Charles the Simple’s First Invasion of Lotharingia

First, for what it’s worth, I’d like to express my support for my UK friends and colleagues striking over the proposed cuts to their pensions. Good luck!

               Now, blog. One of the key planks in my argument for ‘Charles the Simple: Best King Ever’ is that he manages to successfully take and rule Lotharingia, something which is actually rather difficult in this period. This, though, passes over the fact that his successful attempt in 911 was actually his second, and it’s his first, in 898, which I’ve been revisiting recently, and which is interesting not least because of what it says about the military potential of late Carolingian kingship.

               So, we’re in 898. Charles the Simple has been undisputed king of the West Franks for about four months, having spent most of his adolescence figureheading a largely-undermanned rebellion against the previous king Odo. During this rebellion, Charles turned out to have as many connections to Lotharingia as to the West Frankish kingdom, and was even able to pull on them to the extent of getting King Zwentibald of Lotharingia to come and give him a hand in besieging Laon, although it seems pretty clear that in this case Zwentibald was using Charles as cover to try and militarily extend his own kingdom westwards. In any case, some of the first things Charles does are to try and appeal to Lotharingians.

               In particular, Zwentibald was at the time just finishing the first phase of a prolonged feud with a group of counts around Metz known as the Matfredings. Thanks to an intervention in May 897, Zwentibald and the Matfredings had been reconciled, but there were probable still tensions. Charles (and his eminence gris/substitute father figure Archbishop Fulk of Rheims) had actually had prior dealings with one of the Matfreding’s closest allies, Abbot Stephen of Saint-Mihiel, for whom, in February 898, Charles issued a diploma. This diploma did two things: 1) it confirmed property in Zwentibald’s kingdom and 2) confirmed property which Zwentibald had already confirmed himself, at his and Charles’ joint siege of Laon no less. I think one has to read it as Charles advertising himself as king for the Lotharingians and the Matfredings more specifically.

               Zwentibald’s response, it appears, was to seek friends in the southern bit of Lotharingia, where the Matfredings were strong. Certainly, he reached out to Archbishop Radbod of Trier, and that’s as good an explanation for why as any I’ve seen. Problem was, Radbod had his own local rivals, and one of them was another Lotharingian aristocrat with ties to Charles from old, Reginar Long-Neck. Radbod was able to persuade Zwentibald to kick Reginar out of his court, and Reginar went all the way to Charles.

               The chronology here is slightly unclear, but it seems that Charles was once again trying to push himself as king for the Lotharingians, because at the end of June 898 he was sitting on the river Aisne at Vienne-la-Ville, a boundary between his kingdom and Zwentibald’s, issuing diplomas for recipients on the Spanish March of all places. Why make people from Narbonne come to you so far north and east, rather than at Rheims or Laon? I reckon it’s because Charles is sitting there, displaying his appropriately kingly status, hoping that Reginar (and/or others) is going to come and say hello – which is exactly what Reginar ended up doing.

               (Some historians have put Reginar’s appeal for Charles’ help a little earlier, and had the June diplomas as signalling the point when he was moving in with an army, but a) that makes the chronology of the fighting between Zwentibald and Reginar compressed to the point of unworkable and b) it doesn’t really fit with Regino of Prüm’s history of events, which strongly implies all of the fighting took place in Autumn.)

               So, Reginar and another Lotharingian count, Odoacer, come and ask Charles for help. Charles and his men duly invade, going first to Aachen and then to Nijmegen. Zwentibald, meanwhile, heads south, but is able to gain Matfreding support and win over some key northern bishops, Franco of Liège and Dodilo of Cambrai. I am as of yet unclear why they go for him and not Charles, but go for him they do. Charles goes down to Prüm, probably although not certainly against the will of Regino of Prüm – for it is he – the then abbot*, and then there’s a stand-off, where neither side commits to battle, Charles goes home, and the matter rests there.

