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.  

Name in Print III


Ahem. Sorry about the vehemence there, but as you can see below the gritty details were peculiarly gritty with this one… Anyway, as advertised a little while ago, I now have the final proofs available of my new article, ‘The young king and the old count: Around the Flemish succession crisis of 965’, which has appeared in the latest issue of the Revue Belge de philologie et d’histoire, vol. 95/2 (2017).

I’ve given the full reference because, unfortunately, there’s not yet any hyperlink, nor is it yet open access. However, because an awful lot of continental journals have a more enlightened approach to this sort of thing than the UK does, it will automatically be on Persee after a two-year cool-off period, and I will update when it does. For the moment, I have a PDF and I’m told some physical offprints are on their way to my post-box soon, if that’s more your jam.

So what’s it about, I hear you ask? Well, it has basically three points. The first is working as a case study of the practice -> ideas -> practice cycle which I think is so important to earlier medieval politics. Here, Count Arnulf of Flanders faces a succession crisis, starts pushing his (fairly distant) kinship ties to the Carolingian king Lothar as part of a charm offensive, only for Lothar to turn these claims back against Flanders after Arnulf’s death. The second, relatedly, is to analyse the following succession crisis to argue that a) it was in fact a crisis – Lothar is behaving badly – and b) even when you’ve prepared for the succession as well as you can, a canny operator with a good claim can snatch an awful lot from under your heirs. The third and last is to finally settle the question which Arnulf Flodoard is talking about when he refers to a nepos of Arnulf of Flanders ‘who has the same name’ rebelling against the count. This is more of a problem than it sounds because Arnulf actually has about six potential nepoti all called Arnulf – although I argue that it’s very likely that the one everyone else thinks it is, Arnulf of Boulogne, wasn’t actually related to him at all.

The gritty details: This one took a looooong time. D’you know some version of this first saw the light of day in 2014? It was my Kalamazoo paper in the second year of my doctoral study… Anyway, I wrote that up for the Mediaeval Journal competition in 2015, a year where actually no-one won. I then assumed they wouldn’t want it and sent it off to the RBPH, only to discover rather later it had been short-listed and TMJ were interested in publishing it – by then, of course, it was with someone else so I had to regretfully decline (which they were very good about) and the competition feedback was in fact very, very useful. I then didn’t hear from the RPBH until I was – quite by chance – in Brussels, at the start of 2017, when the reviewers wanted some fairly hefty re-writes (it was at this point the ideas which became this blog post were cut, and someday I’d like to argue them further; but they weren’t really completely relevant, I guess), meaning that I did at least get an excuse to go to Ghent; to read a Dutch doctoral thesis on the charters of Blandijnberg, but still. Once the re-writes were in, I was actually told fairly quickly – late spring 2017? – that they were OK, but then it just sat in a queue waiting until – finally – it saw the light of day now, in Spring 2018.