Source Translation: The Election of Louis the Blind

MGH Capit. II, no. 281 (August 890)

In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 890, in the 8th indiction, the religious and full venerable Archbishop Bernoin of the holy see of Vienne visited the apostolic see to consult with the apostolic lord (under whose purview lies the care of and duty towards all churches) about certain needs of his church and the general needs of the whole realm. By his worthy report, he related the disturbance in this realm: how, after the death of the most glorious emperor Charles [the Fat] it had been for a long time without a king and prince, and was badly afflicted everywhere not only by its own inhabitants, who were checked by no rod of dominion; but also by pagans, for on one side the Northmen pressed in, devastating nearly everything; and on the other, the Saracens plundered Provence, returning the land to wilderness. After he had heard these reasons, and others of the same kind, the reverend apostolic lord Stephen [V], moved to tears, advised by his most holy exhortation, both in words and in writings directed generally to all the cisalpine Gauls, both archbishops and other venerable bishops, that everyone should unanimously and concordantly give their consent to Louis, grandson of the late Louis [II], most glorious of emperors, and establish him as king over the people of God.

When, therefore, we had diligently discovered that the assent of our holy, catholic and apostolic mother Church favoured this election, we – to wit, lord Aurelian, archbishop of the see of Lyon, and also lord Rostagnus, archbishop of the town of Arles, and the venerable Arnald, archbishop of Embrun, and lord Bernoin, archbishop of Vienne, himself, by whose report we reverently accepted the will of the apostolic lord; with many others of our fellow bishops – all gathered together in the city of Valence, we investigated, discussed and inquired in accordance with God’s will whether we should worthily and reasonably establish him as king over us in accordance with the admonishments of the apostolic lord, whose writings we had to hand.

And so, everyone agreed about him that no-one would make a better king than he, who came from an imperial bloodline and who had already grown into a lad of good character. Although his age seemed insufficient to curb the barbarians’ savagery, it could nonetheless be crushed by the counsel and strength, by God’s assistance, of the noble princes of this realm, whose number is not small. Supported above all by the assistance of Richard [the Justiciar], the most famous of dukes and an extraordinary prince, and moreover of lady Ermengard, the most glorious of queens, whose deeply profound and razor-sharp prudence was given to her by God, to which was joined the worthy exhortation of the aforesaid bishops and the counsel of the whole realm’s magnates, the realm’s advantage will be managed very worthily, in a God-fearing way.

Finally, supported and encouraged by such confidence, as we believe through God’s will, we elected the aforesaid Louis, son of the most excellent of kings Boso and decreed he be anointed as king, judging worthy for the role him to whom Charles [the Fat], the most all-surpassing of emperors, had already conceded the royal dignity; and of whose realm Arnulf [of Carinthia], who became his successor, was proven to be a protector and supporter in everything, through his sceptre and through his wisest legates, that is, Bishop Riculf [of Soissons](*) and Count Berthold [from Alemannia]. Supported by such and so great a permission of authority, everyone came into the same city, and by common consent we decreed that this royal record should be made and, preferring that it remain valid and fruitfully thriving for all time, we strengthened it with our own hands and we each subscribed.

(*) It’s also been proposed that this is Bishop Theodulf of Chur. Riculf of Soissons seems like a better bet, though – Fulk of Rheims was closely tied to Arnulf of Carinthia’s court, to the extent of being a papal legate to sort out various problems in the East Frankish church, and it’s quite possible that one of his suffragans would be sent on an errand, particularly in light of the Rheims archdiocese’s previous support of Louis.

Here’s a cool thing. You remember we’ve talked before about how you don’t have to be count of anywhere, and there are cases of people who weren’t bishops of anywhere? Well, here we have a case where we have a king who is not king of anywhere, or at least not of anyone. You see right at the end there, where they note that Charles the Fat had already – key word, already­ – conceded the royal dignity to Louis? That means Louis was king, just one with no subjects. On Monday, of course, Louis wasn’t being called king at all, but as this document acknowledges he kind of was.

The ambiguity doesn’t end here. The picture of kingship in the first paragraph is fairly typical: kings are supposed to repress the wicked and defend against the pagan. It all sounds like the king-making liturgies we spent a good chunk of last year looking at. But then paragraph three says that he’s too young to do any of this – it’s actually Richard the Justiciar who’s doing most of the fighting. One imagines the scribe wincing as he writes this: because Louis’ claim to kingship isn’t straightforwardly hereditary, and he’s manifestly inappropriate to perform any of the functions of kingship, his erstwhile backers have had to keep a lot of the framework of the Carolingian discourse about kingship even as it groans under the strain of a situation it’s not really set up to handle.

