A King in Nappies?

Whilst making revisions to an article, I’ve had to revisit a question which has been circulating, one way or another, since the nineteenth century: did Louis IV create a sub-kingdom in Burgundy for his son Charles in 953? As far as I know, this was first proposed by Auguste Bernard before being refuted by Ferdinand Lot; Lot’s view then held the field for decades until it was counterattacked by Carlrichard Brühl, and now historians are going in both directions.

So, first things first: why does this matter? Well, Brühl and Hlawitschka’s debate was over whether or not there was a ‘tenth-century principle of indivisibility’, which I find a rather abstract constitutionalist question. My interest is more direct: if Louis did try and endow Charles with a kingdom in Burgundy, this suggests that he was punching hard in the region, and it also explains why he made some really significant concessions to Hugh the Great in early 953. In fact, it suggests a paradigm shift in West Frankish politics which would have taken place in the mid-950s had matters not been scuppered by Louis’ early death.

The cases for and against are easy to lay out, not lease because the evidence consists entirely of two charters and their dating clauses:

CC 1.857: “I, Bernard, wrote and gave [this charter] on Thursday, in the month of October, in the first year of the reign of King Charles.”  

CC 1.875: “…Cluny, over which lord abbot Aimard (r. from 942, †965) presides… Rothard, levite and monk, wrote this on the 2nd March, a Thursday, at Cluny in public, in the reign of King Charles.”

When do these date from? The second is pretty clear: it must be between 942 and 965; based on the years where the 2nd March was a Thursday, 954 makes good sense. The first one needs a bit more context: it is a charter from one Engelard to his betrothed Neuthild, the contents of which were repeated, evidently at a later date, in another charter dated to “1st November, a Friday, in anno septanta of King Conrad [the Pacific of Transjurane Burgundy]”. Anno septanta, taken literally, should mean ‘in the seventieth year’, which is palpably ridiculous. If it means ‘in the seventh year’, then we’re dealing with some time in the late 940s (although we can’t be more exact than that); if ‘the seventeenth year’ then sometime in the mid-950s. (For what it’s worth, the 1st November was a Friday in 950 and then not again until 961; both Bernard and Brühl proposed emending it to a date that better suited their argument but there’s no reason to make this emendation.)

CC 1.875 in the original, with the dating clause underlined. Modified from source.

Of these two charters, the second is by far the most important, because 1) it still survives in the original, so we can probably rule out copyist error (which we can’t necessarily with the second, not least because it’s so loosely drafted anyway) and 2) because it can be fairly securely dated. So, we have a fairly unambiguous bit of evidence that a scribe in the Mâconnais in spring 954 thought that there was a ‘King Charles’ in the vicinity. For Brühl, this is enough to have Louis’ son Charles made into a full-fledged king over a Burgundian sub-kingdom.

So, what are the problems with this view? There are two main issues: one, the absence of evidence; and two, the inherent implausibility of the scenario. Let’s start with the second one, because it’s the weaker of the two (improbable things happen often), but it is still worth noting. Louis’ son Charles (the future Charles of Lotharingia) was born in summer 953, meaning that if he was a king, he was a king as an actual infant. Some sub-kings were constituted at very, very young ages, admittedly – Louis the Pious was all of three years old – but a literal baby seems a bit much.

The absence of evidence is a bit more substantial, enough to constitute evidence of absence. We have a substantial chronicler (Flodoard) and a couple of others (the Annals of Sainte-Colombe, the Annals of Fleury, the Annals of Nevers) who cover Burgundian affairs, and none of them give any kind of king-making ceremony the slightest bit of attention. Even more crucially, we have a whole load of other charters from 953 and 954, all of which are still dated by Louis’ reign – including, crucially, the notice of a court held by Count Leotald of Mâcon in October 953. We know from both Flodoard and diploma evidence that Leotald was one of Louis’ most consistent allies in southern Burgundy. Given, therefore, that he would have been both one of the people whom Louis most needed to bring on board to support any kind of subkingship and one of the most likely to support the king, the lack of any reference to Charles is significant.

