Parallel Wannabes: Hugh of Alsace and Boso of Provence

One curious thing about the 860s, 870s, and 880s is the rise of what I call the Carolingian ‘demi-monde’, which is to say the people who aren’t 100% throne-worthy but who have got good enough claims if you look at them in the right light. The most famous of these is my boy, Charles the Simple, whose mother was maybe-maybe not married to his father, and whose royal credentials were doubted not least by other kings of the time. However, there was no shortage of bastards, quasi-bastards, legitimate sons who had been sent into the Church, and powerful and prestigious in-laws. I was thinking about two of these people recently, because their careers offer an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise.

Boso of Provence, of course, we are very familiar with on this blog; but what about Hugh of Alsace? Hugh was the bastard son of Lothar II of Lotharingia, Charles the Bald’s nephew and focal point of one of the ninth century’s biggest scandals. Lothar, you see, hated his wife, Teutberga, and wanted to marry his former concubine Waldrada, Hugh’s mother. For a variety of reasons, his attempts failed and Hugh remained a bastard. Lothar did nonetheless try and set him up with a position, endowing him with lands in Alsace. From that base, he tried to improve his position at several points across the late 870s and early 880s. Hugh’s efforts were already underway in 878, where he seems to have taken advantage of the death of Charles the Bald and was excommunicated for it at the Synod of Troyes. In 879, though, Hugh went harder. The Annals of Saint-Vaast even show him trying to behave like a real king, leading an army against a Viking force marauding in Brabant. He lost, which probably didn’t help his case; but his support was nonetheless pretty significant. In his account of this year, Regino of Prüm names some of his supporters, and he was followed by a number of powerful counts not just from Alsace but also from further north as well. One of these names is particularly interesting: Count Theobald. Keep him in mind, because we’ll come back to him later.

Hugh’s streak of military misfortune continued in 880, when a combined East and West Frankish force attacked and defeated him at Attigny. Hugh was forced to flee, and sent to the East Frankish king Louis the Younger to negotiate terms. Louis probably gave him the abbey of Lobbes, and at Easter 881 followed that up with a substantial gift of lands and honores. However, Hugh rebelled again soon afterwards, and Louis sent an army to pursue him. When Louis died in 882, though, Hugh was able to negotiate with Louis’ brother and successor Charles the Fat for a landed base around the city of Metz. Regino of Prüm has some scurrilous gossip about Hugh’s activity during these years, accusing him of having his former guardian Count Wigbert and his follower Berner murdered, the latter in order to marry his beautiful wife Frederada. If any of this is true, it was probably a purge of his supporters whose loyalty he couldn’t count on – Wigbert seems to have switched his support to Charles the Fat. However, Regino seems to have disliked Hugh personally – he certainly knew him well enough. With his inner circle secure, Hugh sent to his brother-in-law, the Viking king Guthfrith, and together they plotted to launch a coup.

A seventeenth-century image of Regino, our source for much of this information (source).

Throughout his career, Hugh crossed over several times with Boso. Remember Count Theobald from a couple of paragraphs ago? Theobald is particularly significant because he was a) Hugh’s chief general and brother-in-law but also b) Boso of Provence’s cousin. In fact, when Boso issued his Montiéramey charter as a prelude to becoming king himself, Theobald subscribed to it. This probably suggests an alliance between the two men, even if we don’t know precisely what that consisted of. It is significant in this context that after Hugh’s defeat in summer 881, he was pursued into Burgundy – it is quite possible the two would-be kings joined up. Count Theobald, incidentally, kept a foot in both camps. By 887, he seems to have been a Bosonid loyalist: a charter recording a court hearing he oversaw was dated by Boso’s death.

Given their parallel careers, it is striking how differently they were treated by the ‘canonical’ Carolingian kings. Boso was pursued with vindictive hatred for years by multiple kings, whereas Hugh continued to gain reconciliation and forgiveness seemingly no matter how many times he rebelled. The difference between them seems to have been their own responses to overtures from the Carolingians. Boso was offered terms once, in 880, and turned them down. He was answered with war to the knife. By contrast, Hugh was quite happy to take an outstretched hand when it was offered.