Or do we? There’s an article by Ross Samson called ‘Carolingian Palaces and the Poverty of Ideology’ which every now and then I read and worry about. Basically, Samson argues that despite the efforts of contemporary (meaning early-to-mid ‘90s) archaeologists to argue that Carolingian palace architecture was an expression of ideology, in fact there wasn’t anything coherent about their architectural elements at all: they were a thrown-together mess of historical and cultural references meant to go ‘hey, isn’t the king impressive?’ rather than anything more sophisticated.

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Specifically, he’s talking about the palace complex at Ingelheim, taken here from fig. 6 in Webster, ‘Charlemagne’.

This is usually cited as ‘for another perspective see…’, which means he’s probably wrong in his wider point (one thing which has happened since the article was published in 1994 is that it has become very clear that huge chunks of the Carolingian elite were highly-educated and thoughtful, even if not terribly profound, which makes his claim at the end that ‘gosh, Aachen is big’ is a better representation of one of Charlemagne’s count’s thought processes than ‘reformatio et correctio’ very old-fashioned), but despite this, he’s put his finger on something which bothers us in the time between turning off the light and going to sleep.

That being: what if these people don’t care about consistency? Doesn’t this description look as though the bishops of Provence are trying to legitimise a fait accompli by throwing everything which makes a good king (The pope’s backing! Election! Character! Approval from a more legitimate king! Heredity! Justice and warfare!) at it despite the fact that some of these ideas don’t work with each other and some don’t work well with the eight-year-old they’ve now made their ruler.

Phrased like that, some of you might be nodding and going, ‘well, duh – these are powerful people, they’re probably all about that hardcore Machiavellianism.’ But cynical Realpolitik doesn’t really fit either – again, Louis is eight. Child kings are problematic, for pretty much the reasons this document outlines – they can’t lead armies, and they can’t really do much in the way of decision-making or law enforcement. This is why Charles the Simple doesn’t seem to have gotten a crack at kingship in 884 or 888. So choosing Louis as king implies a commitment to Louis specifically which goes beyond the simple demands of political exigency – if you want a king who won’t bother you, Arnulf and Odo are far away and already crowned; if you want a king who was related to Boso but who is effective, Richard the Justiciar’s around; and so on. So we seem to be left with a situation in which a group of magnates are making a king based on a principled choice, but then justifying it with a different set of principles which don’t fit. Presumably this isn’t actually what’s happening – one just has to stand in the right place so that everything which looks out of alignment lines up. If that happens, I’ll let you know…

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Source Translation: Electing an Anti-King at the Convention of Mantaille

So this is another thing I’ll be doing over the next (does mental calculations) three years of Charter A Week. (Three years. Yikes! Too late to back out now…) Sometimes, there are documents I’d like to show you, but which aren’t charters. In that case, I’ll turn them into regular Source Translation posts, as in this case here.

After all, on Monday we saw Boso of Provence slowly inching his way towards kingship. He knew it was coming, his charter scribe knew it was coming, and most of the aristocracy of south-east Gaul knew it was coming, but how to effect it? Well, happily, we have a description of the synod where Boso was chosen as king, and it goes as follows:

MGH Capit. II.284 (15th October 879, Mantaille)

1) The Synod’s Delegation to the King-Designate Boso.

The holy synod gathered in the name of our Lord at Mantaille in the territory of Viennois, along with the leading men, by the inspiration of the Highest Majesty’s divinity, approached Your Prudence, O most shining of princes, seeking to learn by your certain response whether you wish to show yourself to everyone in that princely rule to which we, through divine mercy, choose you to be raised.

That is: if you will truly strive for the honour and love of God Almighty in the catholic faith, and exalt His Church as far as you can and conserve the privileges of each church with their bishops and priests; if you wish to concede and conserve for everyone, like the good princes who preceded you and whose type you have known by records written and oral, law, justice and right; remaining humble (which is the foundation of the virtues), with patience and a serene heart, most humbly; to judge the undisciplined, but stable and certain in everything justly promised; through the grace of God well-prepared and fitted-out, suitable in delightful sobriety; if you will be accessible to all who suggest right things and intercede for others; striving rather to profit than to preside; following in the footsteps of holy princes; trampling down wrath, savagery, hardness, avarice, greed, indignation and pride; appearing as a just patrician to your people, greater and lesser; preferring truth in word and deed; freely hearing beneficial counsel; avoiding and persecuting the signs of the vices; loving the virtues; providing defence and mundeburdum to each; so that neither the same holy synod and the leading men currently making this judgement with it might be cursed or detracted in good faith because of you in future, nor might your sacred princely rule, which we believe will profit us, be justly disparaged.

Rather, let the peace and truth of the saints come through divine grace to those who support you, whether they are in charge or a subject, the priests and the leading men committed to them, since you shall have preserved for them and have observed evangelical and apostolic authority with just human law, so that God is blessed through everything and in everything. Priestly and lay fidelity also prays that Your Prudence should act that each ‘may possess their vessel in your house in sanctification and honour’ [1 Thessalonians 4:4].

