Here we are. In June 922, Robert of Neustria had himself crowned king by Archbishop Walter of Sens. This was a drastic move, more drastic even than it sounds. Every previous would-be usurper of a throne – Boso of Provence in 879, the participants in the scramble for crowns of 888, Charles the Simple in 893 – all had greater or lesser claims to either be stepping into a vacuum or to have a plausible right to the crown. Robert had neither. His coronation came about purely because the situation between him and Charles had deteriorated so badly. It was a repudiation of Charles’ rule, in a way which had little direct precedent. What possessed him to do such a thing? Part of an answer might lie in his only surviving royal diploma:
DD RR no. 1 (25th January 923, Saint-Denis)
In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.
Robert, by God’s grace king.
Just as We are confident to gain the fullness of all goods and the highness of perfected dignity from the Lord in the present, and the palm of highest blessings in the future, thus We should with God’s assent do good for the advantage of God’s churches and servants.
Let it then remain known to the sagacity of all Our followers, to wit, the Frankish magnates, that through divine clemency, given the necessities of the situation, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to direct the realm’s governance.
And thus, having contemplated in the high citadel of memory the riches of divine goodness which were generously bestowed on Our unworthy self from childhood’s cradle, the distinguished offices of great honour with which We were promoted through each age of man, and Our increasing mental acuity, We think that Our Creator and Redeemer does not begrudge Us some small portion of worldly fortune. Quite the reverse: We consider that He decreed for Us the throne of royal dignity. Forewarned by His divine inspiration, We have decided not to shut up the treasury of heavenly opulence with the tight-fisted key of sterility like an ungrateful or avaricious usurer, but to pay out in a more illustrious fashion solely for the praise and glory of divine majesty.
Thus, having been adorned with the prerogative of royal dignity, by the custom of preceding kings, with the inspiration of divine clemency We have decided to be most kind and liberal not only to others generally, but especially to the places of the saints by whose patronage We are able to manage the present sceptre and by whose protection We might not experience the deserved weight of divine reproach but may instead securely scorn the fate of final damnation and deserve to reign in peace everlasting with Christ amongst the co-heirs of his glory.
Therefore, to be a reward for their work, We approve the conferral of some type of work of Our largess to the brothers of the monastery of Our special patron the supremely blessed Dionysius (under the wings of whose protection We have been exalted and have overcome so many perils thus far and, We are confident, have ascended to the peak of the realm), so that they might be more diligently free for divine service, and commend Our safety and that of the whole realm. Thus, We decreed that certain estates sites in Beauce, to wit Tivernon and Toury, and Rouvray with a church, and Garsenval and Poinville, with the bonded tenants pertaining to these estates, be bestowed entirely upon the same monks.
Therefore, We concede to the same brothers these estates in order that all renders be paid to them, because prebends always used to be provided to them by the abbot from the income, but now the income is insufficient because of the infestation of barbarians.
We also add other estates by these names: Asnières and La Nerville with all their appendages, specifically that Our memory might be in their prayers both in the present life and after death, and so that they might solemnly recall this anniversary day.
We bestow in their entirety the abbey of Liepvre, the estate of Bliderstroff and Cocheren; and We concede half of two estates, that is, Condé and Gernusta, and the other half for lighting Saint-Denis to carry out the solemnities of the first day of Our death; We separate our a third part of the wine from Reuilly for their use.
And thus, We desire to earn with this grant of Our royal largess the patronage of the sacred martyrs Dionysius, Rusticus, and Eleutherius, to whom We formerly committed all the trust of Our faith, so that We might be able to lay victorious hands* upon Our enemies and thereafter with God’s assent bring back with the triumph of victory the undefeated battle standards from their subjugation. Therefore, looking after the advantages of the brothers, We delegate the abovesaid for their uses by the authority of royal majesty, and We confirm them perpetually in everything.
But that this holy congregation might be able to exhort the mercy of the Lord and His saints more attentively for Us and Our son Hugh and all Our progeny and Our whole empire, and no violence from anyone, or the person of their own abbot or of any dignity whatsoever, might presume to subtract anything from this, We undersigned this Our authority and confirmation with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed with Our signet.
Sign of the glorious king Robert.
Ragenard the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Abbo [of Soissons], bishop and high chancellor.
Given on the 8th kalends of February [25th January], in the 11th indiction, in the first year of the reign of the glorious King Robert.
Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Denis.
Happily in the name of God, amen.
*victrices dexteras inferre, literally ‘apply victorious right hands’, which I was very tempted to translate as ‘inflict a mighty smackdown upon’
A fourteenth-century depiction of the Battle of Soissons (source)
Now, I’ve said before that this is one of my favourite charters, and it’s one of my favourite charters largely because of the work Geoffrey Koziol has done with it. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says in that article, but the core of it – Robert’s diploma is a powerful expression of his core principles and right to rule – is absolutely on the money. Robert, by now, was in his ‘60s (his father had died in 866, so the youngest he could possibly have been was 55) and facing an uncertain future. He therefore passed over the specifics of his rebellion – had Charles the Simple heard the line ‘given the necessities of the situation’ he might have complained with some legitimacy that Robert had created the situation largely by himself – and reached for eternity. Unlike Charles, Robert listened to the princes, not simply to his one favourite. Unlike the boy-king Charles, he was an experienced man who had been promoted in line with his experience. Now – as everyone must have been expecting for decades – he was taking the throne.
Incidentally, it’s never as far as I know been noted in the context of Robert’s rebellion, but the fact it’s in the early 920s is important. Charles the Simple spent most of his reign without a male heir, and Robert must have been the expected successor. In c. 920, though, Charles gave birth to a son, cutting Robert out of the loop. It’s probably not a coincidence a serious rebellion followed within a few years…
The other thing about this diploma, which Koziol brings out beautifully, is that Robert was not certain he was right. The diploma hopes and believes. And, as it turned out, it was wrong. On Sunday 15th June 923, Charles attacked and killed Robert near Soissons. It was the bloodiest battle between Franks in almost a century. What would happen next?