Politics, Provence, and Proving Nothing

The COVID-19 pandemic has not generally, I get the impression, been good for research. Libraries have been shut, there’s been almost no chance of archive access, and lots of the usual venues for exchanging knowledge have either not happened or gone online which – even as someone who’s run a couple of online conferences myself – just isn’t the same. The pandemic has had the same impact on me – my ongoing research has been heavily disrupted for about a year, so I’ve been working on a couple of pandemic projects I can do with the resources at hand. The biggest, and the one into which I’ve put the most time, is writing an actual narrative history of tenth-century France. It seems to me that there’s a need for such a book. For one thing, if you want detailed narrative for the period then at the moment your normal recourse is to a series of about six studies all of which are over a century old, in which time our fundamental assumptions about tenth-century history have changed notably. What this means is that the current boom in work on the period is in the strange situation where very theoretically and critically advanced material is being put in the context of a narrative all of whose assumptions come from the historiography of belle epoque France. This isn’t to say that these books need replacing, necessarily – the scholars who wrote them were deeply immersed in the sources and the world, and their insights remain valuable – but it would be nice to have something a) more up-to-date and b) in fewer than half-a-dozen volumes. This isn’t just a question of synthesis – in basically every chapter, I have to argue for my story; and this is – as always – ever more the case when it comes to Provence.

Yes! Surprise – it’s another Provence post. This time, we’re going later than we usually do, to the late 940s and the reign of Conrad the Pacific. You may remember from previous posts about Provence that after the death of Louis the Blind there is a period of confusion where it’s not entirely clear who’s in charge. There is a long-standing historiographical tradition that this comes to an end in 933 when Rudolf II of Transjurane Burgundy makes a deal with Hugh of Arles that Rudolf gets to rule Provence in return for not trying to overthrow Hugh in Italy. I have argued before that this is more-or-less nonsense, and there is a solid and separate historiographical tradition which agrees with me. However, that tradition in turn would give a date of 942, when Otto the Great and Louis IV met at a place called Visé and made a pact. The argument is that we know Conrad the Pacific was in Otto the Great’s train in 942; in late 942 and early 943 we see Conrad for the first time in Provence; so it must have been the case that Louis, Otto, and Conrad made some kind of settlement over northern Provence. Given Flodoard says absolutely nothing about any of this, such an argument gets me muttering about correlation and causation (not that Flodoard’s silences are clinching proof, but they do get me suspicious); and there is a further historiographical tradition which is happy for Conrad’s assumption of power in Provence to have been a much more drawn-out affair.

To give you a really quick timeline: Louis IV comes to the throne in 936; Conrad in 937 but he gets quickly kidnapped by Otto the Great. We don’t have any charters from south of the Lyonnais which can be securely dated to this period in the name of either monarch but narrative sources seem to indicate that Louis more punch in northern Provence than any other ruler. This changes by 943, when Conrad is in Vienne. There, he seems to have most of the region’s elite on side, despite some friction with Vienne’s count, Charles Constantine (son of Louis the Blind). By 946, Conrad looks like he’s firmly in charge of the north. Then, in 947, something important happens: Hugh of Arles, who has been king of Italy all this time, is deposed, and flees north to Arles itself, where he seeks help to regain his throne before quickly dying in April. Hugh’s death changes the picture, and I’m currently trying to work out how Conrad and Louis respond to it.

This is hampered by the fact that there’s already a great story that you can put together from work that’s already out there. Two very serious French scholars, Jean-Pierre Poly and Etienne Fournial, both working on rather different issues, have two arguments which complement one another wonderfully.

To start with, Poly points towards a letter from Rather of Verona, addressed to a series of Provençal bishops including Guy of Lyon and Sobbo of Vienne, refusing to come to a synod, in part at least because he was not properly under their jurisdiction. He infers from this that it was a synod arranged to judge Rather’s claims to the see of Verona against Archbishop Manasses of Arles, who also claimed the see. He then links this to the 947 Council of Tournus, where most of the same bishops were assembled, and argues based on a charter for Cluny that Manasses did show up, and was given the all-clear by them.

Fournial, meanwhile, is also looking at charters, in this case from the abbey of Savigny, and points out an interesting pattern: whilst most charters from the Lyonnais after 942 are dated by the reign of Conrad the Pacific, some are dated by the reign of the West Frankish kings, and nearly all of them come from the region of the western Lyonnais known as Forez. Fournial therefore argued that Forez was reserved to Louis by the Treaty of Visé.

A Late Medieval depiction of Feurs, the town after which Forez is named. (source, originally from Gallica)

Here’s where I come in. The earliest charters Fournial has are actually dated to 949*. Manasses of Arles’ charter is also dated by Louis. Now, Archbishop Odalric of Aix-en-Provence shows up at the Synod of Verdun in winter 947, and in autumn/winter 948 Louis was spending a lot of time making nice with the great magnates of southern Burgundy. Conrad, though, evidently also saw an opportunity because he seems to have been exerting his influence to get his men into important positions in southern Provence, notably in the case of the election of Bishop Honoratus of Marseille in 948. So, this presents us with a picture roughly as follows: after Hugh of Arles’ death, Manasses (the biggest cheese left in the region) comes north and negotiates with the area’s other leading prelates about what to do next. Conrad the Pacific sees opportunity, but so does Louis IV, and Manasses is a swing factor. In the end, Conrad does get southern Provence, Manasses goes back to Italy – but Louis is bought off with Forez. It’s an appropriate closing movement to the long and complicated history of Provence after Louis the Blind.

The problem is that it’s definitely wrong.

Let’s start with Poly’s claims, because they are peculiarly baffling. There’s not much literature about the Council of Tournus, but in what there is it is clear that German and French scholars have not been reading each other’s work. German scholars not being familiar with Poly’s work I can understand – they tend to be Carolingian-focussed Church historians and it’s not immediately obvious that a history of feudalism in the central Middle Ages is relevant to that – but Poly is apparently unaware of basic things, like the ‘modern’ edition of Rather’s letters (‘modern’ in quotation marks because whilst it is a product of modern scholarship in a way which the much older edition Poly cites is not, it’s also from the 1940s), or the extensive German-language historiography on Rather’s career. This is relevant because that scholarship is universally agreed that the letter in question dates from the mid-to-late 930s, and whilst I’m not 100% convinced of the reasoning there, at the very least Rather was back in Verona in mid-late 946 so is unlikely to have had anything to do with the Council of Tournus. Equally, there’s no evidence linking Manasses to that council either – he was certainly in Provence in September 948 but that’s over a year later!

Equally, Fournial’s argument has been respectfully demolished by Pierre Ganivet. The thing with Fournial’s argument is that there are a lot (like, a lot) of charters from Forez dated by Conrad’s reign, and it’s far from clear what factors affected the drafting. Ganivet points out that one of the most likely factors seems to be scribal preference, which if the scribe wasn’t from Forez might not be very helpful. In any case, we definitely don’t have a picture of West Frankish control over Forez, as opposed to a few weird outliers.

