So You’re at War with the Carolingians: A Survival Guide

Picture it in your mind’s eye. You are the ruler of a medium sized polity in eighth- or ninth-century Europe, cheerfully going about your business extracting economic surplus from your people, when one of your advisors comes up to you with a worried expression on his face. He has just received bad news from your informants at the court of the Franks. Your mighty Carolingian neighbour is starting to muster his armies and you are the target. Maybe your idiot son has launched one too many raids into his territory. Maybe too many of his nobles have been talking quietly to his idiot son about the need for fresh blood in Frankish politics. Maybe his favourite exotic animal has just died and he’s in a bad mood. As the Byzantines say, ‘If a Frank is your friend, he is not your neighbour,’ and unfortunately this Frank is right next door to you. You’re in trouble. Thankfully, help is at hand. In this post we’re going to consider some of the options you have when the Carolingian war machine is at the gates. These are by no means foolproof, but they will give you the best chance you have to survive.

This is Fine. Everything is Fine. (The Golden Psalter, St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 22, fo. 141).

Rule number one of fighting the Carolingians is don’t. This is the family that conquered most of western Europe, including Aquitaine, Saxony, Lombard Italy, Bavaria, the Avars and the Spanish March. They carved out the biggest empire west of Byzantium and they did not do that by being bad at war. You should at the very least be exploring options for avoiding conflict with them. Offering tribute and becoming a client is an entirely viable move, particularly if it buys you time to regain your autonomy at a later date (see Benevento in 788). If you’re not already a Christian, consider converting. Not only will that endear you to your Carolingian neighbours, but the process of baptism also comes with free shiny new clothes and a pen-pal who lives in Rome. (Christianity also comes in Greek, which is less immediately useful in the circumstances but in the longer run may allow you to play the Franks off against Constantinople).

As Duke Tassilo III of Bavaria (r.748-788) could confirm, becoming a client of the Carolingians is not without risk and you may find yourself in front of a kangaroo court on dubious grounds, particularly if you have enemies at home eager to replace you (and who doesn’t?). Even if you’re willing to risk that, peace is not always an option. Sometimes the Carolingians are out to get you specifically. In the unhappy event that war is unavoidable, you are best served by avoiding a straight fight. People as far away as Baghdad know that Frankish swords are the best, and the wealth of the empire means that their armies are well-equipped with chainmail and horses. Most importantly, you will almost certainly be outnumbered. Whichever colourfully named Charles or Louis you’re facing can raise large forces made up of contingents from different peoples across the empire. They will probably place multiple armies in the field, something that Charlemagne (r.768-814) did against the Saxons in 774, al-Andalus in 778, the Bavarians in 787 and the Avars in 791 and 796, and that Louis the German (r.840-876) would still be doing against the Moravians in the 870s. Their aim here is to limit your room to manoeuvre and force you into a pitched battle, playing to their strengths in numbers and soldiers on horseback.

(The one potential exception here for avoiding a major battle is if your Carolingian opponent is Charles the Bald (r.840-877). Charles did not have a great record at winning battles, if his defeats at the hands of the Bretons at Ballon in 845 and Jengland in 851 and by his nephews at Andernach in 876 mean anything. He was a very successful ruler but not particularly lucky on the battlefield, with a tendency to try to be a bit too clever for his own good in his military tactics. High risk, cunning schemes like attacking Brittany in the middle of winter with a small army or attempting to manoeuvre his army at night often blew up in his face, so you could try to bring him to battle and hope he outsmarts himself.)

A core concept here is time. If you can’t go toe-to-toe with the Carolingians, your aim is to make the process of conquering you too long, difficult and unpleasant to be worth the continual effort (think Russia in 1812, or Geoffrey Boycott). Keep it going long enough and a crisis is going to happen somewhere else in the Carolingian world to distract attention, like the Saxon uprising that forced Charlemagne to leave the Iberian Peninsula in 778. Internal Frankish conflict in particular is your friend. As the Bretons in 830 can attest, Louis the Pious (r.814-840) can’t invade your lands if no one wants to show up to join his army. Playing for time is easier said than done and you may need to survive several years of being repeatedly invaded. It helps if, like Benevento, you are far away from the Carolingian heartlands between the Seine and the Rhine and getting to you is a bit difficult. Sometimes you’re just going to get unlucky and become someone’s pet project they keep returning to over the decades, as with Charlemagne and the Saxons.

Other powers will take advantage of the Carolingians being focussed elsewhere, such as Emir Hisham I of al-Andalus, who raided Francia in 793 at the height of the Avar Wars. It may be worth formalising such alignments of interest by allying with your neighbours. The Bohemians were quite big on this, allying with the Moravians in 871 in the face of Frankish aggression, and in 880 with the Daleminzi and Sorbs. On a larger scale, Prince Arichis II of Benevento entered into negotiations for Byzantine support in 787. Admittedly, none of these enterprises were particularly successful; but with that said, keeping your neighbours on side will help stymie another classic Carolingian strategy of allying with them against you, as demonstrated by Charlemagne’s deal with the Abodrites, targeted against the Saxons.

You can also try cutting deals with rebels within the empire. The Umayyads of Córdoba repeatedly destabilised the Spanish March by allying with the losers in internal conflicts in the region, such as Aizo and Willemund in 827, and William of Septimania in 847. By dividing the frontier regions, you make it harder for them to be used as springboards against you, while also gaining sources of intelligence about Frankish movements. The Moravians did similar things with the counts of the Bavarian frontier, suborning multiple figures such as Ratpod in 854 and Gundachar in 869. The Carolingians were not always good at keeping their family conflicts in-house, and frustrated sons resisting the authority of their fathers can also make useful friends. Salomon of Brittany (r.857-874) sent troops to support Louis the Stammerer against his father Charles the Bald in 862, while Rastislav of Moravia (r.846-870) allied with multiple rebellious sons of Louis the German. This is a high-stakes move. By interfering in Carolingian politics you are placing a target on your back for retribution, so make sure you’re not exposed if/when the scapegrace princes decide to reconcile with their family.

One of the best means of getting the time you need to survive is by building fortifications. High walls are not invulnerable to Carolingian armies, but they can slow them down nicely (making derogatory comments about the species and odour of the besiegers’ parents from the top of the walls is traditional). Something like the extensions to the Danevirke finished in 808 by King Godfrid of the Danes (r.804-810) serves as a deterrent and statement of intent, while getting your subjects facing in the right direction and united in a shared project. The Moravians frequently managed to hold off East Frankish armies from their fortified cities. As I can attest from personal experience, trying to climb up to Devín castle in what is now Slovakia when the people on top don’t want you to makes for a challenging day out. The Vikings were masters of setting up shop on a strategically located island in a river and refusing to move unless they were paid to go. Perhaps the gold standard here are the fortified cities of the Upper March in al-Andalus, where the Carolingians spent several decades banging their heads against the walls of Zaragoza, Tortosa and Tarragona to limited effect.

This turtling strategy is not without risk. The Franks can be patient if the rewards are high enough. Concentrating all of your resources and political capital in one place is tempting, but leaves you vulnerable to being taken out with the fall of one city. Charlemagne was willing to overwinter and spend eight months besieging King Desiderius of the Lombards (r.757-774) in Pavia because seizing it got him most of northern Italy in one fell swoop.  Likewise, Emperor Louis II of Italy (r.855-875) kept laying siege to Bari until it finally fell in 871 because doing so destroyed the emirate that was based there. Allowing the Carolingians to get too comfy outside your walls is also a problem. Barcelona fell to Louis the Pious in 801 because Louis knew he didn’t have to worry about reinforcements coming from Córdoba and could besiege at his leisure.

