King Lothar and Flanders in the Reign of Count Arnulf II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Was Charles of Lorraine So Tardy?

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

…Hang on. That doesn’t sound right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the Flemish succession.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine I: For Richer, for Poorer

Hello all. Recently I’ve been thinking about a topic this blog has discussed before, Louis V’s kingship in Aquitaine. As so often with the later part of the reign of Lothar, it’s got me scratching my chin, so this week and next week we’ll look at two different aspects of it and hopefully one of the blog’s readers will have something helpful to say! It will help if we’re all singing off the same hymn-sheet, and so I’ve translated all the relevant sources I know of for Louis’ Aquitanian sojourn and put them below in a PDF file*:

This leads us naturally to the first question, which is: have I missed something? If you know any source with a direct bearing on this, please do put it in the comments!

Anyway, as you can see most of what we think we know about Louis’ kingship derives from Richer, and so this post is going to be a hatchet job on his account, because I don’t think it’s at all reliable. Before I say why, it’s probably worth giving a summary of what Richer says:

  1. After the Treaty of Margut, which Lothar signed with Emperor Otto II, Hugh Capet was very angry with the king, and visited Otto in Rome to forge an alliance against him. Discord between Lothar and Hugh went on for some years.
  2. However, they were eventually reconciled.
  3. With Hugh’s backing, Lothar had his son Louis crowned king at Compiègne.
  4. Hugh then commenced to look for a spare kingdom for Louis.
  5. However, some unnamed people decided to take over this task themselves.
  6. They advised Lothar’s wife Queen Emma that Louis should marry Adelaide, recently widowed from Raymond, duke of the Goths.
  7. Thanks to her connections, Louis would be able to win control of Aquitaine.
  8. Thanks to Geoffrey Grisegonelle, count of Anjou, this was achieved.
  9. Adelaide received Lothar and Louis at Vieille-Brioude, where she and Louis were married and she (and maybe Louis but I don’t think that’s grammatically necessary) was crowned queen.
  10. However, from the beginning none of this helped them exercise any real power.
  11. Also, they didn’t like each other because he was young and she was an old woman.
  12. So the marriage fell apart.
  13. Louis, without any councillors, gave himself over to a life of debauchery and lost everything.
  14. Lothar heard about this, came back to Brioude, and picked Louis up.
  15. Adelaide went to Provence and married Count William of Arles.
A manuscript folio of Richer’s autograph (source)

So, the problems with this account fall into three kinds, which we’ll go through in turn: 1) it doesn’t accord with other narrative sources; 2) it doesn’t accord with other non-narrative sources; and 3) it’s internally contradictory. Let’s start with the first point, conflict with other narrative sources; and here I’m just going to lay the contradictions out without trying to resolve them. There are two main contradictions to be had here. First, Ralph Glaber clearly places the marriage in the north, and only puts the visit to Aquitaine after it has already fallen apart. Second, Adhemar of Chabannes doesn’t think Louis and Adelaide actually separated at all, until death actually did them part. (One could put the Annales Sancti Germani minores’ statement that it was Hugh rather than Lothar who brought Louis back, but that’s more an inconsistency than an outright contradiction.)

Our second point, that Richer’s account doesn’t accord with non-narrative sources, is rather more significant, above all because his chronology is wrong. Richer wants Louis’ coronation at Compiègne to be in the early-to-mid 980s, whereas we know it was in 979, well before the 980 Treaty of Margut. He then wants the coronation at Vieille-Brioude to be immediately after Louis’ coronation, rather than (as I think we can say with confidence) in 982, three years later. He then wants Louis’ sojourn to have lasted almost two years, but to have concluded in around autumn 982 – at least, if he actually did think that Otto II’s military defeat in southern Italy happened at around the same time that Louis returned to the north. On another note, Richer also wants Adelaide to be an old woman (anus, not a very nice word), despite the fact that she can be deduced from charter evidence to be relatively young. We know her first marriage took place at such a time that she had teenage children by the mid-970s, but was also still having children in the late 980s. You can push her older, but I think a more plausible chronology is more compressed, putting her date of birth in the late 940s, making her in her mid-thirties in the early 980s – still about twenty years older than Louis, but not exactly the crone Richer wants her to be. The safe conclusion, I think, is that Richer knows basically nothing about the absolute chronology of the events he is describing and not all that much about their relative chronology.

