Charter a Week 48 – More Royal Justifications

Last time on Charter A Week, we left the bloody corpse of Robert of Neustria on the battlefield at Soissons. As we heard last week, it’s not clear who won the battle, but it certainly changed the political situation. All of a sudden, Count Heribert II of Vermandois was in the driving seat. Heribert had been on both sides of the civil war at various times, and he looked to his brother-in-law Ralph of Burgundy, a man untainted by the battle of Soissons and who hadn’t fully taken sides either.

Charles, though, didn’t help his case. After Soissons, he redoubled his efforts to try and win this ‘third force’ back – men like Heribert and Bishop Abbo of Soissons, whom he had cultivated in the years around 920 but who had abandoned him in 922. However, he also sent messengers to the Northmen of the Seine and Loire, who went on a rampage. This lost Charles much of his support, and so Ralph began his reign with a remarkably plausible claim to be a unity candidate. Like Robert, his first surviving diploma also gives a sense of his claims to be king:

DD RR no. 3 (6th April 924, Chalon-sur-Saône)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.
Ralph, by grace and mercy of the same God Almighty king.

We know and believe and confess that royal power has been bestowed upon Our unworthy self by the supernal oversight of the Ruler of Ages and the Governor of All Time. For this reason We rejoice, thinking of His most bountiful piety, so that We might direct the sceptre of the realm committed to Us at His will, and with His aid protect His Church, for which He shed His own blood, believing that We cannot offer to Him anything more pleasing than this offering, which might be more salutary for Us in this life and more glorious in gaining eternal repayment.

Wherefore let the skill of all the followers of the holy Church of God and Us both present and future know that one of Our abbots, named Aimo, from the monastery of Saint-Martin, which is sited in the suburbs of the city of Autun, acceding to the magnificence of Our Sublimity, made it known to Us that he had precepts issued by kings and emperors, that is, Our ancestors, concerning the head of the abbey and the goods of the aforesaid monastery. He besought Our Serenity that, for the fullness of greater firmness, We might add a precept of Out authority on top of them.

Proffering assent to him for love of God and St Martin and for the remedy of Our father and mother and Ourself and Our wife Emma, who is beloved to Us, through whose beseeching We have done this, We commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made and given to him, through which We confirm to the came place those things which were formerly conceded by other kings:

In the district of Autunois, the estate of La Celle-en-Morvan with all its appendages and Thil-sur-Arroux and Bragny-en-Charollais, with Fabricis and Maltat and Vitrarias of Neuvy, with all its appendages; and in the district of Chalon, Chenoves and Granges, and in the district of the Auxois, Cussey; and in the district of Avallon, Girolles and Tarridum, with everything pertaining to them; and in the district of Nivernais, Beunas and Chasseigne and Saint-Saulge and Le Chambon with all appendages; in the district of Bourges, Colombiers and Allouis and Porcariorum with all its appendages, and in the district of Viennois, Albon with all its appendages, and in Provence, in the county of Fréjus, Bargemon; and in the county of Vaison, Bésignan and Mollans; and in the district of Orléanais, the estate of Pinus and Rouvres-Saint-Jean; and in the said district of Autunois, Montorsin with appendages, and the lake which is under Thil-sur-Arroux, in view of Charbonnat on the river Arroux, of which one side is Saint-Martin’s, and the other is Ours, from Charbonnat, which Our wife, beloved to Us, obtained Our approval and for Our alms and hers bestowed upon the same saint with the field adjoining it; and the chapel of the Holy Twins sited outside the walls of Autun, with appendages, which Our said abbot acquired through legal exchange. Our faithful man Berengar who held it from Us in benefice beseeched Us that he might be permitted to sell it to the abbot and brothers and accept in compensation as much from the land of Saint Martin as he had given, for the advantage of both parties. We concede all which justly and legally belongs with the aforesaid goods to the same abbot in right of benefice to be held and governed in accordance with the Rule in his lifetime.

After his death, by his request and that of the chiefs of the place, We wish that Hugh should succeed in his place, and after him let the monks elect an abbot in accordance with the Rule and the canons. Let the same abbey endure under the defence of Our immunity and be free from all service except that of the divine and Us; and let whatever it pleases Us or Our successors to bestow upon or restore to the same place remain under the aforesaid immunity.

But that this largess of Our munificence might be more firmly held and more inviolably conserved through times to come, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed under the impression of Our ring.
Sign of the most glorious king Ralph.

Ragenard the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Abbo [of Soissons].

Given on the 8th ides of April [6th April] in the 12th indiction, in the 1st year of the reign of the glorious king Ralph.

Enacted at the city of Chalon-sur-Saône.

Happily in the name of God, amen.


Saint-Martin d’Autun was destroyed in the French Revolution, but this image shows what it looked like in the eighteenth century. (taken from Gallica)

It must be said that, unlike Robert, this is not a fully original work. Despite the fact that the diploma is for the abbey of Saint-Martin d’Autun, its opening justification for Ralph’s rule is actually adapted from an 877 diploma of Charles the Bald for the abbey of Vézelay:

(shared text is in bold)

We believe that the dignity of the empire was bestowed on Us by divine ordination. Therefore We give thanks to Supernal Piety. Although We are very unworthy of His benefices, nonetheless We should think how We might justly direct the sceptre of the empire granted to Us according to His will, and under His rule protect His Church, for which He shed His own blood, in every way, believing that We cannot offer to Him anything more pleasing than this offering, that nothing can be more salutary for Us in this life, that nothing can be more glorious in gaining eternal repayment from His goodwill.

So what does this mean? Two things. First, it means that someone in Ralph’s entourage knew the Vézelay act well enough to riff on it. This is another of those wandering charter prologues, and in this case I think it shows the existence of what amounts to tenth-century charter wonks. Someone had serious and considered opinions about and knowledge of royal diplomas, what they should say, and how they could work for the new king.

The second is that we get a sense of Ralph’s claims to legitimacy. The rhetorical weight here is heavily on the protection of the Church. Charles the Bald’s act has been reworked against his grandson: where Charles the Simple stirs up pagans against the Church, Ralph fights to protect it. It’s a powerful claim, and one that would actually serve Ralph in good stead for a few years. Certainly, as we shall shortly see, at least one powerful Churchman believed it enough to give the king a serious leg up over his regional rivals…

Charter a Week 47 – King Robert

Here we are. In June 922, Robert of Neustria had himself crowned king by Archbishop Walter of Sens. This was a drastic move, more drastic even than it sounds. Every previous would-be usurper of a throne – Boso of Provence in 879, the participants in the scramble for crowns of 888, Charles the Simple in 893 – all had greater or lesser claims to either be stepping into a vacuum or to have a plausible right to the crown. Robert had neither. His coronation came about purely because the situation between him and Charles had deteriorated so badly. It was a repudiation of Charles’ rule, in a way which had little direct precedent. What possessed him to do such a thing? Part of an answer might lie in his only surviving royal diploma:

DD RR no. 1 (25th January 923, Saint-Denis)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Robert, by God’s grace king.

Just as We are confident to gain the fullness of all goods and the highness of perfected dignity from the Lord in the present, and the palm of highest blessings in the future, thus We should with God’s assent do good for the advantage of God’s churches and servants.

Let it then remain known to the sagacity of all Our followers, to wit, the Frankish magnates, that through divine clemency, given the necessities of the situation, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to direct the realm’s governance.

And thus, having contemplated in the high citadel of memory the riches of divine goodness which were generously bestowed on Our unworthy self from childhood’s cradle, the distinguished offices of great honour with which We were promoted through each age of man, and Our increasing mental acuity, We think that Our Creator and Redeemer does not begrudge Us some small portion of worldly fortune. Quite the reverse: We consider that He decreed for Us the throne of royal dignity. Forewarned by His divine inspiration, We have decided not to shut up the treasury of heavenly opulence with the tight-fisted key of sterility like an ungrateful or avaricious usurer, but to pay out in a more illustrious fashion solely for the praise and glory of divine majesty.

Thus, having been adorned with the prerogative of royal dignity, by the custom of preceding kings, with the inspiration of divine clemency We have decided to be most kind and liberal not only to others generally, but especially to the places of the saints by whose patronage We are able to manage the present sceptre and by whose protection We might not experience the deserved weight of divine reproach but may instead securely scorn the fate of final damnation and deserve to reign in peace everlasting with Christ amongst the co-heirs of his glory.

