Charter a Week 15: The Council of Meung-sur-Loire

A short post for a quiet year. The early years of Odo’s reign were, if not salad days, at least less hectic than what would come after, although by that I just mean he was fighting Vikings rather than civil wars. Our main source, the Annals of Saint-Vaast, are mostly concerned with Viking fights and don’t say much about what was going on outside the north-east. Hence, if we were reliant on them, we wouldn’t know about this:

MGH Conc. V, no. 33 (July 891, Meung-sur-Loire)

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 891, in the ninth indiction, by the royal command of the glorious king Odo, a synod was celebrated at Meung, on the river Mauve or Loire, in the church of the blessed confessor of Christ Liphard. Sundry bishops of churches gathered there.

There, while it dealt with divers matters regarding the welfare and business of the Church, the plea of the brothers of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, an abbey of the church of Sens, located in its suburb, was set out. They said that they had endured a great and dangerous loss for an immoderately long time.

Therefore, because many abbots from alien abbeys had been established over them as governing prelates by their pontiffs, that is, the bishops of the church of Sens, and certainly because it appeared against the rule of the blessed Benedict and the institution of the holy canons, it was enacted by the most blessed pontiffs, with Walter, venerable pontiff of the same place, the church of Sens, advising and even appealing for it, that no-one henceforth should be ordained and established as father of the monastery except he whom they should elect from amongst themselves by their disposition and free will.

Wherefore, it was solemnly decreed by the aforesaid bishops in this present privilege that anyone so thoughtless as to presume to violate this authority of such fathers, let them be held in the chains of anathema by the authority by which our lord Jesus Christ bestowed on his disciples the power to bind and loose, saying ‘Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matthew 18:18].

Therefore, it was strengthened by the hands of everyone, so that it might be confirmed by the assent of everyone. And everyone who was there subscribed, that is, the bishops and archbishops whose names are here:

Walter, undeservedly archbishop of the holy Church of Sens confirmed this. Edacius, archbishop of the church of Bourges. Erbern, archbishop of Tours. Theodard, archbishop of the church of Narbonne. Adalgar, bishop of Autun. May you always endure under the firm name of Agilmar [of Clermont](*). Herfred, a sinner bishop [of Auxerre]. Eumerius, bishop of Nevers. Aimeric, bishop of Chartres. Adolend, unworthy bishop of Albi, confirmed. Agilbert, by grace of God bishop of Béziers. Bishop Walter [of Orléans]. Servus Dei, humble bishop of the see of Girona. Warin, bishop of Cahors.

The humble archbishop Adald [of Sens](*).

An early ninth-century image of a church council (Nicea, specifically) (source)

(*) These two subscriptions are idiosyncratic: evidently Agilmar felt like showing off; whilst Archbishop Adald subscribed these acts several years later, something not unknown for Burgundian bishops.

Meung-sur-Loire is an abbey in the Orléanais, traditionally considered a heartland of Robertian power although probably more accurately in this time called a heartland of Odo’s personally (my suspicion is that’s because he’s closely allied to Bishop Walter of Orléans). Odo spent a lot of time here, and it makes sense that he’d gather a council of bishops together here.

This document is the only record we have of the synod of Meung-sur-Loire, but from the witness list it looks like it was a big ‘un – I count three different episcopal provinces, which isn’t bad. Noticeably absent are bishops from Rheims (probably because Archbishop Fulk absolutely hates Odo) and Rouen (quite possibly because Vikings are a bigger distraction).

What this shows most of all, once again, is that under Odo an awful lot stayed the same. In fact, big church councils weren’t to disappear until the 930s, even if their synodal records are no longer preserved. This doesn’t mean, though, that there was a late ninth-century sea change – Odo’s kingship is late Carolingian rule as normal. The sea change will come later…


Source Translation: The Election of Louis the Blind

MGH Capit. II, no. 281 (August 890)

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 890, in the 8th indiction, the religious and full venerable Archbishop Bernoin of the holy see of Vienne visited the apostolic see to consult with the apostolic lord (under whose purview lies the care of and duty towards all churches) about certain needs of his church and the general needs of the whole realm. By his worthy report, he related the disturbance in this realm: how, after the death of the most glorious emperor Charles [the Fat] it had been for a long time without a king and prince, and was badly afflicted everywhere not only by its own inhabitants, who were checked by no rod of dominion; but also by pagans, for on one side the Northmen pressed in, devastating nearly everything; and on the other, the Saracens plundered Provence, returning the land to wilderness. After he had heard these reasons, and others of the same kind, the reverend apostolic lord Stephen [V], moved to tears, advised by his most holy exhortation, both in words and in writings directed generally to all the cisalpine Gauls, both archbishops and other venerable bishops, that everyone should unanimously and concordantly give their consent to Louis, grandson of the late Louis [II], most glorious of emperors, and establish him as king over the people of God.

