Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 2: The Impact of Louis IV, 936-945

Last time, Raymond Pons of Toulouse had just declared himself to be duke of Aquitaine, and you may well have been wondering, ‘What has this got to do with Bishop Stephen II of Clermont?’ Well, today we find that out.

               You may remember that Raymond’s claim to the ducal title had occurred in the context of the dislocation brought on by the death of King Ralph of Burgundy in 936. The problem is that the next five years or so of Aquitanian political history are very murky indeed. The situation is not helped by the fact that a lot of the documentary evidence we rely on for the Toulouse side of things looks very dodgy. The good news, is that this means the period of just under a decade between 936 and Stephen’s emergence in 945 can be zipped through rather more quickly than the previous ten years.

               The first thing to say is that, once again, evidence of conflict between Toulouse and Poitiers is non-existent, and evidence of the counts of Poitiers playing any role in Auvergnat politics ditto. There are three main actors in the Auvergne of the late 930s and early 940s: the local nobility, the count of Toulouse, and the king.

               Of these, the local nobility are basically the same as the following of Duke Acfred. They stick together as a community, and it is these people who you can see around Raymond in 936. Raymond himself plays the very classic role for a major aristocrat of working with the king when Louis IV starts to display an interest in Aquitaine in around 940. (There’s theoretically a diploma issued for one of Raymond’s abbeys in 939, but the whole of the dating clause is spectacularly forged, and I don’t think we can take it seriously. I’d be more likely to put it in either 941 or 944, absent other evidence.) And the king is evidently a significant figure during the early 940s: he shows up in Vienne in winter 941, where the Aquitanians submit to him and he issues a diploma for the abbey of Chanteuges, the same foundation where Raymond had appeared to claim the title of ‘duke of Aquitaine’ in 936. Aquitanians then proceed to give him military assistance, so this doesn’t look purely formal.

               Louis’ visit in 941/42 appears to have been fairly significant long-term. After going from Vienne to Poitiers, he issued several diplomas with Ebalus, the count of Poitiers’ brother, as intercessor. If we take seriously Adhemar of Chabannes’ claim that Louis played a role in acquiring for Ebalus the bishopric of Limoges, it is probably now that he made any agreement to the effect that Ebalus could legitimately succeed to the bishopric after the death of its current inhabitant. Louis went back to Aquitaine in 944 to negotiate with Raymond and other Aquitanians.

               Unlike in 941/2, this visit was not obviously occasioned by any challenge to the king’s position in the north, which was at this time fairly stable. The most likely reason for Louis’ visit, therefore, is to deal with purely Aquitanian affairs. What were these? Well, one of them probably was ensuring the installation of Ebalus as bishop of Limoges. It is also possible that dealing with the succession to the bishopric of Clermont was on the agenda, for it was around this time that Stephen II became bishop. Finally, 944 is the last sure reference we have to Raymond Pons of Toulouse being alive, and I think it is likely that he died shortly afterwards (although some scholars think he lived until 950 or even 960).* In any case, what I think we have here is another shift in power.

               Certainly, Raymond doesn’t appear to have troubled the Auvergne again. Liutprand of Cremona refers to a ‘Raymond of Aquitaine’ appearing in Italian politics at this time; personally, I think this was Raymond Pons’ son shifting his political sphere of action; but for our purposes, what matters is that Toulousain influence cannot be shown in the Auvergne. This is significant, because (as was hinted last week) Viscount and lay abbot Dalmatius of Brioude looks to have been linked to him; and with Stephen’s emergence, a different set of local nobles, the family of the viscounts of Clermont, appear to have replaced Dalmatius as the key figures within Aquitaine. As I said previously, Stephen was the son of Viscount Robert of Clermont, who figures prominently in his early charters. Robert and Dalmatius don’t appear to have been unfriendly or poorly-disposed to one another – they show up at many of the same gatherings – so I think this is not the product of conflict, but rather a simple transfer of power due to Stephen’s appointment.

