The Mysteries of ‘Feudal’ Coinage

At the intersection of my work on ideology and the legitimation of power and my training as, in part, an historian of Anglo-Saxon England is a conviction that I should be getting more out of the coinage evidence than I am. Anglo-Saxonists, after all, have very sexy money. Check this out, for example.

This is the so-called Agnus Dei coinage of King Æthelred the Unready, issued in around 1009. There aren’t a lot of these, and it seems likely that they were issued originally as a part of a royally-sponsored programme of penitence and supplication intended to propitiate God and free England from Viking raids. It’s rare to be able to connect programmatic texts and objects in this way, and it’s a fascinating sign of a broad-spectrum ideological offensive which is hard to parallel from my material. (Although, there is one and it is on my agenda to talk about it at some point…)

Doing this with the tenth century is, as you might imagine, difficult. First, finding the material is difficult. There’s no central database, or even a particularly recent book, which can help you orient yourself.  Second, though, there’s a pre-existing narrative around this material which runs roughly as follows. Under the Good Carolingians, the kings control the coinage and this is Strong Government and is Proper. After around 870 or so, the Bad Carolingians mess everything up by being Weak, and so they lose control of the centrally-regulated coinage and by the tenth century Feudal Aristocrats are minting their own coins to show that they are the real kings now.

So far, so eye-rollingly nineteenth century, but this is still more-or-less what very respected numismatists are saying. Simon Coupland has recently highlighted a very peculiar issue from Langres, datable to c. 910 or so.

coins of langres
Image is Coupland, ‘Seven Recent Carolingian Hoards’, as linked above, plate 52 nos 11 and 12.

Coupland describes these coins as ‘a symbol of the increasing power and ambition of regional magnates at a time when Carolingian royal power was weakened’, and this can’t be right because as we’ve been seeing, the church of Langres has spent the best part of thirty years bedded in tightly to the royal centre. Even if – if! – that’s changing as Burgundy falls increasingly under the sway of Richard the Justiciar, it’s still what basically everyone there is used to. Charles the Simple was specially-commissioned by the pope to intervene in the election of the bishop who issued these coins in 900 (as we will see on Charter a Week in a month or so), and that bishop also received a royal diploma in 907. Now, I don’t have a better argument for these odd little coins – maybe a celebration of a Frankish victory against Vikings – but Coupland’s doesn’t make sense in the context of the late Carolingian world. And so they remain an enigma…

Or take this other coin which has been annoying me, an issue of Duke William of Aquitaine (either William the Pious or William the Younger) from Brioude.


This money always gets mentioned because it’s the first time a non-royal lay ruler takes the king’s name off the coins and puts their own on them. It’s even on the Wikipedia page. And you’d have thought this would be a big deal perhaps requiring some kind of expansive ideological statement, but no: the designs are generic and William claims no title for himself more exalted than ‘count’. This is strange, because if there’s one place I’d expect coinage to function as a way to communicate a magnate’s specifically quasi-royal authority, it’d be Aquitaine… The significance must therefore be quite simply the fact that William did it, and that’s not nothing, but I’m still puzzled why, at the least, he didn’t claim to be dux. Not least, that’d surely require the die-cutter to make fewer changes…

The non-royal coinages of the tenth century, in general, puzzle me more for the reason the Brioude coins do than the Langres mystery. It does seem, in general, that coinage should say something about the authority of those in whose name it is issued. And yet, in tenth-century Gaul, it only occasionally does in any clearly-readable way. I continue to work on this problem, but as of 2019, it continues to puzzle me…


Charter a Week 21: Breton Quasi-Kingship

So I can’t remember if I said I was going to do this l – don’t think so – but some years, there aren’t interesting charters specifically for that year, or there are interesting but undated charters I don’t have anywhere specific to put. Today, we’re dealing with both: 897 was a quiet year in the West Frankish civil war, and I think it’s time we turned our attention westwards. After all, there are kings in Gaul who aren’t Franks.

Well – sort of…

Cartulaire Noir de Saint-Maurice d’Angers no. 12 (26th November c. 900, Plessé)

In the name of our lord God Almighty on high. I, Alan, by grace of God pious and pacific king of Brittany.

If We lend the ears of Our Highness to the just and reasonable petitions of Our followers and bring them to effect, We repeat works of royal highness and because of this We render them more ready in services of Our friendship and loyalty.

Therefore, let the skill of all the Bretons faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, know for certain that the venerable Raino, humble bishop of the church of Angers, a friend beloved of Us, coming before Our Highness, requested that We might bestow by Our munificence a certain abbey, named Saint-Serge, in the district of Anjou near the city of Angers, to be firmly held and securely possessed by him during his lifetime and by his successors soldiering for the blessed Mauritius through a precept of Our authority, and in bestowing confirm it.

We proffered assent to his reasonable petition for his very worthy services, and We commanded this precept of Our Magnitude to be made and given to him, for the remedy of the soul of Charles [the Bald] and Pacswethen [of Vannes] and my soul and my sons, through which We concede and confirm the aforesaid abbey in its entirety, that is, with fields, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, and also estates justly and legally pertaining there, to be held by him and all his successors for all of their lifetimes, such that if anyone after this day, whether I or any of my successors, which I little believe, might presume to generate a calumny against him, let them incur the wrath of God Almighty and all the saints, and let them be damned by anathema maranatha for ever and ever.