When, therefore, we had diligently discovered that the assent of our holy, catholic and apostolic mother Church favoured this election, we – to wit, lord Aurelian, archbishop of the see of Lyon, and also lord Rostagnus, archbishop of the town of Arles, and the venerable Arnald, archbishop of Embrun, and lord Bernoin, archbishop of Vienne, himself, by whose report we reverently accepted the will of the apostolic lord; with many others of our fellow bishops – all gathered together in the city of Valence, we investigated, discussed and inquired in accordance with God’s will whether we should worthily and reasonably establish him as king over us in accordance with the admonishments of the apostolic lord, whose writings we had to hand.

And so, everyone agreed about him that no-one would make a better king than he, who came from an imperial bloodline and who had already grown into a lad of good character. Although his age seemed insufficient to curb the barbarians’ savagery, it could nonetheless be crushed by the counsel and strength, by God’s assistance, of the noble princes of this realm, whose number is not small. Supported above all by the assistance of Richard [the Justiciar], the most famous of dukes and an extraordinary prince, and moreover of lady Ermengard, the most glorious of queens, whose deeply profound and razor-sharp prudence was given to her by God, to which was joined the worthy exhortation of the aforesaid bishops and the counsel of the whole realm’s magnates, the realm’s advantage will be managed very worthily, in a God-fearing way.

Finally, supported and encouraged by such confidence, as we believe through God’s will, we elected the aforesaid Louis, son of the most excellent of kings Boso and decreed he be anointed as king, judging worthy for the role him to whom Charles [the Fat], the most all-surpassing of emperors, had already conceded the royal dignity; and of whose realm Arnulf [of Carinthia], who became his successor, was proven to be a protector and supporter in everything, through his sceptre and through his wisest legates, that is, Bishop Riculf [of Soissons](*) and Count Berthold [from Alemannia]. Supported by such and so great a permission of authority, everyone came into the same city, and by common consent we decreed that this royal record should be made and, preferring that it remain valid and fruitfully thriving for all time, we strengthened it with our own hands and we each subscribed.

(*) It’s also been proposed that this is Bishop Theodulf of Chur. Riculf of Soissons seems like a better bet, though – Fulk of Rheims was closely tied to Arnulf of Carinthia’s court, to the extent of being a papal legate to sort out various problems in the East Frankish church, and it’s quite possible that one of his suffragans would be sent on an errand, particularly in light of the Rheims archdiocese’s previous support of Louis.

Here’s a cool thing. You remember we’ve talked before about how you don’t have to be count of anywhere, and there are cases of people who weren’t bishops of anywhere? Well, here we have a case where we have a king who is not king of anywhere, or at least not of anyone. You see right at the end there, where they note that Charles the Fat had already – key word, already­ – conceded the royal dignity to Louis? That means Louis was king, just one with no subjects. On Monday, of course, Louis wasn’t being called king at all, but as this document acknowledges he kind of was.

The ambiguity doesn’t end here. The picture of kingship in the first paragraph is fairly typical: kings are supposed to repress the wicked and defend against the pagan. It all sounds like the king-making liturgies we spent a good chunk of last year looking at. But then paragraph three says that he’s too young to do any of this – it’s actually Richard the Justiciar who’s doing most of the fighting. One imagines the scribe wincing as he writes this: because Louis’ claim to kingship isn’t straightforwardly hereditary, and he’s manifestly inappropriate to perform any of the functions of kingship, his erstwhile backers have had to keep a lot of the framework of the Carolingian discourse about kingship even as it groans under the strain of a situation it’s not really set up to handle.

Or do we? There’s an article by Ross Samson called ‘Carolingian Palaces and the Poverty of Ideology’ which every now and then I read and worry about. Basically, Samson argues that despite the efforts of contemporary (meaning early-to-mid ‘90s) archaeologists to argue that Carolingian palace architecture was an expression of ideology, in fact there wasn’t anything coherent about their architectural elements at all: they were a thrown-together mess of historical and cultural references meant to go ‘hey, isn’t the king impressive?’ rather than anything more sophisticated.

Specifically, he’s talking about the palace complex at Ingelheim, taken here from fig. 6 in Webster, ‘Charlemagne’.