(Even the date of 948 for the election of Honoratus of Marseille is probably wrong: it’s dependent on a charter dated by ‘the twelfth year of Conrad’, but we have another charter from the same monastery dated to his thirteenth year, and that also gives an AD date of 955…)

So, is there anything left? …Honestly, not really. I’ve looked at the evidence from every conceivable angle trying to find something, because we definitely have traces of something interesting happening in these years, but there’s no ‘there’ there. Now, on one hand, Conrad’s expansion into the south of Provence is well-documented, and his consolidation of power in the north is also well-known even if not often commented upon. How this interacted with the West Frankish kingdom, though, is unknown, if hinted very obliquely in our sources. For one thing, there are a lot of West Frankish bishops at the Council of Tournus, including the suffragans of the archbishop of Lyon but also Godeschalk of Puy, who wasn’t (but, on the other hand, Godeschalk has lots of ties with Transjurane Burgundy and Provence…). Then, there’s the presence of Bishop Odalric of Aix-en-Provence at the Synod of Verdun in late 947 (but he was running the see of Rheims for years and the evidence he ever went back south after the 920s is very dubious…).

Then, we have Manasses of Arles visiting Cluny in September 948, along with Countess Bertha of Arles and the bishop of Avignon. This is probably the least controvertible piece of evidence we have that something is going on, because that certainly looks like a delegation to me. The charter in Manasses’ name through which we know any of this is dated in the name of Louis IV, which could be significant except that the charter itself deals with lands near Chalon, was issued at Cluny, and was written by a scribe who from what I can tell only worked at Cluny, so it’s – again – probably just scribal preference. The significance of this is that it’s a reasonable leap to say that Manasses is there to talk to Hugh the Black (who in addition to ruling southern Burgundy is also in charge around Lyon and Besançon) and Count Leotald of Mâcon (and Besançon), and probably Bishop Maimbod of Mâcon too – all of them have clout in northern Provence. At precisely the same time, Louis IV is also spending a lot of time talking to precisely these people. But there’s no route through them from Louis to Manasses, and no trace of any kind of deal between Louis and either Manasses or Conrad. Ultimately, this is one of those cases where it’s best not to push the evidence too far…

*OK, not really, but that’s the best interpretation. They’re actually dated to ‘the twentieth year of the reign of Louis, king of the Franks’, who didn’t reign for twenty years. The editor proposed, I think reasonably, that they were dating from the death of Charles the Simple in 929. It must be said, there are also a number of other options, including but not limited to a) they mean ‘Conrad’ not ‘Louis’ and there’s been a scribal error (I’ve seen ‘Charles’ and ‘Lothar’ get mixed up before); or b) ‘twenty years’ is being used as a vague, rounding shorthand by the cartulary compilator.

Charter a Week 42: The Defence of the Realm

When I’ve spoken before about the foundation of Normandy, I’ve referred to the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, made in 911. The problem is that this date, whilst traditional, is less secure than it looks. The only person who actually puts a date on the agreement made between Charles the Simple and Rollo is Dudo of Saint-Quentin, whose chronology is dreadful. For instance, he puts Rollo’s arrival in the West Frankish kingdom in 876, a date cherry-picked from his written sources with no internal logic behind it. 911, in Dudo’s work, was clearly picked because that was the date of the battle of Chartres, and whilst we know from other sources that an agreement was reached soon after that, it could have been up to several years later. (One historian, in fact, has argued that the foundation of Normandy happened several decades before, in the 880s; but her arguments have not generally found any traction because they’re very reliant on internal chronological indicators within Dudo’s writings which aren’t themselves trustworthy.)

What that means is that the earliest reference we have to the existence of Rollonid Rouen is in fact this:

DD CtS no. 92 (14th March 918, Compiègne) = ARTEM no. 2049 = DK 6.xxi

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

Because God Almighty, Who is King of Kings, by His gift worthily placed Our Clemency over both His realm and His people, it therefore behoves Us not only to preside over, but truly rather to profit holy churches, and especially the downfallen, in whom the bodies of the saints lie beaten by pagan savagery, lacking until now due veneration.

Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, as well present as future, ascertain that the venerable margrave Robert [of Neustria], the counsel of Our realm and a helper to Us, and also abbot of the monastery of the holy martyr Vincent and the outstanding pontiff of Paris Germanus, approaching Our Sublimity with Count Heribert [II of Vermandois] and the extraordinary Bishop Abbo [of Soissons], advised that both for the veneration of holy remains, to wit, of Archbishop Audoënus and as well of the blessed confessors Leutfred and his brother Agofred, and also moreover for Our salvation and that of the whole realm, the abbey which is named Croix-Saint-Ouen should be conceded to the monks of the aforesaid confessor Germanus, so that from now and in future, the limbs of the aforesaid saints, which have for a long time gone without the divine office, might be reverently received by the same abbey-dwellers and be honoured, having been set beside the blessed limbs of Germanus.

Assenting to their worthy petitions, to wit, those of Our followers, We donated and subjected that abbey, whose head is in the district of Madrie, on the river Auture, to Saint-Germain and its monks, to constantly [serve] their mensa, except the part of that abbey which We granted to the Seine Norse, that is, to Rollo and his comrades, for the defence of the realm.

Therefore, We decreed the goods of the aforesaid abbey, with all estates, lands cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, meadows, woods, waters and watercourses, mills, with bondsmen and cottars, and with all other dependencies therein, except the Northmen’s portion, be given and subdued and confirmed for the food, clothing, and also other uses of the congregation of Saint-Germain, so that each year, on the 4th ides of February[10th February], they might markthe anniversary of Our most beloved spouse Frederuna with vigils and offerings of masses, and celebrate the day of Our unction, the 5th kalends of February[28th January], the feast of Saint Agnes, with a great feast; and after Our death, let this be changed and the help of prayers and feasts be on the day of Our passing.

And We commanded this Our royal precept be made concerning the authority of this cession, through which We decree and command that none of the faithful of the holy Church of God, present and future, or the abbot of that abbey, should try to cause a disturbance or resistance or inflict prejudice or violence concerning the abovewritten goods. Rather, the same congregation should be permitted to securely and perpetually possess and enjoy the same goods in their entirety, inviolably, without any calumny or contradiction, without any subtraction or diminution.

Therefore, that this precept of Our authority might firmly obtain the vigour of continuation and be truly believed through the course of years to come, confirming it below with Our own hand, We commanded it be signed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.


Gozlin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Heriveus [of Rheims].


Given on the 2nd ides of March (14th March), in the 6th indiction, in the 26th year of the reign of the glorious king Charles, the 21st of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, and the 6th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.


Enacted at the palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

Charles’ act, which survives in the original, from the Diplomata Karolinorum (source).

The abbey of Croix-Saint-Ouen, in the village now called Croix-Saint-Leufroy, is somewhat to the north-east of Évreux, which is an interesting place for a dividing line to be drawn by itself. We know from Flodoard’s account that Rouen was always the home-base of the Seine Norse, but the boundaries of their power are somewhat vague. To the north-east, the river Bresle seems to have been generally acknowledged as a border. To the south-east, the river Epte was the border in place by the turn of the millennium, although there are hints in our sources that the original border was rather further north, at the river Andelle. To the west of the Seine, though, things get a lot murkier. Évreux itself, for instance, seems by the 930s to have been under the control of a band of Northmen with only a loose affiliation to Rouen. (Further west, as we saw in previous weeks, Bayeux was under the control of Botho, who despite Dudo’s efforts to make a Viking chieftain was probably a Frankish count.)

Given the liminal position of Évreux, it is notable that taking possession of Croix-Saint-Ouen implants the Robertian abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés right in the middle of this zone of loose control. One thing I’ve always wondered about is what the phrase ‘for the defence of the realm’, pro tutela regni, is actually supposed to attach to. It’s normally taken as referring to the grant of lands to Rollo; but If the part about Rollo is an extended sub-clause, it could refer to the grant of lands to Saint-Germain. If the former, Charles is commenting on his ‘poachers to gamekeepers’ strategy of setting Rollo to defend against other Vikings; if the latter, it’s a comment on how the king doesn’t trust his new Northman subordinate.

