Charter a Week 48 – More Royal Justifications

Last time on Charter A Week, we left the bloody corpse of Robert of Neustria on the battlefield at Soissons. As we heard last week, it’s not clear who won the battle, but it certainly changed the political situation. All of a sudden, Count Heribert II of Vermandois was in the driving seat. Heribert had been on both sides of the civil war at various times, and he looked to his brother-in-law Ralph of Burgundy, a man untainted by the battle of Soissons and who hadn’t fully taken sides either.

Charles, though, didn’t help his case. After Soissons, he redoubled his efforts to try and win this ‘third force’ back – men like Heribert and Bishop Abbo of Soissons, whom he had cultivated in the years around 920 but who had abandoned him in 922. However, he also sent messengers to the Northmen of the Seine and Loire, who went on a rampage. This lost Charles much of his support, and so Ralph began his reign with a remarkably plausible claim to be a unity candidate. Like Robert, his first surviving diploma also gives a sense of his claims to be king:

DD RR no. 3 (6th April 924, Chalon-sur-Saône)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.
Ralph, by grace and mercy of the same God Almighty king.

We know and believe and confess that royal power has been bestowed upon Our unworthy self by the supernal oversight of the Ruler of Ages and the Governor of All Time. For this reason We rejoice, thinking of His most bountiful piety, so that We might direct the sceptre of the realm committed to Us at His will, and with His aid protect His Church, for which He shed His own blood, believing that We cannot offer to Him anything more pleasing than this offering, which might be more salutary for Us in this life and more glorious in gaining eternal repayment.

Wherefore let the skill of all the followers of the holy Church of God and Us both present and future know that one of Our abbots, named Aimo, from the monastery of Saint-Martin, which is sited in the suburbs of the city of Autun, acceding to the magnificence of Our Sublimity, made it known to Us that he had precepts issued by kings and emperors, that is, Our ancestors, concerning the head of the abbey and the goods of the aforesaid monastery. He besought Our Serenity that, for the fullness of greater firmness, We might add a precept of Out authority on top of them.

Proffering assent to him for love of God and St Martin and for the remedy of Our father and mother and Ourself and Our wife Emma, who is beloved to Us, through whose beseeching We have done this, We commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made and given to him, through which We confirm to the came place those things which were formerly conceded by other kings:

In the district of Autunois, the estate of La Celle-en-Morvan with all its appendages and Thil-sur-Arroux and Bragny-en-Charollais, with Fabricis and Maltat and Vitrarias of Neuvy, with all its appendages; and in the district of Chalon, Chenoves and Granges, and in the district of the Auxois, Cussey; and in the district of Avallon, Girolles and Tarridum, with everything pertaining to them; and in the district of Nivernais, Beunas and Chasseigne and Saint-Saulge and Le Chambon with all appendages; in the district of Bourges, Colombiers and Allouis and Porcariorum with all its appendages, and in the district of Viennois, Albon with all its appendages, and in Provence, in the county of Fréjus, Bargemon; and in the county of Vaison, Bésignan and Mollans; and in the district of Orléanais, the estate of Pinus and Rouvres-Saint-Jean; and in the said district of Autunois, Montorsin with appendages, and the lake which is under Thil-sur-Arroux, in view of Charbonnat on the river Arroux, of which one side is Saint-Martin’s, and the other is Ours, from Charbonnat, which Our wife, beloved to Us, obtained Our approval and for Our alms and hers bestowed upon the same saint with the field adjoining it; and the chapel of the Holy Twins sited outside the walls of Autun, with appendages, which Our said abbot acquired through legal exchange. Our faithful man Berengar who held it from Us in benefice beseeched Us that he might be permitted to sell it to the abbot and brothers and accept in compensation as much from the land of Saint Martin as he had given, for the advantage of both parties. We concede all which justly and legally belongs with the aforesaid goods to the same abbot in right of benefice to be held and governed in accordance with the Rule in his lifetime.

After his death, by his request and that of the chiefs of the place, We wish that Hugh should succeed in his place, and after him let the monks elect an abbot in accordance with the Rule and the canons. Let the same abbey endure under the defence of Our immunity and be free from all service except that of the divine and Us; and let whatever it pleases Us or Our successors to bestow upon or restore to the same place remain under the aforesaid immunity.

But that this largess of Our munificence might be more firmly held and more inviolably conserved through times to come, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed under the impression of Our ring.
Sign of the most glorious king Ralph.

Ragenard the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Abbo [of Soissons].

Given on the 8th ides of April [6th April] in the 12th indiction, in the 1st year of the reign of the glorious king Ralph.

Enacted at the city of Chalon-sur-Saône.

Happily in the name of God, amen.


Saint-Martin d’Autun was destroyed in the French Revolution, but this image shows what it looked like in the eighteenth century. (taken from Gallica)

It must be said that, unlike Robert, this is not a fully original work. Despite the fact that the diploma is for the abbey of Saint-Martin d’Autun, its opening justification for Ralph’s rule is actually adapted from an 877 diploma of Charles the Bald for the abbey of Vézelay:

(shared text is in bold)

We believe that the dignity of the empire was bestowed on Us by divine ordination. Therefore We give thanks to Supernal Piety. Although We are very unworthy of His benefices, nonetheless We should think how We might justly direct the sceptre of the empire granted to Us according to His will, and under His rule protect His Church, for which He shed His own blood, in every way, believing that We cannot offer to Him anything more pleasing than this offering, that nothing can be more salutary for Us in this life, that nothing can be more glorious in gaining eternal repayment from His goodwill.

So what does this mean? Two things. First, it means that someone in Ralph’s entourage knew the Vézelay act well enough to riff on it. This is another of those wandering charter prologues, and in this case I think it shows the existence of what amounts to tenth-century charter wonks. Someone had serious and considered opinions about and knowledge of royal diplomas, what they should say, and how they could work for the new king.

The second is that we get a sense of Ralph’s claims to legitimacy. The rhetorical weight here is heavily on the protection of the Church. Charles the Bald’s act has been reworked against his grandson: where Charles the Simple stirs up pagans against the Church, Ralph fights to protect it. It’s a powerful claim, and one that would actually serve Ralph in good stead for a few years. Certainly, as we shall shortly see, at least one powerful Churchman believed it enough to give the king a serious leg up over his regional rivals…

Where Did the Normans Get Their Haircut?

Have a look at this:


See the two guys on the right? They’re Normans, messengers from Duke William the Bastard. One of the ways you can tell they’re Normans (beyond the fact that the captions read, loosely translated, ‘yo, these guys are the duke of Normandy’s’) is their distinctive haircut: floppy fring, and shaved back of the head. It’s a very distinctive hairstyle – so where did it come from?