So, then, we have one unambiguous bit of clearly contemporary evidence, but it’s tinny in the face of a deafening silence. Ultimately, I’m with Lot, not Brühl: it might still be possible that baby Charles got his brief kingdom, but Occam’s Razor says that Rothard is the outlier, not everyone else. Charles’ brief kingdom would have to wait several decades to fail… but that’s another story.

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I’ll Bite Your Kneecaps Off! Boso of Provence and Keeping Going after Massive Political Damage

Way back in the day when I first started doing Charter A Week, I did a fair few posts on Boso of Provence. That was a while ago now, so for those who are just joining us, Boso of Provence was the erstwhile brother-in-law of the West Frankish king Charles the Bald. He married the daughter of the king of Italy, and enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in the last few years of Charles’ reign, a prominence he more-or-less managed to keep up in the reign of Louis the Stammerer. After Louis died in 879, however, Boso ignored his two teenage sons and had himself declared king at the fortress of Mantaille by a congress of Burgundian and Provençal bishops. However, in 880 a combined force of Carolingian rulers led an army south to deal with him, taking Mâcon and besieging Vienne. Most of Boso’s key supporters abandoned him; and this is where we left him: late in 880, a neutered force, his support lopped off, destined to be a hedge-king skulking about the mountains of the French Prealps for the rest of his life. This is, I would venture to say, basically the standard story about Boso. However, since I wrote those posts, I’ve come across a few things and I’ve started to wonder whether Boso was less a spent force and more the Carolingian political equivalent of MRSA.

Boso’s kingdom. c. 883 (source)

You see, after the success of the 880 campaign, the Carolingian rulers leading the army started to drift apart. Charles the Fat wanted to get to Italy to succeed his late brother Karlmann of Bavaria, and Louis III was panicked by reports that his northern army had met a serious defeat at the hands of a Viking force in Flanders. The end result was that they buggered off to do their own thing, leaving Carloman II to handle the anti-Boso action. And, with his support not entirely eradicated, he seems to have been able to slowly grow stronger and resist the Carolingian armies.(*) For one thing, it took another two years to take Boso’s fortified capital of Vienne itself. An attack in 881 appears to have done nothing, certainly not in terms of Boso’s support. Indeed, Regino of Prüm (writing a bit later) takes care to note that none of Boso’s supporters ever betrayed him to the Carolingians despite significant material inducement to do so. Archbishop Otrand of Vienne, one of his most important supporters, had gone so far as to imprison the bishop of Geneva. At the same time, Bishop Adalbert of Maurienne attacked and imprisoned Bishop Berner of Grenoble. These two bishops had been at each other’s throats for years, but it is possible that one or the other of them was a supporter of Boso, giving Adalbert his excuse for invasion.

With that said, Vienne was taken in 882, and the devastation was massive – a charter a few years later was dated by the ‘destruction of Vienne’. This left Boso reliant on the support of the mountainous provinces of eastern Provence, and that wasn’t a great base for launching any serious attacks on his opponents. Still, there are signs Boso had a resurgence towards the end of his life. In 887, Count Odilo of Die issued a charter dated by Boso’s reign as king. We also have signs that he was being sought ought by Provençal churchmen: around this time he issued a lost diploma for the church of Valence, and we also have evidence of grants to the churches of Vienne and Lyon (although it is possible that these might have been death-bed grants, it still implies there was enough of a tie there for these churches to accept some ideologically pointed gifts, such as crowns). If we’re feeling generous, there might even be some evidence from silence – despite his importance in the politics of the 870s and early 880s, Bishop Adalgar of Autun is conspicuously absent from the sources for the reign of Charles the Fat, which could possibly hint at his renewed support for Boso.