This is usually cited as ‘for another perspective see…’, which means he’s probably wrong in his wider point (one thing which has happened since the article was published in 1994 is that it has become very clear that huge chunks of the Carolingian elite were highly-educated and thoughtful, even if not terribly profound, which makes his claim at the end that ‘gosh, Aachen is big’ is a better representation of one of Charlemagne’s count’s thought processes than ‘reformatio et correctio’ very old-fashioned), but despite this, he’s put his finger on something which bothers us in the time between turning off the light and going to sleep.

That being: what if these people don’t care about consistency? Doesn’t this description look as though the bishops of Provence are trying to legitimise a fait accompli by throwing everything which makes a good king (The pope’s backing! Election! Character! Approval from a more legitimate king! Heredity! Justice and warfare!) at it despite the fact that some of these ideas don’t work with each other and some don’t work well with the eight-year-old they’ve now made their ruler.

Phrased like that, some of you might be nodding and going, ‘well, duh – these are powerful people, they’re probably all about that hardcore Machiavellianism.’ But cynical Realpolitik doesn’t really fit either – again, Louis is eight. Child kings are problematic, for pretty much the reasons this document outlines – they can’t lead armies, and they can’t really do much in the way of decision-making or law enforcement. This is why Charles the Simple doesn’t seem to have gotten a crack at kingship in 884 or 888. So choosing Louis as king implies a commitment to Louis specifically which goes beyond the simple demands of political exigency – if you want a king who won’t bother you, Arnulf and Odo are far away and already crowned; if you want a king who was related to Boso but who is effective, Richard the Justiciar’s around; and so on. So we seem to be left with a situation in which a group of magnates are making a king based on a principled choice, but then justifying it with a different set of principles which don’t fit. Presumably this isn’t actually what’s happening – one just has to stand in the right place so that everything which looks out of alignment lines up. If that happens, I’ll let you know…

Burgundian Blues, pt. 1: The Princely Court? 

Work on the book continues apace. In terms of putting it together, I’m only just at the start, but I somehow ended up doing the theoretical heavy lifting first. You’d have thought that it would be some aspect of charter antiquarianism which would be higher on the priority list but no; to the surprise of even myself, it’s the chapter on ‘what is a prince?’

Starting my research as I did with the Neustrian March, my answer, in contradistinction to most but not all of the scholarship, is ‘basically nothing analytically useful and we should probably stop using the term outside of poetic flourishes’. What I’m currently writing (Chapter 4 Subsection 1, for those you keeping score) is entitled ‘was there specifically princely power?’, and is aimed at all the people who say ‘yes’. In particular, the bit I’m doing right now is about whether there was a specifically juridical princely power. That is, were the greatest magnates of the West Frankish kingdom distinguished by being the specific possessors of delegated and/or usurped sovereign rights? My answer is basically ‘no’, on a variety of levels, and so far my examples are going well – you can’t see the Neustrian marchiones acting in any way other than bigger and fancier versions of Neustrian magnates more generally, the counts of Anjou, Blois-Chartres-Tours and Auvergne don’t look juridically different from their peers, and whilst the Guillelmid dukes of Aquitaine do, I’m happy that’s because they’re weird and the explanation of why is going in Chapter 6.

That said, there is always a sticking point, and this is it:

ARTEM no. 156 (18th May 918,

Richard, count and duke of Burgundy.

We wish it to be known to all of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us that, struck by holy terror while We were considering the honour and reverence of God Almighty and the fidelity of His holy Church, it roared at Us that We should know that certain goods of the church of Saint-Mammès which were consigned to the table of the brothers from antiquity, that is, the rates from the land of the estate of Lucy in the district of Langrois, which Count Amadeus a long time ago acquired for his uses through a rental agreement from the same church in his name and that of his wife and his son Anskar for their lifetimes alone, in accordance with worldly custom. After their deaths, we heard that certain people were consistently neglectful and various seizures threatened and the matter was not managed in such a manner nor diligently investigated, and neither up to this point legally prosecuted by anyone.

Later, verily, reliable prosecutors from the abovementioned church came before Our presence, when they sought from Us a correct judgement to be observed. Having diligently investigated their just and reasonable prosecution, for love of God and for the absolution of Our sins and Our wife and Our sons, and as well the remedy and salvation of our souls, We rendered in their entirety the aforesaid goods, with all their appendages, to the table of the brothers of the congregation of Saint-Mammès, through the appeal and advice of Manasses [the Old, count of Dijon] and Our other followers who were present there, and We restored them to be perpetually possessed in their uses for Our soul’s vow, entreating Our successors with submissive devotion that they should guard the deed of this constitution, established in this manner by Us for the remedy of our souls, to be observed for all time to come, for an eternal repayment from Christ; and in guarding it should consent that it endure unharmed.