               It’s at this moment that the charter discussed when Stephen first appeared on this blog was issued, in 945. We don’t necessarily have to imagine Louis coming down in 944 and settling things with a wave of his royal hand, but I think that his kingship was a key element in whatever happened in the mid-940s. Stephen’s act is an ‘accession act’, firmly staking his claim as the predominant local figure in the Auvergne, displaying the core members of his faction, and doing so based on and legitimated by his connection to King Louis.

*Some, in fact, think he died earlier and the Raymond who shows up in 944 is a different guy. The reason for this is that the 944 guy is just ‘Raymond’ and Raymond Pons always shows up in his charters as ‘Raymond Pons’ or ‘Pons’. Problem is, the evidence from 944 isn’t one of his own charters, it’s Flodoard, who always refers to him as just ‘Raymond’ and there’s no reason to think it’s a different person.


Dead King, Floppy Duchy: Burgundy, c. 936

OK, so on Wednesday I started talking about the history of the duchy of Aquitaine after the end of Guillermid rule. During that process, I mentioned that Burgundy after King Ralph’s death was also very interesting, but that was really a separate post. So, this is that post, being something in the way of a side note. (Plus, posting it today gives me time to do a little more research on the Ratold Ordo!)

               The first thing to do when dealing with the history of Burgundy is to acknowledge the intellectual debt I owe to the 2012 PhD thesis of Steven Robbie. I’ve never met Robbie. Friends in St. Andrews tell me he’s left academia and has no plans to publish the thesis; thankfully, it’s online, and highly recommended.

               So (and here I follow Robbie fairly directly), the ‘founder’ of Burgundy, Ralph’s father Richard the Justiciar, built his polity out of duct tape, spit, and bloody-handed murder. His original power-base was a small group around Dijon and Autun (where he was by no means the most powerful figure – that would be the city’s bishop, Adalgar, who was a big damn deal). By taking advantage of the civil war between King Odo and Charles the Simple from 893 to 898, Richard was able to have Adalgar of Autun murdered, capture and blind Bishop Theobald of Langres, capture by force the city of Sens and imprison its archbishop Walter, and impose his nephew Ragenard as viscount of Auxerre.

                 Ralph followed in his footsteps, as has already been hinted. Richard appears to have been infirm for a few years before his death, and Ralph positioning himself as his successor within Burgundy proper. His position as regional strongman was upset but not ended by becoming king, and he also expanded his authority in the south-east through force, including capturing Bourges from Duke William the Pious, trying to capture Nevers multiple times – Nevers seems to have been something of a battleground during the 920s and 930s – taking over Mâcon after the death of William the Younger (much to the chagrin of Duke Acfred), and trying to thrust his way into Vienne.

               It must be said, this is not how most of the other main regional blocs of the West Frankish kingdom were put together; William the Pious’ Aquitaine appears to have come to him largely through inheritance, and Robert of Neustria’s Neustria genuinely was an administrative unit he was granted. Thus, all of Ralph and Richard’s gains were subject to challenge. In Vienne, he seems eventually to have come to some kind of deal with Count Charles Constantine. Nevers and Bourges both required an awful lot of effort to hold on to. In Auxerre, Avallon, and Autun, in the north-west of Burgundy, the power of the family of the aforementioned nephew Ragenard increased, and indeed several members of it rebelled against Ralph; and there are whispers of disgruntlement in Sens.

               It’s therefore unsurprising that when he died, ‘Burgundy’ appears to have been in trouble. Ralph had no son, and although we tend to assume that his surviving brother Hugh the Black was his due successor, there’s no reason to think that people at the time shared this opinion. Hugh’s lands were in Upper Burgundy (that is, the Kingdom of Burgundy rather than the duchy) and most of his support appears to have been in Mâcon. Thus, Flodoard describes him as ‘seizing’ Langres, presumably from the bishop, and being forced out by Hugh the Great and Louis IV; and indeed the main figures in the area in the mid-tenth century appear to have been the bishops, as it was before Richard’s capture of it. Bourges appears to have been already in the sphere of influence of Hugh the Great, and certainly Hugh the Black doesn’t seem to have done anything with it.

