Charter a Week 24, Part 1: Making Allies in Northern Neustria

So far, Charles the Simple’s sole rule has being going reasonably well; in this year, 900, things kick off a bit. There were some major shake-ups at court. Baldwin Iron-Arm of Flanders, who’d been operating as a bit of a third party for most of the civil war, tried to get back in at court. His two local enemies, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims and Count Heribert I of Vermandois, both of whom were high up in court circles, opposed this; so Baldwin had Fulk murdered. No sooner had Charles lost his adopted father-figure to terrible violence than a meeting to determine what to do about Viking raids fell apart spectacularly: Manasses of Dijon, the right-hand man of Richard the Justiciar, apparently said something terrible to Robert of Neustria and so Robert stormed out of court, not to return for another three years.

That some naughty words led to a break of this length speaks to just how fractured things had got at the court. The leading figure of Charles’ reign, Fulk of Rheims, was dead; and with him went both a source of advice (although I question how good that advice always was) and the stability of having an obvious leading figure in the realm. Robert, who had played that role under Odo, may be at fault here: it could well be that the reason that Charles backed Richard and Manasses rather than Robert was that Robert was seen to be claiming something unduly. Robert, though, had been a prime mover in getting Charles on to the throne in the first place. Both William the Pious and Richard the Justiciar had waited to see if Robert would submit to Charles, something he apparently did without hesitation. Charles therefore needed to look for new allies and broaden his appeal.

DD CtS no. 35 (31st October 900, Fleury)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by ordinance of divine clemency king.

If We lend the ears of Our Serenity to the just petitions of Our followers and proffer assent to them, We are seen to imitate the custom of Our predecessors, to wit, Our relatives as king, and through this We do not doubt God will be favourable to Us and We enkindle their souls with devotion to Our fidelity.

Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future as well, know that Our sweetest mother Adelaide and Our beloved kinsman Count Hugh [I of Maine], and as well the illustrious count Ecfrid [from around Artois], approaching the excellence of Our Dignity, humbly asked that We might deign to have made for the holy canons of the monastery of Saint-Pierre in which Saint Ebrulf rests in body, which is called Ouche, in the county of Hiémois, such a precept as might benefit them and their successors in future times, that is, that the estates which antiquity allotted to their uses and the goods named below which were given to the same place by the just desire of God-fearing people might by such a precept be joined to them and their church such that it might remain inviolable in perpetuity.

Finding their petition valid, We commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made and given to the brothers, through which We order and command that from this day forth

these estates – to wit, in the county of Hiémois, the estate of Heugon, Le Pont, Neuville-sur-Touques, Merri, Mardilly, Villiers-en-Ouche, Bocquencé with Le Pont, Bailleul, the mount of Noyen-sur-Sarthe, Acquigny, Macé, Abrontinus, Le Breuil; in the county of Maine, in the vicariate of Joué-l’Abbé, the estate of Nuillé-le-Jalais, which Count Hugh and his mother Rothild gave to Saint-Evroult with all their dependencies; elsewhere, in the vicariate of Sougé-le-Ganelon, 4 quarterées at La Couture; 4 quarterées in Vallas and Gesne-le-Gandelin; in the vicariate of Beaufay, six manses in Bérus with everything beholden to them; in the estate which is called Mont, one manse with a vineyard, with 1 quarterées, which Isembard gave there; and one manse with 1 quarterées in that estate which Basoin gave there; in the estate which is called Crennes, one manse with a vineyard and outwith arable land which Ingelbald gave with all its things to the monastery of Saint-Evroult.

Let no abbot nor any power presume to grant absolutely or benefice anyone with these estates and goods. Rather, let the canons freely hold and canonically dispose of them.

And that this edict of Our precept or confirmation might obtain inviolable vigour, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Herluin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Chancellor Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the day before the kalends of November [31st October], in the third indiction, in the 3rd year of the restoration of the kingdom’s unity, in the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.

