Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 1

Well, my list of the #top10charters has now come to an end, so here and in an upcoming post I’ll list them for posterity, and for those of you not following me on Twitter. It was a fun little experiment. What makes a charter top ten material is wildly subjective: some of them show interesting things about the way documents were used, others about specific historical moments, others about longer-term trends; some were the most elevated of politics, and others snapshots of individual life. Into this latter category falls:

No. 10: Adalelm the knight donates some land and a silver crucifix to the abbey of Fleury, 975.

“… I offer to our Lord and Saviour… an exquisite silver cross… with the wish and desire that He who, by his death hanging on the wood of the Cross, destroyed death and defeated the Devil might deign to wipe out the weight of my crimes…”

It goes without saying that the Cross has always been important for Christians, and this was no less true for tenth-century Christians. The abbots of Saint-Martin of Tours – who, by 975, had also been the Robertian rulers of Neustria for almost a century, and whose contemporary representative Hugh Capet was Adelelm’s lord and host the assembly at which this gift was made – had as one of the key visual representations of their authority the fact that they signed their documents, explicitly, with the sign of the Holy Cross. Nonetheless, Adalelm is doing something interesting here. He’s participating in a renewed Cross-focussed spirituality, and he’s also picking up on an artistic trend for making large, monumental crucifixes, which at this time were becoming more common in the Ottonian empire. This was quite important for the Church in the area around Orléans – this 975 charter is actually the first evidence for monumental crucifixes in the Orleanais. And it was pretty substantial – thanks to a later description of it, it seems likely that this cross was made of about ten kilos of silver.

In light of the solemnity of the occasion, the charter offers a meditation on the role of the Cross in the salvation of mankind, and it’s this which makes it worthy of a spot on this list. The role of charters was to communicate information, but this information wasn’t just legal. A charter was as much a sermon as a notification of donation – in the charter, Adalelm communicates to the audience not just that he’s given Fleury some holy bling and land near Sens, but why he’s done it and how the sacrifice of Jesus works for him and the whole world.


No. 9: Albert III of Habsburg donates a hunting horn to the abbey of Muri, 1199.

“Let everyone who sees this horn know that Count Albert… enriched this horn with sacred relics…”

Photo by author.

As the picture indicates, this is not a single sheet of parchment, or a cartulary copy of a text. This is in fact an ivory horn. But it is no less a charter – the text inscribed on it uses the formulae of charters, albeit in this case of a short charter. What’s particularly interesting about this one is that the donation and the text recording it are identical. This isn’t how we use documents nowadays, but it was much more common in the earlier medieval period. At least in some cases, the issuance of a (parchment) charter text served itself as a symbol of the donation, aiding in the performance of handing over property from one party to another. This horn is probably the epitome of this way of using the written word.

No. 8: Robert of Neustria donates land to the abbey of Saint-Denis, 923.

“…by divine clemency, because the situation made it necessary, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to steer the ship of the kingdom…”

This is the only charter on this list that isn’t important to me because of work I’ve done on it, but rather because, if it weren’t for Geoffrey Koziol’s work on this charter, I’d never have worked on any of the others. We’ve mentioned here before how Robert of Neustria rose in rebellion against Charles the Simple; and, as Koziol, demonstrates very clearly, this document is not simply a donation, but a manifesto very specifically justifying Robert’s actions and his claim to the throne. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says, but his article is fantastic.


No. 7: Geoffrey Grisegonelle confirms his reformation of Saint-Aubin d’Angers, 966.

