Charter a Week 23: Kingship and Bishops in Langres

Remember how Burgundy was unusually violent during the civil war? Well, now it’s 899 and we’re still dealing with the fallout from that. Bishop Adalgar of Autun’s murder wasn’t the only bit of violence Richard the Justiciar oversaw – he also tried to take advantage of a dispute in the see of Langres. There was a dispute between two candidates, Theobald and Argrim. Of the two, Theobald looks to have been the local choice but Argrim was more willing to lend a hand to Richard, and so Theobald was blinded and Argrim supported. Argrim, however, ordained Bishop Walo of Autun and this ticked off Pope Stephen V, who deposed him. Stephen’s successor Formosus, however, restored Argrim as Archbishop of Lyon. Then, however, Argrim was moved back to Langres, and everyone basically agreed on him as a candidate. This is where our story starts:

Papsturkunden no. 10 (May 899) = JL no. 3520

Bishop John, servant of the servants of God, to his beloved sons the clergy and people of the holy church of Langres.

We accept this trust from the blessed Peter, the lord of this holy see and the founder of the apostolic church, and the prince of the apostles: that We should with an energetic disposition labour for the whole Church redeemed by the blood of Christ, and succour all the servants of the Lord and help out everyone living piously with apostolic authority, and not delay to correct and emend, by the Lord’s assistance, whatever is harmful.

To this end, the foresight of divine dispensation has established divers grades and distinct orders, so that when lessers show reverence to the more powerful and the more powerful give love and assistance to their lessers, one bond of concord should be made out of diversity and the administration of each office should be borne correctly.

We freely received the letters of Your Belovedness, indeed, which you sent to the see of the blessed apostle Peter to deal with your affairs not simply once, but twice and even three times, along with the letters of Our beloved son King Berenger [I of Italy]. Indeed, We sorrowed to no small degree over your afflictions and misfortunes, which you sorrowfully complained of having endured for such a long time: to wit, that your church, worn down by many calamities, should be devoid of all pastoral solace from the point when the venerable Bishop Argrim – whom you testify that you all concordantly elected, sought and acclaimed –  left his church owing to the deceitful theft of certain people, and you did not receive any bishop after him of your own free will, as the outline of your complaint fully laid out.

In fact, We already knew this thanks to Count Ansgar [of Ivrea], Our beloved son, who humbly confessed that he had gravely erred in this. We, therefore, who bear the care and concern for all the churches of God and wish and ought to incontestably observe undefiled right and canonical authority for every church, shall not permit you to endure such a thing. Rather, having compassion for Your Brotherhood and confirming by truthful assertions that your tearful complaint is true, with a college of Our brother bishops, with the service of the other orders, We canonically restore to your Our aforesaid confrere the venerable bishop Argrim, and We send him into his church, which is in need of restoration. We do not find fault with the sentence of Our predecessor Pope Stephen [V] but We do change it for the better for the sake of advantage and necessity, in the same way that We are manifestly aware that Our predecessors did in many cases.

In this case, We admonish you and We exhort you through these letters of Our pontificate and We order by the authority of God and Us, that you should receive the same Bishop Argrim, whom We have restored to Your Unanimity as you sought, with beneficent love and harmonious devotion without any delay; and be obedient to him in everything, and you should honourably hold and cherish him as a pious pastor of your souls, observing his canonical commands in everything.

If any of you presume to act against this Our apostolic judgement and statue or to minister without Bishop Argrim’s consent in his church of Langres and do not want to receive him in accordance with Our decree, let them know themselves to be excommunicated and damned by Our authority. Farewell!

Written through the hand of Samuel the notary and secretary of the holy Roman church, in the month of May, 2nd indiction.

The Lateran Palace in Rome, where all this decision-making took place (source)

This is massaging events. Argrim was probably not the local choice, and it’s noticeable that Pope John IX (for it is he!)’s letter is mostly taken up with implicit threats. In fact, John probably knew this, because he sent a second letter:

Papsturkunden no. 11 (11th May 899) = JL no. 3521

Bishop John, servant of the servants of God, to his most beloved son the glorious king Charles.

Because We know from the report of many that you, most beloved of sons, manfully act in accordance with the custom of your royal predecessors for the defence and profit of the holy Church of God against the madness of crooked men and also pagans, We rejoice in every way and We venerably embrace you as Our son in Christ, and paternal exhort you that you should work hard to improve, love peace, justice and truth; and never deviate in any way from the right path either, so that you might attain a blessed from Our most clement of lords Jesus Christ as from his gatekeeper and the prince of the apostles Peter, for love of whom you busy yourself with such great things.

