Lies, Damn Lies, and Fanfiction

There’s a kind of source-critical fallacy that gets used a fair bit.  In its most boiled-down form, it goes something like this: “The author of Text X wouldn’t have been able to get away with saying ‘Y’ if it weren’t true, because its audience would have known they were lying!” This is, no two ways about it, wrong. I don’t think this is particularly controversial, but today I want to talk about a particular text I’ve found illustrating that this is wrong, because it does so in a particularly interesting way that reveals an intriguing aspect of both the writing and reception of medieval texts.

There are, of course, bad-faith efforts to propagate untrue stories. Political propaganda is an obvious reason (and Dudo of Saint-Quentin naturally springs to mind as a purveyor of alternative facts that anyone in the audience would have known were incorrect even if emotionally satisfying), as is forgery over legal disputes. There’s actually a whole literature on medieval forgery I’m not going to go into here, because I want to go in a different direction. Here’s a charter:

ARTEM no. 2077 (probably c. 1100)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, amen.

I, Odo [II, r. 995-1037], count palatine of the Franks, and my wife Ermengard, wish to make it known to both the present and the future that we, making use of sound advice and reinforced by the salubrious example of good men, beholding that the things which are of the present world never endure in the same state and setting our eyes on the things which are to come, to wit, which are unchangeable and eternal, for the redemption of our souls and the salvation of our successors, give a part of our goods pertaining to Château-Thierry, that is, the redecimation of grain and wine and other crops, to the canons of the holy mother of God Mary and St Seneric in the same place, to increase their provisions, to be possessed in perpetual right. But that this gift might stand more firmly and never be shattered by anyone, those who were present at this our gift confirmed what we had done with their assent and presence, and damned anyone who invades or perverts this deed, whosoever they may be, with a perpetual anathema; they were: Seguin, archbishop of Sens [r. 977-999] and Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims [r. 845-882], Fulbert, bishop of Chartres [r. 1006-1028], who all came to my court.

The witnesses to this matter are: the aforesaid archbishops and Bishop Fulbert; Thierry, dean of the church; Prior Haimeric, Cantor Erlebald, Saxwalo, my seneschal; Isembard, later count [of Rosnay, fl. 1030s], Viscount Odo, Hezelin the knight, Walcher of Le Boschet and Wibald the Rich and Hagano of Meaux.

Also I, Bishop Berald of Soissons [r. c. 1020-1052] praised and confirmed under an anathema those things written above.

I, Pope Alexander II [r. 1063-1071], at the petition of the glorious Count Odo, praise this same and confirm it with my seal, and by the authority of St Peter and Paul and Ourself, henceforth forbid anyone from presuming to steal the goods of the same church.

Notre-Dame de Château-Thierry is so obscure I can’t find a photo of it, so here’s the actual castle (source)

So, as you can see from the dates of the people in this charter, the problem here is obvious: none of them lived at the same time as one another. Moreover, if you know enough about Church history to be impressed by this assemblage, you would also have known that. Whatever this author is trying to do, therefore, is saying ‘Y’ safe in the knowledge that anyone who understands the text knows ‘Y’ is untrue. Their aim, clearly, is not to convince anyone that this is factually accurate.

Instead, this is fanfiction. Very high-brow, ecclesiastical, fanfiction; but fanfiction nonetheless. In fact, it’s specifically wish-fulfilment self-insert fanfiction, with the entire community of Notre-Dame de Château-Thierry as the Mary Sue. Fanfiction Studies has some overlap the world of medieval scholarship – I’ve read a reasonable case to see Dante’s Divine Comedy as self-insert fanfic – but (perhaps unsurprisingly?) it hasn’t had much to do with diplomatic. Moreover, I’m clearly not the right person to do a full deep-dive into this, although I’d really like it if someone else did. Moreover, what the bit of literature I’ve poked around in dealing with ‘Mary Sues’ tends to do is reinterpret the character archetype as expressing the resistance of oppressed groups such as women and queer people; this resistance evidently does not have a one-to-one correspondance with the interests of a twelfth-century male monastic community.

Still, there’s some overlap between the purposes of self-insert fanfic and this charter. We tend to think of charters as being aimed at outside audiences, but recent work has emphasised the importance of forgeries for the internal identity of institutions. It’s this context which we’re dealing with here, I think. Bonnstetter and Ott have argued (in a piece whose writing style is quite annoying but which is nonetheless useful to think with) that to write self-insert characters is to create a space where one’s self ‘is accepted and acknowledged, celebrated and loved, not by strangers but by people (media characters [or in this case famous Churchmen]) [one] respects and values’. (In the article, this is framed in terms of resistance to sexist societal expectations regarding female appearance. This, again, doesn’t apply to twelfth-century canons; but the wider point works.)

The fanfic analogy, moreover, explains why this is done in a fictional context. After all, the point of forgeries is generally to be plausible and this is self-evidently not. Yet in modern times, people find personal validation from gaining the approval of people who aren’t real. There’s no reason that people in the Middle Ages couldn’t have felt the same way. We don’t know much about Notre-Dame de Château-Thierry, not enough to work out what pressures were acting upon it around 1100, but the general outline is clear enough. Even if Hincmar of Rheims and Alexander II could never have met in real life, let alone have validated the abbey, the community’s identity could nonetheless be strengthened and expressed by the story that, once upon a dream, they did.     

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.