We also have a little bit of evidence for Charles the Fat’s response to this. Regino says that he allowed the Viking fleet which besieged Paris in 885-886 into Burgundy to punish a revolt against him there. This can’t be true of the bits of Burgundy the fleet actually went to – Sens, Auxerre, and Langres all show up as loyal to Charles in summer 886 – but it could indicate Charles knew about rumblings from Boso’s old heartlands in southern Burgundy and northern Provence. A more problematic, but potentially more interesting, source is a diploma of Charles the Fat for the church of Nevers, dating to 885. It claims to have been petitioned for by William the Pious, son of Aquitaine’s most important magnate Bernard Plantevelue. In the diploma, Charles recalls ‘the unbroken loyalty of [William’s] father Bernard… [who] with tremendous courage, inner strength, and unending loyalty set himself against… the tyrant Boso and his followers’, in the course of which battle he died. Now, as this diploma currently stands it is a forgery of c. 950-1100 (not least because we know Bernard Plantevelue was still alive in summer 886!). However, it’s a weird thing for a forger in the decades around the millennium to toy with – William and Bernard’s family had long died out by then, and their memory was kept, if anywhere, at Cluny (in the Mâconnais) or in Auvergne, not at Nevers. However, they had ruled Nevers back in the day, and maybe there was some information the forger had access to – otherwise, it’s a very odd thing to put in there, as it doesn’t serve the church’s interests and it doesn’t add formal authenticity to the document. If Bernard Plantevelue did die against Boso in autumn 886, then, it could be a sign that Charles was taking his old rival more seriously than historians have yet realised.

Boso never got the chance to do more, because he died in early 887. And there’s a lot of maybes in the above. Nonetheless, I think most of them are plausible maybes. Even then, even accepting most of them all they add up to is a slower decline in the early 880s and a bit of a recovery in the late 880s. Still, that’s more than he’s been allowed thus far. It also makes his career more explicable: rather than an enormous rise and catastrophic fall, it lets Boso’s kingship evolve more naturally, and more accurately reflects the Carolingians’ ultimate failure to crush him completely once they were in a dominant position.

(*) PSA: if your doctor proscribes you a course of antibiotics, be sure to finish it even if you’re feeling better before the end!

Political Dating in Ninth-Century Aquitanian Private Charters

So I discovered something really cool but also quite frustrating, not least because although it’s been noticed by a few people before as far as I can tell I’m the only one whose ever thought it noteworthy, and it’s giving rise to one of those situations where I’m convinced the problem is my ability to find literature despite the increasing probability that the literature just isn’t out there. What I’ve found is an unusual pattern in Aquitanian charter dating clauses. At the end of most charters, there’s a date given, often in the king’s regnal years (e.g., ‘the tenth year of King Charles’, or suchlike), and these can as you’d expect have political overtones – so if you don’t accept the legitimacy of any of the claimants to the throne, for instance, you might put ‘two years since the death of the last emperor’, or in one particularly striking case I saw ‘with Hugh reigning, but hoping for Charles’.

But first, some background. Charlemagne had the dubious good fortune to outlive all but one of his sons, so when he died there was relatively little controversy about who got what – the empire went to Louis the Pious. Louis, on the other hand, had no fewer than three sons, and trying to divvy the empire up between them was difficult. Louis’ firstborn son Lothar was crowned co-emperor, and reigned alongside his father; the other two sons, Louis the German and Pippin I, got sub-kingdoms (Bavaria and Aquitaine respectively). So far, so good; but Louis the Pious remarried and had another son, Charles the Bald, which meant he needed to provide a kingdom for the new kid. This meant that the Carolingian family was divided between Louis (trying to take their inheritance away from them to provide for their half-brother) and Lothar (trying to assert an unfraternal predominance over them; and also kinda take their inheritance away from them), and there were coups and plots and tension and it all got very messy and resentful. In 838, Pippin I died, leaving two sons; but rather than giving Aquitaine to Pippin II, Louis decided to give it to Charles the Bald instead. Some Aquitanian nobles made Pippin king anyway, and Louis and Charles invaded, which was what Louis was doing when he died in 840.

Pippin II’s key support in these early years belonged to a family descended from Count Rodulf of Cahors, and included especially Count Rodulf’s son, also Rodulf, whom Pippin made archbishop of Bourges. Rodulf of Bourges had a complicated career over the next decade-and-a-half, flipping between Charles and Pippin, until Pippin’s royal ambitions came to an end in the mid-850s (which is another story).