Happily in the name of Christ, amen.

The abbey of Saint-Evroult, today in ruins (source)

Fleury is rather outside Charles’ usual itinerary. It’s also right in the middle of the Orléanais, a region which had been important under Odo and which historians usually assume was important under Robert as well; which it was, but probably not this early. Fleury is actually a major royal abbey situated at the border of the interests of William the Pious, Richard the Justiciar, Charles the Simple and Robert of Neustria, and Charles’ presence here must therefore be significant.

Just as significant is who he’s granting the diploma to. Hugh I of Maine is the son of Roger of Maine, whom Charles had probably backed in a dispute over possession of Le Mans in the 890s against a man named Gozlin, and Rothild, daughter of Charles the Bald and past supporter of Charles’ actions. By doing this, Charles is trying to build up his allies in northern Neustria, perhaps against Robert but perhaps in tandem with trying to win Robert back on side. By this point, the narrative sources have ended and won’t start up again until 919, so much of the next several months is going to be fairly speculative.

One final thing to note, though, is that the area around Saint-Évroult – in modern-day southern Normandy – is apparently fine. Whatever is going on with Viking raids in what is going to become Normandy, it evidently hasn’t yet got to the point where secular or ecclesiastical structures of governance and control have broken down.

Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 1

Well, my list of the #top10charters has now come to an end, so here and in an upcoming post I’ll list them for posterity, and for those of you not following me on Twitter. It was a fun little experiment. What makes a charter top ten material is wildly subjective: some of them show interesting things about the way documents were used, others about specific historical moments, others about longer-term trends; some were the most elevated of politics, and others snapshots of individual life. Into this latter category falls:

No. 10: Adalelm the knight donates some land and a silver crucifix to the abbey of Fleury, 975.

“… I offer to our Lord and Saviour… an exquisite silver cross… with the wish and desire that He who, by his death hanging on the wood of the Cross, destroyed death and defeated the Devil might deign to wipe out the weight of my crimes…”

It goes without saying that the Cross has always been important for Christians, and this was no less true for tenth-century Christians. The abbots of Saint-Martin of Tours – who, by 975, had also been the Robertian rulers of Neustria for almost a century, and whose contemporary representative Hugh Capet was Adelelm’s lord and hosted the assembly at which this gift was made – had as one of the key visual representations of their authority the fact that they signed their documents, explicitly, with the sign of the Holy Cross. Nonetheless, Adalelm is doing something interesting here. He’s participating in a renewed Cross-focused spirituality, and he’s also picking up on an artistic trend for making large, monumental crucifixes, which at this time were becoming more common in the Ottonian empire. This was quite important for the Church in the area around Orléans – this 975 charter is actually the first evidence for monumental crucifixes in the Orleanais. And it was pretty substantial – thanks to a later description of it, it seems likely that this cross was made of about ten kilos of silver.

In light of the solemnity of the occasion, the charter offers a meditation on the role of the Cross in the salvation of mankind, and it’s this which makes it worthy of a spot on this list. The role of charters was to communicate information, but this information wasn’t just legal. A charter was as much a sermon as a notification of donation – in the charter, Adalelm communicates to the audience not just that he’s given Fleury some holy bling and land near Sens, but why he’s done it and how the sacrifice of Jesus works for him and the whole world.

No. 9: Albert III of Habsburg donates a hunting horn to the abbey of Muri, 1199.

“Let everyone who sees this horn know that Count Albert… enriched this horn with sacred relics…”

Photo by author.

As the picture indicates, this is not a single sheet of parchment, or a cartulary copy of a text. This is in fact an ivory horn. But it is no less a charter – the text inscribed on it uses the formulae of charters, albeit in this case of a short charter. What’s particularly interesting about this one is that the donation and the text recording it are identical. This isn’t how we use documents nowadays, but it was much more common in the earlier medieval period. At least in some cases, the issuance of a (parchment) charter text served itself as a symbol of the donation, aiding in the performance of handing over property from one party to another. This horn is probably the epitome of this way of using the written word.

