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…