Recently, I updated the Translated Primary Sources page. I know that translating charter material is kind of our gimmick on this blog, and I know that the inevitable progression of chronological time means that if you started at a given point heading towards another you’re going to have more of the earlier material if you haven’t finished yet; but I was nonetheless a bit put out to find how much it skews towards late ninth-century material rather than tenth-century stuff proper, and I also thought that some non-diplomatic sources wouldn’t go amiss. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I decided, now that we’ve paused translating wills, that it wouldn’t go amiss to translate some smaller non-diplomatic sources. The fact I’m doing all this for free in my spare time is going to impose limits on what I deal with – an English translation of the acts of the Council of Saint-Basle is something I’d like very much, but I personally don’t feel incentivised to go through all sixty-odd pages of it – but plenty of material on the shorter side is important and can be overlooked.
Today’s source is certainly the former, although I don’t think it’s the latter. (Ironically too given my concerns, it’s also late ninth century!) It comes in two parts, the first being a breviary written by one Erchanbert around 826. I’m translating this part from the MGH edition, which is an abbreviated version of the text, which is fine by me because the part I’m more interested in is the Continuatio Erchanberti, written by Notker the Stammerer in 881. Between them, these texts cover the history of the Franks from the Merovingians down to the end of the ninth century.
- The Breviary of Erchanbert from the Fifth Century Up to AD 827
With the death of King Faramund, who was the first king over the Franks, etc…
King Theuderic, son of Clovis, brother of Chlothar, reigned for 19 years. His mayor of the palace was Berthar; when he was killed, the younger Pippin, son of Ansegisl, coming from the Austrasians, succeeded in the leadership of the mayors of the palace.
Thereafter, the kings began to have the name and not the honour; wherever they were established, they had lots to eat, and they were held under constant oversight in order that they could not do carry out any act of power. In those times and thereafter, Gotfrid, duke of the Alemannians, and other dukes all about were unwilling to obey the dukes of the Franks, because they could not serve the Merovingian kings as they had previously been accustomed. And so each of them carried on, until finally, a little after the death of Duke Gotfrid, Charles [Martel] and the other princes of the Franks little by little endeavoured to bring them back into the fold as tightly as they could…
The Franks established Daniel, formerly a cleric, who had let his hair grow, as king, and they named him Chilperic; because the line of kings had failed, they established him whom they could found to be the closest relation to the Merovingians, because the Merovingians (as they say), just like the Nazarenes of old, never cut their hair; and he reigned for 6 years…
Therefore, the aforesaid prince, with the counsel of his best men, having asked and persuaded the king and receiving in the end his unwilling consent, divided the realm of the Franks between his two sons Carloman and Pippin, and following an illness immediately ended his life in the year 741.
Carloman, therefore, and his brother Pippin, having divided the realm between themselves, held the leadership of the Franks together for 10 years. Meanwhile, as they say, the aforesaid King Theuderic held the name but not the realm, and only that minor dignity which previous kings had held, nothing except solely that when the aforesaid princes made charters of gift, they put his name and year at the end of the page.
Prince Carloman, in the sixth year of the aforesaid, commending his realm and sons to his brother, in order that he might raise them to kinship when they came of age, went to Rome, was tonsured at St Peter’s, went to the monastery of St Benedict, and subjected himself to be surrendered to the discipline of the Rule.
Before Pippin was elevated to the kingship, a pope named Stephen came from Rome to the borders of the Franks in order to seek out the aforesaid prince so that he could help him with Haistulf, king of the Lombards, because he had seized both cities and other places and borders from St Peter. The aforesaid prince is said to have responded ‘I have a lord king, and I do not know what he wants to rule on this matter’. But the pope beseeched help from the king with the same words. Then the king said ‘Do you not see, O pope, that I do not enjoy royal dignity and power? How can I do any of this?’ The pope said ‘That sounds right, because you are unworthy of such an honour’. Returning to Prince Pippin, he said, ‘By the authority of St Peter I command you to tonsure him and send him to a monastery. How can he hold land? He is useful neither to himself nor to others.’ He was immediately tonsured and thrust into a monastery, and the pope said to the prince: ‘the Lord and the authority of St Peter chooses you to be prince and king over the Franks’. And he immediately established and blessed him as king, and consecrated his two sons – who were still immature – Charles and Carloman as kings. But King Pippin promised that he would do everything as pleased him, and afterwards he did. And King Pippin reigned 17 years after his consecration.