But that this precept of Our largess might endure firm and undisturbed, We commanded it be signed by Our signet and We decreed it be strengthened by my sons and followers.

Sign of Alan, most glorious of kings.

Given on the sixth kalends of December [26th November], in the …th indiction, in the reign of Alan in Brittany.

Enacted at the castle of Plessé.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

[Column 1] S. Oreguen, his wife. S. Bishop Bili [of Vannes]. S. Bishop Fulcher [of Nantes]. S. Guerech, Alan’s son. S. Pacswethen, his brother.

[Column 2] S. Budic. S. Conwalon. S. Camraladen. S. Turimcader. S. Blenlivet. S. Laurence. S. Herluin. S. Trumnal. S. Curbreth. S. Riwallon. S. Salomon.

So this is interesting. I have in fact written about this in print, so if you want to find my publishable thoughts, I’d say go there (or, given how difficult it can be to find easily-accessible copies of Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, e-mail me for a PDF). The abbreviated version, though, is as follows.

There’s by this point a long-standing tradition of several decades within Brittany of having their rulers imitating Carolingian royal self-presentation, but not completely. Hence, Alan the Great here, ‘pious and pacific king of Brittany’, has issued something which could almost be a Carolingian royal diploma, except for the very uncharacteristic presence of a witness list. What this adds up to, I argue, is a status of basically-official quasi-royalty, of the Breton rulers being ‘kind of’ kings.

At the turn of the tenth century, after all, the Bretons have spend decades doing alright for themselves. When they’re in a state of civil war – and often they are – things are bad, but under one ruler, things damp down for long enough to do some real damage to West Frankish interests. Alan’s predecessor(-ish) Salomon managed to grab Nantes and Rennes, as well as what is now western Normandy; and Anjou is similarly a Breton sphere of influence.

A view of modern Angers (source)

This is all going to change with the advent of Viking attacks, but for the moment this charter is a remarkable display of self-confidence of a Breton rulership increasingly presenting itself in language taken from Carolingian kingship.

The Problem of the Three Bernards

Whew. This year has been exhausting. How about something more fun? Let’s head back over a century to mid-ninth century Aquitaine, and deal with one of the most entertaining antiquarian problems in Carolingian history: how many people called Bernard were there?

It’s called the ‘Three Bernards’ problem because of a line in Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims’ Annals of Saint-Bertin where he refers in 868 to ‘the margraves, Bernard of Toulouse and Bernard of Gothia and another different Bernard’. However, nobody thinks there are three Bernards in play. The most generous number I’ve seen is actually about seven, and personally I think there are either four or five.

So who are they? Let’s start with the first two above. Bernard of Gothia is by far the least controversial: he is the brother of a man named Emeno, he was dispossessed in the 870s and he died in rebellion. So far, so easy. Bernard of Toulouse is also fairly easy to deal with: he is the son of a man named Count Raymond of Toulouse and his family have been in charge there for a couple of decades by this point. However, here we run into the first problem. In 872, Hincmar refers to a man named Bernard the Calf dying. Is this Bernard of Toulouse? Janet Nelson argues no: because Charles the Bald received the news in Burgundy, Bernard the Calf should belong in Burgundy and thus Nelson identifies him as perhaps a brother of Count Heccard of Mâcon. This seems like a weak basis for an argument to me. Bouchard points out that the evidence for Bernard of Toulouse’s death being in around 872 is very good, if circumstantial, and the lands and offices held by the Aquitanian magnates of the later 870s makes better sense if Bernard of Toulouse and Bernard the Calf are the same man. So I am therefore quite happy to go along with this identification. (For those of you keeping score: number of actual Bernards: 2; number of potential Bernards: 3.)

Bernard Bernard Bernard Bernard mushroom mushroom…

This brings us to the other different Bernard, and this is where things get tricky. Let’s stay with Bouchard for a minute. Bouchard argues that ‘the other different Bernard’ is the same man as one named in Hincmar’s Annals as ‘Bernard son of Bernard’. So let’s start with, who is Bernard son of Bernard?

Most historians would happily identify him as the son of an earlier ninth-century magnate named Bernard of Septimania, most famous for being accused of sleeping with Charles the Bald’s mother and eventually being executed for treason. However, a historian named Mathieu has argued that Bernard son of Bernard is not son of Bernard, but the son of Bernard.

(Feel free to pause for refreshment here.)

Specifically, he argues that ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ is not the son of Bernard of Septimania, but of a man named Count Bernard I of Auvergne. The reasoning for this has to do with Bernard son of Bernard’s career in Lotharingia looking after King Lothar II’s bastard son Hugh, a position Mathieu sees as too responsible for a rebel, too important for someone without much of a patrimony, and too dangerous in terms of Lothar’s relationship with Charles the Bald. This is not a very substantial objection: by analogy with Baldwin Iron-Arm of Flanders, we know that Carolingian kings were quite happy to attach their sons to people who might be described as adventurers, and Hincmar’s description of Bernard as ‘son of the tyrant Bernard’, as he does a few times, fits neatly with a son of Bernard of Septimania. Bernard I of Auvergne certainly existed, and may have been Bernard son of Bernard’s father-in-law, but is unlikely to have been his father.