There are basically two camps. Camp 1 (represented, for instance, by the noted scholar Nicholas Brooks) pegs it as a Viking thing. The evidence for this comes from a letter from the early eleventh century, written by one Englishman to his brother (trans. D. Whitelock):

‘…you dress in Danish fashion with bared necks and blinded eyes…’

However, there is a second camp. Camp 2 situated the origins of the Norman hairstyle somewhere in Aquitaine, based on a passage in the Histories of Ralph Glaber. Glaber (the nickname means ‘bald’ – possibly there’s sour grapes here?) wrote of the entourage of the West Frankish queen Constance of Arles that they were:

‘stripped of hair from the middle of their heads, and shaved their bears like actors do…’

Both descriptions seem to encompass our hairstyle. So from which source did it come? Denmark and Aquitaine are about as far apart as you can get and still be in Europe, so although we could perhaps be dealing with independent origins, I find it unlikely.

How can we solve this riddle? Let’s turn to Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum, much beloved of this blog. Dudo describes Duke Richard the Fearless as follows (trans. E. Christiansen):

‘Most lovely to look upon, bristling with brilliant white hair, brilliant in eyebrows and in the pupil of the eye, resplendent of nostril and cheek, honoured for a thick, long beard…’

Dudo’s pen portrait of Richard, you’ll note, has both a thick head of hair and a big beard. However, this description of Richard is entirely conventional, in accordance with descriptions of other figures at the time – Widukind describes Otto the Great in a very similar way, as does Helgaud of Fleury with Robert the Pious. That itself is significant, though: I think in this case there’s an acknowledged look (in terms of personal grooming) for rulers which all three men are more-or-less pursuing (Widukind explicitly notes that Otto’s beard went against prior custom because he wore it long).

Given, therefore, that the one Norman we have a description of from someone who knew him in the years around the millennium does not have the characteristic hairstyle, it seems to me more likely that the Norman hairstyle was not a survival from a Scandinavian past, but an early to mid-eleventh century adoption based on trendy Aquitanian fashions.

Why might this matter? Norman hair is a microcosm of the wider development of Norman identity. It’s easy to get distracted by the fact that the Norman rulers had their point of origin in Scandinavia and declare that all kinds of things are authentically Viking. In practice, most things about Normandy that are distinct, from their powerful dukes to their ideas about what being Norman means, to their haircuts, come from Gaul. How these Frankish ideas mutated in this particular province, then, to produce a new and distinct ethno-political group requires subtle and careful thought within the context of West Frankish political and cultural developments. Vikings are fashionable – but not, in this case, literally.

Charter a Week 47 – King Robert

Here we are. In June 922, Robert of Neustria had himself crowned king by Archbishop Walter of Sens. This was a drastic move, more drastic even than it sounds. Every previous would-be usurper of a throne – Boso of Provence in 879, the participants in the scramble for crowns of 888, Charles the Simple in 893 – all had greater or lesser claims to either be stepping into a vacuum or to have a plausible right to the crown. Robert had neither. His coronation came about purely because the situation between him and Charles had deteriorated so badly. It was a repudiation of Charles’ rule, in a way which had little direct precedent. What possessed him to do such a thing? Part of an answer might lie in his only surviving royal diploma:

DD RR no. 1 (25th January 923, Saint-Denis)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Robert, by God’s grace king.

Just as We are confident to gain the fullness of all goods and the highness of perfected dignity from the Lord in the present, and the palm of highest blessings in the future, thus We should with God’s assent do good for the advantage of God’s churches and servants.

Let it then remain known to the sagacity of all Our followers, to wit, the Frankish magnates, that through divine clemency, given the necessities of the situation, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to direct the realm’s governance.

And thus, having contemplated in the high citadel of memory the riches of divine goodness which were generously bestowed on Our unworthy self from childhood’s cradle, the distinguished offices of great honour with which We were promoted through each age of man, and Our increasing mental acuity, We think that Our Creator and Redeemer does not begrudge Us some small portion of worldly fortune. Quite the reverse: We consider that He decreed for Us the throne of royal dignity. Forewarned by His divine inspiration, We have decided not to shut up the treasury of heavenly opulence with the tight-fisted key of sterility like an ungrateful or avaricious usurer, but to pay out in a more illustrious fashion solely for the praise and glory of divine majesty.

Thus, having been adorned with the prerogative of royal dignity, by the custom of preceding kings, with the inspiration of divine clemency We have decided to be most kind and liberal not only to others generally, but especially to the places of the saints by whose patronage We are able to manage the present sceptre and by whose protection We might not experience the deserved weight of divine reproach but may instead securely scorn the fate of final damnation and deserve to reign in peace everlasting with Christ amongst the co-heirs of his glory.

Therefore, to be a reward for their work, We approve the conferral of some type of work of Our largess to the brothers of the monastery of Our special patron the supremely blessed Dionysius (under the wings of whose protection We have been exalted and have overcome so many perils thus far and, We are confident, have ascended to the peak of the realm), so that they might be more diligently free for divine service, and commend Our safety and that of the whole realm. Thus, We decreed that certain estates sites in Beauce, to wit Tivernon and Toury, and Rouvray with a church, and Garsenval and Poinville, with the bonded tenants pertaining to these estates, be bestowed entirely upon the same monks.

Therefore, We concede to the same brothers these estates in order that all renders be paid to them, because prebends always used to be provided to them by the abbot from the income, but now the income is insufficient because of the infestation of barbarians.

We also add other estates by these names: Asnières and La Nerville with all their appendages, specifically that Our memory might be in their prayers both in the present life and after death, and so that they might solemnly recall this anniversary day.

We bestow in their entirety the abbey of Liepvre, the estate of Bliderstroff and Cocheren; and We concede half of two estates, that is, Condé and Gernusta, and the other half for lighting Saint-Denis to carry out the solemnities of the first day of Our death; We separate our a third part of the wine from Reuilly for their use.

And thus, We desire to earn with this grant of Our royal largess the patronage of the sacred martyrs Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, to whom We formerly committed all the trust of Our faith, so that We might be able to lay victorious hands* upon Our enemies and thereafter with God’s assent bring back with the triumph of victory the undefeated battle standards from their subjugation. Therefore, looking after the advantages of the brothers, We delegate the abovesaid for their uses by the authority of royal majesty, and We confirm them perpetually in everything.

But that this holy congregation might be able to exhort the mercy of the Lord and His saints more attentively for Us and Our son Hugh and all Our progeny and Our whole empire, and no violence from anyone, or the person of their own abbot or of any dignity whatsoever, might presume to subtract anything from this, We undersigned this Our authority and confirmation with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed with Our signet.

Sign of the glorious king Robert.

Ragenard the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Abbo [of Soissons], bishop and high chancellor.

Given on the 8th kalends of February [25th January], in the 11th indiction, in the first year of the reign of the glorious King Robert.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Denis.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

*victrices dexteras inferre, literally ‘apply victorious right hands’, which I was very tempted to translate as ‘inflict a mighty smackdown upon’

Raoul roi de France.jpg

A fourteenth-century depiction of the Battle of Soissons (source)

Now, I’ve said before that this is one of my favourite charters, and it’s one of my favourite charters largely because of the work Geoffrey Koziol has done with it. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says in that article, but the core of it – Robert’s diploma is a powerful expression of his core principles and right to rule – is absolutely on the money. Robert, by now, was in his ‘60s (his father had died in 866, so the youngest he could possibly have been was 55) and facing an uncertain future. He therefore passed over the specifics of his rebellion – had Charles the Simple heard the line ‘given the necessities of the situation’ he might have complained with some legitimacy that Robert had created the situation largely by himself – and reached for eternity. Unlike Charles, Robert listened to the princes, not simply to his one favourite. Unlike the boy-king Charles, he was an experienced man who had been promoted in line with his experience. Now – as everyone must have been expecting for decades – he was taking the throne.

