphasis above all… But as it happens this is a theme we’ll pick up in the main blog post in a fortnight’s time.

On the flip side of Hugh’s power, and by extension of Carloman’s, you don’t get that powerful in the faction-ridden world of the 880s without making some powerful enemies as well, and next week, we’ll be looking at some of them.


Switching Sides in the Tenth Century

That post from a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned the ascendency of the family of the counts of Anjou at King Lothar’s court got me thinking. After all, the Angevins were second-rank vassals of the Robertians, with whom Lothar’s father Louis IV had had some trouble – why pick them for special treatment? Aaaaages ago, we had a brief look at the Neustrian succession crisis of the 950s – and 960s, and that must be something to do with it, but where’s the ‘in’? I’m slightly sceptical that Geoffrey Grisegonelle sent a chap to Lothar with a message along the lines of ‘going to throw off overlord’s authority, fancy giving me a hand?’ and got a hearing sight unseen.

Then it occurred to me – if you look at what the Angevins, and by that I mean Geoffrey and his brother Abbot Guy of Cormery who later became bishop of Le Puy, are doing on the home front, a lot of it revolves around the abbey of Saint-Aubin. Saint-Aubin was the major abbey of the city of Angers, and Geoffrey and Guy’s ancestors had been its lay abbots for several decades. By the 960s, Guy (who was a cleric but probably not a monk) was abbot in turn. He issued a very strange charter in which he seems to say that he tried and failed to become a ‘proper’ abbot and is very sorry about it. Certainly in 966 he gave up the abbacy and a monk-abbot, one Widbold, was put in his place. What’s relevant here is the figure behind this admonition and reform: Geoffrey and Guy’s paternal uncle, Bishop Guy of Soissons, who seems to have paired up with Abbot Hincmar of Saint-Remi, at the time the royal monastery par excellence, to reform Saint-Aubin. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘a royal connection!’

Then I went to look at the career of Guy of Soissons, and it’s actually rather interesting. Guy began his career as a canon in Saint-Martin of Tours (as did so many other tenth-century bishops). In 937, he became bishop of Soissons. Flodoard of Rheims does something very unusual when describing how Guy acquired the see – he uses a word (potitur) which he otherwise only employs to describe the capture of cities or plunder of treasure, so I think he saw this episcopal choice as illegitimate. In context, this is probably because Guy was forced on Soissons by the Neustrian overlord Hugh the Great.

Certainly, Guy was Hugh the Great’s creature for a good decade thereafter. In 940, he was the bishop who ordained Hugh of Vermandois (at the time claiming the archbishopric of Rheims against the king’s candidate Artald) a priest. He shows up again in a charter shortly after Hugh’s ordination as archbishop at what looks like quite an important council of war under Hugh the Great’s auspices. In 945, he did no less than hand himself over to Vikings – they had captured King Louis IV, and Guy put himself forward as a hostage so that they would hand him over to Hugh the Great’s tender mercies. So that all looks pretty partisan.

Thing is, after 946 the winds start blowing strongly for Louis, and in 948, Hugh of Vermandois was condemned at the Synod of Ingelheim. Guy changed sides, coming and committing himself to Louis. This was dramatic – at the Synod of Trier in that year, Guy made full confession and penitence for his sins in front of his fellow-bishops. But it worked – in 949, he was an intercessor in a charter for the abbey of Homblières which has been argued as marking the beginning of a new age for Louis IV’s rule. In 950, he was sent to Burgundy to oversee an important donation at the abbey of Charlieu, and by 959 he was one of the dowager queen Gerberga’s main advisers along with her very brother-in-law Bishop Roric of Laon.