Therefore, to be a reward for their work, We approve the conferral of some type of work of Our largess to the brothers of the monastery of Our special patron the supremely blessed Dionysius (under the wings of whose protection We have been exalted and have overcome so many perils thus far and, We are confident, have ascended to the peak of the realm), so that they might be more diligently free for divine service, and commend Our safety and that of the whole realm. Thus, We decreed that certain estates sites in Beauce, to wit Tivernon and Toury, and Rouvray with a church, and Garsenval and Poinville, with the bonded tenants pertaining to these estates, be bestowed entirely upon the same monks.

Therefore, We concede to the same brothers these estates in order that all renders be paid to them, because prebends always used to be provided to them by the abbot from the income, but now the income is insufficient because of the infestation of barbarians.

We also add other estates by these names: Asnières and La Nerville with all their appendages, specifically that Our memory might be in their prayers both in the present life and after death, and so that they might solemnly recall this anniversary day.

We bestow in their entirety the abbey of Liepvre, the estate of Bliderstroff and Cocheren; and We concede half of two estates, that is, Condé and Gernusta, and the other half for lighting Saint-Denis to carry out the solemnities of the first day of Our death; We separate our a third part of the wine from Reuilly for their use.

And thus, We desire to earn with this grant of Our royal largess the patronage of the sacred martyrs Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, to whom We formerly committed all the trust of Our faith, so that We might be able to lay victorious hands* upon Our enemies and thereafter with God’s assent bring back with the triumph of victory the undefeated battle standards from their subjugation. Therefore, looking after the advantages of the brothers, We delegate the abovesaid for their uses by the authority of royal majesty, and We confirm them perpetually in everything.

But that this holy congregation might be able to exhort the mercy of the Lord and His saints more attentively for Us and Our son Hugh and all Our progeny and Our whole empire, and no violence from anyone, or the person of their own abbot or of any dignity whatsoever, might presume to subtract anything from this, We undersigned this Our authority and confirmation with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed with Our signet.

Sign of the glorious king Robert.

Ragenard the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Abbo [of Soissons], bishop and high chancellor.

Given on the 8th kalends of February [25th January], in the 11th indiction, in the first year of the reign of the glorious King Robert.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Denis.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

*victrices dexteras inferre, literally ‘apply victorious right hands’, which I was very tempted to translate as ‘inflict a mighty smackdown upon’

Raoul roi de France.jpg

A fourteenth-century depiction of the Battle of Soissons (source)

Now, I’ve said before that this is one of my favourite charters, and it’s one of my favourite charters largely because of the work Geoffrey Koziol has done with it. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says in that article, but the core of it – Robert’s diploma is a powerful expression of his core principles and right to rule – is absolutely on the money. Robert, by now, was in his ‘60s (his father had died in 866, so the youngest he could possibly have been was 55) and facing an uncertain future. He therefore passed over the specifics of his rebellion – had Charles the Simple heard the line ‘given the necessities of the situation’ he might have complained with some legitimacy that Robert had created the situation largely by himself – and reached for eternity. Unlike Charles, Robert listened to the princes, not simply to his one favourite. Unlike the boy-king Charles, he was an experienced man who had been promoted in line with his experience. Now – as everyone must have been expecting for decades – he was taking the throne.

Incidentally, it’s never as far as I know been noted in the context of Robert’s rebellion, but the fact it’s in the early 920s is important. Charles the Simple spent most of his reign without a male heir, and Robert must have been the expected successor. In c. 920, though, Charles gave birth to a son, cutting Robert out of the loop. It’s probably not a coincidence a serious rebellion followed within a few years…

The other thing about this diploma, which Koziol brings out beautifully, is that Robert was not certain he was right. The diploma hopes and believes. And, as it turned out, it was wrong. On Sunday 15th June 923, Charles attacked and killed Robert near Soissons. It was the bloodiest battle between Franks in almost a century. What would happen next?

Christian Diplomacy: Charlemagne’s Letter to Nikephoros I (811)

One of the running problems in the study of international relations is the question of how universal its practice and theory is. On the one side we have the argument that all international relations in any place and period are fundamentally the pursuit of political advantage between state-like entities, engaged in by social elites who are all playing the same game with differing levels of skill, having been dealt better or worse hands. In such a reading, we can draw up universal laws for international relations that apply for any era and circumstances. On the other, we have a more anthropological approach, which stresses the need to take into account the material and ideological differences between people and places, arguing that both the practice and aims of international relations are shaped by the resources, means of communication, structures and general worldview of the individuals and societies involved.

Both approaches hold dangers for the medieval historian. The first risks distorting the medieval period by making it a slightly muddier version of modern international relations, losing what is distinctive and different about the period. The second can result in the Middle Ages being condescendingly hived off as a primitive time when no diplomacy of any sort took place because everyone was too culturally determined to be capable of strategy. The medieval historian thus has to walk a line between a pragmatic ‘realist’ reading of the game of international relations, and a sympathetic attention to what our sources actually say and the points of view they reveal.

With this in mind that I present the following letter, sent in early 811 by Charlemagne to the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I (r.802-811), not just because it provides us with an opportunity to read an early medieval emperor sounding like a lovesick teenager, but because it forces us to reckon with the sorts of questions I began this post with:

Charlemagne, Epistolae variorum, ed. E. Dümmler, MGH Epp 4 (Berlin, 1895), no.32, 546-548.

Since the help of God should be asked for at the beginning of all human affairs, greatly should the aid of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ be implored by all means in this business, which by God’s mediation is being carried out between us  so that we, who are marked by His name and are confident that we are redeemed from the eternal peril of death through the dispensation of His passion, may deserve to bring what we begin at his instigation to an honourable and useful end and conclusion.

In His name and in His honour, we have kindly and with honour received into Our court your envoy, Our brother, whom you sent to our son, King Pippin[1] of good memory, namely Arsafius, the famous imperial spatharios[2], along with the words and letters of your affection. And although he had not been sent to us, we have taken care of him as if he was sent to us, and we listened to him and, because we thought it prudent, talked with him about what he brought. This was not undeservedly, for such was the fullness of the desired and ever-desirable peace, not only in the letters he brought with him, but also in the words that reached our ears from his mouth, that his message was able to please us and all those who fear God greatly. Indeed, they were seasoned so heavily with the salt of goodwill and peace that they could taste of true sweetness on the palate of any of the faithful, and even a complete fool, to whom such things seem tasteless, could tell. Therefore, after we had received the news that he had arrived within the borders of ​​our kingdom, as if we had known in advance of his great and godly mission, we could not hold back, and bade him come to Our presence at an appropriate moment; especially because him to whom he had been sent, Our beloved son King Pippin, had been separated from human life by divine judgement, and we could not bear it that he return with empty hands and with such a great work as that he had been sent on incomplete.

And not only because of that, but also because since that time in the first year of your reign when Your Belovedness sent the Metropolitan Michael, the eminent Abbot Peter and the famous candidatus Calistus[3] to establish with us a long-lasting peace in order to unite and bring together we two in the love of Christ, we have been in anxious suspense with long-lasting expectation, like someone stationed in a watchtower, while we waited to receive bearers, whether through a messenger or a letter, of friendly responses from you, our brother, to our important letters. As is the nature of the weakness of the human spirit, despair had already begun to dominate our heart instead of hope. And yet we have trusted in Him, who never forsakes those who trust in Him, because according to the apostle, our efforts with him will not be in vain[4], and our wish, which as we believe we have made at His urging, will be fulfilled according to the abundance of His mercy and sooner or later be effected. Therefore, we were extremely pleased at the news of the arrival of the already mentioned envoy from your esteemed person, the famous sword-bearer Arsafius, in the firm conviction that we would get from uncertain circumstances to the desired certainty and that we would receive a response to what we gave to your aforesaid envoys to pass on to you. And indeed it happened that way. We have observed on the one hand the favour of divine aid in the fulfilment of our prayers in what we desired and [on the other hand] noticed that we received no small part of the answer we longed for in the words and letters which were brought by the embassy of the aforesaid envoy, although they were written for our son.

We have therefore thanked the Almighty, not as much as we should have, but as much as we could, because He has deigned to instil in the heart of your esteemed person, where as the desire for peace for which we have asked and pleaded, and we pray like the apostle so that God, who has granted you the will to this peace, also grants that it may be brought to a conclusion.

Because of this, we have brooked no delay, but without hesitation and without any kind of delay we have prepared our ambassadors to send them to you, our brother, with friendly love.