2) The response of King-Elect Boso to the Synod.

Boso, a humble slave of Christ, to the most holy synod and all Our faithful leading men. First, I give thanks in word and in feeling for your sincerest devotion, because I know for certain that I am clasped to your bosoms, although unworthy, solely by your benevolence, through the unchangeable grace of God; and equally, that your charity’s fervour chooses me to be promoted to that office so that My Smallness might be able to fight for my mother, which is the Church of the Living God, for an immortal repayment.

But I am conscious of my condition and fragile created state, and, judging myself utterly unequal to business of this kind, I had refused unless I should observe that through the will of God one heart and one soul had been given to you in one consensus. And thus, knowing for certain that you are inspired by God, I am not reluctant to obey both the priests and Our friends and followers, nor am I rash in obeying your commands.

I very freely undertake to be what you have required in terms of the sort of man I should show myself to be in joining, through God’s mercy, in the future regime, and also the norm you have extended and instructed with sacred dogma. I embrace the catholic faith, in which I was raised, which I hold with the purest of hearts, which I proclaim with the truest of tongues, for which I am prepared to lay out again and again if it so pleases our lord God. I will take care to restore and conserve the privileges of churches, with the assistance of our lord Jesus Christ, through your common counsel. I will take care to give and conserve for everyone, as you have admonished, law, justice and right mundeburdum, with God’s help. In this, following in the footsteps of the good princes who came before, let me strive to consult both the sacred orders and you, Our followers, in conserving equity.

Regarding my behaviour, although I know that I am a sinner before all, I truly assert that this is my will: that I should yield to good people in everything and to bad ones in nothing. But if, because I am human, this slips my mind in dealing with anyone, I will take care to make good in accordance with your counsel.  In this respect, I reverently pray that you should honour yourselves in me by suggesting to me in a manner befitting the time and place what you find more just and reasonable, because I in turn, if any of you do me wrong, will make myself available and reasonably expect you to make amends.

I will follow gospel and apostolic authority and just human law, so that as He leads and accompanies God might be blessed through everything and in everything. As you have admonished me, because God lives in the saints, I will show care for Our household; I will very studiously take care that everything proceeds properly.

Therefore, my lords, sacrosanct pontiffs, bishops of the Church of our God on high, and all you Our followers, chief men and underlings, I, confident of God’s grace and help through the support of His saints because I favour your commands, pray and entreat you that through Him and with Him you should assist my necessity and humility in helping with such labour through pious interventions with Him; and also that you should strive to support me as far as you can with human supports and aids. But if this displeases anyone and they have something else in mind, I ask that he declare it openly, and not deceive himself or us in any way. At the same time, I pray through the charity with which you burn that, favouring the common advantage, you should exhort our lord God with three days of solemn prayer with the people committed to you, so that He might not permit you or me to err and deceive His people, but that He might mercifully reveal His will about this.

3) The Election of King Boso.

When, in the name of the Lord and saviour of the world, holy fathers had gathered to celebrate a convent at Mantaille in the territory of Viennois, to deal with much Church business and to enter the conclave of holy solicitude, many things were brought forth and gathered in their consideration. Priestly affection, poured from old into the hearts of the fathers, clearly dictated to the conclave that it should have a care for the role [of king] by means of which an appropriate regime was usually provided for the people both in the Old Testament and in the New. And because both those holy fathers (whom divine grace has conceded be called ‘bishops’) and  the princes and the whole mass of the people had for a while been missing the protection provided by the same role, nor had they been supported or helped by the assistance of any compassionate person, particularly since after the king was taken by that death which is common to all things, no-one had opened their bowels to them (*)  through the largess of charity. Many were compelled to worry, because the holy mother Church was seen to be being completely destroyed not only in inner matters through the Invisible Enemy, but also in visible affairs through visible enemies, even from those whom it had birthed in Christ.

And so, as they turned their minds’ sharpness every which way, and at the same time considered with the more noble persons the promotion of suitable person to deal with this need; but not finding anyone who wished to respond to their inquiry, insofar as everyone despised to take up such a labour for the honour of God and His saints, everyone was inflamed to exhort God, prince of all princes, from the depths of their heart owing to these difficulties, so that He, Who has the sole care of mortal man and Whose disposition turns the course of all the ages, might both give right counsel and disclose a clear sign of help.