Accordingly, We wish it to be known to you, Our son, that the groaning and tearful complaint of the church of Langres came to Our Clemency’s ears not simply once, but twice and even three times, concerning the deposition of their pastor Bishop Argrim, whom they witness that they had all unanimously elected, sought and acclaimed, but who was separated from them owing to the deceitful theft of certain people. Because of this, the church is devoid of pastoral consolation and shaken incessantly by sundry disturbances and misfortunes, so much so that it appears nearly reduced to nothing.

Carefully considering this case with a college of venerable bishops with a diligent examination, and investigating the truth of the matter, and mercifully succouring their unhappiness, We canonically ruled that his church should by Our authority be restored to him, changing the sentence of Our predecessor Pope Stephen [V] to a better one for the sake of necessity and advantage, as We are manifestly aware that Our predecessors to have done in many cases.

We provided for this, and We admonish Your Glory and Religiosity that, because We have canonically restored him to his aforesaid church of Langres, you should always extent a helping hand to him and consent to what We have instituted, and be to him a helper and defender whenever it is useful, for love of God Almighty and reverence of the blessed apostles and Our Apostolic Paternity, so that he might be able to rule the same church peacefully and worthily under your royal munificence, so that he might be able to profit those over whom he should preside. Farewell!

Written through the hand of Samuel the notary and secretary of the holy Roman church, on the 5th ides of May [11th May], in the 2nd indiction.

John here commissions Charles to go and sort out any disturbance in the bishopric, essentially inviting him to give his royal imprimatur to the final settlement of Argrim on the episcopal throne. Given Langres had been so prominent under Charles’ predecessors, this was a sensible decision. What interests me about John’s letter to Charles is two things. First, this letter is absolutely dripping with a very traditional description of Charles in the best traditions of Carolingian kingship. Second, John apparently expects Charles to be able to help him.

This speaks volumes about the efficacy of Charles’ regime. As we saw last week, Charles was able to put together an invading army at short notice in 898, and this letter indicates that he had sway at home as well. There is a certain tendency to chalk this kind of rhetoric up to a kind of wilful blindness on the part of the popes: after all, we already know that kingship had Declined by this point. This has the distinct demerit of assuming that we know what was going on better than contemporaries did. John wasn’t an idiot, nor was he uniformed about events in the West Frankish kingdom. If he thought Charles could help him, that’s probably because he had good reason.

Switching Sides in the Tenth Century

That post from a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned the ascendency of the family of the counts of Anjou at King Lothar’s court got me thinking. After all, the Angevins were second-rank vassals of the Robertians, with whom Lothar’s father Louis IV had had some trouble – why pick them for special treatment? Aaaaages ago, we had a brief look at the Neustrian succession crisis of the 950s – and 960s, and that must be something to do with it, but where’s the ‘in’? I’m slightly sceptical that Geoffrey Grisegonelle sent a chap to Lothar with a message along the lines of ‘going to throw off overlord’s authority, fancy giving me a hand?’ and got a hearing sight unseen.

Then it occurred to me – if you look at what the Angevins, and by that I mean Geoffrey and his brother Abbot Guy of Cormery who later became bishop of Le Puy, are doing on the home front, a lot of it revolves around the abbey of Saint-Aubin. Saint-Aubin was the major abbey of the city of Angers, and Geoffrey and Guy’s ancestors had been its lay abbots for several decades. By the 960s, Guy (who was a cleric but probably not a monk) was abbot in turn. He issued a very strange charter in which he seems to say that he tried and failed to become a ‘proper’ abbot and is very sorry about it. Certainly in 966 he gave up the abbacy and a monk-abbot, one Widbold, was put in his place. What’s relevant here is the figure behind this admonition and reform: Geoffrey and Guy’s paternal uncle, Bishop Guy of Soissons, who seems to have paired up with Abbot Hincmar of Saint-Remi, at the time the royal monastery par excellence, to reform Saint-Aubin. ‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘a royal connection!’

Then I went to look at the career of Guy of Soissons, and it’s actually rather interesting. Guy began his career as a canon in Saint-Martin of Tours (as did so many other tenth-century bishops). In 937, he became bishop of Soissons. Flodoard of Rheims does something very unusual when describing how Guy acquired the see – he uses a word (potitur) which he otherwise only employs to describe the capture of cities or plunder of treasure, so I think he saw this episcopal choice as illegitimate. In context, this is probably because Guy was forced on Soissons by the Neustrian overlord Hugh the Great.

