Assembly Politics encore une fois

               Special treat today, folks, because I’m supposed to be presenting about this in about three weeks and the grand theory I presented here earlier has fallen apart somewhat. So this post’ll work through the options for alternative theories, and we’ll see what you all think.

               The situation, if you remember from last time, was that during the reign of Louis IV, the West Frankish tradition of Church councils came to an abrupt end. My explanation for this was that Louis, coming from an Anglo-Saxon background where Church councils had been subsumed into a broader culture of royal assemblies, had simply brought this background with him when he returned to the West Frankish kingdom as an adult.

               What I have subsequently discovered is that it’s not just Church councils. Under Louis, assembly politics as a whole appears to collapse, and it’s very abrupt: the year before, his predecessor King Ralph held a major assembly at Soissons. Then Louis shows up as the new king, and we just don’t see gatherings of any kind under his auspices. Close-reading our narrative source for his reign, the Annals of Flodoard, illustrates this: Flodoard has a number of terms he uses for the various kinds of assemblies, notably synodus for more Church-flavoured assemblies and placitum for those who prefer the tangy taste of kingship; and the instant Louis shows up these terms disappear, and Flodoard starts using mostly verbs to describe encounters between the king and his magnates, such as locutus (‘spoke with’) or habere obviam (‘went to meet’). The impression, supported by evidence from Louis’ diplomas, is that rather than the kind of big assemblies going back to the ninth century, Louis’ kingship runs on small, private meetings with groups of magnates.

               Now this is weird in any case, and it certainly destroys any argument for a simple exporting of Anglo-Saxon norms. Under Athelstan, Anglo-Saxon royal assemblies were only becoming bigger, fancier, and more important. So what’s going on?

               The first thing to go back to is the question of agency. Is this change coming from the top, or is it a response to outside circumstances? Here I think that the point I made last time holds up: the change is so abrupt in this respect, but not in terms of the power of the magnates respective to the king, the level of Viking attack, the amount of experience in running gatherings of this kind the king could draw on, or the level of civil war in the kingdom, that it must be top-down.

               So where’s Louis getting his ideas from? I still doubt it’s West Frankish. In addition to the fact that assembly politics was a hallmark of all of his predecessors, his initial West Frankish handlers, such as Hugh the Great, had participated in King Ralph’s assemblies, and there’s no particular reason to think that they were chafing at the burden. In Hugh’s own Neustrian March, indeed, there was a thriving culture of regional political assemblies.

               But it’s not obviously Anglo-Saxon, or at least not contemporary Anglo-Saxon either. My best hypothesis is that Louis’ influence here comes from his mother, Queen Eadgifu. Eadgifu herself had been quite young, probably late teens, when she married Louis’ father Charles the Simple. She was brought up in the court of her own father, Edward the Elder; so what did her political background look like?

               Well, early tenth-century West Saxon kingship doesn’t appear to have placed an awful lot of emphasis on political assemblies. Asser’s biography of King Alfred suggests that he deliberately split up his nobility rather than gathering them together; in any case, charter evidence suggest that grand meetings were rare. Edward the Elder doesn’t seem to have held many at all, although here we have the problem that we have no diplomas, a key type of evidence, from the second half of his reign. It’s important to stay cautious here; but to me at least the suggestion is that in the period c. 900-920 when Eadgifu would have been growing up, assemblies were not a major part of Anglo-Saxon political culture.

               So then, she got to the West Frankish kingdom c. 920. What’s going on here? Well, one of the first things that must have happened to her as West Frankish queen was the fateful 920 assembly at Soissons which kicked off the rebellion against Charles the Simple. Eadgifu herself fled with Louis back to England only a couple of years later; and her experience of grand assemblies would have been their presence as a secondary element in England and a forum for subversion and rebellion in the West Frankish kingdom. Perhaps she came to believe that assemblies were dangerous for kings, perhaps Louis picked the idea up from her and changed his style of kingship accordingly?

               Lots of maybes there. The whole thing is very puzzling, and it feels a bit like I’m stumbling blind. What do you guys think?