What finally brought Hugh down was his alliance with Guthfrith. He was summoned to Gondreville by Charles the Fat, where he was blinded. Charles’ position was unusual. He was trying to secure the succession of his bastard son Bernard. This meant that Hugh was more of a threat than he had been in the past – after all, if Charles’ bastard could succeed, so could Lothar II’s. Hugh was imprisoned in the monastery of St Gallen, where he lived out the rest of his days.  

The intertwined rebellions of Hugh and Boso tell us something quite interesting about Carolingian responses to revolt. With their own family, as well as with nobles, the chief aim was not to crush traitors or enemies of the state, but to quickly and pragmatically restore peace as effectively as possible. In this regard, the least forgivable offense was not taking up arms against the king – it was refusing to be forgiven.

I Aten’t Dead

Hey all. I know, I know, it’s been a while. I have to be honest, it’s likely to be a little longer until normal service is resumed, although normal service will be resumed at some point. Still, I thought I should explain to you where I’ve been and what’s coming up on the agenda.

As a peek behind the scenes, I write these blog posts on one big word document, which is something like 200,000 words long at this point. The last words I wrote on it, however, were back in May, when I was sitting in Dublin airport waiting to go to the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress. In the past, a few people have expressed surprise at the blog’s rate of posting; what it turns out is that when things start ramping up, this is the first and easiest thing to cut. So what ramped up? A few things. It’s been an unpleasant year personally, in ways which aren’t blog-appropriate – I’m fine, thank you, but it did slow me down somewhat. More concretely, I got given a bit more teaching than I was expecting, and preparation and delivery for that took up a lot of time. Next year I’m teaching the same course again, so hopefully having all the groundwork prepared will save a lot of time… Then, I ended up presenting at a lot of conferences thanks partly to invitations and partly because doing that helped me write my thesis so I also hoped it would help me write my book. Spoilers, that didn’t happen, but several of them were useful, as you might tell from the below. Most excitingly for you, however, I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and I’d like to spend the rest of this post telling you about it. This has some similarities to the post I did when I came back to the UK from Germany (and never has that decision seemed less prescient than recently), and uses some similar categories, so let’s get started with:

Released and forthcoming

Lots of activity here. Since I wrote that old post, both ‘Flemish Succession’ and ‘Voice of Dissent’ came about, both of which I duly mentioned to you. I have also now seen proof versions for ‘Kingship and Consent’ in The Mediaeval Journal, as well as Nisi Rex in The Medieval Low Countries, so hopefully both will be on their way to you shortly. I have also, quite recently, sent off corrections to ‘Lehnwesen’, and the editors tell me they hope to have the volume out by the end of the year – it’ll be in German, and the translation is quite distressing, insofar as it’s a visible improvement over my English prose… Ah well, the road to getting better stretches ever onwards. Otherwise, there should be a couple of book reviews coming out soon as well.

In Progress

Again, plenty of activity – as mentioned above, my docket has been very full. First, articles, in rough order of completeness. A fully-written up version of my work on advocates got submitted to Early Medieval Europe in January, and initial reviews were basically positive but wanted some structural changes. Here, I hope to have these finished by week’s end, and I’ll keep you posted what happens next. Then, more excitingly, the now-legendary Norman sex paper was given at the Battle Conference this very year, and needs to be submitted to Anglo-Norman Studies by the end of September. Because this was originally a competition entry, though, the text currently exists in complete form – reading it out loud multiple times means that there are some bits of polishing I want to do, but this is a couple of hours’ work away from being done-done.

Then, there are no fewer than five articles in the process of being written. First, ‘Flemish Reform’: having presented at the Ecclesiastical History Society conference for several years, I decided this would be the year I’d try and get into Studies in Church History. This one is actually pretty much done bar some footnotes, and is with beta readers as I type. Second, a conference I went to in Luxembourg yeeeears ago got in touch recently to say that they were preparing the proceedings and could we please send texts by end of September. It’s a prestigious conference and a prestigious serious, so I’m thrilled to be involved with it; but unfortunately when I was invited I wasn’t sure that I would still be employed by the time it ran, and so the paper I delivered was a chapter of my thesis – and, naturally, it’s the chapter than has been made most obsolete by my subsequent research… Still, there’s a point in there, and I’ve been meaning to write about the Neustrian succession for a while, so I am in the midst of retrofitting it into something useful. Third, a worked-up version of my post about the Kriegsfahne of Queen Gerberga is mostly-done – because it doesn’t have a deadline, finishing the draft has got pushed further back, but it’s not very long so once the deadlines are dispatched it’ll be done directly. I’d like to submit it to an art history journal, but don’t know which one – suggestions in the comments!

