Why Was Charles of Lorraine So Tardy?

In May 987, Louis V fell off a horse and died. His cousin Hugh Capet took the throne in a coup, only to be opposed by his uncle Charles of Lower Lotharingia. The two men fought a civil war which lasted for almost three full years, ending in March 991 and starting in late April or May 988.

…Hang on. That doesn’t sound right.

Charles, on the right, next to his brother King Lothar. (source)

Yes, today we’re looking at the coup of Charles of Lotharingia, an event which is normally taken completely for granted but which probably shouldn’t be. For once, his motivation is probably clear – legitimate sons of kings were prima facie candidates to be kings themselves, and Charles had previous form plotting against his brother Lothar in 978*. It’s his timing that’s the issue. Charles apparently saw Hugh Capet being crowned but waited for almost a whole year before making his own move. This is an important delay, passed over by historians who see Charles’ move as self-evident; but I want to ask: why then? Why not a year earlier, after Louis’ death? The longer Charles delayed, the more time Hugh had to entrench himself. I don’t want to overstate this, because there clearly were coup attempts which were launched years after a new king’s succession, but not a lot and the delay did hurt the plotters’ legitimacy. So here are a few options:

1) “Charles didn’t wait, actually.” This answer would short-circuit the question, but unfortunately it would also have to be based on Richer of Rheims’ account. Richer describes how, after Louis’ death but before Hugh’s election as king, Archbishop Adalbero of Rheims went from Senlis to Rheims itself, where Charles approached him to beg for his support in becoming king. Adalbero refused and went back to Senlis, where he made a speech supporting Hugh. We’ve seen before that Richer is not an amazing source for political details, and this case is no exception. The journey from Senlis to Rheims was (pace Robert-Henri Bautier) completely pointless, and the timings are off. They’re not completely impossible, but they do require everyone involved, especially the ageing Adalbero, to move at courier speeds the whole time. In fact, Richer is probably referring to a meeting between Charles and Adalbero which happened later and in a different place, and which he probably knew through the same source we do, which is to say the letters of Adalbero’s secretary (and later pope) Gerbert of Aurillac. This does bring us, though, to the next option, which is:

2) “Ottonian backing!” Ah, the ole’ tried-n-true. However, evidence here is very indirect indeed. We know Charles was at the Easter court of the young Otto III at Ingelheim in April 988, immediately before he attacked Laon. What transpired there is unknown, but later in the year Theophanu tried to arrange a truce between Charles and Hugh and probably some kind of negotiated settlement. This does not, to me, suggest wholehearted support. I have trouble with this whole picture, honestly: relations between Theophanu and Hugh weren’t great, but they weren’t awful either – chilliness is one thing, but three years earlier the West Frankish king had been actively at war with the Ottonians! I’m unclear, therefore, on what Theophanu’s motivation for supporting Charles was supposed to be.

3) “Hugh Capet’s regime was running into trouble.” Again, not obvious. Hugh Capet is known to have sent an angry letter to Archbishop Seguin of Sens, who was dragging his feet about professing loyalty. He also besieged a guy called Odo Rufinus at Marçon in summer. Odo is sometimes argued to be a cat’s paw for Odo I of Blois (and sometimes, through him, of Charles), but the chain of logic there is very tenuous.** This is about it – over winter 987/988, Hugh was able to describe his realm in a letter as ‘very quiet’. If Hugh had any problems, they were more to do with lack of enthusiasm than opposition; but this doesn’t present much of an opening for a would-be pretender. In the closest comparable case, that of Hugh’s great-uncle Odo and Charles the Simple, King Odo had committed a series of patronage blunders and high-handed executions which had provoked a general crisis. There’s nothing like that in Hugh Capet’s case.