What no-one seems to have picked up on are some charters from the abbey of Beaulieu. Rodulf founded Beaulieu, and what seems to have happened is that his personal archive got shoved in with that of the abbey, because there are several charters there from before its founding which are not directly connected with it. Of those charters, there are about half-a-dozen which deal with the period between 840 and 855. All of them feature Rodulf and/or close family members (mother, sister), and all of them are dated not by the reign of Pippin II, and certainly not by the reign of Charles the Bald, but by the reign of Emperor Lothar.

beaulieu
As in this case, a charter of 841 from the Beaulieu cartulary, BNF MS NAL 493 (source, image from Gallica)

Lothar did provide important political support to Pippin at several points, but that Rodulf so consistently dated his charters by Lothar suggests that the archbishop of Bourges – Pippin’s core supporter – wasn’t Pippin’s core supporter so much as Lothar’s. This does actually make some degree of sense in understanding Rodulf’s flip-flopping, but it raises a whole bunch more questions about things like how far Pippin II was conceived of as a ‘real’ king, how far the Frankish polity was still conceived of as a unity, and how far Lothar’s position in the Frankish world genuinely was a kind of proper overkingship of the kind we’ve discussed before (and whilst these questions are interesting, they are not helping make the book sub-chapter this came up whilst researching any more a manageable length!).

Just as interesting is that after Lothar’s death and Pippin II’s political eclipse in 855, Rodulf, equally consistently, dates his charters by Charles the Bald’s son, King Charles the Child of Aquitaine. What we have here is a case where a ‘pan-imperial’ political operator seems to have dramatically changed register to being a ‘regional’ one; and also a case which does seem to be an ‘any king but Charles the Bald’ party in Aquitanian politics – which does make me wonder, what was their beef?

(Lots of Aquitaine lately. I should do a Burgundy post…)

Charter a Week 17: Brothers and Sisters

Do you know what we haven’t really dealt with? (In this series, anyway…) Aquitaine. It came up in passing when dealing with its submission to King Odo, but that was five years ago now and a lot has changed. For one thing, none of the major figures who submitted to Odo in 889 are still around. Frothar of Bourges died. Ramnulf of Poitiers and Ebalus of Saint-Denis died, the latter in rebellion against Odo. (There’s a whole story about what happened to Poitiers which we can’t deal with, but basically Odo tried to make his brother Robert count of Poitiers and it looks like he rather mismanaged the whole affair, leading to a revolt in Aquitaine which led to a further revolt which will actually be relevant this week.)

So who’s in charge instead? We mentioned Bernard Plantevelue as being one of Charles the Bald’s palatine magnates, but he looks to have died in around 886 and to have been replaced with his son, William the Pious. William’s base of power is rather further east than the word ‘Aquitaine’ might make you think. Do you remember how Bernard took over Mâcon during Boso’s rebellion? The Mâconnais is one of the centres of William’s power. So too is Lyon. The centre of gravity in William’s reign is rather further north and east than it is for Stephen of Clermont, largely because these all get sheared off in the 920s – again, we’ll get to it. The point is that William’s powerbase is big and it’s diverse. His wider interests actually go even further north and east than Mâcon – let me show you.   

CC no. 1.53 (9th November 893) = ARTEM no. 1579 = Plus anciens documents de Cluny no. 2

We are taught by divine and churchly documents that one should before everything do good work in observing a double love: that is, of God and one’s neighbour, so that we who have been pure-heartedly fortified in both might both not be without present assistance and also rejoice in eternal help, because without these it is impossible either to please God or to lead a present life of praiseworthy honour.

I, Ava, a humble servant of Christ, recalling this in divine contemplation, and considering that the nearness of kinship is worth of affection, donate to you, William [the Pious] my brother and glorious count, my certain estate named Cluny, sited in the district of Mâconnais on the river Grosne, in its entirety, with its appurtenances and what is legitimately beholden to it, although only after the course of my present life is complete. After my death, I give and transfer this estate, with everything which pertains to it both in churches and in chapels, bondsmen of both sexes (except 20 bondsmen), manses, portions of arable land, arboreta, fields cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, meadows, mills, waters and watercourses, roads out and in, from my power into your dominion with perpetual right, so that you may have the firmest power in everything to do whatever you want to do with it, whether donation or sale or exchange.