Ed.: What is probably Arsaphius’ personal seal, which is cool! (from Dumbarton Oaks, source)

There is clearly quite a lot going on beneath the surface in this letter which, like so much diplomatic correspondence, drops us in media res. I’m going to provide only the briefest outlines of context for this whole affair, which got complicated very quickly, as befits any mess that involves Byzantium, Venice and questions of imperial status.

The first decade of the ninth century saw tension between the Carolingian empire and Byzantium for a couple of reasons. The first was Charlemagne’s coronation as emperor in Rome in 800 by the Pope. This rather vexed the rulers of Constantinople, who took the view that they were the only Roman Emperors around. The second was Venice and the neighbouring region of Dalmatia, theoretically under Byzantine authority, but in practice a collection of border territories with a penchant for playing Constantinople off against the Franks.

This second issue was primarily a problem for King Pippin of Italy, as Charlemagne allowed his son considerable autonomy within his realm. Nikephoros had sent an embassy to Charlemagne in 803 to announce his assumption of imperial authority, having overthrown the Empress Irene the previous year. In 805 the dukes of Venice and Zara had come to Charlemagne, with the emperor settling the affairs of Venice and Dalmatia. Nikephoros sent a fleet to retake Venice and Dalmatia, blockading the Adriatic. The war lasted from 806-810, culminating in Pippin dying from a disease acquired while besieging Venice in 810. Pippin left a teenage son, Bernard, as his heir, so Charlemagne felt the need/saw the opportunity to intervene. Doing so allowed him to revive the issue of his imperial status, something that Nikephoros seems to have been ignoring since 803 hence Charlemagne’s wistful sighs at the lack of any message from the Byzantine Emperor since then.

This is a very abbreviated account of the ins and outs of a very complicated diplomatic situation that I’m still not convinced I entirely understand yet. Neither of the big issues are directly mentioned in the letter. Charlemagne asserts equality of status with Nikephoros by referring to him as brother, and alludes to the need for peace, but otherwise we can assume that these were matters quietly addressed between Charlemagne and the envoy Arsafius.

I want to flag up a few points here. The first is to observe just how hard making peace could be. Truces had been attempted from 807 but kept collapsing. Charlemagne wanted Byzantine recognition of his imperial title. By 810 at the latest it was clear that Venice and Dalmatia weren’t going to just fall into the Carolingian sphere of influence as had seemed possible in 805 and the war had already cost Charlemagne too much, including his son. From Nikephoros’ perspective, Byzantine forces in the Adriatic were acting in response to Frankish aggression, so status quo ante bellum represented a win for him. In the meantime, Nikephoros had more urgent problems to deal with, most notably Krum, the Khan of the Bulgars, who had recently captured Serdica (modern Sofia) and was expanding rapidly in the Balkans.

All the incentives were there for peace, but the truces kept breaking down. The dukes of Venice seem to have been actively hindering the process, driving off a Byzantine commander with orders to enter talks with Pippin in early 809. The death of Pippin also wouldn’t help things, as early medieval diplomacy tended to take place between rulers as individuals and it was by no means guaranteed that existing agreements would continue when a monarch was replaced. This is part of the reason Charlemagne was at such pains to spell out his connection to Pippin in the letter, to strengthen the notion of continuity and his ability to make an agreement stick despite not being the person Arsafius was sent to talk to. But a final problem here with the peace process were simple logistics. There were no permanent ambassadors and no easy means of communication, with the result that messages needed to go back and forth slowly and it was easy for things to get misinterpreted, or for new developments on the ground to screw things up.

A second thing to observe is the explicitly Christian terms that Charlemagne used. In working for peace they were following a desire inspired by God, not just carrying out His wishes but acting in a way only possible because of divine blessing. A cynical reading of this would be that such language was largely meaningless bumf covering over the real business of realpolitik, allowing Charlemagne to skirt past the reality that the war was not going terribly well for the Franks. An alternative interpretation would look at Charlemagne’s very real piety and concern for Christians beyond his lands and take this as a serious insight into how the Frankish emperor structured his relations with his fellow Christian monarchs.

Both of these rhetorical strawmen are clearly flawed. Throughout his career Charlemagne demonstrated a ruthless pragmatism in his dealings with his Christian neighbours, as the king of the Lombards, the duke of the Bavarians and his own nephews could attest. Nonetheless, Charlemagne was deeply pious and it is really hard not to read his letters and other documents and not get the sense of a man desperately trying to understand and fulfil God’s purpose for him. Any interpretation of this letter to Nikephoros that does not try to hold both Charlemagnes in mind, and which doesn’t see the way in which they joined together to form a coherent whole, is doomed to fail.

One way forward here is to see the Christian framing in this letter as both sincere and carefully chosen to highlight uncontroversial things both Charlemagne and Nikephoros had in common, offering both of them shared language they could use to reach a compromise. It’s also worth thinking about the audience for this letter. That it survives in multiple western copies suggests that it was meant to be read by people in Charlemagne’s empire. But it was also meant to be read out loud in the court in Constantinople. It therefore needed to portray Charlemagne in a positive light, while also being persuasive for a Byzantine audience.

Another point to note is what this letter tells us about diplomats. Charlemagne is extremely complimentary about the Byzantine envoy, Arsafius. This might be partly to reassure Nikephoros that he hadn’t mistreated this envoy meant for Pippin, whom he had effectively hijacked. But it also suggests the type of things an effective envoy might do. Arsafius impressed Charlemagne in their private conversations. He also performed well in public, helping Charlemagne sell the prospect of peace even to the dimmer or more truculent members of his court by speaking with sincerity. Charlemagne connects this to the memory of Pippin, mostly to make it clear that these talks were indeed carrying out Arsafius’ mission. I wonder if there might also be a hint at Arsafius’ emotional intelligence, using their shared experience with Pippin to create a bond with the grieving emperor.

Nikephoros may never have read the letter. He went on campaign against the Bulgars and was killed in battle in July 811. His skull was later used a drinking cup by Krum. Yet many of Charlemagne’s objectives were achieved. Emperor Michael I (r.811-813), who usurped Nikephoros’ son, received the Frankish envoys. In 812 his own embassy, which included Arsafius and the Bishop Michael Charlemagne had also written warmly about, publicly acknowledged the Frankish ruler as Emperor in Aachen. Venice and Dalmatia were left in the Byzantine sphere. Embassies went back and forth over the next few years, but peace and positive relations were achieved. Whether we give the credit to Christ or to the diplomats shall have to be left for another day.

[1] Charlemagne’s son, King of Italy 781-810.

[2] Literally ‘sword-bearer’, a high-ranking Byzantine official.

[3] Envoys sent by Nikephoros to Charlemagne in 803.

[4] 1 Cor 15.58 ‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’

Charter A Week 46: Mothers and Sons

For several weeks now, we’ve been focussing on Charles the Simple and royal politics, but plenty of things were happening elsewhere in the realm, not least in Burgundy. In 921, Richard the Justiciar died, probably after ailing for at least half a decade (a 916 charter has his eldest son Ralph of Burgundy signing on his behalf). There are signs that Richard’s position in the last years of his life was not a secure as once it had been. Steven Robbie, whose thesis I love but who has a bad habit of overstating his case (even by my standards) in this regard, has a really cool picture of badly deteriorating relations between Richard’s family and the so-called Manassids, the family of Richard’s right-hand man Count Manasses the Old of Dijon. There is some evidence for this (such as a 918 charter where Bishop Walo of Autun condemns Manasses for seizing an estate of Autun’s church which Richard restored), but not as much as I would like. Meanwhile, the family was getting involved in conflicts outside its heartland: at some point around 920, Ralph teamed up with Robert of Neustria to snatch the city of Bourges away from William the Younger of Aquitaine.

So when, in 921, Richard died, Burgundy was ripe for a change. We have hints that not all was well amongst Richard’s sons, hints such as:

ARTEM 609 (c. 922)

Since worthy witness ought to be given to all just largesse, if only to protect from the fluctuations of worldly fortune, it is necessary that a largess of full devotion should be confirmed by the witness of writings such that the truth of reason is able to understand when it is brought before the gaze of the inquiring. On which account I, Adelaide, by disposition of heavenly piety formerly a countess and now by the gracious favour of the same mercy a handmaid of the Heavenly Emperor (and by a shining family of most brilliant sons enduring in the dignity of the earlier appellation), thinking of these and many other gifts of God’s benefactions granted to me, and with some of my time well-spent, desiring and believing to gain the prize of eternal repayment, decided at the advice and consent – indeed by the exhortation – of my beloved son the illustrious Count Hugh [the Black] – and moreover thinking the worthy thought that such a thing would most certainly benefit us in the gain of eternal rest – thought of the estate of Boyer, which is sited in the district of Chaunois, on the river Natouze, once legitimately given to the late martyr of Christ Vincent and to the uses of the canons by the largess of their own bishop the blessed Lupus, which was seen to be their patrimony by our forefathers, but which by the cunning of the malignant and blind cupidity is known to have been [taken] by lovers of this fallen world from ancient days, although the investiture of the nones and tithes remained.