Finally, let’s talk about the internal contradictions in Richer’s narrative. We’ll start with the two smaller holes in Richer’s plot logic: first, Hugh Capet’s concern is supposed to be that co-kingship detracts from royal honour, but this is not a concern in Book IV when Hugh does it himself with his own son; and, second, the original plot is supposed to be against Hugh despite his and Lothar nominally being allied at this time. (This last one may not in fact be a contradiction – but only if it’s a rhetorical construction of Richer’s designed to help his presentation of Lothar as unusually deceitful.) These two are appetisers for the main contradiction, which is that in III.94, Louis’ kingship is a dead letter from the get-go, whilst in III.95 his moral failings and bad decisions turn what had started as a going concern into a failed venture. The takeaway here, I think, is that Richer has no idea why Louis’ kingship failed, or when. It seems to me that Richer is filling in the holes from his limited knowledge with moralistic tropes from other sources. In fact, the parallels between Richer’s account of Louis V in Aquitaine and the Astronomer’s account of Louis the Pious’ kingship in Aquitaine seem striking to me. Like Louis V, the Astronomer’s Louis the Pious was sent into Aquitaine at a young age, and had to beware of ‘foreign customs’ and privation in his domestic affairs (Richer doesn’t borrow a lot of the Astronomer’s language, but mos peregrinorum and res familiaris are shared between the two authors in the same contexts.) Richer’s editor, Hoffmann, believes that Richer did know the Astronomer based on verbal echoes elsewhere, so this is plausible. What Richer’s story reads as, then, is supposition based on historical parallels: Louis the Pious had good instructors, Louis V didn’t; so the latter-day Louis’ kingship becomes a dark mirror of his ancestor’s. (Notably, such concerns were live when Richer was writing: his main practical criticism – that Louis started wearing Aquitanian clothing – is something his contemporaries and those in the generation immediately after him were concerned about in their own times.)

What, then, did Richer actually know? The vague chronology and the account’s place in the narrative makes me think we’re dealing with the chronicler’s own memories. All of this took place approximately twenty years before Richer was writing, and he would have been perhaps in his mid-to-late twenties, or early thirties, at the time. In short, we’re dealing with decades-old memories from someone who was not heavily involved in these events, which is probably why he can remember the feast date of Louis V’s accession but only roughly when it happened. Richer can remember that Geoffrey of Anjou was involved, but not why (he was Adelaide’s brother); similarly, he can remember that something significant happened in Vieille-Brioude but isn’t necessarily clear what. He knows the marriage failed, but doesn’t know why and fills the void with stereotypes; he knows the reign failed, but doesn’t know why and fills the void with moral tropes.

What, then, can we corroborate from other sources? Unsurprisingly, most of the broad outlines. We can be sure that Louis and Adelaide were in fact married and that the marriage was unsuccessful (a datum found in Glaber and, implicitly in the case of the latter half, in Adhemar). We can also say that Lothar visited Brioude (from royal diplomas). We can guess (based on the Fleury charter in the translations) that Louis was set up with a sub-kingdom. We can, somewhat surprisingly, corroborate Richer’s idea that the plan was to use Adelaide’s family connections to win support (Glaber again, although his idea of how is notably fuzzier than Richer’s). We might also be able to say that Louis stayed in Aquitaine and had to be brought home, if we can take the Annales Sancti Germani minores seriously, although the fact that its chronology is also wildly off does not inspire confidence. A two-year sojourn is also likely (assuming Lothar’s 982 diplomas come from the initial journey down; we can place him back in Aquitaine in 983/4 thanks to Adhemar and we know from the letters of Gerbert of Rheims that the two kings were back in the north by early 984 anyway), but a good part of me wants to ascribe that to coincidence. (It is also worth saying, although it doesn’t directly bear on this incident, that Adelaide’s marriages to both Raymond and William are also attested elsewhere).

