The Language of Competent Administration in the Bishopric of Langres

A few weeks ago, we took a look at a charter of Bishop Argrim of Langres, and I mentioned in passing that there were a few things about the language. This week, I’d like to look at that in a bit more detail.

Here are Argrim’s words:

When… I was residing in the bosom of the same mother church in general synod… and was settling the affairs and advantages of the churches committed to Our Unworthiness with pastoral solicitude, insofar as Our ability and understanding allowed; and was giving an equal amount of attention to disposing that what was legitimately established should endure undisturbed; and, if anything, perchance, could be found to be twisted and without authority, with divinity propitious was busying myself to get it back in line…

Here’s his successor Heiric 31 years later:

When I was residing in the bosom of the mother church committed to Us by God, and was inquiring and investigating how its status, with Christ’s favour, could improve for the better, along with the counsel of Our faithful men…

And his successor Achard 31 years after that:

When I was sincerely residing in the womb of the mother church committed to Us by Christ on the days of holy synod, and, as far as the quality of Our strength allowed, seeking and requiring in an orderly manner and investigating to reasonably deal with the business of the same church so that, by Christ’s administration, with the counsel and prayer of Our faithful men, to wit, of both orders, it might be improved to a better state…

And his own successor Widric 9 years after that:

When We were dwelling in the bosom of the Mother Church granted to Us by Christ, according to Our potential and knowledge equally, along with the faithful men of Our aforesaid church, and diligently and freely laboured over the state and progress of it, so that, with God’s bestowal, it might be effected to be sublimated, and the sons of the said church might be able to endure therein and serve God Almighty and Saint Mammet with devoted minds without end…

This kind of language stretches forward right up to the eleventh century, and in fact if we were rewinding the clock you could see it in the late ninth. You might be thinking that this seems unexceptional, insofar as all of the above appears to be a reasonable thing for a bishop to be saying; and certainly these aren’t iconoclastic sentiments – but they are unusual.

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Langres today. (source)

Let’s start with the form. This kind of ‘synod-form’ charter is actually very rare in the tenth century. Let’s go outside of Burgundy for a second. We have large numbers of episcopal charters from the bishops of Laon, Poitiers, Verdun and Tours. Of those, Poitiers has two, Verdun and Tours one, and Laon none. It’s clear from other evidence that synods continued to happen; it’s just that they didn’t use this charter form. The bishops of Langres do.

Now, so to do the bishops of Autun and Mâcon. The difference is that in Langres the synod-form charter is paired with the language of good administration – diligently and studiously labouring to improve the affairs and utilities of the Church, that sort of thing. I don’t want to get categorical here, but this kind of language is much, much more typical of the bishops of Langres than their neighbours.

So what’s going on? Partly, it’s a late-Carolingian inheritance. We’ve seen before on this blog the significance of Burgundian bishops in the late ninth century, and those ninth-century bishops talk and govern like this. Langres preserves this inheritance particularly well for two (well, three) reasons: first, it never stopped being important; and second, it never really fell under the spell of the dukes of Burgundy the way that, say, Autun did for several decades there. (The third has to do with the particular legacy of Bishop Isaac of Langres, but maybe we’ll cover that another time.)

This has implications for the regional power of the bishops, of course – and if you want to know about that, the book is still underway – but I’d like to touch on the Peace of God in relation to it. I’ve already drawn parallels between Peace councils and the bishops of Langres, but here we can look at it from the other direction. Holding councils and making a big deal out of holding councils is known practice during the tenth century, and when the Aquitanians come to do the same in the latter half of it, they’re not necessarily doing anything new. What changes is that they pick a different selling point – ‘peace’ rather than ‘inquiring and investigating how the status of the mother Church might be improved for the better’. Pithier, certainly, but not necessarily all that dissimilar in principle.