4) “Hugh Capet was distracted.” The king’s letter describing his kingdom as ‘very quiet’ was addressed to Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona. Borrell had been sending panicked letters not only to Hugh but also to Lothar and Louis V ever since Barcelona had been sacked by the Andalusi vizier al-Mansur in 985. All three kings had had some sort of interest in leading aid to Borrell, but the turmoil in the north of the realm under Lothar and Louis had prevented anything concrete from happening. Hugh Capet appears to have the time and energy to try and put something together. He used his planned expedition to browbeat Adalbero of Rheims into crowning his son, Robert the Pious, as king at Christmas 987, and at around the same time sent a letter to Borrell asking him to send guides into Aquitaine. Hugh’s sincerity has been doubted, but I don’t think the grounds for that are particularly good – our evidence does all point to his intentions to lead an army southwards. Notably, between Christmas 987 and Easter 988 we have no idea what he was doing. Robert’s coronation was at Orléans, the gateway to Aquitaine, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable that Hugh actually did go south. However, we can also be reasonably sure that Borrell didn’t meet him – Hugh’s letter suggests that Borrell was thinking of making terms with al-Andalus, and after over two years of delay I don’t blame him – and the whole thing came to nothing. I like this explanation conceptually – ‘the king and most of his army are far away and getting further’ presents a good tactical scenario for Charles to opportunistically take advantage of. However, the big question mark is the chronology, and this requires a second paragraph on…

…the Flemish succession.

On March 30th 988, Count Arnulf II of Flanders died. On May 20th, the imperial court was at Braine-le-Comte, a little north of Mons, where Otto III issued a diploma for the abbey of Blandijnberg at the intervention of Counts Godfrey the Prisoner and Arnulf of Valenciennes. Probably some time after that, Gerbert of Aurillac wrote a letter in Adalbero of Rheims’ name to Archbishop Egbert of Trier, the relevant part of which goes:

We are somewhat agitated though, that you told us what was happening in your parts so late, and chiefly concerning the case of your brother and nephew. Indeed, as soon as We had read your news, we received Our messenger from the palace, who confirmed that Arnulf’s son has received everything which was his by the king’s gift. In this, we have no other solace save that We know that the knights disagree strongly with him.

This is an opaque letter which admits several possible interpretations, but one in particular stands out to me.  There are other possibilities, but it seems to me vanishingly remote that the ‘son of Arnulf’ in question is anyone other than Baldwin IV of Flanders. Similarly, whilst the king in question could be Otto III, it is overwhelmingly probable that it’s Hugh Capet. What this means is that odds are good that Hugh Capet was far enough north to hand out Flemish honores in April, while Charles was at the Ottonian Easter court, which makes a putative southern distraction improbable.

But why is Adalbero opposed to Hugh giving Baldwin his father’s lands, and why are Egbert’s relatives, the counts of Holland, involved?

5. “Backing, but not from the Ottonians.” We know about Charles’ presence at the Ingelheim assembly from two letters, one from Gerbert and one in the name of Adalbero of Rheims, the latter written during Hugh Capet’s siege of Laon in summer 988. It appears that Gerbert was pretty keen on Charles. By the time Adalbero’s letter was written, though, the archbishop was more hostile. By that point in summer, Adalbero was opposed to Charles, but at Easter he appears to have been more cautious about taking sides, concerned that Charles had limited support amongst the West Frankish magnates.

At this point, we come back to Gerbert’s letter. Jean Dunbabin argues that this letter may well show that Arnulf of Holland was backed by Adalbero as the new count of Flanders over the (very young) Baldwin IV, who may have been accused of being illegitimate. This is a plausible argument; but to what end was Adalbero’s support given? Let us imagine the following sequence of events: Charles of Lotharingia approached Adalbero of Rheims at Ingelheim, seeking his support. Adalbero, who was not the most whole-hearted supporter of Hugh, equivocated but was basically positive, if cautious. However, because Charles did not have widespread support amongst the West Frankish nobility, Adalbero said that Charles needed to bolster his following. Flanders, whose count had recently died, would be a useful thin end of the wedge – if it could be controlled. Charles spread rumours that Baldwin IV was illegitimate, supporting the claims of Count Dirk II of Holland. There were good reasons to hope that this would work – the lower-level elite of Flanders (milites, which I have given here as ‘knights’) preferred an adult ruler such as Dirk to that of a child like Baldwin. However, Charles jumped the gun and attacked Laon before the Flemish affair was done. Egbert was not able to communicate with Adalbero in time. Dirk II died in early May and Hugh Capet swooped in, granting Flanders to Baldwin and marrying Baldwin’s mother, Arnulf’s widow Rozala (who now took the name Susannah), to his son Robert the Pious. Dirk II’s son Arnulf of Holland and grandson Dirk III tried to keep pushing their claim; but faced with the collapse of his plot, Adalbero dropped Charles and the rest is history.