Certainly, Guy was Hugh the Great’s creature for a good decade thereafter. In 940, he was the bishop who ordained Hugh of Vermandois (at the time claiming the archbishopric of Rheims against the king’s candidate Artald) a priest. He shows up again in a charter shortly after Hugh’s ordination as archbishop at what looks like quite an important council of war under Hugh the Great’s auspices. In 945, he did no less than hand himself over to Vikings – they had captured King Louis IV, and Guy put himself forward as a hostage so that they would hand him over to Hugh the Great’s tender mercies. So that all looks pretty partisan.

Thing is, after 946 the winds start blowing strongly for Louis, and in 948, Hugh of Vermandois was condemned at the Synod of Ingelheim. Guy changed sides, coming and committing himself to Louis. This was dramatic – at the Synod of Trier in that year, Guy made full confession and penitence for his sins in front of his fellow-bishops. But it worked – in 949, he was an intercessor in a charter for the abbey of Homblières which has been argued as marking the beginning of a new age for Louis IV’s rule. In 950, he was sent to Burgundy to oversee an important donation at the abbey of Charlieu, and by 959 he was one of the dowager queen Gerberga’s main advisers along with her very brother-in-law Bishop Roric of Laon.

So if there’s an original ‘in’ at the royal court for the Angevin counts, it’s probably him. Yet to conclude today’s post, I’d like to pick out a different aspect of his life. Tenth-century France has a bad reputation for disloyalty. Guy’s career, however, illustrates that swapping sides was, mostly, a rare and dramatic event. After a decade of sterling loyalty to Hugh the Great (would you give yourself to a Norwegian for your boss’ sake?), Guy was proven to be on the wrong side. At Ingelheim, both the man Guy had ordained priest, Hugh of Vermandois, and the one to whom he owed his career, Hugh the Great, had been authoritatively condemned. Sure, we might see it as a stitch-up orchestrated by a domineering Ottonian monarchy to get the West Frankish kingdom to stop bothering it, but content-wise it was an unequivocal condemnation by a council of bishops and the pope. We know that people at this time could do great and terrible things and yet harbour room for doubts. Does it not make sense to see Guy’s sudden and dramatic change of heart as stemming from a realisation that in fact he had been wrong, that the two Hughs’ had no just cause, and that he should henceforth be just as dependable a follower of a new master: the king and his family?

The Shadow of a Patronage Network

Over on Twitter in the last couple of days, there’s been a bit of discussion about the Reichskirche, after I claimed that there was such a thing as a West Frankish version. We have discussed on this blog before about the nature of the Reichskirche, so that old post is the easiest place to read up on the concept. Over the course of discussion, it became clear that the idea of an Ottonian Reichskirche, which I had thought had been qualified sharply but nonetheless persisted in a ‘weak thesis’ form, has in fact been kicked down the stairs. But, someone has asked, what do I think was happening in the West Frankish kingdom? And as it happens it’s a story longer than a few tweets, and I need a blog topic today, so that’s the post you’re now reading.

To start with, we’re dealing with the last half of the tenth century and with the eastern half of the West Frankish kingdom, the ecclesiastical province of Rheims and Burgundy. What I think you get hints of here is that a) Lothar is interfering more directly in episcopal selection than his immediate predecessors; and b) most (but not all) of the bishops he picks appear to come from roughly similar backgrounds.

(and, of course, c) I never went very far with this because it turns out we don’t really know anything about the late tenth-century West Frankish episcopate.)

Between c. 950 and 986, there are about thirty-five episcopal selections. Of those, we can’t say anything at all about roughly half, including any of the bishops of Senlis, Thérouanne, Beauvais, Troyes, and probably Nevers, Autun, Amiens and Soissons as well. This is a lot.

Of the other 17 or so, there are three bishops of Noyon elected in short order in the early 950s where Louis IV didn’t have anything else to do with things. In the case of three of the four bishops of Mâcon, there’s no explicit evidence either way but their background is such that adding royal involvement is an unnecessary variable. Both new bishops of Auxerre are unlikely to have had anything to do with the king. So that’s 8, mostly towards the very beginning of the period.


For the rest, there’s explicit evidence of royal involvement in selecting both bishops of Laon, both archbishops of Rheims, three archbishops of Sens, and a bishop of Langres. I also think there’s a very good circumstantial case for seeing Lothar’s hand behind another archbishop of Sens, a good case for a bishop of Noyon, a weak case for a bishop of Mâcon, a very weak case for a bishop of Autun (and a very, very weak case for a bishop of Amiens, but that’s so weak I only mention it to vent my frustration that Gallia Christiana is so inconsistent about citing its sources…) Of these bishops, most of them, although not all, share either being royal kinsmen or alumni of the school at Rheims, or both.

