Charter a Week 41: The Mourning is the Twilight

The last time we checked in on Charles the Simple, it was way back when he gained control of Lotharingia in 911. There’s a few reasons for that, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that although there were a few royal diplomas I considered translating in previous entries, mostly the interesting things happening have been elsewhere. And that’s perfectly to be expected. The early 910s were a relatively calm time for internal West Frankish politics: no Vikings, internal problems in Aquitaine largely dealt with, a victorious war against the East Frankish king for the incorrigibly belligerent. In comparison with what was to come, the Belle Epoque of Charles the Simple’s reign seems positively prelapsarian.

Of course, it’s been a while since we checked in on Charles the Simple, we haven’t seen Queen Frederuna since she got married. It’s hard to tell because of how reliant we are on the charter record, but she doesn’t seem to have been particularly politically significant. Now, there are methodological concerns here. One of the unspoken reasons, I think, that Frederuna is dismissed is that she doesn’t have the presence in Charles’ diplomas which Ottonian queens will have in later tenth-century royal diplomas. However, Charles wasn’t an Ottonian ruler: he was placed directly in a ninth-century Carolingian tradition. Whilst it’s far from unheard of for Carolingian queens to show up in their husbands’ charters, it’s nowhere near as common – virtually everything we think we know about the power of, say, Charles the Bald’s second wife Richildis, for instance, comes from narrative rather than documentary sources. Still, the thing about absence of evidence not being evidence of absence is that you still don’t have any evidence, which is why it’s a sudden surprise when this happens: 

DD CtS no. 87 (14th February 917, Rheims)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by gracious favour of divine clemency king of the Franks.

We wish it to be known to all men, to wit, present and future, that the late queen Frederuna, my dearest wife, for love of God Almighty and veneration of St Remigius, the apostle of the Franks, before whose most holy relics she was anointed as queen by consecration and benediction of oil, gave to the monks actively soldiering for God in that place, for their mensa [portion of the abbey’s resources], for the remedy of her soul, whatever she was seen to have in the dominion of her control, while life yet ruled her body’s frame, to wit, from the dowry of Our royal marriage: that is, Corbeny, in the county of Laon, except the little cell which is named in honour of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and where the body of the confessor of Christ Marculf rests, and which the aforesaid coenobites as a body conceded to me in my lifetime for a rate of 10 solidi to be paid each year.

She also gave them one church in Craonne, strenuously asking Our Munificence that I might give it to the aforesaid monks in accordance with legal custom and make a precept of Our authority for them, so that they might be able to hold it more securely through times to come without resistance or indeeddisturbance from anyone; and importuning Us to leave it to her nephew, named Ernust, in his lifetime, to wit, on the condition that each year on the anniversary of her death, he should pay one pound of silver to the brothers’ mensa in vestiture. After his death, finally, let the same brothers receive it presently, without resistance from any of her kinsmen, with all its dependencies, for the banqueting tables.

Beneficently favouring her freely-made petition in every aspect, as was fair, by the Lord’s largess We executed in every which way what she had asked and her heart desired.

If in future there should be anyone, therefore, which We little believe shall come to pass, who might endeavour to frustrate this gift and endeavour to damage the aforesaid brothers, or rather steal it from them, just as she invoked with complete singlemindedness the Judge of the quick and the dead, let him incur His wrath, and be anathema maranatha before the tribunal of the same Judge.

And that this precept of Our authority might be held more firmly and believed more truly and observed more attentively, confirming it below with Our own hand, We ordered it to be signed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Gozlin, notary of royal dignity, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Heriveus [of Rheims].

Enacted on the 16th kalends of March [14th February], in the 5th indiction, in the 25th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 20th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, in the 6th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Remi.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

West Façade of Basilique Saint-Rémi, Reims 140306 1.jpg
The basilica of Saint-Remi in Rheims as it is today (source).

You knew it was coming. Charles’ reaction to Frederuna’s death is something I’ve covered before on this blog. This diploma is one of several dealing with her pious benefactions – from the surviving charters, sorting out Frederuna’s last wishes seems to have taken up a very large portion of Charles’ 917. For now, I’m not so interested in their content – the most interesting thing about this particular donation is that it shows an interest in the relics of St Remigius and their connection with Frankish royalty which has up to this point been unusual (although watch this space for what’s going to happen in about thirty years’ time) – as in using them as a sign of where the kingdom is heading.