Therefore I thought it worthy, at the counsel of my aforesaid son Hugh, that I should return the aforesaid estate of Boyer, which I obtained through a precept of royal majesty, with churches and manses, and bondsmen, and everything pertaining to it within and without, sought and to be sought, all adjacencies everywhere, to the stipends of the servants of God soldiering for God and St Vincent in the aforesaid mother church, for the remedy of the soul of my most beloved lord the duke and margrave Richard [the Justiciar], and also mine, and those of my sons, so that the intercession of the said soldier of Christ Vincent and the frequent prayers of his servants might beat at the ears of the Highest Piety in our aid, for which reason we might deserve to obtain eternal life happily by the grace of the Remunerator of All. Whence We commanded this charter of Our largess to be made. Solemnly we avert any bishop, or any person of whatever order or sex, from presuming to subtract it from the table of the same canons; but let the aforesaid brothers enjoy its stipends inviolably, with no impediment.

I also wish that from this estate, three of the better manses with their appendages and acreage and all the serfs’ renders, should constantly serve in looking after the wretched and the hospital of the same church, with their bondsmen, on the condition that in my lifetime they should hold the estate for my uses. For the moment, in vestiture, let the canons always receive the church of that jurisdiction, which is in honour of St Victor, with everything granted to it, and pay the renders in its alms.

If any prince or bishop, therefore, or any person, might presume to subtract or alienate or diminish this offering of Our devotion from the table or stipends of the aforesaid canons, for their presumption and to vindicate this charter of our restoration on the day of Judgement, we commended them to the terror and anathema of unspeakable revenge. In addition, I command and humbly pray my heirs that they might as far as they can support the aforesaid canons regard this my largess, for true life and the remedy of their souls. If the aforesaid brothers are unable to expel the wrongdoers, let my heirs receive it for their uses until they can restore it to the aforesaid congregation in line with my devotion.

And that this charter of our largess might in God’s name obtain a more secure firmness, I fully confirmed it with my own hand, and We commanded it to be strengthened under the hands of my sons and our followers, such that after my death the aforesaid brothers might and hold have this charter of our largess in its entirety.

Cathédrale de Chalon

Chalon cathedral as it looks today (source).

Hugh the Black was Ralph’s brother, and this isn’t the only charter of Adelaide immediately after Richard’s death feting him – another was issued for the church of Autun in 922, ‘at the exhortation of my beloved son the illustrious Hugh’, where Hugh signs before Ralph (and their other brother Boso) in the witness list. It is possible that what we are seeing here is a struggle for power within the family. Ralph had been pushed forward by Richard during his lifetime; but Hugh was backed by their mother, and Adelaide was making no secret of her favour for Hugh following Richard’s death. I don’t think that this was a violent struggle, but it may explain how the Bosonid family reacted to the ongoing West Frankish civil war.

Ralph of Burgundy – who was, by this point, Robert of Neustria’s son-in-law – went to negotiate with Robert, but nothing seems to have come of it, and Ralph did not lend active support to Robert’s campaign. By contrast, Hugh the Black did lead an army against Charles. He did not achieve very impressive results – he attacked a small raiding party and killed three of them – but he was nonetheless there with armed men at Robert’s side. I wonder if they might have been trying to secure their local position by Robert’s intervention. If so, Hugh gained Robert’s support in the short term, but it left him dangerously exposed if Robert’s position were to crumble. As for how that went – we will see next week…

Charter A Week 45: Memory, Family, and Favourites

921 was a key year for Charles the Simple’s fortunes. Having brokered a compromise with Robert of Neustria the year before, the two men were engaged in sorting out their positions. One of the threads of this year, in my reading, is how hard either found it to get any kind of unequivocal support on side. Duke William the Younger of Aquitaine was hostile to both; Richard the Justiciar of Burgundy had recently died and his sons seem to have had very different political orientations (Hugh the Black, pro-Robert; Boso of Vitry, pro-Charles; Ralph of Burgundy, on the fence). Meanwhile, Charles began lavishing favour on men from his north-eastern heartlands, above all our old friend (?) Hagano.

In Easter 921, Charles issued this diploma for the abbey of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés:

D CtS no. 108 = ARTEM no. 2050 = D.Kar 6.XIII (22nd April 921, Compiègne)

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

We believe without doubt that the good and useful things which We carry out, at the suggestion of Our followers, for love of divine worship profit the realm of Our rule in its greatest increase, and that it benefits the blessing of Our salvation.

Therefore, let it be held known by the followers of the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that the most reverend bishop Abbo [of Soissons] along with the venerable Count Hagano, and the reverend Abbot Rumald [of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés] endeavoured to make it known to Our Serenity how the abbey of Fossés, which is sited in the district of the Parisis, on the river Marne; and which is built in honour of the holy mother of God Mary and the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, where the aforesaid Abbot Rumald now presides, having previously been destroyed, was restored by kinsmen from the side of Our mother Adelaide, building it again, with a full restoration under the monastic order; and that they strengthened through the precepts of the kings Our predecessors – from Our great-grandfather Louis [the Pious] and Our grandfather Charles [the Bald], and other kings – whatever had been bestowed upon the same monastery in any increase of goods; and that Abbot Rumald, together with his congregation, asked that they wanted the same monastery to be held by Us in the same manner as prior kings by a renewal from Our precept. Whence they brought before our gaze the authority of Our lord and great-grandfather the augustus Louis, in which is contained how Bego, the great-grandfather of Our mother, had restored the monastery (which was nearly destroyed) to its original state under the norm of religion; and how he came and commended the abbey under that emperor’s tutelage and defence, with the abbot and monks and goods pertaining to it; and that this authority was reinforced by Our grandfather Charles and by their other successors.

Hence, We wish that the said abbot and the monks established under him, with all the goods beholden to the same monastery, should fully persist under the defence of Our immunity. Besides which, the monastery of Saint-Maur [of Glanfeuil] sited in the district on Anjou, on the river Loire, which was subjected to the abbey of Fossés by Our late brother Carloman [II] through a precept of his command that they should be one and governed under one abbot, We in like manner commend to persist.

Commanding, therefore, We order that no judge nor any judicial power should presume to require anything through distraint in any of the goods of the same monasteries from which anything is seen to be able to be exacted; rather, let everything which Our fisc can exact therefrom go to alms for the poor and stipends for the monks, and let both of the said abbeys, under one abbot, have the liberty of Our royal defence, without the military service from which We absolve the same places in every way.

Finally, when the aforesaid Abbot Rumald, by the command of divine calling, goes forth from this light, let the monks of these monasteries have license to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, unless it should so happen that there can be found therein one living in accordance with the Rule from amongst the kin of Our mother, who should always carry out the office of abbot therein.

We decree, then, by the word of Our authority and the writing of these letters, that everything written above should persist fixed and stable for all time, so that the aforesaid monks might be able without disturbance to exhort God’s clemency for Our salvation for all time – but especially, whilst We live, on the 5th kalends of February [28th January], on which day We were anointed as king, let them carry out Our memorial in their prayers; and after Our death, let them change these prayers to the anniversary day of Our death. Furthermore, let them mark the anniversary of Our former wife Frederuna on the 3rd ides of February [11th February], always adding to them as well the memory of Our kinsmen who built their place; and in addition, with all of Our offspring, let them have a continuous perseverance in prayer for Count Hagano, who is very faithful to Us.

That this authority might obtain firmness forever by industry of this sort, We command it be sealed with Our signet, confirming it with Our own hand.

Sign of the glorious king Charles.

Gozlin the notary of this royal edict witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop Roger [of Trier].

Given on the 10th kalends of May [22nd April], in the 8th indiction, in the 29th year of the reign of the glorious king Charles, in the 24th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom and the 10th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted, truly, in the palace of the royal seat of Compiègne.