So if there’s an original ‘in’ at the royal court for the Angevin counts, it’s probably him. Yet to conclude today’s post, I’d like to pick out a different aspect of his life. Tenth-century France has a bad reputation for disloyalty. Guy’s career, however, illustrates that swapping sides was, mostly, a rare and dramatic event. After a decade of sterling loyalty to Hugh the Great (would you give yourself to a Norwegian for your boss’ sake?), Guy was proven to be on the wrong side. At Ingelheim, both the man Guy had ordained priest, Hugh of Vermandois, and the one to whom he owed his career, Hugh the Great, had been authoritatively condemned. Sure, we might see it as a stitch-up orchestrated by a domineering Ottonian monarchy to get the West Frankish kingdom to stop bothering it, but content-wise it was an unequivocal condemnation by a council of bishops and the pope. We know that people at this time could do great and terrible things and yet harbour room for doubts. Does it not make sense to see Guy’s sudden and dramatic change of heart as stemming from a realisation that in fact he had been wrong, that the two Hughs’ had no just cause, and that he should henceforth be just as dependable a follower of a new master: the king and his family?

Charter a Week 6: Carolingian Cooperations

Those of you who’ve been following the last couple of weeks may have noticed something of a paradox. Vikings were attracted by a succession crisis, yet I’ve also been talking about Carolingian cooperation to a remarkable degree in the early 880s. What gives? Well, the latter was responsive – in the face of a series of disasters, the Carolingians built (or rebuilt, you could argue) family consensus. What did that look like? Something like this.

In summer 882, whilst making one final crack at the siege of Boso of Provence’s Vienne, Carloman II issued a diploma in favour of Canon Otbert of Langres, issued at the request of Bishop Geilo (another one of those big-cheese palatine magnates from Charles the Bald’s late court):

DD LLC no. 62 (8th August 882, Vienne) = ARTEM no. 137 = DK 5.xxv

In the name of lord God Eternal and our saviour Jesus Christ. Carloman, by grace of God king.

If We freely proffer assent to the petitions of Our followers, far from doubt We both bind them more tightly in Our fidelity and are satisfied to follow the custom of Our predecessors.

Wherefore let the industry of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, know that the venerable man Geilo, bishop of the see of Langres, approaching Our Mildness, made it known that a certain cleric named Otbert had by a resolution(*) of goodwill consigned his very beneficial goods to Saint-Mammès and received a certain part of the goods of the same just from the same Bishop Geilo through a tenancy agreement, that is, on the terms that as long as Otbert and his nephew Gozelm live they should hold and possess both the things they have given and what was conceded by the bishop through a tenancy agreement, and claim their renders for their uses, except solely that they should unhesitatingly pay two solidi to the aforesaid church in vestiture, as is specified in their document.  And thus he asked that Our authority might also confirm the aforesaid tenancy agreement, which the said bishop had entered into with the aforesaid Otbert, with the consent of the clergy committed to him, and corroborated with his hands.

Therefore, assenting to his petition, We commanded a precept of Our authority be writing about this, in which We confirm and corroborate the aforesaid documents, that is, on the understanding that after the aforesaid Otbert and his nephew Gozelm die, the clerics of the same see should claim for their uses both the goods conceded to them by the venerable Bishop Geilo in the tenancy agreement and those which the said Otbert and his nephew Gozelm confirmed through a charter of donation to the church of Saint-Mammès, without any diminution or loss and without any alteration.

But that this precept of Our authority established concerning this tenancy agreement might always in God’s name obtain everlasting vigour and be able to endure into the far future, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We command it be undersigned with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary subscribed at the command of King Carloman, after the death of his master Wulfard [of Flavigny].

Given on the 6th ides of August [8th August], in the fourth year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 15th indiction.

Enacted at Vienne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

(*) Reading propositio for praeposito here, because the latter doesn’t make sense to me.

CW 6 882
Carloman’s diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum volume linked above.

A few months later, the same man Otbert received a diploma from Carloman’s cousin Charles the Fat, this time at the request of Margrave Guy of Spoleto:

DD CtF no. 61 (4th November 882, Worms) = ARTEM no. 138

In the name of our lord Jesus Christ, God eternal. Charles, by ordination of divine providence emperor.

Truly, if We freely assent to the petitions of Our followers, We are confident that this pertains to the state of Our realm, because We render them more ready in Our service.