Now, that this might be held more certainly and firmly now and forever, We confirmed it with Our own hand, and We asked it be confirmed by the hands of Our wife and Our sons and followers.

Adelaide, who consented. Hugh [the Black] consented. Ralph [of Burgundy] consented. Boso [of Vitry] consented. Aldo consented. Willing consented. Walter consented. Witbod consented. Odalbert consented. Godfrey consented.

I, Arnald the levite, wrote and subscribed this writing of restitution, established by the lord count and duke Richard.

Given on Friday, in the month of June, on the 15th kalends of that month [18th May], in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 918, in the 6th indiction, in the 20th year of the reign of King Charles.

Is this supposed to look like delegated royal authority? I’d quite like it not to, but here’s the dilemma. In terms of the actual language used – ‘diligently investigated’, ‘legally prosecuted’, ‘correct judgement’ – Richard’s authority is being presented in terms of the Carolingian judicial system, not a million miles removed from the discourse which surrounds the advocates of Saint-Martin and the court system in Neustria. There’s nothing in here which can’t be paralleled from other private charters from the time and region, up to and including the language of counsel which surrounds the role of Manasses the Old. On the other hand, if you dress that up in a first-person charter and add in a big prayer clause, it starts looking distinctly royal. Records of non-royal judgements are virtually always in third-person; and in fact Richard the Justiciar himself is the main actor in another charter from 916 which is much more typical of the genre.

So this is the issue: if you look at all the individual trees, Richard’s authority is being presented in the same way as other late-Carolingian legal actors. If you look at the wood, this adds up to a bit more than the sum of its parts…

There is one other option. Some of this language, especially talking about ‘proclamations’, is reminiscent of charters issued at episcopal synods; and there are a few examples of judgement records from episcopal synods written in first person. Given that as we know these are big deals in Burgundy, I wonder if rather than ‘quasi-king’, the intended effect might not be ‘one-man synod’…

So that’s the first thing about Richard which is bothering me at the moment. Let me know what you all think, and part 2 will be up very shortly…

Charter a Week 14: Unking

Louis the Blind had a really weird career, starting right with his by-name (although sat as we are in 890, there’s still over a decade to go before he’s blinded in an Italian misadventure – of course, unless your name is ‘Otto I’ and it’s after the 950s, I’m not sure anything happens in tenth-century Italian politics which couldn’t be described as a misadventure…). To start with, this is currently year three of dealing with the new kings following Charles the Fat’s succession crisis; but Louis was the only one who didn’t get crowned in 888.

Largely I think this is due to the nature of the Frankish overkingship we spoke about before. Louis’ status is a bit paradoxical: at the same time, his position is very strong and very weak. On one hand, of all the kings who came after Charles the Fat, he’s probably got the strongest claim to legitimacy via his ‘adoption’ – whatever we think happened, it definitely involved receiving Charles’ imprimatur qua kingship. He’s also (as we’ll see this week) got a fairly solid amount of local backing: the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Lyon and Vienne, as well as further south, and a fairly substantial chunk of magnates. On the other hand, he was also the son of a sort-of king and his royal legitimacy was thus heavily tied in to the Carolingian system. This necessarily put him in a strange position after the accession of Arnulf of Carinthia: Louis might have been adopted by Charles the Fat, but what would happen next?

DD Provence no. 28 (890, Varennes)

In the 898th [sic] year from the Incarnation of the Lord, in the 8th indiction, when Queen Ermengard and all the princes of Louis, son of Boso, had convened at an assembly at the place which is called Varennes-le-Grand, there came before her presence the monks of the monastery of Gigny, that is, Abbot Berno and the others placed under his rule,  lamenting and bewailing with monastic humility that the same queen’s vassal Bernard had possessed their goods by a wrongful invasion, that is, the cell of Baume, which they had previously acquired through a precept from King Rudolph [I of Transjurane Burgundy]. Both this most beneficent and venerable of queens and all the princes, who had come together from all over, diligently paying attention and more diligently listening to this, summoned the aforesaid Bernard into their midst and questioned him as to by what right he held the same goods.

He responded that he believed that he held the aforesaid goods through Louis’ gift. The queen did not agree with his responses, nor did the others deem that It was worthy to consent to them.