But the biggest problem with hunkering down in your fortress is that it leaves your land and people vulnerable to the occupying army. The Franks will loot and pillage the surrounding countryside, partly to get booty, but mostly to put pressure on you to come out and fight. Not only is your resource base being stolen before your eyes, but a king who won’t protect his people is going to get very unpopular very quickly. Being on the defensive all the time is draining, and morale may collapse quite quickly. A case in point is the plight of Duke Liudewit of Lower Pannonia, whose fortification strategy against the armies of Louis the Pious, while not without success, eventually exhausted the patience of his allies, leading to his death in 823 at their hands.

All this suggests that fortifications may be useful, but they need to form part of a wider strategy. If you can’t take on the entire Carolingian host in one go, then you can at least attempt some aggressive countermeasures. Raids and ambushes will go a long way to restoring your morale and reducing theirs. The Basques and Bretons acquired a particular reputation for this sort of irregular warfare, practiced most famously when the former ambushed Charlemagne’s rear-guard at Roncesvalles in 778, leading to the death of Roland. The key to this sort of warfare is mobility, which allows you to pick your fights when and where you want them. No one did this better than the Vikings, who could use their ships to move unexpectedly along the rivers, but were also surprisingly good at moving over land by commandeering horses.

A certain audacity can sometimes be useful: see the example of the Saxons who snuck into a Frankish camp in 775 by pretending to be foragers, causing chaos among the half-asleep soldiers. Dirty tricks may also be necessary. In 871, having promised to bring the rebellious Moravians under East Frankish controls, upon arriving at the Moravian capital, Svatopluk I (r.871-894) changed sides and took by surprise the Bavarian army that had accompanied him.  Be aware that the Franks are by no means novices at irregular warfare themselves, as the unlucky Moravians ambushed by them later the same year learned to their cost. 

I would also suggest launching raids across the border if the Franks have retreated for the end of the campaigning season. Having spent much of 855 being besieged by Louis the German, Rastislav of Moravia tailed the Frankish army when it returned home for winter and began raiding the countryside. While this may feel akin to lobbing pinecones at a bear while it’s walking away, it helps place pressure on the Carolingians to come to the negotiating table. You want to make being at war with you an uncomfortable experience that has wider ramifications. Keep offering them a reasonable face-saving out while making it clear that the alternative is unpleasant. Salomon of Brittany was able to use attacks on Frankish territory to force Charles the Bald to recognise him as King of Brittany in 867. Raids like this also help solidify your position at home, not just by acquiring booty, but by giving your warriors something to feel good about, and helping your wider political community understand that you have a plan for how to win this war that goes beyond letting yourself be punched in the face until the other guy’s hand starts hurting.

While I have strongly counselled against taking the main Carolingian army in the field, smaller detachments are another matter. A classic example of divide and conquer can be observed in 849. The Bohemians, under pressure from a large Frankish army under the command of Ernest, dux of the Bavarian frontier, sent envoys offering peace to one of the army’s captains, Thachulf, dux of the Sorbian March. Thachulf’s arrogance in accepting their terms without consulting the rest of the army annoyed a large chunk of the Franks, who pressed ahead without the others and were defeated by the Bohemians. The military organisation of Carolingian forces into units based on kingdom of origin can be used in your favour, as when a campaign against the Moravians in 872 collapsed because the Thuringians and the Saxons taking part kept feuding with each other.

When it does come to battle, try to pick ground that suits you, and force the Carolingians to fight on your terms. Einhard observed that the Basques at Roncesvalles in 778 were helped by the lightness of their gear and their familiarity with the uneven mountain terrain. Charles the Bald was lured into a marsh at Ballon in 845, allowing the Bretons to exploit their superior knowledge of the ground. At Jengland in 851, the Bretons refused to close with Charles’s men, using their lightly armoured horsemen to harass the Carolingian army with javelins and feinting to draw them out of formation. In 891, King Arnulf (r.888-899) hesitated before engaging and defeating the Vikings at the Battle of the Dyle because his army would be hemmed in by marsh and river and have to fight on foot.  

There are no sure-fire ways of defending yourself against the Carolingians, but following these rules of thumb will give you as much a chance as anyone has.

[The above is an extremely artificial exercise and there are obvious problems with what I’ve just written. Not only have I flattened more than a century of Carolingian history, ignoring dramatic changes in the political structure of the empire, I’ve also homogenised the various peoples and polities unlucky enough to be stuck next to them. This is particularly egregious in the case of the Vikings, who operated very differently to the other examples I discuss.

My central conceit of addressing an early medieval prince also led me to encourage certain types of solutions, suggesting that the political community best equipped to resist the Carolingians is:

1.   Far away

2.   Sufficiently centralised to raise the resources to build and man extensive fortifications, and to remain united under considerable pressure.

While point 1 stands in any circumstances, strictly speaking point 2 can be challenged. Fracturing into small, hard to manage communities and thereby becoming ungovernable will also give the Carolingians a real headache, as Louis II’s misadventures in southern Italy attest. I just couldn’t see this being the sort of option that would appeal to a prince.

The main reason I wrote this post is because I wanted to put myself into the head of someone who was an enemy of the Carolingians. Most of our sources come from the Carolingian world, which shapes our perspective of their wars. Not only do we understand things from their logic, it leads us to sympathise with them. One of my research priorities is to centre these apparently peripheral polities. I want to underline how scary a prospect the Carolingians were in this period (Reuter’s adage that ‘for most of Europe in the eighth and ninth century it was the Franks who were the Vikings’). But I also want to think about their leaders as undertaking strategies and responding to the problems caused by their giant neighbour. This represents one way of thinking about that.]

Brothers-in-Arms: The Treaty of Liège (Feb 854)

One of the enduring fascinations of the medieval world for the present is the way it pitches high politics as family drama. The cosily intimate domestic squabble prosecuted on the battlefield is an inherently gripping story. Notoriously the Carolingians have a great deal to offer for aficionados of familial conflict in the Middle Ages. This is also an interesting period in the study of diplomatic relations. The middle of the ninth century saw three brothers – Lothar I, Louis the German and Charles the Bald – who all ruled separately as independent monarchs over a population of elites that saw themselves as part of a wider shared Frankish and Christian community. Their struggles against each other married dysfunctional family relationships with matters of state in front of an aristocratic audience who could easily change allegiance or refuse to participate. The Treaty of Liège of February 854 serves as a sort of sequel to my previous post on the Treaty of Valenciennes. But it also offers a window into the way the brothers sought to communicate the rightness of their respective causes to each other, and to the watching Frankish nobility.

‘Hlotharii et Karoli Conventus Leodii Habitus’, in MGH Capit. II, no. 207 (pp. 76-8).

The most serene Emperor Lothar:

  1. We wish all those who are faithful to us to know that in the past year we have frequently sent invitations to our most beloved brother Louis in order that we might have a common conversation with our faithful and with his concerning the Lord’s will, insomuch as He wishes to send inspiration, and that we might manage and ordain the advantage of God’s holy Church and the common progress, honour and needs of ourselves and our men. But because our aforesaid brother has because of some sort of impediment put off coming until now, as we had hoped, We were unwilling to set it aside in such a way that we did not usefully come together. 
  2. Now we want you to be sure of our coming together, because, with Christ propitious, we want to come together indissolubly in thought and deed in accordance with God’s will, for the salvation of the holy Church and for our and your common advantage and needs, so that we may be one in Christ and you may be one with us.
  3. Understand that we grant to you a law of the kind which our ancestors, that is, our father and grandfather, conceded to and conserved for your ancestors, and we wish to respect it in every way inviolably and incorruptibly, in both present and future times.