One thing we can all agree on is that ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ is the same person Hincmar at one point calls ‘Bernard Plantevelue [Hairypaws]’, so that’s nice.

Was Bernard Plantevelue the ‘other different Bernard’ of the 868 annal, though? Bouchard’s argument that he was rests on the assumption that Hincmar is explicit about only meaning three Bernards. However, I don’t think he does. The description of Bernard as ‘another different Bernard’ seems to mark him out from not only Bernard of Gothia and Bernard the Calf, but also Bernard Plantevelue. Bernard Plantevelue, as mentioned above, seems to have spent 868 and 869 in Lotharingia, and Hincmar looks to be distinguishing between him and, well, another, different, Bernard. (The Lotharingian adventure also provides a good contextual reason why Bernard Plantevelue wasn’t hanging around in Aquitaine at the same time.)

So who was the other different Bernard? Nelson proposes that he was Count Bernard I of the Auvergne, and this does just about work. However, the problem is that the most natural reading of the charter evidence from the abbey of Brioude is that Bernard I of Auvergne died by September 868, which is just about possible, but requires him to get home from the meeting reported in the 868 annal and die immediately. It also requires Charles the Bald not to find out about it for a year or so, because he was apparently expecting to meet this Bernard in 869. (He didn’t, and there may be a reason why, but it’s an odd lapse in information gathering at best.)

The alternative is that ‘the other different Bernard’ is another, different Bernard. The Latin of Hincmar’s passage can be construed as drawing a distinction between Bernard the Calf and Bernard of Gothia, who are margraves, and the third who isn’t; in which case the third need not be a layman at all. If not, my guess would be Abbot Bernard of Solignac, who was an important churchman with close ties to Charles the Bald’s court.

So where does this leave us? With four or perhaps five Bernards: Bernard of Toulouse, who is Bernard the Calf; Bernard of Gothia; Bernard Plantevelue, who is also ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ and the son of Bernard of Septimania; Bernard I of Auvergne, who might be the ‘other different Bernard’; and Bernard of Solignac who is another reasonable candidate for the other different Bernard.

If you’ve read this far, then congratulations! If you see me at a conference, use the code word ‘vanadium’ and I’ll buy you a drink. But more seriously, you might be wondering why any of this matters. The short answer is that who we think is doing things can change the picture dramatically. To take only one example: if Bernard son of Bernard isn’t the other different Bernard, his support of Lothar II’s son Hugh is a regional problem at best. If he is, it’s an international conspiracy and this has important effects on how we tell the story of the politics of this decade. The Three Bernards problem, then, might be dry, or even comically absurd, but it is worthy of attention.

Charter a Week 20: Peace, Saint-Denis, and Who’s King, Again?

A two-for-one special today, folks, as once again we pick apart the tangled relationship between Charles the Simple and Zwentibald of Lotharingia. Let’s start with the recipient of both these diplomas: the priory of Salonnes, in Lotharingia. Salonnes was a priory of Saint-Denis, originally given to that abbey by Abbot Fulrad in the time of Charlemagne centuries earlier. One particular winter’s day, a group of Sandionysian monks, accompanied by the magnates Reginar Longneck and Odoacer of Bliesgau, petitioned Zwentibald to restore to the Parisian abbey the cell of Salonnes, which had apparently been lost to Saint-Denis in the mid-ninth century.

What’s going on here? Ultimately, this is all part of the fallout from the failed seige of Laon we mentioned last week. Having originally agreed to help Charles the Simple, Zwentibald managed to alienate Charles’ camp, who sent peace envoys to Odo. Zwentibald himself made a truce with Bishop Dido of Laon and withdrew back to Lotharingia. And then he issued this diploma:

DD Zw no. 7 (22nd January 896, Schweighausen) = ARTEM no. 3041 = LBA no. 8310

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Zwentibald, by the procuration of divine clemency king.

It is therefore meet for Us, who enjoy royal power, to above all place the fear of God before all mortal business, and to love and build up the places which Our ancestors built in honour of God before other worldly things, because, as We believe, for this reason God, for love of Whom We do this, be more pleased with Us, as well as his saints, whose service We worthily venerate.

Wherefore let it come to the notice of the whole Church trusting in God that the congregation of the blessed martyr Dionysius and his companions sent one of their brothers to make a claim for the goods which are sited in Our realm, which Our ancestors and religious men had given to the aforesaid martyrs for their salvation to be used for the lighting and for the advantage of the brothers and to take care of the poor and for the honour of that place.