Faithfully. Amen.

caw 43 921

The original of Charles’ diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

In this act, issued at the height of Easter time, Charles is doing a number of things. Above all, he is establishing Fossés as a monastery dedicated to the memory of his kinsmen, and specifically his female kinsmen, in particular his mother Adelaide and wife Frederuna. By this point, the initial splurge of dedications memorialising Frederuna has abated, so this demand for a memorial service is targeted and calculated. He places both Fossés and the Loire valley abbey of Glanfeuil (which had been united for about forty years at this point) under his mother’s kin. He also, in a quasi-adoptive act, places Hagano’s memory alongside that of his own family.

Equally noticeable in this act are the intercessors, above all Bishop Abbo of Soissons. Abbo shows up a few times at the end of Charles’ reign as someone high in his confidence, but when it came down to it he sided with Charles’ enemies. It is interesting to wonder whether we are dealing with Charles trying to bribe someone of uncertain loyalties, or whether Abbo’s betrayal was unexpected…

It is also interesting to note that the abbeys Charles is dealing with are in Paris and Anjou. Anjou was a core area of Robert of Neustria’s support, and Paris was an increasingly important liminal area between Charles’ sphere of direct influence and Robert’s. It may be that this diploma was part of a set of provocations in this area, because the final blow-up was also set in this area: Charles confiscated the abbey of Chelles from Rothilde, the mother-in-law of Robert’s son Hugh the Great, and gave it to Hagano. By 922, Robert and Charles were in open war.

Pope Leo III writing to Charlemagne on North African Affairs

This is a letter written by Pope Leo III (795-816) to Charlemagne (768-814) on 11 November 813. The message was prompted by a missive the Pope had received from the patrician Gregory, who was the Byzantine governor of Sicily. Gregory had asked Leo to forward the letter on to Charlemagne, which the Pope did, although not without including his own thoughts and news gleaned from his own man on the scene in Sicily.

Leo III, Epistolae, ed. K. Hampe, MGH Epp 5 (Berlin, 1899), no. 7, pp. 97-99.

To the most serene and pious lord, victorious and triumphant, a son and lover of God and our lord Jesus Christ, the august Charles, Bishop Leo, servant of the servants of God.

We received on the third ides of November the letter of Gregory, patrician of Sicily, to wit, a response to the letter of Your Serenity, which We sent to him through Our man. He did not, for reasons We know not, send the letter – which had your name on it – to you. The letter which he sent to us – which he asked us to send Your Imperial Power either a copy of; or after We had read it, the letter itself signed with Our seal – We have, in order to satisfy you, neither opened to read it nor do We know what is contained in it, except what the envoy sent to Us told Us in words. It is about Saracen envoys, with whom this Patrician [Gregory] has confirmed a pact for ten years.

He said to the aforesaid Saracen envoys ‘What kind of treaty do you want to make with us, when eighty-five years ago you made a treaty with us and did not keep it? Yes, and Patrician Constantine, who was here before me, he made a pact with you to last ten years until the eighth future indiction (Sept 814); but you held firm to neither pact. Now, the value of us making a pact with you is unclear’.

To this the Saracen envoys responded, saying: ‘The father of this Amiralmumin, who now is seen to reign over us, died, and left this one a child. And he that was the slave was made free; and he who was free was a lord; and none gave thought to the king. But now, after everything his father had has been made subject to his unshaken will, we ask for a pact with each other. For Spain we can make no guarantee because they are not under the dominion of our kingdom. But insofar as we can overcome them, we promise to fight against them at sea like you do, although we cannot do so alone. We on our part, and you on yours, will keep them away from the coasts of the Christians.’

After this it was agreed; and they confirmed in writing between them a pact for ten years. And he [Gregory] sent them an envoy named Theophistus the Notary. And he restored those they had captured from the Saracens, so that the Christians who had been taken from our shores would be returned.

And after they had concluded the pact between them and our envoy had departed with the Patrician’s leave, he came across a man in Catania who was hurrying with all speed to the Patrician to report that seven Moorish ships had been plundering a town in Reggio and that two ships of theirs sent after them had returned to shore empty-handed.

That envoy of ours also told us that he had heard from the envoy of the Saracen men that in June 813 they had intended to go to Sardinia with a hundred other ships; and when they had nearly reached Sardinia the sea suddenly opened up and swallowed those hundred ships; and in consequence, in great dread, they had shortly afterwards returned home and told the people in Africa what had happened and reported the news to the households of those who had been drowned; and there had been such grief as had never been known before. After hearing this, our envoy asked the notary who was looking after him whether what he had heard from the Saracens was true. And the notary told him that it was and that he had personally read out to the Patrician a letter which a Christian friend of his had sent him from Africa and which mentioned the submersion of the aforesaid hundred ships. And this happened in the month of June, when many saw a fiery sign in the sky, like a torch.

Those envoys of the Saracens came in Beneventian ships which, while travelling, burned two ships coming from Spain with fire.

This is what we have heard from our man, which is what we have taken care to make known to your serenity…

The (alleged?) tomb of Idris I at Moulay Idris (source)

I find this passage fascinating for a wide variety of reasons. For a start, it indicates Charlemagne’s interest in North African affairs. Leo was uncertain why Gregory was getting in touch with the Carolingian Emperor and its possible that the governor’s letter extended to other matters, but clearly both Leo and Gregory thought Charlemagne would want to know this information. The most obvious explanation for this interest in North Africa was piracy. Both the governor of Sicily and the Pope in Rome were obviously frustrated and worried by it and with reason. One of or both of Corsica and Sardinia were raided in 806, 807, 809, 810, 811 and 812, while the Italian mainland was hit in 808 and 813. Interestingly, 813 marks the end of this period of piracy, although how much that can be attributed to Gregory’s pact is unclear (it probably also owes something to events in al-Andalus).

Gregory himself is mostly known through papal letters like this one. His correspondence with Charlemagne is intriguing. Later in the letter Pope Leo assumes that his actions must be sanctioned by the new Byzantine Emperor Leo V (813-820), but Charlemagne had form in plotting with governors of Sicily. In 799 he had received envoys from Michael, the then governor, and in Constantinople in 800 there were concerns that the Frankish ruler was going to invade Sicily. This letter indicates that Charlemagne still had importance in Sicilian affairs.

Pope Leo emerges as someone keen to burnish his value as an information broker. In a postscript to the letter he notes that ‘Gregory the Patrician said to our envoy, that the Emperor Michael was made into a monk with his wife and children.’ This reference to the former Emperor Michael I (811-813), who had been overthrown by Leo V in July, perhaps suggests the slowness with which news of affairs in Constantinople circulated.

The story of the unlucky pirates/lucky Sardinians reminds us that a majority of the North Africans in this period were Christian, and that they provided an important point of contact and information for their fellow-believers across the sea. Einhard tells us that Charlemagne was concerned for their wellbeing and sent them alms, providing another reason for him to be interested in North Africa.

As someone interested in Christian-Muslim diplomacy, the description of Gregory’s negotiation is fascinating. The fundamental problem that the Byzantine governor faced of whether agreeing to a bargain would actually mean anything was common throughout the period, resembling some of the difficulties other Christian leaders would have with trying to make Danish rulers curb Viking attacks. Pirates and other non-state actors could provide a convenient and plausibly deniable cover for acts of opportunistic aggression. Alternatively, rulers who were in a weak position risked being blamed for the activities of people they couldn’t control, who were often opposed to them. (Those of us who grew up interested in foreign policy in the age of the War on Terror may also recognise this dynamic).

Caution about the value of pacts made was entirely justified. The Umayyads of the Iberian Peninsula seem to have cheerfully broken such agreements quite regularly. The speed with which Charlemagne’s grandsons would turn on each other after signing treaties suggests this behaviour was not confined to Muslims. Al-Tabari complains about the Byzantines breaking a truce with the Abbasids in 785.

The identity of the Saracen envoy’s master is unclear, but the most likely candidate is Idris II (791-828). His father, Idris I (788-791) had conquered most of what is now Morocco, before being assassinated. Idris II was born two months after his father’s death and much of Morocco splintered back into numerous lordships which Idris had to slowly reconquer. This seems to fit the envoy’s account of a child ruler who had struggled to control pirate activity, but by 813 was in a much stronger position to do so. The following year saw Idris take the important city of Tlemcen. This might explain why Gregory was willing to believe the envoy and sign the pact. The reference to tension with Umayyad al-Andalus would make sense given that Idris later settled vanquished Andalusi rebels in Fes. The eleventh-century Andalusi historian Ibn Hayyan makes a garbled reference to Charlemagne and Idris I which may reflect contact between the Carolingians and the Idrisids.