What can we not corroborate, then; for what is Richer our only source? A surprisingly large amount, from the motivation for the marriage (that the aim was from the start to set up a sub-kingdom, that the plan was aimed against Hugh Capet), to the setting up of Louis’ regime (notably the marriage at Vieille-Brioude and the fact that Adelaide was crowned at all). Above all, we have no idea why Louis’ marriage or his kingship failed – and looking at the context surrounding that will be our next post.

*There are very good extant translations of both Richer and Ralph Glaber which I normally use myself, but for copyright purposes these translations are my own.

(also unspoken through all of this is that Richer is of course a very rich source for mentalités…)

Some Issues in Aquitanian History pt 5: Making Peace

Back in March, we covered the endemic conflict which started up in Auvergne in the late 950s; now, it’s time to see how it ended. The main players, if you remember, were King Lothar, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont, and Count William Towhead of Poitou. When we left off, Stephen, his carefully-cultivated closeness to the king under severe pressure thanks to William’s belligerence, was off to Rome. But life in Aquitaine went on without him. In 960, the knights of Nevers cathedral were attacked, seemingly unsuccessfully, by a guy named Airard. Airard is not, at this time, such a common name; and it is striking that the only man with that name I know of in the 950s and 960s is a follower of William Towhead – it looks awfully like William’s side making an unsuccessful attack on Nevers.

Important men, however, were gearing up to make peace, and there’s a Provence connection here. The archbishop of Lyon, at the time, was a man named Amblard, who actually came from Auvergne – much of what we know about him comes from his donation of the little abbey of Ris, north-east of Clermont, to Cluny.

And here it is, looking very rural-French. (source)

We know from other evidence that bishops in the West Frankish royal circle are getting together with Amblard of Lyon throughout this period – they sent round letters condemning a man named Isuard for stealing Church property, but this can’t have been the only thing they were talking about. We also know that in 960, Lothar confirmed some land just west of Charlieu, on the border between Burgundy and Aquitaine, to the monastery of Savigny, one of the most important in Amblard’s diocese; and we also know that in 960, Amblard made a deal with Bishop Ebalus of Limoges, William Towhead’s brother and a major prop of his regime, regarding some property claimed by the church of Lyon in the Limousin.

This last one is really quite important – Amblard is the only figure we know of with connections both to the Poitevins, and to the Auvergne, and to the West Frankish king. If he wasn’t trying to mediate a settlement in the Auvergne, I’ll eat my hat.

The problem is that, if the attack of Nevers is anything to go by, William wasn’t buying into the need to make a deal. Lothar had to apply a stick: he granted the pagus of Poitou to his cousin, Hugh the Great’s son Hugh Capet. Hugh the Great had, in 955, tried to capture Poitiers himself, although nothing had come of it. Nothing was to come of this grant either, and I think it is much more readily explicable as Lothar trying to use Hugh to intimidate William Towhead than as a serious grant of title.

If it was, it worked. In 961, Lothar met the Aquitanians , probably in Pouilly where his father Louis IV had met them in 954. The following year, Lothar granted a diploma to William Towhead, who very shortly thereafter retired into a monastery where he quickly died. At the same time, Stephen of Clermont issued his second charter, which we’ve talked about before. As I said then, Stephen is clearly renewing his local authority by re-emphasising his closeness to the king; but at the same time, it looks like William was given an honourable avenue into retirement, meaning that Stephen should be able to reclaim his hegemony in Auvergne. The bishop is back, baby!

Of course, it wasn’t that easy; and after this date, neither is researching this topic. I’m plugging on with it, but this is where my actual narrative stops for the moment. So you may be waiting a little while for the next of these…

Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 4: The Succession to Hugh the Great in Auvergne, 956-959

Postponed but not forgotten! (The last in the coronation ordines series is still on at some point as well; it just turns out I have nothing much to say about Philip I…) Last time in this occasional series about the career of Bishop Stephen II of Auvergne, Count William Towhead had tried to proclaim himself as ruler of the Auvergne, and come to some kind of agreement with the bishop. This agreement didn’t hold up very long, because of the death of Hugh the Great, that inescapable figure of tenth-century history.