“…so that the mercy of the pious Redeemer might be well-disposed to concede His help and aid to me, Geoffrey, caught up in the whirlwinds of worldly wars…”

I’m going to be a bit less fulsome with these last two. Here, it’s because I wrote about this charter for my thesis and when that eventually becomes a book, this document is going to feature prominently; so, you know, spoiler warning…

What I will say about it is, whatever my own very particular theories, this charter commemorates what may be the single most cynical ‘reform’ of a monastery in the tenth century. Saint-Aubin had been ruled by Geoffrey’s ancestors as count of Anjou as lay abbots, but by the 960s it was under the rule of his brother Guy, who might have been a cleric but probably wasn’t a monk. A very strange charter exists in which Guy appears to say that he tried and failed to be a good abbot, and so turned it over to monks out of Saint-Remi de Rheims. However, Geoffrey appears to have used the opportunity to assert his control over the abbey, and Geoffrey’s son Fulk Nerra even more so: the counts of Anjou appear to have disposed of Saint-Aubin’s land to reward their own followers. This lack of interest in reform for its own sake comes through in the document itself: ‘Supposedly,’ Geoffrey says,  ‘monasticism flourished in the monastery once upon a time; but because there’s no obvious proof, We don’t care whether it flourished or not’.

No. 6: Liutgard of Vermandois and Godeleva make a bequest of land to the abbey of Saint-Père de Chartres, 979.

“I myself, and another woman dedicated to God, Godeleva by name, joined to me in both body and soul…”

This one I won’t say anything about at all, because I have promised a whole blog post about the Lesbian Nun Property Magnate Commune of Chartres before, and by thunder, a whole blog post you will get… Possibly soon, although not this week. The week after is a possibility, though. Also, I’ll be posting part 2 of this countdown soon, outside my normal schedule for posts – so stay tuned!

Charter Top Tens: The Sunny South


Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ralphtorta *winks*) probably already know that, this week, I’ve been listing my Top 10 charters. This has provoked a little response, because, as one might expect, my favourite charters (almost) all come from my research period and area, that is, tenth-century northern France. However, the world of charters is vast and endlessly fascinating, and as evidence of that Thomas Lecaque (@tlecaque) posted his own list of documents from Languedoc. So this week’s blog will be something of the text equivalent of a response video*, as I talk about what struck me about these documents as an outsider to the area. I won’t respond to them all, but I will list them all – let’s get started.


10: ARTEM no. 3960, Bernard of Peyrolles to the Holy Sepulchre, 1060:

What struck me is that Bernard doesn’t give directly to Jerusalem, but to Rodez cathedral, instructing Dieudonné Bordet, the sacristan, to send the Holy Sepulchre itself a cash sum each year. This might not be a banking network, but at the least it’s an indication that people think you can move money over long distances reliably enough for it to be worth doing.

9. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin no. 133, a notice of the end of the quarrel between the canons of Saint-Sernin and Saint-Etienne de Toulouse, 1076/7:

Here, the elderly bishop of Lectoure, Raymond Ebo, wants to go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, but has to resolve a dispute over some land he holds: in addition to being bishop, he is prior of Saint-Etienne, but holds the land from Saint-Sernin, so both sets of canons claim the land. I have to say I don’t agree with one element of Thomas’ comments here:

I’m not sure Raymond Ebo’s role here is much of a problem… As the cartulary of Saint-Florent de Saumur amongst many others could show, reformed monks are no strangers to petty litigiousness, and Raymond Ebo’s links within Toulouse do actually have enough pull to get a settlement to stick, at least temporarily. Which, as an old man wanting the kids to shut up long enough to go on pilgrimage, is presumably all he wanted…

8. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin, no. 546, Count William IV of Toulouse and Bishop Isarn of Toulouse permitting Peter Benedict to set up a hospital, 1075-1078:

7. Cartualire de Saint-Sernin, no. 291, Count William IX of Poitou and his wife Philippa to Saint-Sernin, 1098:

I have nothing to add to this, but it’s great.

6. BNF MS Lat. 9189 fol. 25v, Raymond of Saint-Gilles to Lezat, c. 1058:

Thomas highlights the apocalyptic rhetoric here, and the introductory phrase ‘appropinquante etenim mundi termino et ruinis crescentibus’ (For the end of the world draws nigh, and desolation groweth) in the context of the apocalypticism of Raymond of Saint-Gilles’ Crusade army. I’m more interested by his implication this formula is rare in the Languedoc, because it’s incredibly common in the north – this implies, at the very least, something about the transmission of documentary forms southwards…

5. ARTEM no. 2676, Pons, Geoffrey and Bertrand to Raymond of Saint-Gilles, 1103:

Ooh, vernacular text!