For that reason, We wish it to be known to all the faithful of the holy Church of God both present and future that Count Guy brought to Our Highness’ mind a certain tenancy agreement made between himself and a certain canon named Otbert concerning, verily, the goods of the monastery of Notre-Dame de Favernay, which seemed useful in every way to both sides. Verily, Our aforesaid follower sought that by We might content to consider the aforesaid matter worthy and strengthen it by Our precept.

Therefore, We assented and strengthened it with Our precept, that Otbert himself and one of his heirs should quietly possess the said goods in their lifetime, abiding strictly by the condition which is specified in the text of the tenancy agreement.

And that this precept might endure firm and stable, We commanded it be sealed with Our signet and We confirmed it with Our own hand.

Sign of Charles, most serene of emperors.

Waldo witnessed on behalf of Archchaplain Liutward [of Vercelli].

Given on the day before the nones of November [4th November], in the year of the Incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ 882, in the 15th indiction, in the 3rd year of the aforesaid king’s empire.

Enacted at Worms.

Charles’ diploma, from the ARTEM page linked above.

There’s more going on here than at first meets the eye. The first thing is that Otbert here is no simple canon, but someone who appears to be one of those second-tier fixers you don’t see much of. He was an archdeacon at Langres, and eventually prior; and possibly also prior of Flavigny and maybe even bishop of Troyes (although the chronology for the last two is confusing and it might be a different Otbert). He also shows up a surprising number of times in royal diplomas, and it looks rather as though he was successive bishops’ go-to man for dealing with royal courts. What did he get out of it? Status, but as in this particular instance, land as well. These diplomas are rewarding Otbert, but they’re also signalling rather more.

First, Carloman’s diploma has at least two things going on. First, note that the petitioner is Bishop Geilo of Langres. Geilo, like Adalgar of Autun, was one of Boso of Provence’s initial supporters – it was in fact Boso who made him bishop of Langres! That Geilo is acknowledging Carloman so publicly as king, just as Carloman is about to break off the siege of Vienne to go north, is a sign – the campaign has worked. Boso has lost all his friends. Everyone knows who the real king here is.

Ah – yes. Forgot to say. Carloman is about to break off the siege of Vienne and go north. This diploma was issued on the 8th August 882, but on the 6th August 882 Carloman’s brother Louis III had died at Saint-Denis after a brief illness. Carloman can’t possibly have heard about the actual death at this point, but the magnates of Louis’ kingdom must have been in constant communication with the king, making preparations for Louis’ death. This diploma, then, is part of that preparation.

By November, when Charles the Fat issues his diploma, Carloman II is sole king of the West Frankish kingdom. Charles, though, has himself benefited from the death of his own brother. At the beginning of the year, Louis the Younger died, and Charles became sole king in the East Frankish kingdom and Italy. This raised a number of questions, the most important of which was the status of Lotharingia. Louis the Younger and the West Frankish brothers had made a deal about who got which bits, and this had held firm after Louis the Younger’s death, but would it hold steady after Louis III’s?

Charles’ diploma is therefore walking a very narrow tightrope. At the assembly in Worms where it was issued, Hugh the Abbot (whom we will meet in more detail next week) was present to try and negotiate the return of parts of Lotharingia to Carloman, something which Charles refused. Thus, confirming a property at Favernay, right in the march-lands between southern Lotharingia and West Frankish Burgundy, is making a statement that Lotharingia will remain Charles’. However, confirming this property for a cleric of Langres is I think a gesture of goodwill: acknowledging that he and Carloman will continue to co-operate by favouring the same person Carloman had favoured back in August. The intercession of Guy of Spoleto is also important: Guy had a lot of Burgundian connections, particularly with Geilo of Langres (Geilo, in fact, would invite Guy to become king in the West Frankish kingdom in 888). So we have co-operation – but not that much co-operation.

The Spread of a Charter Prologue

“Not back on it, Joe, still on it.”