And then he, by the queen’s command, quit the said place in the presence of everyone, and promised that he would not invade the same goods anymore. Then, when this had been done, the lady queen commanded both the abbot and the other brothers to write this notice of confirmation, so that they might quietly hold the aforesaid place, contradicted hereafter by no-one.

And, that this notice might be able to endure firm through the course of many ages, she confirmed it with her own hand and asked it be affirmed by the hands of both the bishops and the magnates who had had come together there from all over.

S. Bernard, who made this quitclaim. S. Queen Ermengard, who commanded this be done and asked it be confirmed. S. Archbishop Rostagnus of Arles. S. Bishop Ardrad of the holy church of Chalon-sur-Saône. S. Bishop Isaac of Grenoble. The glorious Count Richard [the Justiciar] confirmed this. Count Guy [of Oscheret] confirmed this. Count Hugh [of Bassigny] confirmed this. Count Adelelm [of Valence] confirmed this. Count Rather [of Nevers] confirmed this. Count Theobert [of Apt] confirmed this. Count Ragenard [of Auxerre] confirmed this. Ansegis confirmed this. Raimbald the herald confirmed this. Gormar confirmed this. Adelard confirmed this. Aldemar confirmed this.

Enacted at Varennes.

The polities in the middle (source)

So, as you will have noticed, as of this point Louis is not in fact king. This is particularly interesting because it means we need to change tack dramatically and talk about Ermengard. We’ve met her before providing the ballast of legitimacy to Boso’s claims for a throne, but here she is the queen, and that’s very strange. Carolingian queens could be very important; Ottonian queens even more so; and this effect is amplified when we’re talking about Italy. Ermengard’s mother Engelberga remained a potent force in Frankish politics after death of her husband Louis II even though she was not the mother of any sons. However, in both the Carolingian and Ottonian periods it’s generally predicated that the power of queens rests largely on their status as consort, regent for an under-age king, or queen mother and here – well, stop me if I’m wrong and I will immediately qualify this sentence, but is Ermengard not here a ruling queen?

OK, sure, looking at things in terms of the big picture her power in Provence rests on the eventual accession of Louis the Blind. But here in 890, and presumably for several years before that, we have a situation where there is one person with a royal title making the decisions and it’s not Louis. In fact, Ermengard is directly and on her own authority overruling Louis here: what seems to have happened is that the princeling tried to reward a follower and the queen no-selled it. This is perhaps understandable – Louis is, maybe, eight years old at this point – but in equivalent situations, for example with Otto III, the royal child was still treated as a full king. Thus, Ermengard’s power seems unusually explicit here.

That’s not the only interesting thing about this charter. The political response to 888 was as we have noted at length heavily improvised, and it’s very striking that here major figures from what would later be ‘West Frankish’ Burgundy are attending court with ‘Provençal’ magnates. We’ve commented before on the fluid nature of politics in the region south of the Vosges, west of the Rhine and the Haut-Jura, north of the Vercors and east of Velay, Forez and the Morvan – basically, northern Provence, southern Burgundy, and what is now western Switzerland. I like to call this the Transararian Fluidity Zone (after the old name for the river Saône, which lies in the middle of its core), and it’s here in full force. Exactly where the border between Louis’ sphere of influence and Odo’s in this region actually was is very fuzzy. Odo has by this point received the submission of northern Burgundy as well as Adalgar of Autun, but not of the southern bishoprics of Chalon and Mâcon. Moreover, Richard the Justiciar and his followers are here in force, many from north of Chalon, and I don’t think it’s really right to classify them as belonging to one kingdom or the other – they are equally well parts of both. These guys are by now used to working together, and whether or not they’re currently dealing with Louis or with Odo probably doesn’t matter all that much.

There is a bit of personal advantage in this. Richard the Justiciar, as we will also see on Wednesday, appears in Louis’ early documents as a very high-status figure indeed, much higher than he appears in West Frankish contexts at this point; and the same extends to his followers. Ragenard of Auxerre up there is otherwise almost universally known as a viscount, not as a count. But a lot of it is simply the natural flow of politics in this region – note how the meeting is enforcing a grant by Rudolf of Burgundy (who, if you remember, had as one of his first acts in 888 made a major grant to Richard’s wife Adelaide), adding an extra king to the proceedings.