We, hearing their claim, because of the intervention of Our followers Odoacer [of Bliesgau] and Reginar [Long-Neck], restore to them a certain little abbey sited in the district of Saulnois, named Salonnes, for the abovesaid uses with all its appendages. Concerning this little abbey, they asked Us to concede two estates specially for the lighting and the care of the poor, that is, Suisse and Baronville, with all their appendages. We consented to this for the salvation of Our soul and Our ancestors, and We decreed it be done, and also We conceded all the demesne of the tithes of that little abbey, as is done throughout the abbey of Saint-Denis, for the use of the paupers and the poor pensioners who serve Saint Privatus each day and offer offerings daily, at their request, for common advantage; and let no-one ever come as a dominator who might dare to infringe this.

If anyone should begin to violently infringe this alms, first let them incur the wrath of God and His saints, to whose places We decreed this concession be made and – that I might shortly conclude – let them remain bound by the chains of anathema now and forever unless they come to their senses, and let the present edict endure firm and stable. And that it might be more credible to everyone who sees it, in God’s name, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of lord Zwentibald, most glorious of kings.

Waldger the notary witnessed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Ratbod.

Given on the 11th kalends of February (22nd January), in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 896, in the 14th indiction, in the first year of the reign of lord Zwentibald.

Enacted at Schweighausen.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

zwent 896
Zwentibald’s diploma, from the Marburg Lichtbildarchiv älterer Originalurkunden linked above.

This diploma represents a sign of peace between Odo and Zwentibald. The petitioners, Reginar and Odoacer, are Zwentibald’s “western specialists”, particularly involved with West Frankish affairs, and their role in petitioning for the diploma probably is a symbol that the relevant parts of Zwentibald’s court are behind the deal. Odo and Zwentibald never seem to have been what you’d call ‘friendly’, but Zwentibald’s active engagement outside his own kingdom was over.

896 was a rather more turbulent year for Charles. His supporters tried hard to make peace with Odo, but their efforts were thwarted by Baldwin the Bald, count of Flanders, who disrupted the assemblies at which Odo was trying to make peace. One by one, Charles’ supporters abandoned him and went over to Odo, probably to get protection from Baldwin. Charles’ supporters had spent the winter of 895/896 ravaging Baldwin’s land, and Baldwin was out for revenge – later (we’re not quite sure when), he had one of them, Heribert I of Vermandois, murdered. Given that, as we are told at several points, Odo had taken all of Charles’ supporters lands and fortresses, going back over, in the absence of a peace treaty, was probably a necessity.

This left Charles in a pickle. As more and more of his men defected, his cause began to look weaker and weaker, and so more and more of his men defected. Eventually, even Archbishop Fulk of Rheims left Charles’ side, and Charles withdrew to Lotharingia. There he issued this diploma:

DD CtS no. 7 (25th July 896, Gondreville) = ARTEM no. 204 = DK 7.xx

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by God’s mercy king.

Certainly, if We lend the ears of Our Piety to the petitions of Our followers of Our Highness and especially those soldiering for God, We do not doubt that whatever We bestow on that which is given over to divine worship (*) will benefit Us in every way, and through this We believe God on High will establish and ennoble the garland of Our realm.

Wherefore, We wish it to be known to all of those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, to wit, present and future, that, for the increase of Our reward and for the remedy of Our soul and Our relatives, and through the appeal of Our venerable and dearest mother Adelaide on behalf of the brothers of the monastery of Salonnes, for veneration and love of the most holy martyrs resting therein, that is, the nourishing Privatus, Frodoald and Iddo, and Dionysius, most blessed of martyrs, Our lord and patron, to whom as well the same place is subject, because the same brothers are seen to be afflicted with the poverty of want, and their prebends are known to have been completely destroyed and taken away, it pleased Us and seemed just to honour the same holy place and the brothers strenuously serving God therein through a precept of Our authority concerning the goods of the abbey, so that they might hold them more freely and firmly, and so that they might more fully delight in exhorting the Lord for the peace and stability of the realm.

These goods, then, are in the district of Chaumontois, to wit, the estate of Loromontzey with a church in honour of Saint Martin on the river Loro, with the small estates nearby, as follows: Vicherey, Morelmaison, Maconcourt and Gironcourt-sur-Vraine; and in the district of Charmois, in the place which is called Montenoy, 1 manse with a vineyard beholden to it, and in Pompey 1 vineyard of 10 pecks, and next to the aforesaid monastery, in the estate named Courcelles [since destroyed], 2 manses with a vineyard of 40 pecks, [{interpolated:} and in Ancy-sur-Moselle, 12 manses with a vineyard of 100 pecks, and in Bey-sur-Seille, 7 manses, 1 church].

We commanded this precept of Our Highness concerning these to be made and given to the same brothers, through which We order and command and in God and because of God witness that no king, no abbot or anyone endowed with any dignity should dare to steal, alienate or by any trick purloin the aforesaid goods from the aforesaid holy place or the brothers assiduously serving God there. Rather, let the same brothers without any contradiction have, hold and possess the same goods with everything pertaining to them, with bondsmen of both sexes dwelling therein or justly and legally pertaining to the same, with lands cultivated and uncultivated, meadows, woods, vineyards, pastures, waters and watercourses, roads out and in, and with all legitimate borders as prebends or for their necessary uses, and let them have free and very firm power in everything, by canonical authority, to do whatever henceforth they might elect to do.