4. ARTEM no. 3841, Roger II of Foix to Fredelas, 1111:

Again, I’m not sure about the interpretation of reform here. By comparison, Robert of Neustria makes a similar restoration of property to Saint-Martin in 900, but it’s presented as his own initiative; that Roger highlights the papal role in the restoration indicates how far the papacy has managed to infiltrate discourse by the early twelfth century.

(Also, I like how the ‘comes Fuxensis’ gives no Fux.)

3. ARTEM no. 2443, Gerard I of Roussillon makes his will:

2. Arles, BM 1242, f. 55v, no. lx, Prior Peter of Arles exchanges lands with two Jews, 1008:

There are some royal diplomas in favour of early tenth-century Narbonne which repeat each time the same phrase about how the Jews aren’t paying their taxes to the archbishop’s men, which implies either a scribe wasn’t paying attention or that he had the least efficient tax collectors in the world. (Or, y’know, that the text of these things doesn’t alwaysnecessarily matter; but that’s another argument.)

1. HGL no. 365/CCXCVII, Peter of Melgueil donates his entire county to the papacy, 1085:

Wow. This is indeed a great one to finish on – to me, whose ideas of ‘normal’ political behaviour are based on the mid-tenth century, by the point someone’s donating a whole county to the Pope, there’s definitely been a discursive shift, and this is fascinating evidence of that; as well as the shift from the position of count being an office to being a possession – I don’t think a late Carolingian count would even have conceived of their county as being something they could give to anyone, let alone the pope!

Also interesting is that Peter donates the bishopric of Maguelonne (episcopatum Magalonensem). I don’t know if episcopatum has some other meaning in the south, but how’s that for ‘Church in the hands of the laity’?

Anyway, thanks to Thomas for posting that – he’s certainly illustrated the great richness of southern French charters!

I’ll be posting a list of and commentary on my own picks once the countdown is finished, over the weekend. But if you’re reading this and you have your own nominations for #top10charters, then please do put them up with the hashtag – if I can think of things to say about them, I might do this whole ‘response’ idea again…


*(Tweets copied with permission)

A User’s Guide to the Paris Archives, pt. 2: The Archives Nationales

I have returned triumphant from looking at actual physical manuscripts at the Archives Nationales, so here’s the second and final part of the guide to the Paris archives.

Unlike the Bibliothèque Nationale, which is fundamentally a research library for scholars, the Archives Nationales cater to a more general audience. This is good, because basically everything about setting up there is substantially easier. The first thing to do is to register an account on the website, for which you’ll need an e-mail address. Then, go to the CARAN building on the Archive’ actual site. (Note that the Archives have multiple sites both inside and outside Paris; this guide deals only with the Paris site.) There, you can register for your reader’s ticket. Happily the only document you’ll need is a passport.

As with the BnF, it’s pencils and computers only in the rooms. Everything else has to be left in the lockers. Unlike the BnF, no money is required – these are code-operated.

Then, go upstairs. Again unlike the BnF, there are different procedures for manuscripts and microfilms. For microfilms, go to the microfilm reading room on the third floor. If it’s your first time, introduce yourself at the front desk and the librarian will show you round and explain the procedure. It’s a fairly simple set up: sit at any microfilm reader you like. The microfilms themselves are in draws in the room, and you just go and help yourself to the one you want – bear in mind you can only have one at a time. This is beautifully simple and convenient, but there is a catch: all the microfilms I saw, including those I saw others use, were in inverted black-and-white (black page, white text), which gave me a headache after a while.

For manuscripts, as I said, things are different, although still fairly easy. You need to order the manuscript you want online first; unfortunately, this means that you do need to know the classmark. Also, the system is slightly oddly set up, so that to search for (for instance) the manuscript with the classmark LL 50, you have to enter it into the system with two slashes, like so: LL//50. Once you’ve ordered the manuscript, at 3pm the same day or on the following day, go to the second floor reading room. There’s an issues desk on the right, go to it, show your card, and they’ll give you a place and hand over your manuscript. Sit at the assigned place. Once you’ve done with the manuscript, hand it back at the desk and they’ll give you a new one. At the Archives Nationales, both with the MSS and the microfilms, it appears that one can take photos with impunity.