You see who he does trust, though; or, at least, who he wants to make damn sure everyone else knows he trusts? Robert of Neustria. The dramatic set of epithets Robert is given in this diploma is about as high as he ever gets. At this point, his influence stretches from Nantes to Flanders, and he’s easily the most powerful man in the realm besides Charles himself. Some measure of his power here can be seen in the other count making the request alongside him: Heribert II of Vermandois, his son-in-law. Older historians will tell you that Heribert was in charge of the Vexin, but there’s little enough evidence for that. His presence here seems instead to be due to his role as a Robertian protégé being shown onto the royal stage for the first time. In fact, he’s very well-placed to take advantage of both Charles and Robert, as the latter’s in-law and the son of the former’s most prominent lay support back at the start of his reign.

As we leave 918 behind us, take a deep breath. This is going to be the last peaceful year for a very, very long time…

Parallel Wannabes: Hugh of Alsace and Boso of Provence

One curious thing about the 860s, 870s, and 880s is the rise of what I call the Carolingian ‘demi-monde’, which is to say the people who aren’t 100% throne-worthy but who have got good enough claims if you look at them in the right light. The most famous of these is my boy, Charles the Simple, whose mother was maybe-maybe not married to his father, and whose royal credentials were doubted not least by other kings of the time. However, there was no shortage of bastards, quasi-bastards, legitimate sons who had been sent into the Church, and powerful and prestigious in-laws. I was thinking about two of these people recently, because their careers offer an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise.

Boso of Provence, of course, we are very familiar with on this blog; but what about Hugh of Alsace? Hugh was the bastard son of Lothar II of Lotharingia, Charles the Bald’s nephew and focal point of one of the ninth century’s biggest scandals. Lothar, you see, hated his wife, Teutberga, and wanted to marry his former concubine Waldrada, Hugh’s mother. For a variety of reasons, his attempts failed and Hugh remained a bastard. Lothar did nonetheless try and set him up with a position, endowing him with lands in Alsace. From that base, he tried to improve his position at several points across the late 870s and early 880s. Hugh’s efforts were already underway in 878, where he seems to have taken advantage of the death of Charles the Bald and was excommunicated for it at the Synod of Troyes. In 879, though, Hugh went harder. The Annals of Saint-Vaast even show him trying to behave like a real king, leading an army against a Viking force marauding in Brabant. He lost, which probably didn’t help his case; but his support was nonetheless pretty significant. In his account of this year, Regino of Prüm names some of his supporters, and he was followed by a number of powerful counts not just from Alsace but also from further north as well. One of these names is particularly interesting: Count Theobald. Keep him in mind, because we’ll come back to him later.

Hugh’s streak of military misfortune continued in 880, when a combined East and West Frankish force attacked and defeated him at Attigny. Hugh was forced to flee, and sent to the East Frankish king Louis the Younger to negotiate terms. Louis probably gave him the abbey of Lobbes, and at Easter 881 followed that up with a substantial gift of lands and honores. However, Hugh rebelled again soon afterwards, and Louis sent an army to pursue him. When Louis died in 882, though, Hugh was able to negotiate with Louis’ brother and successor Charles the Fat for a landed base around the city of Metz. Regino of Prüm has some scurrilous gossip about Hugh’s activity during these years, accusing him of having his former guardian Count Wigbert and his follower Berner murdered, the latter in order to marry his beautiful wife Frederada. If any of this is true, it was probably a purge of his supporters whose loyalty he couldn’t count on – Wigbert seems to have switched his support to Charles the Fat. However, Regino seems to have disliked Hugh personally – he certainly knew him well enough. With his inner circle secure, Hugh sent to his brother-in-law, the Viking king Guthfrith, and together they plotted to launch a coup.

A seventeenth-century image of Regino, our source for much of this information (source).

Throughout his career, Hugh crossed over several times with Boso. Remember Count Theobald from a couple of paragraphs ago? Theobald is particularly significant because he was a) Hugh’s chief general and brother-in-law but also b) Boso of Provence’s cousin. In fact, when Boso issued his Montiéramey charter as a prelude to becoming king himself, Theobald subscribed to it. This probably suggests an alliance between the two men, even if we don’t know precisely what that consisted of. It is significant in this context that after Hugh’s defeat in summer 881, he was pursued into Burgundy – it is quite possible the two would-be kings joined up. Count Theobald, incidentally, kept a foot in both camps. By 887, he seems to have been a Bosonid loyalist: a charter recording a court hearing he oversaw was dated by Boso’s death.

Given their parallel careers, it is striking how differently they were treated by the ‘canonical’ Carolingian kings. Boso was pursued with vindictive hatred for years by multiple kings, whereas Hugh continued to gain reconciliation and forgiveness seemingly no matter how many times he rebelled. The difference between them seems to have been their own responses to overtures from the Carolingians. Boso was offered terms once, in 880, and turned them down. He was answered with war to the knife. By contrast, Hugh was quite happy to take an outstretched hand when it was offered.

What finally brought Hugh down was his alliance with Guthfrith. He was summoned to Gondreville by Charles the Fat, where he was blinded. Charles’ position was unusual. He was trying to secure the succession of his bastard son Bernard. This meant that Hugh was more of a threat than he had been in the past – after all, if Charles’ bastard could succeed, so could Lothar II’s. Hugh was imprisoned in the monastery of St Gallen, where he lived out the rest of his days.  

The intertwined rebellions of Hugh and Boso tell us something quite interesting about Carolingian responses to revolt. With their own family, as well as with nobles, the chief aim was not to crush traitors or enemies of the state, but to quickly and pragmatically restore peace as effectively as possible. In this regard, the least forgivable offense was not taking up arms against the king – it was refusing to be forgiven.

Henry, William, and Naming Patterns Amongst the Frankish Aristocracy

One of my occasional but long-running interests is onomastics, the study of personal names. You can probably trace this back to the early part of my PhD, when I had to read a frankly alarming amount of implausible genealogical speculation based on people’s names. There is a very respectable tradition amongst scholars of the Early Middle Ages that onomastic links are a useful tool for tracing family ties. The idea goes something like this: the counts of Anjou (say) from c. 890 until c. 1040 were called Fulk, Fulk, Geoffrey, Fulk, and Geoffrey. If, then, we have someone of unknown family background but who is called Fulk or Geoffrey, this could be a sign they are related to the counts of Anjou. There are, naturally, nuances and finesses to this particular argument – for instance, holding land in the same area, or inheriting the same office, makes a case much stronger – and good scholars are generally unwilling to accept onomastic conjecture by itself as proving family relations. Still, the idea is there, and I’ve always wondered: can we reverse-engineer this method? That is, if we look at naming patterns amongst people who we know are related, can we show a familial element to naming patterns which would give us confidence in this method when we don’t know of any definitive relationship?

I have to say, it’s remarkably hard to answer this question with a ‘no’, much as I might want to. Take the case of the name ‘Henry’, for instance. Virtually every significant Henry in tenth- and eleventh-century Europe seems to derive ultimately from the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler. Henry had a large family, and four of his children in particular concern us here: Emperor Otto the Great, Duke Henry I of Bavaria, the West Frankish queen Gerberga, and Hedwig, wife of Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks. From these four people, the name ‘Henry’ ended up being used by the Capetians (one king of France, one duke of Burgundy), from whence it also ended up as a name used by the kings of England (King Henry I of England being presumably named after his mother’s uncle King Henry I of France).  It also passed to the Salian emperors of Germany through two different paths (Otto the Great’s daughter Liutgard, wife of Conrad the Red; and Gerberga’s daughter Matilda, wife of Conrad the Pacific of Transjurane Burgundy). It also passed to the counts of Leuven and their cadet branches, as well as to the counts of Limburg and Durbuy (unclear precisely how, but through Hedwig’s daughter Beatrice in the first instance and Gerberga’s son Charles of Lotharingia in the second).

