A short post for a quiet year. The early years of Odo’s reign were, if not salad days, at least less hectic than what would come after, although by that I just mean he was fighting Vikings rather than civil wars. Our main source, the Annals of Saint-Vaast, are mostly concerned with Viking fights and don’t say much about what was going on outside the north-east. Hence, if we were reliant on them, we wouldn’t know about this:
MGH Conc. V, no. 33 (July 891, Meung-sur-Loire)
In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 891, in the ninth indiction, by the royal command of the glorious king Odo, a synod was celebrated at Meung, on the river Mauve or Loire, in the church of the blessed confessor of Christ Liphard. Sundry bishops of churches gathered there.
There, while it dealt with divers matters regarding the welfare and business of the Church, the plea of the brothers of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, an abbey of the church of Sens, located in its suburb, was set out. They said that they had endured a great and dangerous loss for an immoderately long time.
Therefore, because many abbots from alien abbeys had been established over them as governing prelates by their pontiffs, that is, the bishops of the church of Sens, and certainly because it appeared against the rule of the blessed Benedict and the institution of the holy canons, it was enacted by the most blessed pontiffs, with Walter, venerable pontiff of the same place, the church of Sens, advising and even appealing for it, that no-one henceforth should be ordained and established as father of the monastery except he whom they should elect from amongst themselves by their disposition and free will.
Wherefore, it was solemnly decreed by the aforesaid bishops in this present privilege that anyone so thoughtless as to presume to violate this authority of such fathers, let them be held in the chains of anathema by the authority by which our lord Jesus Christ bestowed on his disciples the power to bind and loose, saying ‘Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matthew 18:18].
Therefore, it was strengthened by the hands of everyone, so that it might be confirmed by the assent of everyone. And everyone who was there subscribed, that is, the bishops and archbishops whose names are here:
Walter, undeservedly archbishop of the holy Church of Sens confirmed this. Edacius, archbishop of the church of Bourges. Erbern, archbishop of Tours. Theodard, archbishop of the church of Narbonne. Adalgar, bishop of Autun. May you always endure under the firm name of Agilmar [of Clermont](*). Herfred, a sinner bishop [of Auxerre]. Eumerius, bishop of Nevers. Aimeric, bishop of Chartres. Adolend, unworthy bishop of Albi, confirmed. Agilbert, by grace of God bishop of Béziers. Bishop Walter [of Orléans]. Servus Dei, humble bishop of the see of Girona. Warin, bishop of Cahors.
The humble archbishop Adald [of Sens](*).
(*) These two subscriptions are idiosyncratic: evidently Agilmar felt like showing off; whilst Archbishop Adald subscribed these acts several years later, something not unknown for Burgundian bishops.
Meung-sur-Loire is an abbey in the Orléanais, traditionally considered a heartland of Robertian power although probably more accurately in this time called a heartland of Odo’s personally (my suspicion is that’s because he’s closely allied to Bishop Walter of Orléans). Odo spent a lot of time here, and it makes sense that he’d gather a council of bishops together here.
This document is the only record we have of the synod of Meung-sur-Loire, but from the witness list it looks like it was a big ‘un – I count three different episcopal provinces, which isn’t bad. Noticeably absent are bishops from Rheims (probably because Archbishop Fulk absolutely hates Odo) and Rouen (quite possibly because Vikings are a bigger distraction).
What this shows most of all, once again, is that under Odo an awful lot stayed the same. In fact, big church councils weren’t to disappear until the 930s, even if their synodal records are no longer preserved. This doesn’t mean, though, that there was a late ninth-century sea change – Odo’s kingship is late Carolingian rule as normal. The sea change will come later…
In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 890, in the 8th indiction, the religious and full venerable Archbishop Bernoin of the holy see of Vienne visited the apostolic see to consult with the apostolic lord (under whose purview lies the care of and duty towards all churches) about certain needs of his church and the general needs of the whole realm. By his worthy report, he related the disturbance in this realm: how, after the death of the most glorious emperor Charles [the Fat] it had been for a long time without a king and prince, and was badly afflicted everywhere not only by its own inhabitants, who were checked by no rod of dominion; but also by pagans, for on one side the Northmen pressed in, devastating nearly everything; and on the other, the Saracens plundered Provence, returning the land to wilderness. After he had heard these reasons, and others of the same kind, the reverend apostolic lord Stephen [V], moved to tears, advised by his most holy exhortation, both in words and in writings directed generally to all the cisalpine Gauls, both archbishops and other venerable bishops, that everyone should unanimously and concordantly give their consent to Louis, grandson of the late Louis [II], most glorious of emperors, and establish him as king over the people of God.
When, therefore, we had diligently discovered that the assent of our holy, catholic and apostolic mother Church favoured this election, we – to wit, lord Aurelian, archbishop of the see of Lyon, and also lord Rostagnus, archbishop of the town of Arles, and the venerable Arnald, archbishop of Embrun, and lord Bernoin, archbishop of Vienne, himself, by whose report we reverently accepted the will of the apostolic lord; with many others of our fellow bishops – all gathered together in the city of Valence, we investigated, discussed and inquired in accordance with God’s will whether we should worthily and reasonably establish him as king over us in accordance with the admonishments of the apostolic lord, whose writings we had to hand.
And so, everyone agreed about him that no-one would make a better king than he, who came from an imperial bloodline and who had already grown into a lad of good character. Although his age seemed insufficient to curb the barbarians’ savagery, it could nonetheless be crushed by the counsel and strength, by God’s assistance, of the noble princes of this realm, whose number is not small. Supported above all by the assistance of Richard [the Justiciar], the most famous of dukes and an extraordinary prince, and moreover of lady Ermengard, the most glorious of queens, whose deeply profound and razor-sharp prudence was given to her by God, to which was joined the worthy exhortation of the aforesaid bishops and the counsel of the whole realm’s magnates, the realm’s advantage will be managed very worthily, in a God-fearing way.