               Conspiracy then follows, and Lotharingia actually ends up with Zwentibald’s young half-brother Louis the Child, but this is where the actual invasion stops, and it’s enough to pull out a few threads. First, Charles’ actual support in Lotharingia appears to have been very limited on this occasion, basically Reginar and a few mates. This means that their initiative, although useful in giving him an excuse to intervene, probably wasn’t all that helpful in terms of active support. Second, and further, Charles was clearly angling very strongly for someone to give him an excuse. Third, he was apparently by himself able to put together a credible enough army to mount a serious potential challenge to Zwentibald.

               Fourth and finally, despite this his lack of Lotharingian support was key, because without overwhelming backing from the Lotharingian magnates, his army and Zwentibald’s appear to have been sufficiently well-matched that neither wanted to risk pitched battle. Pitched battle in this period, quite apart from the risk of losing, was morally-fraught, so one can sympathise with him here – but it did mean that the war was probably going to be negotiated out soon rather than later as soon as it became clear that no-one wanted to roll the dice. In these senses, in fact, the 898 invasion of Lotharingia by Charles the Simple is pretty typical, almost archetypical of inter-regnal warfare in the late Carolingian period.

*Simon MacLean thinks that Regino gave Charles help; this is possible but perhaps unlikely, insofar as one of Zwentibald’s first gifts in late autumn 898 is to Prüm…


Forgery and Continuity at Saint-Amand

Working with forged charters is interesting, but it’s often difficult to do because of how difficult it is to work out when they were forged. (And yes, some documents are quite easy to place, but it does involve being really interested in Abbo of Fleury.) But whilst recently browsing through the Diplomata Belgica, I found some Merovingian diplomas for the abbey of Saint-Amand, or Elnon, which can be fairly neatly placed in the late ninth century, and that got my ears pricked up. For, you see, I already knew the ‘pancarte’ of Charles the Simple which, so the diplomas’ editor notes, these documents were probably produced in advance of, and I’d already marked it as being unusually historically-minded. So putting it in the context of these forged diplomas is interesting.

               But first, a digression about charters and their purposes. One of the big questions we have about charters is ‘who decides what goes into one’? (This is distinct from ‘who decides who gets one’, which is an even bigger debate…) The thing with a charter’s content is basically three-fold: 1) most charters, even royal diplomas, were written by the people for whom they were issued not the people by whom they were issued; 2) in the case of laymen, there is some question about how much Latin they understood*; but 3) some historians have argued, to my mind quite convincingly, that in some royal diplomas we can see the personal concerns of the kings in whose names they were issued coming through.

               My opinion? My opinion is that it’s a false distinction. These documents are still speaking for their issuer, after all. I mean, a royal charter will open with “I, Charles, by grace of God king of the Franks” (for all the kings of the Franks are called Charles) not “I, Squitgar the monk, on behalf of King Charles”, so whatever the document says is being presented as the words of the king. This means that even if the contents of the diploma aren’t coming directly out of a pony-stickered diary with a lock and a note saying ‘Mum and Dad Keep Out’, they’re still a part of the public figure of the monarch: it’s irrelevant whether they’re personal, because they’re still a persona.

               Moreover, not any randomer gets charters. To get a diploma, you need connections and influence; and that probably means that you’re in a good position at court anyway. Timothy Reuter had a great line about any given king being an historian’s shorthand for the king-plus-coterie-of-advisors-friends-and-chief-nobles, but if we unpack this in terms of diploma content, it means that most of the recipients are part of this ‘king’ figure anyway. What this means in practice  – well, there are a few things it means in practice, and maybe I should talk about the diplomas of Robert the Pious sometime in the next few weeks to illustrate one of the more important arguments I’ll be making in the book now that there’s a plan for starting to write that – but in this case what it means in practice is that we should be expecting the contents of charters to fit the ideological needs of both issuer and recipient; and here we return to Saint-Amand, because this is a particularly nice example.

               The first forged diploma I found was one of King Childeric II and his mother Queen Chimnechild to the saintly bishop Amand. My first thought was that this was really on the nose, actually: what, the newly-establish regime of Charles the Simple, backed by his mother Queen Adelaide and surrogate father-figure Archbishop Fulk of Rheims is repeating the alleged actions of another young-king-queen-mother-holy-bishop trio? You don’t say… But as it turns out, Saint-Amand a) did in fact probably have a genuine diploma of Childeric II which Chimnechild was likely in; and b) forged a few more diplomas at the same time that are rather less applicable to the 899 context; so the actual reasoning looks to be a bit less direct.