Capetian Kingship and Neustrian Tradition

So back when I was puzzling over the caritas-prologue in the diplomas of Robert the Pious, I mentioned off-handedly that I disagreed with Geoffrey Koziol’s theory about Robert’s use of the cross monogram; and given the topic’s fairly interesting, I thought I might discuss it further today.

               First of all, what’s a monogram? Well, it’s this*:

That is, a visual symbol of a ruler’s name, made as a sign of their authority.  Here, for instance, we have a diploma and a coin of Charles the Bald, and you can see the Latin form of his name – Karolus – here, the K on the right, and the thing in the middle acting as AO, and U. These things are very common under the Carolingians, and for much of the tenth century they look like this:

Under Robert the Pious, however, the form changes to look like this:

Robertus; note the longer arms

               Geoff argues in this article** (which includes prettier pictures, such as can be found here) that this change is a very personal one for Robert, reflecting his particular devotion to Christ’s holy Cross; an innovation in his kingship and deriving from the very particular context of his reign. And sure, it is a new innovation in terms of Frankish kingship, but not, I would argue, a novel expression of Robert’s authority. Rather, it appears to me more likely that it’s an amalgamation of a very long-standing tradition of Neustrian rulership into Robert’s kingship.

               As long-time readers will know, Robert the Pious came from the so-called Robertian family, who had been rulers of the Neustrian March in western France for much of the tenth century. One peculiarity of Neustria was that lay abbots in the region (such as Robert’s family) sign charters with the signum sanctae crucis (the sign of the Holy Cross), as it’s usually expressed. I can find examples of this in a Neustrian context back to the early ninth century; and, moreover, I can’t find it outside Neustria, at least not in the regions of the West Frankish kingdom I know the evidence for – no Aquitanian or Burgundian parallels here.

               Signing charters with the sign of the Cross, by the mid-tenth century, was one of the few visible markers of Robertian status they didn’t share with other Neustrian magnates. It’s a consistent, if low-key, part of the visual repertoire of their authority: they sign with the Cross because they’re just that little bit closer to God than everyone else. What I think is happening in Robert’s reign, then, is that this Neustrian tradition of the sign of the Cross is mixed with that of the royal monogram, not so much putting Robert’s personal mark on Frankish kingship as a wider Neustrian one. After all, when the non-royal Robertians became the royal Capetians, they inherited a lot of Carolingian traditions of how to be a king – but they had their own century-long tradition of rulership as well; and this particular example is a nice little case of how that influenced earlier Capetian kingship as well as the flashier traditions of the descendants of Charlemagne.

(This does of course raise questions about timing, such as why Hugh Capet didn’t do it, and why it took Robert until 1019 to start, which I need to think on; but that will wait until another day.)

*So it turns out I can’t do my usual trick of putting image sources in the captions, so I’ll put them here instead:

Diploma of Charles the Bald 

Coin of Charles the Bald

Diploma of Charles the Simple

Diploma of Ralph of Burgundy

Diploma of Louis IV

Diploma of Lothar

Diploma of Robert the Pious

**Which I actually really like, for the record; I just happen to think he’s wrong about this specific point.


Reading the West Frankish Coronation Liturgy, pt. 2: The Coronation of King Odo (888)

1. Prayer to bless the king.

2. “O Lord God, Father Almighty, bless and protect this thy servant N., a subject of thy majesty, through thy only Son in the virtue of the Holy Spirit, that he might, secure against all adversity, constantly rejoice in thy praise. Through the same Lord.

3. The king’s consecration.

“O God, giver of all honours, O God, holiest granter of all dignities, attend our prayers and invocations and deign to send forth from Heaven upon this thy servant N. thy Holy Spirit, which thou hast this very day poured forth upon thy adopted son. May it illuminate, teach and govern him in ruling thy people and in carrying out thy will in all things. May he receive, we beseech thee O Lord, the unction of thy sanctification, with which, through the hand of thy holy prophet Samuel, by the oil of thy blessing, thou anointest the king and prophet David, from whose seed thereafter thou sendest thy son, our lord and God Jesus Christ, by an utterly wonderful dispensation, into the world, born in flesh from an undefiled virgin. May the same holy mother of God and undefiled virgin Mary attend upon him, we beseech thee, O most merciful Father; and may thy holy apostles and all thy elect protect this thy servant N. with the assiduous intercession of their prayers, and may they cherish him and make him vigorous and worthy to rule thy commons and people, which thou, O Lord, hath redeemed with the most precious blood of thy son Christ, who lives and is glorified and reigns with thee and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

4. Ad complendum [prayer after communion].

“We beseech thee, O Lord… our actions…” (as above) [there is no above].