So far so good, if we’re thinking that names pass down through families. Two problems arise, though. The first is that several generations can go by before the name Henry re-emerges. I have found vanishingly few cases where more than four generations separate two Henries (i.e. the parents of younger Henries are, at the most distant, naming the kid after one of their own grandfathers or great-uncles). Probably the most distant is Henry of Speyer, progenitor of the Salians:

Henry the Fowler –> Otto the Great –> Liutgard –> Otto of Worms –> Henry of Speyer

And even then, if we knew more about the identity of Otto of Worms’ wife we might be able to cut a generation or two off that. Still, four generations is a lot, and although it is accurate to say that (say) King Henry I of England and his son-in-law Emperor Henry V were a) related and b) ultimately derived their names from the same ancestor, it’s not helpful in telling you anything about either’s conception of their family or their political behaviour. The second problem is that we have a number of other Henries who can’t be assigned with any confidence to this family tree, notably Henry I of Austria and Stephen-Henry of Blois (the latter, indeed, has been conjectured to have received his name from Henry I of France as his godfather, which would be a very interesting nugget if there were any proof that Henry was his godfather – maybe there is and I don’t know it, answers in the comments please). This doesn’t mean they weren’t related* – we know that there were other nobles called Henry who were somehow related to Henry the Fowler hanging around and probably reproducing in the tenth century – but it means that all we can say with confidence about their family relations was ‘they were related somehow’. Given we’re talking about the aristocracy, even at a time when they were operating under some of the strictest incest taboos human society has ever produced, we can probably take that as a default assumption.

Our second case is even less helpful, and that’s the name William. ‘William’ is a paradox. On one hand, it is a name which is deeply characteristic of some families. Most notable in this regard are the counts of Poitiers, who were all called William to the point it got ridiculous. William (V) the Great had four sons who succeeded him in turn: William the Fat, Odo, Peter, and Guy Geoffrey. However, when their turn came around all except Odo changed their name, so Peter became William VII (William Aigret) and Guy Geoffrey William VIII. The problem is that ‘William’ is characteristic of too many families: amongst others, it is a characteristic name of the dukes of Aquitaine, the dukes of Normandy, the counts of Burgundy, the counts of Angoulême, the counts of Provence, and the rulers of Montferrat and Montpellier; and it’s as clear as mud how it got there. In some cases, we can trace the name’s diffusion quite clearly. Stephen-Henry of Blois, for instance, had a son named William clearly named after Stephen-Henry’s father-in-law William the Conqueror. Equally, the Landricid counts of Nevers, Auxerre, and Tonnerre gained the name William from a marriage with a daughter of Count Otto-William of Burgundy, a marriage seemingly so prestigious that Otto-William’s family names colonised the Landricid family, where Landrics and Bodos were replaced with Williams and Rainalds.

One of the more famous Williams, shown here with his name (source)

These cases are a minority, and that’s important. Above all, it means that ‘William’ becomes essentially meaningless as a way of tracing family connections – it’s just too common. This is a shame, because there are some fascinating questions which we could answer if we knew more. Take the question of Normandy. ‘William’ is a name which is everywhere in Normandy: it’s characteristic not just of the ducal family, but of others such as the Bellême and the Hautevilles. It would be really nice to know whether the popularity of ‘William’ in Normandy in the tenth and (especially) eleventh centuries was due to a) kinship connections with the ducal family; b) non-kinship connections with the ducal family; c) the same event which caused the name to appear in the ducal family; or d) coincidence…

*Stephen-Henry certainly was, being a great-great-great-great-grandson of Henry the Fowler; but that’s reaching if we’re thinking about significance.

Charter a Week 41: The Mourning is the Twilight

The last time we checked in on Charles the Simple, it was way back when he gained control of Lotharingia in 911. There’s a few reasons for that, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that although there were a few royal diplomas I considered translating in previous entries, mostly the interesting things happening have been elsewhere. And that’s perfectly to be expected. The early 910s were a relatively calm time for internal West Frankish politics: no Vikings, internal problems in Aquitaine largely dealt with, a victorious war against the East Frankish king for the incorrigibly belligerent. In comparison with what was to come, the Belle Epoque of Charles the Simple’s reign seems positively prelapsarian.

Of course, it’s been a while since we checked in on Charles the Simple, we haven’t seen Queen Frederuna since she got married. It’s hard to tell because of how reliant we are on the charter record, but she doesn’t seem to have been particularly politically significant. Now, there are methodological concerns here. One of the unspoken reasons, I think, that Frederuna is dismissed is that she doesn’t have the presence in Charles’ diplomas which Ottonian queens will have in later tenth-century royal diplomas. However, Charles wasn’t an Ottonian ruler: he was placed directly in a ninth-century Carolingian tradition. Whilst it’s far from unheard of for Carolingian queens to show up in their husbands’ charters, it’s nowhere near as common – virtually everything we think we know about the power of, say, Charles the Bald’s second wife Richildis, for instance, comes from narrative rather than documentary sources. Still, the thing about absence of evidence not being evidence of absence is that you still don’t have any evidence, which is why it’s a sudden surprise when this happens: 

DD CtS no. 87 (14th February 917, Rheims)

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

We wish it to be known to all men, to wit, present and future, that the late queen Frederuna, my dearest wife, for love of God Almighty and veneration of St Remigius, the apostle of the Franks, before whose most holy relics she was anointed as queen by consecration and benediction of oil, gave to the monks actively soldiering for God in that place, for their mensa [portion of the abbey’s resources], for the remedy of her soul, whatever she was seen to have in the dominion of her control, while life yet ruled her body’s frame, to wit, from the dowry of Our royal marriage: that is, Corbeny, in the county of Laon, except the little cell which is named in honour of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and where the body of the confessor of Christ Marculf rests, and which the aforesaid coenobites as a body conceded to me in my lifetime for a rate of 10 solidi to be paid each year.

She also gave them one church in Craonne, strenuously asking Our Munificence that I might give it to the aforesaid monks in accordance with legal custom and make a precept of Our authority for them, so that they might be able to hold it more securely through times to come without resistance or indeeddisturbance from anyone; and importuning Us to leave it to her nephew, named Ernust, in his lifetime, to wit, on the condition that each year on the anniversary of her death, he should pay one pound of silver to the brothers’ mensa in vestiture. After his death, finally, let the same brothers receive it presently, without resistance from any of her kinsmen, with all its dependencies, for the banqueting tables.

Beneficently favouring her freely-made petition in every aspect, as was fair, by the Lord’s largess We executed in every which way what she had asked and her heart desired.

If in future there should be anyone, therefore, which We little believe shall come to pass, who might endeavour to frustrate this gift and endeavour to damage the aforesaid brothers, or rather steal it from them, just as she invoked with complete singlemindedness the Judge of the quick and the dead, let him incur His wrath, and be anathema maranatha before the tribunal of the same Judge.

And that this precept of Our authority might be held more firmly and believed more truly and observed more attentively, confirming it below with Our own hand, We ordered it to be signed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Gozlin, notary of royal dignity, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Heriveus [of Rheims].