My hunch is that losing Frederuna was a real blow to Charles’ state of mind. Obviously I can’t prove that; but I do think he did not handle his grief well. He does seem to have reached out to people who had been close to Frederuna – Bishop Bovo of Châlons, her brother, appears more frequently in royal acts from this point, for instance. The most significant, however, was a man who Charles promoted up the ranks from the lower nobility, a man whom Charles would eventually lose his kingdom over: Hagano. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Hagano was so dear to Charles that the king would stake so much on him; and certainly there are more-or-less plausible arguments about the principle that a king should get to choose his own councillors. However, if you’re asking why this man specifically became the focus for arguments like that, I think it boils down to what Hagano ultimately offered Charles: a shoulder to cry on.

Charter A Week 31: Ring Out Those Wedding Bells

By this point, things are going well for Charles. He’s been undisputed king for coming on a decade, the last major Viking raid was four years ago, relations with his cousin Louis seem pretty OK, most of the major magnates are on board (apart from the Aquitanians, who were never really all that on board with any of the West Frankish Carolingians anyway). There is one major question, though: who will succeed him?

DD CtS no. 56 (19th April 907, Attigny)

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

If We follow the customs of ancient kings and imitate the habits of the fathers who came before and benignly receive the counsels of Our followers, We far from doubt magnify royal honour, and We indubitably believe that this will benefit Us.

Hence, let it be learned by all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, present and future that when We and Our counsellors were dealing with the realm’s affairs, they brought to Our attention Our marriage, saying usefully that it would be suitable if a worthy spouse were at the royal side, from whom, by God’s largess, a breed of sons might proceed, for the whole realm’s benefit.

And thus, incited by their admonitions and persuaded by their counsel, We joined to Ourself in the bond of marriage a certain girl from a noble bloodline, named Frederuna, only insofar as by the common consent of Our followers, with God, as We believe, co-operating, in accordance with the laws and states of those who came before, and We established her as consort of the realm.

Wherefore, disposing to enrich her, by royal custom, from Our own goods, We concede to her two fiscs, to be constantly possessed in the name of dowry and disposed of at will, that is, Corbeny in the county of Laon, with the cell which is named in honour of the blessed apostle Peter, where the body of the confessor of Christ Marculf rests; and one church in Craonne; moreover Ponthion, in the district of Perthois, on the rivers Sault and Brusson. We present both through this present authority and We transfer them from Our right into her right and property and dominion and We consign them to be held perpetually.

Wherefore, We commanded this edict of royal munificence be made and given to Our said beloved spouse Frederuna, through which We order and in ordering command that she should perpetually have, hold and possess the aforesaid fiscs, to wit, Corbeny and Ponthion, as they are presently seen to pertain to Us, in their entirety, that is, with the aforesaid churches and bondsmen of both sexes, lands cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, waters and watercourses, mills, fisheries, mobile and immobile goods, roads in and out, and all legitimate borders justly and legally pertaining to it; and let her have the firmest free power in everything to do whatever she wishes henceforth.

But that this dowry of Our largess and corroboration of concession might obtain continual vigour of firmness, having been confirmed below with Our own hand, We ordered it signed with Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 13th kalends of May [19th April], in the 10th indiction, in the 15th year of the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 10th his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at the palace of Attigny.

Happily in the name of God, amen, amen.

I’ve put down my thoughts on Charles and Frederuna’s relationship elsewhere. I do think that no matter what the political motives were which lay behind it, it eventually grew into a genuine bond of affection. I also think that the purely political motives are fairly subdued. Frederuna’s family appears to have been respectable, but not one of the first-rank magnate families – a brother became bishop of Châlons, she may have had another brother who became archbishop of Trier but this is at best unproven – so an alliance with her relatives is unlikely to have been very significant. It may just have been that she was pretty enough, noble enough, and of the right age to be fertile, exactly like the diploma says.

Whatever the motivation behind the match itself, Charles pulled out all the stops celebrating it:

DD CtS no. 57 (21st May 907, Le Gros Dizy)

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

If We devote the influence of Our Munificence to sacred places given over to divine worship, We are in every way confident that it will benefit Us both in prosperously passing through the present life and in more happily obtaining perpetual life.