And that this largess of Our authority might endure stable and undisturbed through times to come, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Robert the notary, at the request of King Charles, wrote and subscribed this.

Given in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 896, in the 15th indiction, and in the 4th year of the reign of King Charles, on the 8th kalends of August [25th July].

[Adelaide and Rothildis [daughter of Charles the Bald] appealed for this.]

Enacted at Gondreville. Happily in the name of God, amen.

(*) There’s no way around the fact that the opening lines of this diploma don’t actually make grammatical sense, so I’ve done the best I can.

cts 896
Charles’ diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

I admit, if I were in Charles’ shoes here, I’d be a bit worried. If all my supporters had abandoned me, and I were stuck at Gondreville, I might get to wondering about the fate of the bastard son of Lothar II, Hugh, who had tried to become king in the 880s and who had been arrested and imprisoned at Gondreville. This diploma is, it’s fair to say, issued at a low ebb. Note that there isn’t even an archchancellor here…

In relation to the last one, this diploma has caused confusion. Is it expressing alliance with Zwentibald or rivalry? Well, first of all, I don’t believe for a second Charles is living off Gondreville without at least Zwentibald’s tacit approval. More relevantly, I don’t actually think it’s primarily related to the Lotharingian king at all. Koziol has looked at this diploma as Charles’ way of connecting himself to Saint Dionysius without actually controlling Saint-Denis, and I’m sure that’s part of it; but Koziol’s analysis assumes as its base that Charles is trying to rival Odo here. Certainly the king and the anti-king are not best buds, but by this point attempts at compromise and peace-making have been ongoing for a year. What I think Charles is actually doing here, therefore, is trying to appeal to Odo. He might have no supporters, but he’s still a king, he’s still got a connection to one of the premier royal saints, and if you can negotiate with Zwentibald, why not with him? This diploma, slightly weirdly-redacted as it is, is a message to Odo saying Charles is still a legitimate king and can’t be ignored.


Source Translation: Dynasty and Rebellion

Flodoard of Rheims, Historia Remensis Ecclesiae, IV.v, pp. 380-383 (c. 894).

[Fulk] sent letters to the Transrhenian king Arnulf [of Carinthia] for the sake of King Charles [the Simple], whom he had anointed as king whilst he was still a boy, and he explained the causes for [Charles’] elevation, for he had heard that Arnulf’s mind had been turned against him because of what he had done. He noted that after the death of Emperor Charles [the Fat], Arnulf’s uncle, he had set out for Arnulf’s service, wanting to receive his dominion and governance – but the king had sent him away without any counsel or consolation. Therefore, since no hope remained for [Fulk] in [Arnulf], he was compelled to receive the dominion of [Arnulf’s] man, that is, Odo, who was unconnected to the royal family and tyrannically abused royal power, but whose dominion he had reluctantly endured until now. So, because he desired Arnulf’s dominion, he therefore set out for his service but after he could get no advice from him, he did the only thing which was left to him, which was to choose to have the only other king whom they had from the royal line and whose predecessors and brothers had been kings.

He also rendered account for why they had not done it before (for which the same king blamed him). Because, when Emperor Charles died, and Arnulf himself was unwilling to receive the rule of the realm, this Charles [the Simple] was still very little, both in body and in wisdom, and was unsuitable for governing a kingdom, and given the threat of persecution by the Northmen, it was at that time too dangerous to elect him. But since they had seen him reach an appropriate age, when he knew to proffer assent to those wholesomely giving him counsel, they received him in a manner appropriate with God’s honour, that he might take care of the realm, wanting to establish him in such a manner that he might be useful to this realm and Arnulf. Against the accusation that they had presumed to do this without Arnulf’s counsel, he asserted that they had followed the custom of the Frankish people, whose custom had always been that when the king died, they would elect another from the royal family and lineage without respect to or inquiry after the wishes of any greater or more powerful king. Having made the king by this custom, they wanted to commit him to [Arnulf’s] fidelity and counsel, so that he might use his aid and counsel in everything, and so that both the king and the whole realm might be subdued to his precepts and ordinances.

Thereafter, because he had heard it suggested to the king that he had done this against the king’s fidelity and for his own private gain, he said that the very Anskeric [bishop of Paris] who was known to have bandied this about had, before the archbishop himself had tried to do anything about this matter, come to him in the presence of Counts Heribert [I of Vermandois] and Ecfrid [of Artois] and sought both counsel and aid on what he should do about the commands of Odo, who had ordered him to do insupportable things. He asked for counsel on behalf of Gozfred’s sons concerning the evil which Odo was trying to do to them; and they asked that a chief should be established by common counsel who was such a man that they might be secure after having submitted themselves to him, intending either on Guy [of Spoleto] or on this Charles of the royal line. At the same time, those who were there considered whom they would be better advised to attend, and it seemed to them, for the sake of gaining the realm’s advantage and out of fear of contradiction on Arnulf’s part, and because the rulership of a royal race is right and proper, that they should go over to this Charles. They believed that Arnulf would be happy for his kinsman, and defend him and the realm.