As I said on Twitter, the idea that Lothar had a semi-coherent patronage network involving putting people with royal connections in place in major bishoprics fits with what evidence we have; but as I also said, we don’t have enough evidence to do more than insinuate. It’s not really a thesis, it’s the ghost of one.

As for why I liked calling it a Reichskirche, it’s because I wanted to look for an external model. As Lothar and his two predecessors knew from the Rheims dispute, fiddling around with actual elections can get very dicey. Louis IV ended up doing a good line in patronising bishops who were selected by local communities into being his allies – it’s not like choosing a bishop guarantees their loyalty or anything, not at all. So an Ottonian milieu where the kings were interfering at the source, as it were, seemed like a good place to pick up the notion, although this doesn’t really stand up to the East Frankish stuff now. I have suspicions about Bruno of Cologne in this regard, but given how rickety a foundation the source base is for anything more than a big list with lots of question marks on it, it’s not exactly a research priority.

Source Translation: A Royal Privilege of Free Election

Hello readers. I meant to post something about my research today, I really did; I realised last week that the last time I actually posted directly about it was over a month ago. However, my time at the minutes is taken up with finishing everything I need to do in Brussels before I move to Germany, which would be fine except it turns out that the last bit of writing that’s got to be finished before the end of this month is really hard, you guys. With that in mind, here’s a translated source that I’m using for that very piece, a diploma of Best King Ever Charles the Simple, issued in 913 to the Church of Trier, granting them the right to freely elect their bishops.

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity and singular Godhead. Charles, by the preordination of divine providence, glorious king. Since the whole body of God’s holy Church should be cared for by priestly oversight and administration and royal tutelage, and since royal majesty ought to be of one mind with the ministers of the Lord, We judge it equitable to proffer assent to the petitions of Our pontiffs, beseeching Us concerning churchly business, by whose prayers We believe that We and the state of Our realm are ceaselessly supported. Therefore, let the industry of all who follow the Christian religion and Our faithful men, present and future, know that Ratbod, the venerable metropolitan of the holy see of Trier, and Our archchaplain, providing for and mindful of the welfare of the church committed to him in future like a provident and good shepherd, asked Our Highness that We might conceded a privilege of Our authority to his see concerning episcopal elections after his death. Freely acquiescing to his pious petition, out of respect for the divine and reverence of the blessed Peter, and due to his love and faithfulness, We commanded this privilege of Our present letters be made, earnestly commanding and sanctioning with the inviolable stability of perpetual firmness that after the death of this bishop, whomsoever the clergy and people of Trier might by common consent elect from amongst the very sons of the same Church should be given to them, by God’s favour, as bishop without contradiction from any party; nor might they be compelled against their will and against canonical authority to receive as a pastor any person they have not chosen. And if, perchance, which We little believe will come to pass, no-one suitable can be found in that church, who is worthy of being given up to an honour of this kind, let an election not be denied to them thereby and Our privilege broken, but rather let them receive from royal majesty whomsoever else they might wish to elect. If it should come to pass, moreover (as is seen to have happened recently in the election of certain bishops) that the votes of the electors are divided, let royal authority favour the part of him on whom the clergy and the men of better intention agree, those who are proven to pursue God’s cause and the salvation of the Lord’s flock, and let the one so chosen be established over them as bishop in accordance with their election. And that this authority of Our privilege might in God’s name obtain firmer vigour of everlasting stability through all times to come, and be inviolably conserved by Our successors, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be marked with the impression of Our seal.

Sign of the most serene king, lord Charles.

Gozlin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and Archchancellor Ratbod.

Given on the ides of August (i.e. the 13th) in the 1st indiction, in the 21st year of the reign of the most glorious king Charles, in the 16th of his renewal, in the 2nd of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at Thionville. Happily in the name of God, amen.

(I actually have no idea what the reference to contentious elections in other sees is referring to. The ongoing disputes over the bishopric of Strasbourg in the 900s and 910s, maybe?)

Trier Cathedral today (source)

The writing style here is a little unusual; like many contemporary diplomas for the Church of Trier, it appears to have been written by that church’s writing staff, with less involvement by royal personnel. Nonetheless, there’s an intriguing sign here of attitudes to royal involvement in episcopal elections. There was a simmering dispute in the ninth century about whether or not royal involvement should be active or passive; that is, whether or not the royal power actually played a role in making a bishop a bishop or whether it simply removed itself as an obstacle. Men such as Florus of Lyon and Hincmar of Rheims (the latter of whom said ‘kings only agree, they don’t elect’) argued at one time or another for the latter, but over time it is clear that the former position removed competition.