Then there are two more a little further back on the road. ‘Church of Sens’ just needs a week or two of dedicated effort, because it’s so nearly done, but that’s been the case since last winter. ‘Earliest Cluny’ is even closer. The problem with that is that for the longest time it was, honestly, a case study in search of a point; but I gave a paper at the M6 Symposium in Liverpool which was sufficiently short that it could only be point. That was really useful, and all I need to do now is edit the top-and-tail to bring out the argument more, and then it’ll be ready for beta-reading.


This section has got a lot smaller since the version of this post I wrote back in May. The only entry here is ‘Social and Political Selection’, about which everything I know comes from offhand mentions on the Power Of The Bishop conference Twitter feed – that one’ll be done when it’s done. We haven’t got the peer review back yet, and given that a friend of mine was waiting four or five years for the last volume, I’m not expecting anything soon.


Of the papers I was talking about last year, ‘Archchancellors’, ‘Princely Churches’, ‘Moot Point’, and ‘Dudo’s Time’ are waiting for me to have the time and energy to deal with them. Frankly, they’ll probably not get done until the book is. Also, ‘Princely Churches’ at least is probably dead (or it’ll end up even bigger, which means it’ll end up probably as one of those little Palgrave-Pivot type volumes). Finally, and sadly, ‘Provençal Pact’ is off the docket for the moment – I presented a version of it at the IMC this year as part of the Louis The Blind Fun-Time Variety Hour, and as I wrote it up I realised that the answer I now had to the antiquarian question I initially asked was raising all kinds of much harder and more conceptual questions to which I had no good answer…

On the docket

What’s further ahead? Another four things, two with deadlines attached. I’ve been approached to write some undergrad-friendly pieces, one on the origins of Aquitaine for The History Compass and one on regionalism and late-Carolingian rule for a Routledge Companion to French history. Both of these have April deadlines but hopefully I can get ‘em done around the New Year. I got asked about Aquitaine at Kalamazoo this year, after giving ‘Stephen of Clermont’ as a paper. Given that ol’ Steve is actually on my probation list, he definitely needs writing up, and again that needs to be done before next spring. Finally, I was invited to talk at a really good conference in Poitiers back in June and gave a paper on ‘Failed Counts’ – the response was sufficiently good (and the argument sufficiently solid) that I’ve put it in to be written up. It needs a few more presentations, and a bit of East Frankish stuff would come in handy, so it won’t be done for a while, but it is on the list.

Those of you with eagle eyes will have noted one thing I haven’t talked about yet, and that is the book. Well, it got hit hard by the piling-on of stuff in Spring – I was supposed to have sample chapters to the press by the end of May, and that definitely didn’t happen. Thankfully, I was able to speak to my contact at the press in person at Kalamazoo, and they were very understanding. So, what’s happening is this: all the chapters they want currently exist in draft form. (One of the reasons I’ve been getting on with other articles is in fact because they’re all in the beta-reading stage and I can’t do much until they get back to me.) I’ve set myself a hard deadline of end of August for submission, which is just time enough to give them a bit of a polish. Otherwise, the proposed title is Kingdom and Principality in Tenth-Century France; and I’m very pleased with most of what I’ve written so far. As usual, I’ll keep you posted…

work from home
Meanwhile, I will get back to beavering away!

So what does this mean for the blog? Short version, I’ll get back to it when my deadlines have passed. I’d like to build up a bit of a backlog before I start releasing posts into the wild again, so that’ll add a couple of weeks to the ETA, but basically we’re talking, say, late October. So I will see you all then, enjoy your summers, and don’t forget to submit your papers to the strand on Non-Royal Rulership I’m putting together for IMC 2020!