Yep, it’s back once again to the wonderful world of arengae and indeed back again to the specific arenga we’ve already covered on this blog. One thing which happened at the recent International Medieval Congress was that it occurred to me that this arenga, in its ninth-century form, is a nice little illustration of something I bang on about a fair bit, which is the portability of Carolingian ideology. So let’s revisit the spread of this prologue to illustrate that.

In 862, King Charles the Bald’s long-standing ally Abbot Louis of Saint-Denis was looking to make a very substantial settlement of his abbey’s administration, fixing the revenues available to the monks versus those available to the abbot. To mark the occasion, someone in the royal chancery – over which Louis presided as archchancellor – came up with a new prologue to the royal diploma formalising the split, as follows:

If We confirm by Our edicts that which Our predecessors, by the ordination of divine providence endowed with regal sublimity and illuminated with celestial honour and stirred up by the devoted admonition and prayers of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to them, decreed be established for the state and convenience of churches and servants of God, and if We consent to their most devoted dispositions and carry out the same most pious gifts to the Lord, We believe that this will far from doubt benefit Us in eternal blessing and the tutelage of the entire realm committed to Us by God, and We are confident that the Lord will repay Us in future…

I found a colour version of this; and having not seen it in the flesh before, gosh, I’m impressed. [source]

It’s pretty fancy, fancy enough to be recognisable, but the sentiment is conventional. It served its purpose for a more-literary-than-usual introduction to a particularly solemn act, and there it rested for five years. At that time, in 867, with Louis dead, his successor as archchancellor, who also happened to be his half-brother, Gozlin, was doing something very similar at the abbey of Saint-Vaast, in Arras. Evidently he, or a member of his entourage, decided this was an appropriately formal occasion to dust off the old prologue, and so it shows up again here.* Five years after that, Gozlin did the same for another one of his abbeys, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The final diploma with this prologue, that to the cathedral of Rouen we mentioned before, was also issued around this time.

Not a huge number, but a revealing case. What we have here is an example of a prologue invented for one particular circumstance at Saint-Denis being re-used for no fewer than three other institutions, one also Parisian but the other two in what would become Normandy and southern Flanders. We can see (except perhaps in the Rouen case) fairly clearly how they spread, but what’s more striking is that they could. Charles the Bald and his court could issue diplomas for recipients in such diverse areas in the same language with no problems.

A century or more later, this would not be the case. Normandy, Flanders, and Paris spoke about how and why their rulers were legitimate in very different ways – you couldn’t easily port something as regionally-specific as Norman identity to the heartland of Capetian rule at Saint-Denis. In the ninth century, by contrast, there is a much more coherent idea of legitimate rule at play, which speaks to people in all these different places, and means that a king and his followers can talk to Saint-Vaast like it’s Rouen and Rouen like it’s Paris.

*Actually many of these have minor variations, but they’re all recognisably from the same stem.

Charter a Week 5: They Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow

How important were the Vikings? Viking raids are very flashy and get a lot of press, but were they that much of a danger to late Carolingian rulers? The difference between the British Isles and Gaul is noticeable: whereas most of the former was actively conquered by Vikings in the latter part of the ninth century, only the North Sea littoral of Gaul was ever subject to Scandinavian rule (whatever that meant in practice…).

The thing is, Viking attacks got a lot of press at the time, and the Carolingian response was traditionally derided. In part, this is because one of our major sources, the Annals of Saint-Vaast, are just miserable as all get-out. An old colleague of mine once compiled the ‘Saint-Vaast Table of Pessimism’, categorising all of the different ways the annals say ‘They tried X and it didn’t work’. Thing is, this is so consistent and so clearly this one source’s particular bias that it shouldn’t be taken as Gospel – we know that Frankish responses to Viking attacks were often fairly successful, both in terms of winning battles and in terms of changing the strategic picture.