               When Louis IV and Hugh the Great invaded Burgundy in summer 936, historians, as I said, have tended to see this as the Robertian launching a coup to seize the area from its rightful heir Hugh the Black by force of arms. But this rests on the assumption that Hugh the Black was the rightful heir. Louis and Hugh appear to have stuck to the north of the duchy, but they were visited there by Bishop Rotmund of Autun, whom they could not possibly have compelled to be there. Equally, from the area came representatives of the important abbey of Vézelay, and from a little further north Bishop Ansegis of Troyes. It is possible these latter two might have been carted off by force, but not Rotmund: the best explanation for his presence is that he thought the king, or Hugh the Great, but in any case not Hugh the Black, was the legitimate power in Burgundy after Ralph’s death. The mass of more-or-less disgruntled territories that Richard and Ralph had acquired had no particular unity, and so presented an opportunity for locals and outsiders to enrich themselves when Ralph died.

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 1: A Duchy without A Duke, c. 920-936

Lately I’ve been writing up my paper for the ‘Revisiting the Europe of Bishops’ conference at Liverpool that you should all totally come to (although someone appears to have put my name on the list next to the respectable people), the which paper is all about revisiting the career of Bishop Stephen II of Clermont. In the process, though, I’ve discovered two things. The first is that Aquitanian history is really difficult. For all that with Flodoard of Rheims you occasionally need to read between the lines, he at least usually says something about a given year in the north-east of the kingdom; and at least Dudo of Saint-Quentin is reliably weird. The scraps of detail you have to pin together Aquitaine are another matter entirely. Possibly relatedly, the second thing I’ve discovered is that a lot of what’s been written on it is eyebrow-raising. In particular, you can’t take Christian Lauranson-Rosaz’s narrative on trust…* (Of course, you can’t take the one I’m about to propose now and over the next few weeks on trust either; this is explicitly a work-in-progress blog…) The ultimate question is how yer boy Steve got to be at the head of the Auvergnat network of fideles bound together in a community of prayer; but this context is pretty damn tricky. So, this is my attempt to reconstruct it, starting with the decades immediately before Stephen emerges.

               So, let’s begin around 920. William the Pious, duke of Aquitaine, has recently died. His nephew William the Younger has taken over, and does a reasonable job of holding on to his uncle’s properties. He dies in 927, and his own brother Acfred takes over as duke, but only for about six months or so, as he dies shortly thereafter.

               When exactly this was is the first problem. Our source for William’s death is the Annales of Flodoard, so that’s fairly good evidence; Acfred’s will was issued in October 927. The issue is that Acfred was in rebellion against King Ralph of Burgundy, and dated his will to show it, taking Charles the Simple as the real king and addressing Ralph as a fake. He also appointed Viscount Dalmatius of Brioude as one of his executors. But, Dalmatius had issued a charter in February 927 which was dated after Ralph’s reign. This is a disconnect. My solution: Dalmatius’ charter is misdated to the fourth rather than the fifth year of Ralph’s reign, and Dalmatius only accepted Ralph after Acfred died. So far, so simple.

               After Acfred’s death, a lot of historians will tell you that there was a war in Aquitaine between the counts of Poitiers and Toulouse over who got to be duke of Aquitaine. (I read somewhere a suggestion that it might have been an ethnic conflict, which, what on Earth?!) This is not really supported by the sources. Flodoard refers to the ‘quarrelling Aquitanians’ in 931; but this is years after Acfred’s death and – importantly – the year after King Ralph has come down, crushed the Viking forces operating in Aquitaine, and made the Aquitanians submit to him. So I don’t think they’re arguing over some putative ducal succession, but over something else, perhaps Königsnahe. We don’t really know, to be honest. In any case, we have charters from both sides, and neither of them claims to be dux in their own documents. This wasn’t a problem for old-fashioned French historians, who could happily see this as being because the king hadn’t filed the paperwork yet; but given we now know that titulature was largely socially-determined (and, yes, you can parallel this with the title dux), it looks more likely that no-one was claiming to be Duke of Aquitaine, quite possibly because no-one cared – you only need to be ‘duke’ if there’s some reason to do so, after all; and it’s striking that although Acfred called himself dux (‘duke’), William the Younger didn’t.