Enacted on the 16th kalends of March [14th February], in the 5th indiction, in the 25th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 20th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, in the 6th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Remi.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

West Façade of Basilique Saint-Rémi, Reims 140306 1.jpg
The basilica of Saint-Remi in Rheims as it is today (source).

You knew it was coming. Charles’ reaction to Frederuna’s death is something I’ve covered before on this blog. This diploma is one of several dealing with her pious benefactions – from the surviving charters, sorting out Frederuna’s last wishes seems to have taken up a very large portion of Charles’ 917. For now, I’m not so interested in their content – the most interesting thing about this particular donation is that it shows an interest in the relics of St Remigius and their connection with Frankish royalty which has up to this point been unusual (although watch this space for what’s going to happen in about thirty years’ time) – as in using them as a sign of where the kingdom is heading.

My hunch is that losing Frederuna was a real blow to Charles’ state of mind. Obviously I can’t prove that; but I do think he did not handle his grief well. He does seem to have reached out to people who had been close to Frederuna – Bishop Bovo of Châlons, her brother, appears more frequently in royal acts from this point, for instance. The most significant, however, was a man who Charles promoted up the ranks from the lower nobility, a man whom Charles would eventually lose his kingdom over: Hagano. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Hagano was so dear to Charles that the king would stake so much on him; and certainly there are more-or-less plausible arguments about the principle that a king should get to choose his own councillors. However, if you’re asking why this man specifically became the focus for arguments like that, I think it boils down to what Hagano ultimately offered Charles: a shoulder to cry on.

Charter a Week 40: What It’s Like to Become a Bishop

We’ve spokenbeforeon this blog about royal influence over episcopal elections. In general, though, when we have evidence for that it’s generally from a third party, or in the case of Charles the Simple, on the part of the king. This charter – probably my second favourite, for those of you sad enough to keep track – is a rare glimpse into, if not the mind, at least the self-presentation of a bishop chosen by royal (in this case imperial) authority. You see, at some point around 910 Bishop Remigius of Avignon died, and was replaced with some named Fulcher. As to how that happened… well, why don’t we let Fulcher take over from here?

ARTEM 915 (2nd May 916, Avignon)

Let the whole Church of the faithful know that I, Fulcher, humble bishop of Jesus Christ, when I first approached the height of this honour and the distinction of such a burden, at the suggestion of Boso [of Arles], prince of an imperial bloodline, approached the illustrious primate of Arles, Rostagnus, in order that, because the church of Avignon lay widowed, he might place a pastor in charge of the same see, if he thought it useful – above all, with the clergy and people asking for My Smallness for themselves in this matter. I sought it not out of desire for pomp nor to vitiate the necessity of poverty; but struck with divine fear and struck with zeal, to busy myself to raise up and ennoble with my own resources what barbarian devastation and depredation had everywhere, for the most part, wasted of worldly riches. Why say more? In the end, by the common ill, having joined together with the most shining of nobles Hugh [of Arles], I was shown into the imperial presence. I, appointed by his command to the episcopal through of Avignon, although unworthy, by the disposition of the will of the Highest, will take pains to protect it in every way, as far as my ability and knowledge allows, both spiritually and corporally.

For this reason, meditating on the thundering of the Gospels’ teaching, which says ‘Give alms, and you shall be purified with every splendour’ [variation of Luke 11:41]; and again, ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven’ [Matthew 6:20] and the others which follow; and that which the prudent father told the prudent son: ‘alms free from death’ [Tobit 12:9], and ‘do not permit men to go into the shadows’ [Tobit 4:10]; and other wisdom: ‘the redemption of a man’s soul are his riches’ [Proverbs 13:8], and no few others. This succession of such voices clamoured together; and, as was related above, before I took up the height of the bishopric, I came to a decision, glorifying my God and redeemer, Who granted me body and soul out of spontaneous piety and Who gathered together every alleviation of human poverty. For the remedy of the souls of my father and mother, and also that of Prince Boso, and for myself, an unhappy sinner, I delegate and give my inheritance to His mother, the queen of Heaven and Earth, the undefiled virgin Mary, and the most blessed protomartyr Stephen (who after the first opening of the celestial paradise merited to enter into the hall of the eternal king first). Indeed, I know and believe with the greatest certainty that they reign with God!    Therefore, I bestow on them a worldly inheritance, that by their prayers we might receive pardon for sins, and when the day of our departure from this wretched world occurs, they might snatch us from the dark power of Satan, and make us consorts and co-heirs of that most shining dwelling which they enjoy in the sight of the King of Kings, where arises no sorrow, no fear, no grief, no hunger, no pollution; but all dwell in peace before His eyes, and delight without end in the vision of His light.

This, then, is the inheritance which We wish the aforesaid mother of God and protomartyr Stephen to have as successors, for the easing of our crimes: the church in honour of Saint Mary which is in the county of Avignon, in the vicariate of Valergue, with its advowson; in addition an allod in the same place, in the same estate, which is called Four, as much as I have and can acquire there. Next, a church named in honour of Saint Mary, Saint John and Saint Baudilius; and another church built in honour of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damian nearby on the banks of the Rhône, in view of the castle which is called L’Hers, which I got by royal munificence through the testament of a precept, with the territory which is kept there, or which hereafter ought at any time to adjoin or be appended to it, and which both I and my successors will be able to seek out; also the port of the same place, which in a similar way I earned in its entirety by an imperial gift through a precept; no less, the church in honour of the holy martyr Genesius sited in the same county, in the place which is called Nidadis, with all its appendages. I give and donate all this inheritance to the aforesaid mother of God Mary and the blessed martyr Stephen and wish them to hold it perpetually without any disturbance.

If, though, at Satan’s instigation, any of Our kinsmen or direct or indirect heirs might undertake to disturb or infringe this testament of Our donation, unless they come to their senses, let them be tormented in the perpetual torments of Hell with Dathan and Abiron and Korah and with Judas the traitor, Ananias and Caiaphas; and may the donation of this Our offering flourish and endure undisturbed and stable forever, signed by the subscription of our hands.

Enacted publicly in the city of Avignon, in the 916th year from the Lord’s Incarnation, in the 4th indiction, on the 6th nones of May (2nd May), on the day of the Lord’s Ascension, in the 13th year of the imperial reign of Emperor Louis, son of Boso.

Bishop Fulcher of the holy church of Avignon, who confirmed this donation with my own hand. Rainald wished and consented to this. The humble bishop Gunther [probably of Maguelone] confirmed and was present in person. Rainard, humble bishop of the holy church of Cavaillon. Count Boso confirmed. Sign of Viscount Hugh, a witness. Leotard, having been requested. Sign of Walter, a witness. Pons, having been requested. Sign of Walcavus, a witness. Sign of Albert, a witness. Sign of Adelelm, a witness. Sign of Silvio, a witness.

The original charter of Fulcher of Avignon. Photo by author.

The first thing to say is that everything Fulcher is describing here happened about half a decade earlier. Bishop Remigius died around 910, and we have a surviving precept from Emperor Louis the Blind (for it is he) giving to Fulcher to properties he describes here, dated to the year 912. So what we are dealing with is a retrospective perspective, but no less valuable for that. In particular, this charter is a revealing guide to Fulcher’s priorities about his own ordination, and four things stand out in that regard:

First (perhaps unsurprisingly) is the vestigial role of the people and clergy of Avignon. Election by people and clergy was the gold standard of the Carolingian church, but – by parallel to Early Modern English elections – the key there seems to be their right to participate, rather than any expectation that they’ll have a say in who the actual candidate is. In general, episcopal candidates were acceptable to local audiences – and where they weren’t, such as in the case of the infant archbishop Hugh of Vermandois in 925, it generally helped to have the candidate’s father’s soldiers standing around looking menacing – but often the clergy and people were not where decision-making power resided.