Finally, supported and encouraged by such confidence, as we believe through God’s will, we elected the aforesaid Louis, son of the most excellent of kings Boso and decreed he be anointed as king, judging worthy for the role him to whom Charles [the Fat], the most all-surpassing of emperors, had already conceded the royal dignity; and of whose realm Arnulf [of Carinthia], who became his successor, was proven to be a protector and supporter in everything, through his sceptre and through his wisest legates, that is, Bishop Riculf [of Soissons](*) and Count Berthold [from Alemannia]. Supported by such and so great a permission of authority, everyone came into the same city, and by common consent we decreed that this royal record should be made and, preferring that it remain valid and fruitfully thriving for all time, we strengthened it with our own hands and we each subscribed.
(*) It’s also been proposed that this is Bishop Theodulf of Chur. Riculf of Soissons seems like a better bet, though – Fulk of Rheims was closely tied to Arnulf of Carinthia’s court, to the extent of being a papal legate to sort out various problems in the East Frankish church, and it’s quite possible that one of his suffragans would be sent on an errand, particularly in light of the Rheims archdiocese’s previous support of Louis.
Here’s a cool thing. You remember we’ve talked before about how you don’t have to be count of anywhere, and there are cases of people who weren’t bishops of anywhere? Well, here we have a case where we have a king who is not king of anywhere, or at least not of anyone. You see right at the end there, where they note that Charles the Fat had already – key word, already – conceded the royal dignity to Louis? That means Louis was king, just one with no subjects. On Monday, of course, Louis wasn’t being called king at all, but as this document acknowledges he kind of was.
The ambiguity doesn’t end here. The picture of kingship in the first paragraph is fairly typical: kings are supposed to repress the wicked and defend against the pagan. It all sounds like the king-making liturgies we spent a good chunk of last year looking at. But then paragraph three says that he’s too young to do any of this – it’s actually Richard the Justiciar who’s doing most of the fighting. One imagines the scribe wincing as he writes this: because Louis’ claim to kingship isn’t straightforwardly hereditary, and he’s manifestly inappropriate to perform any of the functions of kingship, his erstwhile backers have had to keep a lot of the framework of the Carolingian discourse about kingship even as it groans under the strain of a situation it’s not really set up to handle.
Or do we? There’s an article by Ross Samson called ‘Carolingian Palaces and the Poverty of Ideology’ which every now and then I read and worry about. Basically, Samson argues that despite the efforts of contemporary (meaning early-to-mid ‘90s) archaeologists to argue that Carolingian palace architecture was an expression of ideology, in fact there wasn’t anything coherent about their architectural elements at all: they were a thrown-together mess of historical and cultural references meant to go ‘hey, isn’t the king impressive?’ rather than anything more sophisticated.
This is usually cited as ‘for another perspective see…’, which means he’s probably wrong in his wider point (one thing which has happened since the article was published in 1994 is that it has becomeveryclear that huge chunks of the Carolingian elite were highly-educated and thoughtful, even if not terribly profound, which makes his claim at the end that ‘gosh, Aachen is big’ is a better representation of one of Charlemagne’s count’s thought processes than ‘reformatio et correctio’ very old-fashioned), but despite this, he’s put his finger on something which bothers us in the time between turning off the light and going to sleep.
That being: what if these people don’t care about consistency? Doesn’t this description look as though the bishops of Provence are trying to legitimise a fait accompli by throwing everything which makes a good king (The pope’s backing! Election! Character! Approval from a more legitimate king! Heredity! Justice and warfare!) at it despite the fact that some of these ideas don’t work with each other and some don’t work well with the eight-year-old they’ve now made their ruler.
Phrased like that, some of you might be nodding and going, ‘well, duh – these are powerful people, they’re probably all about that hardcore Machiavellianism.’ But cynical Realpolitik doesn’t really fit either – again, Louis is eight. Child kings are problematic, for pretty much the reasons this document outlines – they can’t lead armies, and they can’t really do much in the way of decision-making or law enforcement. This is why Charles the Simple doesn’t seem to have gotten a crack at kingship in 884 or 888. So choosing Louis as king implies a commitment to Louis specifically which goes beyond the simple demands of political exigency – if you want a king who won’t bother you, Arnulf and Odo are far away and already crowned; if you want a king who was related to Boso but who is effective, Richard the Justiciar’s around; and so on. So we seem to be left with a situation in which a group of magnates are making a king based on a principled choice, but then justifying it with a different set of principles which don’t fit. Presumably this isn’t actually what’s happening – one just has to stand in the right place so that everything which looks out of alignment lines up. If that happens, I’ll let you know…
Louis the Blind had a really weird career, starting right with his by-name (although sat as we are in 890, there’s still over a decade to go before he’s blinded in an Italian misadventure – of course, unless your name is ‘Otto I’ and it’s after the 950s, I’m not sure anything happens in tenth-century Italian politics which couldn’t be described as a misadventure…). To start with, this is currently yearthree of dealing with the new kings following Charles the Fat’s succession crisis; but Louis was the only one who didn’t get crowned in 888.
Largely I think this is due to the nature of the Frankish overkingship we spoke about before. Louis’ status is a bit paradoxical: at the same time, his position is very strong and very weak. On one hand, of all the kings who came after Charles the Fat, he’s probably got the strongest claim to legitimacy via his ‘adoption’ – whatever we think happened, it definitely involved receiving Charles’ imprimatur qua kingship. He’s also (as we’ll see this week) got a fairly solid amount of local backing: the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Lyon and Vienne, as well as further south, and a fairly substantial chunk of magnates. On the other hand, he was also the son of a sort-of king and his royal legitimacy was thus heavily tied in to the Carolingian system. This necessarily put him in a strange position after the accession of Arnulf of Carinthia: Louis might have been adopted by Charles the Fat, but what would happen next?