Charles the Bald: Overdrive

I noticed something weird lately, and it’s made me think that Charles the Bald came very close to utterly ruining the late-Carolingian political system. But let’s start at the beginning. One of the things which is supposed to be a big black mark on the record of tenth-century kings is their limited reach. This doesn’t sit right with me on either end, and I’ve written here before about you can see the tenth-century Carolingians in all kinds of places traditional historiography says you shouldn’t find them. But it’s also the case that there are big swathes of ninth- and even eighth-century Gaul which don’t have much to do with royal power. Martin Gravel uses the phrase ‘non-communicating elites’, and I haven’t got far enough through his book to find out how badly I’m misusing his words (suspicion: badly), but I like talking about these people in those terms. Whereas the movers and shakers of the Loire valley, say, or the bishops of southern Burgundy will have plenty of contact with the court, the bishops of what will become Rouen or the leading men of Quercy don’t seem ever to have had much contact with the Carolingian rulers, not in the ninth century and not in the tenth.

Here, indeed, is a contemporary picture of some of those Neustrian movers-and-shakers: this is Charles the Bald receiving a delegation of Neustrian monks in the 840s (source).

Given that the amount of documentation for the later tenth and eleventh century in these regions increases dramatically, what I think we then see is something of an optical illusion. The combination of ‘more stuff’ and ‘no kings’ makes historians think that the ‘no kings’ is a new development, whereas it’s more likely that if we had more stuff from earlier, we’d see kings as very distant figures then as well. (The original charters of the cathedral of Rodez, where we do have more stuff from earlier, seem to bear this out.)

A good way to look at this are the witness lists of Church councils. These are good because they essentially eliminate preservation bias as a factor – their preservation is so widely-distributed that if we see patterns in who does and does not attend, it’s unlikely to be because the archbishops of Trier (or whoever) were left out deliberately by dozens of scribes over dozens of institutions. And as it happens if we look at the witness lists of big, realm-wide Church councils under the Carolingians, we do see some consistent absences, a major one being the bishops of Cahors, who don’t show up at any Church councils that I’ve been able to find, not under Charles the Bald, not under Louis the Pious, and not under Charlemagne. This seems pretty good evidence that these bishops were never more than tenuously associated with Carolingian governance.

But, there is one exception to this rule. The Council of Ponthion in 876, called by Charles the Bald as part of his grand imperial dreams of the last few years of his life, had a ludicrously-large number of bishops taking part, including Cahors. Now, Cahors is just one example of this, but one thing I think we can see in the last part of Charles’ reign is the presence of more and more people around the king-emperor, including many more of these ‘non-communicating’ elites. At the same time, though, Charles’ inner circle was being more and more reduced (sometimes to the relief of the later historian – it’s during this period that the number of important Bernards around Charles goes from about five to one).

Now, it doesn’t help that both Charles and his son Louis the Stammerer die fairly shortly after one another, but I’m not sure its coincidence that the years around 880 see a serious factional crisis in the West Frankish kingdom. I’m starting to think that Charles, by demanding increased participation and cutting off the flow of reward, ran his kingdom into overdrive. Earlier medieval government doesn’t do well with density, and the years from 875 to 877 see a lot of actors in very little space – the subsequent explosion may well have something to do with this…

Men in the Middle: Rather of Dijon

Bouncing off this week’s charter, today we launch an occasional series on this blog looking at the second- and third-tier people you don’t usually see very much of. Now, admittedly, some people do have the kind of depth of evidence that you can see quite far below the top tier of society, so I’m generalising wildly here. The thing is, I’m not one of them, so being able to trace sub-comital or sub-episcopal figures relatively closely is always quite exciting for me. And to start us off, it’s one of a whole sub-group of people I could write about in this context, an archdeacon of the church of Langres. We’ve met him already, but there’s so much more to him than the Saint-Vincent affair would make out: it’s Rather, prior of Saint-Etienne de Dijon and archdeacon of Langres.

The first thing to note about Rather is how long his career was. In his first appearance in 899, he’s already archdeacon and prior of Saint-Etienne, and his last appearance is in 944. In theory, he should have been at least twenty-five to be made an archdeacon, and so by the mid-940s he’s past seventy years old. This is a respectable age: no tenth-century king got that far.

We’ve already seen that Rather looks to have had a close relationship with Bishop Argrim, and that this let him do a bit of shady dealing in Dijon. Argrim was probably the most important, but he wasn’t the only bishop who gave him a leg up. Bishop Warner seems to have made Rather the cathedral treasurer, although as we’ve seen he probably also forced him to give up Saint-Vincent. Nonetheless, it’s under Argrim that Rather appears to have established himself as an important figure.

