Charter a Week 44: Late Carolingian Absolutism

…so, I might be cheating again this week. For the second instalment in a row, we’re covering a charter I’m already in honest-to-goodness peer-reviewed print about; this time in the Journal of the Medieval Low Countries. This time, though, I’ve spoken less about it on the blog, so let’s start from the beginning.

Last week, we saw Charles and the prominent noble Gislebert of Lotharingia have a spectacular falling out. Gislebert raised the standards of rebellion, and one of the things he did at this time was to try and install a friendly bishop at Liège. The recently deceased bishop Stephen had been one of Charles’ most consistent supporters, and so there was a zero-sum game involved here. As for what happened, we have a remarkable and almost unique round letter from Charles explaining the events which have taken place, and why they are so bad:

MGH Conc. 6.1, no. 2 (920)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. The illustrious man Charles, by gracious favour of divine clemency king of the Franks, to all archbishops and bishops established in the realm committed to Us by God, peace and health from the same God eternal.

Cap I: Because We cannot possible enumerate the benefits of divine favour which We have known from Him from the cradle, therefore ‘shall my mouth speak the praise of the Lord and bless His holy name for ever and ever’ [Psalm 145:21]. Concerning the which, because (receiving Our just desserts) We have endured many adversities, We believe that this has been permitted to Us not to earn Our damnation but for the sake of reconciliation with Him, so that having been taught a lesson by His scourges We might learn to beware the perverse and obey His will in everything. As you know from many sources, some of Our followers deviated from the loyalty due to Us and tried to snatch from Us life and realm. They went to Our enemies and befriended them, and desired that they should give them the goods and bishoprics of Our realm. Leaving, therefore, many things unmentioned, We will make manifest to Your Sanctity of one of these men who poured into Our guts a serpent’s venom; that is, Hilduin, who acted against royal power and against the words of the Apostle, where it is said ‘Fear God, honour the king’ [1 Peter 2:17] and ‘whoever resists the authority resists against what God has instituted’ [Romans 13:2], ‘for there is no power except from God’ [Romans 13:1]; and against the words of David the harpist, who said to the Lord ‘You have set men over our heads’ [Psalm 66:12]. He crossed the Rhine to Our enemies, paying little heed to the oaths he had sworn to Us. Casting them over his shoulder, he asked for the bishopric of the church of Tongres [i.e. Liège] from Our enemy Henry [the Fowler, the East Frankish king], and usurped it to his own damnation against every statute both of the holy Fathers and of the kings, that is, Our ancestors. This is what the book of royal capitularies says concerning such matters: ‘If anyone should presume to a dignity he does not merit from a prince or just lord, he has committed sacrilege’. The blessed Gregory says ‘Just as he who refuses the invitation and flees the summons should be brought to the sacred altars, he who seeks office voluntarily and ruthlessly thrusts themselves forward should certainly be repelled. For what will he who struggles to reach a higher position do except diminish it by his gain? Why does he not consider that this blessing will become a curse for him who is promoted in such a way that he becomes a heretic?’

Cap. 2: When certain pestiferous men, as We said above, strayed from Our fidelity, We assembled 16 bishops and archbishops of Our realm, and no small number of magnates, margraves, counts and grandees, so that by their counsel, authority and virtue, We might resist such madness. It was found that new cankers should be severed and healed with new cures: by episcopal authority and the ordinance of the sacred canons, they should be driven from the company and consort of Christians. Hilduin united himself with their presumption and abominable tyranny, and gave Henry and his magnates many pounds of gold and silver. He not only knowingly joined in with them, but also, using the treasures of the church of Liège which he, instinct with the Devil, had snatched away and plundered, acted with threats and terrors to have himself consecrated as bishop by Hermann, archbishop of the city of Cologne, through the violence of Henry and his followers. Indeed, if Hermann had refused – as the venerable archbishop told Us later in the presence of many people – he would have taken his life and the goods of his church, butchered all its dependents and laid waste their goods. And so he consecrated him without the authority of legitimate precedents, as he himself has hitherto testified, but only because he was compelled by great terrors and dire cruelties. Concerning this, it is found in the Council of Nicaea: ‘If any clergyman is discovered to have communicated with an excommunicate, let him be deprived of communion like a rule-breaker. This is widely known from many councils and royal capitularies concerning excommunicates.

