The Carolingian Galactic Polity; or Bretons IN SPACE!

Exciting times are afoot! Specifically, I’m part-way through a deep-dive into non-Weberian theories of the state. There’s some background to this: back in 2014, I was part of a team organising a conference on the Carolingian frontier, and my pet frontier was ninth-century Brittany. I have subsequently published about this, but I never did get to grips with one key question: was Brittany part of the West Frankish kingdom, and if so, how? King Salomon (say) had various symbolic and ritual bonds of submission with Charles the Bald, but would either or both of them thought of themselves as being members of the same polity; and if so, how, and at what point in their relationship? I’d filed these questions in the musty cardboard boxes at the back of my head. Then, at this year’s IMC, I went to see John Latham Sprinkle talk about the Byzantine Empire as something called a ‘segmentary state’, and it was one of the most exciting papers I’ve ever been to. John kindly gave me a reading list, and I’ve been beavering away at the reading ever since. This blog post, then, is a first effort to outline what a ‘segmentary state’/’mandala polity’ is, and how useful it is to scholars of the early middle ages generally and Carolingianists specifically.

Let’s start at the beginning. From at least the middle of the twentieth century, anthropologists, and historians of Southeast Asia (amongst others, but these groups make up the bulk of my reading list) have been trying to escape from, or at least adapt to different circumstances, Weberian models of the polity conceived of as Eurocentric, and a number of models have been developed which, if not identical, at the very least overlap closely. In 1956, Aidan Southall wrote a study of the Alur of what is now Uganda, and for his study developed a model of the ‘segmentary state’. In an article in the ‘70s, he championed a version of this model explicitly for comparative purposes, and in that article he gave a simple one-sentence definition of the ‘segmentary state’: ‘one in which the spheres of ritual suzerainty and political sovereignty do not coincide. The former extends widely towards a flexible, changing periphery. The latter is confined to the central, core domain.’ However, I find this definition too simple, and prefer the list of criteria that he gave in his original monograph. There, he defined a ‘segmentary state’ as one in which:

1) Territorial sovereignty is recognised but limited and relative, forming a series of zones in which authority fades out the further away you go, shading into ritual hegemony.

2) There is a central government but also numerous peripheral foci of administration over which the centre exercises only limited control.

3) There are specialised administrators at the centre, which are repeated on a limited scale at these peripheral foci.

4) The centre has a limited monopoly on legitimate force, but the peripheral foci have a more restricted range of legitimate force options as well.

5) Several levels of peripheral foci can be distinguished, arranged pyramidally, these being reduced images of the centre.

6) The more peripheral a subordinate authority is the more likely it can change from one power pyramid to another, and some can have political standing in several adjacent power pyramids.

That’s a lot of stuff in one go, but hopefully turning to the south-east Asian side will make it a bit clearer. In south-east Asian studies, a very similar model of the pre-modern polity is associated with the work of Stanley Tambiah, who described what he called a ‘mandala polity’. Based on the Buddhist conception of a mandala, Tambiah proposed that south-east Asian polities could be described in terms of overlapping and/or concentric circles. Thus, the archetypal ‘mandala polity’ can be diagrammed as such:

source: Tambiah, ‘Galactic Polity’, p. 505, fig. 1.

Schematically, we have an imperial centre (a royal capital such as the city of Pagan or Ayutthaya), surrounded by a core of inner provinces ruled over by subordinate rulers, and an outer periphery of ‘tributary’ kingdoms ruled over by yet smaller-scale rulers. Each of these levels reproduces the one above it on a smaller scale: Shan princelings in the Burmese highlands copied the imperial palace at Mandalay, and tiny local Kachin chiefs copied the Shan copying the imperial centre. The power of the centre ebbed and flowed, and there was never only one centre. The ‘mandala polity’ is also known as the ‘solar’ or ‘galactic polity’, to sharpen this metaphor. The idea here is that the imperial centre acts as a ‘sun’, exerting a gravitational influence on outlying ‘satellites’ which is stronger the closer a satellite is. However, the ‘satellites’ also exert their own gravitational pull; and a ‘satellite’ can be under the effects of more than one degree of pull at once. Finally, the system ‘pulsates’, such that the pull of a ‘sun’ can decrease substantially and one of the outlying ‘planets’ can increase enough for it to form a new imperial centre. These ideas have been developed in numerous directions, but I particularly want to point out the work of James C. Scott, who adds two main insights: 1) that the pull exerted by a ‘sun’ is not a linear function of distance, but is heavily affected by geography which is not amenable to state control (in his case, mountains; but he notes that oceans would also fit the bill); and 2) that the effects of overlapping ‘gravitational pulls’ can work out in quite different ways, from simple dual vassalage to outright cancelling each other out.

These two ideas, the ‘segmentary state’ and the ‘galactic polity’ do have some differences – for instance, the ‘segmentary state’’s focus on genealogical lineage and the explicit ties of the ‘galactic polity’ to Buddhist cosmology – but in terms of what I find interesting about them, the similarities are much stronger and more interesting than the dissimilarities. Both of them give a model of the pre-modern polity which, in my reading, have five key points:

1)    they focus on centres, not borders.

2)    These centres are layered: there is legitimate conceptual space for lower-level rulers to exercise authority in qualitatively similar ways to higher-level ones.

3)    Indeed, authority is actively imitative: lower-level rulers consciously model themselves on higher-level ones.

