A Time of Origins in Aquitaine: The Peace of God, Ducal Power, and the “Vita Amabilis”

So I recently had cause to be in Cambridge, and whilst catching up with the University Library there I discovered a fascinating new document which provides insight on Auvergnat history and the Peace of God, and I’d like to share it all with you. You see, I went back to Christian Lauranson-Rosaz’s L’Auvergne et ses marges. This is a very large book, and I’ve never read it cover-to-cover because in addition being very large it’s also quite blinkered and in a lot of ways a bit weird. But you can’t fault it for comprehensiveness, and so it was that I turned to the passage on early eleventh-century Auvergne and found reference to the Vita of St Amabilis of Riom.

A fifteenth-century image of Riom (source)

What does it say? The relevant portion of the text opens with a reference to a Bishop Stephen of Clermont, whom everyone loved. He was a great pastor, and he got everyone in Auvergne to swear an oath to him on holy relics. However, the Devil inspired them to leave the path of peace and they called on William, count of Poitiers and Aquitaine, who attacked Stephen and besieged Riom, although they couldn’t take it. Eventually, Stephen was able to overcome William despite his smaller forces and the count returned home empty-handed.

Now, Lauranson-Rosaz dates this text – as far as I can tell entirely arbitrarily – to the reign of Duke William the Great, around 1015-ish. But I read the excerpts in the footnotes and went ‘Count William of Poitiers fighting Bishop Stephen of Clermont in the Auvergne? That sounds familiar!’ and rushed off to Gallica to check the text. And it turns out if you read the Vita Amabilis, a) there’s no reason at all to put is in c. 1010, but b) there are hints that it is a tenth-century composition. First, the William in question is described as comes Pictavensium et Aquitanicum. By the eleventh century, the counts of Poitiers have been claiming to be dux Aquitanensium for several decades – the terminology is unusually consistent. But right in the 960s, at the very beginning of the dukes’ claims to be dukes, they’re a bit more fluid, and William Towhead is at one point comes ducatus Aquitanici, much closer to the version in the Vita. This is far from proof, but it is suggestive. Just as important is the other name the text gives, that of a cleric named Ragenfred. I was able to look through my charters, and as it happens there isn’t anyone named Ragenfred recorded in the early eleventh century, only in the late tenth. It could still be that this is an otherwise-unrecorded Ragenfred, of course, but personally I’m fairly confident that this is a text written in the 960s.

As a description of Auvergnat politics in the 950s, in addition to according quite well with the other sources, it sheds some extra light. First off, it raises a very exciting possibility about the earliest origins of what would become the Peace of God. Most historians see the Peace as reactive, a response to… well, something, it’s debated, but often social disruption or knightly violence. What the text seems to suggest though is that at its earliest point, swearing an oath to a bishop within a discourse of peace was itself an act of disruption. This makes sense to me – as we’ll see in a couple of weeks, I’m happy seeing the peace tradition, small-p and big-P, not as a pragmatic peacekeeping measure so much as a claim to local or regional authority, so the idea that it started as a hegemonic gesture by Stephen II fits that neatly. This is also probably what annoyed the Auvergnat magnates – as far as I know, taking general loyalty oaths is a royal thing, and Stephen may well have been perceived as a usurper, especially given how tied in he was to royal legitimacy. It’s a shame that we can’t fit it too closely with that 958 charter, because it would be nice to know how the ‘princes of the Auvergne rebelling against one another’ matched with this document’s chronology… (I suspect the 958 charter is after these events, which puts Stephen’s oath-taking in around 954, which is very interesting timing, as King Louis IV would have recently died… More to think on here.)

What it also shows is William Towhead taking advantage of Auvergnat dissension to try and increase his own power there. The counts of Poitou, as we’ve seen before, had no history in the Auvergne and no reason to intervene there – unless they were drawn in. In short, this text might also be an important insight into the origin of the wider hegemony of the dukes of Aquitaine in the early eleventh century as well as into the very beginnings of the Peace of God. Watch this space!