               So, Saint-Amand did have these old Merovingian diplomas, and these were still there in the mid-ninth century; but they were probably destroyed by Viking attack in the late ninth century. The rights the forged diplomas confer don’t appear to be particularly controversial – that of Childeric II, for instance, granted the cell of Barisis-aux-Bois near Laon, which had been being regularly confirmed for hundreds of years and whose relationship to Saint-Amand doesn’t look to have been doubted. So it looks more like the monks were engaging in so-called ‘pious fraud’, forging documents to show what everyone already knew to be true.

               Which brings us to Charles’ pancarte. On the 17th March 899, just before Passiontide, Charles was approached by Fulk of Rheims, who was also abbot of Saint-Amand, who asked him to confirm the abbey’s properties, which he did**, making special note of those which had been confirmed by his predecessors as king – like I said, it’s a very historically-minded document. What this means is that Charles’ diploma is there to please everyone: Charles (who was fairly historically-minded anyway) was placed in a line of kings going back to the seventh century, and Fulk and Saint-Amand were placed in a relationship with kings that went back as far as well, despite the loss of their genuine diplomas and replacement by forgeries. Asking questions about beneficiary vs. actor here is simply pointless: this is a diploma issued by Charles’ regime, which props up all parts of it.

*Although being a student of Rosamond McKitterick, I would naturally tend to downplay this. Even otherwise, we know that people translated into vernacular languages; and honestly, this should have been fairly easy.

** There is one question I have about this act, actually, in relation to the forgeries. Charles’ act says that he needed to confirm the property because some older documents had been destroyed. Yet he also cites the forged diplomas of Childeric and King Dagobert. This seems a quite uneasy relationship to the forgeries, no? Hmmm… maybe if the rights in the Merovingian diplomas were so uncontroversial, these ‘forged’ acta weren’t even seen as forgeries at all – they weren’t supposed to fool anyone, simply replace older documents which everyone knew existed and accepted as legitimate. In this case, Charles’ statement becomes more ‘We all know these are ersatz, but don’t worry, they’re still good…’

The Shadow of a Patronage Network

Over on Twitter in the last couple of days, there’s been a bit of discussion about the Reichskirche, after I claimed that there was such a thing as a West Frankish version. We have discussed on this blog before about the nature of the Reichskirche, so that old post is the easiest place to read up on the concept. Over the course of discussion, it became clear that the idea of an Ottonian Reichskirche, which I had thought had been qualified sharply but nonetheless persisted in a ‘weak thesis’ form, has in fact been kicked down the stairs. But, someone has asked, what do I think was happening in the West Frankish kingdom? And as it happens it’s a story longer than a few tweets, and I need a blog topic today, so that’s the post you’re now reading.

               To start with, we’re dealing with the last half of the tenth century and with the eastern half of the West Frankish kingdom, the ecclesiastical province of Rheims and Burgundy. What I think you get hints of here is that a) Lothar is interfering more directly in episcopal selection than his immediate predecessors; and b) most (but not all) of the bishops he picks appear to come from roughly similar backgrounds.

(and, of course, c) I never went very far with this because it turns out we don’t really know anything about the late tenth-century West Frankish episcopate.)

               Between c. 950 and 986, there are about thirty-five episcopal selections. Of those, we can’t say anything at all about roughly half, including any of the bishops of Senlis, Thérouanne, Beauvais, Troyes, and probably Nevers, Autun, Amiens and Soissons as well. This is a lot.

               Of the other 17 or so, there are three bishops of Noyon elected in short order in the early 950s where Louis IV didn’t have anything else to do with things. In the case of three of the four bishops of Mâcon, there’s no explicit evidence either way but their background is such that adding royal involvement is an unnecessary variable. Both new bishops of Auxerre are unlikely to have had anything to do with the king. So that’s 8, mostly towards the very beginning of the period.