But he had heard it bandied about that he had done this on behalf of Guy [of Spoleto], so that by this wile he might secretly bring him into the realm and, having dismissed the boy Charles, go over to Guy’s side. He asserted that this was a knowing falsehood bandied against him by the envy of the jealous. For the sort of man who promulgated such slanders knew that he could be accused in the same way; he, on the other hand, knew himself neither to be such a man nor to be born from such parents. The king’s predecessors had never found such trickery in his forefathers, whom they considered proven as completely loyal and useful for the realm, and for that reason they honourably elevated them. Wherefore he blushed on the king’s behalf, that he would believe this of him or brand himself with such infamy.

Finally, because he had heard that it had been said to Arnulf that this Charles was not Louis [the Stammerer’s] son, he asserted that he could not believe that there was anyone who, if they saw him and knew his relatives’ appearance, would not recognise him as coming from the royal lineage: he bore certain signs of his father Louis by which he could be known as his son. He therefore asked Arnulf’s royal majesty that he should worthily accept this truth and that no-one be able to turn his mind against his innocent king, his kinsman, but that he have examined in his presence and the presence of his followers whether matters were as he had stated, and lead affairs to their due conclusion, thinking of how his ancestors had governed the state of the realm and how the descent of royal highness had always hitherto flourished, but how at that time just that prince and his little kinsman Charles remained from the whole royal family; and he should consider what might come to pass if the end due to everyone should ask for him, since there were already some many kings unconnected to the royal family, and there would be yet more who would affect for themselves the name of kings. Who would help his son ascend to the inheritance of the realm due to him after his death, if it happened that his kinsman Charles were toppled?

He also added that it was known that amongst nearly all the peoples, the Frankish people were accustomed to have hereditary kings, offering the witness of the blessed Pope Gregory on this, and adding as well from German books the story of old king Ermenric, who sent all his offspring to die by the impious counsels of one of his counsellors; and he begged that the king should not acquiesce to wicked counsels, but should have mercy on this people and aid the failing royal race, taking care that the dignity of his line should be strengthened in his own time, and that those who became kings from unconnected families, or who desired so to become, should not prevail against those to whom royal honour was due because of their family. He stated that he had sent Aletramnus to suggest to the same Arnulf that he should command any of those who had established Charles as king he pleased to come into his service, and they would reasonably show before his sublimity that matters were as he had described.

He also solicited and prayed that the king should deal with the aforewritten material with a receptive heart, and know of [Fulk’s] devotion to and intent on his fidelity, that Charles should respect [Arnulf’s] counsel in everything he did, and remain protected by his piety, and that no-one should be able to turn the heart of the king away from helping the realm or Charles.

This isn’t the first time justifying rebellion has come up on this blog, and it isn’t the first time that dynasty has either. What’s significant about this letter is that it is more-or-less the key piece of evidence for historians who want to argue that 888 represents a ‘dynastic crisis’ as opposed to just a succession crisis. And if you read it you can see why: if you’re looking for a statement about the paramount importance of blood, it’s right hee.

It’s just a shame the letter itself is such a crock. As we talked about on Monday, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims was using Charles the Simple as figurehead for his own rebellion. This letter was written to defend himself against the charge of – as he puts it – putting his private interests ahead of that of the realm. Thing is, it’s clear from reading it that this is exactly what Fulk has done. He has to defend himself from charge after charge after charge – that he didn’t crown Charles in 888 (he didn’t), that he’s going against Arnulf in crowning him now (he is), that he’s working on behalf of Guy of Spoleto (he probably isn’t, but given that Guy is who he did crown in 888, it’s a reasonable belief), and so on. It’s also clear from the letter that he has few friends at Arnulf’s court, and that some people who he thought were originally on side have turned out not to be – Bishop Anskeric of Paris comes in for a drubbing here. Even worse, he doesn’t have real arguments against the Guy of Spoleto point, which is probably the key charge against his own rhetoric – note how what he says in response amounts to ‘I know you are, but what am I?’

Fulk’s appeals availed him nought. It’s clear that justifying his rebellion in terms of Charles’ Carolingian blood did not gain him much support, and may in fact have caused contemporaries to view his cause with a certain degree of cynicism. Equally, it didn’t persuade Arnulf. If Fulk hoped that an appeal to family would help, he was sorely mistaken. Arnulf stayed on Odo’s side throughout the 890s, fairly constantly, and Fulk himself was given the cold shoulder. I think what is happening here is that Fulk has picked out a fringe idea to legitimise himself in the hope that it’ll appeal to Arnulf’s self-interest, but that idea is in fact too fringe to be convincing.

Charter a Week 19: The Attempted Conquests of King Zwentibald

Enough hanging around in the provinces! Let’s get to where the action is really happening: the civil war, baby! We’ve had cause to mention a couple of times that, beginning in 893, there was a rebellion launched against Odo in the name of Charles the Simple. The underlying cause for this appears to be that, for whatever reason, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims did not like Odo – he had, in 888, tried to crown his relative Guy of Spoleto king instead, although that hadn’t taken – but more broadly, given that the rebels were largely confined to the north-east, the immediate catalyst seems to have been Odo’s execution of his cousin Walker, who held the castle of Laon. (There may be parallels as well to the north-east’s distrust for King Carloman II a decade earlier.)