Kings Charles and Carloman, the sons of Pippin, held the realms together for 4 years. King Charles reigned by himself for 45 years, and Pope Leo consecrated him as emperor in the thirtieth year of his reign. Louis, king and emperor, has reigned happily, with God propitious, for 19 years at this point. From King Chlothar to the present 13th year of Emperor Louis, there are 232 and ten years in total.
2. The continuation of a monk of Reichenau for the years 840-881
Emperor Louis died in the 27th year of his reign, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 840, in the third indiction, on the 12th kalends of July.
In the second year after his death, his three sons, after a terrible battle which raged between them over the sharing out of the realm, divided up Europe in this fashion. The first-born Lothar received Italy, Burgundy and part of Lyonnais Gaul, the province of the Moselle, and the part of those who are called the Old Franks. His brother, the most glorious King Louis, received the whole of Germany, that is, the whole of East Francia, Alemannia or Rhaetia, Noricum, Saxony and many barbarian nations. Again, Charles, who was yet a boy, by the efforts of his mother, the most cunning Judith, accepted five provinces: the Viennois, the province of Autun, Gallia Narbonnenis, and part of Belgica or Lyonnais. Their fourth brother, named Pippin, retained Aquitaine, Spain and Gascony and Gothia, which he had received whilst his father was alive (against the will of his father and his brothers), until the end of his life. Provence, which is simply called ‘the Province’, is known to have passed between this party and that party.
The sons of Lothar, that is, Louis and Lothar, divided the realm of their father in such a way that Louis received Italy and the name of emperor and Lothar the cisalpine portion of his father.
Louis, king of Germany, many years before his death, providing for peace, took care to divide his realm between his three very illustrious sons born of Queen Emma in such a way that he committed Noricum and part of the barbarian nations to his first-born, the very warlike Karlmann, to be ruled; he made his like-named son Louis co-heir of his realm, that is, of the Franks and the Saxons, with tribute from the foreign-born. Again, he sent the most mild Charles as ruler into Alemannia, Greater Rhaetia and also Chur. He did this in such a way that his sons should hold these specificestates while he was still alive, and take care to determine minor cases, and that all the bishoprics and monasteries and counties and the public fiscs and all the higher justices should be beholden to himself.
Therefore Louis, king of Germany, died at Frankfurt on the 5th kalends of September in the thirty-sixth year after the death of his father Emperor Louis, and was buried in Lorsch in the basilica of St Nazarius, and left his three aforesaid sons as heirs to his realm, having also added to his realm about half a part of Lotharingia.
Meanwhile Louis, Lothar’s brother, had died in Italy the year before King Louis of Germany. Their brother Karlmann occupied Italy up to the Po. Charles of Gaul invaded it beyond the Po, and then returned to Gaul from there and died on the journey. He left the government of the empire to Karlmann, since he had previously added the realm of Pippin (who had died without living offspring except only one, Bishop Charles of Mainz) to his own realm.
And so, Karlmann, after holding Italy for a short time, returned to Noricum, attacked by a terrible and incurable disease, whilst he was still alive, conceded Italy to his most pious and faithful brother Charles to be governed.
He, having gathered a large army, occupied it completely unexpectedly, and came to Ravenna, and commanded the Roman pope, named John, to be summoned to him, and the patriarch of Friuli too, and the archbishop of Milan, and all the bishops and counts and the other leading men of Italy, and he was established king there by them, and all of them besides the bishop of the apostolic see bound themselves with oaths to his devoted service. Liutpert, bishop of Mainz, was present at this gathering at the command of King Louis.
In the same year, the fourth after his father’s death, Karlmann put an end to dwelling in this life. The following year, that is, the 881st from the Incarnation, in the 14th indiction, the same most clement Charles, equal to his grandfather the great emperor Charlemagne in all wisdom and industry and success in war and overcoming him in the tranquillity of peace and the prosperity of affairs, went to Rome with all the rulers of Italy and many from Francia and Swabia, and was consecrated as emperor by the Roman pontiff, who placed on his head a crown from the treasury of the holy apostle Peter, and was called Augustus Caesar, and now by favour of divine clemency rules the most peaceful empire, and lady Richgardis was elevated together with him to the consortship of the realm by the same apostle.
Charles of Gaul left one surviving son, named Louis. He lived a very short time after the death of his father, and left this life by an early death, leaving two surviving sons, that is, Louis and Carloman, who are now growing into the first flower of youth as the hope of Europe. Karlmann, son of the great Louis, had no sons except one named Arnulf, born from a certain very noble woman who was not legally betrothed to him. He still lives and O! Let him live so that the light of the great Louis be not extinguished in the house of the Lord!