I’ll Bite Your Kneecaps Off! Boso of Provence and Keeping Going after Massive Political Damage

Way back in the day when I first started doing Charter A Week, I did a fair few posts on Boso of Provence. That was a while ago now, so for those who are just joining us, Boso of Provence was the erstwhile brother-in-law of the West Frankish king Charles the Bald. He married the daughter of the king of Italy, and enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in the last few years of Charles’ reign, a prominence he more-or-less managed to keep up in the reign of Louis the Stammerer. After Louis died in 879, however, Boso ignored his two teenage sons and had himself declared king at the fortress of Mantaille by a congress of Burgundian and Provençal bishops. However, in 880 a combined force of Carolingian rulers led an army south to deal with him, taking Mâcon and besieging Vienne. Most of Boso’s key supporters abandoned him; and this is where we left him: late in 880, a neutered force, his support lopped off, destined to be a hedge-king skulking about the mountains of the French Prealps for the rest of his life. This is, I would venture to say, basically the standard story about Boso. However, since I wrote those posts, I’ve come across a few things and I’ve started to wonder whether Boso was less a spent force and more the Carolingian political equivalent of MRSA.

Boso’s kingdom. c. 883 (source)

You see, after the success of the 880 campaign, the Carolingian rulers leading the army started to drift apart. Charles the Fat wanted to get to Italy to succeed his late brother Karlmann of Bavaria, and Louis III was panicked by reports that his northern army had met a serious defeat at the hands of a Viking force in Flanders. The end result was that they buggered off to do their own thing, leaving Carloman II to handle the anti-Boso action. And, with his support not entirely eradicated, he seems to have been able to slowly grow stronger and resist the Carolingian armies.(*) For one thing, it took another two years to take Boso’s fortified capital of Vienne itself. An attack in 881 appears to have done nothing, certainly not in terms of Boso’s support. Indeed, Regino of Prüm (writing a bit later) takes care to note that none of Boso’s supporters ever betrayed him to the Carolingians despite significant material inducement to do so. Archbishop Otrand of Vienne, one of his most important supporters, had gone so far as to imprison the bishop of Geneva. At the same time, Bishop Adalbert of Maurienne attacked and imprisoned Bishop Berner of Grenoble. These two bishops had been at each other’s throats for years, but it is possible that one or the other of them was a supporter of Boso, giving Adalbert his excuse for invasion.

With that said, Vienne was taken in 882, and the devastation was massive – a charter a few years later was dated by the ‘destruction of Vienne’. This left Boso reliant on the support of the mountainous provinces of eastern Provence, and that wasn’t a great base for launching any serious attacks on his opponents. Still, there are signs Boso had a resurgence towards the end of his life. In 887, Count Odilo of Die issued a charter dated by Boso’s reign as king. We also have signs that he was being sought ought by Provençal churchmen: around this time he issued a lost diploma for the church of Valence, and we also have evidence of grants to the churches of Vienne and Lyon (although it is possible that these might have been death-bed grants, it still implies there was enough of a tie there for these churches to accept some ideologically pointed gifts, such as crowns). If we’re feeling generous, there might even be some evidence from silence – despite his importance in the politics of the 870s and early 880s, Bishop Adalgar of Autun is conspicuously absent from the sources for the reign of Charles the Fat, which could possibly hint at his renewed support for Boso.

We also have a little bit of evidence for Charles the Fat’s response to this. Regino says that he allowed the Viking fleet which besieged Paris in 885-886 into Burgundy to punish a revolt against him there. This can’t be true of the bits of Burgundy the fleet actually went to – Sens, Auxerre, and Langres all show up as loyal to Charles in summer 886 – but it could indicate Charles knew about rumblings from Boso’s old heartlands in southern Burgundy and northern Provence. A more problematic, but potentially more interesting, source is a diploma of Charles the Fat for the church of Nevers, dating to 885. It claims to have been petitioned for by William the Pious, son of Aquitaine’s most important magnate Bernard Plantevelue. In the diploma, Charles recalls ‘the unbroken loyalty of [William’s] father Bernard… [who] with tremendous courage, inner strength, and unending loyalty set himself against… the tyrant Boso and his followers’, in the course of which battle he died. Now, as this diploma currently stands it is a forgery of c. 950-1100 (not least because we know Bernard Plantevelue was still alive in summer 886!). However, it’s a weird thing for a forger in the decades around the millennium to toy with – William and Bernard’s family had long died out by then, and their memory was kept, if anywhere, at Cluny (in the Mâconnais) or in Auvergne, not at Nevers. However, they had ruled Nevers back in the day, and maybe there was some information the forger had access to – otherwise, it’s a very odd thing to put in there, as it doesn’t serve the church’s interests and it doesn’t add formal authenticity to the document. If Bernard Plantevelue did die against Boso in autumn 886, then, it could be a sign that Charles was taking his old rival more seriously than historians have yet realised.

Boso never got the chance to do more, because he died in early 887. And there’s a lot of maybes in the above. Nonetheless, I think most of them are plausible maybes. Even then, even accepting most of them all they add up to is a slower decline in the early 880s and a bit of a recovery in the late 880s. Still, that’s more than he’s been allowed thus far. It also makes his career more explicable: rather than an enormous rise and catastrophic fall, it lets Boso’s kingship evolve more naturally, and more accurately reflects the Carolingians’ ultimate failure to crush him completely once they were in a dominant position.

(*) PSA: if your doctor proscribes you a course of antibiotics, be sure to finish it even if you’re feeling better before the end!

Horrible Hamburg Harangues – Help!

