Talkin’ Angevin, Talkin’ Burgundian: Geoffrey Grisegonelle of Anjou and his rule in Chalon-sur-Saône

This may well come as a surprise to readers who’ve been following the blog the last few months – or indeed to anyone who’s sat opposite me in a pub – but I’m not just an antiquarian/aspiring story-writer. My thesis, and even more so my book as it’s developing, is fundamentally about legitimacy – how did people in charge persuade people not in charge that they should be in charge. I mean, think about it: if every serf had banded together and obstinately refused to provide renders to their lord, could the lords have stopped them? You can’t repress everyone all the time, and you certainly can’t kill all your productive workers. (In fact, the Carolingians were perfectly aware of this, which is why they were so worried about associations amongst the peasantry.) If that’s the case with serfs, it’s much more so with lower-level members of the elite. You might get away with whipping Bellerophon the serf, but you definitely can’t do that with Corbo by God’s grace the noblest of knights – you have to persuade him that you have right on your side.

My fundamental argument about the West Frankish kingdom by the end of the tenth century is that the way you do this, as a ruler, has fractured. Rather than one landscape of political discourse, there is a proliferation of them, in a way which would make ninth-century Carolingian reformers blanch. Some of these are really obviously both new and local: the development of Norman identity which is so beloved to my heart is an example of this. But there are more subtle examples as well.

One admittedly not subtle example is the case of Anjou. I will undoubtedly talk about Anjou more in future, but for now let it be said that, by the end of the tenth century, the Angevin counts have developed a regionally-peculiar discourse of legitimacy, wherein they are in charge because they are saved – as in, Jesus Christ has guaranteed the posthumous state of their souls – and their followers, whilst committing the same sins, aren’t. This is ‘proven’ not least through some entertainingly brazen misuse of Biblical quotations in their charters; but it’s fairly consistent for the last quarter of the tenth and first decade or so of the eleventh centuries.

However, the counts of Anjou weren’t just counts of Anjou. Recently, we spoke about how transregional aristocrats didn’t just go away with the end of the reign of Charles the Fat, and Geoffrey Grisegonelle, count of Anjou from c. 960 to 987, is a prime example of this. This is actually one of the things which the only English-language author on Geoffrey, Bernard Bachrach, gets absolutely right – despite Bachrach’s apparent belief that the counts of Anjou are infallible crosses between Napoleon and Brainiac, he is very, very good at pointing out that they have interests all over the West Frankish kingdom; and in fact we’ve already met them in eastern Aquitaine.

One of Geoffrey’s most direct interests, after about 980 or so, was the southern Burgundian county of Chalon-sur-Saône. The local count, Lambert, had recently died, leaving behind a minor son named Hugh and a widow named Adelaide. Geoffrey, a widower himself, married Adelaide and ruled Chalon with her for the next half-decade or so. How did he do it? Not least by adopting the language of legitimacy which Lambert had developed, one quite different from that of Anjou.

Chalon-sur-Saône cathedral today (source)

At some point during his reign, Geoffrey and Adelaide issued a charter in favour of Cluny. (<Looks to see if we’ll be covering it on Charter a Week> Eh, it’s a maybe.) It’s a valuable bit of evidence, because Geoffrey’s time in Chalon is pretty obscure. But what this shows is Geoffrey adapting himself to the different rhythms of discourse prevalent in southern Burgundy.

First off, it’s a charter in favour of Cluny. At this time, Cluny is not the world-conquering monastic empire into which it will mutate in the early eleventh century. It’s big, certainly, but its penetration north of the Loire is pretty minimal – Abbot Odo of Cluny may have been asked to reform Saint-Julien at Tours (but the evidence for that is late and there’s no sign of Cluniac influence on the ground) and although he did reform Fleury, that one really didn’t take and his time at the abbey was quietly forgotten there. When Geoffrey himself tried to reform the abbey of Saint-Aubin in Angers, he brought in monks not from Cluny but from Rheims. Here, though, he patronises Cluny. In doing so, he puts himself into the tradition of Count Lambert, who was also a noted donor to the abbey. (In fact, elsewhere Geoffrey copied Lambert’s lead in this regard even more closely.)