Incidentally, it’s never as far as I know been noted in the context of Robert’s rebellion, but the fact it’s in the early 920s is important. Charles the Simple spent most of his reign without a male heir, and Robert must have been the expected successor. In c. 920, though, Charles gave birth to a son, cutting Robert out of the loop. It’s probably not a coincidence a serious rebellion followed within a few years…

The other thing about this diploma, which Koziol brings out beautifully, is that Robert was not certain he was right. The diploma hopes and believes. And, as it turned out, it was wrong. On Sunday 15th June 923, Charles attacked and killed Robert near Soissons. It was the bloodiest battle between Franks in almost a century. What would happen next?

Whatever Happened to Bosonid Europe?

In 890, the most important monarch in (western) Europe was undoubtedly Arnulf of Carinthia, the East Frankish king and future emperor, nephew and usurper of Charles the Fat, and overking (to more-or-less contested extents) of Italy, Burgundy and the West Frankish kingdom. In 965, the most important monarch in (western) Europe was undoubtedly Otto the Great, the East Frankish king and recently crowned emperor, who in that year oversaw a magnificent family assembly at Cologne. He was attended by his brother Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, who ruled Lotharingia on his behalf and his sister Queen Gerberga and her son King Lothar, rulers of the West Frankish kingdom which was about to enter its third decade under East Frankish suzerainty. Perhaps also present was Conrad the Pacific, ruler of Transjurane Burgundy and Provence, who was also a subordinate player on the Ottonian stage.              

For a few decades in between, though, from say 910 until 950, a Europe which spent most of the two hundred years between 870 and 1070 with the East Frankish king as its greatest power saw a period of multipolar diplomacy, focussed on a (very) extended family of monarchs, the Bosonids. Different members of this family ruled the West Frankish kingdom (Ralph of Burgundy, r. 923-936), Provence (Louis the Blind, r. 890-928), and Italy (Hugh of Arles, r. 926-947; Lothar II, r. 947-950); the kings of Transjurane Burgundy were so closely related to these guys by marriage we might as well bung ‘em in there*. For me, the most emblematic moment of this period is the division of Louis the Blind’s kingdom of Provence in 929. Our evidence for this comes from a charter where Countess Adelaide, mother of the West Frankish king Ralph of Burgundy, makes a donation to Cluny. The donation was made in the name of the souls of her brother and nephew, Kings Rudolf I and II of Transjurane Burgundy, as well as Rudolf I’s wife Queen Willa (who had gone on to marry Hugh of Arles, by this point king of Italy); as well as her own sons Ralph of Burgundy, Hugh the Black, and Boso of Vitry. The act was witnessed by Rudolf’s daughter Judith, Hugh the Black, and Ralph, the son of Louis the Blind. It was a substantial family meeting, and well it might be: the division of Provence concerned not merely the elite of Provence, but the West Frankish, Transjurane, and Italian kings as well. So what happened? Was this period a fluke? How did multipolar (‘Bosonid’?) Europe change to Ottonian Europe?

A later picture of some kings of Italy from this time (source)

The East Frankish kingdom clearly had some structural strengths. It has been conjectured that kingdom’s lengthy eastern border meant that the East Frankish rulers had better access to plunder and military experience than their counterparts elsewhere. However, they certainly weren’t undefeatable – Charles the Simple was able to beat out Conrad I for control of Lotharingia, and at the start of their respective reigns Louis IV (with Lotharingian support) posed a serious challenge to Otto the Great.

On the flip side, there’s a good case that Otto the Great got lucky. Otto came to the throne in 936. In 937, Rudolf II of Burgundy died, leaving a young son as heir, which allowed Otto to swoop in and kidnap him. Louis IV of the West Frankish kingdom was largely put on the back foot as a threat in 939, when – again, quite by happenstance – his two most important allies in the fight against Otto were both killed in battle at Andernach. Even then, though, Hugh of Arles remained the most significant figure in western Europe to outside observers – or, at least, to the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who made special note to treat him with particular dignity. It was only with the implosion of Hugh’s regime in the 940s that the field was cleared. Admittedly, the fact that Otto’s regime was the only one which didn’t implode in the 930s and 940s suggests that he had something going for him; but I’m not inclined to put that down to structural reasons because he spent the first twenty years of his reign coming damn close.

On the other hand, though, what did ‘multipolar Europe’ mean in the 930s? Not a lot, honestly. From the evidence we have (which isn’t a lot), there are two ‘circles’ of rulers at this time: a northern one with the East and West Frankish rulers and the king of England and a southern one with the Transjurane and (where relevant) Provençal rulers and the various would-be kings of Italy. There are overlaps here: the East Frankish kingdom and Transjurane Burgundy have some traffic, as do the West Frankish kings and Provence whilst Hugh of Arles is still in the mix. However, it’s rare to see more than two kings together – no repetition of the shuttle diplomacy of the mid-ninth century Regime of Brotherly Love, when different members of the Carolingian family were constantly meeting each other. In this sense, I wonder if what we are dealing with is not so much a balance of power in the sense that ‘multipolar Europe’ might suggest, but a series of isolated kingdoms who were ready to be picked off one by one the instant one of them gained any kind of advantage? This might multiply small structural advantages such that Otto and Louis IV’s divergent career paths become a bit more explicable…

*Rudolf I (r. 888-912)’s wife Willa married Hugh of Arles; his daughter Adelaide was the mother of Ralph of Burgundy; Rudolf II (r. 912-937)’s wife Bertha also married Hugh of Arles and his daughter Adelaide married Lothar II. Odds are reasonable Louis the Blind also married someone from this family, although we don’t actually know anything about his wife Adelaide other than her name.

The Three Orders and Adalbero of Laon

In 987, King Louis V fell off his horse and Hugh Capet became king. Soon after, Hugh made his son Robert the Pious co-king, and Robert went on to rule until 1031. For all that Hugh’s accession was the decisive break with Carolingian rule, it’s Robert’s reign that is perhaps the most interesting. A good chunk of the reason for this is that it is in texts from Robert’s reign that we start to get a sense about how varied – and polemical – ideas about kingship had become since the early tenth century. (I have a sneaking suspicion as to why these writings come disproportionately from the early eleventh century rather than the mid tenth, but that’s another story…)               

One of the most polemical authors of the period was Adalbero of Laon. We have discussed Adalbero before briefly on this blog, but the most relevant thing about him today is that he is usually considered a conservative thinker, a crotchety old man who didn’t like what he was seeing in the realm. At some point, possibly around the year 1003, roughly thirty years or half-way through his career, Bishop Adalbero wrote a lengthy and vituperative poem to Robert the Pious, excoriating what he perceived as a world turned upside-down and setting forth his vision for society as it should be ordered. The poem has attracted a lot of attention, for a couple of reasons: it is one of the most explicit and colourful reactions against monastic reform; and it sets out a vision of society known as the Three Orders, which would go on to have a very long life, and I mean a very long life – we still refer to the press as the ‘Fourth Estate’, and the other three ‘estates’ are the orders Adalbero lays out: oratores, bellatores, labores – those who pray (Churchmen), those who fight (nobles), and those who work (peasants).