Finally, He to Whom every heart is open and every mind speaks, considering the wearied souls of the people great and small, caused a certain consolation to shine forth, and in a particular way presented some support. Truly, through divine visitation all these wise men with one accord sought one and the same thing. They had one man in mind, previously a necessary defender and helper under the princely rule of lord Charles [the Bald], whose son after him, the son of the same emperor, the lord king Louis, knowing his manifest prudence, chose to magnify. He also so stood out to everyone not only in the Gauls but also in Italy that the apostolic lord John [VIII] of Rome embraced him like his own son and proclaimed the integrity of the same in many proclamations, and, returning to his own see, delegated it to his tutelage.  Therefore, by God’s will, through the support of the saints, due to the pressing need and that desirable advantageousness and most prudent and provident wisdom which they discovered in him, with one heart and one wish and one consensus, with Christ leading the way, they sought and unanimously elected for this royal business the most shining of princes lord Boso.

And, in consideration of the size of the work, he refused and rejected the offer, but those who were of God and His Church opposed this, and eventually he obediently bowed the neck and promised to do it. The king-elect was established by God, prayers were poured out, and the grace of our lord Jesus Christ which preceded this wish remains fully effective in the certain completion of it.

And that this election might be made known more certainly to people present and future, the subscription of all the bishops shows it in a clearer light.

Enacted publicly at Mantaille, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation 879, in the 12th indiction, on the ides of October [15th October].

For the sake of removing ambiguity, one…   

Otrand, poor archbishop of Vienne. Aurelian, archbishop of Lyon. Theotrand, archbishop of Tarentaise. Robert, poor bishop of Aix-en-Provence. Archdeacon… on behalf of Adalgar, bishop of Autun. Ratbert, bishop of Valence. Berner, bishop of Grenoble. Elias, bishop of the church of Vaison-la-Romaine. Henry, humble bishop of the church of Dié. Adalbert, bishop of Maurienne. Biraco, bishop of the church of Gap. Eustorgius, bishop of Toulon. Girbald, bishop of the church of Chalon-sur-Saône. The base bishop Baldemar [of an unknown see, if any]. Jerome, bishop of Lausanne. Richard, bishop of Apt. Guntard, bishop of Mâcon. Rostagnus, archbishop of Arles. Theodoric, archbishop of the church of Besançon. Aetherius, bishop of Viviers. Leodoin, bishop of Marseille. Germard, bishop of Orange. Ratfred, bishop of Avignon. Walafrid, bishop of the church of Uzès. Edold, humble bishop of the church of Riez. Chorbishop Leoboin. The humble abbot Geilo [of Langres, at this point abbot of Tournus].

(*) This is a long-standing metaphor referring to the ‘bowels of compassion’ as found in e.g. 1 John 3:17, ‘whoso… seeth his brother have need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?’. A less precise translation would be ‘no-one had displayed any compassion to them’, but given how long the search and how painful some of the search results were that I had to do in order to find this out, I’m leaving it in there so that you all can share my pain.

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The ruins of Mantaille today (source, photo by Pascal Rey)

The first thing to note here is that Mantaille itself was a secure, fortified location. Evidently whoever decided to hold the assembly here was concerned about being interrupted. And well might they have been! West Francia already had, after all, not one but three potential kings, all of whom had by this point been crowned. (Louis the Younger was already crowned and Louis III and Carloman II had been crowned in September.) Boso was pretty much any way you sliced it a usurper. Interestingly, the document doesn’t acknowledge that, clearly putting forth the story that there was no king. I reckon that’s because that was the key issue which could sink Boso. It wasn’t necessarily that he wasn’t Carolingian, it was that there were already a number of viable kings and Boso was late to the party.

Certainly, no mention is made of Ermengard. This is a striking difference with the Montiéramey charter we looked at on Monday. The lack of any mention of bloodline is also a contrast to what Regino of Prüm describes in his Chronicon, where it is said that Boso saw the sons of Louis the Stammerer as inferior by birth. Kingship here is a function of Boso’s superlative character, which it the only thing capable of properly protecting the Church. This is not an unknown discourse in Carolingian politics – when we looked at the 829 council of Paris, their description of good kingship was in terms of a character appropriate to its duties, and Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, no less, also made the claim in his tract on the divorce of King Lothar II that hereditary right was secondary to good character and that there were many ways of making a king. However, what’s really important here is that the entire argument is based on it. It’s kind of the opposite in many ways of the letter of Archbishop Fulk of Rheims we talked about the first time hereditary succession came up on this blog. Both of them put all their eggs in one basket, Fulk in the ‘hereditary right’ basket and Boso and company in the ‘good character’ one. Notably, Boso’s extremism worked better than Fulk’s. Fulk was never able to get much support for his cause; Boso and his backers managed to pose a serious threat to their royal neighbours, and it took multiple kings working in unusually close harmony to take them down. That’s a strong hint that Boso’s arguments were more convincing…

Admittedly, this document is really going all-out in describing Boso here. Compared to the promissio of Louis the Stammerer which we’ve translated on this blog, he’s being asked to do a heck of a lot more – not just preserve for each church their rights, but be a perfect example of wisely-guided and divinely-inspired rulership. One wonders whether, had Boso managed to maintain his position, his followers would not have been disappointed by the sequel…