The most glorious king Charles: 

  1. Accordingly, we have for this reason delayed having this meeting up until now, because we wished that our aforementioned brother would meet with us as well and attend the same meeting with us. But because he, being hindered by some impediment, neglected to come, we, having heard the disturbance which his son is attempting to cause, wished to ally with each other. Know therefore that we shall be together in prosperity and adversity; nor, with God’s help, will any trifling offence be able to separate us from that love by which we are bound together by fraternal bonds. Rather, wherever we are in need of reciprocal comfort and assistance, as far as the Lord permits, we desire to be supported and sustained by each other, and we wish to bring one another assistance against every earthly enemy.
  2. But if our same brother delays coming to us in the manner that we desire and send to him, we are united to each other such that one shall provide such comfort and assistance to the other wherever it is necessary from this time forward, as we have said above, so that each can rest assuredly in the kingdom that has been entrusted to him by God. And if either one outlives his partner, let him who is left keep his nephews under their tuition and protection together with their father’s kingdom, so that they may be so fortified against the machinations of adversaries with the help of God that they can rest assuredly in the kingdom of their father.
  3. Therefore, We desire Your Devotedness to know for certain that we truly recognize that we have offended God in many things and have carelessly troubled your minds, so have made a vow to, by Christ’s favour, make every effort to amend all of these things so that we might be able to appease God and give satisfaction to Your Devotedness. When a greater number of our faithful men shall come together, or when our aforesaid brother, as we have commanded him to, shall come, if he wishes to come, We will take care to keep you informed of all things in whatever way will be agreeable to you, such that you might truly know us to want to observe and keep our promise most fully and in every way.
  4. In addition, let your skill and the skill of everyone discover it in common, that for this reason we earnestly wished to announce these things to you in this sacred place so that you may know that we will inviolably observe everything which we say, with the favour of the Lord and the support of his saints in whose presence they are announced. 

This is the oath which they swore to one another:

From this day forth, if our brother Louis (or his sons) is breaking or will break the oath he swore to us, regarding that part of the realm which you have received as your share from him, insofar as the Lord give me the power to do so, if you ask it I will offer you help with your defence against him, and against his sons and against all others who wish to take it from you without just or reasonable pretext. And if I should outlive you, I will not take away from your sons that part of the kingdom which you have received as your share from me and my brother but will consent for them to have it. And if they or their faithful men ask for help in defending against our brother, his sons, and anyone, so that they can hold it, I will aid them as far as I can, so long as you and your sons give us the same aid and do not part with us.

Regular readers will remember that when we last left Charles and Lothar in November 853 things were looking pretty good. The situation was stable enough that Charles could concentrate on domestic affairs and the two brothers went through a number of items concerning the church and the law. By February 854 things were considerably less rosy. In late 853, leading Aquitanians had invited the second son of Louis the German, Louis the Younger, to become their king. Charles had only recently won the last war for Aquitaine and had managed to alienate an important kindred of magnates by having an otherwise unknown Gauzbert beheaded in March 853 for similarly mysterious reasons. These rebel Aquitanians received a positive reception from Louis. Alarmed by the alliance between his brothers and annoyed at getting shut out of the question of Lothar’s inheritance, Louis was inclined to support the venture. As news of this development spread, Charles became increasingly concerned that Lothar might decide he was a bad bet and reach out to Louis instead. The result was another meeting between Charles and Lothar, this time at Liège in February 854, where the brothers made their military and political alliance explicit in this treaty.

psalter

Some dubious looking brethren assembling in the Stuttgart Psalter, Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Bibl. fol. 23.149v.

This background emerges in the text of the treaty. In order to keep Lothar invested in the alliance, Charles promises to protect his children’s inheritance if Lothar predeceases him (Charles c.2; oath). The treaty is very clearly aimed at Louis, inviting him to join them in their alliance (Lothar cc.1-2; Charles c.1), but warning him that an attack on one will be counted as an attack on the other (Charles cc.1-2; oath). Special reference is made to the ambitions of the younger Louis in Aquitaine, with Louis the German called upon to restrain his son (Charles c.1), and the brothers specifying that their alliance would also apply against Louis’ children (oath). Even as they threatened him, Lothar and Charles were probably sincere in inviting Louis to join them, at least in the short term. Both would benefit from peace as Charles dealt with his problems in Aquitaine and Lothar would get the agreement of both of his brothers for his succession plan.

But there was another audience for the treaty, and that was a Frankish elite that was largely tired of internecine conflict. Family drama is entertaining from a distance, but participants in it need to find ways to make other people care about and adopt their cause as their own. By publicly offering Louis a place at the table, Lothar and Charles were deflecting blame for subsequent fighting while suggesting a means by which the multipolar Carolingian world could be peacefully organised. For anyone watching who felt that the problems besetting the empire had more profound causes, they also promised to discuss ecclesiastical matters and to undertake measures that would win back divine favour (Lothar c.2; Charles c.3). Lothar placed particular emphasis on the laws initiated by Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, assuring that the brothers would follow and keep the legal protections accorded to their people (Lothar c.3).

A further, more speculative, point. Liège was an important site in Lothar’s realm, which benefitted Charles in that it meant that the emperor publicly committed to the alliance in front of an assembly of his own people, making it harder to weasel out of it without losing face. I’m struck by the reference to the oath being sworn in a sacred place (Charles c.4), and I wonder if it means that it is being taken in St Lambert’s Cathedral. Liège had been patronised in the early eighth century by the Carolingians as an alternative to Maastricht. Liège was also the centre of Charles Martel’s power in the civil wars that followed the death of Pippin II, and as much the cradle of the Carolingian dynasty as anywhere else. While it is almost certainly a coincidence, I can’t help wondering if there was a deliberate choice made in making this treaty about the need for family unity in a place intimately associated with the beginning of that family, in a cathedral dedicated to a bishop who had been killed as a result of civil conflict (slightly awkwardly by Pippin of Herstal).

Viewed from a distance, this treaty was a success. The alliance between Lothar and Charles held down to the former’s death a little over a year and a half later, at which point Lothar’s sons succeeded as planned. Looked at more closely, this outcome had relatively little to do with the treaty. Lothar had talks with Louis later in the year, forcing Charles to hold another meeting with the emperor, this time at Attigny, to remind him of the agreement, distracting him from affairs in Aquitaine. Undeterred by the alliance, Louis the Younger had travelled to Aquitaine to claim the throne in early 854. Although support for his bid was not as strong as he had been promised, he managed to make trouble until he went home in the autumn.

Charles’ dealing with these problems owed fairly little to the vision of family comity found in the treaty of Liège. There is no evidence that Lothar intervened in the conflict. Rather, Charles neutralised Louis the German by encouraging Slavs and Bulgars to attack the East Frankish kingdom, leaving him unable to support Louis the Younger. He also may have divided the Aquitanians by releasing the imprisoned Pippin II, who immediately gathered many of the people who might have otherwise backed Louis the Younger. The Treaty of Liège may have promised a concert of Carolingian princes working in amity to resolve problems. The reality was altogether messier and depended more on the politics of division than of unity.

Making a Multipolar Carolingian World Work: The Treaty of Valenciennes (Nov 853)

The Treaty of Verdun, 843 – Lothar I’s realm in orange, Louis the German’s in blue and Charles the Bald’s in brown (source)

No student of early medieval history is unfamiliar with a variation of this map showing the division of the Carolingian empire by the sons of Louis the Pious at the Treaty of Verdun in 843. There are problems with it. It is too neat, leaving out Pippin II, who would battle Charles the Bald for possession of Aquitaine for decades to come. It also overstates the finality of the division. The brothers would war against each other repeatedly to try to redraw the map. In the years that followed, the kingdoms would be re-divided and amalgamated in new ways until Charles the Fat inherited the entire lot in 884 (with mixed results). Nonetheless, Verdun did indicate something important. The efforts of Emperor Lothar I to establish overlordship over the empire had been thwarted by the alliance of his younger brothers, Louis the German and Charles the Bald. In consequence, the Carolingian world was to be a multipolar empire in a way that it hadn’t been since 771. The brothers would rule their kingdoms independently, yet their territories were still conceived of as part of a greater whole, with members of the Frankish elite operating across the empire. That is simple enough to say, but making it work in practice was much harder. To get a sense of what that looks like, I’ve translated the Treaty of Valenciennes, an agreement made between Lothar and Charles in November 853:

Lothar I and Charles the Bald, ‘Conventus Valentianas’, in MGH Capit. II, no. 206, pp. 75-6.