Second, the who-you-know is unsurprisingly significant. As we’ve seen before, Hugh of Arles and his brother Boso are particularly influential at this time and place, which might lead an ambitious bishop to stress his connections with them. However, numerous studies have emphasised the importance of intercessors in royal courts of this period (and, as it happens, the 912 diploma does mention that it was petitioned for by both Hugh and Boso), so this is likely a matter of rhetorical emphasis rather than fiction. Fulcher’s appointment, then, was particularly helped along by his powerful friendships, and he wasn’t shy about letting people know it.

Third, and perhaps more surprisingly, the role of Rostagnus of Arles, Fulcher’s metropolitan bishop, is stressed. This raises my eyebrows a little more – ornery gits like Hincmar of Rheims might like to puff up an archbishop’s authority, but that it gets more play here than the clergy and people is a bit unexpected. Still, for all that I think Hincmar was happy being a voice in the wilderness, he was also a very experienced political operator (if not perhaps an instinctual savvy one) – he must have been trying to appeal to someone.

Fourth and finally, the role of Louis the Blind is interesting, both practically and rhetorically. Practically, because Fulcher clearly understands the key moment which made him bishop as being the point when Louis gave him the nod (maybe it was an unproblematic election and he would have been a bit more ambiguous if Louis had given him the cold shoulder, but rejected episcopal candidates such as Hilduin of Liège also seem to have thought this so it’s clearly a mainstream part of Late Carolingian political thought. Rhetorically, though, Louis is a bit like looking at the sun – he’s not even mentioned by name, he’s just ‘the imperial presence’. It’s a remarkable reminder of the strength of royal legitimacy, even with a ruler traditionally dismissed as ineffective.   

I’ll Bite Your Kneecaps Off! Boso of Provence and Keeping Going after Massive Political Damage

Way back in the day when I first started doing Charter A Week, I did a fair few posts on Boso of Provence. That was a while ago now, so for those who are just joining us, Boso of Provence was the erstwhile brother-in-law of the West Frankish king Charles the Bald. He married the daughter of the king of Italy, and enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in the last few years of Charles’ reign, a prominence he more-or-less managed to keep up in the reign of Louis the Stammerer. After Louis died in 879, however, Boso ignored his two teenage sons and had himself declared king at the fortress of Mantaille by a congress of Burgundian and Provençal bishops. However, in 880 a combined force of Carolingian rulers led an army south to deal with him, taking Mâcon and besieging Vienne. Most of Boso’s key supporters abandoned him; and this is where we left him: late in 880, a neutered force, his support lopped off, destined to be a hedge-king skulking about the mountains of the French Prealps for the rest of his life. This is, I would venture to say, basically the standard story about Boso. However, since I wrote those posts, I’ve come across a few things and I’ve started to wonder whether Boso was less a spent force and more the Carolingian political equivalent of MRSA.

Boso’s kingdom. c. 883 (source)

You see, after the success of the 880 campaign, the Carolingian rulers leading the army started to drift apart. Charles the Fat wanted to get to Italy to succeed his late brother Karlmann of Bavaria, and Louis III was panicked by reports that his northern army had met a serious defeat at the hands of a Viking force in Flanders. The end result was that they buggered off to do their own thing, leaving Carloman II to handle the anti-Boso action. And, with his support not entirely eradicated, he seems to have been able to slowly grow stronger and resist the Carolingian armies.(*) For one thing, it took another two years to take Boso’s fortified capital of Vienne itself. An attack in 881 appears to have done nothing, certainly not in terms of Boso’s support. Indeed, Regino of Prüm (writing a bit later) takes care to note that none of Boso’s supporters ever betrayed him to the Carolingians despite significant material inducement to do so. Archbishop Otrand of Vienne, one of his most important supporters, had gone so far as to imprison the bishop of Geneva. At the same time, Bishop Adalbert of Maurienne attacked and imprisoned Bishop Berner of Grenoble. These two bishops had been at each other’s throats for years, but it is possible that one or the other of them was a supporter of Boso, giving Adalbert his excuse for invasion.

With that said, Vienne was taken in 882, and the devastation was massive – a charter a few years later was dated by the ‘destruction of Vienne’. This left Boso reliant on the support of the mountainous provinces of eastern Provence, and that wasn’t a great base for launching any serious attacks on his opponents. Still, there are signs Boso had a resurgence towards the end of his life. In 887, Count Odilo of Die issued a charter dated by Boso’s reign as king. We also have signs that he was being sought ought by Provençal churchmen: around this time he issued a lost diploma for the church of Valence, and we also have evidence of grants to the churches of Vienne and Lyon (although it is possible that these might have been death-bed grants, it still implies there was enough of a tie there for these churches to accept some ideologically pointed gifts, such as crowns). If we’re feeling generous, there might even be some evidence from silence – despite his importance in the politics of the 870s and early 880s, Bishop Adalgar of Autun is conspicuously absent from the sources for the reign of Charles the Fat, which could possibly hint at his renewed support for Boso.

We also have a little bit of evidence for Charles the Fat’s response to this. Regino says that he allowed the Viking fleet which besieged Paris in 885-886 into Burgundy to punish a revolt against him there. This can’t be true of the bits of Burgundy the fleet actually went to – Sens, Auxerre, and Langres all show up as loyal to Charles in summer 886 – but it could indicate Charles knew about rumblings from Boso’s old heartlands in southern Burgundy and northern Provence. A more problematic, but potentially more interesting, source is a diploma of Charles the Fat for the church of Nevers, dating to 885. It claims to have been petitioned for by William the Pious, son of Aquitaine’s most important magnate Bernard Plantevelue. In the diploma, Charles recalls ‘the unbroken loyalty of [William’s] father Bernard… [who] with tremendous courage, inner strength, and unending loyalty set himself against… the tyrant Boso and his followers’, in the course of which battle he died. Now, as this diploma currently stands it is a forgery of c. 950-1100 (not least because we know Bernard Plantevelue was still alive in summer 886!). However, it’s a weird thing for a forger in the decades around the millennium to toy with – William and Bernard’s family had long died out by then, and their memory was kept, if anywhere, at Cluny (in the Mâconnais) or in Auvergne, not at Nevers. However, they had ruled Nevers back in the day, and maybe there was some information the forger had access to – otherwise, it’s a very odd thing to put in there, as it doesn’t serve the church’s interests and it doesn’t add formal authenticity to the document. If Bernard Plantevelue did die against Boso in autumn 886, then, it could be a sign that Charles was taking his old rival more seriously than historians have yet realised.

Boso never got the chance to do more, because he died in early 887. And there’s a lot of maybes in the above. Nonetheless, I think most of them are plausible maybes. Even then, even accepting most of them all they add up to is a slower decline in the early 880s and a bit of a recovery in the late 880s. Still, that’s more than he’s been allowed thus far. It also makes his career more explicable: rather than an enormous rise and catastrophic fall, it lets Boso’s kingship evolve more naturally, and more accurately reflects the Carolingians’ ultimate failure to crush him completely once they were in a dominant position.

(*) PSA: if your doctor proscribes you a course of antibiotics, be sure to finish it even if you’re feeling better before the end!