               For the rest, there’s explicit evidence of royal involvement in selecting both bishops of Laon, both archbishops of Rheims, three archbishops of Sens, and a bishop of Langres. I also think there’s a very good circumstantial case for seeing Lothar’s hand behind another archbishop of Sens, a good case for a bishop of Noyon, a weak case for a bishop of Mâcon, a very weak case for a bishop of Autun (and a very, very weak case for a bishop of Amiens, but that’s so weak I only mention it to vent my frustration that Gallia Christiana is so inconsistent about citing its sources…) Of these bishops, most of them, although not all, share either being royal kinsmen or alumni of the school at Rheims, or both.

               As I said on Twitter, the idea that Lothar had a semi-coherent patronage network involving putting people with royal connections in place in major bishoprics fits with what evidence we have; but as I also said, we don’t have enough evidence to do more than insinuate. It’s not really a thesis, it’s the ghost of one.

               As for why I liked calling it a Reichskirche, it’s because I wanted to look for an external model. As Lothar and his two predecessors knew from the Rheims dispute, fiddling around with actual elections can get very dicey. Louis IV ended up doing a good line in patronising bishops who were selected by local communities into being his allies – it’s not like choosing a bishop guarantees their loyalty or anything, not at all. So an Ottonian milieu where the kings were interfering at the source, as it were, seemed like a good place to pick up the notion, although this doesn’t really stand up to the East Frankish stuff now. I have suspicions about Bruno of Cologne in this regard, but given how rickety a foundation the source base is for anything more than a big list with lots of question marks on it, it’s not exactly a research priority.

Provence Continues To Be Weird

Not about Liutprand this time, you’ll be pleased to hear. Rather, this time I want to zoom out and talk about just how odd Provence is as a kingdom after the death of Louis the Blind. Chiefly what is weird about it is that there are six potential kings, and the one most people seem to recognise is the one who’s already dead, which is to say Louis the Blind himself. Now, Louis himself doesn’t appear to have done much during the last years of his reign. In the early 900s, he got mixed up in Italian politics, which is as bad an idea for tenth-century kings as twenty-first century historians, which is how he ended up blind in the first place. Louis is supposed to have been fairly useless during the last years of his reign – one historian called him a ‘shadow king’ – although I have questions about how far this is just due to the combination of a lack of narrative sources and the fact that (as you might expect, given the constraints upon disabled people at the time) he didn’t get around much. Certainly, he appears to have spent twenty years staying in Vienne and not moving, but looking through his diplomas people did come to him from all over the kingdom. The most important of these people was Hugh of Arles, who became Louis’ right-hand man up to the point in 924 where Hugh himself went to become king of Italy.

Saint-André-le-Bas in Vienne (source)

               Louis died in 928. Well, probably. Overwhelmingly probably. We don’t actually know in what year he died, although it was certainly by 932, but scholarly consensus is basically-unanimous in putting his death in June 928 based on circumstantial evidence, and I think scholarly consensus is in this case correct. After Louis’ death, the first bit of weirdness comes into play: Louis had two adult sons, Charles Constantine and Ralph, neither of whom succeeded him. Some people have suggested that Charles Constantine didn’t succeed him because he was a bastard, but the source for his illegitimacy is late – it’s Richer of Rheims – and I strongly suspect that Richer is back-projecting, filling in an explanation for why Charles didn’t inherit, because the detail is not in Flodoard, which is Richer’s only source. In any case, Ralph is very unlikely to have been illegitimate, but he didn’t inherit either. Charles Constantine appears in Louis’ lifetime as Count of Vienne, which is unusual – royal heirs, even with counties, are not usually called counts (anyone got any counterexamples from this time?); and it has been suggested that this means that Louis did not intend Charles to succeed him; but again, this isn’t true of Ralph. (I did play around with the notion that the ‘Ralph, king of Vienne’ who shows up in a number of charters was Ralph son of Louis the Blind; but this doesn’t work chronologically if nothing else.) What this means is that we have a case where a reigning king with adult sons born to him whilst he was a king isn’t succeeded by his son, which I think is the only example from the whole Carolingian and post-Carolingian period. Pippin II of Aquitaine, maybe?

