King Lothar and Flanders in the Reign of Count Arnulf II

In theory, if there’s any two West Frankish regions I have any special claim to know, it should be Normandy and Flanders. I’ve been working on these areas since I was an undergraduate – in fact, my master’s dissertation was a comparison of tenth-century princely power in the two of them. Yet one of the joys of the tenth century is that by deep-diving into the sources and by making cross-connections you can discover new things and end up changing your mind even after working on it for a decade. Flanders is a case in point. As often mentioned on this blog, I wrote an article reassessing the succession crisis following the death of Arnulf the Great of Flanders; but the state of my knowledge in 2014 was such that I left it there. However, what has emerged out of my research since then is that Flanders played a pretty crucial role in the rest of Lothar’s reign too, and this is what I want to talk about today.

The short version of one of my arguments in the article is that when Arnulf died in 965, Lothar broke his promise to safeguard Arnulf II, the elder Arnulf’s baby grandson, invaded Flanders, imposed a friendly regent, and annexed a huge swathe of the south for himself. However, that’s not where things stopped. A little while ago, I argued that Lothar’s patronage can be detected on the Flemish border during the 970s, hoping to Lotharingian border magnates into his own orbit. That, however, is only half the story. What I left out is that all the magnates Lothar was hoping to attract were indelibly associated with Arnulf II of Flanders: Dirk of Holland was his guardian, Godfrey of Verdun his stepfather, and even though Arnulf of Valenciennes doesn’t seem to have been related to him (at least not in any way we can prove) he was an important figure in the last days of Arnulf the Great. In fact, Lothar’s patronage around 970 extended to Arnulf II directly. In 972, for instance, Arnulf issued a charter for Blandijnberg in Ghent. The Blandijnberg charters are never above suspicion, and indeed in its current form this is a mid-eleventh century forgery. The crucial thing about it for our purpose, though, is that it grants the abbey the estate of Harnes, near Lens. (This donation was confirmed by a more-or-less unsuspicious royal grant a few years later, so this bit of information in the charter is likely legit.) This is interesting, because Harnes was under Lothar’s control twice over after 965. On one hand, it was south of the Lys, the area he annexed after Arnulf the Great’s death; on the other, it was recorded in 899 (in a charter we’ve discussed on this blog before for entirely separate reasons) as belonging to Saint-Amand, an abbey which we know Lothar controlled at this time. The most likely way for it to get into Arnulf’s hands, therefore, is that Lothar gave it to him; and the most likely reason for that is that the king wanted to draw the young count into dependence on him.

Another hint is that despite everything, Arnulf was able to keep hold of at least the northern part of Ponthieu. Conflict over Ponthieu was a structuring element of northern French politics in the middle and late tenth century. To keep things short, I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that the fighting pitted the Flemish counts on one side against the Robertians on the other; and that it was a multi-generational conflict. That Arnulf appears ruling Montreuil in 981, therefore, despite the fact that it was in the area Lothar took over in 965, indicates that Lothar favoured him over the Robertians and backed his continued possession of the stronghold.

All this changed, as I noted in my earlier post, after 973, when the exiled sons of Count Reginar III returned from exile. Their bellicose pursuit of their lost inheritance forced the border magnates to cling closely to Otto II, and undid years work of work on Lothar’s part. In the mid-to-late 970s, therefore, we can see Lothar pivot to attacking Arnulf. In 974, for instance, he issued a diploma for the elder Robertian brother and duke of the Franks Hugh Capet confirming donations he had made of land in the Ternois to the abbey of Saint-Riquier in southern Ponthieu, confirming his overlordship over the southern part of the region and giving him some kind of role in the north (which was in all likelihood under Arnulf’s rule at the time).  In 975, he issued a diploma for Marchiennes restoring the estate of Haisnes, which was ‘unjustly stolen from [the abbey] in the time of Count Arnulf [the Great]’ – Arnulf II’s grandfather ended up a historiographical casualty of the new hostility between the king and his comital relative. Interestingly, in 976 Arnulf’s step-uncle Adalbero of Rheims sponsored the translation of St. Thierry in Rheims. Lothar refused to come because he was busy in other parts of the kingdom, and when he did show up he was accompanied by a large army. We don’t know what this army had been used for, but one good suggestion is Flanders.

This brings us to a question we’ve covered before on this blog, the emergence of a separate line of counts of Boulogne. I argued in the previous post that our earliest evidence for any kind of count in the area comes not from the start of Arnulf II’s reign, but from the end.  Count Arnulf, that shadowy figure who is nonetheless the clearest outline we can see from this shadowy time, evidently had a powerbase in western Flanders. This is interesting, because Lothar had some support in that region (including, probably, the chronicler Folcuin of Saint-Bertin); and Arnulf II seems – from later, bitter reports of his behaviour towards Saint-Bertin – to have left a bad memory there. This is speculative, of course, but I think it’s quite possible that, first of all, Arnulf of Boulogne/Ternois was from the family of the advocates of Saint-Bertin (based on their onomastics); second, that that this advocatial position was the basis for the assumption of comital status; and third, this may have been helped by Lothar’s military intervention. Notably, our last attestation of this family as advocates is from 975 – by the 980s, a new family, the Gerbodos, was in place. It is worth considering, therefore, that the fragmentation of Flemish comital power which we know to have taken place by 988 was helped along by royal support for local opposition.

Lothar’s position changed again after 978. As we’ve seen, his invasion of Lotharingia in that year failed. It is therefore noteworthy that – by contrast with Charles the Simple’s invasion of 898 which I have argued was its closest comparison – it took  over a year for peace to be made after direct fighting had stopped. What was Lothar doing in that time? Dudo of Saint-Quentin has a confused anecdote as part of a panegyric on the peacemaking efforts of the Norman duke Richard the Fearless, which says that Arnulf II refused to do military service for Lothar and the king therefore invaded Artois and the area south of the Lys. This has intriguing parallels with a passage in the Gesta Episcoporum Cameracensium which says that Lothar invaded the area at the end of the reign of Bishop Teudo of Cambrai (so, late 978). Either on their own could be written off as a simple repetition of the events of 965. However, although both are evidently confused, the fact that two independent sources have put figures from the late 970s into the same scenario suggests that what is being confused with 965 is real events of 978. That is, Lothar invaded Artois, targeting Arnulf’s possessions or (more likely) those of the church of Cambrai or (perhaps) both.

He then used his gains to reconcile with Arnulf. This gave him a point of entry back into Arnulf’s family networks, and we can in fact see hints of his step-family being used to negotiate the peace between Lothar and Otto which was ultimately signed at Margut in 980. This peace and reconciliation between Arnulf and Lothar, though, led to hostility between Lothar and Hugh Capet. Hugh made a separate peace with Otto II at Rome in 981 and then rushed home to besiege and attack Montreuil, which he was able to take by surprise. Arnulf agreed to hand over the fortress and northern Ponthieu.