Charter a Week 39: Big Synods and Big Problems

Since we last checked in with William the Pious, duke of Aquitaine, things have not gone well for him. A bunch of his important allies – including the archbishop of Bourges – have died, and Charles the Simple and Robert of Neustria are breathing down his neck in the north. Meanwhile, Charles the Simple was consolidating his control of Lotharingia, Rudolf I of Transjurane Burgundy had died (in 912), and Hugh of Arles is looking pointedly at the Italian throne. This is the context for one of the most frustratingly fascinating sets of documents to have come out of the early tenth century. In 915, a murderer’s row of bishops set up a council at the church of Saint-Marcel-lès-Chalon, and transacted the following business:

Cartulaire de Saint-Vincent de Mâcon, no. 144 (915)

When in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the venerable archbishop lord Auster was residing in the suburb of the city of Chalon, in the church of Saint-Marcel the martyr, with a college of archbishops and bishops (that is, with Ardrad, venerable bishop of the same town; Gerald of Mâcon; Archbishop Aimoin of Besançon; Archbishop Agius of Narbonne; Bishop Elisachar of Bellay; Odilard of Maurienne), that is, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 915, in the 3rd indiction, and they were canonically settling no few matters therein for the rights andconcerning the state and advantage of the church, a certain priest named Bererius approached their presence, making a complaint that a certain priest named Ivo had usurped a certain estate named Lente, in the parish of Saint-Clément which Bererius held, against ecclesiastical right. The pontiffs, looking with diligent inquiry into his complaint, decreed that the said estate of Lente should revert to its former holder, that is, to the mother church of Saint-Clément, i.e. from the public road which begins at the Saône, which flows to Fredeco’s Hate before it goes across to the road which goes to the spring at Le Bioux; concerning which matter the aforesaid bishops commanded this writing of testimony, which they call a ‘restoration document’, be made in this wise, such that in future the church of Saint-Clément should endure no calumny concerning its parish. And that it might be held more firmly, they undersigned it with their own names.

So far, so clear. Things get wonkier with the next one:

Sixteenth-century text, from Paradin’s book (source)

G. Paradin, Histoire de Lyon, II.xxvi (915)

“Raculf, count of Mâcon, wishing to take his part of the spoils,had occupied the goods of the church of Saint-Clément of Mâcon, assured of the favour of King Carloman [sic], on whose behalf he was an échevin in the duchy of Burgundy. And this belief was justified, knowing the service which his father Bernard had done for King Carloman in recovering the city of Mâcon, knowing King Boso, who had been chased out of it thanks to his said father. The bishop of Mâcon, named Gerald, seeing himself lesser in credit and favour, did not know what better thing he could do than to take himself to Auster, archbishop of Lyon, his metropolitan, to whom he complained of the wrong which Raculf, count of Mâcon, had done to him. Then Archbishop Auster brought up with the king the affair of the bishop; he, unwilling to sadden Raculf nor to favour him in his wrongdoing, ordained that the affair should be decided by a provincial council of bishops. They forthwith convened at the priory of Saint-Marcel, outside the town of Chalon, and present there were Auster, metropolitan archbishop of Lyon, who presided; Archbishop Aimoin of Besançon; Archbishop Agius of Narbonne; Bishop Elisachar of Bellay; Odilard of Maurienne; Ardrad of Chalon; and Gerald of Mâcon. It was demonstrated to them, through Auster’s own words, that those who in earlier times had stolen the goods of the Temple of God has been visibly punished with strange punishments, like Antiochus, Heliodorus, Nicanor, Shoshenq, and others; and that the kings were the protectors of churches, not meaning that lords should undertake to take them and enrich themselves from the goods which had been donated by their predecessors for the support of ministers of churches and of the poor. It was quite possible to recognise this from the benefactions of the great emperor Charlemagne, of Louis the Pious, Charles the Bald, Louis the Stammerer, father of the present kings; therefore he was of the opinion that Count Raculf should restore to the church of Mâcon everything which he had occupied there. After this remonstrance, the assembly of bishops made a decree by which the count was condemned to restore the goods he occupied, directly or indirectly, to the church of Mâcon. He did this, as much out of fear of the excommunication which was appended to the decree, as through that which he saw was not advised by the king in this detention…”

So, to start with there are problems of preservation here. The first charter is from the cartulary of Saint-Vincent de Mâcon, and is thus less problematic (although there has clearly been some corruption – the name given above as ‘Archbishop Agius of Narbonne’ is actually gibberish in the text itself). The second section of text here, as you can see in the image, is actually an Early Modern French paraphrase made by a Humanist named Guillaume Paradin in the late sixteenth century. It’s not clear precisely what he was basing it on, either, although odds are good it’s a synodal document of some sort.

His notes, though, were clearly not very good. For one thing, this document evidently does not come from the reign of Carloman II; and the count in question is equally evidently not Raculf of Mâcon. For one thing, the reference to Bernard is clearly to Bernard Plantevelue, who captured Mâcon from Boso of Provence back in 880. For another, Raculf was almost certainly dead by this point. What seems to be happening is that Paradin has mixed up his notes somewhere, and confused Charles the Simple for Carloman II and Raculf for William the Pious.

In terms of content, the first thing to notice is that this is a big, big synod. We have no fewer than three archbishops, and they come from no fewer than three kingdoms. This is the first way in which these documents are frustrating – a trans-regnal synod like this must have been a hub for politics across the Frankish world, but we don’t even know enough about the background to suggest what they might have been talking about. In an Aquitanian context, though, we can make some suggestions. For one thing, the presence of Agius of Narbonne is significant – Agius’ predecessor Arnulf had been murdered in 913, in a chain of events which remain murky but which William was bound up in. Notably, it was in the aftermath of Arnulf’s murder that Viscount Alberic of Narbonne fled to Mâcon – where he married Raculf’s daughter. Bishop Gerald of Mâcon – the beneficiary of the council’s decision in the second document – was not particularly close to William. We may therefore be seeing here an attempt to retrench William’s authority in Mâcon at a time when the duke was weak, putting Alberic in place and dealing with the fallout from events in Narbonne. In this case, perhaps Bishop Gerald was using his position in the region to leverage some advantage for his church off William. However, this document is so fragmentary and so frustrating – the role of the king makes sense in terms of the reign of Carloman II but not of Charles the Simple in the 910s – that we end up scratching our heads. If only Paradin had transcribed the original document!  

Dudo of Saint-Quentin and the Earliest Norman Court

Recently, I’ve had cause to look at the Historia Normannorum of Dudo of Saint-Quentin again. As many of you will know, I have past form with this work, but this time I was looking at it as a source for the events of the 940s rather than the ideology of the 1000s. Now, if you’ve encountered Dudo’s work, you’ll know that that’s a rather dicey thing to do, and I really wouldn’t want to disagree with it. In fact, probably the best thing you can say about Dudo is that he’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ll encounter reading about the earliest Norman elite…

Anyway, what I was looking for was a simple question: who does Dudo say was in the following of the Norman rulers in c. 940? The short answer is not many people. Rather like his contemporary Richer of Rheims, Dudo is not a court chronicler in the strict sense. He’s not interested in nailing down who surrounds the Norman duke – the duke’s soldiers, advisors, and nobles appear as a faceless group to lend their presence to crowd scenes, but Dudo isn’t interested in them as individuals. In fact (minus speaking roles for two Breton counts which are significant for other reasons but whom I’m going to ignore now), Dudo only names four really important men other than the duke in the earliest days of Normandy: Botho of Bayeux, Bernard the Dane, Anslech, and (the legendary) Ralph Torta.

Of those four, only Ralph Torta shows up in other independent sources – specifically, a section of William of Jumièges’ Gesta Normannorum Ducum which appears to be based on oral tradition from the monastery of Jumièges.