 Declaration of Lord Lothar:

  1. Concerning the missi sent throughout the kingdom so that the people might have peace and justice. Concerning robbers, plunderers, brigands, and other wrongdoers, and concerning every aspect of justice. 
  2. That when missatici [a missi’s areas of responsibility] overlap, the missi should come together, and if someone should flee from one kingdom to another, or from one missaticum to another, they shall capture him together.
  3. That proof (OR a notice) is to be sent wherever they flee, so that the count may distrain him either with his hereditary lands, or through whatever means he can, so that he might return there and make amends where he has done wrong.
  4. That it should be recommended to the missi that they do justice; and that if they have not, that you ought to pursue it. 
  5. That if someone is in need, everyone should be ready to help each other in whatever way you can. 

Declaration of Lord Charles:

  1. Concerning episcopal pronouncements and the honour of priests.
  2. Concerning rebuilding churches and the ninths and tenths [the rent due from holding a benefice amounting to a fifth of the produce].
  3. Concerning the observance of the capitularies of lord Charles [i.e. Charlemagne] and of lord Louis [the Pious] concerning churches.
  4. Concerning observance of the peace and avoiding greed for and oppression of the goods of the Church and the poor.
  5. That we wish to arrange with the counsel of our fideles how we can live honestly and without want in our court, as our predecessors did. And we admonish our counts and other fideles, that they themselves should order their condition and life in such a way that their neighbours and the poor are not oppressed on account of their needs.
  6. Concerning harmony and mutual assistance between the bishop and the count for the doing of justice and the execution of the divine ministry.
  7. Concerning the justice to be strived for by our bishops, missi, and counts.
  8. Concerning the abduction and marriage of nuns, kinsmen, or others’ betrothed, such that what has been done in the past may be corrected in accordance with the advice and judgment of the bishops; and that every precaution should be taken in the future. 
  9. That if out of necessity we have done anything against churches of God, or against any of our fideles, we will most freely make amends for this as soon as we can. And from now on, if any of us should wish to injure his own peer, we wish to restrict this in accordance with the custom of our ancestors.
  10. Concerning our assembly and our common assistance against the Northmen and our fraternal discussion.

The big context for this is the development of an alliance between Lothar and Charles, which was a dramatic shift in the political landscape which had previously pitted the Emperor against his younger brothers. Lothar and Charles had met at Saint-Quentin in 852, campaigned together over the winter against a viking army that had entered the Seine (commanded by Godfrid Haraldsson, Lothar’s godson, which must have been awkward), before Lothar became godfather to Charles’ daughter in January 853. These good relations were helped by Lothar’s disavowal of Pippin II, who had been captured by Charles in 852, removing the largest stumbling block to an understanding. Lothar was preparing for his succession. He intended to divide his territories between his three sons, and wanted Charles to support them. 

Some of the text is concerned with the sort of things we expect from diplomatic treaties. Charles c.10 confirms that the two brothers would continue to cooperate against the vikings. Lothar cc.2-3 are effectively a ninth-century extradition treaty, promising that royal officials would aid each other in the pursuit of wrongdoers across their jurisdictions. But the majority of the treaty reads very weirdly if we assume we’re dealing with two sovereign states. Much of Lothar’s declaration is devoted to a commitment to the enforcement of justice and establishment of order (cc.1, 4). That of Charles is even stranger, covering subjects such as the state of the church and the poor (cc.1-2, 4-5, 9), the observation of previous laws (c.3), the abduction of nuns (c.8), the adoption of a simpler lifestyle (c.5), and a promise of redress for wrongs he had previously committed (c.9).

This all becomes more understandable if we think about Charles’ position. The decade after Verdun had not been easy for him, but by 853 he had reason to think that the rolling crises might be abating (he was wrong because ninth-century Carolingians are not allowed to have nice things). With the capture of Pippin, he could hope that he had won the war for Aquitaine. Peace had been achieved with the Bretons. The death of Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman II in 852 offered the prospect of quiet on the Spanish March. For the first time in his reign, Charles had a real opportunity to articulate a domestic agenda, and he seized it with both hands. This was a busy year, involving a synod at Soissons wrapping up the lasting effects of the defrocking of Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims, and a statement on predestination at Quierzy. His meeting with Lothar at Valenciennes was followed by an assembly at Servais the same month. The capitulary issued from there covers much of the ground from the Treaty of Valenciennes but in much greater detail.

As a statement of domestic policy, Charles’ half of the treaty makes a lot of sense. Ecclesiastical matters were a major priority for him that year. The text also serves to draw a line under the unpleasantness of civil war. Charles acknowledges that wrongs had been committed, offers a form of redress and restricts future conflict among his magnates. He also makes clear that he intends to return to traditional Carolingian rulership, by emphasising the legislation of his grandfather and father, and that he intends to live in a simple manner like them. The message is that after decades of instability, peace and good governance are back on the table.

Through the Treaty of Valenciennes, Charles effectively got Lothar to endorse his agenda. This mattered to his domestic audience. Happy days are here again is a more convincing message when your most powerful neighbour has confirmed he’s going to stop directly and indirectly undermining you and might start helping you with your viking problem. But it also served as a demonstration that the brothers were committed to making the multipolar Carolingian world work, by articulating shared ideological values and beginning to develop the legal institutions for cooperation. For a Frankish elite that still thought in terms of the entire empire, this was a welcome development, and provides a hint as to how this new adaptation of the empire might work.

Assessing the success of the treaty is a little complicated. Barring a wobble in 854, the alliance between Charles and Lothar lasted until the latter’s death in 855. That this did not lead to a glorious period of peace and stability lies more with the people the treaty left out; Louis the German and the Aquitanians. Louis was unsettled by the prospect of his brothers teaming up and angered by the prospect of being unable to take advantage of Lothar’s succession. The Aquitanians were much less subdued than Charles had thought. The two combined when prominent Aquitanians invited Louis’ second son, Louis the Younger, to become their king in 854. The result was a series of invasions that would push Charles nearly towards the end of destruction. The death of Lothar and Charles’ political woes made the treaty largely irrelevant. Nonetheless, it is fascinating as a window onto how the multipolar Carolingian world would be understood by contemporaries, and as a clue as to how external and internal politics intertwined in the period.

How is the Emir of Cordoba like the Queen of Sheba?

When in 865 Emir Muhammad I of Cordoba (r. 852-886) sent back the Frankish envoys he had received from Charles the Bald (r. 843-877) the previous year, he entrusted them with a number of gifts, which they conveyed to Charles at his capital at Compiegne. According to Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, writing in the Annals of St-Bertin, these included ‘fine cloth of various kinds’, ‘many perfumes’ and ‘camels carrying couches and canopies’.

To say that I have been interested in these camels is perhaps to slightly underplay it [No kidding – Ed.].

Your long-suffering editor experiencing your correspondent’s camel fixation once more

Unwary scholars in half a dozen countries and two continents have had the experience of listening to me talking about these camels. What was meant to be a paragraph in my PhD thesis rapidly escalated into an article, (‘The Camels of Charles the Bald’, Medieval Encounters, 25 (2019), 263-292), and I acquired a healthy quantity of camel-related memorabilia along the way.

Part of what fascinated me about these camels was trying to work out what Charles would have made of them. Camels were decidedly thin on the ground in ninth-century Francia and although some of his courtiers may have encountered them on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, Charles himself had no personal experience with them. Being somewhat pungent and prone to spitting, a close encounter with a camel can be an ambiguous experience for the inexperienced. It is not obvious whether getting a camel as a present is a good or a bad thing.