               The thing is, if Louis isn’t succeeded by his sons, it doesn’t look like he’s succeeded by anyone. Kings Ralph of West Francia and Rudolf II of Burgundy both nibble away at bits of territory. Rudolf slowly pulls some of the Alpine bits of Provence, such as Belley and maybe Apt, into his orbit; and looks like he made a short-lived play for Lyon – if so, he was probably kicked out relatively quickly. Ralph made a better go of it, asserting his authority over Vienne and as far south as Uzès, which is only a little distance away from Avignon, so very deep. However – and we do admittedly have evidential problems here – it doesn’t look like either tried to become Louis’ successor directly rather than just annexing some of his territory (which in both cases, they were inching towards even before Louis’ death).

               Hugh of Arles’ role is even weirder. You’d have thought he’d be the obvious choice to succeed Louis – already a king elsewhere, powerful allies in the form of his brother Count Boso and nephew Archbishop Manasses of Arles, and personally possessed of a lot of land in the kingdom from back when he was its chief magnate. But although Hugh shows up in autumn and winter 928 and issues a bunch of diplomas, it looks to my eyes rather as though he was trying to stay the kingdom’s chief magnate whilst at the same time being king in a different kingdom. (This, incidentally, is why I was asking for help on Twitter from Crusade historians – trying to look for parallels. The closest is William the Conqueror, but even then the situation is only loosely comparable.) Hugh maintains an interest in Provence, right through into the 940s, but it’s unclear that he ever tried to assert himself as king and very, very likely that no-one every accepted him as their ruler – there are, to my knowledge, no charters dated by Hugh’s reign, even those issued in the name of Manasses of Arles.

               Rather, most people, especially in the south of the kingdom, seem to have continued to recognise Louis the Blind as king, through to the mid-930s. One charter from 934 refers to Louis as the currently-reigning emperor even though he’s been in the ground (overwhelmingly probably) for six years and (certainly) for two. To me, this says that most people don’t recognise anyone as their legitimate king (and that, for some reason, Hugh of Arles doesn’t want to be king there even though he probably could). I haven’t thought through the implications of all this yet, but it’s striking that Louis’ realm is apparently coherent enough to keep going after his death but that Louis’ kingship laid so lightly on his subjects that no-one needed someone else to keep doing it…

Lectiones Difficiles: More on Provence

Wow, the last post got a real reaction.

I mean, it’s the Fallout: New Vegas guy! Do you know how many hours I sunk into that game?               <pauses, thinks> erm… none I should have been spending doing thesis work instead, honest… 

               This is a little surprising to me, because it was dealing with an extremely difficult, abstruse and technical question. Hopefully it’s comprehensible; or if it isn’t, that’s because I don’t have a full grasp on what’s going on yet. In either case, there’s more to say on the subject, because I need to get this sorted out. Despite an agonizing wait over the weekend to get hold of some key articles on the issues raised last time, I’ve had a few days to familiarise myself with the sources and historiography around the kingship of Lower Burgundy (where I discovered that, happily, there is actually a debate around this), and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s really hard, you guys. I actually received two responses on the issue, for which I am grateful: both were thoughtful, considered, and diametrically opposed to one another about whether the Radulfus from Burgundia mentioned in Liutprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis 3.48 is King Rudolf II of Upper Burgundy or King Ralph of West Francia. So you’re getting another blog post going into more detail about the evidence and its problems.

               First, Liutprand. There are four main arguments in favour of Rudolf II of Upper Burgundy being Liutprand’s Radulfus. 1) that Liutprand’s relative chronology seems to place the deal between Radulfus and Hugh in 933; 2) that every other time Radulfus and Burgundia appear in the text, it is Rudolf and Upper Burgundy which is meant; 3) that Rudolf has much more reason to be involved in Italian politics than Ralph has; and 4) that Liutprand was actually a page-boy in Hugh of Arles’ court at the time, so it would be odd for him to get it wrong.

               Points 1) and 2) are not, to my eyes, very convincing. Liutprand’s chronology here is vague in the extreme. He doesn’t actually give any concrete dates, simply saying ‘around this time’. Given that what we’re talking about largely concerns events in Gaul, where Liutprand can get very fuzzy, I’m open to the idea that he’s filling in a lot of his own blanks. If what he actually knows is that at some point around 930 Hugh made a deal about some land in Gaul with a Radulfus from Burgundia, he might well assume it’s Rudolf and Transjurane Burgundy not Ralph and ducal Burgundy simply because he knows that the former had much more to do with Italy than the latter.