I give and donate this estate to Your Brotherhood on this condition, indeed: that in return for the same estate you should bestow on me a certain allod of your rightful property, which is called Einville-au-Jard, which is sited in the county of Chaumont, for use in my present life; and after my death it should return to you and your kinsmen.

Moreover, if I outlive you and God lengthens my days beyond yours and gives, by divine mercy, the fertility of sons and daughters from a legitimate marriage, let them, after my death, receive the estate of Cluny which I donate to you after my death in perpetual right in the place of an heir, and let them have, hold and possess it as an inheritance, contradicted by nobody.

If anyone, moreover (which I do not believe will happen), either I myself or any of my biological or legal heirs or any person opposed to it, might try to come against or generate any calumny of controversy against this charter of donate made of my own free will, let them be unable to vindicate their claim, but rather let them pay you and your heirs and the associated fisc 50 pounds of gold; and thus let this present donation endure true, free and firm for all time, with this corroboration attached.

Enacted publicly at the estate of Cluny.

Sign of Abbess Ava, who asked this donation be made and confirmed. Sign of Viscount Raculf [of Mâcon].

[First column] Sign of Amalung. Sign of Warulf. Sign of Grimald. Sign of Ramnald. Sign of Fulcrad.

[Second column] Sign of Sigebald. Sign of Achard. Sign of Waning. Sign of Grimo. Sign of Stephen.

[Third column] Sign of Guntard. Sign of Gladirus. Sign of Otbert. Sign of Tullo. Sign of Aloin. Sign of Ungrim.

[Fourth column] Sign of Isengar. Sign of Ernerius. Sign of Heribert. Sign of Amalbert. Sign of Giso. Sign of Eilbert.

Sigebert, having been asked to, subscribed.

I, Ratbod, an unworthy levite, wrote and subscribed this, given in the month of November, on the day of the kalends, the 5th ides of November [9th November], in the first year when two kings contended over the realm, that is, Odo and Charles [the Simple].

15791
Image from ARTEM as linked above

Surprise Cluny! Yes, this charter is the proximate beginning of the history of everyone’s favourite hegemonic medieval abbey. We’ve covered before on this blog the ‘capillary government’ of William the Pious’ Aquitaine, and here we can see another aspect of it. If Gerald of Aurillac was William’s man in Quercy, Ava was his woman in the northern Mâconnais. Thanks to the even-at-this-point-fairly-dense archives of Cluny, we can see Ava with a fairly dense cluster of properties between Cluny and the river Saône, and plenty of ties to local nobles. In particular, an entry in the Liber Memorialis of Remiremont seems to show her with Viscount Raculf; the sons of Warulf of Brancion, Cluny’s second-biggest patron after William the Pious himself in its early years, donated a fair chunk of property for her soul specifically; and so on – these can (from experience) be worked out into a 5000-word paper. We can see some of this in the witness list, where we have a group of local notables, including Raculf, Warulf, and the man whose name I have rendered as ‘Sigebald’, but who appears in Latin as Sievoldus and who might well be Sievertus, the advocate of Mâcon cathedral (orthography can be very inconsistent; but the ‘Sige’=’Sie’ elision is quite uncommon).

William doesn’t actually appear without Ava during her lifetime, so it makes sense to see these people as here because of the siblings as a pair, rather than just as William’s followers. In this sense, Ava is another version of Gerald of Aurillac – a middlewoman between William and the locality. She pulls the locals into William’s orbit, and is herself pulled into William’s orbit by bonds of kinship and – as in this instance – property.

Interesting is that William gives Ava an estate in Lotharingia. William was another actor in that Transararian Fluidity Zone, as we’ll see a bit down the line; but his interests in Lotharingia are largely a blank book, as are what Ava did with it.