Cap. 3: Hilduin also invaded, pillaged and stole the goods of the aforesaid bishopric in Our realm at will, against the statue of Pope Anacletus, in which it is said: ‘St. Anacletus, who was ordained a priest by Peter the apostle, and was later made his successor as bishop of the see of Rome, with all the world’s priests, judged: “Whoever steals anything from their father or mother has committed murder. Our father is certainly God; our mother is the Church, who renews us in baptism. Therefore, whoever snatches away, steals, or defrauds the properties of Christ and the Church is a murderer, and will be regarded as a murderer in the sight of the Just Judge. He who snatches away the property of his neighbour is iniquitous; he who steals the property or goods of the Church has committed sacrilege, and should be judged as a sacrilege”’. 

Cap. 4: Finally, with insatiable greed, Hilduin carried off the treasures of the church of Liège and the palace of Aachen, which had been placed in a strong-box next to the body of the blessed martyr Lambert – he stole them from the Church and gave them to Our enemies, that is, his accomplices. Concerning this, the sacred canons decree that: ‘If anyone is found to have sold or stolen anything from the ministers of the Church, he has committed sacrilege. Let him not be kept in an ecclesiastical order.’ ‘Further concerning this matter, the blessed Augustine says in his 37th homily on the Gospel of John: “Behold, Judas is among the saints; behold, Judas is a thief; and lest you think little of this, this thief has committed sacrilege, for he has not stolen from just anywhere but from the Lord’s sacred treasures”. And a little later: “Whosoever should rob or defraud the Church of anything, let him be compared to Judas the traitor”.’  

Cap. 5: He gave these treasures of the Church to bishops and counts and accomplices for his ordination, not having before him the statutes of the Council of Africa, in which it is orders that no-one should be ordained for money, saying: ‘If any bishop pays money to obtain the dignity, let him be deposed and totally expelled, just as Simon Magus was expelled by Peter’; and in the Council of Chalcedon: ‘If any bishop, priest or deacon should to obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit for money, he will be in peril of losing his rank. Let this ordination or promotion, made for money, profit him naught, but let him be anathematized.

Cap. 6: The said Hilduin, to cap his damnation, came before the venerable Herman and swore an abominable oath on sacred relics: that I, Charles, gave him the bishopric of Liège; and he compelled some clerics and laymen to swear it as well. Various testimonies of holy writings prove that this is absurd and detestable.  

Cap. 7: Although called three times to a synod by lord bishop Hermann, so that he might, if he had just cause, respond to these things of which he was accused; or if he could not, be struck with the barb of the canons. Hilduin, because he put off coming, incurred the sentence of Pope Boniface, who said this: ‘He who does not want to come to refute what is said against him proves it to be true. And lest anyone doubt that the guilty flee judgement in this way, an innocent man seeks how he can be absolved.’ And a little later: ‘Whoever thinks themselves able to avoid judgement through delay confesses to everything’. Also: ‘If he wishes to be present in person, let him respond to the charges, if he is sure. If he neglects to be present, let him not win postponement of his sentence through his absence’.  

Cap. 8: All the clerics and laymen of the aforesaid church approached Our Sublimity, making it known to Us in mournful voices that Hilduin and his robbers had laid waste their property and taken away all their supplies and household goods. Nothing remained to them, even so much as to live off. They added in their prayers that this, by your counsel, lest they be exposed to further looting and plundering, it might be done that We should give them Richer to be ordained as pontiff, whom they had all elected. We beseech you pontiffs concerning everything which has been written in these chapters: for God and the due fidelity which you promised to Us, help as much as your strength allows in preventing Our honour from decreasing further in this matter and stabilising the state of the holy Church of God.


Image: the seal of Henry the Fowler (source)

The first thing to note about this letter is the emergence of a new figure in our cast of characters. In 918, the East Frankish king Conrad I had died. Conrad was a beleaguered figure who had already been beaten by Charles in their war over Lotharingia, and it seems that the threat he posed to Charles after that was minimal. Conrad’s successor Henry, though, was a different question: his position was more secure, and he appears to have been looking for ways to aggrandise himself at West Frankish expense. We will see him, and his descendants, ultimately achieve that over the course of the next sixty or so years.

In this case, though, he’s starting small, by helping Gislebert get his man in to Liège. Precisely what happened in these events has been confused because Hilduin claimed – and he was backed up by the usually reliable historian Flodoard – that Charles actually did appoint him before changing his mind. Now, Hilduin has an obvious motive for lying here; and, as it happens, so does Flodoard, who really doesn’t like Charles. Given this, I’d normally be inclined to dismiss the claim completely, except for the fact that Charles’ denial here is so weak. If he had a better case, I’d expect it to come with more force; maybe that’s just from dealing with Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims recently, who never met a weak case that prolixity couldn’t buttress. On balance, I still think the source tend towards Hilduin rather than Charles being the liar, but it’s not an open-and-shut case.