And a shady one!

I don’t talk about this in the text, but here he is making exchanges with Saint-Etienne’s lands for his own benefit (source)

We’ve already seen him appropriating Saint-Bénigne’s church, but this isn’t the only blot on his copybook. In 909, the canons of Saint-Etienne themselves went before Bishop Argrim and asked him to get Rather to give back their estate in Arceau. Rather’s close ties to Argrim apparently came in  useful here, because the bishop judged that Rather should keep the estate in return for a rental payment.

With that said, Rather did live up to contemporary standards surrounding his office. In 921, Warner gave Rather permission to build a church at Epinant in order that the tithes going to that church could help provide the lighting for the cathedral at Langres. (Although, as we saw on Monday restoring church life was how he justified the seizure of Saint-Vincent, so maybe there’s more going on here…)

He also shows up judging a complaint of some serfs in around 915. The headman of the estate of Ahuy said that they were being forced to provide more renders than they had before the Viking attacks of c. 900, and Rather actually found in their favour. This is surprising, not least insofar as we still have the record of it; and it is at least nice to know that Rather was willing to keep an ear open to his subjects…

A final point to make about Rather is that, although he wasn’t first-rank, he wasn’t a strictly local figure either. In addition to both Dijon and Langres, Rather shows up interceding for people near Tonnerre, and that church in Epinant is actually in Bassigny. Rather’s influence shows up across what would later be archdeaconry borders, and suggests that by at least a decade into his career, his importance was rather more social than ex officio.

The Bishop of Laon is Minted, and Career News II

Some good career news came down the pipeline last week: I have been elected to be an Associate Committee Member of the SCBI/MEC projects! What this means in practice is loads of coins – the M[edieval] E[uropean] C[oinage] project has been well underway for a while, and further volumes are in preparation as we speak. Further news on the projects’ activities as and when it’s ready to print; but from my point of view what’s exciting is being able to talk about some of my previously-mentioned difficulties in understanding tenth-century coinage with some of the best numismatic minds in the country…

Meanwhile, to celebrate, a post on some coins which I think I do have a handle on. As it happens I have written about these elsewhere, but not here, and not really with the textual links in play. So, let’s talk about Adalbero of Laon. Famous as ‘the old traitor’ because of his betrayal of the last Carolingian candidate for the West Frankish crown into the hands of Hugh Capet, he left behind a relatively extensive corpus of work, including a poem excoriating Count Landric of Nevers as an ambitious and scheming womanizer, and another work addressed to King Robert the Pious complaining about how kids these days weren’t doing things properly. There’s lots in this poem, the Carmen ad Rotbertum Regem, but one clear thing is that Adalbero is worried about the blurring of social roles. He particularly takes to task Abbot Odilo of Cluny for leading a monastic ‘army’ which, as monks aren’t supposed to fight, is useless as well as wrong. What does he propose instead? Well, in the words he gives to the king,

Let [Saint] Basil and [Saint] Benedict[, two of the founding fathers of monasticism,] possess their realms,

Let their realms observe and hold all of their commands.

Let bishops never throng fields hereafter,

If they would keep their rights; if not, let them tend crops!

Let Our order [of warriors] never dare to give up the rule of justice;

Rather, let it apply itself thereto with the greatest effort.

What Adalbero wants is for all the different bits of society to do what they’re supposed to and stop doing otherwise: monks should observe the monastic Rule, bishops shouldn’t be messing around in the fields like peasants, and warriors should protect clerics and labourers justly.

Whatever one might think of Adalbero as politician or as social philosopher, there’s no doubt that he was committed to this point of view, and this does come through in the coins of Laon around the year 1000. During the reign of Louis V (986-987), the mint at Laon began to mint a very unusual double portrait issue. As you can see, the figure on the right is supposed to be a king. I’m not sure the figure on the left is supposed to represent anything – the coin is too worn to tell any iconography, and the inscription around that side is just the word for ‘Minted at Laon’.

obole louis v
Gallica says it’s an obol of Louis IV for some reason, but the numismatical consensus is Louis V (source)

By the 1000s, however, Adalbero had taken this design and changed it slightly towards his ideological views of society. Have a look at this:

That’s more like it! (source)

As you can see, Adalbero had evidently found a slightly more technically-skilled mint master since 987. The design of the coin has also been updated, too. The portrait of the king is not simply a king, it’s a reasonable facsimile of Robert the Pious’ seal.

