Since last week, I’ve spent much of my time thinking about the Council of Charroux in 989, trying to work out what on Earth they thought they were doing, because seriously you guys it’s –
OK, hang on. Let’s back up. I’ve blogged a couple of times here about the Peace of God, for one thing, and I don’t think I’ve explained what it is, or at least what it’s supposed to be. So, the Peace of God is a term modern historians apply to a series of Church councils held from the latter part of the tenth century onwards, intending to regulate violence within society, especially against the Church and the poor. These councils can be distinguished by 1) a vocabulary of ‘peace’ (pax), 2) legislative activity, 3) the swearing of oaths to enforce the peace, 4) some participation by the people (populus) and 5) the presence of saints’ relics. Basically every aspect of these councils is subject to serious debate: how much of a novelty were they? How important was popular participation? Who were the new rules aimed at? How far did lay rulers take the initiative in calling Peace councils? And so on.
The first council which modern historians call a Peace council was held at the abbey of Charroux, south of Poitiers, in 989. Thomas Head has analysed the context here, basically unconvincingly. He argues that the Council was held to promote good behaviour towards churches, and specifically to do so in the aftermath of a feud between the viscounts of Limoges and the lords of La Marche which had been prolonged and dangerous. He can only argue this, however, with some chronological slight-of-hand, because as far as we can tell the ‘feud’ in question took place over a couple of years in the mid-970s and was resolved a decade before the Council of Charroux.
So this raises the question, what did the bishops who assembled at Charroux and issued three canons against various nefarious persons think they were doing? Because it certainly wasn’t ‘holding a Peace of God council’. As I said, that is a term of art used by modern historians, and they couldn’t possibly have been thinking in those terms. It looks like it could have been a provincial council (i.e. an archbishop and his suffragans getting together), but that’s by itself weird. As far as I have been able to find, the last provincial council held in Second Aquitaine had been seven hundred years earlier, which is certainly a delay, but makes me fairly confident that holding a council was itself a novelty.
Let’s abandon, then, if only temporarily, the ‘Peace of God’ label and think about a ‘Pre-Millennial Aquitanian Conciliar Movement’. In eastern Aquitaine, that is, the Auvergne and its area, there is one of these, associated above all with Bishop Guy of Le Puy, who I think was possibly following in Stephen II of Clermont’s footsteps. Thing is, these are eastern and head more eastwards: Guy gets involved with Burgundian and Provençal bishops, but not with Gascon or Poitevin ones. There’s no overlap between any of the councils Guy is involved with and the bishops who were at Charroux. The language used at Charroux might also be different (although I need to look at that further).
But, as we’ve seen, Charroux is the first in the west. Does the political context help? Yeah, a little. The thing to note here is that there has been a fairly major shift in personnel in the preceding two years: a new viscount of Limoges, a new count of Angoulême, and a new archbishop of Bordeaux. Bishop Gilbert of Poitiers has been around for a while, but it’s only in the past few years he’s been showing up at the side of William Fierabras, duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitou. The time is ripe for the expansion of Poitevin influence over the neighbouring regions. And in fact this is more-or-less what happens: whereas before 989 the counts of Poitiers are fairly strictly confined to Poitou minus some very sporadic influence over the city of Limoges, afterwards their power is visibly wider-spread. This is probably deliberate – Head, in the article above, notes that Charroux was at the start of a programme of episcopal bolstering of William’s monastic reform programme over the next year or so. For that and other reasons, I think we could actually give William some initiative in calling the council, rather than just taking advantage of it.
The political context may just give us the ‘why then’, but it doesn’t answer the ‘why a legislative council’ question. Why not a lay assembly like the rulers of Neustria and indeed the dukes of Aquitaine have been holding for the previous century or so? This aspect of Charroux is why historians like to point at Guy of Le Puy – because he’s also been legislating at councils in the immediate vicinity within the last few years. It’s not him the bishops at Charroux themselves point at, though. The acts of the council begin ‘reinforced by the synodal authorities of our predecessors…’ Our only manuscript copy of these acts – as far as I know, the only one we can ever show to have existed, because it’s what the Early Modern printed editions are based on – was scribbled in the back of a very nice mid-ninth-century codex of conciliar decrees from Angoulême around the year 1000 (Vatican Lat. Reg. 1127, which is very well-digitised).
I therefore have to wonder whether or not these are the ‘synodal authorities’ the council is referring to…* It would make sense if they were, because the manuscript is full of tenth-century additions, mostly about councils – synodal blessings, canons, etc. Evidently the canons of Angoulême were interested in keeping up-to-date with best synodal practice.
Which is doubly interesting because, as I said, as far as we know there hadn’t been any provincial synods in Aquitaine since the later days of the Roman Empire. Abbo of Fleury thought that the Frankish kings had erred in not holding proper Church councils, so the idea that councils were important was evidently in the air. I’d love to find the origin of this idea. If it had been later, we might have said that Abbo was the source – our one manuscript of his canonical collection comes from Adhemar of Chabannes – but Charroux is too early. Lots to still research here, therefore (although not in the immediate future because I need to write my paper for the Leeds International Medieval Congress) – but I’m pretty sure that the term ‘Peace of God’ won’t help me get further with it.
* Head elsewhere argues that the opening of the council is a pastiche of the forged decretals of Pseudo-Isidore, which got me very excited, before a fair chunk of time spent searching the canons came up completely empty and left me shaking my head over how this claim got past the reviewers…
(Oh, and for good measure a translation of the source (again, it’s short)):
Reinforced by the synodal authorities of our predecessors, in the name of the Lord and our saviour Jesus Christ, on the 1st June, I, Archbishop Gunbald of Second Aquitaine, with all the bishops of this province, convened in the hall which was once called Charroux. Both bishops and also religious clerics, and yet more as well everyone of both sexes implored the help of divine piety in order that – by consideration of divine grace – the harmful things which we know have flourished for a long time in our abodes by pestilential customs due to the long delay in the Council might be eradicated and useful ones planted. We, therefore, specially gathered in the name of God, decree this which shines openly in the following.
- An anathema against those who violate churches.
If anyone should violate a holy church or steal anything from there by force, unless they come quickly to satisfaction, let them be anathema.
- Anathema against those plunder the goods of the poor.
If anyone should pillage a sheep or a cow or an ox or a ram or a goat or pigs from a farmer or other poor person, unless the victim were at fault, if they neglect to make amends for everything, let them be anathema.
- Anathema against those who strike clerics.
If anyone should attack or capture a priest or deacon or any kind of cleric at all not bearing arms (that is, a shield, a sword, a hauberk, a helmet) but simply walking or staying at home, except if after examination by his own bishop he [the priest] had fallen into any sin, if he [the attacker] does not come to satisfaction, let them be held a sacrilege and outside the threshold of the holy Church of God.
I, Archbishop Gunbald of Bordeaux, subscribed.
I, Bishop Gilbert of Poitiers, subscribed.
I, Bishop Hildegar of Limoges, subscribed.
I, Bishop Frothar of Périgueux, subscribed.
I, Bishop Abbo of Saintes, subscribed.
I, Bishop Hugh of Angoulême, subscribed.