Similarly, Louis king of Francia had one son named Hugh, a very attractive and warlike youth, from a concubine of very high nobility, who this year was killed in battle against the barbarians alongside the most religious bishops Thierry and Markward and Bruno, brother of Queen Liutgard, to the ruin of the Franks, since not long before the son of this Liutgard received from lord Louis was killed by a sudden death on the journey to Noricum whilst Karlmann yet lived, I know not from what cause, and indeed various opinions are bandied around about this by the fickle mob.
Now, therefore, it rests in the hand of God Almighty alone, by Whose will the universe is ruled, whether He will deign to awaken the seed of the lord emperor Charles, who is still young but excels all the old in good habits, and from the most religious queen and augusta Richgardis, through which the tyrants, or rather bandits, who (although the most serene emperor Charles and his brother the lord king Louis yet lived) presumed in secret to raise their head, might be suppressed by divine help. In the meantime, having respect for human shame, we will pass over them in silence until either they come over to the princes of the world and seek pardon for their stupidity or (as is appropriate that men who disturbed the commonwealth should suffer) until they are burned to ashes and blown away in the wind and condemned with their names – or, better, their ignominy and memory – forever.
I’m not going to comment on the original Breviarium here, although there’s some pretty darn interesting stuff on it out there. But there’s enough to talk about in Notker’s comments on his own time! First of all, Notker is already starting to get really concerned about the shape of at least the East Frankish descent line. Noteworthily, whilst he comments on whether or not children are legitimate, he’s not completely ruling at least some illegitimate offspring out of the royal succession. Notker’s view on Arnulf of Carinthia would only get sharper as the 880s wore on, but his apparent interest in Hugh, son of Louis the Younger, is also interesting. Noteworthy too is the fact that Charles the Fat’s illegitimate son Bernard doesn’t get a mention here – possibly he was too young? Even more, it’s only 881 – there are still four legitimate, crowned Carolingians rocking around. I suppose, from his point of view, there have been four major deaths in just the last two years; but I think the main clue is that final paragraph.
Who are the ‘tyrants’ whom Notker is talking about? The text’s editor mentions Boso of Provence, but as always when talking about the early 880s we also have to consider Hugh of Alsace as well. Both these figures raise interesting questions about Notker’s ideas about rulership. Hugh of Alsace, illegitimate though he might have been, was a son of a Carolingian king, but if it is him about whom Notker is talking he clearly doesn’t envisage him as throne-worthy. (For the record, I think Notker does mean Hugh of Alsace, so from here on out I’ll stop with the qualifiers.) My guess is that Notker thinks he missed his window: he might be in a descent line, but he’s not an ‘heir to the realm’ and there’s already qualified kings. This makes his comments as applied to Boso equally interesting, as he mentions Charles the Fat and Louis the Younger, not Carloman II or Louis III, as the relevant kings. Boso did pose a threat to territory under the control of the East Frankish kings, but that wasn’t the primary objective. One of Boso’s justifications for becoming king was that there was no king otherwise after Louis the Stammerer’s death. I wonder if the argument that Carloman and Louis for whatever reason didn’t count could actually have found wider purchase? Louis the Younger, of course, was trying his hardest to come after the West Frankish kingdom as well…
More broadly, despite Notker being more-or-less contemporary the shape of the wider array of the Carolingian family is starting to get fuzzier. He mis-identified Pippin II of Aquitaine as a brother rather than a nephew of the sons of Louis the Pious – something even more noteworthy because he’s apparently familiar with Pippin’s brother (not son) Archbishop Charles of Mainz. He also manages to completely forget about Lothar I’s third son Charles of Provence. I can’t think of any particular sinister motivation for this, but it’s a useful reminder that the endless array of Charles’ and Louis’ were confusing for contemporaries as well.
A final note is about Louis the German’s division of his realm between his sons. If you remember our discussion of the provisions of the 877 Capitulary of Quierzy regarding Louis the Stammerer, you may also recall that Charles the Bald’s refusal to allow his son any quote-unquote ‘real power’ whilst he was in Italy is an important plank in the argument that Charles was uniquely contemptuous of Louis. Yet a simple look at Notker’s statements shows Louis doing the same thing with his sons. This is a strong plank in the case that Quierzy is just business as usual for power sharing between fathers and sons in the late ninth century.