It almost wouldn’t matter who the judgement was on behalf of, except that Abbot Berno will show up again. This is the first presaging we have of one of the most significant developments we’ll be covering: Berno, in 890, is abbot of the Juran abbeys of Baume and Gigny; but he also has ties to Aquitaine, and in about twenty years, these are going to come to fruition…

A Time of Origins in Aquitaine: The Peace of God, Ducal Power, and the “Vita Amabilis”

So I recently had cause to be in Cambridge, and whilst catching up with the University Library there I discovered a fascinating new document which provides insight on Auvergnat history and the Peace of God, and I’d like to share it all with you. You see, I went back to Christian Lauranson-Rosaz’s L’Auvergne et ses marges. This is a very large book, and I’ve never read it cover-to-cover because in addition being very large it’s also quite blinkered and in a lot of ways a bit weird. But you can’t fault it for comprehensiveness, and so it was that I turned to the passage on early eleventh-century Auvergne and found reference to the Vita of St Amabilis of Riom.

A fifteenth-century image of Riom (source)

What does it say? The relevant portion of the text opens with a reference to a Bishop Stephen of Clermont, whom everyone loved. He was a great pastor, and he got everyone in Auvergne to swear an oath to him on holy relics. However, the Devil inspired them to leave the path of peace and they called on William, count of Poitiers and Aquitaine, who attacked Stephen and besieged Riom, although they couldn’t take it. Eventually, Stephen was able to overcome William despite his smaller forces and the count returned home empty-handed.

Now, Lauranson-Rosaz dates this text – as far as I can tell entirely arbitrarily – to the reign of Duke William the Great, around 1015-ish. But I read the excerpts in the footnotes and went ‘Count William of Poitiers fighting Bishop Stephen of Clermont in the Auvergne? That sounds familiar!’ and rushed off to Gallica to check the text. And it turns out if you read the Vita Amabilis, a) there’s no reason at all to put is in c. 1010, but b) there are hints that it is a tenth-century composition. First, the William in question is described as comes Pictavensium et Aquitanicum. By the eleventh century, the counts of Poitiers have been claiming to be dux Aquitanensium for several decades – the terminology is unusually consistent. But right in the 960s, at the very beginning of the dukes’ claims to be dukes, they’re a bit more fluid, and William Towhead is at one point comes ducatus Aquitanici, much closer to the version in the Vita. This is far from proof, but it is suggestive. Just as important is the other name the text gives, that of a cleric named Ragenfred. I was able to look through my charters, and as it happens there isn’t anyone named Ragenfred recorded in the early eleventh century, only in the late tenth. It could still be that this is an otherwise-unrecorded Ragenfred, of course, but personally I’m fairly confident that this is a text written in the 960s.

As a description of Auvergnat politics in the 950s, in addition to according quite well with the other sources, it sheds some extra light. First off, it raises a very exciting possibility about the earliest origins of what would become the Peace of God. Most historians see the Peace as reactive, a response to… well, something, it’s debated, but often social disruption or knightly violence. What the text seems to suggest though is that at its earliest point, swearing an oath to a bishop within a discourse of peace was itself an act of disruption. This makes sense to me – as we’ll see in a couple of weeks, I’m happy seeing the peace tradition, small-p and big-P, not as a pragmatic peacekeeping measure so much as a claim to local or regional authority, so the idea that it started as a hegemonic gesture by Stephen II fits that neatly. This is also probably what annoyed the Auvergnat magnates – as far as I know, taking general loyalty oaths is a royal thing, and Stephen may well have been perceived as a usurper, especially given how tied in he was to royal legitimacy. It’s a shame that we can’t fit it too closely with that 958 charter, because it would be nice to know how the ‘princes of the Auvergne rebelling against one another’ matched with this document’s chronology… (I suspect the 958 charter is after these events, which puts Stephen’s oath-taking in around 954, which is very interesting timing, as King Louis IV would have recently died… More to think on here.)

What it also shows is William Towhead taking advantage of Auvergnat dissension to try and increase his own power there. The counts of Poitou, as we’ve seen before, had no history in the Auvergne and no reason to intervene there – unless they were drawn in. In short, this text might also be an important insight into the origin of the wider hegemony of the dukes of Aquitaine in the early eleventh century as well as into the very beginnings of the Peace of God. Watch this space!

Charter a Week 13: Long Live King Odo!

You may have been wondering why I spent last week dealing with Rudolph I of Burgundy rather than our old friend Odo, formerly count of Paris and ruler of the Neustrian March, but after 888 West Frankish king. The answer is that he didn’t issue any diplomas in 888. Why? Because he had to spend that entire year putting out fires.