This is neatly illustrated by this charter. Compared to other, earlier, diplomas granting similar rights, Charles actually gives up more power – usually, for instance, kings reserve the right to pick someone if no-one suitable can be found within the recipient church; here, it is specified that Trier can pick anyone, even if from outside Trier itself. However, it also rhetorically emphasises the role of kings more: royal authority and royal majesty play an active part as agents, even if what this might involve in practice has probably not changed all that much. The difference is that here and now, it is being perceived as being much more active and participating much more directly. This, I think, is a key part of that specifically-late-Carolingian political culture that we’ve discussed here before, and it would go on to have knock-on effects that would reach for centuries – but that is perhaps something for another time…

What Counts As Precedent? Royal Authority over Episcopal Elections

During their heyday, the control that the predecessors of the Carolingian family as kings of the Franks, the Merovingian dynasty, exercised over the choice of bishops within their kingdoms had been quite substantial, both in practice and in theory. In 549, for instance, the council of Orléans had legislated that no-one could become bishop ‘without the will of the king, along with an election by the clergy and people’; and by early medieval standards you can’t say fairer than that. (There was also a long tradition of conciliar statements during this period which were opposed to royal influence in episcopal elections, but they seem to have had less impact in practice.) These conciliar decrees stuck around – the MGH edition is made up of no fewer than eleven manuscripts, which given that someone like, say, Flodoard survives in about three is a pretty generous distribution.

Consequently, looking at things over the long term, it is fair to say that whatever was happening in the late- and post-Carolingian period, it’s part of an ongoing fluctuation of royal control over bishoprics which won’t actually become overwhelmingly dominant until the Early Modern period. That said, one thing which has been striking me lately is how this longer tradition seems to be ignored by tenth-century figures.

In 920, a dispute erupted over the bishopric of Liège. A cleric named Hilduin, supported by the ruler of Lotharingia, Gislebert, took over the see with support of Henry the Fowler, king of Germany and against the rule of this blog’s old friend and Best King Ever, Charles the Simple. In response, Charles summoned a council to judge Hilduin and impose his own candidate Richer, and to explain his reasoning he sent a round letter to the bishops of his realm. The claims made in Charles’ favour during the course of this dispute have been called a ‘high point of royal absolutism in control over the Church’, and this letter is no exception. Charles calls Hilduin out, citing ‘the book of royal capitularies, which says that “if anyone presumes to a dignity they have not earned from a prince or just lord, let them be considered a sacrilege.”’ Among other things, this seems to equate bishoprics with other honores the king could bestow, which is quite a spectacular claim.

What’s interesting here, though, is that it comes from the capitulary collection of Benedict Levita, a ninth-century composition. Looking at the authorities which Charles (or the person writing in his name) cites to justify the king’s position, a pattern emerges. For one thing, virtually everything cited is actually a forgery from the Dionysian Collection of canons; but taking them at face value, most of what is cited falls into three categories: Roman church councils (Nicaea, Chalcedon, an African council), Late Antique papal letters, and Carolingian-era capitulary collections. What’s doubly interesting is what each type of source is cited to justify. The Roman councils are cited against the crime of simony, and most of the papal letters and Martin of Braga against stealing Church property. The big thesis statement about royal control comes from Benedict Levita. Merovingian canons are conspicuous by their absence, be they never so useful in this case.

This seems to say something interesting about what Charles’ court considered to be authoritative. When faced with a situation where it needed to make a strong statement about royal authority, it looked towards the traditions of something which was very definitely from its own political culture, not from the Merovingian period. This in turn implies that, whatever one can say about long-term fluctuations in royal authority, Charles perceived himself as doing something that, if not new, exactly, was at least specifically Carolingian.

Magnates and Elections, or were there West Frankish ‘Princely Churches’?

Well, I’m now back from Paris, and the usual stately progression of Thursday posts can resume. For a couple of weeks now, in and around manuscripts and actually medieval history, I’ve been trying to do some comparative reading about kinship and patronage networks and their relationship with what you might loosely term ‘recruitment’. The reason for this perhaps unusual choice in recreational literature goes back to that question of the Reichskirche we looked at a few months ago. One of the points which has subsequently been raised in response to that was the question of how much control of the church is simply a feature of politics in general. This seemed fair enough, so I’ve been looking at how far the great West Frankish magnates controlled the bishoprics in their spheres of influence.