5. The bishops’ petition to the king.

“We ask you to grant and promise to us that you will conserve to each of us and the churches committed to us canonical privilege and due law and justice, and that you will provide defence against those who pillage and oppress our churches and the goods pertaining to them in accordance with your ministry, as much as God gives it to you to be able, and that you will thereby conserve for us canonical law, and that you will concede that the goods of our churches, bestowed both by kings and by other faithful men of God, which our churches justly and legally retain at the present time, should endure in wholeness and immunity without any diminution, and that you will endeavour to increase and exalt them in accordance with the due service of each, insofar as God rationally gives you knowledge and power and the times dictate, just as your ancestors, who well and rationally observed this, conserved them for our predecessors; and that you will, with divine clemency aiding you, restore that which was previously corrupted by wicked inclinations to their earlier and better state, with the counsel and aid of us and your other faithful.”

6. King Odo’s promise.

“I promise and grant to each of you and the churches committed to you, that I will conserve canonical privilege and due law and justice, and that I will provide defence against those who pillage and oppress your churches and the goods pertaining to them in accordance with my ministry [ministerium], as much as God gives me strength, and that I will thereby conserve for you canonical law, and that I will concede that the goods of your churches, bestowed both by kings and by other faithful men of God, which your churches justly and legally retain at the present time, should endure in wholeness and immunity without any diminution, and that I will endeavour to increase and exalt them in accordance with the due service of each, insofar as God rationally gives me knowledge and power and the times dictate, just as my ancestors, who well and rationally observed this, conserved them for your predecessors; in order that you might thus be my faithful assistants in counsel and in aid, in accordance with God and in accordance with the world, as your good ancestors were for my better predecessors in accordance with their knowledge and power; and that I will, with divine clemency aiding me, restore that which was previously corrupted by wicked inclinations to their earlier and better state, with the consolation and aid of you and Our other faithful.” The confirmation of King Odo.

A much, much later depiction. (source)

(We’ve passed over Louis the Stammerer’s second coronation and a short promissio preserved from the time of his son Carloman II.)

This is a distinctly fruitful ordo, isn’t it? You’ll notice that first of all despite what I said last time about the influence of the 877 ordo on later coronations, that Odo’s ordo doesn’t have much in common with Louis the Stammerer’s coronation memo. The great historian of liturgy Schramm called this one one of the most interesting ordines in the whole West Frankish world, and he’s not wrong. It’s preserved (amongst other places) in a manuscript at Tours, and I wonder if we shouldn’t see a Touraine hand in its production? Odo had been abbot of Saint-Martin in Tours, his core base of support was in Neustria, and the initial blessing is from Alcuin’s Liber Sacramentorum. Usually initiative in coronation ceremonies is given to the archbishops of Rheims or the archbishops of Sens, but we know from elsewhere that Tours had an interest in composing royal texts, and this would seem to be one of them.

What is striking about it is just how traditional it is. Whoever did write this, they were concerned to convey the idea that this was business as usual. (One might note in passing the same kind of late-Carolingian claims for royal authority can be seen in the reference to David as king and prophet as there was in the 877 ordo.) This is most clear in the promissio, which you will note is altered from the form used by Louis the Stammerer (and which was repeated in 884 by Louis’ son Carloman II). In this case, it’s drawing on an oath sworn at Beauvais by Charles the Bald in 845. Schramm thought that this oath had become a ‘foundational document’ of the West Frankish Church; I think that instead the promissio’s author is trying to invoke continuity – note that the reference to ‘your father’ is removed, but instead we have ‘your ancestors’ and ‘our ancestors’, putting Odo’s accession into a long and interrupted line of royal authority. The other thing about the promissio is that it leans very heavily on the language of royal ministerium, both using that word and highlighting the king’s role in correcting the people. Odo’s ordo, in short, is a direct continuation of a late Carolingian tradition.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be writing about something which isn’t coronation liturgy; but this series will be back on Friday with the Erdmann ordo!