               In any case, there isn’t a duke of Aquitaine recorded until 936, which could be a function of the evidence, but I don’t think it is. Diplomas of Ralph after 931 refer to ‘Count’ Ebalus Manzer of Poitiers and Dalmatius of Brioude as a ‘famous knight’, and Flodoard says that ‘Prince of Gothia’ Raymond III Pons of Toulouse submitted to the king; so I think what happens is that we have three regions, Poitou, Auvergne and the south (Gothia), with only a loose connection between the latter two (Dalmatius intervened in a diploma for an abbey in Gothia). In 936, though, Raymond Pons of Toulouse is in Brioude for the foundation of the abbey of Chanteuges, titled as ‘duke of Aquitaine’. Dalmatius and the Auvergnians are there, but the count of Poitou is not.

Chanteuges today (source).

               Why does Raymond claim the ducal title now? The probable answer has to do with the death of King Ralph. In his thirteen-year reign, a lot of things shifted politically, not least in relation to Aquitaine. William the Pious’ and William the Younger’s duchy, which had major investments in the north and west – Nevers, Bourges, Mâcon – was dismembered by Ralph. The ‘frontier’ between the authority of Raymond Pons (or, more practically, Dalmatius of Brioude) and everyone else is now a lot further south and east than it used to be. Ralph claimed Mâcon and Nevers, and the Robertians seem to have taken over suzerainty in a lot of northern Berry.  Now, moreover, the new king, Louis IV, has the Robertian ruler of Neustria Hugh the Great as his main support – basically his puppet-master, although this state of affairs won’t last for very long – and Hugh has claimed a new title, duke of the Franks, dux Francorum, which he alleges gives him a vice-regal position throughout the entire kingdom.

             Mostly, I think that Raymond’s claim of the title of ‘duke of Aquitaine’ is defensive, a response to Hugh’s claim of being ‘duke of the Franks’ – he might be duke of the Franks, but he ain’t duke of the Aquitanians, he ain’t vice-regal in the kingdom of the Aquitanians, and he ain’t better than Raymond Pons of Toulouse.

               On the other hand, there may be an element of opportunity. Things are in flux. This presents a practical threat to Raymond – it’s possible that figures in Transjurane Burgundy are nibbling around the edges of the Velay at this time – but it also presents an opportunity. The agglomeration of territory ruled by Ralph of Burgundy and before him his father Richard the Justiciar was a recent and wobbly creation, and there are hints than on Ralph’s death it started disintegrating. (But that’s another post!) Here, claiming the ducal title might enable Raymond to push his power outwards into the recently-lost western regions. Whether or not he actually did this… well, I think there are hints he might have done, but this is already over a thousand words, that’s including breaking the Burgundian crisis of c. 936 into another post, and we’re still a decade off of Bishop Steve. So I’ll stop here, and we’ll get back to this next time.

*Pleasingly, the late Professor Lauranson-Rosaz put large amounts of his work, including his big book, online at his page, which you can find through the link; so if you want to find what I’m reacting to, it’s there.

Norman Sexuality, Norse Sexuality

It’s been a busy week here in Tübingen, not least on the blogging front, and that’s why this week you’re getting something a little more light-hearted. I’ve written before about the distinctiveness of Norman sexual culture in the context of Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s biography of the first Norman rulers, but I don’t think I talked about why it’s distinctive. Well, I’ve been doing a bit more research on this topic, and the results are quite interesting.

               The first thing to say is that Dudo is not alone in his interest in sex, in the context of Norman literature. There’s a whole cluster of sexually-explicit poetry from basically the same time. For those who don’t know it, I recommend (for a given value of ‘recommend’) checking out the poem Moriuht, which is hair-raisingly explicit even by modern standards; it’s not every medieval source one can describe by using the phrase ‘Viking gang-bang’. Such work isn’t unparalleled from elsewhere in the Frankish world – the Ottonian author Liutprand of Cremona writes a lot of filthy jokes as a way of showing how bad Italian rulers are – but what’s striking is that, whereas for most Frankish authors explicit expression of sexuality is largely a tool of insult, in Norman literature it is neutral or even positive.