Charter a Week 32: Running a Court in Governmentalised Neustria

This week’s theme was originally supposed to be dealt with about twenty-six years – erm, five months – ago, in 882. But, it turns out there were some cool royal diplomas and it would have duplicated this week’s material anyway, and so we’re dealing with it now. I’ve mentioned before that in the later part of the ninth century, Charles the Bald and his point-man in Neustria, Hugh the Abbot, engaged in a process of calcifying and formalising the hierarchies of what had previously been a chaotic atelier of civil war. Robert of Neustria inherited their efforts, and as of the middle of Charles the Simple’s reign, they’re still going:

ARTEM no. 1434 (23rd June 908, Tours)

A notice of how and in what way the power of Saint-Martin de Marmoutier – that is, Dean Erlald and Dodo, levite and precentor, representatives in court – came and issued a complaint on behalf of all the brothers that lord Robert, levite and treasurer from the flock of the basilica of the blessed Martin and also a canon of the aforesaid Marmoutier, held one of their meadows, sited in the district of the Touraine in the place which is called Mercureuil, against their will. Lord Robert, though, diligently investigated and examined the complaint which had been raised, and found in this regard that the brothers of Marmoutier’s complaint was very true.

Wanting not to work against them anymore, he then made restoration. Coming, then, to the public gathering-spot (locus accessionis) with Adelelm, by then dean of the same flock, and Deacon Dodo, and Ingelger the priest, he quit that meadow before them, and declared before everyone that he would not hold it anymore.

However, Amalric, attorney (legislator) and ruler of the gatehouse of the basilica of Saint-Martin immediately asserted that lord Robert should neither make that meadow over to them nor litigate with the brothers over it; and he wished to reclaim it for the work of the gatehouse which he held. Yet with the brothers immediately contradicting him over that meadow, Amalric sent his followers – that is, Wichard and Erlo and Martin, who wanted to acquire that meadow for their benefice, which they held from the aforesaid gatehouse – to make diligent inquiries into the matter amongst their own cottars and see that they had not unjustly stolen the meadow from the brothers.

They, shaking down their own cottars, found no-one who dared to go either to judgement or to oath in the matter, because everyone knew that the brothers’ complaint was very just.

The aforesaid Adelelm, priest and dean of the aforesaid Marmoutier, and Deacon Dodo and Ingelger the priest, who had first brought this case forward on behalf of the brothers, went on the 9th kalends of July [23rd June] to the city of Tours, on the wall on the side of the Loire, to the assembly which thereupon, before Viscount Theobald [the Elder], and Walter and Fulcrad and Corbo, royal vassals, and all the aforementioned of both orders, accepted their right. Present there as well was lord Peter, sacristan of the aforesaid monastery, with other brothers, who had there legitimate and worthy and very truthful witnesses from amongst their own cottars, that is, Rainfred, who the local headman at the time when that meadow, through God’s judgement, had previously been proven in the work of Saint-Martin de Marmoutier, and Adalher and Gerald, also Robert, who was now local headman, and Adalgis, who undergo God’s judgement [i.e. undertake an ordeal] at any time to come. All of them once more were prepared to undergo God’s judgement and swear oaths.

Seeing this, the aforesaid followers of Amalric dared to receive neither a second judgement of God atop the first, nor an oath. Rather, they quit the aforesaid complaint and judgement and oath and also the meadow before everyone, in the same place and assembly.

Concerning which, the brothers found it necessary to receive a notice about this sentence, lest anything be shaken up again about this claim, which they commanded them to make and confirm immediately, through the undertaking of everyone.

These people were present when the act was enacted:

Robert, dean and custodian of the basilica of Saint-Martin and an unworthy canon, subscribed. Viscount Theobald confirmed this. Walter confirmed this. Ebalus the vicar confirmed this. Dean Erlald confirmed this. Dodo the levite subscribed this. Fulcrad confirmed this. Ingelger the priest subscribed this. Corbo, a proven vassal, confirmed this. Adelelm the priest confirmed this. Amalric the attorney, who then made restoration, confirmed this. Wichard confirmed this. Herlend confirmed this. Martin confirmed this.

Given on the 9th kalends of July [23rd June], in the year of the Lord 908, in the reign of King Charles [the Simple].

I, Gozlin, a priest of the flock of the blessed Martin and master of the school, wrote and subscribed this.

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The original charter, from ARTEM, as linked above.

So, important things to note. First, despite how it’s described (and in Latin, the words used to talk about Erlald and Dodo there are quite formal), the initial complaint to Treasurer Robert appears to have been done informally. Erlald, Robert’s nominal superior, showed up and told him that he was holding some of Marmoutier’s property wrongfully, and this appears to have been settled amicably out of court.