This blog post is a call for help. I’m keeping pushing on with the wandering arengae, and there’s one which has me stumped. This is a tale of two diplomas, Recueil des actes de Robert Ier et Raoul, no. 14 (D R 14, for convenience), and Die Urkunden Ludwigs des Frommen, no. †338 (D LP †338). The first of these, issued in 927-930, confirms Bishop Adalem of Laon’s refoundation of the collegiate community of Saint-Vincent and the second, issued in 833, founds the archiepiscopal see of Hamburg-Bremen. Let me give you the texts (shared text in bold):

D R 14 D LP †338

If, having inspected the particular necessities of any one of Our followers, royal authority advises they should be helped out, by how much more does it fairly and worthily pertain to the due oversight of everything that We should endeavour to take in everything pious and solicitous care of the catholic and apostolic Church, which Christ redeemed with His precious blood and committed to us, the sons of which we became through adoption, to rule and protect; and so that We are seen to show due diligence for its success and exaltation, We should provide necessary and useful dispositions for its need and advantage.    

If, having examined the particular necessities of any of Our followers, imperial authority advises they should be helped out, by how much more does it fairly and worthily pertain to the due oversight of everything that one ought to take in everything pious and solicitous care of the catholic and apostolic Church, which Christ redeemed with His precious blood and committed to Us to rule and protect; and so that We exhibit due diligence for its success and exaltation, We should indeed provide necessary and useful new dispositions for the new matters pertaining to its need and advantage.     

Fairly close, no? This leads us to the obvious question: how come they share the same text?

1024px-hamburg_domkirche
What Hamburg Cathedral used to look like, when it existed (source)

This is more complicated than it seems. First of all, you may have noticed the little dagger in D LP †338. This indicates that it’s a forgery. In fact, the early history of the diocese of Hamburg-Bremen is beset by forgery. This is a problem for me not least because as far as I can tell none of the distinguished scholars who’ve looked at Louis’ diploma for Hamburg have known about Ralph’s for Laon… So, when was this arenga actually written, if not in 833? The most recent author on this matter, Eric Knibbs, has placed it actually in Louis the Pious’ reign, and I’m inclined to agree with him because there are quite close verbal parallels between this diploma and the acts of the 829 Council of Paris which make Louis’ reign the best time for it to be composed. In any case, I think D LP †338 must be precedent to D R 14, because that addition about becoming sons through adoption doesn’t quite make sense, because the plural there must refer to the whole Church rather than specifically to Ralph, and so conflicts with the sentence as a whole which clearly does mean the king personally. This suggests it’s a later addition to an existing text.

Second, is D R 14 legit? The act’s editor thinks yes, not least because although the original doesn’t survive anymore it did long enough for there to be partial facsimiles and these apparently appear like genuine early tenth-century diploma script. There’s also the fact that Saint-Vincent was reformed as a Benedictine monastery in 961 and any time after that seems like a weird place to forge a diploma referring to the community as one of canons. On the other hand, Bishop Adalelm’s reign is an equally-strange place for Ralph to be issuing a diploma heavily based on an act for Hamburg, as for pretty much that whole period he’s a) not in control of Laon, b) at war with the East Frankish king, or c) both.

This raises the question of what the terminus ante quem might be for these acts. For various other reasons of intertextuality, I think that the early 980s is the case for both – there are acts of 982 and 983 which clearly depend on these as their precursors. Whatever’s happening here, these arengae can’t be later than the latter part of the tenth century.

So we have two possibilities, then. First, these acts are dependent on one another. If this is the case, I think that D R 14 is vastly more likely to be based on D LP †338 than vice-versa. Second, there’s a third source. Given all of the above, I am warmer towards this idea than I was previously; but that raises the question of what it is… So here’s my question to you all: what are the links between Hamburg and a) Laon or b) the West Frankish crown in the ninth and/or tenth centuries which might lead towards Ralph’s chancery (probably) taking Louis’ act as its model? Failing that, what might the third document be? Over to you…

[Addendum a few days later: on reflection, the most likely place for a link seems to be Corbie, but then we face the problem of how you get from Corbie to Laon… A smaller problem, perhaps, but still real!]

Charter a Week 16: Smoke-Filled Rooms in Neustria

For once we’re not going to be looking at high politics, but something a little more domestic. We have actually met today’s charter before, back when I did that list of my top 10 charters. Given that you don’t need much context in advance here, we may as well kick straight off.

DD RR no. 37 (13th June 892, Tours)

A notice of how Prior Erfred, with Adalmar, advocate of Saint-Martin, came into the city of Le Mans on Monday, the eighth kalends of May [24th April], before Count Berengar, and lodged a complaint that his vassal, Patrick by name, was wrongfully retaining the goods of the brothers which Guy had once held due to his advocacy.

Then Count Berengar responded that he was not only his vassal, although he held something from his benefice, but rather a vassal of his friend Robert, because he held more from him in benefice. But he immediately restored that which pertained to him, for love of Saint Martin, saying ‘If he wants to enjoy my benefice, he won’t retain any of the land of Saint-Martin anymore.’ And thus they left.

Still, he was unwilling to give up these goods, but rather began to issue threats. Then Erfred and Adalmar went to Tours, on the ides of June [13th June], into the presence of lord Robert, count and abbot, and they said to him that the canons of Saint-Martin wanted to lodge a complaint before King Odo – who was then present in the city of Tours – concerning his vassal Patrick, who unjustly held the brothers’ goods.

He said, ‘There won’t be a need for you to lodge a complaint before the king, because I’m their abbot and I should do justice regarding others much more than I should consent to injustice done by others. But now, Adalmar, tell me, by the oath you have sworn to me, how many shields you saw he could provide for my service.’

‘Not more,’ he replied, ‘than three.’

‘What, I’m supposed to steal their goods from Saint Martin and the brothers and lose my soul [see Matthew 16:26] for three shields? Who,’ he said, ‘has a wadium?’

Then Erfred took out a dagger from the scabbard which he had with him and gave it to him. He extended the dagger to Adalmar the advocate and said to him, ‘You should take this, because you’re their advocate. And if it is necessary, you will fight for them.’ And thus was the complaint resolved.