The problem at the start of the 880s, though, was that the West Saxons were currently more successful. Dealing with Viking raids has a lot of similarities to the old saw about running away from a bear – you don’t need to be fast, just faster than the slowest person in the group. The same is true with Vikings: you don’t have to construct impregnable fortifications, just make it more inconvenient to raid you than your cross-Channel neighbour. Thus, when in the late 870s Alfred the Great defeated the Great Army at Eddington and signed an agreement known as the Alfred-Guthrum Treaty, Wessex suddenly seemed like a rather poorer opportunity than the Frankish kingdoms. Remember how they were in the middle of a succession dispute in 879? Vikings love that. It means the Frankish kings are too distracted to respond… A veritable Norman storm fell on the northern shores of Gaul, particularly Flanders; and although the Carolingians had a number of military successes against them, there were too many different Viking bands to have real success.

So, we need to balance the sources written by pessimistic churchmen – monasteries being famously rich and in theory undefended – with the recognition that Vikings might have provoked genuine trauma.  And then there’s sources like the one which follows:

DD LLC no. 55 (5th June 881, Pouilly-sur-Loire)

In the name of God Eternal and our saviour Jesus Christ, Carloman, by grace of God king.

Whatever We strain eagerly to do for the advantage and need of servants of God, We are, far from doubt, confident that it will benefit Us in more easily obtaining eternal blessing and more happily passing through the present life.

And thus, let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future, know that the venerable man and religious abbot Ralph of the monastery of the blessed Florentius, along with the monks soldiering for God therein, coming before Our Sublimity – lamentable to hear –exposed to Our Mildness by his lamentable intimation the misfortune of the aforesaid monastery and other woes of that region cruelly and frequently inflicted for Our sins by those cruellest enemies of God the Northmen, such that the same province, once very beautiful to see, appears reduced to the appearance of a wilderness. Wherefore, there was no dwelling-place at all in the same place, as with other former inhabitants of that countryside, but much worse for the monks of the said monastery overseen by the care of that religious man the same abbot. Therefore, the same venerable abbot Ralph suppliantly prayed that We might deign to concede to him, as a refuge for his monks and to receive the most hallowed body of the blessed Florentius, a cell by the river Loire, sited in the district of Berry, which is called Saint-Gondon, as We are known to have done for his predecessor the late abbot Dido, in which cell the grace of Saint Gundulf is reverently honoured, so that, rejoicing that they have slipped through the hands of the aforesaid enemies of God, they might finally deserve to find a rest therein from such persecution, with Christ propitious, and be able to enjoy a respite in praise of divine mercy.

But We, proffering beneficent assent to the beseechments of the same Abbot Ralph and the prayers of his monks, commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made, through which We concede and bestow the said cell of Saint-Gondon, with dependents of both sexes and the total of all other things to be held by the said venerable abbot Ralph and his successors: that is, so that, in the name of God and for the washing-away of Our sins, that monastery with everything pertaining to it might be lead in accordance with order of the institution of the Rule by the same reverend Abbot Ralph and his successors, and be disposed of in accordance with the Rule without the disturbance of any contradiction, for the advantage and need of the servants of God serving and attending upon the Lord therein in Our and future times in accordance with the norm of the sacred institution of Saint Benedict.

And We concede to the aforesaid monastery four ships in every waterway which flows through Our realm, and permission to sail them without any impediment, that no officers should take river-fees or toll, nor should the aforesaid abbey pay any kind of price for them.

Finally, We wish and decree and command through this precept of Our authority that no public judge or anyone with judicial power should dare to enter into the churches or places or fields or other possessions of the said monastery, which it justly and reasonably possesses in modern times within the domain of Our realm or which hereafter divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said monastery, to hear cases or exact peace-money or tribute or make a halt or claim hospitality or take securities or distrain the men of the same monastery both free and servile dwelling on its land, nor require any renders in Our and future times. Rather, let the said abbot and his successors be permitted to possess the goods of the aforesaid monastery in quiet order under the defence of Our immunity.