Things did not go terribly well for the rebels. After Easter 893, Fulk and Heribert I of Vermandois, with the young Charles and an army, set out against King Odo. When they met him, the Latin of our main source, the Annales Vedastini, does not make it fully clear what happened, but it is evident that the rebels lost an important political struggle to win over Richard the Justiciar, William the Pious, and Count Adhemar of Poitiers, who were won over to Odo. Odo then won a strategic victory against Fulk that autumn, forcing him to leave the kingdom and spend the winter negotiating for peace (probably, in Fulk’s case, in bad faith).

The following year, Odo took Rheims, forcing Fulk and Charles to flee to Arnulf of Carinthia, who apparently received them warmly but did not give them any support against Odo. Charles now went to Richard the Justiciar, who looks to have been at best lukewarm about having Fulk and Charles there. By the start of 895, then, Charles and Fulk were in a bit of a spot.

All was not lost, though. Whilst this drama had been playing out in the West, Arnulf himself had been trying to make his bastard son Zwentibald king of Lotharingia. In 895, he succeeded. Zwentibald, however, appears to have felt like expanding his kingdom. Thus, although his father Arnulf was a supporter of Odo, Zwentibald provided military support for Charles. And thus, this week’s charter:

DD Zw no. 3 (14th August 895, Trosly)

In the name of the holy and inseparable Trinity. Zwentibald, by the assent of supernal clemency king.

Let all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us know that Our beloved and faithful archbishop and chancellor Ratbod [of Trier] appealed to Us that We might concede something to a certain congregation of monks which is the congregation of the holy archangel Michael for their prebend. We, not refusing his petition, for the increase of Our reward, conceded to them a manor named Buxières-sous-les-Côtes and Heudicourt-sous-les-Côtes with everything which pertains to that benefice, that is, forty-four manses, and one manse in Refroicourt with a mill, as well as one chapel in Bannoncourt with its appendages, and it is sited in the district of Verdunois, in Ricuin [of Verdun]’s county; and in the district of Scarponnais, in Iremfred’s county, one chapel in the estate of Essey with its appendages.

And all this which We concede to the aforesaid abbey used to previously pertain not in fact to the allowance for the monks, but was specifically rendered to the abbot. But We considered their poverty, which stemmed from the oppression of the gentiles, and with the consent of their abbot Stephen We concede to them the aforesaid goods with everything which is seen to pertain there, that is, bondsmen, fields cultivated and uncultivated, mobile and immobile goods, meadows, vineyards, pastures, woods, waters and watercourses, with paths and impassable land, with roads out and in, with incomes claimed and to be claimed, so that they might more freely and faithfully pour out prayers for Us before the Lord.

For this reason, We commanded this precept be written on this matter, so that the present concession might endure firm and uncorrupted. In addition We, holding the pen in Our hand, signed and confirmed this, whereby this donation might be firmer, and We commanded it be imprinted this Our seal, that it might persevere perpetually undisturbed.

Sign of lord Zwentibald, most glorious of kings.

Sign of lord Louis [the Child], most serene of kings.

I, therefore, Waldger the notary, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the 19th kalends of September (14th August), in the year of the Lord 895, in the 13th indiction, in the first year of King Zwentibald.

Enacted in the township of Trosly-Loire, next to the city of Noyon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Given on the 16th kalends of September (16th August), in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 908, in the 11th indiction, in the 9th year of the reign of lord Louis.

Enacted at Frankfurt.

A modern-day statue of King Zwentibald. (source)

Now, qua diploma, this diploma isn’t all that interesting (except the confirmation of it by Zwentibald’s half-brother and successor Louis the Child, which is interesting but we’re not going to deal with it now). Its content will become relevant shortly, but not today. No, what’s interesting about it is where it’s issued: in the West Frankish kingdom. The closest analogy here is Hugh of Arles’ diplomas from Provence – Zwentibald is doing king stuff in a kingdom, but how far he’s trying to claim it as his kingdom is up for debate. (Remember, Charles the Fat became West Frankish king precisely by coming to the kingdom and doing king stuff.)

That said, Zwentibald’s aggression is much more evident than Hugh’s. Zwentibald is not helping Charles out of the goodness of his heart. Charles’ supporters had promised him part of their kingdom, and whilst Charles and Zwentibald are besieging Laon, some of Charles’ men swap sides and go to Zwentibald – including Baldwin the Bald of Flanders. (There’s even a Flemish charter dated by Zwentibald’s reign, which is a very suspicious document but I think the dating clause is right because – well, no-one likes Zwentibald, why make it up?) After that, Charles’ men are worried Zwentibald is planning to kill him. So this alliance doesn’t really work out.

What is interesting about it, though, is that it’s one of the few efforts to conquer a bit of a kingdom that I know of from this period. Most invasions are with the aim of taking the whole lot. Admittedly the old Middle Kingdom has some fuzzy borders, so Zwentibald might feel like he has more wiggle room; and some of his key supporters, including Reginar Long-Neck, are from precisely the north-west area he’s trying to expand into. Still, it’s an unusual thing, and makes me think that the Charles/Odo civil war is a lot stranger and more important than the Annales Vedastini’s terse reportage implies.