In order to understand Charles’ response to these camels, I tried to reconstruct the intellectual context by which he would have understood them. Even in the modern world, the way we think about animals is shaped by the culturally-induced associations we have with them. Thus, for instance, a white-headed fish eagle has become synonymous with the United States; and a black-and-white bear with a digestive system that is poorly adapted for its diet has ended up as the symbol of wildlife conservation. This is particularly the case when it comes to diplomatic gifts, which come imbued with meaning (some readers may remember the uproar when in 2009 the newly elected American President Barack Obama presented Prime Minister Gordon Brown with 25 DVDs, a gift widely viewed by the British press as a snub).

Here we can see Joseph being sold by his brothers to a Midianite merchant, complete with camel. Illustration from the Stuttgart Psalter, Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Bibl. fol. 23.119r (source).

The range of potential meanings the camels could have had for Charles is large and I discuss them in my article. He and his advisers had access to a huge range of classical and biblical sources of knowledge that refer to camels, and I want to illustrate this point by using this blogpost to talk about one of my favourite readings of the camel, which comes from the Old Testament. Saying that the Bible was important in the medieval world is not exactly a hot take. In addition to its religious significance, Carolingian rulers read the historical books of the Old Testament both as a record of the past and as an example of what it meant to be a king. They drew moral and practical lessons from what they read. Knowledge of scripture was something they shared with both religious and lay elites, meaning that the ideas and stories that a king like Charles encountered in the Bible were familiar to many of the powerful people whose support and participation gave his kingdom its substance.

Charles the Bald’s favourite Biblical king was Solomon, prompting Hincmar to write at length on the monarch in response to Charles’ questions about him. Charles was repeatedly described by his courtiers as ‘our Solomon’ and he seems to have actively encouraged this identification. Famously wise, powerful and successful at bringing about peace, Solomon was a popular model for medieval kings to aspire to. Solomon had additional advantages for Charles, being famous for culture and learning, something that Charles was interested in, while not being famous as a warrior-king. Charles’ military career was decidedly chequered, so Solomon provided a useful archetype for a peaceful king. Charlemagne had been compared to David, so by becoming the new Solomon, Charles could portray himself as the heir to his revered grandfather’s glory.

Camels feature heavily in various contexts in the Old Testament, but one of the most spectacular moments comes when the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. Both 1 Kings 10:2 and 2 Chronicles 9:1 describe the Queen coming ‘with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones’. The land of Sheba itself was also associated with camels because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah [60:6]:

The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. 

Carolingian intellectuals commented on these camels from Sheba, identifying Sheba as the land of the Queen who visited Solomon. The camels represented the gentile souls coming to God, barbarian peoples brought to the light. More prosaically, the camels of Sheba represented a righteous king being recognised for his wisdom by distant and fantastically wealthy foreign rulers, demonstrating his importance and authority.

There were other ways that Charles could and probably did read his new zoological presents. But given his interest in Solomon and that his teachers and advisors associated camels with Sheba, it’s hard to imagine that the comparison didn’t cross his mind. It would also have been fantastically useful as yet another way of convincing his followers that they were participating in something special, and that their king was indeed a good one, who was guided by the wisdom of Solomon.

Connections like these are why I’m so interested in the role played by animals in medieval diplomacy (see also my ramblings on Charlemagne’s elephants). They bring out the importance of spectacle at court, as well as the significance of sources of knowledge of distant lands. For Emir Muhammad, the camels he sent had a completely different cultural significance and meaning. Yet despite the fact that he and Charles had minimal common ground in their comprehension of the camels, they could both understand their giving and receiving as a sign of good will and amity. Although we are allowed to suspect that it would probably have been for the best if Muhammad never found out that Charles had cast him as the Queen of Sheba in this spectacle.

Charles the Bald: Overdrive

I noticed something weird lately, and it’s made me think that Charles the Bald came very close to utterly ruining the late-Carolingian political system. But let’s start at the beginning. One of the things which is supposed to be a big black mark on the record of tenth-century kings is their limited reach. This doesn’t sit right with me on either end, and I’ve written here before about you can see the tenth-century Carolingians in all kinds of places traditional historiography says you shouldn’t find them. But it’s also the case that there are big swathes of ninth- and even eighth-century Gaul which don’t have much to do with royal power. Martin Gravel uses the phrase ‘non-communicating elites’, and I haven’t got far enough through his book to find out how badly I’m misusing his words (suspicion: badly), but I like talking about these people in those terms. Whereas the movers and shakers of the Loire valley, say, or the bishops of southern Burgundy will have plenty of contact with the court, the bishops of what will become Rouen or the leading men of Quercy don’t seem ever to have had much contact with the Carolingian rulers, not in the ninth century and not in the tenth.

charel_de_plakapp_w
Here, indeed, is a contemporary picture of some of those Neustrian movers-and-shakers: this is Charles the Bald receiving a delegation of Neustrian monks in the 840s (source).

Given that the amount of documentation for the later tenth and eleventh century in these regions increases dramatically, what I think we then see is something of an optical illusion. The combination of ‘more stuff’ and ‘no kings’ makes historians think that the ‘no kings’ is a new development, whereas it’s more likely that if we had more stuff from earlier, we’d see kings as very distant figures then as well. (The original charters of the cathedral of Rodez, where we do have more stuff from earlier, seem to bear this out.)

A good way to look at this are the witness lists of Church councils. These are good because they essentially eliminate preservation bias as a factor – their preservation is so widely-distributed that if we see patterns in who does and does not attend, it’s unlikely to be because the archbishops of Trier (or whoever) were left out deliberately by dozens of scribes over dozens of institutions. And as it happens if we look at the witness lists of big, realm-wide Church councils under the Carolingians, we do see some consistent absences, a major one being the bishops of Cahors, who don’t show up at any Church councils that I’ve been able to find, not under Charles the Bald, not under Louis the Pious, and not under Charlemagne. This seems pretty good evidence that these bishops were never more than tenuously associated with Carolingian governance.

But, there is one exception to this rule. The Council of Ponthion in 876, called by Charles the Bald as part of his grand imperial dreams of the last few years of his life, had a ludicrously-large number of bishops taking part, including Cahors. Now, Cahors is just one example of this, but one thing I think we can see in the last part of Charles’ reign is the presence of more and more people around the king-emperor, including many more of these ‘non-communicating’ elites. At the same time, though, Charles’ inner circle was being more and more reduced (sometimes to the relief of the later historian – it’s during this period that the number of important Bernards around Charles goes from about five to one).

Now, it doesn’t help that both Charles and his son Louis the Stammerer die fairly shortly after one another, but I’m not sure its coincidence that the years around 880 see a serious factional crisis in the West Frankish kingdom. I’m starting to think that Charles, by demanding increased participation and cutting off the flow of reward, ran his kingdom into overdrive. Earlier medieval government doesn’t do well with density, and the years from 875 to 877 see a lot of actors in very little space – the subsequent explosion may well have something to do with this…

Charter a Week 32: Running a Court in Governmentalised Neustria

This week’s theme was originally supposed to be dealt with about twenty-six years – erm, five months – ago, in 882. But, it turns out there were some cool royal diplomas and it would have duplicated this week’s material anyway, and so we’re dealing with it now. I’ve mentioned before that in the later part of the ninth century, Charles the Bald and his point-man in Neustria, Hugh the Abbot, engaged in a process of calcifying and formalising the hierarchies of what had previously been a chaotic atelier of civil war. Robert of Neustria inherited their efforts, and as of the middle of Charles the Simple’s reign, they’re still going:

ARTEM no. 1434 (23rd June 908, Tours)

A notice of how and in what way the power of Saint-Martin de Marmoutier – that is, Dean Erlald and Dodo, levite and precentor, representatives in court – came and issued a complaint on behalf of all the brothers that lord Robert, levite and treasurer from the flock of the basilica of the blessed Martin and also a canon of the aforesaid Marmoutier, held one of their meadows, sited in the district of the Touraine in the place which is called Mercureuil, against their will. Lord Robert, though, diligently investigated and examined the complaint which had been raised, and found in this regard that the brothers of Marmoutier’s complaint was very true.