A later medieval image of the Three Orders (source).

The poem has some wonderful imagery. Adalbero’s complaint is that the world is topsy-turvy, and no-one knows their assigned place any longer, and the main target of his bile is Abbot Odilo of Cluny. To emphasise how far he thinks Odilo has led monks from their proper role of cloistered contemplation, he images ‘King’ Odilo leading his warrior-monks to fight the Saracens in the south of France; but, of course, as monks, they are completely inept. “Ride two to a donkey! Ten to a camel!” “Upon your head, place a garland of flowers, and tie your helmet to your loins! Hold a sword in your teeth!” he exhorts his men. Unsurprisingly, they lose the battle.

The question of what exactly Adalbero is protesting here is open to more question than, to my mind, it has got. There are a couple of references to monks going to fight Saracens at around this period; but these don’t refer to an organised Cluniac proto-crusade but to a band of rag-tag monks from Provence forced into self-defence. Odilo himself, it’s worth saying, did not lead any military forces. Rather, what I think Adalbero is doing is parodying a work written by Odilo’s predecessor, Abbot Odo of Cluny, the biography of St. Gerald of Aurillac. In this work, Odo describes how Gerald, who was not a cleric, behaved in a particularly holy manner more befitting a monk than a layman. In particular, he tells of Gerald fighting a battle and ordering his men to fight with the butts of their spears and the flats of their swords. Odo is aware of how ridiculous this is, for the record; but he says that Gerald was so favoured by God that he won anyway. Of course, this kind of thing – making laymen behave like clerics – is exactly what Adalbero is complaining about, and his poem illustrates how little he thinks getting one type of person to do another type of person’s job would work in practice.

Odilo’s failure to defeat the Saracens lets Adalbero outline his own vision for society, and this is where his reputation for conservatism comes in. What Adalbero wants is, in content, very Carolingian, going back to the 829 Council of Paris. He wants the king to defend the Church, do justice, and crush the overmighty. He wants monks to be contemplative and cloistered, he wants bishops to pray for the community’s wellbeing and give learned advice to kings. However, it is also striking how Adalbero must find what are actually novel reasons for his conservative vision: new bottles for old wine, if you will. Old Carolingian justifications like royal ministerium are missing, and instead Adalbero justifies the royal duty of protecting the Church in terms of the schema of the Three Orders. The king’s duties come from his being a bellator, one of the order of those who fight.

Historians have pointed out that Adalbero’s scheme of the Three Orders was not a new invention. Two scholars in the ninth century named Haimo and Heiric of Auxerre described society as divided between ‘priests, soldiers and farmers’; this was possibly taken from the highly respected Church father Isidore of Seville. It may have been taken up in late tenth-century Rheims, and this may have been where Adalbero found it. However, it was not particularly common in either the ninth century or the tenth, and Adalbero’s use of it to justify what amounts to a caste system is completely new. Adalbero was not drawing on a common aspect of his time’s thought, but underpinning traditional conceptions of kingship with a new justification to make up for the fact that the old ones had gone. 

This scheme of the Three Orders was not conjured out of whole cloth. Haimo and Heiric of Auxerre has described something very similar in the ninth century, and versions of their formulation appeared in Alfredian England and mid-tenth century Italy. However, in Gaul it was not common in either the tenth century or the ninth, and it is noticeable that when in the eleventh century it gains two very high-profile spokesmen, Adalbero and Bishop Gerald I of Cambrai, both of whom were educated at Rheims in the late tenth century. This is notable because Archbishop Adalbero of Rheims (Adalbero of Laon’s uncle) renovated the cathedral school at this time. What I suspect we are seeing, therefore, is not a widespread intellectual idea, but a development in political thought specific to Rheims c. 970 which then found some long-lived and voluble advocates. In short, Adalbero’s nominal conservatism illustrates how little purchase Late Carolingian thought had in early Capetian political debates, and how fragmented the landscape of post-Carolingian political thought had become.

Charter A Week 46: Mothers and Sons

For several weeks now, we’ve been focussing on Charles the Simple and royal politics, but plenty of things were happening elsewhere in the realm, not least in Burgundy. In 921, Richard the Justiciar died, probably after ailing for at least half a decade (a 916 charter has his eldest son Ralph of Burgundy signing on his behalf). There are signs that Richard’s position in the last years of his life was not a secure as once it had been. Steven Robbie, whose thesis I love but who has a bad habit of overstating his case (even by my standards) in this regard, has a really cool picture of badly deteriorating relations between Richard’s family and the so-called Manassids, the family of Richard’s right-hand man Count Manasses the Old of Dijon. There is some evidence for this (such as a 918 charter where Bishop Walo of Autun condemns Manasses for seizing an estate of Autun’s church which Richard restored), but not as much as I would like. Meanwhile, the family was getting involved in conflicts outside its heartland: at some point around 920, Ralph teamed up with Robert of Neustria to snatch the city of Bourges away from William the Younger of Aquitaine.

So when, in 921, Richard died, Burgundy was ripe for a change. We have hints that not all was well amongst Richard’s sons, hints such as:

ARTEM 609 (c. 922)

Since worthy witness ought to be given to all just largesse, if only to protect from the fluctuations of worldly fortune, it is necessary that a largess of full devotion should be confirmed by the witness of writings such that the truth of reason is able to understand when it is brought before the gaze of the inquiring. On which account I, Adelaide, by disposition of heavenly piety formerly a countess and now by the gracious favour of the same mercy a handmaid of the Heavenly Emperor (and by a shining family of most brilliant sons enduring in the dignity of the earlier appellation), thinking of these and many other gifts of God’s benefactions granted to me, and with some of my time well-spent, desiring and believing to gain the prize of eternal repayment, decided at the advice and consent – indeed by the exhortation – of my beloved son the illustrious Count Hugh [the Black] – and moreover thinking the worthy thought that such a thing would most certainly benefit us in the gain of eternal rest – thought of the estate of Boyer, which is sited in the district of Chaunois, on the river Natouze, once legitimately given to the late martyr of Christ Vincent and to the uses of the canons by the largess of their own bishop the blessed Lupus, which was seen to be their patrimony by our forefathers, but which by the cunning of the malignant and blind cupidity is known to have been [taken] by lovers of this fallen world from ancient days, although the investiture of the nones and tithes remained.