The tomb of Arnulf the Bad of Bavaria, whom I mentioned in the last post in this context… (source)

Turns out, if you read about this, the answer people give is ‘yeah, duh’. If you ask why people are saying this, though, direct evidence is in most cases non-existent (and I’d argue in a lot of the cases it exists it doesn’t say what people think it does, but that’s another story…) so it rests on inference from indirect evidence. So the question became, what counts as good grounds for inference?

Hence why I was reading about eighteenth-century German elections, specifically Carola Lipp’s article on local elections in Esslingen, a large town in southwest Germany. Esslingen was reasonably significant, but its council elections were not subject to any particular degree of high-political interference: the (in this case) duke of Württemberg was not imposing his own candidates onto the town government. Instead, the people who got chosen seem to have had strong local ties, usually kinship ones. Alternatively – particularly amongst the artisanal class – the key political bond appears to have been the guild. This fits with what one might assume based on simple common sense: all other things being equal, the choice of local officials in a situation where recruitment is based on the decisions of a relatively small group of locals is probably going to be based on who-you-know, and that mean family or institutional ties. After all, if you know someone from family gatherings or guild meetings, you have a reasonable idea of their character, resources, competence, and whether or not they can be made to owe you favours.

Esslingen today (source)

This fits neatly onto earlier medieval bishoprics. To take as an example my pet area of Tours, between about 920 and 1050, there were eight archbishops. Of those, we know nothing about the background of one. Of the other seven, three were from the local nobility and one from the regional nobility. Four had held positions of importance in the abbey of Saint-Martin – the dominant institution in Tours at this time – one in Tours cathedral, and one more can be tied to their predecessor’s ecclesiastical networks in a somewhat indirect way. In short, Tours looks awfully like Esslingen: the overwhelming majority of the archbishops have strong family and/or institutional ties to the see, with the latter being particularly important.

You’d never guess this from the literature, though. I’m going to single out Boussard’s article on the Neustrian episcopate as a particularly egregious example of the sort of thing I was complaining about at the start: he gives the family and institutional background of each of the archbishops, and also spends a few lines speculating about which prince appointed them. Is there any evidence for this? Is there heck. Not only is there no direct evidence, there is – as the above indicates – no reason to think that anything other than local dynamics are at play here.

My research is showing that this is reasonably typical. How this relates to specifically royal authority over the Church is something I will probably blog about at another time. For the moment, can we please stop saying that episcopal elections are being influenced by the great nobles unless there’s a reason to say it?

West Frankish ‘Reichskirchenpolitik’? Or, This Title Isn’t Going To Get Many Hits, Is It?

So I mentioned last week that I had papers to write, and several of them relate to the question of how the last Carolingian kings exercised authority over their church. What with this being the research I am currently being paid to do, this probably isn’t much of a surprise (and, indeed, we’ve covered some of this ground before). However, I confess that I’m currently in a state of confusion about the nature of this authority, and so, as is this blog’s wont, have decided to write down the problem in the hope of making things clearer.

For historians of the East Frankish kingdom during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the relationship between the kings and the church was expressed in terms of something called the ottonisch-salischen Reichskirchensystem; the ‘imperial Church system’. Timothy Reuter gave a neat little summary of this idea, which I summarise as follows:

In its idealised form, the Reichskirchensystem under the kings of the Ottonian and Salian dynasties consisted of:

  1. Tight royal control over bishoprics and abbeys, particularly with regard to the appointment of bishops and abbots.
  2. The systematic appointment of royal chaplains to vacant bishoprics and abbacies.
  3. The endowment of bishoprics and abbeys with lands and rights.
  4. The expectation that these lands and rights would be used in royal service.
  5. All this being done in order to gain the support of the more reliable episcopate against the less reliable secular magnates,
  6. And all of this being done deliberately and systematically.

Emperor Henry II being crowned (source)

Thanks not least to Reuter, historians are now rather wary of this idea, and certainly of points 5) and 6); there aren’t very many hard-core proponents of the imperial Church system left. However, a more moderate version – which Scheffer calls Reichskirchenpolitik – does seem to me to be viable, particular with what interests me about this, i.e., points 1) and 2). It might be a bit haphazard, and there might be lots of qualifications and asterisks which need to be attached to it, but it does look to my eyes that the German kings have a lot of scope to intervene in episcopal elections and to appoint their own men to these positions. And so the question comes up semi-frequently in this context: can we see a West Frankish equivalent to Eastern Reichskirchenpolitik?