Enacted in the presence of the noble men who confirmed below.

Sign of the holy cross of lord abbot Robert, who confirmed this notice with his own hand and commanded his followers to confirm it. Sign of Viscount Atto [of Tours]. […]

I, Maimbert, having been asked to do so, wrote and subscribed, in the city of Tours, on the ides of June, in the 4th year of the reign of lord king Odo.

So, first off, it’s a strange little document. Roman Deutinger for one has argued that it’s not authentic– none of his reasons stand up (to give the least technical one, why would a twelfth-century forger not mention the name of the land in question?), but you can see why he’s puzzled. This looks a lot more like a little bit of a saint’s life than the documents we’ve been seeing so far.

 That’s really more of a problem on our end, though. A ‘charter’ is a kind of historiographical label of convenience. Most ‘charters’ resemble one another perfectly well, but there are several which start pushing into other forms of texts. One of my favourites to illustrate this is something which by every formal external characteristic is a charter, but which is in its text a combination saint’s life/property inventory. So it’s entirely plausible for scribes to be writing these little vignettes.

What does the vignette show? Partly, it shows the growth of Neustrian governance – note the presence and role of Adalmar the advocate, which we’ve discussed before. Adalmar’s role as an enforcer for the brothers is relatively new; we’ll be talking more about this when we reach 908, but here let’s just note that this charter relies on an office which may not have existed in 877 when this series started.

But it also shows the many recourses available for people seeking to resolve disputes. It’s clear that the participants here can slide between formal and informal methods of dispute settlements, and that this had different weights. There’s no particular reason that formal methods were better or more just. The implication Robert gives when the brothers threaten to go to Odo is that they’re rather more embarrassing. This is how studies of dispute settlement have argued that conflict resolution in large chunks of the middle ages happened – the participants switching between different venues to get a favourable result – and it’s nice to see it in action here.

The final thing is a question of scale. Patrick has to provide men for Robert’s military forces, but it’s clear that three men is not considered a major addition certainly to Robert’s armies and perhaps to Patrick’s. This suggests a certain minimum size of aristocratic military forces in the tenth century, although it would be easier to say more if we knew anything else about Patrick. He never shows up again in Saint-Martin’s charter record and my suspicion – given the role of Count Berengar, who was probably based in Rennes, that he’s a point man near the Breton border. This has implications for his social status and certainly for his military preparedness; it’s just a shame we can’t go into any detail about it.

Charter a Week 3, part 2: Adalgar of Autun

So, Boso is now king. But one man was missing from the Convention of Mantaille, one key figure: Bishop Adalgar of Autun. Like Boso, Adalgar had been one of Charles the Bald’s most important courtiers, and as bishop of Autun and abbot of Flavigny, he was very rich and powerful. He was also one of Boso’s most important supporters, and the first royal diploma issued in Boso’s name was for Adalgar and his church.

DD Provence no. 17 (8th November 879, Lyon)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Boso, by grace of God king.

If We take heed in giving help to the pious petitions of servants of God, We in no way doubt that God will be more propitious to Us because of it in the world present and to come.

Wherefore, let it be known to the concord of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us that Adalgar, venerable bishop of Autun, coming before the mildness of Our Sublimity, made an appeal that We might confirm by a writing of Our authority the authorities and precepts of the kings, that is, Our predecessors, for the vigour of greater firmness; and strengthen them in accordance with what is customary.

We yielded to his petitions as freely as We beheld it would more fully benefit Us.

Therefore, We establish, confirm, and by confirming decree that every precept which was made for the said church by Our ancestors, that is, kings and emperors, should endure unbroken for all time, both those concerning both the abbey of Flavigny and the estate of Bligny-sur-Ouche and also concerning the villa of Lucenay-le-Duc, and as well concerning the estate of Tillenay, as well as also concerning all the things of the same church. Let the precepts and authorities be strengthened by Our rule, and let them endure undisturbed.

We eternally delegate and, in delegating, concede to the said church and its bishop Adalgar the hill which is called Semur, with the church which is thereon and two mills, and We transfer it by royal custom from Our right into the right and dominion of Saint-Nazaire.

But that this confirmation of Our authority might obtain greater vigour, confirming it below with Our own hands, We commanded it be sealed below with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Boso, most glorious of kings.

Elibert the chancellor witnessed on behalf of Archbishop Aurelian [of Lyon].

Given on the 6th ides of November [8th November], in the 12th indiction, in the 1st year of the reign of lord Boso, most glorious of kings.

Enacted at the city of Lyon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

So there’s a few things happening here. The first thing to note is that the late ninth-century diplomas of the church of Autun are all fairly suspect, not least because of Adalgar, who composed a lot (like, a lot) of forged royal diplomas for his church. I think this one is fairly solid, not least because at least one of the properties – that of Semur, which we’ll talk about later – doesn’t show up again in later royal diplomas. It’s quite possible that Adalgar had a hand in creating this diploma, but that would be fair enough – he was very shortly to become Boso’s archchancellor, and the two men were sufficiently close that there wouldn’t be much point in faking it when the genuine article could be acquired easy enough.

Anyway, this diploma was issued only a little while after Boso’s coronation, which took place in Lyon. Adalgar, who had apparently been an early and enthusiastic supporter of Boso, was rewarded for his loyalty by a visible display of his importance to the new king. Boso, equally, was able to confirm the acts of his predecessor Louis the Stammerer – a number of these estates, notably Bligny, had been confirmed within the previous few months.

