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.

What do we want? Charter pedantry! When do we want it? NOW AND ALWAYS

(with apologies to Levi for stealing his tweet for the title)

I’ve mentioned before that putting up discarded blog ideas on Twitter lead to the discovery that I have no idea what you people want. And it turned out, when I did this ages ago, that at least two of you want a really nitpicky point about a 966 diploma of King Lothar for the Mont-Saint-Michel. It got put on the back-burner for a while because for a moment it looked like it was going to be trickier than I thought it was, but actually it isn’t, it’s written up, and it’s ready to rumble.

So, what’s the story? Well, first of all, there’s a relatively long-standing debate over whether this diploma is forged, and if not how much of it is interpolated. This has wider ramifications than just shoving another royal precept in the Unecht basket: the Mont-Saint-Michel was on the frontier between Bretons and Normans.

600px-2017-04_Mont_Saint-Michel_sunset_05
Seen here backgrounding a tiki restaurant (source)

Our old friend Dudo of Saint-Quentin claims that Duke Richard I of Normandy (with whom we have some prior acquaintance*) sent in a bushel of monks to reform the abbey, but it doesn’t look like this dragged the Mount undisputedly into the Norman duke’s orbit, to say the least, and Dudo being Dudo, if it were just him we’d raise eyebrows about whether or not it happened. But, we have this diploma.

As it happens, some scholars have thought that Richard I messing around that far west is so unlikely that the diploma must be a fake. The argument is that it must have been produced in the early eleventh century – when we know the Norman rulers had a presence that far west – rather than the mid-tenth – when they can’t possibly have done. There is a prima facie case to answer here. The reason for that is that the diploma as it currently exists includes reference to a papal bull of Pope John XIII which was definitely an early eleventh-century forgery. So it’s definitely been interpolated; but was it outright forged? As I said, some scholars think so. I don’t.

That reason is the prologue. The diploma’s prologue begins ‘If We confirm that which Our predecessors, illuminated by divine esteem…’ It appears to have originally comes from the abbey of Saint-Denis in the 860s, and shows up in a few diplomas of Charles the Bald making Very Serious Arrangements for organising Church estates; but the specific version of the formula that the Mont-Saint-Michel diploma is copying was issued for the cathedral at Rouen in around 872. (Incidentally, actually looking this up required an awful lot of intense diploma research before I discovered there’s an entire book which is specifically a reference work for this topic, which would have resolved the whole question in about five minutes…)

The fact that this formula was in the Rouen Cathedral archive and nowhere else goes well with another detail from the diploma. Lothar’s act doesn’t mention anyone from the Mont itself petitioning for it, but it does say that Archbishop Hugh of Rouen did. Normandy in 966 was not exactly drowning in very solemn royal diplomas (and, actually, if Hugh – originally a monk from Saint-Denis – was familiar with his old house’s archive he would have had extra associations with prologues of this type), so the most plausible scenario is that Hugh brought this formula with him when petitioning Lothar for the diploma. Point is, having that prologue in this diploma requires that it was produced for a Norman visit from Rouen to Lothar’s court in the 960s rather than cooked up out of whole cloth in the Avranchin in the 1020s.

This in turn means that we can say with some confidence that the Norman rulers were successfully claiming authority over Brittany in the second half of the tenth century. In general, I think in general the evidence for Norman involvement in the area which would eventually become western Normandy tends to be downplayed, not least because it looks weird by the standards of people expecting the strong and stable government of early eleventh-century upper Normandy – but it’s pretty convincing for a vaguely-conceived but nonetheless-important hegemony over a factionalised borderland.

* Back when I was first drafting this, I got @-ed into a discussion thread about the then-recent proposal to move the Bayeux Tapestry, and it turned out that people are actually reading my articles; and I know that’s the point but I still got unnerved. Does anyone else find this?

Name in Print II

So I’ve just got back to London after speaking at the Revisiting the Europe of Bishops conference in Liverpool, which was great fun but also very tiring. But, whilst I was there I discovered that an article which has been in the pipeline for a while has finally seen the light of day, and maybe you all would like to know about it.

The article in question is entitled ‘Sub-Kingdoms and the Spectrum of Kingship on the Western Border of Charles the Bald’s Kingdom’, and can be found in The Heroic Age via this finely-crafted hyper-link. As with my last article, it’s all open access and freely-available, so please do go and enjoy yourself.