Whatever the actualities, we can see Charles responding to this particular problem in his time-honoured manner: calling an assembly and getting the appearance of consensus. In this case, though, that is paired with a remarkable emphasis on the inviolable nature of his royal authority. In fact, Charles’ stress on his own authority is not the most extreme version of this stance we have from this dispute: letters from the pope of the time are even more forthcoming about his absolute right to appoint a bishop. (Something, incidentally, noticed hundreds of years later during the Investiture Controversy when a writer from Liège used this example in his tract against papal power.) It’s a sign of how royal power had changed from the mid-ninth century by the time of Charles the Simple: the balance of authority had slowly changed in favour of kings, both relative to bishops and to aristocrats. However, all this garnish comes in a letter which is about how all these ostensible norms have been broken. There’s a kind of dissonance – Charles’ position is crystallised in the troubles, but it’s a position which might make solving the troubles themselves difficult. Charles’ royal authority might have been strong, but it was also brittle.  

Charter a Week 40: What It’s Like to Become a Bishop

We’ve spokenbeforeon this blog about royal influence over episcopal elections. In general, though, when we have evidence for that it’s generally from a third party, or in the case of Charles the Simple, on the part of the king. This charter – probably my second favourite, for those of you sad enough to keep track – is a rare glimpse into, if not the mind, at least the self-presentation of a bishop chosen by royal (in this case imperial) authority. You see, at some point around 910 Bishop Remigius of Avignon died, and was replaced with some named Fulcher. As to how that happened… well, why don’t we let Fulcher take over from here?

ARTEM 915 (2nd May 916, Avignon)

Let the whole Church of the faithful know that I, Fulcher, humble bishop of Jesus Christ, when I first approached the height of this honour and the distinction of such a burden, at the suggestion of Boso [of Arles], prince of an imperial bloodline, approached the illustrious primate of Arles, Rostagnus, in order that, because the church of Avignon lay widowed, he might place a pastor in charge of the same see, if he thought it useful – above all, with the clergy and people asking for My Smallness for themselves in this matter. I sought it not out of desire for pomp nor to vitiate the necessity of poverty; but struck with divine fear and struck with zeal, to busy myself to raise up and ennoble with my own resources what barbarian devastation and depredation had everywhere, for the most part, wasted of worldly riches. Why say more? In the end, by the common ill, having joined together with the most shining of nobles Hugh [of Arles], I was shown into the imperial presence. I, appointed by his command to the episcopal through of Avignon, although unworthy, by the disposition of the will of the Highest, will take pains to protect it in every way, as far as my ability and knowledge allows, both spiritually and corporally.

For this reason, meditating on the thundering of the Gospels’ teaching, which says ‘Give alms, and you shall be purified with every splendour’ [variation of Luke 11:41]; and again, ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven’ [Matthew 6:20] and the others which follow; and that which the prudent father told the prudent son: ‘alms free from death’ [Tobit 12:9], and ‘do not permit men to go into the shadows’ [Tobit 4:10]; and other wisdom: ‘the redemption of a man’s soul are his riches’ [Proverbs 13:8], and no few others. This succession of such voices clamoured together; and, as was related above, before I took up the height of the bishopric, I came to a decision, glorifying my God and redeemer, Who granted me body and soul out of spontaneous piety and Who gathered together every alleviation of human poverty. For the remedy of the souls of my father and mother, and also that of Prince Boso, and for myself, an unhappy sinner, I delegate and give my inheritance to His mother, the queen of Heaven and Earth, the undefiled virgin Mary, and the most blessed protomartyr Stephen (who after the first opening of the celestial paradise merited to enter into the hall of the eternal king first). Indeed, I know and believe with the greatest certainty that they reign with God!    Therefore, I bestow on them a worldly inheritance, that by their prayers we might receive pardon for sins, and when the day of our departure from this wretched world occurs, they might snatch us from the dark power of Satan, and make us consorts and co-heirs of that most shining dwelling which they enjoy in the sight of the King of Kings, where arises no sorrow, no fear, no grief, no hunger, no pollution; but all dwell in peace before His eyes, and delight without end in the vision of His light.