And that’s it! It’s quite simple.

There are catches, of course. The two big ones are these. First, the Archives Nationales online catalogue is nowhere near as good as the BnF. Whereas with the BnF you can look at the catalogue and have a reasonable idea of what you need to look at, at the Arch. Nat., you might get handed a box full of papers and have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to find what exactly in them is relevant.

I mean, look at this…

The second, and bigger, issue is that there is no wi-fi at the Arch. Nat. At all. So bear that in mind…

I hope these guides will prove helpful, especially to junior scholars (such as myself!) going to the archives for the first time. If you think I’ve missed anything, or something should be added, let me know! My archive needs have been relatively simple, so there may be things I’ve left out or wouldn’t think to include – do leave a comment or send a message.

A User’s Guide to the Paris Archives, pt. 1: The BnF

It occurred to me the other day that, as far as I know, there’s no equivalent of this piece on the National Archives in Kew for their French equivalents, so this is a short stab at producing one for people who might be as unsure of what they’re doing as I was the first time I came.

The Bibliothèque Nationale is, for most purposes, split over two sites: the Francois Mitterand site on the left bank of the Seine, near Gare d’Austerlitz, and the Richelieu site on the right bank, near the Louvre. It is in the latter site that the manuscripts department makes its home, and so that’s what I’ll be focussing on.

To get in, first you need to register. Actually, first you need to go through a security check – make sure your wallet, phone, keys, etc. are in your bag and that your bag is open – but then you need to register. To do this, you need different documents based on whether you’re a student, a member of the public or a professional researcher. Everyone needs proof of identity – bring a passport. Students will need proof of student status – a student card will probably do the trick, but just in case it might be worth getting a formal letter from your institution to the effect that you’re legit. You’ll also need a letter from your supervisor. Members of the public will need, basically, a list of what they need and a good story at the reception desk, the former being critical. It’s easier for professional researchers (I must say, pleasingly so comparing this time to the last time I came here) – all you need is a staff card from your institution (although to be on the safe side I bought a copy of my employment contract as well).

Then, you need to get in to the manuscripts reading room. First, drop your bags off in the locker room. The lockers run on money – you need a 1 or 2 euro coin, which is refundable. If you haven’t got one, ask at the front desk – they give out little tokens which can be used in place of coins; just be sure to return them at the end of the day. Bags, pens and jackets aren’t allowed in the reading room – leave them in the locker. Happily, the BnF provides nifty plastic laptop-holders which make carrying computers around much easier.

Neat, huh? 

To get into the reading room, you first need to pass the front desk by the reading room door. To do this, have your reader’s card to hand. You will have to hand it over. Specify as you do so what kind of material you’re here for – manuscripts, books, or microfilms, and whether or not you’ve already reserved them. Then, you’ll be given a laminated red card with a number on it, and a blue piece of paper which lets you pop out to go to the loo (and things like that). The card is important – that is your place. Sit at that place, and not at any other.

Now you can begin to order the documents you want. (Fun, isn’t it?) There are two main types of form: white and green. The green is for reservations in advance. Various documents can’t be ordered for the same day, and are subject to various seemingly-arbitrary periods of delay – check the website to find out the specifics, but most of them are the regional or erudite collections. The white for is for ordering manuscripts and microfilms. Unless you have a special need to see an actual manuscript, you have to see a microfilm if one is available. Fill it out and hand it in at the desk at the back of the room. Here, you will have to hand over your red laminated card. You will be told to sit at your place. If you ordered a microfilm, they will bring it to you. If it’s a manuscript, you’ll get a little piece of paper which you should bring back up to the front desk.