We have discussed this before in relation to Neustria, but it had repercussions in Aquitaine as well, although they’re quite obscure. What appears to have happened is that Stephen (and perhaps William Towhead, if his authority was anything other than nominal) lost control over some of Auvergnat nobles. It’s hard to say when this process began – in 956 and 957, our extant sources are focussed on Burgundy – but it came to a head in 958. That year, according to one charter, ‘the princes of the Auvergne rebelled against each other in turn’. Around the same time, there was an Auvergnat attack on southern Burgundy defeated at Chalmoux by Count Lambert of Chalon.* Neither of these documents give the Auvergnats a leader, so I don’t think we’re dealing with anything as grandiose as a civil war. Rather, it looks a lot more like the eruption of a couple of years of endemic banditry. If I had to point to a cause, I’d ascribe it to the shift in leadership the region was undergoing: Stephen’s lord, King Louis IV, had recently died, as had his metropolitan, Archbishop Launo of Bourges, and Hugh the Great, who I am increasingly inclined to see as a peacemaker. Moreover, William Towhead’s – I think the word is fair – usurpation of authority in Auvergne, which may or may not have done him any good, looks likely to have weakened Stephen’s position. The violence of the time around 958, then, appears to be the result of local nobles looking to take advantage of the suddenly-shaky Stephanic regime to settle feuds and grab the upper hand in local disputes.

One thing Stephen did that I’m not going to talk about was to commission a statue of the Virgin in Majesty, which now only survives as this drawing. Image taken from M. Goulet & D. Iogna-Prat, ‘Vierge en Majeste’, in Marie. Le culte de la Vierge, ed. D. Iogna-Prat et. al., p. 405.

Stephen claimed to have restored peace in the region by September 958, although frankly I think this is dubious. Not the least reason for this is that on top of the localised violence, it seems clear that there was ongoing fighting between King Lothar, Hugh the Great’s sons (who were Lothar’s cousins), and William Towhead, with the first two joining forces against the latter whilst at the same time also quarrelling amongst themselves. Thus, in November 958, at Martinmas (possibly in response to the Auvergnat invasion of southern Burgundy?) Lothar and his cousins went to Marzy, a western suburb of Nevers on the river Loire, for a placitum against William Towhead. This is a slightly obscure phrase, and I’m not sure whether it means that there was a hostile meeting or something outright violent. Remember, Nevers was right where the old Guillelmid and Burgundian spheres of influence clashed, and it had passed back and forth between the two several times.

In 959, Nevers castle was captured and a new bishop, Natrand, formerly from the region of Sens, was imposed. This is far from certain, but I think that this is Lothar capturing the fortifications from William. Perhaps in response, but in any case a dramatic assertion of his authority over the region, William is attested for the first time entitled as count not simply of Poitou, but of ‘all Aquitaine’. At the same time, Stephen of Clermont put his affairs in order for a trip to Rome. This is an odd time to make a pilgrimage, you might think; but actually it does make a certain degree of sense. First, Stephen’s position depends on his links to royalty, links which are now jeopardised by William Towhead’s role in the Auvergne. So going to Rome gets him out of the way and means he can avoid any blame for that. Second, going to Rome gives Stephen ties with the papacy to brandish back home to further shore up his legitimacy (and in fact a few years later on we can see this happening).

As the 960s dawned, then, Stephen’s position did not look all that good. But peace (which, as his 958 charter said, rules all) was just on the horizon, and as this post is getting long enough, I’ll deal with that next time.

*Fair warning, this story is coming out of a lot of hypothesising and a strange melange of sources. If you’re interested how I got here, let me know; but this has taken me so long that I’m just going to tell the story.

“Who made you count?”