A picture-heavy post, today (source)

The other portrait is now not just any old male figure, it’s specifically Bishop Adalbero himself. Partly you can tell this from the stonking great cross on his head, and partly from the fact that the coin has the name ‘Adalbero’ engraved around the outside. What we have here, then, is coinage as medium for the political message outlined in the Carmen: the king doing his job, the bishop doing his job, each distinct, both together the two authorities ruling Christian society – in a quite literal sense, two sides of the same coin.

Odo of Cluny on the Difficulties of Earlier Medieval Governance

It should probably be said right out somewhere on this blog that medieval government was difficult. In terms of relative scale, it was rather harder to govern a Frankish kingdom in the tenth century than to govern the entire world today – in three days, I could leave my apartment and, with enough money, be anywhere in the world; in the 990s, Richer of Rheims took three days to go from Rheims to Chartres (although he notes that that was a particularly difficult journey). Even with the much more limited practical ambitions of medieval governance, preventing your political hegemony from devolving into ultra-fragmented clusters of tiny village cells was a constant effort.

Chris Wickham has this thing he talks about called ‘capillary’ governance, the idea being that you have these local communities as ‘cells’ and then processes which pull them into larger units, and those larger units are in turn pulled into yet larger units by higher-level capillary processes. These processes take different forms in different societies – so in the Roman Empire, for instance, it might be tax collectors coming and assessing your province for tax; in Lombard Italy, it might be new issues of a law code coming to be used in your local courts; and so on. But what about the West Frankish kingdom, where there was no Roman-style tax system and no real ‘legal system’ as we would think of it today?

A neat little window into this is provided by the Vita Geraldi, which at one point has a vignette of its hero, Gerald of Aurillac, being politically courted by William the Pious of Aquitaine. Odo of Cluny, author of the Vita Geraldi, portrays Gerald as a very strange man, largely because he was trying to effect large-scale moral change amongst a lay audience; but to do that he had to drop Gerald into recognisable situations, and he had in fact grown up at William the Pious’ court, so it’s a glimpse into William’s SOP by someone who knew it quite well.

Image of William from a Cluny manuscript, c. 1200, BNF MS Lat 17716 (source, image from Gallica)

What Odo shows is William trying (and occasionally failing) to win Gerald’s loyalty by a variety of measures. He tries and fails to entice Gerald into commending himself to him, despite Gerald’s position as a royal vassal – he fails, interestingly enough, because Gerald has only recently taken the title of count, and presumably needs the royal connection to validate it. He offers to marry Gerald to his sister, only to be thwarted by Gerald’s vow of chastity. He talks to him often and takes his counsel. The two men go on long walks together. They fight together, and build up military camaraderie. All of this shows three things: first, that William was not the lord of all Aquitanians just by default; second, that the degree of his authority of Gerald was extremely negotiable; and third, that it require constant maintenance.

This is entirely typical. William’s Aquitaine was built out of little bundles of local rights, connections and lands, and pulling them together required constant activity, cajoling, threatening, and bribing the people in his following to stay in his following. Exercising real power in the earlier Middle Ages was exhausting work!

Gondor Fraser Calls For Aid


Hey all. There’ll be a proper blog post tomorrow, but today I wanted to ask for some help. A little while back, I conceived of doing an English translation of the complete works of Folcuin of Lobbes. Folcuin is one of the most important historians of the tenth century, writing histories of the abbeys of Saint-Bertin and Lobbes as well as a biography of St. Folcuin, bishop of Thérouanne; but so far there is only one translation of his works into a modern language, a version of the history of Lobbes in French.

This project has now progressed reasonably far; so I’d like to ask if anyone would be interested in checking some of the translation? I’d be grateful for any help, from a short paragraph to a long prologue (maybe there are some truly hardcore people out there who might want to check the whole thing, who knows). In return, I can offer gratitude and the promise of reciprocal proofreading…

If anyone’s interested, e-mail or message me or leave a comment here – all offers will be very appreciatively received.