Which is, I think, what this late medieval miniature is supposed to show (source)

After decades of fighting, the Robertians had finally defeated the Flemish for Ponthieu. At the same time, Lothar had established himself as master of Artois, even if his more grandiose schemes for using his Flemish connections had failed to pan out. Lothar’s relationship with Arnulf, in fact, is a kind of microcosm for his entire reign. He was a canny politician and powerful ruler whose capacity to manipulate and control events within his kingdom was generally significant. However, he was not great at resolving the contradictions within his own policy aims. Thus, during the 970s, he treated Flanders and its associated elites as on one hand targets but on the other hand important allies. What this meant was that when Lothar was treating Arnulf II as an ally his capacity to get things done in the region was weakened through what Lothar had done when he was his enemy. There must have been other issues too – trust springs readily to mind – but this factor is a key for understanding why, despite all his efforts, the gains Lothar reaped from his Flemish policy during the 970s were so relatively limited compared to his designs.    

Why Was Charles of Lorraine So Tardy?

In May 987, Louis V fell off a horse and died. His cousin Hugh Capet took the throne in a coup, only to be opposed by his uncle Charles of Lower Lotharingia. The two men fought a civil war which lasted for almost three full years, ending in March 991 and starting in late April or May 988.

…Hang on. That doesn’t sound right.

Charles, on the right, next to his brother King Lothar. (source)

Yes, today we’re looking at the coup of Charles of Lotharingia, an event which is normally taken completely for granted but which probably shouldn’t be. For once, his motivation is probably clear – legitimate sons of kings were prima facie candidates to be kings themselves, and Charles had previous form plotting against his brother Lothar in 978*. It’s his timing that’s the issue. Charles apparently saw Hugh Capet being crowned but waited for almost a whole year before making his own move. This is an important delay, passed over by historians who see Charles’ move as self-evident; but I want to ask: why then? Why not a year earlier, after Louis’ death? The longer Charles delayed, the more time Hugh had to entrench himself. I don’t want to overstate this, because there clearly were coup attempts which were launched years after a new king’s succession, but not a lot and the delay did hurt the plotters’ legitimacy. So here are a few options:

1) “Charles didn’t wait, actually.” This answer would short-circuit the question, but unfortunately it would also have to be based on Richer of Rheims’ account. Richer describes how, after Louis’ death but before Hugh’s election as king, Archbishop Adalbero of Rheims went from Senlis to Rheims itself, where Charles approached him to beg for his support in becoming king. Adalbero refused and went back to Senlis, where he made a speech supporting Hugh. We’ve seen before that Richer is not an amazing source for political details, and this case is no exception. The journey from Senlis to Rheims was (pace Robert-Henri Bautier) completely pointless, and the timings are off. They’re not completely impossible, but they do require everyone involved, especially the ageing Adalbero, to move at courier speeds the whole time. In fact, Richer is probably referring to a meeting between Charles and Adalbero which happened later and in a different place, and which he probably knew through the same source we do, which is to say the letters of Adalbero’s secretary (and later pope) Gerbert of Aurillac. This does bring us, though, to the next option, which is:

2) “Ottonian backing!” Ah, the ole’ tried-n-true. However, evidence here is very indirect indeed. We know Charles was at the Easter court of the young Otto III at Ingelheim in April 988, immediately before he attacked Laon. What transpired there is unknown, but later in the year Theophanu tried to arrange a truce between Charles and Hugh and probably some kind of negotiated settlement. This does not, to me, suggest wholehearted support. I have trouble with this whole picture, honestly: relations between Theophanu and Hugh weren’t great, but they weren’t awful either – chilliness is one thing, but three years earlier the West Frankish king had been actively at war with the Ottonians! I’m unclear, therefore, on what Theophanu’s motivation for supporting Charles was supposed to be.

3) “Hugh Capet’s regime was running into trouble.” Again, not obvious. Hugh Capet is known to have sent an angry letter to Archbishop Seguin of Sens, who was dragging his feet about professing loyalty. He also besieged a guy called Odo Rufinus at Marçon in summer. Odo is sometimes argued to be a cat’s paw for Odo I of Blois (and sometimes, through him, of Charles), but the chain of logic there is very tenuous.** This is about it – over winter 987/988, Hugh was able to describe his realm in a letter as ‘very quiet’. If Hugh had any problems, they were more to do with lack of enthusiasm than opposition; but this doesn’t present much of an opening for a would-be pretender. In the closest comparable case, that of Hugh’s great-uncle Odo and Charles the Simple, King Odo had committed a series of patronage blunders and high-handed executions which had provoked a general crisis. There’s nothing like that in Hugh Capet’s case.

4) “Hugh Capet was distracted.” The king’s letter describing his kingdom as ‘very quiet’ was addressed to Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona. Borrell had been sending panicked letters not only to Hugh but also to Lothar and Louis V ever since Barcelona had been sacked by the Andalusi vizier al-Mansur in 985. All three kings had had some sort of interest in leading aid to Borrell, but the turmoil in the north of the realm under Lothar and Louis had prevented anything concrete from happening. Hugh Capet appears to have the time and energy to try and put something together. He used his planned expedition to browbeat Adalbero of Rheims into crowning his son, Robert the Pious, as king at Christmas 987, and at around the same time sent a letter to Borrell asking him to send guides into Aquitaine. Hugh’s sincerity has been doubted, but I don’t think the grounds for that are particularly good – our evidence does all point to his intentions to lead an army southwards. Notably, between Christmas 987 and Easter 988 we have no idea what he was doing. Robert’s coronation was at Orléans, the gateway to Aquitaine, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable that Hugh actually did go south. However, we can also be reasonably sure that Borrell didn’t meet him – Hugh’s letter suggests that Borrell was thinking of making terms with al-Andalus, and after over two years of delay I don’t blame him – and the whole thing came to nothing. I like this explanation conceptually – ‘the king and most of his army are far away and getting further’ presents a good tactical scenario for Charles to opportunistically take advantage of. However, the big question mark is the chronology, and this requires a second paragraph on…

…the Flemish succession.

On March 30th 988, Count Arnulf II of Flanders died. On May 20th, the imperial court was at Braine-le-Comte, a little north of Mons, where Otto III issued a diploma for the abbey of Blandijnberg at the intervention of Counts Godfrey the Prisoner and Arnulf of Valenciennes. Probably some time after that, Gerbert of Aurillac wrote a letter in Adalbero of Rheims’ name to Archbishop Egbert of Trier, the relevant part of which goes:

We are somewhat agitated though, that you told us what was happening in your parts so late, and chiefly concerning the case of your brother and nephew. Indeed, as soon as We had read your news, we received Our messenger from the palace, who confirmed that Arnulf’s son has received everything which was his by the king’s gift. In this, we have no other solace save that We know that the knights disagree strongly with him.

This is an opaque letter which admits several possible interpretations, but one in particular stands out to me.  There are other possibilities, but it seems to me vanishingly remote that the ‘son of Arnulf’ in question is anyone other than Baldwin IV of Flanders. Similarly, whilst the king in question could be Otto III, it is overwhelmingly probable that it’s Hugh Capet. What this means is that odds are good that Hugh Capet was far enough north to hand out Flemish honores in April, while Charles was at the Ottonian Easter court, which makes a putative southern distraction improbable.