Wanting not to work against them anymore, he then made restoration. Coming, then, to the public gathering-spot (locus accessionis) with Adelelm, by then dean of the same flock, and Deacon Dodo, and Ingelger the priest, he quit that meadow before them, and declared before everyone that he would not hold it anymore.

However, Amalric, attorney (legislator) and ruler of the gatehouse of the basilica of Saint-Martin immediately asserted that lord Robert should neither make that meadow over to them nor litigate with the brothers over it; and he wished to reclaim it for the work of the gatehouse which he held. Yet with the brothers immediately contradicting him over that meadow, Amalric sent his followers – that is, Wichard and Erlo and Martin, who wanted to acquire that meadow for their benefice, which they held from the aforesaid gatehouse – to make diligent inquiries into the matter amongst their own cottars and see that they had not unjustly stolen the meadow from the brothers.

They, shaking down their own cottars, found no-one who dared to go either to judgement or to oath in the matter, because everyone knew that the brothers’ complaint was very just.

The aforesaid Adelelm, priest and dean of the aforesaid Marmoutier, and Deacon Dodo and Ingelger the priest, who had first brought this case forward on behalf of the brothers, went on the 9th kalends of July [23rd June] to the city of Tours, on the wall on the side of the Loire, to the assembly which thereupon, before Viscount Theobald [the Elder], and Walter and Fulcrad and Corbo, royal vassals, and all the aforementioned of both orders, accepted their right. Present there as well was lord Peter, sacristan of the aforesaid monastery, with other brothers, who had there legitimate and worthy and very truthful witnesses from amongst their own cottars, that is, Rainfred, who the local headman at the time when that meadow, through God’s judgement, had previously been proven in the work of Saint-Martin de Marmoutier, and Adalher and Gerald, also Robert, who was now local headman, and Adalgis, who undergo God’s judgement [i.e. undertake an ordeal] at any time to come. All of them once more were prepared to undergo God’s judgement and swear oaths.

Seeing this, the aforesaid followers of Amalric dared to receive neither a second judgement of God atop the first, nor an oath. Rather, they quit the aforesaid complaint and judgement and oath and also the meadow before everyone, in the same place and assembly.

Concerning which, the brothers found it necessary to receive a notice about this sentence, lest anything be shaken up again about this claim, which they commanded them to make and confirm immediately, through the undertaking of everyone.

These people were present when the act was enacted:

Robert, dean and custodian of the basilica of Saint-Martin and an unworthy canon, subscribed. Viscount Theobald confirmed this. Walter confirmed this. Ebalus the vicar confirmed this. Dean Erlald confirmed this. Dodo the levite subscribed this. Fulcrad confirmed this. Ingelger the priest subscribed this. Corbo, a proven vassal, confirmed this. Adelelm the priest confirmed this. Amalric the attorney, who then made restoration, confirmed this. Wichard confirmed this. Herlend confirmed this. Martin confirmed this.

Given on the 9th kalends of July [23rd June], in the year of the Lord 908, in the reign of King Charles [the Simple].

I, Gozlin, a priest of the flock of the blessed Martin and master of the school, wrote and subscribed this.

14341
The original charter, from ARTEM, as linked above.

So, important things to note. First, despite how it’s described (and in Latin, the words used to talk about Erlald and Dodo there are quite formal), the initial complaint to Treasurer Robert appears to have been done informally. Erlald, Robert’s nominal superior, showed up and told him that he was holding some of Marmoutier’s property wrongfully, and this appears to have been settled amicably out of court.

It is only when Amalric gets involved that things go to trial. This makes sense, really: as we’ve talked about before, Amalric is a lawyer. The court itself is constituted in the way we might expect. It’s the local vassi dominici, overseen by the viscount – this is how other Neustrian courts run at this time. In fact, the viscount running things seems to be a policy decision. I can point you at a charter from 895 where the marchio is actually there, but it’s the viscount still in charge of the mallus court.

Despite its dry and legalistic tone, the notice that survives is a parti pris record of what must have been more colourful events. Amalric’s men allegedly, even after some light intimidation, can’t find anyone willing to act as a witness for their side; but the thing still goes to court. There, two interesting things happen. First, apparently neither side’s witnesses are enough on their own. Second, and relatedly, the whole things seems to have turned on a previous ordeal, and this is what ends the trial now: Marmoutier evidently won the last time, and the other side aren’t quite willing to try again.

On the gripping hand, note that we have this charter but not a record of the first ordeal. It’s possible that it just wasn’t written down. It’s also possible that this, second, contest got preserved because it was seen as less ambiguous than the first (the first one, after all, was demonstrably subject to challenge). It’s also also possible that it just seems that way because the canons of Saint-Martin got to write the charter…

What is important, though, is that dry and legalistic tone. No matter how informal, how compromised, or how morally-weighted the actual events were, the people of governmentalised Neustria knew that this is how you wrote down disputes. Government, in this sense, happened by portrayal rather than by action.

The Spread of a Charter Prologue

“Not back on it, Joe, still on it.”

Yep, it’s back once again to the wonderful world of arengae and indeed back again to the specific arenga we’ve already covered on this blog. One thing which happened at the recent International Medieval Congress was that it occurred to me that this arenga, in its ninth-century form, is a nice little illustration of something I bang on about a fair bit, which is the portability of Carolingian ideology. So let’s revisit the spread of this prologue to illustrate that.

In 862, King Charles the Bald’s long-standing ally Abbot Louis of Saint-Denis was looking to make a very substantial settlement of his abbey’s administration, fixing the revenues available to the monks versus those available to the abbot. To mark the occasion, someone in the royal chancery – over which Louis presided as archchancellor – came up with a new prologue to the royal diploma formalising the split, as follows:

If We confirm by Our edicts that which Our predecessors, by the ordination of divine providence endowed with regal sublimity and illuminated with celestial honour and stirred up by the devoted admonition and prayers of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to them, decreed be established for the state and convenience of churches and servants of God, and if We consent to their most devoted dispositions and carry out the same most pious gifts to the Lord, We believe that this will far from doubt benefit Us in eternal blessing and the tutelage of the entire realm committed to Us by God, and We are confident that the Lord will repay Us in future…

K//13/10/1
I found a colour version of this; and having not seen it in the flesh before, gosh, I’m impressed. [source]

It’s pretty fancy, fancy enough to be recognisable, but the sentiment is conventional. It served its purpose for a more-literary-than-usual introduction to a particularly solemn act, and there it rested for five years. At that time, in 867, with Louis dead, his successor as archchancellor, who also happened to be his half-brother, Gozlin, was doing something very similar at the abbey of Saint-Vaast, in Arras. Evidently he, or a member of his entourage, decided this was an appropriately formal occasion to dust off the old prologue, and so it shows up again here.* Five years after that, Gozlin did the same for another one of his abbeys, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The final diploma with this prologue, that to the cathedral of Rouen we mentioned before, was also issued around this time.

Not a huge number, but a revealing case. What we have here is an example of a prologue invented for one particular circumstance at Saint-Denis being re-used for no fewer than three other institutions, one also Parisian but the other two in what would become Normandy and southern Flanders. We can see (except perhaps in the Rouen case) fairly clearly how they spread, but what’s more striking is that they could. Charles the Bald and his court could issue diplomas for recipients in such diverse areas in the same language with no problems.

A century or more later, this would not be the case. Normandy, Flanders, and Paris spoke about how and why their rulers were legitimate in very different ways – you couldn’t easily port something as regionally-specific as Norman identity to the heartland of Capetian rule at Saint-Denis. In the ninth century, by contrast, there is a much more coherent idea of legitimate rule at play, which speaks to people in all these different places, and means that a king and his followers can talk to Saint-Vaast like it’s Rouen and Rouen like it’s Paris.