Source Translation: Charles the Bald’s Proclamation against a Traitor Archbishop

Today finds me en route to charming Aberdeen, where I’ll be taking part in the Bishops’ Identities, Careers and Networks conference (and as I write this I realise I’ve forgotten my little cartoon Lambert of Liège badge, which makes me very sad). However, lest you should fear that I would abandon you, dear readers, I have (for once) prepared something special for today: a translation of the Libellus contra Wenilonem. This text, usually thought to have been written for King Charles the Bald perhaps by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims (whom this blog has encountered before, it being hard to avoid him when dealing with the Frankish episcopate) in 859. In 858, Charles’ persistent difficulties with the Neustrian part of his realm had come to a head, and a group of major nobles had invited Charles’ elder brother King Louis the German to become ruler in the West Frankish kingdom. Thanks in large part to his support from the West Frankish episcopate, Charles was able to beat off Louis and re-establish his rule.

There was one major exception to the general support Charles received from his bishops, and that was Archbishop Wanilo of Sens. Wanilo had crowned Charles, but switched sides to Louis and; well, let’s hear Charles’ side of the story:

[EDIT: Latin text here.]

The outline of lord king Charles’ case against Wanilo, archbishop of Sens, promulgated by his own hand before archbishops Remigius of Lyons, Herard of Tours, Wanilo of Rouen, and Ralph of Bourges, chosen as judges from amongst a holy synod of twelve provinces, held in the diocese of Toul, in the suburb of the same city which is called Savonnières, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 859, in the 7th indiction, on the 18th kalends of July [i.e. 14th June].

Chapter 1: Because, as Saint Gregory said and you know to be true from time immemorial, kings in the kingdom of the Franks come from one dynasty, by divine provision, my lord and father Emperor Louis of pious memory gave me, like my royal brothers, a part of the realm. In this part of the realm, the metropolitan archbishopric of Sens happened to be lacking a pastor; so, in accordance with the custom of my predecessors as king and with the consent of the holy bishops of that archbishopric, I gave it to Wanilo to govern – at that time, he was serving me as a cleric in my chapel. He commended himself to me after the fashion of free clerics, and swore an oath of fidelity, and I got all the bishops of my entourage to ordain him as archbishop in Sens.

Chapter 2: After that, there came to pass between my brothers and I the well-known settlement concerning the division of the realm, as a result of which I received a portion of the division to hold and govern, with mutual oaths on the parts of us and our followers, in the manner whereof the leading men of the whole realm had devised. Like the other bishops present, Wanilo swore to me and my brothers, with his own hand, to uphold in future this division between me and my brothers in future as, in essence, my supporter. Wanilo also confirmed the peace and agreement of mutual aid between me and my aforesaid brother Louis with an oath.

Chapter 3: After his election, by the will, consent and acclamation of the rest of the bishops and the other faithful of Our realm, in his diocese, at the city of Orléans, in the church of Sainte-Croix, Wanilo and other archbishops and bishops consecrated me as king in accordance with Church tradition, and anointed me to rule the kingdom with sacred chrism, and elevated me to the throne with a diadem and royal sceptre. As a result of this consecration, I ought not to have been overthrown or supplanted by anyone, at least not without a tribunal of and judgement by bishops, by whose ministry I was consecrated as king, who are called the ‘Thrones of God’, in whom God sits and through whom He declares His judgements; and to whose paternal reproofs and castigatory judgements I was prepared to submit myself and now submit myself to.

Chapter 4: Then, when sedition had begun to grow within Our realm thanks to impudent men, by the consent of Our bishops and other followers, we wrote a mutual agreement concerning how I, with the Lord’s help, intended to act towards them, and how Our same followers ought thereafter to bring me solace through help and counsel. At the estate of Bayel, Wanilo subscribed this document with his own hand, as you can now see.

Chapter 5: After that, when Our followers and I had, as you know, gone to fight the pagans [the Vikings] at the island of Oissel on land and sea, some defected from Us and fled. Wanilo, however, returned to his own see, saying he was too infirm to go to Oissel. But while We remained there, girded for battle although under strength, Our brother Louis, as you know, invaded Our realm from his own with hostile intent, accompanied by seditious men. Wanilo went to his assembly without my agreement and permission. He knew that he wanted to supplant me. No other bishop from Our realm did this.