But why is Adalbero opposed to Hugh giving Baldwin his father’s lands, and why are Egbert’s relatives, the counts of Holland, involved?

5. “Backing, but not from the Ottonians.” We know about Charles’ presence at the Ingelheim assembly from two letters, one from Gerbert and one in the name of Adalbero of Rheims, the latter written during Hugh Capet’s siege of Laon in summer 988. It appears that Gerbert was pretty keen on Charles. By the time Adalbero’s letter was written, though, the archbishop was more hostile. By that point in summer, Adalbero was opposed to Charles, but at Easter he appears to have been more cautious about taking sides, concerned that Charles had limited support amongst the West Frankish magnates.

At this point, we come back to Gerbert’s letter. Jean Dunbabin argues that this letter may well show that Arnulf of Holland was backed by Adalbero as the new count of Flanders over the (very young) Baldwin IV, who may have been accused of being illegitimate. This is a plausible argument; but to what end was Adalbero’s support given? Let us imagine the following sequence of events: Charles of Lotharingia approached Adalbero of Rheims at Ingelheim, seeking his support. Adalbero, who was not the most whole-hearted supporter of Hugh, equivocated but was basically positive, if cautious. However, because Charles did not have widespread support amongst the West Frankish nobility, Adalbero said that Charles needed to bolster his following. Flanders, whose count had recently died, would be a useful thin end of the wedge – if it could be controlled. Charles spread rumours that Baldwin IV was illegitimate, supporting the claims of Count Dirk II of Holland. There were good reasons to hope that this would work – the lower-level elite of Flanders (milites, which I have given here as ‘knights’) preferred an adult ruler such as Dirk to that of a child like Baldwin. However, Charles jumped the gun and attacked Laon before the Flemish affair was done. Egbert was not able to communicate with Adalbero in time. Dirk II died in early May and Hugh Capet swooped in, granting Flanders to Baldwin and marrying Baldwin’s mother, Arnulf’s widow Rozala (who now took the name Susannah), to his son Robert the Pious. Dirk II’s son Arnulf of Holland and grandson Dirk III tried to keep pushing their claim; but faced with the collapse of his plot, Adalbero dropped Charles and the rest is history.

This is, of course, conjecture, but it is a useful hypothesis which explains a lot of things. First, as Dunbabin points out in her article, the counts of Holland seem to have lost control of Ghent and Waas at about this time, something which may well have resulted from their failed coup. Similarly, argues Dunbabin, Rozala’s assumption of the name Susannah could be easily explained if she was being accused of adultery. Moreover, Charles had pedigree in using these types of accusations, which were otherwise rare in an Ottonian context, having made the same charges against his sister-in-law Lothar’s wife Emma. This sequence of affairs also explains the tone of the letter – why Adalbero and Egbert are on the same side in this matter, why Adalbero doesn’t seem all that concerned, and why speed was of the essence. It fits neatly with Charles’ background: he had long-standing associations with Flanders ever since the 960s, had been an ally of Egbert’s in the 980s, and seems to have been an ally of Adalbero’s during the reign of Louis V. Finally, it is the best explanation I can think of, or that I’ve read, as to why, after a year’s delay, Charles acted when he did.

*Although odds are pretty good that, despite the historical consensus, he was never actually crowned at that point. I’ve got a translation post coming out probably in March or April where I’ll discuss this further.

** A generation later, there was a man named Odorus who was Odo I’s distant kinsman. If Odorus was the same man as the mid-eleventh century ‘Odo the Red’ from the Loire valley, and if Odo the Red was related to Odo Rufinus, and if Odo Rufinus’ putative kinship with the count meant that he was Odo I’s vassal then it is possible that this was a portion of a larger struggle rather than just a purely local affair.

I’m used to wobbly conjectures, but this is something else.  

The Counts of Boulogne Who Mostly Weren’t

Sometimes you just end up chasing ghosts. I’ve addressed the tenth-century counts of Boulogne before in print (which you could read right here and now if you so chose!) but only in passing as part of the game of ‘Which Arnulf?’, which used to be my go-to example of obnoxious prosopographical questions before it became clear to me that compared to some others it was pretty entry-level. More recently, I’ve been revisiting the question whilst dealing with Flanders and Lotharingia in the 970s, and it’s become clear to me just how murky the history is. For this week, then, I thought we’d take a step-by-step look at the tenth- and early eleventh-century history of Boulogne and ask: what do we really know?

A quick bit of early tenth-century background first. ‘County of Boulogne’ is a bit of a vague term, because it can also (but doesn’t always) cover Ternois, and more generally the western part of Flanders, as well. Around 900, Boulogne seems to have been under the control of a man named Erchengar, who seems to have been reasonably important but who also probably lost control of Boulogne to his neighbour, Count Baldwin the Bald of Flanders, who also ruled Ternois. When Baldwin died in 918, his inheritance was split between his two sons: Arnulf the Great got Flanders proper, and Adalolf got the western portions including Boulogne and Ternois. In 933, Adalolf died and Arnulf brought his brother’s inheritance under his own power.

At this point, we hit our first stumbling block. Back in the ‘40s, Jan Dhondt brought up a passage of Flodoard’s Annals under the year 962:

‘King Lothar, having spoken with Prince Arnulf, made peace between him and his nepos of the same name, whom the count held to be his enemy owing to the killing of the brother of the same, whom the same count had put to death having discovered he was disloyal.’

Nepos can mean either ‘grandson’ or ‘nephew’ (although for what it’s worth in Flodoard it seems to mean ‘nephew’ every time). Dhondt argued that this nepos ought to be a son of Adalolf, based on the emergence shortly after Arnulf the Great’s death of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne. Dhondt put this in relation to the death of Arnulf the Great’s son Baldwin III in the winter of 961/2 to argue that Arnulf’s sudden weakness gave his nephews the opportunity to try and win back their paternal inheritance. Dhondt admitted that this was ‘a supposition, pure and simple’; but his supposition has become the historical consensus.

I argued in the article cited above that Dhondt was wrong, but to recap: we have two genealogies and a narrative source from this period which mention Adalolf, and don’t give him any legitimate heirs. It could be argued that one of these genealogies (that of Witger) is pro-Arnulf propaganda, and that the author of the narrative source, Folcuin (writing precisely during these events), was deliberately passing over contemporary controversies to protect himself; you could even argue that the second genealogy (known as the De Arnulfo comite) is completely untrustworthy or itself a political production. However, once you’ve done that, all you’ve done is to defend a hypothesis for which there is no direct evidence – it is, basically, letting the argument dictate approaches to the evidence not vice versa. Moreover, some of these arguments are unconvincing – the De Arnulfo comite and especially Folcuin (who was not Arnulf’s panegyrist) have no reason not to mention sons of Adalolf, if any existed. In fact, Folcuin actually does mention Arnulf the Great’s nepos Arnulf in passing, without mentioning any connection to Adalolf. Dhondt’s arguments, before they passed into the lofty realm of consensus, were rejected by some of his own, equally distinguished, contemporaries – his friend Philip Grierson, for instance, argued against them in his Cambridge fellowship thesis.