Circuit cyclo entre Brenne et Ozerain le 27 mai 2015
Semur-en-Auxois’ castle today. (source)

But then there’s Semur, which is probably Semur-en-Auxois (although there is a minority opinion which makes it Semur-en-Brionnais). Semur, whose name means ‘old walls’, has a marvellous defensive position, on top of a granite bluff and surrounded on three sides by a river, and there was a late Carolingian castle there. (I have been trying to find archaeological studies of Semur to see how precisely we can date Semur’s early fortifications, so far without luck.) Between Semur, Flavigny, and Lucenay-le-Duc, this diploma places Adalgar right at the heart of the Auxois, on the northern border of Boso’s sphere of influence. It may well be that this diploma, in addition to rewarding Adalgar, is entrusting him with the defence of this northern region against the inevitable Carolingian counterattack. Next week, we’ll have a look at exactly how that went.

Charter a Week 2: The Synod of Troyes and Papal Monasteries

The big story of 878 – indeed, the big story of the entire reign of the short-lived Louis the Stammerer (notoriously, one scholar spent their PhD studying Louis’ reign for longer than Louis had actually reigned… I’ve read that PhD thesis, actually, it’s quite good) – was the synod of Troyes. Pope John VIII, beset by Italian factional politics, journeyed to Arles and then to Troyes, where he held a lengthy synod with all of the Gaulish bishops and crowned King Louis. Today’s charter is one of several documents from this synod, and I’ve chosen it because it shows just how big the synod was, and illustrates an important port about papal monasteries.

MGH Conc. 5, no. 9L (18th August 878, Troyes) = JE no. 3176

Bishop John, servant of the servants of God, to all bishops throughout all the provinces of Gaul, abbots, priests, and all similar orders given over to divine ministry, as well as counts, viscounts, vicars, hundredmen (vicarii, centenarii), judges, and everyone established in positions of power, and all the people and similarly the whole general Church. With God Almighty the Creator in our midst, in the year of the Incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ 878, on the 15th kalends of September [18th August], in the 11th indiction, happily in the Lord, in the presence of lord Louis [the Stammerer], most serene of kings, residing in the present council.

Amongst the beginnings of other complaints, let it be known to all celebrating a synodal council for the state of the holy Church of God at the town of Troyes, Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims, Archbishop Ansegis of Sens, Archbishop Aurelian of Lyon, Archbishop Rostagnus of Arles, Archbishop Sigebod of Narbonne, Archbishop Theodoric of Besançon, Archbishop Otrand of Vienne, Archbishop Frothar of Bourges, Archbishop Adalald of Tours, Archbishop John of Rouen, Archbishop [sic] Isaac of Langres, Bishop Otulf of Troyes, Bishop Ingelwin of Paris, Bishop Hadebert of Senlis, Bishop Berno of Châlons-sur-Marne, Bishop Hincmar of Laon, Bishop Girbald of Chalon-sur-Saône, Bishop Rainelm of Noyon, Bishop Odo of Beauvais, Bishop Walter of Orléans, Bishop Macarius of Lodève, Bishop Alaric of Béziers, Bishop Theotard of Girona, Bishop Frodoin of Barcelona, Bishop John of Cambrai, Bishop Berner of Grenoble, Bishop Arnulf of Turin, Bishop Rainelm of Meaux, Bishop Agenulf of Mende, Bishop William of Limoges, Bishop Radbert of Valence, Bishop Gislebert of Chartres, Bishop Hildebald of Soissons, Bishop Egfrid of Poitiers, Bishop Adalbert of Thérouanne, Bishop Agilmar of Clermont, Bishop Adalgar of Autun, Bishop Lambert of Mâcon, Bishop Abbo of Nevers, Bishop Aetherius of Viviers, Bishop Ratfred of Avignon, Bishop Walafrid of Uzès, Bishop Gerbert of Nîmes, Bishop Abbo of Maguelone, Bishop Radbert of Valence (*), Bishop Gerald of Amiens, Bishop Wandelmar of Toulon, Bishop Leutgar of Carcassonne, Bishop Audesind of Elne, Bishop Waldric of Ampurias, Bishop Waltbert of Reôme [Porto], Bishop Leo of Rennes; let it be known to all the aforesaid that in times gone by, when We went by sea to Arles to deal with the affairs of all the churches there, recollecting the monastery of Saint-Pierre in which rests the body of the blessed Egidius, in Flavian Valley in the county of Nîmes, within the limits of Septimania, which valley the late king of the Goths Flavius [Wamba] gave to the aforesaid blessed Egidius, and Saint Egidius in turn gave as a donation entirely to the apostolic see of Rome.  Since, though, a large distance separates this abbey from Our church, because We did not want to send a legate there due to Our other cares, the bishop of Nîmes presumed with great temerity to usurp that monastery. But when We sought in Our archive the muniments of charters, We found the precept given by the blessed Egidius.

Then, We sought it from Bishop Gerbert of Nîmes, who sits in the present council, through Our advocate Deusdedit, duke of Ravenna. The same Gerbert wanted to vindicate his claim through a precept of lord [pope] Nicholas [I], which he secretly obtained by fraud from the apostolic see as if it concerning his own property; and through a precept which he had falsely received from a certain king of the Franks, which had no proper validity. But I admonished all the bishops and judges of Rome and the provinces to speak and act in accordance with true law in this matter, under the anathema of excommunication. Then Archbishop Rostagnus of Arles and Archbishop Sigebod of Narbonne and Archbishop Heribert of Embrun, Bishop Walbert of Porto, Bishop Pascal of Amelia, Bishop Radbert of Valence, Bishop Leodoin of Marseilles, Bishop Aetherius of Viviers and other bishops of Provence, and the judges, John, duke and representative of Ravenna, Ardus, Adbert, Gislefred, Ardrad, Godulf and no few other provincial judges, as they heard the precept read, quickly understood that the apostolic judgement of lord Nicholas was only an excuse. Protesting, they said that this monastery could not be defended with that precept, and immediately judged that Bishop Gerbert should restore the aforesaid monastery to Us and should pay to me the penalty for his invasion of the abbey. Because of his poverty, We acquit him from the penalty, if he sins no more; and We received the monastery in its entirety, sending Our advocate Duke Deusdedit there, who accepted concerning this matter the physical handover of all the goods of the aforesaid monastery from the aforesaid Bishop Gerbert.