In fact, it pleased Our Highness to decree by royal authority that We should establish a privilege for the aforesaid place through a precept of Our authority that if anyone is seen to infringe anything from the aforesaid at any time, they should be compelled to pay an immunity of six hundred solidi to the rulers of the same place. And whatever hereafter Our fisc can hope for, We concede entirely to the aforesaid monastery for eternal repayment, so that it might accomplish an increase in the alms for the poor and stipends for the monks serving God therein for all time. And when, by divine summons, the aforesaid abbot and the others following him depart from the light of this world, let the monks serving God therein through Our permission and consent, in accordance with the order and rule of the blessed Benedict, always have permission to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, so that it might delight these servants of God who serve God therein to constantly exhort the Lord for Our grandfather, father, for Us and the stock of Our bloodline and to conserve the stability of Our whole realm. Let them have an advocate whom they rightly elect, and for Our repayment We remit all torts to him.

But that this authority of Our munificence might be held more firmly and be more diligently conserved in future times, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary witnessed on behalf of Wulfard [of Flavigny].

Given on the nones of June [5th June], in the third year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 13th indiction.

Enacted at the township of Pouilly-sur-Loire, happily, amen.

The venerable abbot Hugh [the Abbot] ambasciated.

Were the Vikings trying to Karve up the Carolingian Empire? (wahey!) (source)

First of all, again, there have been questions about the authenticity of this diploma. The modern editor, Bautier, reckons it’s legit, and I agree with him, but it is still within the realms of possibility that this is a later fake. In any case, in terms of its text, the first half is largely a copy of an 866 diploma of Charles the Bald. What that means is that all of the Viking depredations it’s describing had happened twenty years previously. This is a major problem – it doesn’t take very long for Viking raids to become a canard, a fossilised excuse to explain monastic behaviours. This community, which had formerly been located at Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, had now been relocated upriver from Orléans, a region which was passed over by the Viking attacks of the years around 880.

This isn’t to say that the old site of the abbey was peaceful by now. In addition to a Frankish succession crisis, the late 870s also saw the beginning of a civil war in Brittany, and although we don’t know about any Viking raids there during those years, we do know that Vikings were active on the lower Loire during that period and it would surprise me if they weren’t ratcheting up their raids in Brittany and the region west of Angers. Thing is, this wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on the new community in Berry!

In fact, the main object of the diploma appears to be to exempt the abbey’s shipping from river tolls. What we have, then, is a diploma where the rhetorical spectre of the pagan menace overlies a much more mundane goal. This is actually a fairly nice illustration of what I, at least, think is happening with the Vikings: their shadow is much larger than their presence, but that shadow can be quite important in and of itself. It might have been that what the monks of Saint-Gondon wanted was relief more from toll-collectors than Danes, but anti-Viking activity provided a useful cover for royal action. (The parallels between Viking attacks and terrorism in the modern world are there to be found, and I wouldn’t be the first one to notice that by a long shot…)

(I did also do a search for ‘vikings + terrorists’ and… oy. Don’t go down that snake-hole…)

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 7: New Kid on the Block

Last time, we bid a fond farewell to Bishop Stephen II of Clermont and his generation in a few-hundred-word jaunt through twenty years of deeply under-sourced history. (To give some idea of the occasional frustrations of tenth-century history writing, that was as much time as between 9/11 and the present day, with rather less documentation that currently exists for my office furniture.) The sources for around 980 are not substantially better, but we can see a generational shift as three groups of people make a play for power in eastern Aquitaine.

The most ephemeral of these is also the best-recorded and in a lot of ways the most interesting, and that’s the Carolingian kings. In or around 980, King Lothar decided to make his young son Louis V king of Aquitaine. It didn’t work. I’d like to say that this incident has not received enough scholarly attention, but that’s rather unfair – having lavished scholarly attention on it, there’s just nothing there; it’s like post-Carolingian Aquitaine has friendzoned me.