Compared to my 2017 article – which was written in 2014 – I can actually go one further now. The charter on which Dhondt bases the existence of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne after the 960s is, as we technical diplomatic types say, ‘well dodgy’. It purports to be a 972 grant by Count Arnulf II of Flanders to the abbey of Sint-Pieters of Blandijnberg in Ghent, granting them the estate of Harnes, near Lens. In the witness list, one does indeed find the signum of ‘Arnulf, count of Boulogne’. However, in its current form this act is a mid-eleventh century forgery. It does seem to have been based on some sort of real act – Harnes shows up in a more or less unsuspicious royal act from a few years later – but its forged status is really significant for our purposes. Tenth-century charters almost never have a count’s jurisdiction in their titulature in witness lists, so the ‘count of Boulogne’ appears very suspicious. This is especially so because there are clear grounds for confusion here. A figure who in the 970s was closely associated with the Flemish court was Count Arnulf of Valenciennes. However, by the mid-eleventh century the area around Lens was a key part of the patrimony of the contemporary counts of Boulogne. We may very well be dealing with a situation where the forger saw a ‘Count Arnulf’ in the witness list and assumed it must be the count of Boulogne. In any case, this forged document is a bad foundation for a ‘Count Arnulf of Boulogne’.

This is doubly so given the evidence adduced by Vanderputten and others that the Flemish still controlled the Ternois at the very least for several years after Arnulf the Great’s death. This evidence is not entirely conclusive, but abbatial witness lists from the abbey of Saint-Bertin do suggest that the lay abbacy was held first by Arnulf II’s regent Baldwin Baldzo and then by Arnulf II himself until the early-to-mid 970s. The loss of the abbacy could – emphasis on could – mean that Arnulf II lost control of the region then – but this is a decade after 962 and doesn’t give any link to the ‘nephew of the same name’ mentioned by Flodoard.

The next bit of evidence for a count of Boulogne comes from ‘988’, and a charter of Baldwin the Bearded for Blandijnberg. At the bottom of this charter one finds the signa of Count Dirk [II of Holland], Count Arnulf [probably Arnulf of Ghent, Dirk’s son], Count Artold, Count Baldwin, and another Count Arnulf. These last three have been identified as the counts of Guînes, Boulogne and Ternois respectively. However, as the scare quotes above probably suggested, this charter is another eleventh-century forgery – and in some respects blatantly anachronistic, as in the attribution of the title of ‘Queen’ to Baldwin’s mother Rozala-Susannah well before her marriage to Robert the Pious could have taken place. The identification of Artold and Arnulf ‘of Ternois’ was certainly accepted by c. 1200 – both men show up in the legendary early parts of Lambert of Ardres’ History of the Counts of Guînes – and the forged 988 charter is certainly passable evidence that there were other counts in the Flemish sphere of influence by the late tenth century, but who these men were, where they were based, and how they were related to each other or to the counts of Flanders is unknown.

Beyond this 988 charter, I know of three more-or-less unimpeachable references to counts of Boulogne/Ternois in the decades around 1000.

  1. A papal letter of perhaps c. 995 inserted into the Chronicle of Hariulf of Saint-Riquier addressed to ‘Count Arnulf, Count Baldwin and his mother’. (Zimmerman thought that this was a forgery but he was probably wrong about this.) Baldwin and his mother are pretty clearly Rozala-Susannah and Baldwin IV, so the Count Arnulf is not Arnulf II of Flanders but a count in the area between Ponthieu and Ternois.
  2. An unnamed count of Boulogne was also mentioned by Hariulf as having been killed in battle by Enguerrand, first count of Ponthieu. This can’t have been Count Eustace I of Boulogne – first attested, to my knowledge, in 1024 (although the charter he appears in is also dodgy) – so must be one of his unnamed predecessors.
  3. Finally, we have our most important source, the miracles of St Bertha of Blangy, written in the early eleventh century, which identify a Count Arnulf of Ternois in the years after 1000. This Arnulf has both a wife and children, but the miracles give no other genealogical information.

As far as I have been able to trace, everything else we claim to know about the counts of Boulogne or Ternois before the 1020s/1030s is based on either indirect evidence or very late and legendary thirteenth-century sources.

The first record I know of of Count Eustace I of Boulogne: a forged charter of Baldwin IV of Flanders nominally dating to 1024. Taken from ARTEM, no. 367 (source)

One final note before I sum up is that later genealogies of the counts of Boulogne don’t give Eustace I a father. This is mostly a reflection of their interest in the Carolingian descent of the counts via Eustace’s wife Matilda of Leuven, but I think it also relates to the fact that they don’t know anything in particular about his descent because Eustace basically comes out of nowhere – as Nieus points out, there’s little connecting the two families.

So what do we have? The existing scholarly picture is that a cadet branch of the counts of Flanders, usurped for most of the mid-tenth century, took advantage of a succession crisis to strong-arm their way back into their paternal inheritance in 962. After Arnulf (II) of Boulogne died after a reign of at least a decade, the county was partitioned between his sons, Baldwin (IV) of Boulogne and Arnulf (III) of Ternois. Arnulf died in 1019* and Baldwin in 1023, whereupon the county passed to his son or brother Eustace. What I think we can say after reviewing the evidence is that very little of this is demonstrably true. The emergence of late tenth century counts in Boulogne/Ternois has nothing to do with the events of 962, and should probably be dated to the years around 980 at the absolute earliest. The only evidence of a Count Baldwin in Flanders other than Baldwin the Bearded is the 988 charter, which is not great; and there is nothing connecting him to Boulogne specifically. Arnulf of Ternois is better attested, but was probably only one person. If there was a kinship connection between them and the counts of Flanders, and there may well not have been, they were certainly not a cadet branch. Arnulf may have been the count killed by Enguerrand of Ponthieu; if he wasn’t, we know nothing at all about background of the man who was. Finally, it is overwhelmingly probable that the later counts of Boulogne are nothing to do with these shadowy figures.

You may be wondering, do you have anything constructive to add, or is this demolition work? Well, mostly the latter today. However, there is more to say on this matter. In the next few weeks, I will follow this post up with one looking at King Lothar’s relationship with Flanders after Arnulf the Great’s death in 965. There’s also going to be as much supposition in that post as in Dhondt’s work, and I wanted to keep the directly evidenced-based stuff separate from the more hypothetical material (not to mention that this post is running long)! However, when we get there this post will be important background for royal politics in late tenth-century Flanders – so stay tuned!

Also, this is definitely a case where chasing the threads is a complicated job and I’m slightly out of my comfort zone. This post represents my current understanding, but if you know of a source which contradicts or adds to anything I’ve said, please put it in the comments!