               All this is simply to repeat that Norman sexual mores are different from those of their neighbours. So what made Normandy different? Well, obviously, its Norse background. Other scholars such as Elisabeth van Houts and Klaus van Eickels have already suggested Scandinavian roots for Norman ideas about sex and gender, but whilst they are very interesting and may well be true, they rest on reading back saga evidence from centuries later into early Norman evidence, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. What I’ve been doing this last week, then, is looking at contemporary Norse literature (which in practice means skaldic poetry) for parallels. And there are some!

“If it’s longer than it’s wide…” (source)

               Take, for instance, the Hákonardrápa of Hallfreðr Óttarsson, written in the latter part of the tenth century in praise of Jarl Hákon the Powerful. Hákon’s conquest of Norway is described as follows: ‘[Hákon] draws under himself the foliage-haired waiting wife of Þriði [i.e. the land] by means of true words of swords’. This motif is actually a very direct parallel of one found in Dudo wherein Rollo makes a personified Francia pregnant, although I think that’s parallel evolution rather than direct influence.

               There are other examples of this from elsewhere in Scandinavian writing, but I’ll skip past them for the general point. It seems as though Scandinavian sexual culture was more out there, and that in particular sex had a greater role to play in discourses supporting legitimate authority. Normandy’s Scandinavian background therefore makes sense as a reason why its sexual culture was different from its neighbours. This is not to say that randy, macho Vikings imported an alien plant into Frankish soil; rather than elements within Scandinavian culture went well with elements of a Frankish culture that had many points of similarity to it, and so some ideas which in the latter may have been secondary found a more fertile environment and could play a more prominent role.

Assembly Politics encore une fois

               Special treat today, folks, because I’m supposed to be presenting about this in about three weeks and the grand theory I presented here earlier has fallen apart somewhat. So this post’ll work through the options for alternative theories, and we’ll see what you all think.

               The situation, if you remember from last time, was that during the reign of Louis IV, the West Frankish tradition of Church councils came to an abrupt end. My explanation for this was that Louis, coming from an Anglo-Saxon background where Church councils had been subsumed into a broader culture of royal assemblies, had simply brought this background with him when he returned to the West Frankish kingdom as an adult.

               What I have subsequently discovered is that it’s not just Church councils. Under Louis, assembly politics as a whole appears to collapse, and it’s very abrupt: the year before, his predecessor King Ralph held a major assembly at Soissons. Then Louis shows up as the new king, and we just don’t see gatherings of any kind under his auspices. Close-reading our narrative source for his reign, the Annals of Flodoard, illustrates this: Flodoard has a number of terms he uses for the various kinds of assemblies, notably synodus for more Church-flavoured assemblies and placitum for those who prefer the tangy taste of kingship; and the instant Louis shows up these terms disappear, and Flodoard starts using mostly verbs to describe encounters between the king and his magnates, such as locutus (‘spoke with’) or habere obviam (‘went to meet’). The impression, supported by evidence from Louis’ diplomas, is that rather than the kind of big assemblies going back to the ninth century, Louis’ kingship runs on small, private meetings with groups of magnates.

               Now this is weird in any case, and it certainly destroys any argument for a simple exporting of Anglo-Saxon norms. Under Athelstan, Anglo-Saxon royal assemblies were only becoming bigger, fancier, and more important. So what’s going on?

               The first thing to go back to is the question of agency. Is this change coming from the top, or is it a response to outside circumstances? Here I think that the point I made last time holds up: the change is so abrupt in this respect, but not in terms of the power of the magnates respective to the king, the level of Viking attack, the amount of experience in running gatherings of this kind the king could draw on, or the level of civil war in the kingdom, that it must be top-down.

               So where’s Louis getting his ideas from? I still doubt it’s West Frankish. In addition to the fact that assembly politics was a hallmark of all of his predecessors, his initial West Frankish handlers, such as Hugh the Great, had participated in King Ralph’s assemblies, and there’s no particular reason to think that they were chafing at the burden. In Hugh’s own Neustrian March, indeed, there was a thriving culture of regional political assemblies.