As mentioned, the succession to Charles the Fat was a horrendous mess of muddle and improvisation, no less in the West Frankish kingdom than anywhere else. Quite apart from anything else, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims appears to have loathed Odo for reasons which remain unclear, and he and Geilo of Langres invited Guy of Spoleto to be king instead. However, Guy couldn’t make his claims stick, and despite being crowned by Geilo at Langres, quickly shuffled off back to Italy. (Geilo died shortly thereafter, meaning we have to bid a sad farewell to a man who’s been one of our main characters until now.) Meanwhile, Fulk, along with some Flemish allies, turned to Arnulf, who was delaying in the East, and who evidently preferred to have Odo as a respectful underking than rule himself: Fulk got a flat no, and Odo performed due homage to Arnulf at a meeting at Worms. At the same time, Odo was continuing to mop up the Viking invaders, winning an important victory at Montfaucon.

Only in 889 did he get round to moving towards the south of the kingdom. The main figure in western Aquitaine, Count Ramnulf of Poitiers, had for reasons unknown given up on his own bid for kingship, and now acknowledged Odo as king. Odo thereafter held an assembly at the abbey of Micy, on the Loire, where he issued a lot of diplomas. (Very) roughly one in five of Odo’s surviving diplomas come from this one meeting, as Odo was recognised as king over the Aquitanians.

DD Odo 2 (13th June 889, Micy) = ARTEM no. 646 = DK 7.xi

In the name of God, the highest and eternal king. Odo, by grace of God king.

Whenever We lend the ears of Our Highness and proffer assent to the just and reasonable solicitations of servants of God and Our followers, We exercise the custom of royal majesty and through this We doubt not at all that We will more easily gain possession of the prize of eternal happiness.

For that reason, let it be known to all of those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present or future, that the venerable man Theodoric, abbot of the monastery of Solignac which was constructed of old by Eligius, bishop of Noyon, in the time of that most glorious king of the Franks Dagobert [I], located on the river Briance, which the said pontiff constructed in honour of the holy mother of God Mary and Saint Peter and all the apostles and Dionysius and his companions and Pancratius, Crispin and Crispinian, and the holy confessors Hilary, Martin and Medard, coming reverently before Our Clemency, appealed to Us that We might deign to receive the same monastery, with all the men and estates and goods justly and legally pertaining to it, and also at the same time with those things divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said monastery through its followers, under the tutelage of Our immunity and the cover of Our defence.

We assented to his prayers with clement favour, and moreover because of them We commanded a precept of Our Magnitude be made with a special condition, through which We wish it to be known to all Our followers that We have taken the aforesaid monastery, as previously stated, with all the goods pertaining to it, under the tutelage of Our immunity, and We order and command that none of those faithful to God and Us, in present or future times, should be permitted to enter the same monastery or any of the estates or fields or woods pertaining to it to hear cases or determine public judgements or seize provisions or exact billeting or spare horses or exact any render of any kind. Rather, let whatever can be exacted from the goods of the aforesaid monastery accomplish an increase in the stipends for the abbots and monks serving God in the same place.

We establish, meanwhile, that the monks serving the Lord in the same place should have, in accordance with the institution of the Rule of Father Benedict, permission for all time to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, and no-one should be permitted at any time to diminish or take anything away from them, or to disturb or distrain the men pertaining to them or dwelling on their land or take securities. Rather, let whatever can be gotten from them benefit for all time the rulers and monks of the oft-said monastery in acts of charity and accomplish the liberation of Our soul.

On the other hand, if anyone should endeavour to expunge these enactments of Our goodwill, let the Lord strike him down with such vengeance that he who wished to infringe this Our authority can in no way make good his wish.

But that this authority of Our Magnificence might be observed for all time inviolably both by Us and by Our successors, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We had it sealed with Our signed.

Sign of Odo, most glorious of kings.

Troand the notary witnessed on behalf of Ebalus [of Saint-Denis].

Bishop Frothar [of Bourges] ambasciated, Troand the notary wrote this.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Given on the ides of June [13th June], in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 889, in the 7th indiction, in the second year of the reign of the glorious king lord Odo.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Mesmin.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW 13 889
Odo’s diploma, from the Diploma Karolinorum linked above.

Solignac was an important abbey south of Limoges, dating back to Merovingian times, when the great bishop-saints of the period went all around Gaul founding abbeys. It’s therefore interesting that the charter begins by referencing King Dagobert I, the first king to be buried at Saint-Denis, the most important abbey of Odo’s old county, over which his new archchancellor Ebalus (Ramnulf’s brother and Odo’s old wartime comrade from the Siege of Paris) was abbot. It’s a nice textual link between Odo’s authority and local tradition. (This isn’t, I think, a dynastic thing, because Dagobert is mentioned in an older diploma issued by Pippin II of Aquitaine, a Carolingian; but that it’s brought up here where it hadn’t been under Charles the Bald must be significant.)