*As far as I can follow it, the reasoning for this is such: there is a record of a siege of Saint-Omer by Robert the Pious in 1020. The assumption is that 1) Robert was pushing against Baldwin the Bearded and 2) Baldwin was taking advantage of Arnulf’s death to conquer Ternois. These seem like pretty big assumptions in the absence of other evidence.

King Lothar and the Origins of Valenciennes and Ename

At some point in the third quarter of the tenth century, several military commands appeared on the river Scheldt, based at Antwerp, Ename and Valenciennes. By the year 1000, their purpose was clear enough: defending Lower Lotharingia against attacks from the counts of Flanders. However, their original purpose is a bit fuzzier. The extant debate in historiography pitches one side which sees them as creations of the mid-960s, after the death of Duke Godfrey of Lower Lotharingia from plague whilst on campaign in Italy; and another which places their genesis in the early-to-mid-970s, responding to the return from exile of the sons of Reginar III, who had a military following, a lot of claims to land, and a grudge. (The wars began in 973 and kept going for years.) Basic to all these claims is the idea that from the very beginning the Flemish marches were a creation of the Ottonian emperors.

However, I wonder if we might not benefit from inverting our perspective. As I have written about before, when Count Arnulf the Great of Flanders died in 965, Lothar launched an invasion to take over as much of Flanders as he could get. Eventually, he grabbed most of the southern portion and placed his own man (Baldwin Baldzo) in the north, watched over by Queen Gerberga and Lothar’s brother Charles. This was presented to the East Frankish king Otto the Great – possibly as a fait accompli – and he signed off on it. One of the reasons he signed off on it was that he was keen to get back to Italy, where he spent most of the years from then until his death, bringing with him his heir Otto II and a surprisingly large chunk of the Lotharingian nobility.

Nothing about this time period is easy or clear – in fact, I’ll put an asterisk next to all the seemingly simple statements of fact which would require a lengthy discursive footnote to justify – but there are hints that Lothar took advantage of the cats being away to try and spread his influence across the Lotharingian frontier. Let’s work north-to-south. From the latter part of the tenth century, we find scattered references in our sources to a ‘county of Ghent’ which did not exist in Arnulf the Great’s time. In 969, however, we find Lothar granting Count Dirk of Holland ‘the forest of Waas in the same county’.* One of our sources explicitly equates the county of Ghent and the pagus of Waas. It may well be that Lothar deliberately sliced off an area of territory around Ghent to give to Dirk in return for the count’s support. Notably, despite the fact that Baldwin Baldzo had been put in place by Lothar as the guardian of the child-count Arnulf II, we find Dirk and Arnulf together in Ghent a few days before Lothar’s grant*.

Even more interestingly, Dirk’s donation was witnessed by Godfrey the Prisoner, count of Verdun. Godfrey’s powerbase lay around Trier and Verdun, and he had no existing ties to the Scheldt region – except one. Probably around this time*, he married Matilda Billung, the widow of Baldwin III of Flanders and Arnulf II’s mother. It is also around this time that Godfrey and Matilda were endowed with a significant estate at Ename. This is extremely unlikely to have belonged to either of them as their own hereditary property, and Matilda is also unlikely to have received it as a dowry from Baldwin. It has been suggested that Ename was a strategic wedding gift from the Ottonians. However, we know that the (by this point recently deceased) Queen Gerberga held estates in this area, just up the river at Krombrugge. Given this, Lothar is as if not more likely a source for this estate than the Ottonians.

Map from Dirk Callebaut, ‘Ename and the Ottonian West Border Policy in the Middle Scheldt Region’, in de Groote & Pieters (eds), Exchanging Medieval Material Culture, p. 224.

This leaves Valenciennes. Valenciennes had been a Carolingian royal estate in the ninth century, but had been badly hit by Viking attacks. I need to do some more reading about this – Leeds’ library doesn’t have the relevant books – but it could well have belonged to Gerberga by the mid-tenth century as well. More significantly, though, Count Arnulf of Valenciennes (whose career would stretch well into the eleventh century) emerges into our sources in the 960s* as a man whose interests and estates were split between Lotharingia and southern Flanders. In fact, he seems to have acted as Queen Gerberga’s advocatus when she donated Meerssen to Saint-Remi in 968*.

However, there is more. Later in 969, Archbishop Odalric of Rheims died. His successor was Adalbero, a canon of the church of Metz. Metz’s cathedral was one of the tenth century’s ‘episcopal finishing schools’, so this is not by itself surprising; but more significant than his ecclesiastical background is the fact that he was Godfrey of Verdun’s brother. In light of all of the above, the shadows thrown by our sources come together to form a picture that looks rather like Lothar was trying to weave a network of alliances covering the whole of northern Lotharingia, infiltrating himself into a area stretching from the Netherlands to Luxembourg. This was probably not, originally, intended as a military rather than a political network. Archaeological excavation at Ename has revealed that at this time it was set up as a trading rather than a military site. The transformation of the site into a military base probably did come in the 970s with the return of the Reginarids, which pushed Godfrey and Arnulf away from Lothar and towards Otto II.

It is questionable whether Lothar’s plan would have worked that well anyway. Godfrey and especially Adalbero turned out to be very canny political operators, neither of whom cared that much for Lothar’s interests. Still, it’s worth thinking about Lothar’s part in the story of these marches, because otherwise we run the risk of putting the Ottonians at the centre of everything, perpetuating the stereotype of the West Frankish rulers as weak and lacking initiative. Quite apart from anything else, this doesn’t explain anything about late tenth century politics. By the 970s and 980s, Lothar thought he could fight and win against the Ottonians, and he was never definitively proven wrong. His schemes came to an end with his death in 986, and the reaction against them led to the end of his dynasty as kings in 987. As such, putting Lothar back in his place as a major Lotharingian player is key to explaining political changes which had repercussions for centuries afterwards.  

Was Flanders Unusually Invested In Relics Around the Year 900?

Recently Months ago (this post has been rescheduled, can you tell?) on Twitter, I was asking if there was a handlist of Carolingian relic-translations. Turns out there is (thanks, Giorgia!). But some of you may have been wondering why I was asking about this. The answer is that I’ve been writing the book sub-chapter about Flanders, and Count Arnulf the Great of Flanders (with whom I have some priors) was described by one contemporary chronicler as ‘relic-mad’, so the question was, what were the significance of relics in the north-east of Gaul? When I wrote my thesis, I wrote that the area of Flanders had seen an usually-large number of a certain kind of relic translations which Arnulf might have been picking up on. This was written with the blithe confidence of someone writing a PhD who can therefore be pretty sure that no-one is going to read the damn thing; but for the book I wanted to get some actual numbers behind my assertion. Was I right?