               But it’s not obviously Anglo-Saxon, or at least not contemporary Anglo-Saxon either. My best hypothesis is that Louis’ influence here comes from his mother, Queen Eadgifu. Eadgifu herself had been quite young, probably late teens, when she married Louis’ father Charles the Simple. She was brought up in the court of her own father, Edward the Elder; so what did her political background look like?

               Well, early tenth-century West Saxon kingship doesn’t appear to have placed an awful lot of emphasis on political assemblies. Asser’s biography of King Alfred suggests that he deliberately split up his nobility rather than gathering them together; in any case, charter evidence suggest that grand meetings were rare. Edward the Elder doesn’t seem to have held many at all, although here we have the problem that we have no diplomas, a key type of evidence, from the second half of his reign. It’s important to stay cautious here; but to me at least the suggestion is that in the period c. 900-920 when Eadgifu would have been growing up, assemblies were not a major part of Anglo-Saxon political culture.

               So then, she got to the West Frankish kingdom c. 920. What’s going on here? Well, one of the first things that must have happened to her as West Frankish queen was the fateful 920 assembly at Soissons which kicked off the rebellion against Charles the Simple. Eadgifu herself fled with Louis back to England only a couple of years later; and her experience of grand assemblies would have been their presence as a secondary element in England and a forum for subversion and rebellion in the West Frankish kingdom. Perhaps she came to believe that assemblies were dangerous for kings, perhaps Louis picked the idea up from her and changed his style of kingship accordingly?

               Lots of maybes there. The whole thing is very puzzling, and it feels a bit like I’m stumbling blind. What do you guys think?

Capetian Kingship and Neustrian Tradition

So back when I was puzzling over the caritas-prologue in the diplomas of Robert the Pious, I mentioned off-handedly that I disagreed with Geoffrey Koziol’s theory about Robert’s use of the cross monogram; and given the topic’s fairly interesting, I thought I might discuss it further today.

               First of all, what’s a monogram? Well, it’s this*:

That is, a visual symbol of a ruler’s name, made as a sign of their authority.  Here, for instance, we have a diploma and a coin of Charles the Bald, and you can see the Latin form of his name – Karolus – here, the K on the right, and the thing in the middle acting as AO, and U. These things are very common under the Carolingians, and for much of the tenth century they look like this:

Under Robert the Pious, however, the form changes to look like this:

Robertus; note the longer arms

               Geoff argues in this article** (which includes prettier pictures, such as can be found here) that this change is a very personal one for Robert, reflecting his particular devotion to Christ’s holy Cross; an innovation in his kingship and deriving from the very particular context of his reign. And sure, it is a new innovation in terms of Frankish kingship, but not, I would argue, a novel expression of Robert’s authority. Rather, it appears to me more likely that it’s an amalgamation of a very long-standing tradition of Neustrian rulership into Robert’s kingship.

               As long-time readers will know, Robert the Pious came from the so-called Robertian family, who had been rulers of the Neustrian March in western France for much of the tenth century. One peculiarity of Neustria was that lay abbots in the region (such as Robert’s family) sign charters with the signum sanctae crucis (the sign of the Holy Cross), as it’s usually expressed. I can find examples of this in a Neustrian context back to the early ninth century; and, moreover, I can’t find it outside Neustria, at least not in the regions of the West Frankish kingdom I know the evidence for – no Aquitanian or Burgundian parallels here.

               Signing charters with the sign of the Cross, by the mid-tenth century, was one of the few visible markers of Robertian status they didn’t share with other Neustrian magnates. It’s a consistent, if low-key, part of the visual repertoire of their authority: they sign with the Cross because they’re just that little bit closer to God than everyone else. What I think is happening in Robert’s reign, then, is that this Neustrian tradition of the sign of the Cross is mixed with that of the royal monogram, not so much putting Robert’s personal mark on Frankish kingship as a wider Neustrian one. After all, when the non-royal Robertians became the royal Capetians, they inherited a lot of Carolingian traditions of how to be a king – but they had their own century-long tradition of rulership as well; and this particular example is a nice little case of how that influenced earlier Capetian kingship as well as the flashier traditions of the descendants of Charlemagne.