               Point 3) is much more of a problem. One can argue around it in two ways: first, that although Rudolf II was in fact very heavily involved in Italian affairs and Ralph not, the Italians did sometimes look to seemingly-random West Frankish aristocrats to intervene in their affairs – in the mid-1020s, apparently quite serious plans were made to offer the Italian crown to Duke William V of Aquitaine. Second, that Liutprand doesn’t actually know the context of the deal, and is making assumptions, albeit plausible ones, about what happened: why did Hugh offer his land to Radulfus? Because he must have been in trouble, as he was in 933, and because some Italian nobles had offered Radulfus the crown, again, because that kept happening. Still, no matter which way you slice it, Rudolf is a better fit for the Italian context than Ralph.

               Point 4) could go either way. Yes, Liutprand was there in the early 930s – but he was pre-pubescent or barely a teenager, and he was actually writing his book about thirty years later. This is significant because his story doesn’t match up very well with that of Flodoard of Rheims. The reason the deal between Hugh and Rudolf II is placed in 933 is because of the way Liutprand’s relative chronology, describing Hugh being kicked out of Rome, syncs with Flodoard’s absolute chronology, for it is he who describes it as being in 933. This is actually a problem, because we have a good idea about Flodoard’s information here – in 933, two messengers from Rheims came back to that city with a bit of archiepiscopal bling for the local prelate, and they gave Flodoard what appears to have been a decent bit of information on Italian affairs. In general, Flodoard is interested in what’s going on in Italy, and in the early-to-mid 930s, he has a decent amount of information on it, including a trip he himself made to Rome sometime around 936. It is therefore a bit odd that he doesn’t mention a deal made in the 930s, given that it would presumably have impacted the land his church held in the area around Lyon. As I said, it could go either way when dealing with an argument from silence: it could be that Flodoard was too far away to have the relevant information, despite being interested and contemporary; or it could be that Liutprand was too chronologically distant and confused, despite being a member of Hugh’s court.

               Moving from our narrative sources, we need to look at the Lower Burgundian context. Here, it seems to me that the identification Radulfus=Rudolf has been finding increasingly little favour amongst researchers. The reason for this is simple: there’s lots of evidence that Ralph of West Francia was doing lots of exciting things in Lower Burgundy around 930, and very little for Rudolf.

               However, that brief description underplays just how confusing the evidence is. I should therefore say that most of what we’re dealing with is charter dating clauses. These are important, because charters are mostly dated by the reigning king, and therefore they give us a glimpse of who people thought was in charge. And we are dealing here with three main types of dating clause. First, charters dated by the reign of King Ralph, from Vienne and from Lyon (we have hardly any evidence at all from further south, although Fournial suggested that charters from the Vivarais and environs dated by Ralph’s successor Louis hinted that Louis had inherited his position from Ralph). Second, a couple of charters for the monastery of Savigny near Lyon dated by Rudolf II’s reign. Third, and most importantly, there are a lot of charters from all over Lower Burgundy which continue to be dated by the reign of the late Louis the Blind, right up through the early 930s.

               What is clear from this is that the situation was itself conflicted. Evidently, there were a lot of people, some of them very important people, who did not think that there was a legitimate king after Louis the Blind’s death. Thus, our tiny hints about what Ralph was doing in 928-930 (maybe issuing a diploma for Uzès, possibly trying to assert himself further south, probably minting coins in his name in Lyon, and definitely making concerted efforts to bring Vienne under his sway, even though for reasons which are utterly opaque it keeps falling away) suggest that although he was the biggest player in Lower Burgundy at this time, he wasn’t the only one. However, the evidence also suggests that his biggest opposition was small-scale and localised, rather than his fellow-monarchs: other than a couple of hints for the Lyonnais, Rudolf II doesn’t appear to have played much role in the area, and I actually think that a charter from 929 suggests that the West Frankish and Upper Burgundian kings had come to some kind of accommodation. What we have, then, says that if Rudolf fits Italy better than Ralph, Ralph fits Italy better than Rudolf.