Also because of this, supported by divine assistance, I and all the bishops of this council, by the authority of our lord Jesus Christ, through which and through whom and in whom are all things [see Romans 11:36], curse and interdict and forbid by excommunication under every anathema that none of Our successors in this holy apostolic see which, by God’s action, We serve should at any place or time present or future, nor any emperor nor king or any worldly power, should be able to give in benefice, exchange, or concede for a census anything from the same goods in future times; nor should any pontiff of the same diocese to whose parish [i.e. diocese] the place itself pertains, nor any count of the same power dare to accept anything from within that monastery’s immunity. And in addition, let no-one be permitted in any way to inflict any diminution or force on any of this.

Rather instead, We confirm at the present council all of this at the said monastery, with all its appendages and the throne and other places and the mobile and immobile goods which are known to have been bestowed there through the largess of the God-fearing, for Amelius, priest and archdeacon of the church of Uzès. In respect of this matter, We commend to you this notice to be managed and protected and well-established, in such a way that they, receiving from you each and every year 10 silver solidi and 12 pennies by way of a pension for ecclesiastical reasons, should endeavour to give the support of pious paternity to the same monastery against all who trouble it (**).

 ‘No-one, brothers, should doubt that the apostolic Church, from whose rules it is not proper for us to deviate, is the mother of all churches; and just as the Son of God came to do the will of the Father [see John 6:38], thus should you fulfil the wish of your mother which is the Church, whose head, as was said before, is the church of Rome.’ [Pseudo-Calixtus, Letter 1, cap. 2]

‘Our father, therefore, is without doubt God Who created Us, and Our mother the Church, who renewed us spiritually in baptism, and thus whoever steals the riches of Christ and the Church is a fraud and a plunderer, and will be considered to be a murderer in the sight of the Just Judge. It is written of this: Whoever steals his neighbour’s riches commits iniquity; so whoever takes away riches or goods from the Church commits sacrilege. Like Judas, who embezzled the riches which by the command of the Saviour (in whose place bishops stand) he should have distributed in Church uses, that is, to the poor, whom the Church ought to feed, they are made not only a thief but a bandit and a sacrilege. Indeed, concerning such people, that is, those who plunder, defraud or steal the Church’s means, the Lord threatens everyone, speaking through a prophet and saying: “Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God” [Psalm 83:1], and so on.’ [Pseudo-Lucius, cap. 7]

In the letter of Pope Symmachus: ‘As long as by the Lord’s disposition, the doctrine of the catholic faith remains that of the saviour, no bishop of the apostolic see is permitted to transfer an ecclesiastical estate, however great or small, to anyone’s right by a perpetual alienation or exchange.’ [Psuedo-Symmachus,  502 Synod of Rome, cap. 4]

And from a letter of Pope Simplicius: ‘That no bishop should be permitted to in any way alienate or commute the estates of their office or anything of their right. Whoever tries to do this, should be punished by the loss of his rank.’ [see Pseudo-Symmachus, 502 Synod of Rome, heading of cap. 6] Also in the same: ‘Whoever attacks an estate of the Church and accepts it into his own right: or if any priest or deacon or defender subscribes the gift, let them be struck with anathema.’ [see above, heading for cap. 7]

Also in the canons: ‘If a bishop makes a testament and bequeaths anything from the property of the Church’s right, let it not be valid except in the sole case that he makes it good from the means of his own right.’  [Council of Agde 506, cap. 51]

Therefore, both I and all the bishops of this council separate, damn and excommunicate under every anathema all those who plot against this monastery of the apostolic see and this priest [Amelius] (if anyone becomes an adversary and perpetrates such a crime) from the communion of the body of Christ and the company of Christ’s brotherhood and from the association of all Christians. Let them be cursed in the city and cursed in the field [Deuteronomy 28:16]’, ‘cursed be the fruit of their land [Deuteronomy 28:18]’. Let them be cursed within and without. ‘Let the heaven which is over their head be brass and the land on which they tread be iron [Deuteronomy 28:23]’. Let their prayers before God come as a sin [see Psalm 109:7]. Like Dathan and Abiron, let them go living into the inferno. Let everyone who abets them, or takes a meal with them, or knowingly decides to hear their accursed songs (***), be joined in this curse with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of the Lord. Let their water putrify, let their wine boil, let blight consume their bread, let worms eat their garments. What more? Let all the curses of the Old and New Testaments come upon them, until they come to worthy satisfaction and suitable penance with the mother Church.

John of the apostolic see of Peter the Apostle says farewell to all the churches of Christ who observe this.

Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, confirms this. Ansegis, archbishop of Sens, confirms this. Aurelian, archbishop of Lyon, confirms this. Rostagnus, archbishop of Arles, confirms this. Sigebod, archbishop of Narbonne, confirms this. Theodoric, archbishop of Besançon, confirms this. Otrand, archbishop of Vienne, confirms this. Frothar, archbishop of Bourges, confirms this. Adalald, archbishop of Tours, confirms this. Berno, bishop of Châlons, confirms this. John, archbishop of Rouen, confirms this. Hadebert, bishop of Senlis, confirms this. Isaac, archbishop of Langres, confirms this. Ingelwin, bishop of Paris, confirms this. Otulf, bishop of Troyes, confirms this. Hincmar, bishop of Laon, confirms this. Hildebald, bishop of Soissons, confirms this. William, bishop of Limoges, confirms this. Gislebert, bishop of Chartres, confirms this. Radbert, bishop of Valence, confirms this. Girbald, bishop of Chalon, confirms this. Rainelm, bishop of Noyon, confirms this. Abbo, bishop of Maguelone, confirms this. Odo, bishop of Beauvais, confirms this. Gerbert, bishop of Nîmes, confirms this. Walter, bishop of Orléans, confirms this. Walafrid, bishop of Uzès, confirms this. Macarius, bishop of Lodève, confirms this. Ratfred, bishop of Avignon, confirms this. Alaric, bishop of Béziers, confirms this. Aetherius, bishop of Viviers, confirms this. Theotard, bishop of Girona, confirms this. Abbo, bishop of Nevers, confirms this. Frodoin, bishop of Barcelona, confirms this. Lambert, bishop of Mâcon, confirms this. John, bishop of Cambrai, confirms this. Adalgar, bishop of Autun, confirms this. Berner, bishop of Grenoble, confirms this. Agilmar, bishop of Clermont, confirms this. Arnulf, bishop of Turin, confirms this. Hadebert, bishop of Senlis, confirms this. Rainelm, bishop of Meaux, confirms this. Egfrid, bishop of Poitiers, confirms this. Agenulf, bishop of Mende, confirms this.

George, secretary of the holy Roman church, who completed and closed the abovewritten judgement, after the subscription of the witnesses and the making of the gift.

Count Raymond confirms this. Viscount Berengar confirms this. Aimeric confirms this. Olunbellus confirms this. Theotrand confirms this. Gozelm confirms this. Viscount Emenus confirms this. Viscount Odo confirms this. Count Hugh confirms this.           

 (*) The MGH notes say that Radbert shows up here twice. The form of the name is different each time (Radbertus Vallensis episcopus vs Rotbertus Valentinensis episcopus) so I wonder if that’s right. In context I’d suspect a bishop of Le Puy or Sion, but neither of those appears to be correct, so I am somewhat mystified.

(**) This passage is somewhat obscure. What I think it means is that Amelius (who is presumably being addressed) should give the Provençal bishops (?) the aforesaid pension per annum and in return they will support him against the bishop of Nîmes. If anyone has a better idea, I’d like to know it!

(***) Cantica maledicta seems like it should be biblical, but I can’t find it.

Before we get into this properly, a little excursus on how I write these things. My commentary (including the hyperlinks in the charter) is actually done in more-or-less the order you read it on the page, which means that, as I write this at mid-afternoon, it’s about three or four hours later than I wrote the bit on the top and since then I have been on a whirlwind excursion through papal diplomatic and the medieval history of the abbey of Saint-Gilles.

IMG_20180808_141412.jpg
Courtesy not least of these gentlemen.

The upshot is that French-language scholarship largely believes that this bull was forged at the end of the eleventh century whereas German-speaking scholars think that, despite some interpolation, it’s a largely-accurate product of the late ninth century.  I’m going with the Germans here because a lot of the context seems to me to be better placed earlier than later, so my comments will be on that basis(*); but bear in mind that this could all be coming two-hundred-odd years after its nominal date.

Anyway, the first thing to point out about the synod of Troyes is that it’s flippin’ huge. Around 50 bishops, plus laymen, plus the king. Assuming all these notables brought a small retinue, let’s say about 10 people each, we’re talking around 600 people and probably rather more, on the order of thousands. And look where they’re from! Italy, the Spanish March, Provence, Burgundy… About the only missing people are the suffragans bishops of Tours and Rouen, and the former are mostly in rebellion and the latter disrupted owing to Viking attack.

So Pope John has a captive audience here for the little sermon which finishes the text. These quotations – and the reason this diploma gets so much attention from canon law scholars – are from a group of materials known as the Pseudo-Isidorian forgeries, which are ninth century and from Frankish Gaul and anything else about their origin is both highly technical and extremely controversial. That said, the citations here are a good idea of its content: decrees, largely forged, of classical and Late Antique popes. So what are they being used for? My best guess involves taking the core narrative of the charter seriously, which may well be a dangerous thing to do; but they all concern how a bishop can’t alienate the goods pertaining to his office, so they might be put there to show why the grant of Pope Nicholas I, which Gerbert of Nîmes was using to prove his entitlement to Saint-Gilles, was invalid. It is possibly unsurprising that the active late ninth-century papacy had the best lawyers…

But what I really wanted to point out about this charter is how it relates to papal jurisdiction over subordinate monasteries. By the late ninth century, a reasonable number of abbeys have been given directly to Rome (although we won’t get to the most famous example until later on…). There’s some question about how serious this is – it’s not like the pope’s going to come a-knocking at the door, so what does subjecting your monastery to him involve? And what this indicates is that, actually, the pope might come a-knocking at the door. Admittedly having him show up in Septimania in person to start making complaints is unusual, but, as surviving papal letters indicate, the popes were concerned about institutions under their jurisdiction, and they did make an effort to keep an eye on them.