The Salle de Lecteur, taken from the issues desk at the back of the room (image source)

As microfilms are, if not exactly self-evident, something the librarians usually explain to how to use, let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’ve ordered some physical manuscripts. Once you have it, be sure to rest it on the cushions at each desk, and don’t use pen while taking notes. If you want to take photos of the manuscripts, you need to seek permission from the head of the reading room. I found they were fairly good-natured about this personally. Taking photos of the microfilms appease to be something you can just do, or maybe the staff simply didn’t catch me at it…

Once you’re done with your manuscript (or microfilm), take it up to the desk at the back of the room and swap it out for the next one. You can order five of each type of document per day. After finishing with all of them, tell the staff you’re done and they’ll give you back your red card. Take both your red card and your blue piece of paper back to the front desk, hand them over to the member of staff there, and your reader’s card will be returned to you.

Congratulations! You have succeeded in seeing manuscripts at the BnF. Once you get used to the system, you learn to roll with it. Most of the staff – despite the horror stories you hear about French librarians – are fairly helpful, and I get the feeling they’re used to dealing with people who don’t speak all that much French and/or understand the system.

The BnF is of course a research library primarily intended for scholarly use. Things are a little different at the Archives Nationales. However, because as of yet I’ve only used the microfilms there, my guide to that will have to wait until later this week once I’ve gone and looked at the physical manuscripts I need to see…

The Tria Regna pt. 1: The Land

Historiographical Introduction

              Aquitaine, Burgundy, Neustria. These are the three great subdivisions of the West Frankish kingdom for decades after the end of the Carolingian empire in 888. Known, sometimes, as the tria regna, the ‘three kingdoms’, under the respective rules of William the Pious, Richard the Justiciar, and Robert of Neustria, are obvious starting points for historians who want to look at the political world after the end of the Carolingian empire and, well, I’m evidently no different.

The Tria Regna. Red is Neustria, orange is places under looser Neustrian control. Blue is Aquitaine, yellow is places disputed between Aquitaine and Burgundy. Green is Burgundy. Bourges, disputed between all three, is in purple.

With that said, I’m increasingly less comfortable with the way the three are lumped together. Most of the work on the ‘first wave of territorial principalities’ is pretty old by now, and the frameworks analysis are hung within are pretty much those which they were hung in thirty years ago. It’s probably time to look again at this period. With that said, this blog says right on the ‘About’ page that it’s a vessel for getting things written down, and this series on the tria regna – however many weeks it takes – is going to be more thinking out loud than usual. I can’t even promise a conclusion at the end! But, if I don’t write this down, I’ll never get these thoughts in so much as a policy document, let alone something coherent and polished. Thus, what I plan on doing is going through a number of themes for each regnum, and seeing what emerges.

The Ninth-Century Background

              In the mid-ninth century, all three areas were part of a band of territories where the most intensive competition for honores was played out. If, within the West Frankish kingdom, some places – like Champagne – were locked down under direct royal lordship; and others – like Rouen – seem to have been backwaters, a banana of land stretching roughly from Tours to Lyons via Bourges looks to have been a particularly fertile place for conflicts over land, office and status.

The western valley of the Loire – Robertian Neustria, as it would become – was taken out of the game relatively quickly. This region was directly proximate to both the sea (and thus the Vikings) and Brittany (and thus the Bretons). The interaction of Bretons, Vikings and rebellious Frankish magnates created a kind of resonance effect which led to Charles suffering substantial military defeat and territorial losses which haven’t yet been made up – to date, Rennes and Nantes, lost by Charles, are still part of Brittany. Eventually, in the name of consolidating his command structures, he endowed a magnate named Robert the Strong with a vast number of honores (lands, offices, status) based on the abbey of Saint-Martin of Tours. Robert didn’t live long enough to enjoy it, as he was killed in battle in 866 shortly after receiving these honores, but the aim seems from the very beginning to create an institutional framework for the Loire, as Hincmar of Rheims records the Charles sent another man, Hugh the Abbot (of whom we have lately heard), loco Rotberti – ‘in Robert’s place’, taking over his resources and role. The position isn’t named, or conceived of terribly clearly, but there’s clearly an element of institutional continuity here, which lasted down to the tenth century.