Most historians who’ve looked at the question give what amounts to a lukewarm ‘yep’. Me, I don’t know, and this is why. As noted above, one of the big ideas about what makes the Eastern kingdom distinct is the role of the imperial chapel as a ‘nursery for bishops’. However, the Western chapel is tiny, and doesn’t seem to have been very significant – Western kings only usually have one chaplain at once, or at least only one we know about; and between, say, 950 and 1000 only a handful of them seem to have been appointed to bishoprics. Moreover, if Eastern intervention in episcopal elections is unsystematic, in the West it’s outright erratic – whilst I have hyped up King Lothar’s ability to put his own people in bishoprics before, it must be said that in absolute terms, we’re not talking large-scale appointment here. Lothar ain’t exactly Philip II of Spain, if you get me…

But, there’s still something going on. There develops around King Lothar a group of several bishops who, insofar as we can tell, have similar educational backgrounds, close family ties, and who owe their appointments to the king. This original charter from 978 (I know the site says 986; it’s wrong) gives a good idea of this: we see in the witness list Archbishop Seguin of Sens, Bishop Gibuin of Châlons, Bishop Adalbero of Laon, Bishop Liudolf of Noyon, Bishop Widric of Langres and Bishop Ralph of Chalon, several of whom we’ve had cause to talk about before; this is a pretty good chunk of the ‘royal’ bishoprics, and while Widric of Langres doesn’t seem to have been as tightly integrated into Lothar’s political networks as his successor Bruno (who I’ve spoken of elsewhere as well), this kind of gathering is significant.

That is, it’s significant by the standards of non-royal lay rulers, even important and powerful ones. The dukes of Aquitaine and Bavaria, for instance, don’t seem to have had this amount of success building up a network of bishops around themselves. This is particularly interesting in the case of Bavaria, because Duke Arnulf the Bad of Bavaria is supposed to have strong-armed the right to oversee the bishoprics in his region out of King Henry the Fowler – but it seems he never had any luck putting it into practice. The closest analogy is perhaps Richard the Justiciar of Burgundy (who we will examine further in that next tria regna post – I swear it’s coming soon), who had a decent-ish amount of success putting bishops in post in Auxerre, possibly Autun, maybe Langres? Still, it’s not quite on Lothar’s scale, and certainly not with the kind of legitimacy he’s able to command.

And so, we have Lothar: nothing like as commanding as the Eastern kings, but noticeably more so that Just Your Average Lay Magnate. Is this ‘the Ottonians but smaller-scale’ or something sui generis? The question isn’t just one of categorisation – Lothar was raised by his Ottonian mother with close links to the Eastern court, so if we are dealing with ‘smaller-scale Ottonians’, then odds are good we’re dealing with a transfer of political culture from one court to the other, which in turn points towards a genuine transformation of Western kingship in response to Ottonian models in the latter part of the tenth century. Wish me luck in working out the answer…

I Swear The Tenth Century Was Around Here Somewhere: Part 3 and last of the Tübingen not-conference-report

For all I enjoyed going and thought that the individual papers were thought-provoking and interesting, something about overall thrust of the Tübingen conference I have previously blogged about failed to add up for me, and during the last panel it became fairly clear what that was. At one point during the question and answer session, Charles West opened a question by stating that he and Steffen Patzold, the other conference organiser, had deliberately left out the tenth century in order to focus on the ninth and the eleventh. I have an almost-embarrassing amount of respect for the organisers – indeed, I have embarrassed myself in front of Charles with excessive fanboy-ing – but in this case, I thought this was the wrong decision, for a very simple reason: setting things up this way tended to give a picture of the tenth century that was more static than was the case.

Charles’ paper itself is a good example of this. Its point was fairly simple: that the rhetoric of Carolingian reform was scrutinised with great interest by eleventh-century and later Church reformers (the case study was Hugh of Flavigny), and that the two have many points in common; hence his formulation, which I paraphrased in the previous post, that eleventh-century reform could be seen as ‘Carolingian ecclesiology with added pope’. As it goes, I have no problem with the content of that, but I dispute the presentation.

By leaving out the tenth century, one is implicitly presented with a kind of ‘misunderstood genius’ picture of Carolingian reform, where Carolingian churchmen – usually but not always Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims – came up with such-and-such an idea – in this case, the importance of removing lay influence from episcopal elections – but, unable to be appreciated in their own too-worldly times, languished unread until the eleventh century emerged, ‘cloaked in a white mantle of churches’, and implemented all these reform ideas which we know to be Good Things.

The Consecration of Deodatus, from Wikimedia Commons: a 17th century picture of a 7th century bishop, but hey, at least it’s royalty-free.