*Actually many of these have minor variations, but they’re all recognisably from the same stem.

Charter a Week 1, part 2: Carlopolis

As warned on Monday, there’s another of these last diplomas of Charles the Bald. Sometimes, you just can’t choose, and this is a particularly rich case. I mentioned on Monday that in 877, Charles did not expect to die; he expected to rule more and more of his family inheritance. This diploma in particular is a rich tapestry of Carolingian memory and aspirations:

DD CtB no. 425 (5th May 877, Compiègne) = ARTEM no. 1787 = DK 5.xx

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by mercy of the same Almighty God emperor augustus.

Whatever We offer by way of thanks in vow or action to God Almighty, to Whom We owe not only that which We have and which We got from His hand but Our very self, Who deigned to elevate Us and the emperors and kings Our predecessors to the garland of royalty not by Our merit but by His most beneficent grace, We in no way doubt that this will be of greater consequence for Us in more happily passing through the present life and more fruitfully laying hold of the future.

Hence, because the emperor of rich recollection, to wit, Our grandfather Charle[magne], on whom divine providence deigned to bestow sole rule of this whole empire, is recognised to have built a chapel in the palace of Aachen in honour of the blessed virgin Mary the mother of God, and to have established clerics therein to serve the Lord for the remedy of his soul and the absolution of his sins and equally for the dignity of the imperial highness, and to have consecrated the same place with a great collection of relics and to have cultivated it with manifold ornaments, We likewise, desiring to imitate the custom of him and other kings and emperors, to wit, Our predecessors, since that part of his realm has not yet fallen to Us as a share of the division, nevertheless raised from the foundations within the domain of Our power, that is, in the palace of Compiègne, a monastery in honour of the glorious mother of God and always ever-virgin Mary, to which We give the name ‘royal’, and We enriched it, by the Lord’s help, with great offerings, and We decreed that there should be clerics therein numbering a hundred, to constantly implore the Lord’s mercy for the state of the holy Church of God, for Our fathers and progenitors, for Us, Our wife and offspring, and for the stability of the whole realm.

We consigned these estates to be held perpetually for the use of this basilica and for necessary stipends for the aforesaid brothers. That is, in the district of Tardenois, the estate of Romigny with a chapel and in its entirety; and in the district of Beauvaisis, the estate of Longueil-Sainte-Marie, Sacy-le-Petit, and Marest-sur-Matz with everything pertaining to them; and in the district of Amiénois, Piennes and Erches; in the district of Boulonnais, the estate of Attin, and the cell of Sainte-Macre in the district of Tardenois with all its appendages; and in the Soissonnais, the estate of Bruyères; and in the district of Laonnois, the estate of Estraon and Berry-au-Bac (after the death of Primordius); and in the district of Vermandois, the estate of Cappy, and also the cultivated land which We conceded with a fishery to the same brothers for their outside uses outside the monastery; a chapel in Venette, a chapel in Verberie, a chapel in Nanteuil-le-Haudoin, a chapel in Montmacq (after the death of Berto); in the district of Noyonnais, the small estate which is called Les Bons Hommes; also, the tithes of the fiscs which We conceded to them through a precept, that is, the tithe of Le Chesne, Verberie, Cuignières, Roye, Montmacq, and two parts of the tithe of the estate of Orville, Doullens, Creolicupinus, Ferrières, Sinceny, Amigny, Voyenne, Rozoy-sur-Serre, Samoussy, Andigny, Erquery, Sevigny-Waleppe, Attigny, Belmia, Taizy, Bitry, Ponthion, Merlaut and Bussy, and all the others which they have through Our precept; and cottages in Bourgogne, and the bridge over the Vesle pertaining to Fismes, and the all the toll of the annual market with the meadow by Venette where it usually takes place. Also, We similarly confirm that the custom of complete silence and quiet should be canonically observed there, and be violated by no outside guest, as is contained in the same precept. Moreover, We concede to the said holy monastery and the brothers assiduously serving the Lord therein on this day when We celebrated the dedication of that holy basilica, that is, the 3rd nones of May [5th May], through the same precept of Our authority, the estate of Sarcy in the district of Tardenois, with a demesne, and a chapel, and whatever is beholden there, and whatever Count Othere once held from the same; and in the district of Beauvaisis, in Béthancourt, whatever is beholden there from Margny-lès-Compiègne.

And thus, We resolve that all the aforesaid, those estates and goods which We conceded before the dedication of the aforesaid basilica and those which We conceded at the dedication of the same, with chapels and all their appendages, lands, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, waters and watercourses, mills, bondsmen of both sexes dwelling thereon or justly and legally pertaining to the same, roads in and out, and all legitimate boundaries, should be eternally held and canonically disposed of by the said holy place and the congregation serving the Lord therein for their advantage; and from Our right We place them in the right and power of the same monastery, such that, as We ordained in Our other precepts, they may have, hold and possess whatever from this day divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said place and brothers through Us and through Our successors or by gift of any other person and have free and most firm power to act and make canonical dispositions in everything, to wit, on the condition that the offices and ministries of the same place, to wit, of lighting, of guests, and of the reception of the poor, and of the brothers’ stipends should remain ordained in accordance with what We or Our representatives or the prelates of the same monastery might dispose.

Finally, We enact as well that all the aforesaid goods should remain under that defence of Our immunity and tutelage under which the goods of other churches which earned to obtain this from Us or from Our predecessors are known to remain, such that none of Our followers or anyone with judicial power or anyone else, both present and also future, might dare to enter into the churches or places or fields or other possessions of the aforesaid monastery which it justly and legally possesses in any pagi or territories, or those which henceforth divine piety wishes be placed within the right of that holy place to hear cases or exact fines or tribute, or make a halt or claim hospitality, or take securities, or distrain the men both free and servile dwelling on its land, or require any renders or illicit requisitions in Our or future times, nor might they presume to exact anything from what is noted above. And whatever the fisc might be able to hope for from the goods of the said church, let it be completely open that We have conceded it to the aforesaid holy place for eternal repayment, so that for time everlasting it might contribute towards alms for the poor and an increase in the stipends of the canons serving the Lord therein, so that it might delight these servants of God and their successors to exhort the Lord’s mercy for Us more fruitfully. And because all the aforesaid goods are from Our fiscs, We wish and equally command that they should be protected and defended under that law under which the goods of Our fisc constantly remain, and under the relevant mundeburdum and defence, and that they should remain under that imperial tutelage under which the abbey, to wit, Prüm, which Our forefather Pippin built; and the monastery of nuns at Laon established in honour of Saint Mary are known to remain.

Verily, whatever We have conceded in gold, silver and jewels, garments, goods or in any kind to the same place, because We offered them to be consecrated to the Lord out of love for divine worship and equally for the remedy of Our soul and Our fathers and progenitors, We ask and prohibit under the witness of the divine name that no successor of Ours as king or emperor, nor anyone endowed with the dignity of any rank, should receive anything from whose which are recorded above into their own uses or put them to use in the worship of their chapel, nor (as is known sometimes happens) confer them to another church under the supposed pretext of almsgiving. Rather, let them completely and perpetually conserve them as We have given them, to be held by the Lord and the aforesaid holy place. Truly, let no-one presume to diminish anything from all of the aforesaid goods, which We have established as aid for the advantage of the basilica and the aforesaid brothers, numbering one hundred. Rather, this concession of Our piety and ordinance of imperial highness be as conserved in perpetuity as is set out in the privilege of the lord and Our most holy father John [VIII], the apostolic and universal pope, and in the privileges of other bishops. And, if anyone might wish to add to it, after their goods and uses have been increased and multiplied let the number of those taking care of divine service be increased. Finally, We confirm through this Our word the said privilege of the most holy pope lord John, and, as his ordinance decreed, let Our strengthening also decree that it should endure in perpetuity.