This is, of course, conjecture, but it is a useful hypothesis which explains a lot of things. First, as Dunbabin points out in her article, the counts of Holland seem to have lost control of Ghent and Waas at about this time, something which may well have resulted from their failed coup. Similarly, argues Dunbabin, Rozala’s assumption of the name Susannah could be easily explained if she was being accused of adultery. Moreover, Charles had pedigree in using these types of accusations, which were otherwise rare in an Ottonian context, having made the same charges against his sister-in-law Lothar’s wife Emma. This sequence of affairs also explains the tone of the letter – why Adalbero and Egbert are on the same side in this matter, why Adalbero doesn’t seem all that concerned, and why speed was of the essence. It fits neatly with Charles’ background: he had long-standing associations with Flanders ever since the 960s, had been an ally of Egbert’s in the 980s, and seems to have been an ally of Adalbero’s during the reign of Louis V. Finally, it is the best explanation I can think of, or that I’ve read, as to why, after a year’s delay, Charles acted when he did.

*Although odds are pretty good that, despite the historical consensus, he was never actually crowned at that point. I’ve got a translation post coming out probably in March or April where I’ll discuss this further.

** A generation later, there was a man named Odorus who was Odo I’s distant kinsman. If Odorus was the same man as the mid-eleventh century ‘Odo the Red’ from the Loire valley, and if Odo the Red was related to Odo Rufinus, and if Odo Rufinus’ putative kinship with the count meant that he was Odo I’s vassal then it is possible that this was a portion of a larger struggle rather than just a purely local affair.

I’m used to wobbly conjectures, but this is something else.  

Roman Roads in Post-Carolingian Politics; or What Did the Romans Ever Do for Adalbero of Rheims?

Charleville-Mézières was a busy place in the tenth century. No fewer than three fortresses (that we know about) duked it out for control of the area. Most recently, I’ve been looking at an event described in the Chronicle of Mouzon. Around 970, Otto of Warcq, a younger son of Count Albert the Pious of Vermandois, began to build a castle at Warcq (basically next door to Mézières). This did not make Archbishop Adalbero of Rheims happy, largely because he had his own designs on the region, in pursuit of which he’d set his brother Count Godfrey of Verdun to fortifying Mézières itself. Adalbero and Godfrey led an attack on Warcq and razed it. This was not the first time within living memory something similar had happened. Back in the 940s, a Count Bernard had raised a fortress at Arches-en-Porcien (modern Charleville, next door to Mézières but to the north rather than the west) and it had been razed by the bishop of Liège.

Once he had raised Warcq through the intervention of a helpful cow (long story), Adalbero took the relics held by the castle and transported them to Mouzon, where he kicked out the existing monks and imposed a new regime more closely under his control. Thinking about this, I happened to look at a map of Roman roads (specifically this one), and I noticed something curious: both Mézières and Mouzon are on Roman roads. In fact, they each control one of the two branches of the road directly eastwards from Rheims into Lotharingia. Adalbero was clearly thinking very strategically.

What’s left of a Roman road in the south of France (source)

By itself, nifty; but then I kept noticing correlations between important places and Roman roads. Staying with Rheims, the Roman roads run out of the city in four directions. We’ve already seen the eastern road, but I traced their path in the other three directions as well. The roads north are fairly quiet – one leads to an area well-populated by old settlements, going to Laon and thence Saint-Quentin; the other goes to Bavay (a dog that fails to bark in this regard, more below) and then, amongst other places, to the key fortification of Mons. Westward, the road is a bit more interesting: a short hop to Soissons, and then three options, one eastwards to Senlis, one southwards to Troyes, and a northward road which branches off in one direction towards Noyon and in the other towards Saint-Quentin. Here, things get spicier: Château-Thierry lies directly on the Troyes road and Coucy-le-Château on the Saint-Quentin road, both of which were absolutely critical fortifications in the mid-tenth century and both of which seem to have been relatively new developments (an early-eleventh century bishop of Orléans was the eponymous grandson of the Thierry after whom Château-Thierry was named).