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 10: The Dukes of Aquitaine and the Peace of God

Do you know it’s been over a year since the first of these came out? This isn’t the last post – there’ll be a wrap-up to follow – but it is the last with actual content. We’ve gone to some unexpected places over the course of this story, and not least is the Peace of God. Today, we finish the story by returning, once again, to the counts of Poitou – or, as we can now reasonably call them, the dukes of Aquitaine.

Since we last saw them in the 950s and 960s, it’s been a fairly quiet few decades for William Fierabras, count of Poitou and son of William Towhead(*). The big innovation is that he has begun to fairly consistently take on the title of ‘duke of Aquitaine’ in a way which none of his predecessors managed, but his rule is still basically limited to the greater Poitou region and perhaps Limousin, although Poitevin control there looks to have been rather tenuous. This all changes in a big way in 989, when all of a sudden William’s entourage blows up. In that year, a council was held at Charroux featuring all the Aquitanian bishops; if we are to take a twelfth-century Chronicon from the abbey of Maillezais at all seriously, William was closely involved in organising this. At the beginning of the year, William appears in a charter for the abbey of Saint-Hilaire with Count William of Angoulême, Viscount Guy of Limoges, and Bishop Hildegar of Limoges – not too far-flung, but wider than is typical. But this is just the start of an expansion of Poitevin power which is clear from the charter evidence extending from this point well into the reign of William the Great.

  What’s going on? The short answer is that I’m still not sure. Historians consistently take the Council of Charroux as being self-evident – as in, ‘what else are bishops going to do?’ – but as we’ve talked about before, it really isn’t. I’ve since found evidence to push the last provincial council presided over by an archbishop of Bordeaux to the seventh rather than the third century, but this is not typical behaviour. I have speculations about what’s going on, none terribly convincing. What I would like to emphasise for you is that this is not a Peace of God council. For one thing, the Peace of God doesn’t exist yet. Even otherwise, the Council of Charroux doesn’t mention peace, and there’s no mention of oath-swearing either. If you just had the text of the decrees without names or dates (or hindsight), this looks basically like any other Church council.

Charroux today (source)

What is interesting to me is the point where developments in Greater Poitou overlap with those in east-central Aquitaine, which seems to be at the Council of Limoges in 994. Getting a handle on what happened here is tricky, because there are lots of sources but they’re all later and many of them are written by one man, Adhemar of Chabannes, famous for being a liar and possibly a lunatic. What we can say is that it was a) big, b) convoked without overt ducal influence and c) saw the bishops of Clermont and Le Puy present. These two are interesting. They were not regular figures in the councils of ducal Aquitaine, and their presence here is unusual for that reason. It also provides a conduit for the bringing of a discourse of ‘Peace’ into conciliar developments in western Aquitaine.

Why take it up, though? Here we turn back to the high politics. In the third quarter of the 990s there was a big brouhaha involving a bunch of people in northern Aquitaine, most notably for our purposes William the Great and Boso II of La Marche. We don’t need to go into the details – if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Greater Poitevin politics in this period is insanely complicated – because what matters to us is the outcome: a peace agreement between the two men which involved William marrying Boso’s widowed sister-in-law Adalmodis. Why does this matter? Because of who Adalmodis is. Remember Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou, quondam queen of Aquitaine, sister of Guy of Le Puy and mother of Count Pontius of Gévaudan who helped Guy overawe his subjects at Saint-Germain-Laprade? Well, she’s also Adalmodis’ mother. The marriage took place in around 997/998, and shortly thereafter, around 1000, we find another council being summoned at Poitiers. This one looks much more like those held by Guy of Le Puy and before him by Stephen of Clermont, and not least because the council’s surviving acts start with a big ol’ declaration that ‘splendid is the name of peace’. The language of peace has taken over the conciliar tendency of western Aquitaine.

At the same time, William’s entourage begins to display evidence of a push to the east not seen since the 950s. Specifically, his brother-in-law Count Pontius of Gévaudan witnesses several ducal charters in the 1000s and 1010s. At the same time, we have also got precious evidence from an unpublished charter of William’s in favour of the abbey of Saint-Léger d’Ébreuil in Auvergne itself – the first evidence of ducal patronage in the Auvergne since the 930s. Equally, William’s reach extended north to Berry, where he wangled Odo of Châteauroux into his following. Bourges was the metropolitan of Clermont and Le Puy and the archbishop had taken part in Limoges in 994 and approved of Saint-Paulien a little before that, so the peace-councils discourse might have had purchase there as well.

The ‘Aquitanian Peace of God’ movement, as it developed in the early eleventh century, has therefore a place not just as the precursor to the Peace of God proper which would spread across Europe from the 1020s and 1030s, but as part of the history of attempts to control Auvergne. Assimilated into a Poitevin tradition, the ‘Peace of God’ movement reaches back to Stephen II of Clermont, and is part of an attempt to harness his legacy and replicate his influence in east-central Aquitaine.


(*) OK, that’s not true, but trust me, you don’t want to know the details, which are detailed.