As for what it covers, it’s basically an exercise in comparison between the rulers of Neustria, Aquitaine and Brittany, and how they are all kings, but not fully kings. The basic point, that kingship is a spectrum not an either-or, is fairly simple; but hopefully it puts a little flesh on those bones. To be honest, this is one where I wish that I’d brought in more Merovingian comparison (a sentence I never thought I’d say) – I wonder how odd any of this looks from a 6th century perspective…

The gritty details: This one had a while before it saw the light of day. After being one of the organisers of a conference in Cambridge on the Carolingian frontier, I was contacted by Cullen Chandler in Summer 2015 to ask if I wanted to contribute something to a special Heroic Age edition on Carolingian borderlines. At the time, I was busy finishing off my thesis, I prevaricated; but Cullen generously said that proposals didn’t have to be in until Winter 2015. I got something together for February 2016. One round of revisions, resubmitted December 2016, and finally opened for the public just over a year later!

Who Were The Preceeding Kings?

Man, I had such a good idea for my IMC paper next year. I was going to look at every post-Carolingian royal diploma, seeing who named their predecessors, either by name (‘King Odo’) or generically (‘the custom of Our royal ancestors’) and see what changed. Problem was, this was such a good idea that someone else on the panel had already had it, based on their long-standing research… Still, thanks to my collection of West Frankish royal diplomas actually doing the start of the research as a feasibility study only took a morning, and if I can do nothing else with it it can at least serve as a blog post, so here goes. At least this way I don’t have to spend a thousand words on the methodological issues (although I have thought about them!) …

The first thing I noted was that the overall amount of citations in both categories remains fairly consistent between 888 and 1032, at around 66%. There are two major exceptions to this: Ralph of Burgundy, and Robert the Pious. My first thought was that Ralph and Robert both came to power in coups, so might not want to remind people of their – implicitly more legitimate – predecessors; but this isn’t true of Hugh Capet… I still wonder if the ‘don’t mention the predecessors’ reason might be valid for Ralph – who also basically never mentions specific, named, precursors, and who did after all come to the throne after a shockingly-violent battle – but I think in Robert’s case it might fit into a wider pattern in his kingship, the meandering trend towards being less royal about the whole thing. This is also, as far as I can tell, not a universal percentage: I also did the kings of Transjurane Burgundy, and their historical memory is very limited – they hardly ever mention their predecessors, and when they do it’s overwhelmingly their father.

Not that most kings aren’t above all interested primarily in their immediate predecessors, if you look at who they cite by name. This usually, but not always, means their father: Louis IV cites Charles the Simple, and Lothar cites Louis IV. However, this does mean there are some interesting exceptions: Louis isn’t interested in his immediate predecessor (and father’s usurper) Ralph of Burgundy, for instance. More widely, both Charles the Simple and his predecessor Odo of Paris take as their most-cited figure Charles the Bald, not Charles the Fat; probably because Charles the Bald was such a dominating presence that his after-effects were still being felt a quarter of a century later.

Finally, historical memory going further back is a lot weaker. Contrary to what you might expect, Charlemagne is not a normative figure: Odo and Louis IV don’t mention him at all, and in total Louis the Pious is rather more cited than Charlemagne is. On the other hand, exactly in accordance with what you might expect, the Merovingians hardly ever appear. The exception is Charles the Simple, whose memory evidently goes back much further than his fellow-kings’: he cites no fewer than six Merovingian monarchs, and has more time than the other kings for Pippin the Short. Admittedly many of these Merovingian mentions can be accounted for by Saint-Denis’ interest in King Dagobert I and Archbishop Fulk of Rheims’ pulling out all the stops in terms of historical precedent in one particular charter for Saint-Vaast; but not all of them can. It does seem to support Geoffrey Koziol’s idea that Charles is an unusually thoughtful monarch. Talking to a colleague the other day, I was saying that I increasingly get a kind of Joseph-II-of-Austria-vibe off Charles: a policy wonk who happened to actually be the ruler…

On that note, it’s announcement time! As previously said on this august forum, I’m shortly going to be moving countries, and will be trapped in Schwäbisch Hall on an intensive German course for the next two months. Consequently, blog posts will be few and far between. If inspiration really strikes me, I might write something; but I rather suspect my time will be full-up… Thus, normal service will be resumed in November.