And that this authority of Our donation and establishment of an edict and strengthening of an immunity should be conserved, in God’s name, inviolably and be more truly believed for all time, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be sealed with impressions of Our bulls.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of august emperors.

Sign of the glorious king Louis [the Stammerer].

Odoacer the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Gozlin.

Given on the 3rd nones of May [5th May], in the 10th indiction, in the 37th year of the reign of lord emperor Charles in Francia and the 7th in succession to King Lothar [II] and the second of his empire.

Enacted at the imperial palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW1.2 877
It’s an impressive looking sucker, too. From the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above. 

The year before this, in 876, Charles’ dangerous older half-brother Louis the German had died. Charles immediately moved to try and claim a portion of his kingdom – Louis had already thwarted his efforts to claim Lotharingia in 869, after the death of Lothar II. However, Charles suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Louis’ son Louis the Younger at the Battle of Andernach.

With that in mind, this diploma doesn’t sound particularly defeated. Sure, Charles is explicitly building a substitute for Aachen; but that’s only because it hasn’t fallen to his part yet. In the meantime, Charles is building a full statement in stone of his absolute right to succeed Charlemagne: Compiègne is big, it’s rich, and above all it’s royal. Charles calls it royal, and he endows it with the same privileges of Notre-Dame de Laon and above all of Prüm, which is the Carolingian family foundation. It’s a statement of intent: Charles will be the head of the Carolingian family no matter who controls the dynasty’s old heartlands.

Of course, within a few months Charles would be too dead to do anything much, and Compiègne’s importance abated somewhat. Hereafter, its associations would be primarily not with Charlemagne, but with Charles the Bald himself – and one future monarch would be particularly interested in the place. However, that’s many moons down the line from here…

Charter a Week 1: ‘Our dearest duke’ (877)

It’s well-known by now that I enjoy translating sources, and that I like charters; and it’s probably becoming clear as well that I like getting narrative about the late/post-Carolingian world. So today is the first entry in a new series, which is exactly what it says on the tin: each Monday, I’ll post a new translation of a charter going right through the long tenth century, one (at least – see below) each year from 877 up to 1032. A couple of caveats before beginning:

  • So far, I’ve planned out about half of what we’re going to be seeing. During this process, I’ve found that the really juicy stuff tends to cluster noticeably – it’s not so much that one year will have two potentially-interesting charters and one three; more that one will have one and another will have five. In most cases I’ve tried to be strict, but some years I just couldn’t pick. In these cases, I’ll post one on Monday and the rest a few days later. As it happens, this first week is one of these cases, so expect another charter later this week!
  • A note on coverage: this is fundamentally a French story. Mostly, we’ll be talking about the West Frankish monarchy, but as you might expect by now we’ll be looking over the border into Provence and occasionally Transjurane Burgundy, and the East Frankish kingdom and Lotharingia will also play a part.

Let’s crack on!

DD CtB no. 419 (6th January 877, Quierzy) = ARTEM no. 788 = DK 5.xix

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by mercy of the same Almighty God emperor augustus.

If We lend Our Serenity’s ears to the just and reasonable requests of servants of God, and bring them into effect, We both follow the custom of the emperors, to wit, Our ancestors; and We in no way doubt that through this will the prize of an eternal blessing follow.

Let the industry, therefore, of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future, know that Boso [of Provence], Our dearest duke and representative in Italy and the chief minister of Our sacred palace, coming before Our Excellence, made known to Our Serenity the appeals of certain monks, that is, from the monastery of the holy martyr Benignus: to wit, that they had appealed to Our Highness that We might for Our soul’s reward and on account of the appeal of the same Boso, who is very worthy of Our affection, restore to the aforesaid holy martyr Benignus and the brothers serving therein goods which had been alienated from their said monastery for a long time.

Therefore, Our Serenity’s clemency complied with the prayers of Our said dearest man and succouring the needs of the aforementioned brothers, We restore to them through this Our precept the goods which are described below, that is, in the district of Oscheret, the estate which is called Longvic with churches and everything justly and reasonably pertaining to it; and in the district of Portois, the estate of Saint-Marcel with churches and everything pertaining to it.

Accordingly, We commanded this precept of Our Imperial Highness be made and given to the aforesaid brothers, through which let them hold and possess eternally all the said goods with everything pertaining to them, and let them turn them back to their own uses without contradiction from any person.

And that this might be inviolably conserved for all time and obtain in the name of God a fuller vigour of firmness, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We commanded it be sealed with Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of august emperors.

Odoacer the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Gozlin [of Paris].

Count Boso ambasciated.

Given on the 8th ides of January (6th January), in the 10th indiction, in the 37th year of the reign of the lord emperor Charles in Francia, and the 7th in succession to Lothar [II], and in second of his rule as emperor.

Enacted at the imperial palace of Quierzy.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW 1.1 877
The surviving original, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

We begin in the last year of the reign of Charles the Bald, not that anyone knew that at the time. Charles, who was 53 when this diploma was issued, had recently become emperor in Italy, and as we’ll see later this week was clearly aiming further. No-one expected him to die within the year, so this diploma was issued not as a deathbed grant from a fading ruler but as a statement from a man who hadn’t stopped pushing for greater power yet. There are a lot of diplomas from early 877 as Charles prepared to head once more to Italy.

By this point, the pattern of Charles’ late reign is clear, because these diplomas in general feature the small clique of supermagnates on whom Charles’ power was based (and who based their own power on Charles’) – men such as Hugh the Abbot (who we will encounter later in this series), Bernard Plantevelue, father of William the Pious, and above all, as here, Boso of Provence.

At the exact point this diploma was issued, Boso was riding remarkably high even for him. His sister Richildis was married to Charles and had recently given birth to a son (in the event short-lived) to whom Boso stood godfather. This diploma, for the abbey of Saint-Bénigne in Dijon, is a testament to his status. Look at Boso’s titulature: not every Tom, Dick or Megingoz gets to be carissimus noster dux et missus Italiae sacrique palatii nostri archiminister! Boso was a high-status, powerful aristocrat – but his position was fragile, and the prospect of the succession of Charles’ son Louis the Stammerer was not an appealing one. To paraphrase Stuart Airlie: when you’re that high up, where can you go but down?

Prologues and the 936 Diploma for Autun

Grgh. You find me, dear reader, in the midst of trying to write my paper for the big medieval congress in Leeds whilst at the same time not getting enough sleep, and so I’m going to spend this post hearkening back to something relaxing. You see, sometimes in the midst of doing more relevant research I take a little time to go and look at the prologues, or arengae, of royal diplomas – the little introductory spiel which gives the backstory and the motives behind the act the diploma commemorates (and from which the word ‘harangue’ is derived). It’s early days yet, but I have found one particularly interesting thing.

Do you remember that 936 diploma in favour of Autun we discussed earlier on here? Well, I found where its prologue came from, and it’s actually from an act in favour not of any institution in Autun, but a diploma for Saint-Germain d’Auxerre. That diploma, issued by Charles the Bald in 864, was a quite significant confirmation of the abbey’s goods, and was followed by a solemn charter from the episcopal synod which was taking place at the same time.

That the scribe used this in 936 shows us a few things. First, it emphasises that there wasn’t a representative from Autun there – presumably they would have brought their own diplomas as a model. Second, though, it illustrates the importance attached to the diploma. They could have used any text, but they chose one from a particularly elaborate and significant ninth-century document. This in turn pushes in favour of Louis IV and Hugh the Great actively trying to get Bishop Rotmund of Autun on side rather than just assuming he would be, which strengthens my point that Hugh is actively trying to promote Louis’ regime in Burgundy rather than making some token gestures. Fourth and finally, as I said in the previous post, it evidently worked because the church of Autun kept the diploma – but its prologue represents the irruption of another institution’s diplomatic tradition into that of Autun, and by closely studying that tradition we can glean more precious hints about the way diplomas were produced and the contexts in which people produced them.