Chapter 6: Moreover, when I, in the company of those faithful to God and me, marched against my aforesaid brother and my enemies and those with him, who plundered the Church and pillaged the realm, he sent no help, either in person or through the due assistance which my royal ancestors and I had been accustomed to have from the church committed to him, even though I sincerely asked this of him.

Chapter 7: I then had reason and need to retreat from my aforesaid brother at Brienne. My brother Louis returned to my kingdom for this reason: that he might steal my nephew [King Lothar II] from me and take my men from me and violently oppress my followers. Wanilo went to my aforesaid brother Louis with all the help he could muster, acting against me. With him were excommunicate and seditious men of this realm, concerning whose excommunication he had received letters from his fellow bishops. And Wanilo celebrated public masses for my brother and the seditious men who accompanied him, in my palace of Attigny, in the diocese and province of another archbishop who was loyal to Us, without the permission and consent of his fellow bishops, and for excommunicates and the accomplices of excommunicates. And it was in that council and by his counsel (as much as Lothar’s counsellors’) that my nephew Lothar was stolen from me through lies, and the consolation and help due from him and promised by an oath was taken from me.

Chapter 8: Wanilo was no less present amongst the counsellors of my aforesaid brother in dealings both public and private, with his special favourites and amongst the foremost of his entourage, along with, as We said, those excommunicated by episcopal judgement and condemned by the judgement of the realm. This was so that my oft-mentioned brother might gain and I might lose that part of the realm concerning which my same brother and Wanilo swore an oath to me, and in which Wanilo had consecrated me as king.

Chapter 9: Wanilo advised and discussed how the bishops who owed me sworn fidelity and ought to give me the counsel and help they had confirmed with their own hands might desert me and give their service and obedience to my brother Louis.

Chapter 10: He obtained from my brother Louis a precept concerning the abbey of Sainte-Colombe and goods and honours in my kingdom, and asked for letters to send to agents who could retake the same abbey, Heccard and Theodoric.

Chapter 11: In the same letters to the aforesaid agents, Wanilo procured my brother Louis’ order that they should have permission to take stones from the wall of the castle of Melun, which rightly belongs to royal power. This shows how he endeavoured to cherish and tried to support him amongst all the people of the realm bestowed on me by God.

Chapter 12: Wanilo was present in council and dealings with the aforesaid excommunicates, where it was considered how those men who were loyal to me and had promised me loyalty with an oath might willingly or unwillingly swear loyalty to my brother Louis and give him help, and how he could obtain my kingdom from me. And Wanilo was not only present in council, but he himself gave the same counsel to my brother Louis, against the loyalty which he had promised me by an oath.

Chapter 13: Wanilo, both in person and through his companions, to wit, the abovesaid excommunicates, got my brother Louis to give a vacant bishopric, to wit, that of the city of Bayeux, to his kinsman, my cleric Tortald, who had commended himself to me and sworn an oath of loyalty. He, acting unfaithfully towards me and against the loyalty he had promised me, accepted the same bishopric with the consent of my brother Louis.

Chapter 14: Finally, after God, through the assistance of my followers against my brother, had given me the strength to recover, I came to Wanilo’s city. He knew to come to me against my brother to recover my realm; and offered no help, either in person with the counsel he had promised and signed off on, or through the soldiers who are usually provided by the church committed to him.

Wanilo reconciled with Charles later in 859, although his name became a by-word for treachery in later generations. There are a few things that could be said about this, but in the name of space I’ll limit myself to just one, relating to Chapter 3. It’s been said that there was no theory of deposition in Carolingian times, but Charles’ statement that he could, in theory, have been removed as king by a council of bishops looks very much like one. It does look as though Charles is accepting the legitimacy of the very procedure whereby his father Louis the Pious was deposed in the 830s (although in that case the deposition didn’t stick). It’s also remarkably favourably to the Church – admittedly correcting the ruler and giving him admonition and guidance is very much a bishop’s role at this point; but I have trouble imagining this idea coming from the court of Charles the Simple whilst it was justifying itself in handing out bishoprics like Halloween candy. So I have a question for the audience, if anyone’s working on a later period: does this ever get cited?  I can imagine Gregory VII (as a bishop who claimed the right to depose rulers) enjoying this one, but does it ever actually come up?