Reading the West Frankish Coronation Liturgy, pt. 1: Hincmar’s Ordo for Louis the Stammerer (877)

[n.b.: the numbering follows the edition. Headings 1-9 are the version found in the Annals of Saint-Bertin, which has been translated by Janet Nelson; the text translated here is a separate one found in a manuscript from Liège.]

10. The bishops’ petition
“We ask you to grant to us, that you will conserve for each of us and the churches committed to us (in accordance with the first chapter which your father Emperor Charles very recently announced at Quierzy would be conserved by him and by you, with the assent of his faithful and yours, and the legates of the apostolic see, as read by Gozlin) canonical privilege and due law and justice, and provide defence, as a king ought rightly to provide in his realm to each bishop and the church committed to him.”
11. The king’s promise.
“I promise and grant to you, that I will conserve for each of you and the churches committed to you (in accordance with the first chapter which my father Emperor Charles very recently announced at Quierzy would be conserved by him and by me, with the assent of his faithful and Ours, and the legates of the apostolic see, as read by Gozlin) canonical privilege and due law and justice, and provide defence as far as I can, with the Lord’s help, as a king ought rightly to provide in his realm to each bishop and the church committed to him.”
12. The blessings made over King Louis.
13. “O God, Who takes care of the people by thy virtue and rules them with love, give to this man, thy servant N., the spirit of wisdom, with the guidance of instruction, so that he, wholeheartedly devoted to thee, might always remain worthy in guiding the realm; and so that during his reign the security of the church might be steered with thy defence, and Christian devotion might endure in tranquillity. Through the Lord.”
14. The infusion of sacred oil.
“O eternal God Almighty, creator and governor of Heaven and Earth, maker and manager of angels and men, king of kings and lord of lords, thou Who caused thy servant Abraham to triumph over his foes, gave many-fold victories unto Moses and Joshua, who were set above thy people; and elevated thy humble child David to the peak of the realm, and freed him from the mouth of the lion and the claw of the beast and Goliath, and from the wicked sword of Saul, and all his enemies, and enriched Solomon with the ineffable gift of wisdom and peace, hear our humble prayers we beseech thee, and adorn this man, your servant, with the virtues with which thou adornest thine aforesaid faithful and the blessing of many-fold honour, and place him sublimely in control of the realm, and anointed him with the oil of thy Holy Spirit’s grace, with which thou hast anointed priests, kings, prophets and martyrs, who conquered kingdoms through faith and did works of justice and received promises. Let its most holy unction flow upon his head, and descend within him, and enter into his innermost heart; let him be by thy grace made worthy by the promises which the victorious kings received, so that he might happily reign in the present age and reach their company in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through our lord Jesus Christ, thy son, who was anointed with the oil of joy before his fellows and vanquished the powers of the air with the virtue of the Cross, who destroyed Hell and overcame the Devil’s kingdom, and rose victorious to Heaven, in whose hand all victory, glory, and power consist, and who lives and reigns with thee, God in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.”
15. The coronation.
“May the Lord crown thee with a crown of glory and justice, with honour and works of fortitude, that through the office of our blessing, with correct faith and the many-fold fruit of good works, you might reach a crown of the realm everlasting, by the largess of Him Whose realm and empire endures forever and ever, amen.”
16. The handing-over of the sceptre.
“Take this sceptre, sign of royal power, to wit, the rightful rod of the realm, the rod of the virtue with which thou mayest rule thee thyself and the holy Church; that is, defend with royal virtue the Christian people committed to thee by God from the unrighteous, correct the corrupt, direct the righteous that they might hold to the right path by thy aid, so that you might go from a worldly kingdom to the Kingdom Eternal, by aid of Him Whose realm and empire endures without end, forever and ever. Amen.”
17. Blessings.
“May the Lord God Almighty, who said to his servant Moses, ‘Speak unto thy brother Aaron, and say to his sons, “On this wise ye shall bless my people”, and I will bless them’, bless thee and keep thee. Amen.”
18. “May He shine His face upon thee, and have mercy upon thee. Amen.”
19. “May He turn His face to thee, and gave thee peace. Amen”
20. “May He reach out the hand of His blessing, and pour upon thee the gift of his propitiation, and envelop thee with the happy wall of His watchful protection, by the interceding merits of Saint Mary and all the saints. Amen.”
21. “May He forgive thee the evils which thou hast done, and bestow upon thee the grace and mercy for which thou hast humbly besought Him: and may He free thee from all adversity, and from all the plots of enemies visible and invisible. Amen.”
22. “May He multiply the abundance of His blessing upon thee, and confirm in thee the hope of a Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.”
23. “May He correct thy acts, amend thy life, arrange thy customs, and lead thee to an inheritance of heavenly Paradise. Amen.”
24. “May thou be filled with such intention as might please Him in perpetuity. Amen.”
25. “May He place His good angels always and everywhere to proceed, accompany, and follow thee, for thy protection; and may He liberate thee by His power from sin and sword, and from the crisis of all perils. Amen.”
26. “May He convert thine enemies to the benignity of peace and charity, and make those hateful to thee pleasing and friendly, and may He visit confusion upon those who persevere in hatred and criticism of thee; may an eternal sanctification flourish upon thee. Amen.”
27. “May the Lord always make thee victorious and triumphant over enemies visible and invisible, and fill up thy heart with fear and love of His holy name, and make thee to persevere in right faith and good works, and, having granted peace in thy days, lead thee to a kingdom everlasting with the crown of victory. Amen.”
28. “And may He who has wished to establish thee as king over the people bestow happiness in the present age and a consortship in eternal happiness. Amen.”
29. “May He cause thee to happily govern the clergy and people, whom He has wished by His generosity to place under thy rule, by His dispensation and thy administration through long-lasting time; for which reason, obeying divine commands, being free from all adversity, abounding in good works, serving thy ministry with faithful love, may they be fruitful in the tranquillity of peace in the present age, and merit to become with thee consorts of the heavenly citizens. Amen.”