Libellus precum de Saint Rémi.jpg
And here they are: Lothar and Louis V, both on the left. This is a later copy of a prayer book belonging to Lothar’s wife Queen Emma (on the right), and yes, it would be nice if it had survived… (source)

But what happened, you ask? Well, I will tell you what the sources say, and then go from there. To start with, let’s bring in a perhaps-unexpected group of magnates: the counts of Anjou and their family. For reasons I shan’t go into, they were becoming increasingly powerful at court over the course of the 960s and 970s, as well as developing interests in the south. Count Geoffrey Grisegonelle apparently married off his sister Adelaide-Blanche to a man named Stephen, probably in the mid-960s (come on, it’s eastern Aquitaine – everyone’s either Stephen, Amblard, Bertrand or Eustorgius) who was not himself of comital rank but who was nonetheless a big damn deal in the area. Geoffrey and Adelaide-Blanche’s brother Guy, abbot of Cormery, as already mentioned on this blog, was appointed by King Lothar to be bishop of Le Puy in around 975. Then, in 980, when Adelaide’s first husband was dead (and in fact so was her second), Geoffrey’s people at court apparently started trying to persuade Lothar to marry Louis off to her and make him king of Aquitaine which he did.

Lothar went south, had his son crowned at Brioude by the bishops of the province, and left him and Adelaide there to deal with things. This did not go very well – Louis was about fifteen and Adelaide about thirty, and we are told that they had little in common. Louis was unable to get the magnates of the area to listen to him and he was left poor and helpless. His father had to come pack down, probably in 982, and get him. Adelaide fled to William the Liberator, count of Provence, and married him instead. It is not clear that she and Louis V were divorced first. In any case, the attempt to revive a sub-kingdom in Aquitaine was a failure.

I have a few issues with this account. The biggest is that it comes almost entirely from the pen of Richer of Rheims, who is not one to let a good story suffer for want of contact with reality. As it happens the account of a different historian, Ralph Glaber (who I think is independent) corroborates the very basic outline of a lot of this. Nonetheless, between the three main historians of the early eleventh century, Richer, Ralph and Adhemar of Chabannes, we have three quite different accounts. All agree that Louis’ marriage was unsuccessful, but that’s about it. Ralph claims that coming south was Adelaide’s idea, and Adhemar doesn’t mention Louis’ kingship at all, although he does know that Louis married Adelaide and that Lothar was active in central Aquitaine in the 980s. So this makes me uneasy.  

Even taking the account as it stands, however, there are a few things which we can pick out about this. First, it wasn’t a stupid decision either in terms of Aquitanian politics or the wider world. Adelaide-Blanche was connected by blood or marriage to some of the most important people in Aquitaine, and it was reasonable to think that marriage to her would give Louis some sway there – something similar had proven true a century earlier in the case of King Charles the Child. Second, and more importantly, Lothar and Louis weren’t trying to put Louis over any old Aquitaine – they were looking specifically at Guillelmid Aquitaine. Louis V was crowned at William the Pious’ Auvergnat monastery par excellence, at Brioude, rather than at Poitiers or Bourges or one of the old royal palaces. That Auvergne and eastern Aquitaine, rather than Poitou and the west or Limoges and the centre, was chosen, suggests the kings were trying to pull on the ongoing tradition of Königsnahe which Stephen of Clermont had cultivated – Louis’ kingship was not in its envisagement an alien imposition but an attempt to inscribe Louis into the Guillelmid polity as it had developed under Stephen II. It didn’t work, but it was an honourable failure. Next week, we look at something more enduring: the emergence of the Counts of Clermont under Stephen’s nephew Guy.

Charter a Week 4: The Provençal Anticlimax

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time with Boso of Provence, former brother-in-law of Charles the Bald, biggest cheese in the West Frankish world, and the first man since the eighth century who wasn’t a descendant of Charles Martel to declare himself king. We’ve seen him accumulate power and status, marry into the Carolingian family, inch his way towards royal status, build up a surprisingly-large base of support, and theorise his right to be king at length and in detail.

And then it all came crashing down. There’s a case to be made that Boso was too successful. 879 and 880 had not been good years for Louis III and Carloman II, or their East Frankish cousins Louis the Younger and Charles the Fat. In winter 879, there had been Viking attacks, which the West Frankish brothers had defeated; then the bastard son of Lothar II, Hugh, tried to launch his own coup to become king; at the start of 880, Louis the Younger made one more go at supporting that faction of Western magnates which had turned to him the previous year after the death of Louis the Stammerer before making a treaty and turning back to defeat more Viking attacks on his own kingdom; and then in addition to all that was Boso, probably the most successful challenge to the status quo and therefore the biggest target.