DD Provence no. 28 (890, Varennes)
In the 898th [sic] year from the Incarnation of the Lord, in the 8th indiction, when Queen Ermengard and all the princes of Louis, son of Boso, had convened at an assembly at the place which is called Varennes-le-Grand, there came before her presence the monks of the monastery of Gigny, that is, Abbot Berno and the others placed under his rule, lamenting and bewailing with monastic humility that the same queen’s vassal Bernard had possessed their goods by a wrongful invasion, that is, the cell of Baume, which they had previously acquired through a precept from King Rudolph [I of Transjurane Burgundy]. Both this most beneficent and venerable of queens and all the princes, who had come together from all over, diligently paying attention and more diligently listening to this, summoned the aforesaid Bernard into their midst and questioned him as to by what right he held the same goods.
He responded that he believed that he held the aforesaid goods through Louis’ gift. The queen did not agree with his responses, nor did the others deem that It was worthy to consent to them.
And then he, by the queen’s command, quit the said place in the presence of everyone, and promised that he would not invade the same goods anymore. Then, when this had been done, the lady queen commanded both the abbot and the other brothers to write this notice of confirmation, so that they might quietly hold the aforesaid place, contradicted hereafter by no-one.
And, that this notice might be able to endure firm through the course of many ages, she confirmed it with her own hand and asked it be affirmed by the hands of both the bishops and the magnates who had had come together there from all over.
S. Bernard, who made this quitclaim. S. Queen Ermengard, who commanded this be done and asked it be confirmed. S. Archbishop Rostagnus of Arles. S. Bishop Ardrad of the holy church of Chalon-sur-Saône. S. Bishop Isaac of Grenoble. The glorious Count Richard [the Justiciar] confirmed this. Count Guy [of Oscheret] confirmed this. Count Hugh [of Bassigny] confirmed this. Count Adelelm [of Valence] confirmed this. Count Rather [of Nevers] confirmed this. Count Theobert [of Apt] confirmed this. Count Ragenard [of Auxerre] confirmed this. Ansegis confirmed this. Raimbald the herald confirmed this. Gormar confirmed this. Adelard confirmed this. Aldemar confirmed this.
Enacted at Varennes.
So, as you will have noticed, as of this point Louis is not in fact king. This is particularly interesting because it means we need to change tack dramatically and talk about Ermengard. We’ve met her before providing the ballast of legitimacy to Boso’s claims for a throne, but here she is the queen, and that’s very strange. Carolingian queens could be very important; Ottonian queens even more so; and this effect is amplified when we’re talking about Italy. Ermengard’s mother Engelberga remained a potent force in Frankish politics after death of her husband Louis II even though she was not the mother of any sons. However, in both the Carolingian and Ottonian periods it’s generally predicated that the power of queens rests largely on their status as consort, regent for an under-age king, or queen mother and here – well, stop me if I’m wrong and I will immediately qualify this sentence, but is Ermengard not here a ruling queen?
OK, sure, looking at things in terms of the big picture her power in Provence rests on the eventual accession of Louis the Blind. But here in 890, and presumably for several years before that, we have a situation where there is one person with a royal title making the decisions and it’s not Louis. In fact, Ermengard is directly and on her own authority overruling Louis here: what seems to have happened is that the princeling tried to reward a follower and the queen no-selled it. This is perhaps understandable – Louis is, maybe, eight years old at this point – but in equivalent situations, for example with Otto III, the royal child was still treated as a full king. Thus, Ermengard’s power seems unusually explicit here.
That’s not the only interesting thing about this charter. The political response to 888 was as we have noted at length heavily improvised, and it’s very striking that here major figures from what would later be ‘West Frankish’ Burgundy are attending court with ‘Provençal’ magnates. We’ve commented before on the fluid nature of politics in the region south of the Vosges, west of the Rhine and the Haut-Jura, north of the Vercors and east of Velay, Forez and the Morvan – basically, northern Provence, southern Burgundy, and what is now western Switzerland. I like to call this the Transararian Fluidity Zone (after the old name for the river Saône, which lies in the middle of its core), and it’s here in full force. Exactly where the border between Louis’ sphere of influence and Odo’s in this region actually was is very fuzzy. Odo has by this point received the submission of northern Burgundy as well as Adalgar of Autun, but not of the southern bishoprics of Chalon and Mâcon. Moreover, Richard the Justiciar and his followers are here in force, many from north of Chalon, and I don’t think it’s really right to classify them as belonging to one kingdom or the other – they are equally well parts of both. These guys are by now used to working together, and whether or not they’re currently dealing with Louis or with Odo probably doesn’t matter all that much.
There is a bit of personal advantage in this. Richard the Justiciar, as we will also see on Wednesday, appears in Louis’ early documents as a very high-status figure indeed, much higher than he appears in West Frankish contexts at this point; and the same extends to his followers. Ragenard of Auxerre up there is otherwise almost universally known as a viscount, not as a count. But a lot of it is simply the natural flow of politics in this region – note how the meeting is enforcing a grant by Rudolf of Burgundy (who, if you remember, had as one of his first acts in 888 made a major grant to Richard’s wife Adelaide), adding an extra king to the proceedings.