A final note is that dating clause: in 893, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims finally got sick enough of Odo to anoint the young Charles the Simple as king and lead a rebellion. This was not thrillingly successful, but a lot of the southern magnates, including William and Richard the Justiciar, hedged their bets at least at the beginning, and this dating clause expresses that in the most direct way possible: both Odo and Charles are acknowledged, as is their fight, without any side being taken.

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 6: The Last Years of Stephen of Clermont

All twenty of them. Thing is, and why this post has been less than forthcoming, is that with the end of hostilities in the Auvergne in the early 960s, we lose even a semblance of narrative. Piecing together tenth-century history is always difficult, but here it becomes close to impossible. We, quite simply, do not have enough evidence to build any kind of story here, let alone the relatively coherent and/or detailed one of the last five posts. Thus, the last twenty-odd years of Bishop Stephen II of Clermont’s career can be covered in about a quarter of the space of the first twenty.

Rather than going chronologically, it’s best to speak about what the evidence does and doesn’t have in it. Let’s start with the basics: when did Stephen die? We know he was still alive in 977, when he is noted as owning land bordering a donation to the monastery of Sauxillanges. After that, things get complicated. A couple of charters from the abbey of Conques have him as being still alive in the thirtieth year of the reign of King Lothar, which should in theory be 984. However, two more charters, one from 981 and one from 980, give the abbot of Conques as Hugh and the bishop of Clermont as Bego respectively, both Stephen’s successors. I think what’s happening here is either that some scribes are taking Lothar’s reign as beginning earlier than 954 (as we know some did) or there’s been a transcription error – Lothar’s XXX-th year and his XXV-th year, or something like that, aren’t too difficult to mix up. It is also possible these charters might be right, but that doesn’t change things too much. Bego and Hugh had both been Stephen’s co-rulers before 980, so even if the by-this-point-rather-elderly bishop of Clermont was still alive, what has probably happened is that he is no longer active – living, but out of the picture. One way or another, we can put the end of Stephen’s career in around 979-980.

So what was Stephen doing between the early 960s and the later 970s? Ruling Auvergne, probably. The charter evidence from these decades shows that Stephen is pretty much the only substantial authority figure visible in the region – no counts of Poitiers, no viscounts of Brioude that matter, just the bishop. What this says to me is that he probably didn’t face much by way of challenge. Our closest look at him comes from what’s known as the Landeyrat Charter of 972, where he consecrates the abbey-church of Aurillac in the presence of a large assembly. The problem is that this document is at minimum heavily interpolated, although some scholars argue strongly for an authentic core (and that it’s a precursor to the Peace of God, an idea we will return to in a later post), so we need to be cautious in dealing with its actual provisions.

Sauxillanges today. (source)

More interesting is a charter from the cartulary of Sauxillanges. The big problem with this thing is that it is undated, and by formal criteria undatable. It’s not likely to be earlier than about 960, and it can’t be later than 979, and it can’t be pinned down more closely than that. With that said, the man giving the charter, one Rigald, gives off the impression that he’s dying – he appoints people as his executors – and he appears fairly frequently in the 950s but not in the 960s or 970s, so this is probably in the earlier part of the period, 963-965 or so. What’s interesting about this charter is that it features both Stephen, the four main viscounts of the Auvergne, and Archbishop Amblard of Lyon who was himself from a prominent Auvergnat family and had major interests in the region. We saw him last time helping broker peace in the Auvergne, and his presence here surely implies that he remained an important figure there. On his own death in 979, he donated the Auvergnat abbey of Ris to Cluny, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he acted (as in this Sauxillanges act) as a supporter of Bishop Stephen.