The next thing is that the land, in the delightfully-named village of Jambles, is donated for the soul of Geoffrey and Adele’s fidelis Aimo. As it happens, we have Aimo’s own charter donating the same land to Cluny in 984, so we can say some things about him. First off, he’s quite a significant figure, being an archdeacon of the cathedral of Chalon. That’s a man of local influence – his charter is witnessed by Geoffrey, Adelaide, and Bishop Ralph. Second, he begins his charter with a prologue beginning ‘with the end of the world approaching and ruins increasing…’, a prologue which is relatively familiar elsewhere in the West Frankish kingdom but basically-unknown in the Cluny archive. In fact, the very nifty online edition of the Cluniac charters means that we can say that these two of about only five charters which begin like that before the mid-eleventh century – and that Geoffrey is copying the specific wording of Aimo’s. Geoffrey is having himself written into local languages of legitimacy – he’s not just donating to Cluny, he’s not just donating to Cluny for Aimo, he’s not even just donating to Cluny for Aimo in the same words Aimo had; he’s inscribing the rightness of his rule through the medium of Cluniac patronage, placing himself and the leading men of the Chalonnais in relation to one another via their relationship with Cluny.


Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 3: Kings and Poitevins, c. 945-955

Previously on ‘Excruciatingly-Detailed Trudge Through The Narrative History Of A Region Where The Sources Aren’t Good Enough To Support Narrative History’, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont had just staked his claim to be the predominant figure in the Auvergne, trading on royal backing and a shift in power after the disappearance from central Gaul of Raymond Pons, the count of Toulouse. You may well be wondering, ‘what happened next?’ Well, for the first half of his reign, up until about 965 or so, that’s easier to answer than the second (which is to say, not very easy at all).

In around 948, Stephen, his father Viscount Robert, and his stepmother Viscountess Hildegard, handed over the Auvergnat abbey of Sauxillanges to be ruled by Abbot Aimard of Cluny. In the document making the handover, Stephen called for prayers for Duke Acfred, William the Pious, and William the Younger, placing himself in a tradition of Aquitanian rulership. This was then confirmed in 951, when Louis IV showed up again at the borders of Aquitaine. Stephen and many of the other Aquitanian magnates went to meet him. Stephen apparently paid him special attention, and was rewarded with a royal diploma confirming his grant of Sauxillanges. So things seem pretty solid on that front – Stephen’s position at the forefront of local society was reinforced through royal confirmation of his special status vis-à-vis the kingship.

A few years later, Louis died. Aquitanians were present at his son Lothar’s coronation, presumably including Stephen; but, as when Louis succeeded Ralph, things were unsettled. Lothar was, as his father had been, under the thumb of Hugh the Great, to whom he granted Aquitaine. Hugh seems to have meant to enforce this: he intervened in a diploma for Bishop Gottschalk of Puy, and he got Lothar to lead an attack on Poitiers. Unlike the similar situation at Langres in 936, there was no complexity here: Count William Towhead had been happily in place for about thirty years, and this invasion can only be seen as a straightforward landgrab. It didn’t end up working, and Hugh died the next year.

Of course, William himself was not innocent here. In 955, he attempted to push his power into Auvergne, where no previous count of Poitiers had had an interest. He held a meeting at Ennezat, a place redolent with the power of the old Guillelmid dukes, where the lords of Auvergne swore to be his men. Rather like Hugh, William seems to have decided to enforce this: it is only at this point that he starts claiming to be ‘Count of Auvergne’, and his name starts appearing in Brioude’s charters. Interestingly, Stephen was also at the meeting, and appears to have had read there a royal diploma for some of his clients; this no longer survives, but I wonder if we might not take it as a sign that William and Stephen were negotiating for how power in the Auvergne would be divided between them?

Anyway, Hugh died in 956 as I said, and the situation changed dramatically. And that’s where we’ll leave it for today, and indeed for this year. This is the last post up before Christmas, and I’m off to relax and unwind after a full and busy year of working, international moves and, not least, blogging. We’ll be back in the New Year. In the meantime, I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy 2018!

Shadow Popes: Part 2 of the Tübingen not-conference-report

At one point during the Tübingen conference, Charles West described the eleventh-century reform movement as (to paraphrase slightly) ‘Carolingian ecclesiology with added pope’. The role played by the popes in the eleventh century – particularly Pope Gregory VII – has been and still is subject to major historical scrutiny, as is probably to be expected when an emperor stands barefoot outside your door in the snow asking you to forgive him; at the least, it indicates a good publicity machine. Talking to us about popes was Kriston Rennie of the University of Queensland, and what stood out for me was one comment in particular he made, about how the mixed reputation of the tenth-century papacy does not seem to have had any particular impact on its appeal.

Henry IV at the gates of Canossa, from Wikimedia Commons

The tenth-century ‘not-called-the-pornocracy-anymore’ papacy is notorious for its bad behaviour. Of course, a large part of the reason for that is that Ottonian historians, particularly but not exclusively Liutprand of Cremona, had a lot of fun in the latter tenth century trashing the reputations of Italian politicians in the name of justifying the Saxon kings’ interventions in the peninsula, so quite how badly-behaved the popes really were is a matter of some debate. Nonetheless, tenth-century Rome was home to popes deeply entrenched in often-vicious local politics and possible sexual scandal. Pope Sergius III (904-911), for instance, is supposed to have strangled his rivals for the papal throne and engaged in a number of sexual liasons.