Southwards, things really take off. There are three southern branches. First, one road takes another short hop to Châlons, and from Châlons goes in three directions. First, an eastern road to Vertus. Second, a south-eastern route to Troyes. This one is interesting because it passes by Ramerupt. Third, a southern route which gets to Corbeil and then splits in half. The first part of this goes to Troyes as well; the second part goes to Langres, and on the way passes both Rosnay and Brienne before passing through Bar-sur-Aube. The second southern road from Rheims goes southwards through Bar-le-Duc. The third and final route heads eastwards to Verdun, past Vienne-la-Ville (and thus explaining the route Charles the Simple took for his invasion in 898).

The Rheims-Châlons-Langres route is particularly interesting here, because all three of the places I mentioned, Brienne, Rosnay, and Bar-sur-Aube, grew into counties by the late tenth century. Brienne in particular first appears in our sources late in the reign of Louis IV, when the king apparently made a major effort to raze the fortification, which was held by two brothers named Engelbert and Gozbert. The fact that this Engelbert was the first count of Brienne shows that Louis was probably struggling against the tide here. Ramerupt, too, became the centre of a county; and Bar-le-Duc became one of the key strongholds of Duke Frederick of Lotharingia and his heirs. Frederick, like Adalbero, clearly had a good grasp of the strategic geography because Bar-le-Duc was the second fortification he built in that immediate neighbourhood – the first, Fains, Louis had made him destroy. My theory is that the Roman roads south into Burgundy – one of Louis’ key support bases – were a) so important to him that he made significant efforts to keep them clear and under control; but b) the social and political capital – maybe even the königsnahe which came from being close to the king on the road – of being based on such well-travelled highways could be exploited by canny nobles to bolster their own positions.

This pattern clearly doesn’t work everywhere. When I was poking around this question, I looked at Rheims because – thanks to Flodoard – I know the geography of that region best. Some other places I had a more fleeting look at do have interesting things – from Limoges, for instance, the emergent vicecomital seats at Ségur, Aubusson and (I think) Comborn are all on the roads. However, other areas – Chartres, for example – didn’t have all that much going on. Equally, there are new counties – the biggest and most important probably being La Marche – which are nowhere near Roman roads. Even when Roman roads factor into the equation, they’re not the only important thing that’s even visible on a map – most of the places I just mentioned are also on rivers. Furthermore, at that point, ‘control of a hard point which controls multiple transport routes is important’ seems like a no-brainer.

Still, the overlap between comital seats and Roman roads is enough to make me thing there may be something here. Roman roads in the Carolingian era seem like something someone should have written something about, but I haven’t yet found the right keywords to put into Google Books or the IMB to find it… (Suggestions in the comments, please!) As always, if something more comes up I will keep you posted, but the development of ‘road counties’ seems like a potentially important tenth-century development.

PS: I just this moment thought as I wrote this last paragraphy, why don’t I check where Aurillac is; and wouldn’t you know, it’s at a pretty major Roman road junction! Suggestions for reading would be really appreciated, because this may be a project…

King Lothar and the Origins of Valenciennes and Ename

At some point in the third quarter of the tenth century, several military commands appeared on the river Scheldt, based at Antwerp, Ename and Valenciennes. By the year 1000, their purpose was clear enough: defending Lower Lotharingia against attacks from the counts of Flanders. However, their original purpose is a bit fuzzier. The extant debate in historiography pitches one side which sees them as creations of the mid-960s, after the death of Duke Godfrey of Lower Lotharingia from plague whilst on campaign in Italy; and another which places their genesis in the early-to-mid-970s, responding to the return from exile of the sons of Reginar III, who had a military following, a lot of claims to land, and a grudge. (The wars began in 973 and kept going for years.) Basic to all these claims is the idea that from the very beginning the Flemish marches were a creation of the Ottonian emperors.

However, I wonder if we might not benefit from inverting our perspective. As I have written about before, when Count Arnulf the Great of Flanders died in 965, Lothar launched an invasion to take over as much of Flanders as he could get. Eventually, he grabbed most of the southern portion and placed his own man (Baldwin Baldzo) in the north, watched over by Queen Gerberga and Lothar’s brother Charles. This was presented to the East Frankish king Otto the Great – possibly as a fait accompli – and he signed off on it. One of the reasons he signed off on it was that he was keen to get back to Italy, where he spent most of the years from then until his death, bringing with him his heir Otto II and a surprisingly large chunk of the Lotharingian nobility.