A thirteenth-century depiction of Louis the Stammerer’s coronation (source)

As we’ll see later on, this ordo later became extremely influential. Some of it is based on the ordo Hincmar wrote in 869 for Louis the Stammerer’s father, Charles the Bald’s, inauguration as king of Lotharingia. (Jackson argues that at least some of these formulae came from a ceremony for Charles’ father Louis the Pious in 835, but I’m not sure what I think about that.) That said, one of the most influential parts of this ordo, the bishops’ petitio and the king’s promissio, were innovations in 877, and the reason for their presence is, I think, fairly particular to the time. Look, I like defending certain kings with a bad reputation as much as anyone, but Louis does seem to have spent his time up until 877 managing to convince most of his nobility – and certainly his father – than he was untrustworthy and incompetent. Hence, when Charles went to Italy for the second time just before his death in 877, he issued a capitulary at Quierzy intended to ensure that Louis would exercise as little real power as possible during his absence [edit: and Charles has kindly given a link to his English translation of this in the comments]. The specific clause being referenced in this promissio, which Hincmar actually gives in his annals, is a fairly generic one about the importance of protecting the Church. But that they reference this specific text suggests something more menacing. Louis’ accession had been opposed by a clique of the most powerful magnates in the kingdom, and the reference to Quierzy in the promissio, I think, indicates a veiled threat: ‘we don’t really trust you’. [Alternatively, it’s occurred to me, it could be the opposite. Hincmar wasn’t one of this opposition, and the clause in question is the Carolingian equivalent of Mom and apple pie; so I’d maybe be more likely to say that Hincmar was picking out the bit of Quierzy that everyone could rally around…]