It’s a good question, and one famously reported by Adhemar of Chabannes. King Hugh Capet was fighting Count Aldebert of La Marche, and, when they met, asked him “Who made you count?”, in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. Aldebert replied “Who made you king?”, and it is for that latter that the story is usually remembered, but the former question is perhaps more important. We have a reasonable idea of how Hugh Capet became king having previously been a duke, as it was described in reasonable detail by several sources. How someone becomes a count without coming from a comital lineage is a bit less clear.*

However, a nice little source snippet on this question fell into my lap recently. I was looking at the Vita, or biography, of St. Gerald of Aurillac, and had to deal with the arguments of Matthew Kuefler to the effect that the version most historians are familiar with was written not in the 920s by Abbot Odo of Cluny but after the year 1000 by… well, by Adhemar of Chabannes, actually. I think this is unconvincing, personally, and the question of countship relates to one of Kuefler’s key arguments. He argues (p. 51, as well as elsewhere) that Gerald is referred to as count of Aurillac, but there don’t appear to have been other counts of Aurillac, so this is anachronistic.

However, this rests on the – very Carolingian – assumption that comital office was acquired through administrative mechanisms, that is to say, that one was granted a countship by the king and thus legally became a count. This, though, is not what the text actually says. Key here is Book 1, chapter 27 (not exactly the most up-to-date edition, but the easiest to link to; there’s a translation of the whole thing here):

On the whole route, he was of the highest rank of nobility, and was famous everywhere for his piety and largess. When, therefore, the traders, as is their custom, were going between the tents and asking if anyone wanted to buy anything, some of the better ones came to the lord [Gerald’s] tent, and asked his servants if, perchance, the lord count (for so everyone called him) would command that cloths or spices be bought.

Key here is the ‘for so they called him line’, because what this indicates is that countship was not necessarily legal, but social. By the tenth century, a sufficiently noble, wealthy and powerful man of good repute could be called a count not because of any formal process, but because his social position was sufficient for him to be acknowledged as at the top rank of regional society. There are other examples of this – the early eleventh-century counts of Ponthieu, and I think something similar happens in the late tenth century with the counts of Ternois – but the best example is roughly contemporary with Gerald, in the case of Fulk the Red, count/viscount of Anjou.

Fulk had been made viscount of Anjou in the first decade of the tenth century, and in the context of the region, with its formal hierarchy of rank and relatively tight governance, I think ‘appointed’ is the right way to describe it. He appears in a charter of 929 issued in his own name as ‘count’ not ‘viscount’. Despite this, he signs charters of his superior, Hugh the Great, ruler of the Neustrian March, as ‘viscount’ up through into the 930s. What seems to be happening here is that, in an Angevin context, he was a sufficiently big player by 929 that he could reasonably and plausibly claim to be a count as a marker of his social status, but this did not yet look plausible on a wider stage.

In any case, a focus on the juridical aspects of being a count is potentially misleading here. Late- and post-Carolingian counthood could be flexible, not necessarily always claimed, and fundamentally a matter of social status not legal role.

*In Aldebert’s case, I assumed the answer Hugh intended was ‘the king, i.e. me’, referring to the comital office as royally-constituted. In poking around, I’ve found that Aldebert became count of Perigord (which is how Adhemar refers to him) after capturing and blinding his brother, so the intended answer may well have been ‘no-one’, in which case Aldebert’s response becomes a bit more pointed, given that Hugh gained the throne by imprisoning his predecessor’s uncle…

Loyalty and Regime Change in Neustria, part 2: The Keys to the Kingdom

So, as of last time, Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks and master of kings, had died at the height of his power. What happened next? Hugh left split his domains between his two (presumably) oldest sons, Hugh Capet, the later king, and Odo. Hugh got Neustria (Paris, Orléans, and the Loire valley) and Odo got Burgundy – but in both cases, only for a given value of ‘got’.