No. 8: Robert of Neustria donates land to the abbey of Saint-Denis, 923.

“…by divine clemency, because the situation made it necessary, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to steer the ship of the kingdom…”

This is the only charter on this list that isn’t important to me because of work I’ve done on it, but rather because, if it weren’t for Geoffrey Koziol’s work on this charter, I’d never have worked on any of the others. We’ve mentioned here before how Robert of Neustria rose in rebellion against Charles the Simple; and, as Koziol, demonstrates very clearly, this document is not simply a donation, but a manifesto very specifically justifying Robert’s actions and his claim to the throne. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says, but his article is fantastic.


No. 7: Geoffrey Grisegonelle confirms his reformation of Saint-Aubin d’Angers, 966.

“…so that the mercy of the pious Redeemer might be well-disposed to concede His help and aid to me, Geoffrey, caught up in the whirlwinds of worldly wars…”

I’m going to be a bit less fulsome with these last two. Here, it’s because I wrote about this charter for my thesis and when that eventually becomes a book, this document is going to feature prominently; so, you know, spoiler warning…

What I will say about it is, whatever my own very particular theories, this charter commemorates what may be the single most cynical ‘reform’ of a monastery in the tenth century. Saint-Aubin had been ruled by Geoffrey’s ancestors as count of Anjou as lay abbots, but by the 960s it was under the rule of his brother Guy, who might have been a cleric but probably wasn’t a monk. A very strange charter exists in which Guy appears to say that he tried and failed to be a good abbot, and so turned it over to monks out of Saint-Remi de Rheims. However, Geoffrey appears to have used the opportunity to assert his control over the abbey, and Geoffrey’s son Fulk Nerra even more so: the counts of Anjou appear to have disposed of Saint-Aubin’s land to reward their own followers. This lack of interest in reform for its own sake comes through in the document itself: ‘Supposedly,’ Geoffrey says,  ‘monasticism flourished in the monastery once upon a time; but because there’s no obvious proof, We don’t care whether it flourished or not’.

No. 6: Liutgard of Vermandois and Godeleva make a bequest of land to the abbey of Saint-Père de Chartres, 979.

“I myself, and another woman dedicated to God, Godeleva by name, joined to me in both body and soul…”

This one I won’t say anything about at all, because I have promised a whole blog post about the Lesbian Nun Property Magnate Commune of Chartres before, and by thunder, a whole blog post you will get… Possibly soon, although not this week. The week after is a possibility, though. Also, I’ll be posting part 2 of this countdown soon, outside my normal schedule for posts – so stay tuned!

Helgaud of Fleury, Buzzkill

Medieval humour doesn’t often tend to be all that funny. There are a few exceptions – Liutprand of Cremona springs to mind, although that story is definitely NSFW – but in general there aren’t many jokes in my period, or at least laugh-out-loud ones. There are various reasons this is so. Take this example from the Historia Normannorum of Dudo of Saint-Quentin:

‘The bishops said to Rollo, who didn’t want to kiss the king’s feet, “Anyone receiving such a gift [as Normandy] should want to kiss the king’s foot”. He replied: “I will never bend my knees to anyone else’s, nor kiss anyone’s foot.” And so, compelled by the Franks’ requests, he commanded one of his men to kiss the king’s foot. He immediately grabbed the king’s foot and brought it to his mouth, remaining standing to kiss it, and so threw the king on his back. And thus a huge gale of laughter arose amongst the people. Otherwise, King Charles and Duke Robert and the counts and magnates, bishops and abbots, swore an oath of the catholic faith to the patrician Rollo…’


And so it goes on.

I’ve tried to be as generous as possible with my translation here, but there’s several ways in which this isn’t funny. First, the phrase ‘the king’s foot’ (pedum regis) is repeated too many times. Second, Dudo adds the crowd’s laughter as an eleventh-century laugh track. Third, the timing’s off: with the ‘otherwise’ (caeterum), Dudo moves quickly onto something a bit more dignified.