In terms of a broader view of kingship, the formula for handing over the sceptre (no. 16) illustrates a very traditional view of royal ministerium, wherein the king must defend the Christian people and defend the erring. On the other hand, the most important part of the text for future coronations was the anointing formula at no. 14 (God Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth…). Its importance will largely come out in comparison with the texts to follow, but here I just want to point out that the reference to the oil of the Holy Spirit anointing ‘priests, kings and prophets’ is taken from prayers to bless the oil. Putting it here, though, changes the meaning so as to put the roles of the three closer together, moving kings more in a priestly direction. This may well be seen as some of those increasingly-spectacular late-Carolingian claims for royal authority that we’ve talked about on this blog before…

Finally, as a note to contemporary relevance, it’s worth noting that no. 13 above (God who takes care of the people etc…) was used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Hincmar’s words live on! Tune in on Friday for the next ordo I’ll be discussing, that used for the coronation (one of the coronations) of King Odo in 888.

Reading the West Frankish Coronation Liturgy, pt. 0: Introduction

So as I write this I am sitting pretty in my office in Tübingen (actually as I write this I’m on a train to Hamburg, but as I edit and post this, I’ll be sitting in my office in Tübingen [and so it proved to be]); and that means the blog’s back up! I’ve got a bunch of ideas for new blog posts, but to get things back into shape around here I’ll be posting over the next month or so, at a speedier rate than usual, a series of translations of and short commentaries on late- and post-Carolingian coronation ordines.

So what is a coronation ordo? Short version: it’s a liturgical outline of the procedure to be followed when making a king, like an order of service. This definition doesn’t actually work all that well – not least because not every text we’ll be looking at is a) a liturgical text, or b) prescriptive – but it’ll do.

What’s the interest? Political thought, is the short answer. Liturgical documents aren’t exactly Hobbes’ Leviathan, but they are, as Janet Nelson put it, clusters of symbols which reflect something about expectations of kingship. The tenth century was a period of tremendous creativity in composing new ordines, and even given the inherent conservatism of the genre, observing what changes and influences can be seen should hopefully prove enlightening.

Even if it doesn’t enlighten me, liturgical texts are rarely translated, so hopefully this will prove useful for someone

Coronation of a ruler, from the Sacramentary of Charles the Bald (source)

Disclaimers up front: at the most basic, liturgy is a very difficult field to try and break into, for (in my opinion) three main reasons. The first is that the manuscript traditions of some of these ordines can be rather divergent, and liturgists like having lumper/splitter type arguments to make the average Wikipedia writer blanch. The second is that attaching many of these documents to specific events is extremely difficult, and when you can’t do that, determining when the ordines were composed (which could be much earlier than the earliest surviving manuscript witness) is also extremely difficult, and frankly I’m not really qualified to do it. The third is that liturgists are very bad at explaining their terms: there’s quite a lot of technical language that it is just assumed one will understand. My suspicion is that this is because for a long time most liturgists became liturgists because they were already invested in the Catholic mass and thus had no need to learn the basics that someone from a lukewarm Methodist background like me wouldn’t have the first idea about. Consequently, liturgical experts might find some of the commentary amateurish. If so, speak up in the comments! This blog is a sketchpad, and especially when breaking new ground, rather more for me to learn than to teach.

More practical disclaimers: I’ve based the translations on the printed editions rather than the manuscripts; where there are notable variants (which really only happened a couple of times), I’ve chosen one, mostly for reasons I’ll signal but sometimes arbitrarily. Because after about 900 we can’t actually connect texts to specific events, any comments I make on that front are guesses; any comment made on that front is a guess, but mine are less educated than some. I’ve also omitted a few texts, all from the late ninth century, because that’s not really where my interest lies, and there are quite a lot of them. The other thing I’ve omitted are formulae for making queens, because I’m interested in male rulership, and also because there’s actually a very good article on queen-making ordines by Jinty Nelson.

As far as translation goes, I’ve distinguished between formal ‘you’ and informal ‘thou’, largely because it seems like the right register for Church services of this type.

Well, that took longer than I’d envisaged. Come back this evening for the first text I’ll be covering, Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims’ ordo for the coronation of Louis the Stammerer in 877!

Name in Print I

After a nearly two-year hiatus in publishing, my latest article is now in print, and available for anyone to read. It is entitled ‘After Soissons: The Last Years of Charles the Simple (923-929)’, and it can be found – for free – with the good folks at the Rivista Reti Medievali via this finely-crafted hyperlink.