Here, we must introduce a new character: Theobald the Trickster, count of Blois and Tours. Theobald had been Hugh the Great’s chief leg-breaker – it had been he, for instance, who had been Louis IV’s jailer after he was sold to Hugh in 945. After Hugh the Great’s death, he seems to have actively and aggressively expanded his power, capturing the cities of Châteaudun, Chinon, and Évreux on the southern border of Normandy. He also seems to have excluded Hugh Capet from exercising his father’s authority – in one memorable charter, he and his ally Count Fulk the Good of Angers are referred to as ‘by the generosity of the Lord, the administrators and governors of the [realm of Neustria]’ – Hugh doesn’t get a look-in. This is sometimes referred to as Hugh’s minority, but he was probably around 940 or so, making him around 16 when his father died and around 18 when the charter mentioned above was issued – easily old enough to be considered an adult. (King Lothar, as a parallel, took over his father’s role at a slightly younger age.) So it looks awfully like Theobald locked Hugh out deliberately.

The fallout from Hugh the Great’s death is fascinating, and I would probably argue for it being either the most or the second-most important moment in tenth-century West Frankish politics. This will not be last time I’ll come back to this time, so for the moment, here’s that question which bothers me about Theobald’s role: why did he do it? Why betray the son of his lord and benefactor?

Obviously, were I a Victorian (and even if I were a distressingly large number of modern people), I’d say it’s because he’s a Treacherous Aristocrat in the Century of Iron, Motivated only by Greed and Short-Term Advantage™. This is roughly on the level of accusing him of being naturally inconsistent because he’s French, and doesn’t work on its own terms – if Theobald were really interested in maximum returns from the new duke, why oppose him when it would be easier and less potentially perilous to simply sell him your services? Hugh’s brother Odo was fighting for his rights in Burgundy at this point, and Theobald had useful connections there – all he’d need to do was get Hugh to pay him, I don’t know, northern Burgundy for his help, and he would have made an easy profit. It must be that something actively drove Theobald out of Hugh Capet’s camp.

Hugh Capet was not an unknown quantity. Charter evidence indicates that his father had been putting him on the political stage, as it were, since he was a small child – his first appearance in the documentary record is in 946, and he witnesses charters alongside his father several times thereafter. Theobald and Hugh knew each other – so what didn’t Theobald like?

In 943, the ruler of Normandy, William Longsword, had been murdered. His son and heir, Richard the Fearless, was at the time a small child, and so a free-for-all over what would happen to Normandy resulted. Eventually, what seems to have happened is that Hugh the Great, allied to a Northman cabal, had left Richard in place in Rouen under his tutelage, whilst accepting the rule of a pagan Viking named Harald in western Normandy. At this time, though, the important city of Évreux in southern Normandy seems to have come under Theobald’s auspices – its bishop is found in his retinue by the late 940s.

By the time of Hugh the Great’s death, Richard the Fearless seems to have worked his way towards a closer alliance with Hugh and his family. The historian Dudo of Saint-Quentin claims that Hugh the Great betrothed his daughter Emma to Richard before his death. Dudo was writing a tendentious piece of Norman ducal propaganda, and so this claim is surrounded by panegyric addressed to Richard, and its chronology is all over the place. However, the contemporary chronicler Flodoard does record that Richard and Emma married in 960, and that after that Hugh and Theobald were hostile. It may be that, leaving aside Dudo’s extraneous verbiage, the basic elements of his story – that Richard was betrothed to Emma before Hugh the Great’s death and had a more prominent place in Hugh Capet’s entourage afterwards because of this – are roughly correct.

In that case, the potential threat to his control of Évreux might have been an important push factor leading Theobald to oppose Hugh. It might even have been that the idea of handing land back over the Normans from whom Hugh the Great had captured it only a decade or so before was morally repugnant to Theobald, although this is speculation. To my mind, though, whatever the specific factors behind Theobald’s decision, a sense comes through that his opposition to Hugh Capet followed on from his role under Hugh the Great – a sense that he could hold up the elder Hugh’s legacy better than his son could, that after risking life and limb in service to his ruler, he wasn’t going to be pushed out in favour of parvenu Northmen by the son. Of course, looking at the ideological aspect of Theobald’s conflict with Hugh is another long essay, and this has gone on for two posts already, so I’ll leave it here. As I said, though, this is not the last time I’ll come back to this…