It is only when Amalric gets involved that things go to trial. This makes sense, really: as we’ve talked about before, Amalric is a lawyer. The court itself is constituted in the way we might expect. It’s the local vassi dominici, overseen by the viscount – this is how other Neustrian courts run at this time. In fact, the viscount running things seems to be a policy decision. I can point you at a charter from 895 where the marchio is actually there, but it’s the viscount still in charge of the mallus court.

Despite its dry and legalistic tone, the notice that survives is a parti pris record of what must have been more colourful events. Amalric’s men allegedly, even after some light intimidation, can’t find anyone willing to act as a witness for their side; but the thing still goes to court. There, two interesting things happen. First, apparently neither side’s witnesses are enough on their own. Second, and relatedly, the whole things seems to have turned on a previous ordeal, and this is what ends the trial now: Marmoutier evidently won the last time, and the other side aren’t quite willing to try again.

On the gripping hand, note that we have this charter but not a record of the first ordeal. It’s possible that it just wasn’t written down. It’s also possible that this, second, contest got preserved because it was seen as less ambiguous than the first (the first one, after all, was demonstrably subject to challenge). It’s also also possible that it just seems that way because the canons of Saint-Martin got to write the charter…

What is important, though, is that dry and legalistic tone. No matter how informal, how compromised, or how morally-weighted the actual events were, the people of governmentalised Neustria knew that this is how you wrote down disputes. Government, in this sense, happened by portrayal rather than by action.

Odo of Cluny on the Difficulties of Earlier Medieval Governance

It should probably be said right out somewhere on this blog that medieval government was difficult. In terms of relative scale, it was rather harder to govern a Frankish kingdom in the tenth century than to govern the entire world today – in three days, I could leave my apartment and, with enough money, be anywhere in the world; in the 990s, Richer of Rheims took three days to go from Rheims to Chartres (although he notes that that was a particularly difficult journey). Even with the much more limited practical ambitions of medieval governance, preventing your political hegemony from devolving into ultra-fragmented clusters of tiny village cells was a constant effort.

Chris Wickham has this thing he talks about called ‘capillary’ governance, the idea being that you have these local communities as ‘cells’ and then processes which pull them into larger units, and those larger units are in turn pulled into yet larger units by higher-level capillary processes. These processes take different forms in different societies – so in the Roman Empire, for instance, it might be tax collectors coming and assessing your province for tax; in Lombard Italy, it might be new issues of a law code coming to be used in your local courts; and so on. But what about the West Frankish kingdom, where there was no Roman-style tax system and no real ‘legal system’ as we would think of it today?

A neat little window into this is provided by the Vita Geraldi, which at one point has a vignette of its hero, Gerald of Aurillac, being politically courted by William the Pious of Aquitaine. Odo of Cluny, author of the Vita Geraldi, portrays Gerald as a very strange man, largely because he was trying to effect large-scale moral change amongst a lay audience; but to do that he had to drop Gerald into recognisable situations, and he had in fact grown up at William the Pious’ court, so it’s a glimpse into William’s SOP by someone who knew it quite well.

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Image of William from a Cluny manuscript, c. 1200, BNF MS Lat 17716 (source, image from Gallica)

What Odo shows is William trying (and occasionally failing) to win Gerald’s loyalty by a variety of measures. He tries and fails to entice Gerald into commending himself to him, despite Gerald’s position as a royal vassal – he fails, interestingly enough, because Gerald has only recently taken the title of count, and presumably needs the royal connection to validate it. He offers to marry Gerald to his sister, only to be thwarted by Gerald’s vow of chastity. He talks to him often and takes his counsel. The two men go on long walks together. They fight together, and build up military camaraderie. All of this shows three things: first, that William was not the lord of all Aquitanians just by default; second, that the degree of his authority of Gerald was extremely negotiable; and third, that it require constant maintenance.

This is entirely typical. William’s Aquitaine was built out of little bundles of local rights, connections and lands, and pulling them together required constant activity, cajoling, threatening, and bribing the people in his following to stay in his following. Exercising real power in the earlier Middle Ages was exhausting work!