It almost wouldn’t matter who the judgement was on behalf of, except that Abbot Berno will show up again. This is the first presaging we have of one of the most significant developments we’ll be covering: Berno, in 890, is abbot of the Juran abbeys of Baume and Gigny; but he also has ties to Aquitaine, and in about twenty years, these are going to come to fruition…
You may have been wondering why I spent last week dealing with Rudolph I of Burgundy rather than our old friend Odo, formerly count of Paris and ruler of the Neustrian March, but after 888 West Frankish king. The answer is that he didn’t issue any diplomas in 888. Why? Because he had to spend that entire year putting out fires.
As mentioned, the succession to Charles the Fat was a horrendous mess of muddle and improvisation, no less in the West Frankish kingdom than anywhere else. Quite apart from anything else, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims appears to have loathed Odo for reasons which remain unclear, and he and Geilo of Langres invited Guy of Spoleto to be king instead. However, Guy couldn’t make his claims stick, and despite being crowned by Geilo at Langres, quickly shuffled off back to Italy. (Geilo died shortly thereafter, meaning we have to bid a sad farewell to a man who’s been one of our main characters until now.) Meanwhile, Fulk, along with some Flemish allies, turned to Arnulf, who was delaying in the East, and who evidently preferred to have Odo as a respectful underking than rule himself: Fulk got a flat no, and Odo performed due homage to Arnulf at a meeting at Worms. At the same time, Odo was continuing to mop up the Viking invaders, winning an important victory at Montfaucon.
Only in 889 did he get round to moving towards the south of the kingdom. The main figure in western Aquitaine, Count Ramnulf of Poitiers, had for reasons unknown given up on his own bid for kingship, and now acknowledged Odo as king. Odo thereafter held an assembly at the abbey of Micy, on the Loire, where he issued a lot of diplomas. (Very) roughly one in five of Odo’s surviving diplomas come from this one meeting, as Odo was recognised as king over the Aquitanians.
In the name of God, the highest and eternal king. Odo, by grace of God king.
Whenever We lend the ears of Our Highness and proffer assent to the just and reasonable solicitations of servants of God and Our followers, We exercise the custom of royal majesty and through this We doubt not at all that We will more easily gain possession of the prize of eternal happiness.
For that reason, let it be known to all of those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present or future, that the venerable man Theodoric, abbot of the monastery of Solignac which was constructed of old by Eligius, bishop of Noyon, in the time of that most glorious king of the Franks Dagobert [I], located on the river Briance, which the said pontiff constructed in honour of the holy mother of God Mary and Saint Peter and all the apostles and Dionysius and his companions and Pancratius, Crispin and Crispinian, and the holy confessors Hilary, Martin and Medard, coming reverently before Our Clemency, appealed to Us that We might deign to receive the same monastery, with all the men and estates and goods justly and legally pertaining to it, and also at the same time with those things divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said monastery through its followers, under the tutelage of Our immunity and the cover of Our defence.
We assented to his prayers with clement favour, and moreover because of them We commanded a precept of Our Magnitude be made with a special condition, through which We wish it to be known to all Our followers that We have taken the aforesaid monastery, as previously stated, with all the goods pertaining to it, under the tutelage of Our immunity, and We order and command that none of those faithful to God and Us, in present or future times, should be permitted to enter the same monastery or any of the estates or fields or woods pertaining to it to hear cases or determine public judgements or seize provisions or exact billeting or spare horses or exact any render of any kind. Rather, let whatever can be exacted from the goods of the aforesaid monastery accomplish an increase in the stipends for the abbots and monks serving God in the same place.
We establish, meanwhile, that the monks serving the Lord in the same place should have, in accordance with the institution of the Rule of Father Benedict, permission for all time to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, and no-one should be permitted at any time to diminish or take anything away from them, or to disturb or distrain the men pertaining to them or dwelling on their land or take securities. Rather, let whatever can be gotten from them benefit for all time the rulers and monks of the oft-said monastery in acts of charity and accomplish the liberation of Our soul.
On the other hand, if anyone should endeavour to expunge these enactments of Our goodwill, let the Lord strike him down with such vengeance that he who wished to infringe this Our authority can in no way make good his wish.
But that this authority of Our Magnificence might be observed for all time inviolably both by Us and by Our successors, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We had it sealed with Our signed.
Sign of Odo, most glorious of kings.
Troand the notary witnessed on behalf of Ebalus [of Saint-Denis].
Bishop Frothar [of Bourges] ambasciated, Troand the notary wrote this.
Happily in the name of God, amen.
Given on the ides of June [13th June], in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 889, in the 7th indiction, in the second year of the reign of the glorious king lord Odo.
Solignac was an important abbey south of Limoges, dating back to Merovingian times, when the great bishop-saints of the period went all around Gaul founding abbeys. It’s therefore interesting that the charter begins by referencing King Dagobert I, the first king to be buried at Saint-Denis, the most important abbey of Odo’s old county, over which his new archchancellor Ebalus (Ramnulf’s brother and Odo’s old wartime comrade from the Siege of Paris) was abbot. It’s a nice textual link between Odo’s authority and local tradition. (This isn’t, I think, a dynastic thing, because Dagobert is mentioned in an older diploma issued by Pippin II of Aquitaine, a Carolingian; but that it’s brought up here where it hadn’t been under Charles the Bald must be significant.)
Perhaps more important for Odo’s authority is the sheer range of notables he has here, in this one charter alone. We can see the abbot of Solignac, Ebalus himself (who was also abbot of Saint-Hilaire in Poitiers amongst others) and Archbishop Frothar of Bourges, another old hand from Charles the Bald’s court, who was abbot of the abbey of Saint-Julien de Brioude (and, like Ebalus, was someone Odo knew from back when: as lay abbot of Saint-Martin, Odo and Frothar had been part of a property exchange only a year or so earlier). These are major figures, and their visibly taking part in Odo’s court is in itself the king’s rule extending over Aquitaine. Koziol has talked about this assembly in terms of bilateral negotiation between Odo and Ramnulf, and about the shrinking of politics as we go into the tenth century, but doing so ignores the sheer number of stakeholders present in this diploma. Odo had to do a major balancing act, and as we shall see in later weeks, this was a very tricky proposition indeed.