Therefore I thought it worthy, at the counsel of my aforesaid son Hugh, that I should return the aforesaid estate of Boyer, which I obtained through a precept of royal majesty, with churches and manses, and bondsmen, and everything pertaining to it within and without, sought and to be sought, all adjacencies everywhere, to the stipends of the servants of God soldiering for God and St Vincent in the aforesaid mother church, for the remedy of the soul of my most beloved lord the duke and margrave Richard [the Justiciar], and also mine, and those of my sons, so that the intercession of the said soldier of Christ Vincent and the frequent prayers of his servants might beat at the ears of the Highest Piety in our aid, for which reason we might deserve to obtain eternal life happily by the grace of the Remunerator of All. Whence We commanded this charter of Our largess to be made. Solemnly we avert any bishop, or any person of whatever order or sex, from presuming to subtract it from the table of the same canons; but let the aforesaid brothers enjoy its stipends inviolably, with no impediment.

I also wish that from this estate, three of the better manses with their appendages and acreage and all the serfs’ renders, should constantly serve in looking after the wretched and the hospital of the same church, with their bondsmen, on the condition that in my lifetime they should hold the estate for my uses. For the moment, in vestiture, let the canons always receive the church of that jurisdiction, which is in honour of St Victor, with everything granted to it, and pay the renders in its alms.

If any prince or bishop, therefore, or any person, might presume to subtract or alienate or diminish this offering of Our devotion from the table or stipends of the aforesaid canons, for their presumption and to vindicate this charter of our restoration on the day of Judgement, we commended them to the terror and anathema of unspeakable revenge. In addition, I command and humbly pray my heirs that they might as far as they can support the aforesaid canons regard this my largess, for true life and the remedy of their souls. If the aforesaid brothers are unable to expel the wrongdoers, let my heirs receive it for their uses until they can restore it to the aforesaid congregation in line with my devotion.

And that this charter of our largess might in God’s name obtain a more secure firmness, I fully confirmed it with my own hand, and We commanded it to be strengthened under the hands of my sons and our followers, such that after my death the aforesaid brothers might and hold have this charter of our largess in its entirety.

Cathédrale de Chalon

Chalon cathedral as it looks today (source).

Hugh the Black was Ralph’s brother, and this isn’t the only charter of Adelaide immediately after Richard’s death feting him – another was issued for the church of Autun in 922, ‘at the exhortation of my beloved son the illustrious Hugh’, where Hugh signs before Ralph (and their other brother Boso) in the witness list. It is possible that what we are seeing here is a struggle for power within the family. Ralph had been pushed forward by Richard during his lifetime; but Hugh was backed by their mother, and Adelaide was making no secret of her favour for Hugh following Richard’s death. I don’t think that this was a violent struggle, but it may explain how the Bosonid family reacted to the ongoing West Frankish civil war.

Ralph of Burgundy – who was, by this point, Robert of Neustria’s son-in-law – went to negotiate with Robert, but nothing seems to have come of it, and Ralph did not lend active support to Robert’s campaign. By contrast, Hugh the Black did lead an army against Charles. He did not achieve very impressive results – he attacked a small raiding party and killed three of them – but he was nonetheless there with armed men at Robert’s side. I wonder if they might have been trying to secure their local position by Robert’s intervention. If so, Hugh gained Robert’s support in the short term, but it left him dangerously exposed if Robert’s position were to crumble. As for how that went – we will see next week…

Charter A Week 45: Memory, Family, and Favourites

921 was a key year for Charles the Simple’s fortunes. Having brokered a compromise with Robert of Neustria the year before, the two men were engaged in sorting out their positions. One of the threads of this year, in my reading, is how hard either found it to get any kind of unequivocal support on side. Duke William the Younger of Aquitaine was hostile to both; Richard the Justiciar of Burgundy had recently died and his sons seem to have had very different political orientations (Hugh the Black, pro-Robert; Boso of Vitry, pro-Charles; Ralph of Burgundy, on the fence). Meanwhile, Charles began lavishing favour on men from his north-eastern heartlands, above all our old friend (?) Hagano.

In Easter 921, Charles issued this diploma for the abbey of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés:

D CtS no. 108 = ARTEM no. 2050 = D.Kar 6.XIII (22nd April 921, Compiègne)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by gracious favour of divine clemency king of the Franks.

We believe without doubt that the good and useful things which We carry out, at the suggestion of Our followers, for love of divine worship profit the realm of Our rule in its greatest increase, and that it benefits the blessing of Our salvation.

Therefore, let it be held known by the followers of the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that the most reverend bishop Abbo [of Soissons] along with the venerable Count Hagano, and the reverend Abbot Rumald [of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés] endeavoured to make it known to Our Serenity how the abbey of Fossés, which is sited in the district of the Parisis, on the river Marne; and which is built in honour of the holy mother of God Mary and the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, where the aforesaid Abbot Rumald now presides, having previously been destroyed, was restored by kinsmen from the side of Our mother Adelaide, building it again, with a full restoration under the monastic order; and that they strengthened through the precepts of the kings Our predecessors – from Our great-grandfather Louis [the Pious] and Our grandfather Charles [the Bald], and other kings – whatever had been bestowed upon the same monastery in any increase of goods; and that Abbot Rumald, together with his congregation, asked that they wanted the same monastery to be held by Us in the same manner as prior kings by a renewal from Our precept. Whence they brought before our gaze the authority of Our lord and great-grandfather the augustus Louis, in which is contained how Bego, the great-grandfather of Our mother, had restored the monastery (which was nearly destroyed) to its original state under the norm of religion; and how he came and commended the abbey under that emperor’s tutelage and defence, with the abbot and monks and goods pertaining to it; and that this authority was reinforced by Our grandfather Charles and by their other successors.

Hence, We wish that the said abbot and the monks established under him, with all the goods beholden to the same monastery, should fully persist under the defence of Our immunity. Besides which, the monastery of Saint-Maur [of Glanfeuil] sited in the district on Anjou, on the river Loire, which was subjected to the abbey of Fossés by Our late brother Carloman [II] through a precept of his command that they should be one and governed under one abbot, We in like manner commend to persist.

Commanding, therefore, We order that no judge nor any judicial power should presume to require anything through distraint in any of the goods of the same monasteries from which anything is seen to be able to be exacted; rather, let everything which Our fisc can exact therefrom go to alms for the poor and stipends for the monks, and let both of the said abbeys, under one abbot, have the liberty of Our royal defence, without the military service from which We absolve the same places in every way.

Finally, when the aforesaid Abbot Rumald, by the command of divine calling, goes forth from this light, let the monks of these monasteries have license to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, unless it should so happen that there can be found therein one living in accordance with the Rule from amongst the kin of Our mother, who should always carry out the office of abbot therein.

We decree, then, by the word of Our authority and the writing of these letters, that everything written above should persist fixed and stable for all time, so that the aforesaid monks might be able without disturbance to exhort God’s clemency for Our salvation for all time – but especially, whilst We live, on the 5th kalends of February [28th January], on which day We were anointed as king, let them carry out Our memorial in their prayers; and after Our death, let them change these prayers to the anniversary day of Our death. Furthermore, let them mark the anniversary of Our former wife Frederuna on the 3rd ides of February [11th February], always adding to them as well the memory of Our kinsmen who built their place; and in addition, with all of Our offspring, let them have a continuous perseverance in prayer for Count Hagano, who is very faithful to Us.