By this time, though, a new generation was clearly coming up. Amblard of Lyon was dead, Stephen of Clermont was either dying or incapacitated, and other figures were circling. A new bishop in Le Puy, Guy, was taking some of Stephen’s ideas; a new group of counts was emerging; and King Lothar himself was preparing to take an interest. And that’s what we’ll get into next time…

Dating Provençal Charters: It’s A Complete Mess

Yesterday I spent an afternoon matching up charter dating clauses. “Sounds like fun!” you say? Eh, well, at least the results were interesting. But, what do I mean by ‘matching up charter dating clauses’? Well, I’m still looking at mid-century Provence. Charters from this region are usually dated by the regnal year of the king, in this case Conrad the Pacific. Sometimes, you can’t do much with that – a charter dated ‘3rd May, in the 7th year of the reign’ can’t be checked against anything. But, sometimes there’s more – there’s a day of a week, an indiction (a separate dating system left over from the Roman tax administration), or even an anno Domini date! So with a dating clause which says ‘Tuesday, 3rd May, in the 7th year of the reign’, you can look at in which years the 3rd May is a Tuesday, and work backwards from there to see when people thought the reign started. And that’s what I was doing: trying to work out when people thought Conrad the Pacific had begun to be king in Provence. Now, in Burgundy, Conrad succeeded his father in 937, and we can see him in action in Provence for the first time in 943 – so are either of these dates used?

Ha, ha, ha. I wish it were that simple. Over the course of yesterday, I found charters which appeared to begin the reign in every year from 931 to 948 except 932 and 947. Some of these dates are clearly the result of people not using the indiction correctly: comparing the indiction and the regnal year on these two charters – and each has a couple of plausible dates they could mean – you find that they appear to think that Conrad started reigning in 931/946 or 933/948 respectively, dates which are so clearly arbitrary and wrong that they must be the result of simple error.

However, some cases are more complicated. This charter (issued by the Archbishop of Besançon, so not actually Provençal, but that just makes it weirder) is dated Friday, 14th May, in the 25th year of Conrad’s reign. If you look at what years had 14th May on a Friday, the only possible candidate in this case in 969 – but that places Conrad’s reign as beginning in 944. This other charter, written in the same regnal year and dated to Wednesday 3rd June in 963, in the 25th year of Conrad’s reign. As it happens, 3rd June 963 was a Wednesday, so that’s right – but following these elements puts the beginning of Conrad’s reign in 938.

Sometimes, there are a couple of possibilities. This document is dated to Wednesday 22nd November, in the 6th year of Conrad’s reign. This could quite plausibly be either 943 or 948, putting Conrad’s reign as beginning in either 938 or 942; there’s no way of telling.

I could multiply these examples – well, not quite endlessly, but I’ve found about fifty documents where you can do this kind of calculation. The most popular single date is 939, but not by very much, and you find varying dates throughout Conrad’s – very long – reign. (What happened in 939, incidentally? Not a clue. It is unclear to me why exactly you’d be dating from 939…) What this says to me is that no-one knew when Conrad had started to be king. They knew he was their king now, but the absence of a generally-agreed date for the beginning of his reign and the sheer range of variables involved suggests that this was an ex post facto treatment of a status quo which only became quo in the mid-940s. So far, so good – most historians would agree with this and I’m not saying anything new here. But you can go further than that, because what it says about Conrad’s legitimacy as king is that it wasn’t hereditary, and it wasn’t connected to his rule in Transjurane Burgundy (otherwise people would have started to date by his rule there starting in 937). Conrad’s rule in Provence had nothing to do with his father King Rudolf II, but was an outside takeover of a separate political community which continued to see itself as separate.

Provence Continues To Be Weird

Not about Liutprand this time, you’ll be pleased to hear. Rather, this time I want to zoom out and talk about just how odd Provence is as a kingdom after the death of Louis the Blind. Chiefly what is weird about it is that there are six potential kings, and the one most people seem to recognise is the one who’s already dead, which is to say Louis the Blind himself. Now, Louis himself doesn’t appear to have done much during the last years of his reign. In the early 900s, he got mixed up in Italian politics, which is as bad an idea for tenth-century kings as twenty-first century historians, which is how he ended up blind in the first place. Louis is supposed to have been fairly useless during the last years of his reign – one historian called him a ‘shadow king’ – although I have questions about how far this is just due to the combination of a lack of narrative sources and the fact that (as you might expect, given the constraints upon disabled people at the time) he didn’t get around much. Certainly, he appears to have spent twenty years staying in Vienne and not moving, but looking through his diplomas people did come to him from all over the kingdom. The most important of these people was Hugh of Arles, who became Louis’ right-hand man up to the point in 924 where Hugh himself went to become king of Italy.