And so it came to pass that 880 saw an almost-unprecedented display of Carolingian unity, as the four Carolingian kings sent their armies to Vienne to take Boso down. They first of all took Mâcon, which was being held by Bernard of Gothia on Boso’s behalf, and gave it to Bernard Plantevelue, father of William the Pious. Carolingian unity was a worry for magnates who had supported Boso on a couple of grounds, both of which this nicely illustrates: a unified front meant that Boso probably couldn’t hold for that long against them, and it also meant that they would have more success confiscating offices and lands. The transfer of Mâcon was a major statement that the rebels could lose a lot.

They then proceeded to Vienne itself and besieged it, as Boso fled to the hills. This was probably a sensible strategic decision, but not one designed to reassure his followers. The Carolingians had to lift the siege of Vienne because Charles the Fat had things to do in Italy, but we can see that winter that several of Boso’s closest supporters had abandoned him.

DD LLC no. 49 (30th November 880, Nérondes) = ARTEM no. 4796 = DK 5.xxxiii

In the name of Lord God Eternal and our saviour Jesus Christ. Carloman, by grace of God king.

If We impart by Our authority aid to places given over to divine worship, We believe that because of this We will better acquire the emolument of a heavenly country and more comfortably pass through the present life.

Wherefore, let the concordant entirety of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us know that We, at the appeal of Richard [the Justiciar], count of Autun, for love of God and the recompense of eternal prizes, eternally restore and consign to Saint-Nazaire and to the present bishop Adalgar and his successors the estate of Teigny, which was once stolen from the bishopric and associated with the county by Our crooked ancestors, although with the nones and tithes going to the said church, which estate is actually sited in the county of Avalois.

Therefore, We establish and decree, with God as both witness and judge, that this authority of Our largess should never be violated by any of Our successors as king; but, like the other goods of the same bishopric, it should endure eternally in regard to this estate. And let this same estate have an immunity like the other goods of the same church and endure and remain subject to the other privileges of the same church.

But that this authority of Our confirmation might in the name of God obtain fuller vigour of firmness, We commanded it be signed below with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary subscribed.

Given the day before the kalends of December [30th November], in the second year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 13th indiction.

Acted at the estate of Nérondes.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Count Theodoric [of Vermandois] ambasciated.

CW 4 880
The surviving original, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

The key piece of information you need to understand this diploma is that Richard the Justiciar was Boso’s brother. He had subscribed the Montiéramey charter of 879, but had now apparently decided that the combined might of the Frankish kings was not worth fighting against. This opinion was also evidently shared by Bishop Adalgar of Autun.

This latter is interesting in light of Boso’s diploma last week. The route taken by the Carolingian armies, coming from Troyes, would have taken them right through that part of northern Burgundy which was one of Adalgar’s centres of power, and perhaps where he had been expected to defend it. Adalgar might have had a chance against a factionalised and divided Carolingian family, but against their unified might, well – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…

It is therefore striking that this is the first surviving diploma issued by Carloman. It probably actually was one of his first (although probably not the first) – there hadn’t been that much opportunity in the previous year. That it is for Richard and Adalgar looks rather strategic, therefore – “be like Bernard of Gothia and lose your honores, or be like Adalgar and Richard and keep them!” It didn’t matter how close they had been – changing sides promptly got them back in the kings’ good graces.

Vienne itself turned out to be a tough nut to crack, and Carloman was still besieging it in 882. In the end, it was Richard himself who took it – an ultimate proof of commitment to the new regime – but Boso’s serious claims to kingship had been dead for years before that, crushed under the steamroller of Carolingian family togetherness. Boso himself was never captured, and died a fugitive, an outlaw king, in the hills of the Viennois in 887. His family would have better luck – we will be hearing again from Richard; and Boso did manage to have one son, who would go on to have a very strange career indeed…