               To summarise what we’ve got so far, both arguments have important problems. (I haven’t even mentioned the diplomas issued by Hugh of Arles, which raise severe issues no matter what you think is happening.) If the traditional identification of Radulfus=Rudolf is wrong, and the event described by Liutprand can be identified with the deal between Hugh of Arles and Ralph in 928, then it solves a number of issues, chiefly that of why there is so little evidence for Rudolf II in Provence, and the problem of reconciling Flodoard and Liutprand. On the other hand, if the traditional identification is right, it fits much more clearly with Liutprand’s text, as well as providing a reason for the hints that we do have of Rudolf’s involvement in Burgundy in the 930s. Personally, I tend to lean towards Hofmeister, Brühl, and the French historians who think it is more likely that Radulfus is Ralph of West Francia. The issues this creates with Liutprand are extremely serious, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable; and on the other hand, the Radulfus=Ralph identification does fit better with the Lower Burgundian circumstantial evidence and deals with the problem of Flodoard’s silence. With that said, in the absence of a smoking gun one way or another, the issue remains to be decided.

Which Ralph? Italy, Provence and the Succession to Louis the Blind

Happy New Year, y’all. Apologies for the delay in blogging – I had meant to start yesterday, but I’ve been polishing off an article for the proceedings of the Power of the Bishop conference I went to last year, and between that and the Humboldt Lecture I’m supposed to be giving at the start of February, things are fairly hectic. It’s a shame, because what I really want to be doing is tapping away at writing a detailed narrative history of post-Carolingian France (well, that and working my way through a) Adhemar of Chabannes and b) the charter evidence from Limoges). But I’m putting in the odd hour on it here and there, and at the moment I’m writing about the year 928. 928 is an important year, once again because of a succession crisis (I am finding, a bit, that you can write the entire history of the century as one succession crisis after another). Specifically, the death of Louis the Blind, emperor and king of Provence, in June of that year.

               This is an issue for me, because I hardly ever go that far south-east, and because Italian history is largely a closed book to me. But because it’s clear that King Ralph gets involved in the transfer of power in the region to – well, that’s one of the questions – it behoves me to get involved. And I’ve got a question about Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, which hopefully someone can answer for me, and the question is this. In Antapodosis 3.48, Liutprand describes how the Italians ‘sent for Rodulfus in Burgundia’; whereupon Hugh of Arles, king of Italy since 923 and old right-hand man of Louis the Blind, promised him all the land he had in Gaul in return for a promise that Rodulfus wouldn’t interfere in Italy ever again.

               Historians are, as far as I can tell, almost unanimous in dating this to around 933, largely because it comes in the text after a description of Hugh of Arles’ expulsion from Rome, which according to Flodoard happened around this time, and his granting the march of Tuscany to his brother Boso, which happened shortly before 931. Equally unanimous is the opinion that the Rodulfus in question is Rudolf II, king of Transjurane Burgundy: Rudolf had been an active contestant to be king in Italy for several years, and the deal described by Liutprand seems to explain how Provence ended up under Burgundian rule. But, there are some issues here, at least if we follow Janet Nelson (who isn’t concerned with this story and brings them up quite separately): first, Burgundian rule in Provence appears to be, in practice, several decades later. Second, Rudolf may have given up his claims to rule in Italy years earlier, in 926. Third (and this is me), the Italians had kicked Rudolf out only a few years previously. I know Italian politics is turbulent, but is it that turbulent?

               Here’s another story. The Rodulfus and Burgundia aren’t Rudolf and Transjurane Burgundy, but Ralph (which is the same name as Rudolf) of West Francia and ducal Burgundy. A faction of Italians invited him to be king as the closest living already-royal relative of their one-time ruler Louis the Blind (his first cousin), and Hugh of Arles bought him off with a grant of land which is the same as Flodoard records in 928.