Charles’ last years haven’t really ever been the subject of historical enquiry, and certainly not in the last, say, seventy-five years or so, so I can say with some confidence that this represents the cutting-edge treatment of the subject. It also features ornery Vikings, Frankish nobles in both conniving and morally-outraged flavours, and Charles’ underwhelming 927 comeback tour. In short: HARDCORE TENTH-CENTURY POLITICS. And it is, as said, open access, so you’ve really got no excuse not to read it.

The gritty details: originally written Winter 2016 for the Chibnall Prize, revised and resubmitted to Rivista Reti Medievali May 2017, one round of revisions, and in print now, five months later. Given some of my stuff that’s still in development hell, this is a fine speed record!

(This format shamelessly ripped off from Jonathan Jarret’s blog…)

On the Disappearance of West Frankish Church Councils

*IMPORTANT NOTE* As you’ll have noticed, I’ve changed the title of this blog. Being in Schwäbisch Hall, I’ve had reason to talk with people about my work, and in doing so have realised that the old title was really hard to Google. Hopefully now it’ll be easier; plus the new title has the happy benefit of better explaining what the blog is about. Anyway, on with the subject.

               As half-a-dozen-odd huge volumes of Latin show, there were a lot of Church councils – meetings of bishops and other ecclesiastical figures to determine doctrine and practice – in the eighth- and ninth-century Carolingian empire. These were important occasions: lots of flash, lots of pomp, and lots of opportunities for bishops to admonish the ruler about how he should rule. It’s therefore not surprising to discover that a lot of ideas about the theory underlying the royal and episcopal offices comes through largely in documents from major Church councils.

               In the East Frankish kingdom, this tradition continued into the tenth century, and councils such as that of Hohenaltheim in 916 or Ingelheim in 948 are fairly well-known by historians. However, in the West, the tradition ends. The council of Trosly in 909 is the last West Frankish council we have any texts from, and they seem to have stopped entirely from around 930. Why this should have been the case is a question which is increasingly preoccupying me.

               An obvious answer to suggest is that of violence: the late 920s also happens to be a time period when the West Frankish kingdom descends into the civil war which will occupy it until about 950 or so, with aftershocks until the late 960s. Maybe the political situation was too disordered to bother holding councils?

               This strikes me as unlikely. In the East Frankish kingdom, a comparable, if admittedly shorter, period of civil war in the 910s under King Conrad I produced the aforementioned council of Hohenaltheim, which not only brought together the kingdom’s bishops, but provided a more exalted definition of royal authority than ever – Conrad was referred to as a Christus! Besides, under Ralph, West Frankish councils continued to meet, even if we don’t have documents from them – the last one on record met during the siege of the fortress of Chateau-Thierry in 933. It seems to be in the reign of King Louis IV that the change really takes place.

               What I think may be happening is that we’re seeing an honest-to-God Anglo-Saxon influence on West Frankish kingship. Despite its political importance, despite the close ties between West Francia and England, and despite the fact that Louis IV spent his entire pre-royal life in England, after years of searching I have yet to find concrete evidence of Anglo-Saxon practices affecting Louis’ kingship – but here may perhaps be such a thing. As in the Frankish realm, eighth- and ninth-century England had a tradition of church councils such as those held at Clofesho (distressingly, despite the importance of the councils held there, we don’t actually know for sure where Clofesho was…). But by the late ninth century, this tradition had ended, or at least transformed. Not currently having access to a research library I want to be cautious here, but it looks as though the questions which had previously dealt with in Church councils was now dealt with in royal assemblies. This is not to draw a hard-and-fast dividing line between the two types of meetings; but the change in emphasis might have been significant in terms of having different corporate traditions.

               If Louis had been raised in such an environment, his ideas of how to deal with significant churchmen may not have involved the calling of capital-C Church Councils; certainly, he didn’t call any in his reign. (Ingelheim in 948, in which he was involved, clearly came out of East Frankish political practice.) Such a change in practice may have led to the changes in mentality that we can see in the latter part of the tenth century. But that’ll be the next post…