That this authority might obtain firmness forever by industry of this sort, We command it be sealed with Our signet, confirming it with Our own hand.

Sign of the glorious king Charles.

Gozlin the notary of this royal edict witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop Roger [of Trier].

Given on the 10th kalends of May [22nd April], in the 8th indiction, in the 29th year of the reign of the glorious king Charles, in the 24th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom and the 10th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted, truly, in the palace of the royal seat of Compiègne.

Faithfully. Amen.

caw 43 921

The original of Charles’ diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

In this act, issued at the height of Easter time, Charles is doing a number of things. Above all, he is establishing Fossés as a monastery dedicated to the memory of his kinsmen, and specifically his female kinsmen, in particular his mother Adelaide and wife Frederuna. By this point, the initial splurge of dedications memorialising Frederuna has abated, so this demand for a memorial service is targeted and calculated. He places both Fossés and the Loire valley abbey of Glanfeuil (which had been united for about forty years at this point) under his mother’s kin. He also, in a quasi-adoptive act, places Hagano’s memory alongside that of his own family.

Equally noticeable in this act are the intercessors, above all Bishop Abbo of Soissons. Abbo shows up a few times at the end of Charles’ reign as someone high in his confidence, but when it came down to it he sided with Charles’ enemies. It is interesting to wonder whether we are dealing with Charles trying to bribe someone of uncertain loyalties, or whether Abbo’s betrayal was unexpected…

It is also interesting to note that the abbeys Charles is dealing with are in Paris and Anjou. Anjou was a core area of Robert of Neustria’s support, and Paris was an increasingly important liminal area between Charles’ sphere of direct influence and Robert’s. It may be that this diploma was part of a set of provocations in this area, because the final blow-up was also set in this area: Charles confiscated the abbey of Chelles from Rothilde, the mother-in-law of Robert’s son Hugh the Great, and gave it to Hagano. By 922, Robert and Charles were in open war.

A King in Nappies?

Whilst making revisions to an article, I’ve had to revisit a question which has been circulating, one way or another, since the nineteenth century: did Louis IV create a sub-kingdom in Burgundy for his son Charles in 953? As far as I know, this was first proposed by Auguste Bernard before being refuted by Ferdinand Lot; Lot’s view then held the field for decades until it was counterattacked by Carlrichard Brühl, and now historians are going in both directions.

So, first things first: why does this matter? Well, Brühl and Hlawitschka’s debate was over whether or not there was a ‘tenth-century principle of indivisibility’, which I find a rather abstract constitutionalist question. My interest is more direct: if Louis did try and endow Charles with a kingdom in Burgundy, this suggests that he was punching hard in the region, and it also explains why he made some really significant concessions to Hugh the Great in early 953. In fact, it suggests a paradigm shift in West Frankish politics which would have taken place in the mid-950s had matters not been scuppered by Louis’ early death.

The cases for and against are easy to lay out, not lease because the evidence consists entirely of two charters and their dating clauses:

CC 1.857: “I, Bernard, wrote and gave [this charter] on Thursday, in the month of October, in the first year of the reign of King Charles.”  

CC 1.875: “…Cluny, over which lord abbot Aimard (r. from 942, †965) presides… Rothard, levite and monk, wrote this on the 2nd March, a Thursday, at Cluny in public, in the reign of King Charles.”

When do these date from? The second is pretty clear: it must be between 942 and 965; based on the years where the 2nd March was a Thursday, 954 makes good sense. The first one needs a bit more context: it is a charter from one Engelard to his betrothed Neuthild, the contents of which were repeated, evidently at a later date, in another charter dated to “1st November, a Friday, in anno septanta of King Conrad [the Pacific of Transjurane Burgundy]”. Anno septanta, taken literally, should mean ‘in the seventieth year’, which is palpably ridiculous. If it means ‘in the seventh year’, then we’re dealing with some time in the late 940s (although we can’t be more exact than that); if ‘the seventeenth year’ then sometime in the mid-950s. (For what it’s worth, the 1st November was a Friday in 950 and then not again until 961; both Bernard and Brühl proposed emending it to a date that better suited their argument but there’s no reason to make this emendation.)

CC 1.875 in the original, with the dating clause underlined. Modified from source.

Of these two charters, the second is by far the most important, because 1) it still survives in the original, so we can probably rule out copyist error (which we can’t necessarily with the second, not least because it’s so loosely drafted anyway) and 2) because it can be fairly securely dated. So, we have a fairly unambiguous bit of evidence that a scribe in the Mâconnais in spring 954 thought that there was a ‘King Charles’ in the vicinity. For Brühl, this is enough to have Louis’ son Charles made into a full-fledged king over a Burgundian sub-kingdom.

So, what are the problems with this view? There are two main issues: one, the absence of evidence; and two, the inherent implausibility of the scenario. Let’s start with the second one, because it’s the weaker of the two (improbable things happen often), but it is still worth noting. Louis’ son Charles (the future Charles of Lotharingia) was born in summer 953, meaning that if he was a king, he was a king as an actual infant. Some sub-kings were constituted at very, very young ages, admittedly – Louis the Pious was all of three years old – but a literal baby seems a bit much.

The absence of evidence is a bit more substantial, enough to constitute evidence of absence. We have a substantial chronicler (Flodoard) and a couple of others (the Annals of Sainte-Colombe, the Annals of Fleury, the Annals of Nevers) who cover Burgundian affairs, and none of them give any kind of king-making ceremony the slightest bit of attention. Even more crucially, we have a whole load of other charters from 953 and 954, all of which are still dated by Louis’ reign – including, crucially, the notice of a court held by Count Leotald of Mâcon in October 953. We know from both Flodoard and diploma evidence that Leotald was one of Louis’ most consistent allies in southern Burgundy. Given, therefore, that he would have been both one of the people whom Louis most needed to bring on board to support any kind of subkingship and one of the most likely to support the king, the lack of any reference to Charles is significant.

So, then, we have one unambiguous bit of clearly contemporary evidence, but it’s tinny in the face of a deafening silence. Ultimately, I’m with Lot, not Brühl: it might still be possible that baby Charles got his brief kingdom, but Occam’s Razor says that Rothard is the outlier, not everyone else. Charles’ brief kingdom would have to wait several decades to fail… but that’s another story.

Coins, Bullion and Legitimacy in Viking Realms

For reasons that will become clear down the line, I’ve been starting to think about coinages in the ninth-century Viking world, particularly in places where incoming rulers had to establish themselves. There’s lots and lots of people looking at Viking coinage, of course – you won’t struggle to find people comparing York’s coinage with Thor’s hammer with the St Edmund coinage of East Anglia memorialising not just any saint, but one the region’s Viking rulers had martyred just a few decades earlier. However, I want to a) take a bit of a broader perspective and b) bring in bullion too. Let me spit-ball some ideas at you to give you a sense of what I mean.