The abbey of Jumièges as it stands today (source).

The rest are only known from Dudo’s work. So, what does he say about them? Botho is probably the most significant figure. He has two distinct personalities, one as an ‘outstanding count of the Normans’ strongly associated with Bayeux, and the others as the commander-in-chief of the Norman army. He then disappears from the work around the beginning of the reign of Richard the Fearless (c. 945). Bernard the Dane (Dacigena, ‘Dacian-born’) is described as one of William Longsword’s chief confidantes (the word used is secretarius, which as he is also called conscius secretorum – i.e. a secret keeper – can’t really be translated as ‘secretary’ or any other kind of household position), and one of the leading citizens (optimates) of Rouen. After William Longsword’s death and Botho’s disappearance, he steps into the role of ‘leader of the Norman army’ and plays a major role in keeping the young Richard the Fearless safe from the machinations of his Frankish enemies. He’s also the one whom Dudo gives us the best sense of a personality for – Bernard gets a lot of the best lines, and he comes across as a loyal but acid straight-talker not afraid to say ‘I told you so’. Notably, where Botho was called a ‘count’ Bernard is only ever called a knight (miles). In turn, he disappears from the narrative when Richard comes of age. Anslech is by far the least fleshed-out – like Bernard, he is called William Longsword’s confidante and a principal citizen of Rouen; but his role in the book is peripheral at best. Finally, Ralph Torta, who is another of the leading citizens of Rouen. In what in context is the late 940s he was able to claim the ‘entire honour of Normandy’ for himself, although Dudo doesn’t say how or on what grounds. (William of Jumièges adds that he was a royal appointee.) Dudo presents him as a tyrant whom Richard eventually overthrows, forcing Ralph to go and seek refuge with his son, the bishop of Paris. 

First question: how much of this might be true? Starting with Botho, it’s noticeable that despite Dudo’s insistence on his Norman background, he has a very Frankish name (= Bodo) with no real Old Norse equivalent. (In fact, of the four only Anslech has a visibly Old Norse name and Bernard’s name is Carolingian par excellence.) It’s also noticeable that he is called a count, since at the time Dudo was writing there wasn’t a count of Bayeux, and in fact there was never again a count of Bayeux whilst Normandy was under ducal rule. The timing of his disappearance is also noticeable, given that Botho vanishes from the text at what we know from Flodoard’s Annals was the same time that Bayeux was conquered by a Viking warlord named Harald. Bernard the Dane is more difficult – we are given few incidental details about his background, and although his personality is well-developed it’s also idealised. Vikings in Frankish sources are often presented as witty, albeit cruelly so; and Dudo’s combination of that trait with loyalty and resource is a model of the ideal Norman retainer, not a specific person. Finally, I am inclined to believe that Ralph Torta’s son was the bishop of Paris, because it’s such an odd and pointless bit of information that the most plausible reason it’s in there is that it was true. What makes this interesting is that this elite seems to have been deeply enmeshed in the Carolingian world. It’s possible that ‘Bernard’ is a baptismal name (‘William’ doesn’t seem to have been the name William Longsword was born with either), but Botho seems much more likely to have been actually Frankish, a Frankish count no less, bound to Rouen by ties of fictive kinship engendered by fostering. Similarly, Ralph Torta was able to persuade Louis IV to appoint him as ruler of Rouen in the mid-to-late 940s, and his son (probably Bishop Walter of Paris) was a major figure in the Church hierarchy outside Normandy. (In fact, given that the contemporary archbishop of Rouen, Hugh de Calvacamp, had been a monk at Saint-Denis, the rather arresting image is raised of a kind of bishop exchange programme…) Dudo, then, has taken this elite and recast it in a Norman image.

Such a recasting is unsurprising in terms of what we know about Dudo’s agenda; but can we use Dudo’s reimagining of the men to get negative information about them? I think so. Above all, I think it shows that these men had no descendants, if not biologically at least in terms of people who wanted to claim them as ancestors. In the case of Botho and Ralph Torta, this fits what we know about their careers as well. (Later genealogists have claimed a posterity for them – the house of Taisson for Botho, that of Harcourt and also Beaumont for Bernard the Dane, and Montfort for Anslech – but the earliest evidence for this comes from hundreds of years later and more contemporary sources don’t know it.*) It is of course possible that there were myths and stories circulating about these men, but if so Dudo either didn’t know them or didn’t want to use them – and his Norman patrons clearly agreed with him. This fits in with an argument I’ve made before: the tumultuous period between c. 940 and c. 960 represents a significant break with the early Rouen countship of Rollo and William Longsword, and part of that was a massive turnover amongst the elites, definitely in terms of their self-understanding and quite probably in terms of the actual people concerned. In short: the old elite were killed or forced out, and a new, heterogenous elite who owed their positions to Richard the Fearless came to the fore. This elite and their descendants, then, would be the people who built pre-Conquest Normandy.

(*If you’ve found this blog post because you’re following that particular rabbit hole, then let’s be clear: this is all nonsense, there’s no evidence for this, and ridiculous claims like Bernard the Dane being “of the blood-royal of Saxony” are bad Victorian inferences.)

Welcome Back

Hello everyone. <wipes down a surface> Dusty in here, isn’t it? Well, I suppose I haven’t been here for a few years. 2019, 2020 and now 2021 have all been professionally challenging and writing two blog posts a week on top of everything else burned me out – so I stopped. This has had its ups and downs. I’ve certainly managed to press on with research and – above all – with writing in the way I’ve needed to; but there was a reason I liked blogging as a research tool, and without the impetus to get new material on the blog on at least a semi-regular level things haven’t felt as fresh as they used to back when I used to update every week. Given the circumstances, it seems like a good time to start up again.

So what’s been happening with me? Well, most importantly, as of May 2021, my research fellowship came to an end. I’m not, quite, unemployed – I still have a visiting research fellowship at Leeds and I’m doing some work for the Sylloge of Coinage of the British Isles, which is keeping the money coming in – but being without a position is exactly as fun as any junior scholar will tell you, and I’m currently applying for jobs both within and without the university sector. What this means is that restarting the blog, to ensure I don’t lose touch with thinking about the tenth century even if I’m doing something else, started to look ever more appealing.

There’ll be Vikings, and kings, and charters, oh my! (source)

Given that the last time I tried to do that it lasted for all of two posts, it’s worth reassuring you, the audience, that lessons have been learned. This short post is just to announce the blog’s relaunch: after that we have two months of regular content written and scheduled already. Roughly speaking – this will be subject to a little bit of flux – we’ll be running research-based content every Thursday at 12:30 UTC, and translation-based content (the now misnamed but nonetheless continuing Charter A Week, mostly) every other Tuesday at the same time.

Part of the reason I’ve been able to put this together is something you might have found out already if you’ve been keeping an eye on our ‘About’ page; and indeed our new ‘Meet The Team’ page: this blog is no longer a one-man show! I’m very pleased to announce that my friend and colleague Sam Ottewill-Soulsby will be joining us as a staff writer, and you can expect posts from him every other week. As site editor, I’ve gotten to read these posts in advance, and let me tell you all, you’re in for a treat. As far as the immediate schedule goes, our first regular post will be on Thursday, talking about the earliest Norman court and whether we know anything about it. Then, next week, it’ll be Charter A Week on Tuesday, looking at a fascinating document from Provence where a bishop describes his own enthronement; and then on Thursday, it’ll be Sam’s first post on the ever-popular topic of Charlemagne’s elephant. After that, regular service will resume – hopefully we will see you there!