(*) [EDIT: People on Twitter have raised questions about this, and so I thought it best to show my reasoning. On one hand, the Flavian Valley bit is, as we scholars say, well dodge, and the whole thing’s clearly been tidied up. On the other hand, the list of bishops, the roles of Deusdedit and John suggest that the interpolator knew quite a lot about the 870s specifically. Moreover, the list of Pseudo-Isidorean citations is about how the Pope can’t grant the monastery away, which fits the 870s but is unlikely when the popes are kicking up a storm about how very in charge they are in the late eleventh century. Finally, per Amy Remensynder, the diplomatic of the act fits well with others from the time of John VIII. So I think the balance of probability is that there’s a genuine act of 878 underlying reasonably closely the version as we have it; but on the gripping hand this absolutely doesn’t prove beyond reasonably doubt that it isn’t falsified or outright forged.]

Forgery and Continuity at Saint-Amand

Working with forged charters is interesting, but it’s often difficult to do because of how difficult it is to work out when they were forged. (And yes, some documents are quite easy to place, but it does involve being really interested in Abbo of Fleury.) But whilst recently browsing through the Diplomata Belgica, I found some Merovingian diplomas for the abbey of Saint-Amand, or Elnon, which can be fairly neatly placed in the late ninth century, and that got my ears pricked up. For, you see, I already knew the ‘pancarte’ of Charles the Simple which, so the diplomas’ editor notes, these documents were probably produced in advance of, and I’d already marked it as being unusually historically-minded. So putting it in the context of these forged diplomas is interesting.

But first, a digression about charters and their purposes. One of the big questions we have about charters is ‘who decides what goes into one’? (This is distinct from ‘who decides who gets one’, which is an even bigger debate…) The thing with a charter’s content is basically three-fold: 1) most charters, even royal diplomas, were written by the people for whom they were issued not the people by whom they were issued; 2) in the case of laymen, there is some question about how much Latin they understood*; but 3) some historians have argued, to my mind quite convincingly, that in some royal diplomas we can see the personal concerns of the kings in whose names they were issued coming through.

My opinion? My opinion is that it’s a false distinction. These documents are still speaking for their issuer, after all. I mean, a royal charter will open with “I, Charles, by grace of God king of the Franks” (for all the kings of the Franks are called Charles) not “I, Squitgar the monk, on behalf of King Charles”, so whatever the document says is being presented as the words of the king. This means that even if the contents of the diploma aren’t coming directly out of a pony-stickered diary with a lock and a note saying ‘Mum and Dad Keep Out’, they’re still a part of the public figure of the monarch: it’s irrelevant whether they’re personal, because they’re still a persona.

Moreover, not any randomer gets charters. To get a diploma, you need connections and influence; and that probably means that you’re in a good position at court anyway. Timothy Reuter had a great line about any given king being an historian’s shorthand for the king-plus-coterie-of-advisors-friends-and-chief-nobles, but if we unpack this in terms of diploma content, it means that most of the recipients are part of this ‘king’ figure anyway. What this means in practice  – well, there are a few things it means in practice, and maybe I should talk about the diplomas of Robert the Pious sometime in the next few weeks to illustrate one of the more important arguments I’ll be making in the book now that there’s a plan for starting to write that – but in this case what it means in practice is that we should be expecting the contents of charters to fit the ideological needs of both issuer and recipient; and here we return to Saint-Amand, because this is a particularly nice example.

The first forged diploma I found was one of King Childeric II and his mother Queen Chimnechild to the saintly bishop Amand. My first thought was that this was really on the nose, actually: what, the newly-establish regime of Charles the Simple, backed by his mother Queen Adelaide and surrogate father-figure Archbishop Fulk of Rheims is repeating the alleged actions of another young-king-queen-mother-holy-bishop trio? You don’t say… But as it turns out, Saint-Amand a) did in fact probably have a genuine diploma of Childeric II which Chimnechild was likely in; and b) forged a few more diplomas at the same time that are rather less applicable to the 899 context; so the actual reasoning looks to be a bit less direct.

So, Saint-Amand did have these old Merovingian diplomas, and these were still there in the mid-ninth century; but they were probably destroyed by Viking attack in the late ninth century. The rights the forged diplomas confer don’t appear to be particularly controversial – that of Childeric II, for instance, granted the cell of Barisis-aux-Bois near Laon, which had been being regularly confirmed for hundreds of years and whose relationship to Saint-Amand doesn’t look to have been doubted. So it looks more like the monks were engaging in so-called ‘pious fraud’, forging documents to show what everyone already knew to be true.

Which brings us to Charles’ pancarte. On the 17th March 899, just before Passiontide, Charles was approached by Fulk of Rheims, who was also abbot of Saint-Amand, who asked him to confirm the abbey’s properties, which he did**, making special note of those which had been confirmed by his predecessors as king – like I said, it’s a very historically-minded document. What this means is that Charles’ diploma is there to please everyone: Charles (who was fairly historically-minded anyway) was placed in a line of kings going back to the seventh century, and Fulk and Saint-Amand were placed in a relationship with kings that went back as far as well, despite the loss of their genuine diplomas and replacement by forgeries. Asking questions about beneficiary vs. actor here is simply pointless: this is a diploma issued by Charles’ regime, which props up all parts of it.

*Although being a student of Rosamond McKitterick, I would naturally tend to downplay this. Even otherwise, we know that people translated into vernacular languages; and honestly, this should have been fairly easy.

** There is one question I have about this act, actually, in relation to the forgeries. Charles’ act says that he needed to confirm the property because some older documents had been destroyed. Yet he also cites the forged diplomas of Childeric and King Dagobert. This seems a quite uneasy relationship to the forgeries, no? Hmmm… maybe if the rights in the Merovingian diplomas were so uncontroversial, these ‘forged’ acta weren’t even seen as forgeries at all – they weren’t supposed to fool anyone, simply replace older documents which everyone knew existed and accepted as legitimate. In this case, Charles’ statement becomes more ‘We all know these are ersatz, but don’t worry, they’re still good…’