We’re here! That legendary year 888, the all-caps Fall of the Carolingian Empire, a year of the succession crisis which SHOOK Frankish Europe to its very CORE and had mostly SHORT-TERM CONSEQUENCES with LITTLE IMPACT ON POLITICS OR POLITICAL CULTURE!
Yeah, I said it. Come at me, bro.
Background: things might have been looking relatively placid from our West Frankish perspective lately, but in the wider world, things weren’t so hot. Charles the Fat had systematically failed to produce a legitimate son – not a world-shattering problem in 880, when he was one of five living male Carolingians; but by 888, after a decade of unforeseen deaths in his family, he was the last one left, and had no obvious heir – or, rather, no obvious heir he wanted to recognise.
Of the four potential options, no-one seems to have considered the future Charles the Simple, a young child being fostered in Aquitaine. The emperor tried to have his own illegitimate son, named Bernard, acknowledged as heir by the pope, which didn’t work. He also may have adopted Louis the Blind as his heir – he certainly adopted him in some sense, and although it’s not clear what was intended, a very weird text known as the Vision of Charles the Fat suggests that Louis was being pushed by some people at least as an heir for the whole empire. (Most historians, it must be said, think that the vision dates from Louis’ coronation in 890 rather than from before 888. I don’t think this fits well into the circumstances of 890 and that there is at least a case that it should be dated earlier.)
In any case, the most obvious candidate was Charles the Fat’s illegitimate nephew Arnulf of Carinthia. Arnulf was an adult, a successful warrior, and had support amongst the aristocracy, particularly in his heartland of Bavaria. Yet Charles didn’t want to acknowledge him as heir, in great part because Arnulf had ended up rebelling against him in a series of events known as the Wilheminer War. Notker the Stammerer’s Life of Charlemagne, which is probably the most entertaining work of pseudo-history from the entire Carolingian era, was written not least to try and persuade Charles to stop ignoring Arnulf.
By November 887, two things had come together. First, one of Charles’ schemes to displace Arnulf looked like it would have some degree of success; and second, the emperor was very, very ill. At an assembly in Frankfurt, a group of East Frankish nobles launched a sudden coup to replace Charles with Arnulf. Charles was pensioned off to an estate where he died shortly thereafter – he was very, very ill – and Arnulf…
Arnulf hightailed it back to his powerbase, first to Bavaria then to Pannonia, not coming back west until May 888. In the meantime, things got very muddy very quickly. Arnulf had only been made king by the East Frankish nobility, and Charles the Fat actually hadn’t been deposed. When Charles died, and Arnulf tarried, it must have seemed unclear that Arnulf was even going to try to be king outside the eastern kingdom.
And so, over winter 887 and spring 888, a group of other kings sprang up. This, I think, was fundamentally compelled by necessity. The Franks needed kings, not least to lead their defence – at this time, the north of the West Frankish kingdom was subject to serious Viking attacks not least from the fallout of the 886 siege of Paris – and I think there was also an element of getting in there first – if your guy wasn’t crowned, then your rival’s might be. Hence the confusion over exactly how many kings there were going to be, and where they would rule. In the West, Odo of Paris faced off against both Ramnulf of Aquitaine (who didn’t make any claims to kingship stick) and Guy of Spoleto (who lost and went to Italy). In Italy, Guy fought against Berengar of Friuli. In the Middle Kingdom, Rudolph of Transjurane Burgundy had himself crowned king, largely it appears as a challenge to Arnulf. It’s clear from the degree of confusion that this was an unexpected scenario, and there was a lot of improvising going on, although I’ll be posting more about the fallout from this on Wednesday.
But, speaking of the now-king Rudolph, his kingdom is probably the one genuinely new development of 888. There are strong implications that Transjurane Burgundy was a defined unit before 888, but it had never been the centre of a kingdom. So let’s take a look at this new kingdom’s new king’s first diploma.
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Rudolph, by favour of divine clemency king.
Since it behooves royal eminence that it should proffer beneficent attention towards its subjects and bring their just petitions to effect, it is above all befitting that it should clemently share its liberality with those who exert the promptest devotion in its service.
And through this let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God both present, that is, and future know that there came before the clemency of Our Magnitude Our sweetest and most beloved sister Adelaide, seeking and supplicating that We might through a precept of Our royal dignity concede to her for her lifetime the abbey of Romainmôtier, which was constructed in honour of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and is sited in the county of Vaud; and that after her death she might have power to leave it to whichever of her heirs she wishes.
We received this petition with the deepest sincerity and through the authority which We have We bestow upon the same woman the said principal abbey of Romainmôtier for as long as she lives. When, moreover, God deigns to summon her from her body, let her have permission and by all means relinquish it to whomsoever of her heirs she might elect.
And that this Our largess might be held more firmly and be conserved undisturbedly for all time, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We order it be sealed with the impression of Our signet.
Sign of Rudolph, most pious of kings.
Berengar the notary witnessed on behalf of Archbishop and Chancellor Theodoric [of Besançon].
Given on the 4th ides of June [10th June], in the first year, with Christ propitious, of Rudolph, most pious of kings, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 888, in the 6th indiction.
(*) The MGH editor is very firmly against Uabre villa being Walperswil and insists we simply don’t know where it is. Some modern scholars do still go with Walperswil so I’ve included it, but it shouldn’t be taken as a reliable identification.