You know what, kinda. What I discovered reading the big list of relic translations was that – well, above all it’s that there’s a lot of hagiography out there and I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone with the patience to trawl through it(*); but more relevantly it’s that if there’s a disproportion, and there is a bit of one, it’s still not huge (the area of Flanders and its immediate neighbours accounts for roughly one in eight relic translations between 860 and 940), and that the numbers go up and down dramatically depending on what you count. I, for instance, did not count any relics making journeys in order to escape from Viking raids…

What I think still holds up is the more specific point I made in my thesis, which is that there are an unusually-large number of comitally-sponsored relic translations in late ninth-century Flanders, starting with Everard of Friuli and St Calixtus in the 850s and going up to Erchengar of Boulogne and saints Bertulf and Kilian in around 895. There are also, even more importantly, a lot of these being done by Arnulf’s family, starting with Baldwin Iron-Arm and St Amalburga in 870 and then continuing under Baldwin the Bald in the 890s and 900s. Comital relic translations aren’t unknown from the rest of the West Frankish kingdom – although I can think of only about three off the top of my head – but this is quite a dense number.

This being what there is in modern times of one of Baldwin the Bald’s foundations, Bergues-Saint-Winoc (source)

Above all, in an important article from a little while back, Brigitte Meijns pointed out that what the counts of Flanders are doing with their relics around the year 900 is remarkably similar to what the Anglo-Saxon kings are doing with theirs at the same time: i.e., moving them around and pairing them with fortresses and either newly-founded or reformed churches. Given the amount of interplay between Flanders and England – Arnulf’s brother Adalolf is named after Alfred the Great’s father, his own great-grandfather (and step-great-great-grandfather) – this must not be a coincidence.

What this means is that Arnulf was picking up on a local tradition with his support for relic translations. He was intensifying it, as was happening with local ideological traditions all over the kingdom; but it was there in advance, and that’s the important bit.

(*) I still haven’t got round to reading the Divers Calamities of the Abbey of Montier-en-Der and the Miracles of St Berchar and that’s been on the reading list since six months into my thesis…

The Spread of a Charter Prologue

“Not back on it, Joe, still on it.”

Yep, it’s back once again to the wonderful world of arengae and indeed back again to the specific arenga we’ve already covered on this blog. One thing which happened at the recent International Medieval Congress was that it occurred to me that this arenga, in its ninth-century form, is a nice little illustration of something I bang on about a fair bit, which is the portability of Carolingian ideology. So let’s revisit the spread of this prologue to illustrate that.

In 862, King Charles the Bald’s long-standing ally Abbot Louis of Saint-Denis was looking to make a very substantial settlement of his abbey’s administration, fixing the revenues available to the monks versus those available to the abbot. To mark the occasion, someone in the royal chancery – over which Louis presided as archchancellor – came up with a new prologue to the royal diploma formalising the split, as follows:

If We confirm by Our edicts that which Our predecessors, by the ordination of divine providence endowed with regal sublimity and illuminated with celestial honour and stirred up by the devoted admonition and prayers of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to them, decreed be established for the state and convenience of churches and servants of God, and if We consent to their most devoted dispositions and carry out the same most pious gifts to the Lord, We believe that this will far from doubt benefit Us in eternal blessing and the tutelage of the entire realm committed to Us by God, and We are confident that the Lord will repay Us in future…

I found a colour version of this; and having not seen it in the flesh before, gosh, I’m impressed. [source]

It’s pretty fancy, fancy enough to be recognisable, but the sentiment is conventional. It served its purpose for a more-literary-than-usual introduction to a particularly solemn act, and there it rested for five years. At that time, in 867, with Louis dead, his successor as archchancellor, who also happened to be his half-brother, Gozlin, was doing something very similar at the abbey of Saint-Vaast, in Arras. Evidently he, or a member of his entourage, decided this was an appropriately formal occasion to dust off the old prologue, and so it shows up again here.* Five years after that, Gozlin did the same for another one of his abbeys, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The final diploma with this prologue, that to the cathedral of Rouen we mentioned before, was also issued around this time.

Not a huge number, but a revealing case. What we have here is an example of a prologue invented for one particular circumstance at Saint-Denis being re-used for no fewer than three other institutions, one also Parisian but the other two in what would become Normandy and southern Flanders. We can see (except perhaps in the Rouen case) fairly clearly how they spread, but what’s more striking is that they could. Charles the Bald and his court could issue diplomas for recipients in such diverse areas in the same language with no problems.

A century or more later, this would not be the case. Normandy, Flanders, and Paris spoke about how and why their rulers were legitimate in very different ways – you couldn’t easily port something as regionally-specific as Norman identity to the heartland of Capetian rule at Saint-Denis. In the ninth century, by contrast, there is a much more coherent idea of legitimate rule at play, which speaks to people in all these different places, and means that a king and his followers can talk to Saint-Vaast like it’s Rouen and Rouen like it’s Paris.

*Actually many of these have minor variations, but they’re all recognisably from the same stem.

Why is Donkey Kong like tenth-century Flanders?

Birthday post! OK, it’s not actually my birthday (I ain’t putting that on the internet), but it is proximate thereto, which is one reason I haven’t been posting recently. Posts will resume after I’ve moved house and gone to the EHS Conference in two weeks, but recently I discovered something fun which is almost entirely devoid of scholarly content, but tickled me so I’m putting it up here anyway.

I have on occasion hinted at something which I like to call the ‘Arnulf Problem’, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained what it is. Basically, in late tenth-century Flanders, Count Arnulf the Great was having family troubles. One of his nephews rebelled, and so he had him executed, earning the hostility of the executed man’s brother, who was also called Arnulf. These two things, that he was a nephew of Arnulf the Great and that he was also called Arnulf, are the only things we have to identify this man. This is a problem, because ‘Arnulf’ is an incredibly common name. Hence, there are about six potential candidates for our Arnulf – and thus, the Arnulf Problem: not knowing who someone is because everyone has the same damn name.

(Ninth-century historians have a different version of this known as the Three Bernards Problem, although these Bernards at least have better nicknames – Bernard Hairypaws, anyone?)


Segue! (source)

Now, as I say, I recently discovered that medieval history is not the only field where this is true. It turns out fans of the venerable Donkey Kong franchise have to deal with a similar problem. The first appearance of Donkey Kong was in 1981, in the arcade game Donkey Kong, which also featured the first appearance of Mario – then named Jumpman – as an animal-abusing builder’s carpenter. However, in more recent games we have learned that the current Donkey Kong is in fact the second holder of that title, the first being the ape now known as DK’s grandfather Cranky Kong (not to be confused with either Swanky Kong or Lanky Kong…). It is, though, not quite clear when the current Donkey Kong took over from Cranky Kong. It certainly happened by Donkey Kong Island, but although the wiki claims that the Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong 3 is Cranky Kong, in fact there’s no real way of knowing. Essentially, it’s the Arnulf Problem all over again.

In fact, there’s a specific equivalent. At some point in the 960s, a series of English bishops wrote to Count Arnulf of Flanders about various matters. Problem is, because Arnulf I (the Great) was succeeded by Arnulf II, we don’t know which Arnulf they were writing to. It’s even a grandfather-grandson transition (although, unlike the current Donkey Kong, we know exactly what happened to Arnulf II’s father)!

So there you have it – if you’re a gamer, then tenth-century historians face your problems. And if you’re a tenth-century historian, then… let’s see if we can get a Mario Kart tournament going at the next IMC?