And, of course, none of this seems to effect the papacy’s moral authority. The question this provoked for me was ‘how far can one remove the actual popes from the history of the papacy during this period?’ This is something of an intellectual game, because I certainly wouldn’t want to argue that individual popes had no agency. Nevertheless, if we imagine, say, that after the Cadaver Synod Pope Stephen had dropped dead and they’d just decided to keep Pope Formosus’ body as pope for the rest of the century, how much would have changed?

In several cases, not much. Take, for instance, the foundation of the abbey of Cluny in 910. One of the things which eventually turns out to be important about Cluny is that it is, from the start, made subject to papal authority. To quote the foundation charter:

Let the said monks pay 10 solidi every five years to the threshold of the apostles at Rome, to provide them with their lighting, and let them have the protection of the same apostles and the defence of the Roman pontiff… And I appeal and entreat through God and in God, and by all His saints and the tremendous day of Judgement that no secular prince, no count, nor any bishop, nor the pontiff of the aforesaid seat of Rome should invade the things of those servants of God… And I beseech you, O holy apostles and glorious princes of the Earth, Peter and Paul, and you, pontiff of pontiffs of the apostolic seat, that through the canonical and apostolic authority which you accepted from God, you should remove from the company of the holy Church of God and eternal life the robbers and invaders and abductors of these goods… and that you might be tutors and defenders of the said place of Cluny, and the servants of God living there… (translation here mine; link goes to the Internet Medieval Sourcebook)

And so, put under the pope’s protection, Cluniac monks eventually come to be of paramount importance to wider trends in monastic reform, and then Church reform more generally, and next thing you know it’s emperor-in-the-snow time.

Henry IV again. I have no idea about the context of this. Also from Wikimedia Commons.

None of this would have been tremendously apparent at the time, so the question becomes, why invoke the pope? The pope at the time was the aforementioned Sergius III, whose personal moral authority may or may not have been questionable, but who in any case wasn’t going to lead an army into the Mâconnais (the region of France where Cluny is) to defend it.

An important contextual element here is that the Mâconnais, in 910, was a frontier region between two massive personal hegemonies: the Aquitaine of William the Pious, who founded Cluny; and the Burgundy of Richard the Justiciar. (This map is about as good as it gets…) Mâcon was under William’s control, but on the fringe of his sphere of influence, which was centred further to the west. Richard, who must win the prize for ‘tenth-century Gaul’s biggest opportunist’, probably saw an opportunity for territorial expansion at William’s expense (as he certainly did later in Bourges, which was similarly placed). An important method of gaining control of a region was to take control of its most important monasteries, through an institution known an lay abbacy, which is exactly what it sounds like: laymen ruling an abbey as abbot. This gave them access to the abbey’s resources, which could be substantial. Richard’s rise to power in Burgundy had been facilitated not least by takeovers of lay abbacies in this manner, including Sainte-Colombe in Sens and Saint-Germain in Auxerre.

So when William founded an important abbey in this region, it could potentially be a support of his rule there – or it could be a target for a regional takeover. By placing the abbey under papal protection, William effectively removed the possibility of Richard (or anyone else) taking over Cluny’s lay abbacy, whilst retaining a personal hegemony in the form of an informal alliance. As several generations of West Frankish nobles were to discover, being ‘close friends’ with an abbey was as effective a means of influence over monasteries as being the official ruler.  To accomplish this, though, it was enough to invoke papal authority – the pope didn’t actually need to get involved in any way, because the main point was to de-legitimize other modes of interaction with the abbey than the one William was already monopolising, i.e., informal alliance.

This kind of ‘demand-driven’ expansion of papal authority appears to have been cumulatively significant over the course of the tenth century; the influence of Rome expanded organically, without the popes necessarily getting involved at all. However, it carried with it the potential to turn influence into power – to take the Cluny example, once the pope’s authority was invoked, the abbey was inextricably linked with the papacy, at the very minimum because someone actually had to go to Rome to give them the 10 solidi, and friendships, correspondence, and political and personal ties would naturally follow on. This kind of connection then provides a pope who does want to get actively involved something on which to pull to get his way; it doesn’t explain why a pope might want to start interfering in the Church at large, but it is an important part of the picture as to why they can.

        (As a final note, I should mention here that Barbara Rosenwein has a different explanation of the political context here, one where the specific pope does in fact matter…)