Today, though, I think I may have found an example of someone sabotaging a joke deliberately. First, however, I need to introduce our protagonists. Gerbert of Rheims, also called Gerbert of Aurillac, was a monk and bishop of the latter part of the tenth century. He was famed for his learning, being the man who introduced the abacus to Europe, and ran a school at Rheims with a number of illustrious pupils. Politically, he was a close associate of Archbishop Adalbero of Rheims, and, as his letter collections reveal, spent much of his time brown-nosing the Ottonian rulers of Germany. When Adalbero died, Gerbert sought the see of Rheims for himself – but the new king, Hugh Capet, gave it to a man named Arnulf instead. When Arnulf took the wrong side in the civil war which followed Hugh’s accession, Gerbert tried to take advantage and gain the see for himself. He did become archbishop, but Arnulf’s deposition proved hugely controversial, and Gerbert was out on his ear after a few years. He then became important in the court of the young emperor Otto III, becoming first Archbishop of Ravenna and then pope under the name Sylvester II. He died in 1003, leaving behind a decidedly mixed reputation.


The other man is Helgaud of Fleury. Helgaud was a monk at the abbey of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, AKA Fleury, in the early-to-mid eleventh century. Fleury was one of the most important monasteries in the kingdom, and under Abbot Abbo in the early eleventh century, it became both a centre of learning and a focal point for a kind of church politics which were, if not actively radical, at least quite controversial. In particular, Abbo pushed for the exemption of his monastery from episcopal oversight, and in the process managed to spectacularly piss off several important bishops. In the 1030s, Helgaud wrote a biography of King Robert the Pious, and, as Robert was a pupil of Gerbert’s, he included a brief synopsis of Gerbert’s life:

‘This Gerbert, having received the archbishopric of Rheims by the gift of King Hugh owing to his world-renowned knowledge, adorned it splendidly with everything a church needs, although not for very long. Having abandoned that bishopric, he was made governor of Ravenna (rector Ravennatium) by Otto III; from whence he quickly advanced to the apostolic see of St. Peter. He carried out many good works, chiefly in giving alms, which he took care to do while he lived faithfully. Among other things, he made a joke – which he found very funny – about the letter R: “Gerbert rose from R to R, and then became pope of R”, clearly indicating by this that the three bishoprics which he received, ruled and held after professing a monastic life under the rule of St. Benedict, all begin with the sign of this letter R.’

Left to its own devices, that would be a reasonably amusing joke; not hilarious, I admit, but enough to raise a wan smile. Helgaud, however, utterly kills it by over-explanation – I mean, thanks Helgaud, we’d worked out what he meant by the three Rs.

Thinking on it, though, I think he’s doing it on purpose. Helgaud clearly doesn’t want to criticise him too explicitly, but he also evidently doesn’t like Gerbert all that much. He specifies that Gerbert didn’t stay in Rheims very long and that he abandoned (derelicto) the see. He says that he carried out many good works, and then, as an example, gives us a mildly-humorous play on words, painting Gerbert in the process as one of those annoying people who laughs at their own jokes: it might be funny enough, but it’s not going to make anyone laetus et hilaris.

I think the clue here is that he says that Gerbert held three bishoprics after being made a monk. Precisely what the criticism here is I’m unsure of – maybe that, as a monk, he was too embroiled in worldly affairs (Abbo of Fleury once described the difference between monks and other clerics as being between the better and the best); maybe that he was an inconstant pastor of his sees. In any case, this sentence seems to indicate that Helgaud had some kind of ideological opposition to Gerbert. He may not have been able to do much about it without it reflecting badly on the king whose life he was writing, but at least he could have his own little revenge: taking a joke which Gerbert was clearly very proud of and ruining it for posterity.

*(not the original one, but it was definitely Open Source when I used it the first time…)