(This does of course raise questions about timing, such as why Hugh Capet didn’t do it, and why it took Robert until 1019 to start, which I need to think on; but that will wait until another day.)

*So it turns out I can’t do my usual trick of putting image sources in the captions, so I’ll put them here instead:

Diploma of Charles the Bald 

Coin of Charles the Bald

Diploma of Charles the Simple

Diploma of Ralph of Burgundy

Diploma of Louis IV

Diploma of Lothar

Diploma of Robert the Pious

**Which I actually really like, for the record; I just happen to think he’s wrong about this specific point.


On the Disappearance of West Frankish Church Councils

*IMPORTANT NOTE* As you’ll have noticed, I’ve changed the title of this blog. Being in Schwäbisch Hall, I’ve had reason to talk with people about my work, and in doing so have realised that the old title was really hard to Google. Hopefully now it’ll be easier; plus the new title has the happy benefit of better explaining what the blog is about. Anyway, on with the subject.

               As half-a-dozen-odd huge volumes of Latin show, there were a lot of Church councils – meetings of bishops and other ecclesiastical figures to determine doctrine and practice – in the eighth- and ninth-century Carolingian empire. These were important occasions: lots of flash, lots of pomp, and lots of opportunities for bishops to admonish the ruler about how he should rule. It’s therefore not surprising to discover that a lot of ideas about the theory underlying the royal and episcopal offices comes through largely in documents from major Church councils.

               In the East Frankish kingdom, this tradition continued into the tenth century, and councils such as that of Hohenaltheim in 916 or Ingelheim in 948 are fairly well-known by historians. However, in the West, the tradition ends. The council of Trosly in 909 is the last West Frankish council we have any texts from, and they seem to have stopped entirely from around 930. Why this should have been the case is a question which is increasingly preoccupying me.

               An obvious answer to suggest is that of violence: the late 920s also happens to be a time period when the West Frankish kingdom descends into the civil war which will occupy it until about 950 or so, with aftershocks until the late 960s. Maybe the political situation was too disordered to bother holding councils?

               This strikes me as unlikely. In the East Frankish kingdom, a comparable, if admittedly shorter, period of civil war in the 910s under King Conrad I produced the aforementioned council of Hohenaltheim, which not only brought together the kingdom’s bishops, but provided a more exalted definition of royal authority than ever – Conrad was referred to as a Christus! Besides, under Ralph, West Frankish councils continued to meet, even if we don’t have documents from them – the last one on record met during the siege of the fortress of Chateau-Thierry in 933. It seems to be in the reign of King Louis IV that the change really takes place.

               What I think may be happening is that we’re seeing an honest-to-God Anglo-Saxon influence on West Frankish kingship. Despite its political importance, despite the close ties between West Francia and England, and despite the fact that Louis IV spent his entire pre-royal life in England, after years of searching I have yet to find concrete evidence of Anglo-Saxon practices affecting Louis’ kingship – but here may perhaps be such a thing. As in the Frankish realm, eighth- and ninth-century England had a tradition of church councils such as those held at Clofesho (distressingly, despite the importance of the councils held there, we don’t actually know for sure where Clofesho was…). But by the late ninth century, this tradition had ended, or at least transformed. Not currently having access to a research library I want to be cautious here, but it looks as though the questions which had previously dealt with in Church councils was now dealt with in royal assemblies. This is not to draw a hard-and-fast dividing line between the two types of meetings; but the change in emphasis might have been significant in terms of having different corporate traditions.

               If Louis had been raised in such an environment, his ideas of how to deal with significant churchmen may not have involved the calling of capital-C Church Councils; certainly, he didn’t call any in his reign. (Ingelheim in 948, in which he was involved, clearly came out of East Frankish political practice.) Such a change in practice may have led to the changes in mentality that we can see in the latter part of the tenth century. But that’ll be the next post…