c389glise_saint-andrc3a9-le-bas-_010
Saint-André-le-Bas in Vienne (source)

Louis died in 928. Well, probably. Overwhelmingly probably. We don’t actually know in what year he died, although it was certainly by 932, but scholarly consensus is basically-unanimous in putting his death in June 928 based on circumstantial evidence, and I think scholarly consensus is in this case correct. After Louis’ death, the first bit of weirdness comes into play: Louis had two adult sons, Charles Constantine and Ralph, neither of whom succeeded him. Some people have suggested that Charles Constantine didn’t succeed him because he was a bastard, but the source for his illegitimacy is late – it’s Richer of Rheims – and I strongly suspect that Richer is back-projecting, filling in an explanation for why Charles didn’t inherit, because the detail is not in Flodoard, which is Richer’s only source. In any case, Ralph is very unlikely to have been illegitimate, but he didn’t inherit either. Charles Constantine appears in Louis’ lifetime as Count of Vienne, which is unusual – royal heirs, even with counties, are not usually called counts (anyone got any counterexamples from this time?); and it has been suggested that this means that Louis did not intend Charles to succeed him; but again, this isn’t true of Ralph. (I did play around with the notion that the ‘Ralph, king of Vienne’ who shows up in a number of charters was Ralph son of Louis the Blind; but this doesn’t work chronologically if nothing else.) What this means is that we have a case where a reigning king with adult sons born to him whilst he was a king isn’t succeeded by his son, which I think is the only example from the whole Carolingian and post-Carolingian period. Pippin II of Aquitaine, maybe?

The thing is, if Louis isn’t succeeded by his sons, it doesn’t look like he’s succeeded by anyone. Kings Ralph of West Francia and Rudolf II of Burgundy both nibble away at bits of territory. Rudolf slowly pulls some of the Alpine bits of Provence, such as Belley and maybe Apt, into his orbit; and looks like he made a short-lived play for Lyon – if so, he was probably kicked out relatively quickly. Ralph made a better go of it, asserting his authority over Vienne and as far south as Uzès, which is only a little distance away from Avignon, so very deep. However – and we do admittedly have evidential problems here – it doesn’t look like either tried to become Louis’ successor directly rather than just annexing some of his territory (which in both cases, they were inching towards even before Louis’ death).

Hugh of Arles’ role is even weirder. You’d have thought he’d be the obvious choice to succeed Louis – already a king elsewhere, powerful allies in the form of his brother Count Boso and nephew Archbishop Manasses of Arles, and personally possessed of a lot of land in the kingdom from back when he was its chief magnate. But although Hugh shows up in autumn and winter 928 and issues a bunch of diplomas, it looks to my eyes rather as though he was trying to stay the kingdom’s chief magnate whilst at the same time being king in a different kingdom. (This, incidentally, is why I was asking for help on Twitter from Crusade historians – trying to look for parallels. The closest is William the Conqueror, but even then the situation is only loosely comparable.) Hugh maintains an interest in Provence, right through into the 940s, but it’s unclear that he ever tried to assert himself as king and very, very likely that no-one every accepted him as their ruler – there are, to my knowledge, no charters dated by Hugh’s reign, even those issued in the name of Manasses of Arles.

Rather, most people, especially in the south of the kingdom, seem to have continued to recognise Louis the Blind as king, through to the mid-930s. One charter from 934 refers to Louis as the currently-reigning emperor even though he’s been in the ground (overwhelmingly probably) for six years and (certainly) for two. To me, this says that most people don’t recognise anyone as their legitimate king (and that, for some reason, Hugh of Arles doesn’t want to be king there even though he probably could). I haven’t thought through the implications of all this yet, but it’s striking that Louis’ realm is apparently coherent enough to keep going after his death but that Louis’ kingship laid so lightly on his subjects that no-one needed someone else to keep doing it…