Source Translation: A Flemish Genealogy


The most noble Ansbert begat Arnold from Blitchildis, daughter of Chlothar, king of the Franks; and Feriolus and Moderic and Tarsicia.

Arnold begat Arnulf. Arnulf begat Flodulf, Walchisus, and Anschisus.

Walchisus begat the confessor of the lord Wandregisl.

Duke Anschisus begat the elder Pippin.

The elder Pippin, the duke, begat the elder Charles.

The elder Charles, the duke, begat Pippin, Carloman, Grifo, and Bernard from the queen; Remigius and Jerome from a concubine.

King Pippin begat Charles and Carloman and Gisla from Queen Bertrada.

Emperor Charles begat Charles, Louis and Pippin, Rotrude and Bertha from Queen Hildegard; Drogo and Hugh and Rothaida from a concubine.

Emperor Louis begat Lothar, Pippin and Louis, Rotrude and Hildegard from Queen Ermengard; Charles and Gisla from Empress Judith.

Emperor Lothar begat Louis, Lothar and Charles from Queen Ermengard.

King Louis begat Carloman, Louis and Charles from Queen Emma.

King Carloman begat King Arnulf.

King Arnulf begat Louis from Queen Uota; Zwentibald, though, from a concubine.

Emperor Charles begat from Queen Ermentrude four sons and the same number of daughters, that is: Louis, Charles, Carloman and Lothar; and + Judith* and Hildegard, Ermentrude and Gisla.

([in the margin:] You will find more on Judith on the next page.)

King Louis begat Louis and Carloman and Hildegard from Ansgard, called queen; and Charles (posthumously) and Ermentrude from Queen Adelaide.

King Charles begat from Queen Frederuna Ermentrude, Frederuna, Adelaide, Gisla, Rotrude and Hildegard; and from a concubine, Arnulf, Drogo, Roric, and Alpaidis. Then, after Queen Frederuna died, he joined himself in marriage to another, a queen named Eadgifu, from whom he begat a son named Louis of handsome appearance. And later, from Queen Gerberga, Lothar, Charles, Louis and Matilda.


Baldwin, mightiest of counts, joined the beautiful and very prudent Judith to himself in the union of matrimony.

From her, he begat a son, placing on him his own name, that is, Baldwin.

This Baldwin, having taken a wife from the noblest stock of the kings beyond the sea, got from her two sons of good character, of whom he named one Arnulf and his brother Adelolf. This last was, with God’s permission, rescued from the burden of this world, and is known to be buried in the monastery of the holy confessor of Christ Bertin. If he had lived in this world for a longer time, his valour would have been the greatest joy to his people.

Lord Arnulf, now, most venerable of counts and greatly beloved to lord Jesus Christ, excels in prudence, is strong in counsel, shining with all goodness, a most perfect restorer of churches of God, a most pious consoler of widows, orphans, and wards, a most clement dispenser of help in necessity to all who seek it from him.

What more? If someone were to have a hundred mouths and tongues, they could never speak of the gifts of his kindnesses. Indeed, because we can in no way say enough about his thousand goodnesses, let us speak a little of many.

For there is a monastery in the palace of Compiègne, named in honour of the holy mother of God Mary, which he honoured with many donations, that is, in gold and silver and cloths. He often distributed lavish wealth in coins to the clerics serving the Lord therein. We know for certain that the bier of the holy witnesses of Christ Cornelius and Cyprian was decorated by him in the purest silver, weighing ten pounds. He bestowed that noblest of signs, which is called by another name a bell, to the same holy place. Nor is this to be wondered at, because the said place was in fact founded by his great-grandfather Emperor Charles, who was called ‘the Bald’, with workmanship marvellous in every way.

Now, the aforesaid venerable count Arnulf took a wife named Adele, daughter of lord count Heribert and niece of two kings of the Franks, to wit, Odo and Robert. From her, by God’s protection, he begat a son of handsome appearance named Baldwin, beautiful in his face, beloved to God and dear in every way to his followers, noblest of counts, after the example of his father a lover of churches of God, humble, mild, pious, modest, kind, sober, and in addition moreover replete with all goodness.

He, reaching the appropriate age, by God’s concession and his father’s will, took a wife whose nobility was worthy of his own, named Matilda, daughter of a most noble prince named Hermann. From them, by the grace of supernal largess, may his distinguished father and mother see sons of sons (if it pleases God), to the third and fourth generation, and may bodily health and complete safety and absolution from every crime be conceded to him, now and here and in world without end. Amen.

May this be done by the mercy of Almighty God the Father from heaven, amen. May this be done by the concession of His son lord Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. May this be done by the bestowal of the supernal grace of the paraclete Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, amen, amen, amen.

The priest called by the name Witger desires this, that the said count should be healthy for a long time. Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen.

Let whoever reads this venerable genealogy of lord Arnulf, the most renowned prince of this world, and his son the most noble Baldwin, prostrate themselves for them in prayer, and sing and cry with a pure heart:


May God Almighty, a strong lord, pious and clement, king of kings and lord of the lordly, save lord Arnulf, most glorious of counts, and his son, beloved to God, named Baldwin. May He rule, guard, protect and defend, preserve and support, exalt and comfort, safeguard and strengthen them all the days of their lives in this present world. After a long life in this world, with the intervening mertis of all the saints, may they deserve to go to the glory of paradise, by the gift of Him by Whom they were created. Amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen, amen.

Having recently received the offprints of my article on the Flemish succession crisis of 965, I thought that whilst I ponder what exactly to do with about fifty paper copies of the thing, I could share with you an important bit of evidence for late tenth-century Flanders, the Genealogia Arnulfi Comitis. This genealogy was written around 960 by a priest named Witger who was probably but not certainly associated with the Flemish abbey of Saint-Bertin.

Where I have actually been, although the town of Saint-Omer is not what you’d call a tourist hotspot… (photo by author)

It’s a unique document for its period – other noble families in the West Frankish kingdom did not write their genealogies this way – or indeed at all, the big explosion in genealogical literature is in the eleventh century – and they didn’t go out their way to link themselves to the Carolingians the way Witger does here. In fact, the first half of this is an early tenth-century genealogy dictated by Charles the Simple back in the day, which Witger is using to give the tie more credence.

Arnulf was not, after all, particularly closely related to the ruling Carolingian king, Lothar; and his father, Baldwin the Bald (yes, I know), had not been particularly interested in pursuing his Carolingian roots specifically. Sure, Arnulf was (we know from one source) named after the Carolingians’ great ancestor Arnulf of Metz; but his brother was named after their grandfather King Æthelwulf of Wessex, and it seems to be kingship in general rather than dynasty in particular motivating their choice.