Source Translation: “We’ve established what kind of bishop you are, now we’re just haggling over the price”

Bishop Rainald of Angers was, like many of his fellow prelates, heir to a fortune. Bishop of Angers since 973, he was famous for his piety and his campaigns against simony (the practice of buying Church offices) and lay misappropriation of church property. Around the turn of the first millennium, at the end of 1001, he decided to make his biggest-yet charitable gesture: he would give all of his landed fortune to his cathedral, Saint-Maurice in Angers. This generous move, however, was not unopposed. I’ll let Rainald take over the story:

We judge that everything we want to call to mind should be written down in sacred arrangements of letters, so that it might be considered more memorable and believed more firmly by those to come.

And so I, Rainald, bishop of the Angevins, want it to be known to all the faithful of the holy Church of God, both present and future, that Count Fulk [Nerra] and his brother Maurice inflicted on me a calumny concerning my inheritance, which I had held solidly and quietly after the burial of my father, and which, for the remedy of the soul of my father and my mother and also my own, I had conceded with a devoted heart to the holy mother of God Mary and the holy martyr Maurice and the holy confessor Maurilius. They said that my father Rainald [Torench, viscount of Angers] gave it to their father Geoffrey [Grisegonelle, count of Anjou] as part of an agreement to gain the bishopric.

Since they remained obstinate about this, I released a certain serf of the same inheritance to the judgement of God, so that God might through him deign to reveal His virtue and declare the truth. By God’s grace, when he was sent for on the third day of the ordeal (as is customary), he appeared unharmed in the sight of all the onlookers.

Therefore, if anyone, filled with the Devil’s incitements (God forbid!) might from this day forth dare to do anything presumptuous or inflict any calumny concerning this matter, by the authority of God the Father Almighty and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the holy mother of God Mary, and the prince of the apostles Peter, and all the saints of God and Our own, let them remain damned and excommunicate and sequestered from the whole company of the faithful forever.

So, Rainald had held his personal inheritance perfectly happily since his father died in the early 990s; but come the first decade of the new millennium, who should pop out of the woodwork but Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, famous for his temper and ruthlessness; and his brother Maurice, heir to the county of Chalon, accusing Rainald of breaking an agreement between their respective fathers? There are in fact several things going on here, one to do with Angevin expansion southwards towards Aquitaine, and the other to do with comital control over the church within Angers.

Angers Cathedral as it appears today (source)

Rainald of Angers’ father Rainald Torench had been a pretty big deal in western France. It is possible his family had been entrenched there for generations, although the evidence for that is based on arguments about patterns of personal names I’m fairly sceptical of in principle. More certainly, though, Rainald Torench himself had built up a pretty large fortune in land in the region around Angers, particularly in the area of the Mauges, a region south of the river Loire between Nantes and Angers, centred around the modern town of Cholet. This region, however, was strategically significant for the counts of Anjou, who were expanding south into northern Aquitaine, attempting in particular to win over the viscounts of Thouars, whose loyalties wavered back and forth between the dukes of Aquitaine and the counts of Anjou. The Mauges, as the western neighbour of the Thouarsais, was strategically important to these efforts. Consequently, Rainald’s inheritance – which, as I said, appears to have been very substantial – was also significant.

Within Anjou itself, this charter is taken as evidence that the counts of Anjou enjoyed control of appointments to the bishopric. One historian in particular, Olivier Guillot, has noted that Rainald isn’t disputing that his appointment as bishop was obtained through simony, but only what exactly the cost of the appointment was; other historians have tended to follow this. In my opinion, though, this is a complete misreading of the document. Fulk and Maurice’s accusation was clearly meant not simply to dispute the property with Rainald, but to discredit him, painting the anti-simony campaigner as a simoniac himself. Rainald isn’t saying that the calumny was that his father paid his whole inheritance for the bishopric, he’s saying that the calumny was that he obtained the bishopric illegitimately. He did not submit his case to the judgement of God to prove that his father was good at haggling!

Historians have been oddly ready to be cynical about what is clearly a politically-motivated accusation aimed at gaining control of a large inheritance in Anjou’s southern marches. In fact, this document doesn’t say nearly as much about Angevin control over the church in Angers as it does about their desire to expand into Aquitaine and their willingness to spread what we can probably be safe in calling slanderous allegations to ensure it.