This is very much improvised. The editor notes that the scribe appears to have come from the abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune, where Rudolph was lay abbot and which lay at the centre of his power. The scribe clearly knew what royal diplomas looked like, and was trying to do it properly, but did not himself have any experience in writing the things, hence why the script looks a little off by the standards of regular royal acts. This is probably to be expected – none of the kings of 888 except Arnulf himself expected to be kings a year earlier, so it’s not as though they could have clerics practising for their inevitable moment of triumph.
This also makes sense in the context of Rudolph’s reign, because it’s not immediately clear where he was trying to be king of: he appears to have been made king once in Transjurane Burgundy and then again at Toul, before Arnulf came and attacked him, which suggests that he was trying for the whole of Lotharingia. This is a controversial point, but I lean towards thinking that, like Boso, Rudolph was in fact going for as much as he could get away with. Political geography was fairly fluid at this point, and no-one knew what the surviving kingdoms would eventually shake down as – in the west, for instance, Odo ending up as ruler of Aquitaine as well as the north was at the least not completely certain, thanks to Count Ramnulf; had things gone really badly for Rudolph, Transjurane Burgundy could have been a similar blip.
Consequently, it’s very interesting that the diploma is for Rudolph’s sister Adelaide. Adelaide had probably been married to Richard the Justiciar since the early 880s, and Richard’s connections were quite far-spread: his family had interests in Lotharingia which his son Boso of Vitry would pick up, Richard himself had ties in various places in Burgundy, and – as we’ll be seeing in a few weeks – he was very intimately involved in the early days of Louis the Blind’s regime. We’ve seen before that in this region, things can be very fluid and cross-border activity is the norm rather than the exception. What this diploma looks like, then, is trying to bring Adelaide on side, and through her all her marital family’s links, in order to try and build a wide-ranging network of support for Rudolph’s kingship bid.
This is particularly interesting if Uabre villa is, as several historians have suggested, near Toul – in that case, it becomes particularly intimately tied to Lotharingian politics in a way which, although it didn’t work out in the long term, suggests that Rudolph was making a very serious try to push his kingdom’s boundaries north.
Has it really taken this long to get to a private charter? Huh. I guess back when I was going to talk about Neustrian governmentality under 882 the overwhelming predominance of royal diplomas up to this point seemed less obvious; but that’s been moved well down the schedule; and so it’s come to pass that up to this point it’s been all kings all the time. To some extent, of course, this is a function of the nature of the surviving material. Private charter preservation (although there is a small blip in the 890s and 900s) doesn’t really ramp up until we’re dealing with material from the mid-tenth century, so to some extent it was inevitable, especially given that I prefer to be dealing with documents which are individually significant.
Today, though, we’ll be talking about, not Neustrian governance, but Burgundian. During the mid-to-late-ninth century, the West Frankish rulers lashed together their rule out of a series of regionally-customised compromises, deals, and experiments which meant that, despite the presence of a common political culture, different regions can look quite unlike one another under the hood. Burgundy is no exception here. Where in previous weeks I was able to use phrases like ‘Hugh the Abbot basically was Neustria’, I couldn’t say the same about Burgundy. Instead, the figures we’ve been meeting from that region are men like Adalgar of Autun and Geilo of Langres: super-bishops, who despite not being archbishops or provincial metropolitans, are very rich and very powerful; and I think it is they, rather than lay magnates, who are the Carolingian kings’ go-to guys for dealing with certainly southern Burgundy. Which brings us to 887 – what does this look like in practice?
In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 887, and in the 2nd year of the imperial rule in Gaul of the most serene emperor augustus lord Charles, in the 5th indiction, on the 15th kalends of June [18th May], a sacred convent of bishops was in the name of Christ brought together at the church of the holy martyr Marcellus in the suburbs of Chalon-sur-Saône to establish the peace and tranquillity of the holy Church of God and settle Church business. Present there were the lords and most holy archbishops Aurelian [of Lyon], Bernoin [of Vienne], Theotrand [of Tarantaise], and as well the most reverend bishops Adalgar [of Autun], Geilo [of Langres], Stephen [of Chalon], Gerald [of Mâcon], Adalbald [of Belley] and Isaac [of Valence].
Then, the abovewritten Geilo, reverend bishop of the church of Langres, along with the aforesaid fathers residing in this sacrosanct convent, brought to their attention the edict of a precept from the aforesaid lord and most excellent of emperors the ever august Charles, bestowed on him, that is, concerning all of the goods of the church committed to him by God, both those which emperors and kings had presented to his aforesaid church in ancient times and restored by a precept of their authority, and also those which he had acquired in his own time through precepts from the most glorious lord emperor, so that through this aforesaid edict not only he, but all of his successors, should in the name of God be able to rightfully hold onto them without disturbance from anyone.
In fact, here are the names of these goods: that is, the castle of Dijon, where there is a church in honour of the blessed protomartyr Stephen, and next to the same castle the monastery of the holy martyr Benignus, and in the district of Tonnerrois the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Molosmes, and the castle of Tonnerre itself, where there is a church in honour of the blessed Anianus, with all the things properly its own; as well in the same district the little abbey of Saint-Symphorien, in the place which is called Ligny-le-Châtel, and many other goods lying in the same county. Finally, within the walls of the same city of Langres is the abbey of Saint-Pierre, and nearby, in the suburbs of the same city, two little abbeys, to wit, Saint-Amateur and Saint-Ferréol, and the monastery of Saints-Geômes; moreover, in the district of Atuyer, the monastery of Saint-Pierre de Bèze. There are many other goods, little abbeys and possessions of divers other goods which this same church of Langres is seen to justly, reasonably, and rightfully hold onto.