Perhaps more important for Odo’s authority is the sheer range of notables he has here, in this one charter alone. We can see the abbot of Solignac, Ebalus himself (who was also abbot of Saint-Hilaire in Poitiers amongst others) and Archbishop Frothar of Bourges, another old hand from Charles the Bald’s court, who was abbot of the abbey of Saint-Julien de Brioude (and, like Ebalus, was someone Odo knew from back when: as lay abbot of Saint-Martin, Odo and Frothar had been part of a property exchange only a year or so earlier). These are major figures, and their visibly taking part in Odo’s court is in itself the king’s rule extending over Aquitaine. Koziol has talked about this assembly in terms of bilateral negotiation between Odo and Ramnulf, and about the shrinking of politics as we go into the tenth century, but doing so ignores the sheer number of stakeholders present in this diploma. Odo had to do a major balancing act, and as we shall see in later weeks, this was a very tricky proposition indeed.

Carolingian Overkingship

One thing about the putative ‘end of the Carolingian Empire’ in 888 is how long Charles the Fat’s empire takes, even in the strictest sense, to wind down. There might be a bunch of new kings, but Arnulf of Carinthia manages to gain and for the most part maintain a hegemonic position over most of them.

This is most obvious with Odo, whom the eastern chroniclers seem to like because he goes and recognises Arnulf as overking early and stays on-side until he dies. But Odo’s erstwhile enemy Charles the Simple tries to do something similar: the difference is that Arnulf doesn’t recognise him as a real king (along, it must be said, with most of the West Franks themselves). Something similar can be seen at various times with King Berengar I of Italy, Rudolph of Burgundy (although that one didn’t stick), Louis of Provence, and Sviatopolk of Moravia (which also didn’t stick). In addition, Arnulf made two of his own sons, Zwentibald (of whom we shall hear more) and Ratold (of whom we shan’t) kings in their own kingdoms. Arnulf, to varying degrees of success over his career, was a king of kings, and even when he was unsuccessful in enforcing it, it does appear as though his authority, not simply his power, was generally acknowledged.

If we look at this from a wider earlier medieval point of view, this makes complete sense as a political setup. In the British Isles in particular, different grades of kingship are a perfectly normal and recognised phenomenon: the so-called ‘Bretwaldas’ are an example of this: royal overlords whose hegemony was accepted by other kings. Ireland had a much more sophisticated and finely-graded version of this system, where the different ranks of kings were closely laid out by Irish lawyers.

Even in the eighth- and ninth-century Carolingian world, various rulers played around with different aspects of this. Charles the Bald, for instance, established various sons as kings of greater or lesser degree, and did the same with the rulers of neighbouring Brittany. His nephew Louis the Younger, I’ve always got the impression, is another example: without being a formal overlord the way Charles the Bald was in Brittany, Louis seems to come off as something like the ‘senior Frankish king’ in the early 880s. This is not typically thought of as ‘overkingship’ per se, not least because the other kings involved were close family members or non-Frankish foreigners. This does impact the dynamic, certainly, but I’d argue that the core principle – differing grades of kingship – remains the same.

This goes right through into the Ottonian period. By 965, when Otto I holds his grand family gathering at Cologne, he has various degrees of hegemony over two other kings (his son Otto II and his nephew Lothar) and a vice-regal ruler (Henry of Bavaria). Really, the model of one unified empire with one king and no others looks odd applied to earlier medieval politics and to Carolingian politics in particular – if applied strictly, it’s anachronistic (even Charlemagne’s period of literal sole rule was relatively short).

And here’s a picture of Charlemagne with one of his sub-kings, Pippin of Italy (tenth-century copy of a ninth-century original, source)

If applied loosely, it’s an unusual situation, applying pretty much just to Charlemagne’s reign, parts of Louis the Pious’ and Charles the Fat’s.

This does change – in fact, the streamlining of understandings of kingship, such that a king becomes the king, is one of the big fault-lines between the earlier and later middle ages. Moreover, if ‘overkingship’ is a perfectly normal model of Carolingian government in theory, I’d say it’s only applied in practice about half the time. There’s another type, and the late-Carolingian world looks, also, like the Carolingian world in this respect as well, but that’s another story.