The ideological content of Viking coinages are, as I’ve said, oft-discussed; but these coinages are remarkably tightly bounded geographically: they’re in parts of Britain, and (sort of) on the Gaulish coast. They’re not, for instance, found in Ireland or Rus’. Part of this might be absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence. For instance, we know that Rus’ neighbour the Khazar Khaganate minted coinage with an ideological message on it after its elite converted to Judaism; but we know this from a meagre handful of coins. If there had been a small issue of coins in some Viking polity in the eastern Baltic in c. 860, we might very well not know about it. Still, we should consider the ideological role of bullion, not least because its use seems to have persisted even in Britain. Most scholarship I can find on the role of bullion is purely economic – one historian actually contrasted coins (as something which could have ideological uses) against bullion (which couldn’t).

Yet this doesn’t explain why we don’t see more minting earlier. Viking rulers were well-familiar with coinage, and with its use as an ideological tool – the raiders who came back from Gaul with bags of silver deniers marked BY GOD’S GRACE CHARLES IS KING could hardly fail to get the picture, even if there hadn’t been bands based in Frisia (who also played an active role in Scandinavian politics) actively overseeing minting themselves. And indeed in Rouen, East Anglia, and elsewhere Viking rulers were quick to use making coins to say things about their rule. (You may be wondering, especially if you’ve read what I’ve written on this blog before: do William Longsword’s coins of c. 930 count as those of a ‘Viking’ ruler? Surely it’s more comparable to ‘feudal’ coinages? The short answer there is that I suspect the dynamics behind the minting practices of, say, the Northumbrian Viking ruler Cnut and William the Pious trend in similar directions…) So why not do so in Dublin or Kiev?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the vast majority of coins I’ve encountered so far are imitative – Carolingian-style in Normandy and Frisia, West Saxon in East Anglia, and so on. Minting seems to come with a displacement of ideas about rule, a gravitational pull towards pre-existing habits of kingship in the region. Understanding coins requires a certain amount of political and cultural literacy. To illustrate the point, I’ve just gone into my desk and pulled out (appropriately enough) a Norwegian 1-Krone coin, and even with coins from a relatively close country I don’t know why it’s got a hole in the middle and I don’t understand the picture of a bird on the reverse.

Mysterious! (OK, not that mysterious because I had to look up the meaning of the design to find out which side was the reverse; but still. Modified from source.)

This means that starting minting requires a certain amount of indoctrination to start with: in the case of William Longsword’s Temple-type coinage, for instance, you have to know that the ‘W’ on the obverse means ‘William, count of Rouen’; you have to know that the design is supposed to be a temple; you may well have to know that it’s a deliberate imitation of a coin which hadn’t been in common circulation for about seventy years. It’s a lot of work.

In addition, incoming elites were already plugged into an existing ideology of precious metals disconnected from coinage. Flicking through the skaldic poetry preserved in the kings’ sagas, it’s noticeable that ‘gold-breaker’ is such a common circumlocution for ‘generous man’. Similarly, Thjodolf of Hvinir describes how ‘the glorious ruler gave his champions red gold and many rings, bright mail-shirts and keen blades, shining and richly-decorated shields’. Good, i.e. generous, kingship is here tied tightly to a non-monetarised economy. This isn’t to say that a Scandinavian chief of the mid-ninth century would have turned down a bag full of coins, but he might not have drawn a distinction between them and a bag full of hack-silver; and probably wasn’t worth the effort to make him try.

Of course, even if this baseless speculation is right, that still raises the question of what motivated coin production and coin design across the Viking world. That’s one of the questions I’ll be looking at in future, so keep an eye out. This post was very much The Historian’s Sketchpad at its sketch-padiest. This time next year, hopefully I will be able to present you with thought-out conclusions based on evidence. In the meantime, with an at-best vague knowledge of the sources and the literature, I’m happy to have got something down to orientate future research.

Charter a Week 44: Late Carolingian Absolutism

…so, I might be cheating again this week. For the second instalment in a row, we’re covering a charter I’m already in honest-to-goodness peer-reviewed print about; this time in the Journal of the Medieval Low Countries. This time, though, I’ve spoken less about it on the blog, so let’s start from the beginning.

Last week, we saw Charles and the prominent noble Gislebert of Lotharingia have a spectacular falling out. Gislebert raised the standards of rebellion, and one of the things he did at this time was to try and install a friendly bishop at Liège. The recently deceased bishop Stephen had been one of Charles’ most consistent supporters, and so there was a zero-sum game involved here. As for what happened, we have a remarkable and almost unique round letter from Charles explaining the events which have taken place, and why they are so bad:

MGH Conc. 6.1, no. 2 (920)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. The illustrious man Charles, by gracious favour of divine clemency king of the Franks, to all archbishops and bishops established in the realm committed to Us by God, peace and health from the same God eternal.

Cap I: Because We cannot possible enumerate the benefits of divine favour which We have known from Him from the cradle, therefore ‘shall my mouth speak the praise of the Lord and bless His holy name for ever and ever’ [Psalm 145:21]. Concerning the which, because (receiving Our just desserts) We have endured many adversities, We believe that this has been permitted to Us not to earn Our damnation but for the sake of reconciliation with Him, so that having been taught a lesson by His scourges We might learn to beware the perverse and obey His will in everything. As you know from many sources, some of Our followers deviated from the loyalty due to Us and tried to snatch from Us life and realm. They went to Our enemies and befriended them, and desired that they should give them the goods and bishoprics of Our realm. Leaving, therefore, many things unmentioned, We will make manifest to Your Sanctity of one of these men who poured into Our guts a serpent’s venom; that is, Hilduin, who acted against royal power and against the words of the Apostle, where it is said ‘Fear God, honour the king’ [1 Peter 2:17] and ‘whoever resists the authority resists against what God has instituted’ [Romans 13:2], ‘for there is no power except from God’ [Romans 13:1]; and against the words of David the harpist, who said to the Lord ‘You have set men over our heads’ [Psalm 66:12]. He crossed the Rhine to Our enemies, paying little heed to the oaths he had sworn to Us. Casting them over his shoulder, he asked for the bishopric of the church of Tongres [i.e. Liège] from Our enemy Henry [the Fowler, the East Frankish king], and usurped it to his own damnation against every statute both of the holy Fathers and of the kings, that is, Our ancestors. This is what the book of royal capitularies says concerning such matters: ‘If anyone should presume to a dignity he does not merit from a prince or just lord, he has committed sacrilege’. The blessed Gregory says ‘Just as he who refuses the invitation and flees the summons should be brought to the sacred altars, he who seeks office voluntarily and ruthlessly thrusts themselves forward should certainly be repelled. For what will he who struggles to reach a higher position do except diminish it by his gain? Why does he not consider that this blessing will become a curse for him who is promoted in such a way that he becomes a heretic?’