I caricature, but separating the ninth and the eleventh centuries in this rather inorganic manner does decontextualize developments in thought. After all, at some point these ideas, having initially been proposed, were weighed in the balance and found wanting; and at some later point, other trends emerged (say, a kingship which became increasing active in influencing episcopal elections) which might provoke their re-examination. Leaving out the tenth century, though, these important factors are passed over, which, at least in my case, doesn’t help understanding; and it meant that the conference called ‘The Transformation of the Carolingian World’ had a starting point and an end point, but no actual transformation in the middle…

I would be interested in hearing what other people who went to the conference thought (for I understand there are some reading this). I worry that I may be projecting here. In any case, my unease about the set-up of what was, as I said, a good conference hopefully doesn’t detract either from the utility or the interest of the subject matter.

The Royal Finger in the Episcopal Pie under the Last Carolingians

As has been hinted at a few times already on this blog, the later Carolingians are not supposed to have been very effective kings. There have already been a few attempts to change that view, but it’s still basically true that if your standard of ‘effective kingship’, in terms of geographical range and agency is, say, Charlemagne, the last couple of generations of Carolingian kings tend to get looked down on.

This is perhaps a touch unfair. Given that, through no fault of their own, the resources of the West Frankish kings were at one point reduced to a brother-in-law and a prison cell, it could well be argued that they did pretty well for themselves. Moreover, I’m finding more and more evidence that, in basic terms of range and authority, the penultimate Carolingian king, Lothar, had a surprisingly long reach (and, it must be said, I’m not the only person finding this).

Recently, I was reading through the Chronicle of Saint-Pierre-le-Vif, an abbey in the Burgundian city of Sens. Sens, for most of the tenth century, is supposed to have been locked down by the Robertians – Odo and Robert I, both Robertian kings, were crowned by the archbishops of Sens. Imagine my surprise when, reading about the late tenth-century archbishops, I found that they were consistently described as holding their position by royal gift. This isn’t even a trope on the part of the author, because only these bishops are described this way. So what’s the king doing where he’s not supposed to be powerful enough to be?

But this isn’t the only place where Lothar’s influence was felt in episcopal elections. There are several dioceses outside of what is normally considered to be King Lothar’s regular beat (which is the royal heartland around Rheims and Laon) where he put bishops in their sees, including Langres, Le Puy and Le Mans. These last two are particularly interesting, because they’re well outside the royal sphere of influence – Aquitaine and Neustria are supposed, by this point, to have been out of the Carolingian ambit since the turn of the tenth century.

There are also several other sees where I think that royal influence can be inferred, including Chartres (which I’m pretty sure of), and Nevers; and several more which would repay investigation, particularly Clermont, whose bishops basically ran the Auvergne by the 960s, and who, for reasons I’m as yet unsure of, had a particular fondness for royal authority, including ordering their monks to pray for the reigning monarch, a practice with no real contemporary parallels.

The real question hanging over all this is ‘how much did this matter’? The reign of King Lothar is bedevilled by a lack of sources – he is the only French monarch between about the seventh century and the Third Republic where there are multiple years where we have no idea at all about anything he did. So it remains to be seen whether or not these bishops, having been put in their seats with royal help, kept up contacts with the royal court.

In some cases, it’s very likely they did. An original charter from 978 (the date on the document is wrong, and that year is the only time everyone in the witness list was alive at the same time) shows the bishops of Lothar’s court in action. The witness list includes a goodly number of familiar faces: his allies Gibuin, bishop of Châlons-en-Champagne (a see usually under royal control no matter what), Adalbero, bishop of Laon (of tagline-of-this-blog fame), Liudolf, bishop of Noyon (Lothar’s nephew). So far so good. But we also have Natrand of Nevers, Seguin of Sens, Widric of Langres, and Ralph of Chalon-sur-Saône. All of these bishoprics except Langres, whether due to distance or opposing political influence, are not usually considered part of Lothar’s sphere of influence – and yet here they are. Moreover, this is just before Lothar’s attack on Lotharingia, possibly indicating that they even provided him with military service.

If these bishops did keep up links with Lothar’s court, this dramatically changes our view of the last Carolingians. Lothar wasn’t necessarily another princeling with an extra card in his hand due to being a literal prince – he could have been a savvy political operator, exploiting the opportunities offered by episcopal successions to extend his powerbase over a large chunk of the West Frankish kingdom. There’s more research needed to be done here, and I will keep you posted.

(And for those of you thinking ‘that sounds like the Ottonian kings of Germany’, well, at some point, if there’s interest, I might put my argument about why Lothar is an Ottonian king…)