               This story also has problems. First, it requires Liutprand to have made an error. Evidently, this is not so implausible – in the aforementioned story about the Romans expelling Hugh of Arles, he makes it sound as though the local bigwig did it with the Pope’s help rather than (according to Flodoard) imprisoning him. Plus, Rudolfus and Burgundia could well be quite confusing without other qualifiers. But still, it’s an issue. Second, the 928 grant of land Flodoard describes is the land of ‘the whole province of Vienne’ being given not directly to Ralph but to the son of Count Heribert II of Vermandois; whereas Liutprand describes Hugh giving Rodulfus ‘all the land he had in Gaul’. This could be poetic license (if ‘province of Vienne’ means ‘ecclesiastical province’ rather than just ‘region of’, it’s not actually that much poetic license), but it’s another issue.

               It also fits oddly into the political context. On one hand, it explains why Ralph isn’t in the north of the West Frankish kingdom for the whole of 929 – he’s dealing with matters in the south which are a bit more important, trying and (eventually) failing to assert himself in the region. It also explains why so many diplomas in the region keep being dated by the reign of the late Louis the Blind – that’s what you do when kingship is contested. On the other hand, Hugh of Arles spent the latter months of 928 issuing diplomas for recipients in Vienne and the surrounding regions, which implies that he made a deal and immediately abrogated it. (On a third hand, this is also fairly odd anyway, given he’s supposed to have granted it to Heribert’s son.)

               As you can tell, I’m not fully convinced by the Rodolfus-is-Ralph story. So what do you think? Is there any outstanding reason to favour one version over the other?

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 3: Kings and Poitevins, c. 945-955

Previously on ‘Excruciatingly-Detailed Trudge Through The Narrative History Of A Region Where The Sources Aren’t Good Enough To Support Narrative History’, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont had just staked his claim to be the predominant figure in the Auvergne, trading on royal backing and a shift in power after the disappearance from central Gaul of Raymond Pons, the count of Toulouse. You may well be wondering, ‘what happened next?’ Well, for the first half of his reign, up until about 965 or so, that’s easier to answer than the second (which is to say, not very easy at all).

               In around 948, Stephen, his father Viscount Robert, and his stepmother Viscountess Hildegard, handed over the Auvergnat abbey of Sauxillanges to be ruled by Abbot Aimard of Cluny. In the document making the handover, Stephen called for prayers for Duke Acfred, William the Pious, and William the Younger, placing himself in a tradition of Aquitanian rulership. This was then confirmed in 951, when Louis IV showed up again at the borders of Aquitaine. Stephen and many of the other Aquitanian magnates went to meet him. Stephen apparently paid him special attention, and was rewarded with a royal diploma confirming his grant of Sauxillanges. So things seem pretty solid on that front – Stephen’s position at the forefront of local society was reinforced through royal confirmation of his special status vis-à-vis the kingship.

               A few years later, Louis died. Aquitanians were present at his son Lothar’s coronation, presumably including Stephen; but, as when Louis succeeded Ralph, things were unsettled. Lothar was, as his father had been, under the thumb of Hugh the Great, to whom he granted Aquitaine. Hugh seems to have meant to enforce this: he intervened in a diploma for Bishop Gottschalk of Puy, and he got Lothar to lead an attack on Poitiers. Unlike the similar situation at Langres in 936, there was no complexity here: Count William Towhead had been happily in place for about thirty years, and this invasion can only be seen as a straightforward landgrab. It didn’t end up working, and Hugh died the next year.

               Of course, William himself was not innocent here. In 955, he attempted to push his power into Auvergne, where no previous count of Poitiers had had an interest. He held a meeting at Ennezat, a place redolent with the power of the old Guillelmid dukes, where the lords of Auvergne swore to be his men. Rather like Hugh, William seems to have decided to enforce this: it is only at this point that he starts claiming to be ‘Count of Auvergne’, and his name starts appearing in Brioude’s charters. Interestingly, Stephen was also at the meeting, and appears to have had read there a royal diploma for some of his clients; this no longer survives, but I wonder if we might not take it as a sign that William and Stephen were negotiating for how power in the Auvergne would be divided between them?

               Anyway, Hugh died in 956 as I said, and the situation changed dramatically. And that’s where we’ll leave it for today, and indeed for this year. This is the last post up before Christmas, and I’m off to relax and unwind after a full and busy year of working, international moves and, not least, blogging. We’ll be back in the New Year. In the meantime, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy 2018!