The biggest flaw with such an identification is the reference to the Saracen ruler as Amir al-Mu’minin, ‘Commander of the Believers’, a title normally used in the period by Caliphs. To the best of my knowledge the Idrisids did not claim this title. This is a problem I’m going to have to think about.

The reference to treaties lasting ten years is also interesting. Muslim jurists of the time specify that ten years was the maximum time a member of the faithful could make peace with non-Muslims. The information from this letter suggests that this was not just a theoretical notion, but had some purchase on real practice.

Finally, the reference to the Muslim envoys travelling on a Venetian ship points to their ubiquity even at this early stage in the Middle Ages, and the way in which Christians and Muslims used each other’s transport infrastructure. Christian pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land often used ships captained by Muslims, sometimes containing a cargo of Christian slaves. What the envoys made of the torching of the two pirate ships is unclear, but given that they were from al-Andalus, they may not have been too concerned.

This relatively short passage thus gives us a huge amount of information, which can be very profitably contextualised. Most of all, it reveals an early ninth-century western Mediterranean crowded with pirates, diplomats and merchants, in which rulers from as far away as Fes, Aachen and Constantinople attempted to gather information through contacts and nodes.

Charter a Week 44: Late Carolingian Absolutism

…so, I might be cheating again this week. For the second instalment in a row, we’re covering a charter I’m already in honest-to-goodness peer-reviewed print about; this time in the Journal of the Medieval Low Countries. This time, though, I’ve spoken less about it on the blog, so let’s start from the beginning.

Last week, we saw Charles and the prominent noble Gislebert of Lotharingia have a spectacular falling out. Gislebert raised the standards of rebellion, and one of the things he did at this time was to try and install a friendly bishop at Liège. The recently deceased bishop Stephen had been one of Charles’ most consistent supporters, and so there was a zero-sum game involved here. As for what happened, we have a remarkable and almost unique round letter from Charles explaining the events which have taken place, and why they are so bad:

MGH Conc. 6.1, no. 2 (920)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. The illustrious man Charles, by gracious favour of divine clemency king of the Franks, to all archbishops and bishops established in the realm committed to Us by God, peace and health from the same God eternal.

Cap I: Because We cannot possible enumerate the benefits of divine favour which We have known from Him from the cradle, therefore ‘shall my mouth speak the praise of the Lord and bless His holy name for ever and ever’ [Psalm 145:21]. Concerning the which, because (receiving Our just desserts) We have endured many adversities, We believe that this has been permitted to Us not to earn Our damnation but for the sake of reconciliation with Him, so that having been taught a lesson by His scourges We might learn to beware the perverse and obey His will in everything. As you know from many sources, some of Our followers deviated from the loyalty due to Us and tried to snatch from Us life and realm. They went to Our enemies and befriended them, and desired that they should give them the goods and bishoprics of Our realm. Leaving, therefore, many things unmentioned, We will make manifest to Your Sanctity of one of these men who poured into Our guts a serpent’s venom; that is, Hilduin, who acted against royal power and against the words of the Apostle, where it is said ‘Fear God, honour the king’ [1 Peter 2:17] and ‘whoever resists the authority resists against what God has instituted’ [Romans 13:2], ‘for there is no power except from God’ [Romans 13:1]; and against the words of David the harpist, who said to the Lord ‘You have set men over our heads’ [Psalm 66:12]. He crossed the Rhine to Our enemies, paying little heed to the oaths he had sworn to Us. Casting them over his shoulder, he asked for the bishopric of the church of Tongres [i.e. Liège] from Our enemy Henry [the Fowler, the East Frankish king], and usurped it to his own damnation against every statute both of the holy Fathers and of the kings, that is, Our ancestors. This is what the book of royal capitularies says concerning such matters: ‘If anyone should presume to a dignity he does not merit from a prince or just lord, he has committed sacrilege’. The blessed Gregory says ‘Just as he who refuses the invitation and flees the summons should be brought to the sacred altars, he who seeks office voluntarily and ruthlessly thrusts themselves forward should certainly be repelled. For what will he who struggles to reach a higher position do except diminish it by his gain? Why does he not consider that this blessing will become a curse for him who is promoted in such a way that he becomes a heretic?’

Cap. 2: When certain pestiferous men, as We said above, strayed from Our fidelity, We assembled 16 bishops and archbishops of Our realm, and no small number of magnates, margraves, counts and grandees, so that by their counsel, authority and virtue, We might resist such madness. It was found that new cankers should be severed and healed with new cures: by episcopal authority and the ordinance of the sacred canons, they should be driven from the company and consort of Christians. Hilduin united himself with their presumption and abominable tyranny, and gave Henry and his magnates many pounds of gold and silver. He not only knowingly joined in with them, but also, using the treasures of the church of Liège which he, instinct with the Devil, had snatched away and plundered, acted with threats and terrors to have himself consecrated as bishop by Hermann, archbishop of the city of Cologne, through the violence of Henry and his followers. Indeed, if Hermann had refused – as the venerable archbishop told Us later in the presence of many people – he would have taken his life and the goods of his church, butchered all its dependents and laid waste their goods. And so he consecrated him without the authority of legitimate precedents, as he himself has hitherto testified, but only because he was compelled by great terrors and dire cruelties. Concerning this, it is found in the Council of Nicaea: ‘If any clergyman is discovered to have communicated with an excommunicate, let him be deprived of communion like a rule-breaker. This is widely known from many councils and royal capitularies concerning excommunicates.

Cap. 3: Hilduin also invaded, pillaged and stole the goods of the aforesaid bishopric in Our realm at will, against the statue of Pope Anacletus, in which it is said: ‘St. Anacletus, who was ordained a priest by Peter the apostle, and was later made his successor as bishop of the see of Rome, with all the world’s priests, judged: “Whoever steals anything from their father or mother has committed murder. Our father is certainly God; our mother is the Church, who renews us in baptism. Therefore, whoever snatches away, steals, or defrauds the properties of Christ and the Church is a murderer, and will be regarded as a murderer in the sight of the Just Judge. He who snatches away the property of his neighbour is iniquitous; he who steals the property or goods of the Church has committed sacrilege, and should be judged as a sacrilege”’. 

Cap. 4: Finally, with insatiable greed, Hilduin carried off the treasures of the church of Liège and the palace of Aachen, which had been placed in a strong-box next to the body of the blessed martyr Lambert – he stole them from the Church and gave them to Our enemies, that is, his accomplices. Concerning this, the sacred canons decree that: ‘If anyone is found to have sold or stolen anything from the ministers of the Church, he has committed sacrilege. Let him not be kept in an ecclesiastical order.’ ‘Further concerning this matter, the blessed Augustine says in his 37th homily on the Gospel of John: “Behold, Judas is among the saints; behold, Judas is a thief; and lest you think little of this, this thief has committed sacrilege, for he has not stolen from just anywhere but from the Lord’s sacred treasures”. And a little later: “Whosoever should rob or defraud the Church of anything, let him be compared to Judas the traitor”.’  

Cap. 5: He gave these treasures of the Church to bishops and counts and accomplices for his ordination, not having before him the statutes of the Council of Africa, in which it is orders that no-one should be ordained for money, saying: ‘If any bishop pays money to obtain the dignity, let him be deposed and totally expelled, just as Simon Magus was expelled by Peter’; and in the Council of Chalcedon: ‘If any bishop, priest or deacon should to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit for money, he will be in peril of losing his rank. Let this ordination or promotion, made for money, profit him naught, but let him be anathematized.

Cap. 6: The said Hilduin, to cap his damnation, came before the venerable Herman and swore an abominable oath on sacred relics: that I, Charles, gave him the bishopric of Liège; and he compelled some clerics and laymen to swear it as well. Various testimonies of holy writings prove that this is absurd and detestable.  

Cap. 7: Although called three times to a synod by lord bishop Hermann, so that he might, if he had just cause, respond to these things of which he was accused; or if he could not, be struck with the barb of the canons. Hilduin, because he put off coming, incurred the sentence of Pope Boniface, who said this: ‘He who does not want to come to refute what is said against him proves it to be true. And lest anyone doubt that the guilty flee judgement in this way, an innocent man seeks how he can be absolved.’ And a little later: ‘Whoever thinks themselves able to avoid judgement through delay confesses to everything’. Also: ‘If he wishes to be present in person, let him respond to the charges, if he is sure. If he neglects to be present, let him not win postponement of his sentence through his absence’.  