However, the ‘south’ of the kingdom (used here to denote the lands south of a line drawn between northern Poitou and Dijon) was still an active spot in competition for honores. Irritatingly, for a crucial couple of decades there were no fewer than three major players in this region called Bernard – Bernard Plantevelue (‘Hairypaws’), Bernard the Calf, and Bernard of the Auvergne – and the situation is not helped by the fact that the main narrative sources aren’t terribly interested in affairs in this area. Still, it seems apparent that this part of the kingdom was a fertile area for treason, murder, and becoming very wealthy and powerful in the 860s and 870s – one of the abovesaid Bernards (Plantevelue) murdered another one for his honores, and the magnate Boso, whose power-base was in the valley of the Saône, became the most powerful man in Louis the Stammerer’s kingdom before declaring himself king after Louis’ death (abortively, as it turned out).

Even his only surviving royal diploma is forged…

This is not to say that the area, or at least all of it, was a playground for secular magnates. One important regional difference is the much more active and important role of both the episcopate and the West Frankish king in Burgundy. Whilst at the end of Charles the Bald’s reign figures such as Boso of Provence and Bernard Plantevelue held important clusters of Burgundian honores, the local episcopate remained powerful and became more so by the end of the century. By the end of the Carolingian empire in 888, the most powerful figures in the region were the court-focussed bishops such as Geilo of Langres and Adalgar of Autun. The same is not true in either Neustria or (for the most part; Bourges is an exception) Aquitaine: the archbishops of Tours and bishops of Clermont, for instance, are almost totally obscure during this period.

Similarly, kingship was felt much more immediately in Burgundy, and particularly in some parts of it such as Auxerre, than in Aquitaine. Charles the Bald and his successors visited the area more frequently, and had closer ties with (particularly) the regional bishops. This had been the case for a while, in fact – during the invasion of Charles’ kingdom by his brother Louis the German in 858-859, Burgundy had been the region of Charles’ steadiest support. By contrast, whilst royal authority was important in Neustria – the office of its ruler remained a royal appointment – the kings rarely visited there; and Aquitaine was never under West Frankish control to the extent of the other two areas.

One reason for this is that, for much of the period in question, Aquitaine had its own sub-king. (Neustria briefly did as well in the 850s, when Charles set up the west as a kind of Baby’s First Kingdom for Louis the Stammerer, but this was fairly short-lived and doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Continuity with the Neustrian regnum of the Merovingian period appears to have been entirely absent.) The Aquitanian sub-kingdom was a long-lived and relatively serious institution: it persisted on-and-off for most of the ninth century, and several of its holders, such as Charles the Bald’s son Charles the Child, appear to have made a serious effort to be taken seriously as proper quasi-kings. Consequently, West Frankish authority in the region generally operated at more of a remove than elsewhere.

A coin of Pippin II, king of Aquitaine (when not deposed or imprisoned).

Whether as cause or consequence, Aquitaine also had more of regional identity. It is common, although not universal, for charters to be dated by the West Frankish king, identified as ‘King of the Franks and the Aquitanians’, indicating a consciousness of separation in the region. This isn’t to suggest that there was some yearning for national freedom in the breast of all true Aquitanians, but it was a potential resource seemingly not available in Burgundy or Aquitaine, where regional identities are a lot less visible. The foundation documents of the abbey of Vézelay refer to it being placed in the regnum of Burgundy; several decades later, the poet Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, author of a poem about the Viking attack on Paris in 886, was very vocally Neustrian – but both of these are hard to parallel.

The Hour Cometh…

At the end of the ninth century, then, we have three very distinct regions. Well over to one side is Neustria, relatively tightly unified, administratively focussed, in royal gift, and already under the control of a single lay magnate. Aquitaine and Burgundy are more similar to one another, but still important differences emerge. Both are part of a ‘contested belt’, but Aquitaine has both more contestation and a stronger regional identity, and even semi-separate political framework, whereas Burgundy is distinguished by royal presence, both per se and through powerful and well-connected bishops. The first question to ask next time, then, is what happened, how did they all end up under one dominating lord, and is this a significant as it looks?