This, then, is the inheritance which We wish the aforesaid mother of God and protomartyr Stephen to have as successors, for the easing of our crimes: the church in honour of Saint Mary which is in the county of Avignon, in the vicariate of Valergue, with its advowson; in addition an allod in the same place, in the same estate, which is called Four, as much as I have and can acquire there. Next, a church named in honour of Saint Mary, Saint John and Saint Baudilius; and another church built in honour of the holy martyrs Cosmas and Damian nearby on the banks of the Rhône, in view of the castle which is called L’Hers, which I got by royal munificence through the testament of a precept, with the territory which is kept there, or which hereafter ought at any time to adjoin or be appended to it, and which both I and my successors will be able to seek out; also the port of the same place, which in a similar way I earned in its entirety by an imperial gift through a precept; no less, the church in honour of the holy martyr Genesius sited in the same county, in the place which is called Nidadis, with all its appendages. I give and donate all this inheritance to the aforesaid mother of God Mary and the blessed martyr Stephen and wish them to hold it perpetually without any disturbance.

If, though, at Satan’s instigation, any of Our kinsmen or direct or indirect heirs might undertake to disturb or infringe this testament of Our donation, unless they come to their senses, let them be tormented in the perpetual torments of Hell with Dathan and Abiron and Korah and with Judas the traitor, Ananias and Caiaphas; and may the donation of this Our offering flourish and endure undisturbed and stable forever, signed by the subscription of our hands.

Enacted publicly in the city of Avignon, in the 916th year from the Lord’s Incarnation, in the 4th indiction, on the 6th nones of May (2nd May), on the day of the Lord’s Ascension, in the 13th year of the imperial reign of Emperor Louis, son of Boso.

Bishop Fulcher of the holy church of Avignon, who confirmed this donation with my own hand. Rainald wished and consented to this. The humble bishop Gunther [probably of Maguelone] confirmed and was present in person. Rainard, humble bishop of the holy church of Cavaillon. Count Boso confirmed. Sign of Viscount Hugh, a witness. Leotard, having been requested. Sign of Walter, a witness. Pons, having been requested. Sign of Walcavus, a witness. Sign of Albert, a witness. Sign of Adelelm, a witness. Sign of Silvio, a witness.

The original charter of Fulcher of Avignon. Photo by author.

The first thing to say is that everything Fulcher is describing here happened about half a decade earlier. Bishop Remigius died around 910, and we have a surviving precept from Emperor Louis the Blind (for it is he) giving to Fulcher to properties he describes here, dated to the year 912. So what we are dealing with is a retrospective perspective, but no less valuable for that. In particular, this charter is a revealing guide to Fulcher’s priorities about his own ordination, and four things stand out in that regard:

First (perhaps unsurprisingly) is the vestigial role of the people and clergy of Avignon. Election by people and clergy was the gold standard of the Carolingian church, but – by parallel to Early Modern English elections – the key there seems to be their right to participate, rather than any expectation that they’ll have a say in who the actual candidate is. In general, episcopal candidates were acceptable to local audiences – and where they weren’t, such as in the case of the infant archbishop Hugh of Vermandois in 925, it generally helped to have the candidate’s father’s soldiers standing around looking menacing – but often the clergy and people were not where decision-making power resided.

Second, the who-you-know is unsurprisingly significant. As we’ve seen before, Hugh of Arles and his brother Boso are particularly influential at this time and place, which might lead an ambitious bishop to stress his connections with them. However, numerous studies have emphasised the importance of intercessors in royal courts of this period (and, as it happens, the 912 diploma does mention that it was petitioned for by both Hugh and Boso), so this is likely a matter of rhetorical emphasis rather than fiction. Fulcher’s appointment, then, was particularly helped along by his powerful friendships, and he wasn’t shy about letting people know it.

Third, and perhaps more surprisingly, the role of Rostagnus of Arles, Fulcher’s metropolitan bishop, is stressed. This raises my eyebrows a little more – ornery gits like Hincmar of Rheims might like to puff up an archbishop’s authority, but that it gets more play here than the clergy and people is a bit unexpected. Still, for all that I think Hincmar was happy being a voice in the wilderness, he was also a very experienced political operator (if not perhaps an instinctual savvy one) – he must have been trying to appeal to someone.

Fourth and finally, the role of Louis the Blind is interesting, both practically and rhetorically. Practically, because Fulcher clearly understands the key moment which made him bishop as being the point when Louis gave him the nod (maybe it was an unproblematic election and he would have been a bit more ambiguous if Louis had given him the cold shoulder, but rejected episcopal candidates such as Hilduin of Liège also seem to have thought this so it’s clearly a mainstream part of Late Carolingian political thought. Rhetorically, though, Louis is a bit like looking at the sun – he’s not even mentioned by name, he’s just ‘the imperial presence’. It’s a remarkable reminder of the strength of royal legitimacy, even with a ruler traditionally dismissed as ineffective.   

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.