Cap. 2: When certain pestiferous men, as We said above, strayed from Our fidelity, We assembled 16 bishops and archbishops of Our realm, and no small number of magnates, margraves, counts and grandees, so that by their counsel, authority and virtue, We might resist such madness. It was found that new cankers should be severed and healed with new cures: by episcopal authority and the ordinance of the sacred canons, they should be driven from the company and consort of Christians. Hilduin united himself with their presumption and abominable tyranny, and gave Henry and his magnates many pounds of gold and silver. He not only knowingly joined in with them, but also, using the treasures of the church of Liège which he, instinct with the Devil, had snatched away and plundered, acted with threats and terrors to have himself consecrated as bishop by Hermann, archbishop of the city of Cologne, through the violence of Henry and his followers. Indeed, if Hermann had refused – as the venerable archbishop told Us later in the presence of many people – he would have taken his life and the goods of his church, butchered all its dependents and laid waste their goods. And so he consecrated him without the authority of legitimate precedents, as he himself has hitherto testified, but only because he was compelled by great terrors and dire cruelties. Concerning this, it is found in the Council of Nicaea: ‘If any clergyman is discovered to have communicated with an excommunicate, let him be deprived of communion like a rule-breaker. This is widely known from many councils and royal capitularies concerning excommunicates.

Cap. 3: Hilduin also invaded, pillaged and stole the goods of the aforesaid bishopric in Our realm at will, against the statue of Pope Anacletus, in which it is said: ‘St. Anacletus, who was ordained a priest by Peter the apostle, and was later made his successor as bishop of the see of Rome, with all the world’s priests, judged: “Whoever steals anything from their father or mother has committed murder. Our father is certainly God; our mother is the Church, who renews us in baptism. Therefore, whoever snatches away, steals, or defrauds the properties of Christ and the Church is a murderer, and will be regarded as a murderer in the sight of the Just Judge. He who snatches away the property of his neighbour is iniquitous; he who steals the property or goods of the Church has committed sacrilege, and should be judged as a sacrilege”’. 

Cap. 4: Finally, with insatiable greed, Hilduin carried off the treasures of the church of Liège and the palace of Aachen, which had been placed in a strong-box next to the body of the blessed martyr Lambert – he stole them from the Church and gave them to Our enemies, that is, his accomplices. Concerning this, the sacred canons decree that: ‘If anyone is found to have sold or stolen anything from the ministers of the Church, he has committed sacrilege. Let him not be kept in an ecclesiastical order.’ ‘Further concerning this matter, the blessed Augustine says in his 37th homily on the Gospel of John: “Behold, Judas is among the saints; behold, Judas is a thief; and lest you think little of this, this thief has committed sacrilege, for he has not stolen from just anywhere but from the Lord’s sacred treasures”. And a little later: “Whosoever should rob or defraud the Church of anything, let him be compared to Judas the traitor”.’  

Cap. 5: He gave these treasures of the Church to bishops and counts and accomplices for his ordination, not having before him the statutes of the Council of Africa, in which it is orders that no-one should be ordained for money, saying: ‘If any bishop pays money to obtain the dignity, let him be deposed and totally expelled, just as Simon Magus was expelled by Peter’; and in the Council of Chalcedon: ‘If any bishop, priest or deacon should to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit for money, he will be in peril of losing his rank. Let this ordination or promotion, made for money, profit him naught, but let him be anathematized.

Cap. 6: The said Hilduin, to cap his damnation, came before the venerable Herman and swore an abominable oath on sacred relics: that I, Charles, gave him the bishopric of Liège; and he compelled some clerics and laymen to swear it as well. Various testimonies of holy writings prove that this is absurd and detestable.  

Cap. 7: Although called three times to a synod by lord bishop Hermann, so that he might, if he had just cause, respond to these things of which he was accused; or if he could not, be struck with the barb of the canons. Hilduin, because he put off coming, incurred the sentence of Pope Boniface, who said this: ‘He who does not want to come to refute what is said against him proves it to be true. And lest anyone doubt that the guilty flee judgement in this way, an innocent man seeks how he can be absolved.’ And a little later: ‘Whoever thinks themselves able to avoid judgement through delay confesses to everything’. Also: ‘If he wishes to be present in person, let him respond to the charges, if he is sure. If he neglects to be present, let him not win postponement of his sentence through his absence’.  

Cap. 8: All the clerics and laymen of the aforesaid church approached Our Sublimity, making it known to Us in mournful voices that Hilduin and his robbers had laid waste their property and taken away all their supplies and household goods. Nothing remained to them, even so much as to live off. They added in their prayers that this, by your counsel, lest they be exposed to further looting and plundering, it might be done that We should give them Richer to be ordained as pontiff, whom they had all elected. We beseech you pontiffs concerning everything which has been written in these chapters: for God and the due fidelity which you promised to Us, help as much as your strength allows in preventing Our honour from decreasing further in this matter and stabilising the state of the holy Church of God.


Image: the seal of Henry the Fowler (source)

The first thing to note about this letter is the emergence of a new figure in our cast of characters. In 918, the East Frankish king Conrad I had died. Conrad was a beleaguered figure who had already been beaten by Charles in their war over Lotharingia, and it seems that the threat he posed to Charles after that was minimal. Conrad’s successor Henry, though, was a different question: his position was more secure, and he appears to have been looking for ways to aggrandise himself at West Frankish expense. We will see him, and his descendants, ultimately achieve that over the course of the next sixty or so years.

In this case, though, he’s starting small, by helping Gislebert get his man in to Liège. Precisely what happened in these events has been confused because Hilduin claimed – and he was backed up by the usually reliable historian Flodoard – that Charles actually did appoint him before changing his mind. Now, Hilduin has an obvious motive for lying here; and, as it happens, so does Flodoard, who really doesn’t like Charles. Given this, I’d normally be inclined to dismiss the claim completely, except for the fact that Charles’ denial here is so weak. If he had a better case, I’d expect it to come with more force; maybe that’s just from dealing with Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims recently, who never met a weak case that prolixity couldn’t buttress. On balance, I still think the source tend towards Hilduin rather than Charles being the liar, but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

Whatever the actualities, we can see Charles responding to this particular problem in his time-honoured manner: calling an assembly and getting the appearance of consensus. In this case, though, that is paired with a remarkable emphasis on the inviolable nature of his royal authority. In fact, Charles’ stress on his own authority is not the most extreme version of this stance we have from this dispute: letters from the pope of the time are even more forthcoming about his absolute right to appoint a bishop. (Something, incidentally, noticed hundreds of years later during the Investiture Controversy when a writer from Liège used this example in his tract against papal power.) It’s a sign of how royal power had changed from the mid-ninth century by the time of Charles the Simple: the balance of authority had slowly changed in favour of kings, both relative to bishops and to aristocrats. However, all this garnish comes in a letter which is about how all these ostensible norms have been broken. There’s a kind of dissonance – Charles’ position is crystallised in the troubles, but it’s a position which might make solving the troubles themselves difficult. Charles’ royal authority might have been strong, but it was also brittle.