It was also shown in the same edict that the abovementioned bishop had in his time acquired through precepts from the aforesaid lord and most serene emperor augustus estates and other goods properly his church’s in castles, moneying-rights, markets, and immunities: that is, in the district of Tonnerrois, the abbey of Moutiers-Saint-Jean; and in the district of Mémontois, the abbey of Saint-Seine; and in the district of Atuyer, estates of these names: Gray-la-Ville, Pontailler-sur-Saône, Montigny-sur-Vingeanne, and as well Rancenay; and in the district of Lassois, and in the castle of Mont-Lassois itself, the little abbey of Saint-Marcel; and in the district of Troiesin, the estate which they call L’Ormeau.
Later, the same venerable Bishop Geilo humbly appealed to the aforementioned lords and most holy fathers and bishops, with as many prayers as he could, that they might deign to corroborate the edict of this precept by a privilege of their authority, so that it might be held more firmly and certainly and lest it be able to be infringed by anyone’s thoughtless obstinacy.
The aforementioned lords and most holy fathers, lending the ears of Their Mildnesses to his most pious and praiseworthy of solicitations, confirmed the aforesaid edict established concerning all the goods of the church of Langres through this privilege of their authority in this manner, and in confirming it established by their episcopal sanction that, in the manner in which the said emperor augustus had confirmed these aforesaid goods for the church of Langres by his imperial institution, so too do we confirm them by our canonical and episcopal authority, to wit, on the terms that no prince or any judicial power hereafter, or any presumptuous person, should presume to impede, disturb or sacrilegiously invade them; rather, let them be inviolably and perpetually held in their entirety in the same state as they are currently united to and stabilised for the said church of Langres.
But if anyone, overcome by thoughtless and sacrilegious obstinacy, and blinded by unshakeable greed, presumes to infringe in any way that which We have confirmed by Our and God’s authority, let them know that they shall pay the penalty of eternal damnation and be burned in the everlasting fire with the Devil and his angels and with Judas, the betrayer of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ and tortured by a perpetual penalty with Dathan and Abiram; and in addition, let them be kept from the threshold of the holy Church of God and from the company of all the Christian faithful for as long as it takes until they repent of their criminal obstinacy and take care to assuage the wrath of God Almighty, which they feared not to incur, with worthy penitence and satisfaction and amends.
And thus, in subscribing We marked down a very clear confirmation of these enactments with Our hands below, and We requested it be similarly corroborated through Christ and in Christ with the no less worthy subscriptions of absent priests.
Geilo, humble bishop of the holy church of Langres, related, consented to, and subscribed this privilege. Aurelian, poor bishop of the holy church of Lyon, in the name of Christ, strengthened this privilege. Bernoin, humble bishop of the holy church of Vienne, subscribed. Adalgar, bishop of Autun, subscribed. Stephen, humble bishop of the holy church of Chalon-sur-Saône, subscribed. Adalbald, bishop of the church of Belley, subscribed. Gerald, bishop of the holy church of Mâcon, subscribed. Isaac, humble bishop of the church of Valence, subscribed.
Pretty high-powered, huh? Three different archbishops, most of the major bishops of southern Burgundy and northern Provence… it’s all happening. This actually reflects some of the fallout from the death of King Lothar II decades previously – at this point, the ecclesiastical provinces of Vienne, Lyon and Tarantaise all make a sensible political unit. In that light, this synod can only be seen as a way to run that unit.
What we can’t do is see this as a strictly ecclesiastical affair. Synods are something bishops are supposed to do in any case, but when all the most important figures in your region are bishops, a synod becomes not simply a tool of ecclesiastical governance but a tool of, well, governance-no-qualifier-needed. Most of our evidence for the synod of Saint-Marcel comes from acts like this, charters in favour of Geilo of Langres’ churches. If you look at the language, these are in fact often confirming diplomas of Charles the Fat. That is to say, in practice, they are mediating the emperor’s authority and deciding on how (and indeed if) it is going to be applied in their area.
There’s also a political context here. At this point, Geilo has fairly recently returned from the emperor’s side in Alsace. Boso of Provence, long a friendless fugitive in the hills around Vienne, has finally died; and this raises the question of what to do with his son Louis the Blind. Louis’ mother Engelberga was negotiating with Charles in February, and Charles and Louis were reconciled that summer, with Charles adopting Louis (whatever that meant). This is particularly significant in light of the attendance here: Aurelian of Lyon, Adalgar of Autun, and Theotrand of Tarantaise had been supporters of Boso in 879, and Stephen of Chalon, Gerald of Mâcon and Isaac of Valence were successors of men who had. MacLean proposes quite reasonably that Geilo’s role here is to work through the Charles-Louis deal with these men, reinforcing his status both as the most important imperial fidelis in Burgundy and as the Burgundian bishops’ point man at court. The synod, then, comes across even more as a political assembly of the regional potentates; and we will see in upcoming months how this transitions into the tenth century. But first: 888.
It’s time to introduce another important member of our cast of characters. By late 886, Hugh the Abbot, ruler of Neustria and dominating figure in West Frankish politics, was dead. His command passed to the son of its original ruler Robert the Strong: Odo, count of Paris. Odo’s rise to command the Neustrian March was by no means inevitable. After his father’s death, Charles the Bald had taken his father’s remaining honores away from Odo and his brother Robert – neither of whom can have been terribly old at the time – and they went to live with their relatives in the Rhineland, where Odo can be seen with his uncle Megingoz I of Wormsgau giving land to Lorsch in 876. Megingoz died in around 880, which might have been the impetus for Odo to move back west. Frankly, the beginnings of Odo’s career are very shady: how a relative/client of an East Frankish count went from being a no-one in 876 to being count of Paris in 882 is open to speculation.