Wherefore, let the religiosity of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that Anskeric, venerable bishop of the town of Paris, approaching the presence of Our Serenity, recounted in a happy voice before the presence of Our followers that the church of Notre-Dame, that is, of the aforesaid town, over which the same bishop is recognised as presiding, was nearly destroyed by Northman attacks and reduced almost to nought by their habitual cruelty.  Hence, through the intervention of certain princes attending on Our presence, that is, Our most beloved spouse Frederuna and as well Our beloved Abbess Gisla [of Nivelles], and the venerable Count Robert [of Neustria] and Countess Adele [his wife], moreover Counts Altmar [of Arras] and Erchengar [of Boulogne], and Robert, beloved of Us, he humbly sought that We might deign to concede as compensation for the forsaken church the abbey named Saint-Pierre de Rebais and once named Jerusalem, sited in the county of Meaux, which the same bishop is recognised to have held until now in benefice, through a precept of Our authority, so that it might be sustenance for the same bishop and his successors, by which they might be able to fulfil more freely the duties of Our service.

Therefore, knowing the counsels of the aforesaid princes to be sound, We acquiesced to their beneficent requests, and by the common consent of Our followers, We concede by royal authority the said abbey of Saint-Pierre, by which it might become a perpetual support for the church of Notre-Dame of the town of Paris alone and the bishops of the same place. Wherefore We commanded this precept of Our authority be made and We commanded it be given to the said church of the blessed Mary through the hand of the bishop of the same place Anskeric, through which We transfer the aforesaid abbey into his right and dominion, and We concede it to be perpetually possessed in its entirety, and with all legitimate borders justly and legally pertaining to it, on the terms that the aforementioned bishop Anskeric and as well his successors should constantly have, quietly hold, securely possess and freely dispose of the aforesaid goods, and have the firmest quiet power in everything to do whatever they want for the common advantage of the church.

And that this concession of Our authority might be held more firmly and be conserved for all time by Our successors and in God’s name obtain continual vigour of firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it to be sealed with Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary witnessed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric.

Given on the 12th kalends of June [21st May], in the 10th indiction, in the 15th year of the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings, and the 10th of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted in the estate of Le Gros Dizy.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

As I’ve said before, this is a nice little family portrait of the great and the good of the realm. It might not even be everyone there. We know from another diploma that Richard the Justiciar and his entourage were hanging around the royal court at this period, and it seems likely to me that they would have been there to celebrate the wedding. If they were – and, frankly in light of the people in the charter above, even if they weren’t – these acts display that Charles’ court still had a reasonable degree of pull in the kingdom at large.

A Love For The Ages? Charles the Simple and Frederuna

‘Just once, one would like to break out of our disciplinary straightjacket and say simply that this most misunderstood of kings loved his first wife. But we cannot.’

Geoffrey Koziol, The Politics of Memory, p. 518.

It is startling how little we know about Charles the Simple’s first wife, Frederuna. As I said last week, we know they were married in 907. Her dowry charter describes her as being of noble blood; we know she had a brother named Bovo who eventually became the bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, and a cousin named Berengar who became bishop of Cambrai. Berengar (but not Bovo) is described as being ‘from across the Rhine’ (i.e. East Frankish), but historians often assume Frederuna herself was Lotharingian. Her parents are unknown. Charles’ dowry for her calls her his consors regni, but as a queen she was not a major figure in Charles’ court. Compared to the roles played by Charles’ mother Queen Adelaide and Charles’ daughter- and granddaughter-in-law Queens Gerberga and Emma, Frederuna is conspicuous by her absence in Charles’ diplomas – indeed, she’s only actually called queen (regina) once, after her death, so it’s possible she was never actually crowned.

Frederuna is much more visible to us dead than alive. After her death in or around 917, Charles began to endow a programme of commemorative masses on a grand scale. This was a truly massive programme, all aimed at propagating his wife’s memory – there just isn’t a comparison to be made with any other requests for commemoration Charles made in his whole reign. No other Carolingian king devoted so much effort in commemorating their dead wives. This is particularly relevant because Charles soon afterwards married again, and his new wife, Eadgifu is never mentioned – only Frederuna. This seeming concern for his first wife sets Charles apart from his grandfather and namesake Charles the Bald, who once ordered commemorative masses for his wives with the rather arresting formula ‘[let them pray] for Ermengard, who’s dead; and Richildis, who isn’t’.