This all changed in the 960s. Arnulf had gobbled up a lot of land very quickly over the course of his decades-long reign, and made a lot of enemies on his southern border. His son Baldwin being quite belligerent, he needed a southern ally and fast; and wouldn’t you know it, there was the new king, Lothar, to whom he was distantly related. This genealogy’s oddness comes about because it is the product of a very serious charm offensive to woo the young ruler into supporting Arnulf. Note how the genealogy describes Arnulf’s political actions (i.e. endowing the church at Compiègne – which was the real emotional heart of the descendants of Charles the Bald) as motivated by family concerns – this is the flipside of trying to persuade Lothar that their kinship ties matter.

Did it work? Well, sort of. If you want to know more, you’re going to have to read the article…

Name in Print III


Ahem. Sorry about the vehemence there, but as you can see below the gritty details were peculiarly gritty with this one… Anyway, as advertised a little while ago, I now have the final proofs available of my new article, ‘The young king and the old count: Around the Flemish succession crisis of 965’, which has appeared in the latest issue of the Revue Belge de philologie et d’histoire, vol. 95/2 (2017).

I’ve given the full reference because, unfortunately, there’s not yet any hyperlink, nor is it yet open access. However, because an awful lot of continental journals have a more enlightened approach to this sort of thing than the UK does, it will automatically be on Persee after a two-year cool-off period, and I will update when it does. For the moment, I have a PDF and I’m told some physical offprints are on their way to my post-box soon, if that’s more your jam.

So what’s it about, I hear you ask? Well, it has basically three points. The first is working as a case study of the practice -> ideas -> practice cycle which I think is so important to earlier medieval politics. Here, Count Arnulf of Flanders faces a succession crisis, starts pushing his (fairly distant) kinship ties to the Carolingian king Lothar as part of a charm offensive, only for Lothar to turn these claims back against Flanders after Arnulf’s death. The second, relatedly, is to analyse the following succession crisis to argue that a) it was in fact a crisis – Lothar is behaving badly – and b) even when you’ve prepared for the succession as well as you can, a canny operator with a good claim can snatch an awful lot from under your heirs. The third and last is to finally settle the question which Arnulf Flodoard is talking about when he refers to a nepos of Arnulf of Flanders ‘who has the same name’ rebelling against the count. This is more of a problem than it sounds because Arnulf actually has about six potential nepoti all called Arnulf – although I argue that it’s very likely that the one everyone else thinks it is, Arnulf of Boulogne, wasn’t actually related to him at all.

The gritty details: This one took a looooong time. D’you know some version of this first saw the light of day in 2014? It was my Kalamazoo paper in the second year of my doctoral study… Anyway, I wrote that up for the Mediaeval Journal competition in 2015, a year where actually no-one won. I then assumed they wouldn’t want it and sent it off to the RBPH, only to discover rather later it had been short-listed and TMJ were interested in publishing it – by then, of course, it was with someone else so I had to regretfully decline (which they were very good about) and the competition feedback was in fact very, very useful. I then didn’t hear from the RPBH until I was – quite by chance – in Brussels, at the start of 2017, when the reviewers wanted some fairly hefty re-writes (it was at this point the ideas which became this blog post were cut, and someday I’d like to argue them further; but they weren’t really completely relevant, I guess), meaning that I did at least get an excuse to go to Ghent; to read a Dutch doctoral thesis on the charters of Blandijnberg, but still. Once the re-writes were in, I was actually told fairly quickly – late spring 2017? – that they were OK, but then it just sat in a queue waiting until – finally – it saw the light of day now, in Spring 2018.

How Dangerous was Tenth-Century Politics?

Even if no-one uses the phrase ‘feudal anarchy’ anymore, its spectre haunts the tenth century. This was, after all, the century for which the term ‘dark ages’ was invented, and the French kingdom is supposed to have been the worst. Even among scholars, the idea that violence was endemic and all-consuming still holds its ground. It fits nicely with the period’s reputation as a hot-bed of treachery and murder.

Problem is, it’s not true. Or, at least, it needs to be quite finely nuanced, because there’s two different concepts which get fudged together. The first is that violence was more widespread in this period than previously; the second is that being a political actor was more dangerous. The first question is a matter of some debate – some scholars, Thomas Bisson being perhaps the most notable, argue that lordship became a matter of rule-through-violence and little else, meaning that the average peasant family was at more risk of having their cottage burned down in 1000 than in 850; others, such as Dominique Barthélemy, have argued that this is basically a trick of the light caused by changes in monastic record-keeping practice, and there’s no reason to believe that there was more violence in 1000 as opposed to more complaints. My sympathies in this case lie more with the latter than the former, but for the second question, which is what I’m more interested in, it’s actually irrelevant which is right.

Violence in general doesn’t necessarily mean that political elites are at risk. It certainly can mean that – in the Soviet Union under Stalin, for instance, the Politburo was at much at risk of losing their status and lives as anyone else – but it doesn’t have to; odds of a senior Bolshevik ending up against the wall under Lenin was rather less, even though Russians on the street might still end up a victim of the Cheka.

Bearing this in mind, it is remarkable how safe politics was in tenth-century France. Certainly, there was an extended period of civil war between about 920 and 965, but even then, for people of comital rank and above, odds of dying in battle were slim: other than Count Herluin of Montreuil, whose death is recorded in a much later source, the only member of the West Frankish elite to die in battle was Robert of Neustria, and that battle was so unusual that it’s one of the few events from Charles the Simple’s reign that is reliably noted in virtually every chronicle. Equally, being murdered wasn’t much of a threat either – with one significant category of exceptions, which I’ll go into below, assassination was basically non-existent. To put that in perspective, being a West Frankish noble between 900 and 1000 was less hazardous to your health than being a US president between 1865 and 1965.

Equally, permanent loss of status was unusual. To take one example, when Count Arnold of Douai lost control of Douai, he was given Saint-Quentin to hold by Count Heribert II of Vermandois, keeping his status as a player in the political game. One might lose individual strongholds, but rarely did nobles lose everything; even strongholds were usually able to be at least contested, if not reclaimed.

A 15th-century MSS illustration of William Longsword’s murder. (link)

As I mentioned, there are exceptions to this, and that seems to be people who get on the wrong side of the counts of Flanders. The murders of Archbishop Fulk of Rheims in 900 and Duke William Longsword in 943, exhibits A and B for people arguing that West Frankish politics were unusually dangerous, were both carried out by Flemish counts, and seem to have been controversial at the time – even deliberately-taciturn sources like the chronicler Flodoard of Rheims, who usually a) was no fan of the Norman dukes and b) tried to keep his annals as inoffensive as possible, disapprove of William’s killing, for example. What we’re looking at, I think, is less a general West Frankish culture of violence at the highest level, and more a peculiarly Flemish brutality.

This is not to say that no-one got hurt in forty plus years of warfare, merely that the violence did not extend all the way up to the top of society. In this way, the West Frankish kingdom in these years presents a contrast to, say, late ninth-century Lotharingia, where the tat-for-tat violence begun with the murder of Count Megingoz in 892 was a feature of the political scene for over a decade. It might not have been peaceful, but if you were a count, a duke, or a king, the odds of dying in your bed with all the accoutrements of your status were pretty good.

(If you disagree, please let me know – I’m curious to hear counterarguments to this viewpoint…)