But hey, I love speculation! One interesting piece of evidence is an interpolated diploma which can be dated to summer 884, probably in the general area of Worms or Metz, which features a Count Robert as intercessor. This Robert is identified by historians as a) Odo’s brother Robert of Neustria and b) count of Namur, for reasons I in the first case don’t really understand and in the second case think is a dubious assumption – to wit, that because the document deals with land in the area, Robert must have been count there. However, if the identification of Count Robert as Robert of Neustria is correct, then that might be Odo’s in – Robert of Neustria used his family connections to become a count, and then, when Charles the Fat took over the West Frankish kingdom, the emperor was able to appoint the brother of one of his more conspicuously loyal Lotharingian followers to the important stronghold of Paris. This requires Odo’s appointment to be in 885 rather than 882, but we have no solid evidence pinning him to Paris until that year anyway. (It also implies although doesn’t require that Robert is Odo’s older brother rather than vice-versa; but historians are always very quick to assume that the most successful brother is also the oldest. See also Ralph of Burgundy, although I think in that case his not necessarily being the eldest brother is rather easier to make a case for.)
Anyway, in 885 Odo became the West Frankish celebrity count. That year, a huge Viking army besieged Paris, and Odo, Bishop Gozlin of Paris (who died during the siege), Abbot Ebalus of Saint-Denis, and Gozlin’s eventual successor Anskeric led the Frankish resistance, which was eventually successful, although it took over until 886 for Charles to lead an army to relieve the city.
In the aftermath, and with Hugh the Abbot having meanwhile died, Charles granted Odo the Neustrian March. Odo was Charles’ favourite in the West Frankish kingdom.
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by mercy of the same God Almighty emperor augustus.
If We clemently lend the ears of Our Imperial Dignity to the petitions of servants of God and Our followers, and We furnish the work of Our Munificence for their advantage, We little doubt that this will benefit Us both in the state of Our empire and in the reward of perpetual repayment.
And so, let the industry of all Our followers, to wit, present and future, know that one of Our followers, Count Odo, made known to the highness of Our Dignity how, by a tenancy agreement, the venerable abbot the late Hugh [the Abbot], that is, Our dearest kinsman, with the consent of the canons of Saint-Aignan [d’Orléans], gave to certain venerable bishops, Archbishop Adalald [of Tours] and also the brother of the same, Bishop Raino [of Angers] a certain estate named Aschères-le-Marché, in the district of Orléanais, in the vicariate of Lion-en-Beauce, with all its appendages and goods appertaining to it, by a tenancy agreement as We said; and in recompense for the same service, they gave from their own goods to Saint-Aignan and to the same Abbot Hugh and the canons dwelling in the abbey 7 manses with bondsmen of both sexes, with a chapel constructed therein in honour of the mother of God Mary, such that as long as the aforesaid bishops lived, they should hold and possess everything , all the same goods, to wit, the estate of Aschère and the estate of Bracieux, where the aforesaid 7 manses are located, in the district of Blésois in the vicariate of Huisseau-sur-Cosson, quietly, on the condition that they pay each year 5 silver solidi for the lighting of Saint-Aignan, and in addition that they should pay the tithes from the demesne labour and from the demesne vineyards and from the corvées to the canons of the aforesaid Saint-Aignan, for the hospice of the same saint.
They appealed to the serenity of Our Highness on this matter, that We might deign to confirm it through a precept of Our authority.
Observing their petition to be valid, We commanded this precept of Our rule to be made for them by imperial custom, through which We decreed and at the same time in ordering command that from this day and in time to come, the aforesaid bishops should hold and possess all the aforesaid goods in their dominion and power, corroborated by Our authority, quietly, by a tenancy agreement, without disturbance from anyone, rendering each year the rate laid out above.
But that this imperial authority liberally conceded by Us to the same might be observed more freely and devotedly by everyone, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be authenticated by the signet of Our Dignity.
Given on the 6th kalends of November [27th October, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 886, in the 4th indiction, in the 6th year of Emperor Charles’ empire in Italy, the 5th in Francia, the 2nd in Gaul.
Enacted in Paris.
Happily in the name of God, amen.
In terms of Odo’s career, this diploma is fairly straightforward. One of several diplomas Charles the Fat issued at Paris in the aftermath of the Viking siege, this diploma honours Odo, the hero of that siege, by showing him as the emperor’s counsellor. It also shows him as ruler of Neustria, written in as successor to Hugh the Abbot, and intervening on behalf of the two main bishops of the Neustrian March, those of Tours and Angers.
In fact, it is one of a series of diplomas issued in late October 886, almost all of which deal in one way or another with the siege of Paris or Hugh the Abbot’s legacy. Thus, Charles issued a diploma in favour of a man named Germund who is almost certainly one of Odo’s followers. He issued a diploma for Saint-Martin (although interestingly the petitioner there is Archbishop Adalald rather than Odo – maybe Odo hadn’t been invested at that point); and he issued a diploma for Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, where Hugh the Abbot had been buried. Unlike Neustria, Saint-Germain went not to Odo but to Bishop Anskeric of Paris: next time we see it, in 889, Anskeric is the abbot. It’s possible that it was given to him by Odo in 888/889, but I think it’s more likely it was given to him by Charles the Fat at this point, in 886, as another reward for a hero of Paris.
A final point: Odo’s ending up in Neustria was largely accidental. The fact that his father had also been marchio there can lend it a whiff of familial right, but this is mostly illusory. It just so happened that an important military command had opened up at the same time that Odo proved himself militarily competent. Had Hugh the Abbot lived an extra few years, I think it likely that Odo would have been reward with honores elsewhere, perhaps in Burgundy or Lotharingia; and history would have taken a very different course.