Historians have been at something of a loss to understand Charles’ drive to ensure that Frederuna was remembered. Often, it is taken as part of Charles’ strategy to bolster his rule in Lotharingia. This is, frankly, a bit silly. As I said, we don’t know anything about Frederuna’s family, so these arguments assume something of a circular quality: we know, it is argued, that Frederuna’s family was powerful because Charles commemorated her so much, and that Charles commemorated her so much because her family was powerful.

This argument, however, has the merit of avoiding questions about emotions that medieval historians are not comfortable asking. This discomfort is for very good reasons. After the quotation with which I opened the post, Geoffrey Koziol goes on to point out that the vocabulary of love and affection in these diplomas is heavily political. Take ‘friendship’ (amiticia), for instance. In 922, Charles made a treaty with the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler promising to ‘be a friend to this man, my friend, Henry, King of the East, as a friend rightfully ought to be towards his friend’. Does this mean Charles liked him? Of course not, no more than a modern leader talking about the ‘great friendship between our two countries’ indicates that two rulers really do have warm personal bonds. Similarly, just because Charles calls Frederuna his ‘beloved wife’ doesn’t actually mean he loved her.

At the same time, because the sources we have to study medieval individuals are accounts of them by others and documents largely for public consumption, trying to gain a handle on ‘who they were’ is a barely-possible goal. One historian, Timothy Reuter, once characterised early medieval rulers as ‘black boxes’ – we see the outputs, we can get some notion of the inputs, but what happened in their heads to turn one into the other is lost.

But. This is one case where being methodologically strict makes our history demonstrably less correct. It may be true to say that we can’t know what emotions Charlemagne, for instance, actually felt; but he had emotions and made decisions based partly on them. If we take individual’s emotions – and consequently personalities – out of the equation entirely, we are sticking more closely to what is proveable but straying further away from what is accurate.

In this case, to stay within our disciplinary straightjacket is, simply, to get things wrong. In 917, Charles issued a diploma for Saint-Denis in Paris. It’s preserved in the original, and has one distinctly unusual feature.

Image from Diplomata Karolinorum, vol. 6, no. 2, eds. F. Lot & P. Lauer (1)

Diplomas are supposed to represent visually the majesty of the ruler, and consequently they’re usually neat, impressive looking documents. In this case, though, something’s different. The prayer clause in this document specifies that the monks are to have a feast on Charles’ birthday, another on the day of his coronation, and another after he dies. Above this, in a neat non-diplomatic hand (possibly Charles’ own? I’d like to think so, but that’s more than likely just romantic dreaming), is specified that there should be another feast on Frederuna’s death.  This visual intrusion – the word Frederune collides messily with the ligature of the et below it – detracts from the otherwise imposing appearance of the diploma. It seems rather that it was added in after the diploma had been written up because it was simply that important to Charles that it be in there, and never mind any oddities in the diploma’s appearance.

If we say that Charles commemorated Frederuna because she mattered to him personally, is this certain? Certainly not. But that doesn’t actually make it different from other aspects of medieval history. As the tagline of this blog has it, non sic gesta scias sed cuncta geri potuisse – it didn’t happen this way, but it could have done. When it comes to assigning motivations for Charles’ actions, politics is as conjectural as love. This is not to say that either is pure speculation – both have evidential support, but not certainty.

An important distinction, though, is that politics is less revealing than emotion. Each historian creates their own Middle Ages. My Middle Ages is not Geoffrey Koziol’s Middle Ages. Consequently, when it comes to filling in the gaps, each historian puts a portion of themselves into the world they create. This is one thing when it comes to dealing with tax policy or territorial ambition, but when it comes to dealing with love, hate, or forgiveness, the personal element is more fundamental and more idiosyncratic to the historian themselves. Putting emotion into the Middle Ages runs the very real risk of showing more of yourself to the world than you intend, of losing control of your own image.

Again, I’m not saying that history of any sort is a matter of unfettered self-expression; simply making the point – almost expressing the truism – that you can’t take the historian out of the history. The solution, which is a method rather than an answer, though, is the same as any other problem of this sort in history: a return to the sources, to make the argument to which the evidence leads you as well and as honestly as you can, even acknowledging that you yourself are consciously or unconsciously filling the gaps. A leap of this sort may be made darkly, but it need not be made blindly.

A leap, though, must be made, because otherwise we are actively leaving out a crucial element in understanding the past. In this case, without thinking about Charles’ emotions, we can’t understand his programme of commemoration. Not politics, not Lotharingia, not placating his in-laws: Charles commemorated Frederuna because he loved her and he missed her.

(1) Available online at: