Charles the Fat rather fell into his empire. For sure, he acted decisively to take proper control of it; but the circumstances he took advantage of were the result of complete coincidence. As we’ve seen over the course of the last couple of months, male, adult Carolingians in the 880s just would. Not. Stop. Dying.
In 885, the most relevant recent death was Carloman II, who died in December 884. This was a bad time for him to die, because Charles the Fat – the only crowned king in the Frankish world and thus, absent any other debilitating factor, the king – was in northern Italy, and couldn’t show up in the west until the snows melted. In practice, this turned out to be in May, although he was preparing months in advance. By 20th May, though, Charles was in Burgundy, where he issued three diplomas featuring Geilo of Langres, of which this is one:
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by favour of divine clemency emperor augustus.
If We proffer assent to the just and reasonable solicitations of venerable pontiffs, which they recount to Our Serenity’s ears for the advantages of the churches committed to them, and We busy Ourself to bring them to the effect of perpetual stability, We not only exercise imperial custom, but truly as well do We not doubt that this will benefit Us to pass through the present life in happiness and to lay hold of future blessing as quickly as possible.
Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, both present and future, ascertain that Geilo, the reverend bishop of the church of Langres, came and made known to Our Excellence that he had for love of God Almighty and the blessed Benignus and in memory of Us and Our wife and offspring restored to the abbey in honour of the blessed Benignus, the extraordinary martyr, next to the castle of Dijon, in which the same outstanding martyr rests, certain goods once consigned to the same place and since taken away from there, that is, in the district of Dijonnais, in the villa of Plombières-lès-Dijon, to wit, 12 manses to perpetually serve for lighting the same monastery.
Therefore, bringing himself before Our Majesty because of this, he humbly requested that, for love of God and the honour of the same blessed Benignus, We might deign to confirm the aforesaid goods restored to the aforesaid place through a precept of Our authority, lest henceforth in later times they should be diminished or stolen therefrom by anyone’s obstinacy or thoughtlessness.
Lending the ears of Our Domination to his praiseworthy petitions, We commanded this precept of Our Sublimity to be made, through which We decree and establish and confirm through Our imperial authority that the aforesaid goods should in the name of Christ persevere in future times as they are seen to have been restored there with all their dependencies, to wit, meadows, vineyards, woods, pastures, waters and watercourses, and bondsmen of both sexes, for the purposes which were ordained above, perpetually, without disturbance from anyone.
And that this authority of Our confirmation or permission might endure firm and undisturbed for all time, and endure stable in future, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it in God’s name to be signed with the impression of Our signet.
Sign of the most glorious and serene Charles, ever augustus.
Given on the 13th kalends of June [20th May], in the year of the Incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ 885, in the 4th indiction, in the 5th year of Emperor Charles’ imperial reign in Italy, the 4th in East Francia, the 1st in Gaul.
Enacted at the estate of Grand.
Happily in the name of God, amen.
This diploma is interesting from a diplomatic point of view not least because it was written in a Langres hand – that is, it was Geilo himself who showed up with the diplomas. This is significant because the meeting at Grand featured a number of powerful men: Anskeric, later bishop of Paris (a rival of Gozlin), Pippin of Vermandois, Bishop Wibod of Parma, and Rudolph of Transjurane Burgundy. Geilo, by having no fewer than three diplomas – which he had written himself, or had his clerics write for him; and which favour his close followers or himself; and which, in this case, presents him as the epitome of a proper bishop in restoring property to his church – was pushing himself to the top of the heap, all in a huge Gallo-Roman amphitheatre.
What did Charles get out of this? Simply put, he got Geilo and his clients, and he got to be king. These diplomas are one of Koziol’s key examples in arguing for the performativity of diplomas, and for good reason. Charles was claiming to be king ‘in Gaul’, and these diplomas made him such. When the Gauls were calling him king, and he was commanding them like a king, in what respect was he not king?