Nothing about this time period is easy or clear – in fact, I’ll put an asterisk next to all the seemingly simple statements of fact which would require a lengthy discursive footnote to justify – but there are hints that Lothar took advantage of the cats being away to try and spread his influence across the Lotharingian frontier. Let’s work north-to-south. From the latter part of the tenth century, we find scattered references in our sources to a ‘county of Ghent’ which did not exist in Arnulf the Great’s time. In 969, however, we find Lothar granting Count Dirk of Holland ‘the forest of Waas in the same county’.* One of our sources explicitly equates the county of Ghent and the pagus of Waas. It may well be that Lothar deliberately sliced off an area of territory around Ghent to give to Dirk in return for the count’s support. Notably, despite the fact that Baldwin Baldzo had been put in place by Lothar as the guardian of the child-count Arnulf II, we find Dirk and Arnulf together in Ghent a few days before Lothar’s grant*.

Even more interestingly, Dirk’s donation was witnessed by Godfrey the Prisoner, count of Verdun. Godfrey’s powerbase lay around Trier and Verdun, and he had no existing ties to the Scheldt region – except one. Probably around this time*, he married Matilda Billung, the widow of Baldwin III of Flanders and Arnulf II’s mother. It is also around this time that Godfrey and Matilda were endowed with a significant estate at Ename. This is extremely unlikely to have belonged to either of them as their own hereditary property, and Matilda is also unlikely to have received it as a dowry from Baldwin. It has been suggested that Ename was a strategic wedding gift from the Ottonians. However, we know that the (by this point recently deceased) Queen Gerberga held estates in this area, just up the river at Krombrugge. Given this, Lothar is as if not more likely a source for this estate than the Ottonians.

Map from Dirk Callebaut, ‘Ename and the Ottonian West Border Policy in the Middle Scheldt Region’, in de Groote & Pieters (eds), Exchanging Medieval Material Culture, p. 224.

This leaves Valenciennes. Valenciennes had been a Carolingian royal estate in the ninth century, but had been badly hit by Viking attacks. I need to do some more reading about this – Leeds’ library doesn’t have the relevant books – but it could well have belonged to Gerberga by the mid-tenth century as well. More significantly, though, Count Arnulf of Valenciennes (whose career would stretch well into the eleventh century) emerges into our sources in the 960s* as a man whose interests and estates were split between Lotharingia and southern Flanders. In fact, he seems to have acted as Queen Gerberga’s advocatus when she donated Meerssen to Saint-Remi in 968*.

However, there is more. Later in 969, Archbishop Odalric of Rheims died. His successor was Adalbero, a canon of the church of Metz. Metz’s cathedral was one of the tenth century’s ‘episcopal finishing schools’, so this is not by itself surprising; but more significant than his ecclesiastical background is the fact that he was Godfrey of Verdun’s brother. In light of all of the above, the shadows thrown by our sources come together to form a picture that looks rather like Lothar was trying to weave a network of alliances covering the whole of northern Lotharingia, infiltrating himself into a area stretching from the Netherlands to Luxembourg. This was probably not, originally, intended as a military rather than a political network. Archaeological excavation at Ename has revealed that at this time it was set up as a trading rather than a military site. The transformation of the site into a military base probably did come in the 970s with the return of the Reginarids, which pushed Godfrey and Arnulf away from Lothar and towards Otto II.

It is questionable whether Lothar’s plan would have worked that well anyway. Godfrey and especially Adalbero turned out to be very canny political operators, neither of whom cared that much for Lothar’s interests. Still, it’s worth thinking about Lothar’s part in the story of these marches, because otherwise we run the risk of putting the Ottonians at the centre of everything, perpetuating the stereotype of the West Frankish rulers as weak and lacking initiative. Quite apart from anything else, this doesn’t explain anything about late tenth century politics. By the 970s and 980s, Lothar thought he could fight and win against the Ottonians, and he was never definitively proven wrong. His schemes came to an end with his death in 986, and the reaction against them led to the end of his dynasty as kings in 987. As such, putting Lothar back in his place as a major Lotharingian player is key to explaining political changes which had repercussions for centuries afterwards.  