Cap. 8: All the clerics and laymen of the aforesaid church approached Our Sublimity, making it known to Us in mournful voices that Hilduin and his robbers had laid waste their property and taken away all their supplies and household goods. Nothing remained to them, even so much as to live off. They added in their prayers that this, by your counsel, lest they be exposed to further looting and plundering, it might be done that We should give them Richer to be ordained as pontiff, whom they had all elected. We beseech you pontiffs concerning everything which has been written in these chapters: for God and the due fidelity which you promised to Us, help as much as your strength allows in preventing Our honour from decreasing further in this matter and stabilising the state of the holy Church of God.


Image: the seal of Henry the Fowler (source)

The first thing to note about this letter is the emergence of a new figure in our cast of characters. In 918, the East Frankish king Conrad I had died. Conrad was a beleaguered figure who had already been beaten by Charles in their war over Lotharingia, and it seems that the threat he posed to Charles after that was minimal. Conrad’s successor Henry, though, was a different question: his position was more secure, and he appears to have been looking for ways to aggrandise himself at West Frankish expense. We will see him, and his descendants, ultimately achieve that over the course of the next sixty or so years.

In this case, though, he’s starting small, by helping Gislebert get his man in to Liège. Precisely what happened in these events has been confused because Hilduin claimed – and he was backed up by the usually reliable historian Flodoard – that Charles actually did appoint him before changing his mind. Now, Hilduin has an obvious motive for lying here; and, as it happens, so does Flodoard, who really doesn’t like Charles. Given this, I’d normally be inclined to dismiss the claim completely, except for the fact that Charles’ denial here is so weak. If he had a better case, I’d expect it to come with more force; maybe that’s just from dealing with Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims recently, who never met a weak case that prolixity couldn’t buttress. On balance, I still think the source tend towards Hilduin rather than Charles being the liar, but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

Whatever the actualities, we can see Charles responding to this particular problem in his time-honoured manner: calling an assembly and getting the appearance of consensus. In this case, though, that is paired with a remarkable emphasis on the inviolable nature of his royal authority. In fact, Charles’ stress on his own authority is not the most extreme version of this stance we have from this dispute: letters from the pope of the time are even more forthcoming about his absolute right to appoint a bishop. (Something, incidentally, noticed hundreds of years later during the Investiture Controversy when a writer from Liège used this example in his tract against papal power.) It’s a sign of how royal power had changed from the mid-ninth century by the time of Charles the Simple: the balance of authority had slowly changed in favour of kings, both relative to bishops and to aristocrats. However, all this garnish comes in a letter which is about how all these ostensible norms have been broken. There’s a kind of dissonance – Charles’ position is crystallised in the troubles, but it’s a position which might make solving the troubles themselves difficult. Charles’ royal authority might have been strong, but it was also brittle.  

Charter a Week 43: A Question of Perspective

This Charter A Week is going to be shorter than usual, for the simple reason that I’ve already written a whole article about the diplomas we’re going to be looking at. Still, they’re some of my favourite charters, it’s a fascinating case, and if you’re reading the article it might be useful to have some translations to hand.

Some background: by 919, Charles’ rule in Lotharingia is starting to look shaky. In 916, Charles’ most important Lotharingian ally Reginar Long-Neck died. His son Gislebert initially seems to have taken over some, although perhaps not all, of his fathers honores. However, within a few years things had gone downhill, and Gislebert was in open rebellion. This seems to have been his problem – we can see from evidence dating to shortly after Reginar’s death that Gislebert was in an honoured place at Charles’ court, but he seems to have wanted more. Gislebert’s rebellion was countered by Charles, who began to favour Gislebert’s enemies. Above all, in terms of our sources, Charles intervened in a long-running dispute over the abbey of Sint-Servaas in Maastricht. Sint-Servaas had been granted to Reginar by King Zwentibald, but in 898 Zwentibald regranted it to Archbishop Ratbod of Trier. When Charles became king, he gave it back to Reginar, but now…

DD CtS no. 100 (13th June 919, Herstal)

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

We are taught by divine teaching and admonished by royal majesty that We should provide for the places of the saints under solid protection, and if any are worn down by anyone’s depravity, We should cause them to return to their pristine state.

Therefore, let the industry of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, that is, present and future, know that Roger, archbishop of the church of Trier, a venerable man and very faithful to Us, often approached Our Highness in lamentation, saying that the abbey of Sint-Servaas, which is built in Maastricht, in the count of Maasgau, which King Arnulf gave to the church of Trier committed to him through his precept, had already previouslybeen unjustly stolen from the aforesaid church of Trier by the violence of Count Reginar [Long-Neck] and his son Gislebert [of Lotharingia]. Therefore, sending his claim to Our court, by the judgement of the scabini of Our palace, by the testimony of all Our followers, We restored that abbey to St Peter, in whose honour the church of Trier is built, and to the aforementioned bishop, in such a way that he and his successor might hold and possess that abbey in perpetuity without contradiction from any person in its entirety, and have free power to do anything they might decree to do with it for the profit of themselves and their church.

And that this notice might be believed to be fixed and held more firmly by those present and in future time, We commanded it to be strengthened by the seal of Our palace.

These are the names of those who bestowed the aforesaid judgement: that is, the bishops Wigeric [of Metz], Dado [of Verdun], Robert [of Noyon], Abbo [of Soissons], Stephen [of Liège or of Cambrai]; and counts Matfred [of Metz], Sigard [of Liège], Otho [of Verdun], Fulbert [Charles’ standard-bearer], Christian, Erchengar [of Boulogne], Isembard, Hunger, Egfrid [of Artois], Ermenfred [of Amiens], Walter, another Walter; and the scabini Bildulf, Ragenard, Adalbert, Sigebert, Witter, Adelard, Gotbert, Bernacer, Ragembald, Fulmar, Roric, Otter, Enguerrand, Betto, Ingelbert, Bivin, Eilbert, Isuard.

Ratbod the notary wrote and subscribed this notice at the command of lord king Charles.

Given on the ides of June [13th June], in the 7th indiction, in the 27th year of the reign of King Charles, the 22nd of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, and the 7th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at the palace of Herstal.

Charles’ diploma for the Church of Trier (image from LBA Marburg, whose website is set up so I can’t link to the specific document, but which can be found here)

We can see in this diploma a lot of the rhetorical themes that Carolingian kings generally, and Charles in particular, like to sound when they’re doing something controversial, notably that of consensus. Geoffrey Koziol wrote a really good article arguing that the introduction of witness lists into the diplomas of Robert the Pious was an expression of a commitment to being seen to take the opinions of his magnates into account. It is therefore noticeable here that the really long list of men involved in making the judgement in to all intents and purposes a witness list, evidence of Charles going ‘Look! It’s not just me, it’s all these key magnates in my kingdom too!’

This is doubly significant because we actually have another diploma about exactly the same issue:

DD CtS no. 103 (9th July 919, Thionville)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by largess of divine mercy king of the Franks.

If We freely lend Our ears to the petitions of servants of God for love of divine worship, We honourably follow the custom of kings and We truly believe that We will secure the prize of eternal life because of this.

Wherefore, let the industry of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, that is, present and future, discover that the venerable Archbishop Robert of the church of Trier approached the height of Our Serenity, complaining that the late King Arnulf, at the request of Ratbod, previously archbishop of the aforesaid church, had entrusted to the holy apostle Peter at the cathedral of Triera certain abbey which is built on the river Meuse in the place named Maastricht, where the body of the most holy confessor of Christ Servatius rests, and had endeavoured to confirm it with a precept of his sanction; but, divers misfortunes intruded and the former Count Reginar had violently taken the same abbey away from the power of the same see. Later, at the said Ratbod’s reclamation before King Zwentibald, he was compelled to restore it to St Peter. However, once Zwentibald had been killed, it was again invaded by Reginar, and after him by his son Gislebert with equal violence, who has until now refused to restore it.

Knowing his petition to be salubrious, with the consent of Our bishops and by the judgement of Our counts and of their followers, We commanded the aforesaid abbey in Maastricht, sited on the river Meuse, in the county of Hesbaye, be restored to the aforesaid archbishop in Our sight and in the presence of Our princes themselves, for love of God, in such a way that once it has been restored by Us to St Peter and the uses of the holy church of Trier, from now and henceforth no-one should be able to take it away or divide it hereafter. Rather, let Archbishop Roger and his successors have and hold the oft-said abbey by the defence of Our Piety, with the estates, churches, bondsmen of both sexes and all things justly pertaining thereto, and the exactions from the same goods, and let them rule and dispose everything pertaining to it in pursuit of their advantage, as the authorities of previous kings make clear.