All the Bishops in the ‘Verse: Part 1 of the Ghent/Bruges Conference Report

Although the kind of reporting I ended up doing on the Tübingen conference was born out of necessity, I discovered that I actually enjoyed doing it more than a straightforward conference report. Thus, for the next conference on the reportage list, Bishops in the ‘Century of Iron’: Episcopal Authority in France and Lotharingia, 900-1050, I’ll do as I did before, only commenting on the papers where I had anything interesting to say in response.

The first of these was in fact the first paper, the keynote lecture, given by Professor John Ott of Portland State University, with the title ‘In Praise of Bishops’, a title originally picked, he told us, because ambiguous titles let you change your subject at the last minute; but as in this case the topic was episcopal praise-poetry, it was thoroughly appropriate. Professor Ott led us through a cavalcade of poets from the eleventh- and twelfth-century archdiocese of Rheims, arguing that poetry in episcopal courts was so common as to be omnipresent: from declamation before the bishop himself to little inscriptions engraved on common items. At Rheims, for instance, a chalice commissioned by Archbishop Adalbero bears these lines:

Hurry, O faithful, hunger and thirst flee from here:

Bishop Adalbero divides these treasures amongst the people.

calice_du_sacre_tau
This is not that chalice, nor from that century, but it is a chalice from Rheims.

Professor Ott argued that the Gregorian reforms of the late eleventh century saw the beginning of the end of these poetic practises: Pope Gregory VII and those of like mind to him just don’t seem to have been very interested in poetry. He noted that while Gregory received poetry, he never wrote any himself. This was seen as an important cultural change – he argued that because poems were so widespread in episcopal culture, poetry, from cups to epitaphs to letters in verse, needs to be taken more seriously by historians if we are get a proper idea of what the courts of tenth- and eleventh-century bishops were like.

I agreed with this, for the most part, but one niggling doubt stuck in my mind. The verse of Adalbero mentioned above rather sets the tone for the kind of poetry Professor Ott was dealing with; ‘worthy’, I think, would be the appropriate word. Something of the exception which proved the rule was an inscription on a (no-longer-surviving) bronze statue of a stag from Rheims, commissioned in the mid-eleventh century by Archbishop Gervaise. Gervaise was a Loire valley magnate who had originally been bishop of Le Mans, but had been kicked out and given Rheims instead: by all accounts, he was bellicose, flamboyant, and very wealthy. He commissioned the stag as a reminder of his old home to the west; the poem on it reads:

              When he wandered in the woods of Maine,

              Gervaise had many stags.

              So that it might stand always as a memorial to his fatherland,

              He had this one cast in bronze.

This in turn made me think of one of my favourite bishops, Archbishop Archembald of Sens, who reigned in the late tenth century. Archembald had a terrible reputation by the eleventh century, when he was accused of having kicked the monks of Saint-Pierre-le-Vif out of their monastery to make room for his hunting dogs, but seems to have been reasonably well-respected at the time. The question which arises for me, then, is ‘what was episcopal court culture like under Archembald?’

(The same question, albeit reversed, could be asked about Archembald’s successor Anastasius, who seems to have been extremely aesthetic, and – it might be speculated – have seen Latin poetry as frippery).

As I said, most of the poetry which survives is very worthy, moral stuff, supposed to teach the audience moral lessons and impart theological messages. This, though, presumably made it more likely to survive than, say, an episcopal joke-book, and certainly more so than hours and hours of silent prayer. Given this, I wonder if this kind of poetic episcopal culture was as pervasive as Professor Ott was arguing, or whether it was only one of a number of modes of tenth- and eleventh-century episcopal culture, and the one which just happened to be usable for other things outside its immediate context – and thus the only one which survives?


This post is the last before the Christmas break. I’ll be back in January. In the meantime, as, for the first time in a while, I’ll have access to a computer rather than a slowly-decomposing tablet, I’ll be putting up a poll about the look and layout of the site, so keep an eye out for that. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!