Therefore, We strengthened this restoration of the abbey by a precept of Our authority for Archbishop Roger and his church with Our own hand, and We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Gozlin the notary witnessed on behalf of Archbishop and Archchancellor Roger.

Given on the 7th ides of July [9th July], in the 7th indiction, in the 24th year of the reign of the famous king Charles, the 23rd of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, and the 8th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted in Thionville.   

This diploma was redacted not by the circles around the king, but by the Church of Trier. It’s therefore really noticeable that the ‘consensus’ note is heavily underplayed, but the ‘screw you Gislebert’ note has come to the forefront. (The same is true of the diploma they wrote for King Zwentibald, incidentally.) Whereas Charles wants to emphasise to his magnates that he’s behaving entirely legitimately and with their consent, Archbishop Roger of Trier apparently just wants to emphasise that he and his predecessors were right and Gislebert and his father Reginar were wrong. It’s probably issued for Trier home consumption, as opposed to the Herstal diploma which would likely have reached a larger audience. In any case, though, these fractures in Charles’ base aren’t a good sign going forward…

Charter a Week 42: The Defence of the Realm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.


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


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


Enacted at the palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

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

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

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

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

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

The Bavarian Geographer and the Cities of the East

Bavarian Geographer, Description of Cities and Lands on the North Bank of the Danube, ed. E. Herrmann, Slawisch-germanische Beziehungen im südostdeutschen Raum (Munich: 1965), pp. 220-1.

[Part 1]

(1) Those who live closest to the borders of the Danes are called North Abodrites (Nortabtrezi), which is a land where there are 53 cities divided between their leaders. (2) The Wilzi (Uuilzi) have 95 cities and four lands. (3) The Linones (Linaa) are a people who have 7 cities; near them dwell those called Bethenici, and Smeldingon, and Morizani, who have 11 cities. (4) Next to them are those called Hevelli (Hehfeldi) who have 8 cities. (5) Next to them is the land called Surbi. In this country there are many smaller countries that have 50 cities. (6) Next to them are those called Talaminzi, who have 14 cities. (7) The Bohemians (Becheimare) have 15 cities. (8) The Marharii have 11 cities. (9) The country of the Bulgars (Uulgarii) is immeasurably large and has 5 cities, because for the vast majority of them it is not the custom to have cities. (10) There is a people called Moravians (Merehani) who have 30 cities.

These are the countries that are adjacent to our borders.

[Part 2]

These are those who settle next to their borders.

(11) The East Abodrites (Osterabtrezi), where there are more than 100 cities. (12) The Miloxi, where there are 67 cities. (13) The Phesnuzi have 70 cities. (14) The Thadesi have more than 200 cities. (15) The Glopeani, where there are 400 or more cities. (16) The Zuireani have 325 castles. (17) The Busani have 231 castles. (18) The Sittici have a land that is immeasurable in people and fortified cities (urbibus). (19) The Stadici, which have 516 cities and an immense people. (20) The Sebbirozi have 90 cities. (21) The Unlizi have a numerous people and 318 cities. (22) The Nerivani have 78 cities. (23) The Attorozi have 148 cities and are the wildest people. (24) The Eptaradici have 273 cities. (25) The Uuillerozi have 180 cities. (26) The Zabrozi have 212 cities. (27) The Znetalici have 73 cities. (28) The Aturezani have 104 cities. (29) The Chozirozi have 250 cities. (30) The Lendizi have 98 cities. (31) The Thafnezi have 257 cities. (32) The Zerivani is such a great kingdom that all the peoples of the Slavs arose and derive their origin from it, as they affirm. (32) The Prissani [possibly Prussians] have 70 cities. (33) The Uuelunzani have 79 cities. (34) The Bruzi [also possibly Prussians] [whose territory is] bigger on each side [than the distance] from the Enns to the Rhine. (35) The Uuizunbeire. (36) The Khazars (Caziri) have 100 cities. (37) The Rus (Ruzzi). (38) The Forsderen. (39) The Liudi. (40) The Fresiti. (41) The Seravici. (42) The Lucolane. (43) The Hungarians (Ungare). (44) The Vistulans (Uuislane). (45) The Sleenzane have 15 cities. (46) The Lusatians (Lunsici) have 30 cities. (47) The Dadosesani have 20 cities. (48) The Milzane have 30 cities. (49) The Besunzane have 2 cities. (50) The Uuerizane have 10 cities. (51) The Fraganeo have 40 cities. (52) The Lupiglaa have 30 cities. (53) The Opolini have 20 cities. (54) The Golensizi have 5 cities.

This catalogue of cities and lands compiled by an anonymous figure known as the Bavarian Geographer is at first glance a pretty dull text. If the names it lists are recognisable, it is only by squinting, and most are entirely unknown (the identifications I have offered are informed guesses and ought to be treated with caution). The information it provides is decidedly thin, limited to the counting of cities in a manner that is simultaneously both worryingly precise and worryingly round; and to offering a vague sense of geographical interrelation, spiced only with the occasional detail. That such meagre gruel has been seized upon so eagerly by scholars from Germany to Russia is a testament to how poor the source base otherwise is for the lands east of the Carolingian empire. Even as archaeology is giving us ever greater insights into this part of the past, any opportunity to attach names to the places we discover is seized upon. For modern people in central and eastern Europe desperate to find a history for themselves, the mysterious labels have been decoded in numerous ways since the eighteenth century.

The primary interest of this list for me is as a Carolingian text. It is preserved in a single manuscript, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm 560 f. 149v–150r. It was compiled in Bavaria, probably in Reichenau Abbey, possibly linked to the Bavarian court at Regensburg. For all that it is presented as looking north across the Danube, it reads as a catalogue gazing east, with its first part starting with the peoples closest to the Frankish world and then moving farther east. Its dating is uncertain, although almost certainly ninth century, probably between the 830s and the 890s. Given this background, the Descriptio is inevitably as interesting for what it says about Frankish views of the east as it does about those people themselves.

Interested as I am in early medieval foreign relations, I find this text fascinating as evidence for how the Franks thought about external peoples, with some of whom they had very intensive dealings (sometimes of the peaceful type, sometimes of the sack your cities and murder every single member of your family type). The reference to spoken information suggests that at least some of the information came from talking to members of these people. As a practical basis for war and peace it is clearly lacking, despite the little snippets of ethnographic and cultural detail. At a glance it resembles Roman geographies such as the Notitia Dignitatum. But if it is an encyclopaedia and taxonomy, designed to showcase Carolingian mastery of geography and inheritance of Roman learning, it contains an alarming number of gaps and admissions of ignorance. The overwhelming impression is of a vast multitude of peoples, some of whom are very mighty indeed.

Mikulčice-Valy, IV. kostel (1).jpg
One of the churches at Mikulčice (source)

The Descriptio also appeals to me as someone interested in ideas about the city. The Bavarian Geographer counts the civitates of different peoples (or in the case of the Sittici, urbes). I have chosen to translate this word as ‘cities’, although other scholars render this as ‘fortresses’. I believe that city is the more natural reading and that doing so allows us to see through our own assumptions of what central and eastern Europe was like in the period. Viewing all of these places as fortresses implies a world of small-scale settlements organised entirely for war in an unstable world, which may not match reality. The area was not heavily urbanised in our sense of the word, although archaeological digs at places such as Mikulčice, Staré Město at Uherskě Hradište and Pohansko at Břeclav in the Czech Republic are revealing sites that compare well to the cities of the Carolingian world. Fortified cities were an important part of Frankish warfare in the east, and the listing of cities may be designed to convey some sense of how hard a people would be to conquer. But the word civitas did not just mean an urban settlement. In ancient and early medieval Latin, it meant something more like community of people bound together by shared law and custom (see for example, Isidore’s Etymologies 15.2.1, which says that, ‘a civitas is a multitude of people united by a bond of community, named for its citizens (civis)…now urbs is the name for the actual buildings, while civitas is not the stones but the inhabitants’; a formulation later used by Hrabanus Maurus, with similar sentiments expressed by Frechulf of Lisieux and Ratramnus of Corbie.) By using the word city, the Bavarian Geographer may have been describing not armed anarchy, but a world of peoples with recognisable laws and societies. The Franks were not averse to describing their own territories as assemblages of civitates, particularly for the purpose of constructing itineraries, or dividing them up between warring Carolingians. In writing about cities therefore, the Bavarian Geographer may have sought to make the peoples he described resemble those of his own lands.