4)    However, authority is not exclusive: subordinate authorities can have political relationships to multiple higher-level rulers.

5)    Finally, there is a firm role for the esoteric: the symbolic and ritual dimensions of rule are as important as Weberian indicators of sovereign control.

I am, of course, wildly unqualified to comment on how well these models actually work within their own disciplinary contexts. Do they, though, work for the Carolingian world, or can they be adapted thereto? Let’s go through the points in order.


Broadly speaking, this one gets a thumbs up. I don’t want to deny the importance of borders in the Carolingian world and the early Middle Ages more broadly – not least because Sam has already written about that subject on this very website – but I’ve always found thinking about centres not edges more helpful for the Carolingian period. In this case, Southall’s ‘segmentary state’ is probably the more helpful version. The focus on cities in the Southeast Asian material doesn’t have much Carolingian parallel. Sure, there are your Aachens and your Compiègnes, but ‘capital cities’ are conspic. by their a. Southall’s focus on the person of chiefs seems more helpful here. In fact, this point seems like it would pair up with medievalist ideas of königsnahe to feed back in to wider discussions of these concepts. Both models have a linearly geographic focus, which the Carolingian world raises questions about: it would be hard to argue that, say, Toulouse had more königsnahe than the Spanish March even though Toulouse was closer to West Frankish kingship centres. A analytical emphasis on the strength of the ‘gravitational’ pull rather than the geographic arrangement of the planets would help here. (Scott does hint towards this in his discussion of the ‘friction of distance’ over difficult terrain; but ‘political distance’, if I can put it like that, doesn’t necessarily require logistically difficult geographical space.) This emphasis would also help when dealing with something else the Southeast Asian historians don’t seem to have to deal with: itinerancy. Medievalists have been dealing with patterns of royal movement for a very long time, but whilst Louis the Pious or Charles the Simple’s limited mobility can fit relatively neatly into a ‘solar polity’ model, something like Louis IV’s 941/942 journey across the length and breadth of the West Frankish kingdom threatens to turn our image from a solar system into a billiard table unless we model political relations very abstractly.


This point is probably the least important qua the Carolingians, because I think it’s originally designed to draw a distinction with a Weberian ‘monopoly of legitimate violence’ which we don’t think the Carolingians had anyway. There is more to say about this, but I think it’s better placed under the next point:


Here consideration of Carolingian society takes us in two opposite directions. On one hand, as Jinty Nelson has pointed out, kingship was special. The unique connection forged by ceremonies like unction gives the king a relationship with the numinous that then becomes the key aspect of his power: a count is legitimate because he can access the font of legitimacy which is kingship. There is thus a qualitative chasm between the king and even high-authority territorial officials like the Neustrian marchio. However, on the other hand, I think that there is room for exploration here. Claims such as ‘the tenth-century English state was the most Carolingian kingdom of the earlier Middle Ages’ are well-known, and I think that the Danish kingdom might have been adopting elements of Carolingian rule as well. Sometimes, this was actively pursued by Carolingian kings: Charles the Bald’s dealings with the Breton ruler Salomon, including offering him Frankish-style royal regalia, were part of an attempt to make Brittany easier to control by channelling Breton rulership into Carolingian models. Equally, imitation of *non-royal* Carolingian rule would repay inquiry: I have an article in preparation discussing this in the case of Normandy, for instance, which we’ll go into more in a future post.


This is one the places where the mandala polity not only fits well, but has its strongest explanatory power. I’ve mentioned before that Frisia is peculiar, partially because it’s in both the Frankish and the Danish spheres of influence. The work of IJssennagger and Croix has stressed Frisia’s place within a cultural continuum, its liminal status. This rhymes beautifully with a mandala polity model: Frisia is within the ‘orbits’ of both the Carolingians and the Danes. Thus, Roric of Dorestad – for example – can be conceptualised as an integral part of both ‘solar systems’. This then helps us explain some of the stranger things about Frisia. For instance, we recently discussed how Frisia (like Normandy) had Carolingian-style counts, but Roric himself was never (unlike the Norman rulers) characterised as a Carolingian-style supermagnate, but rather as a Danish king. But this makes sense: Frisia was part of the Danish kingdom and simultaneously part of the Lotharingian one, and so its political culture reflects not just both, but the interactions between both as well. There are other examples here: in the tenth century, for instance, parts of western Lotharingia were in the mandalas of both the West Frankish and Ottonian kingdoms (and this might be, as Scott discusses, an instance where the result was two sovereignties cancelling each other out), and Brittany, Normandy and Flanders could probably be conceptualised as being part of the English mandala too.


Finally, we come to the role played by the symbolic and ritual dimensions of rule. Here, let’s go back to Brittany, where I started. I was having trouble conceptualising Brittany because it’s hard to understand Frankish influence in the region when viewed through a Weberian prism. The Carolingians didn’t rule Brittany, and their power in the region was only ever manifest through actual invasions (and in Charles the Bald’s time, at least, the odds of the Bretons winning was pretty good). However, Brittany was not a peer polity. It was – somehow – subordinate, and that subordination tended to be expressed precisely in these symbolic dimensions, such as Charles the Bald making Erispoë his son-in-law or Alan the Great adopting Carolingian styles of rule. Looking at it with a ‘mandala polity’ model in mind, though, Brittany comes into relatively clear focus as an example of an outer-ring polity of the Carolingian mandala. There are, of course, nuances here (as I’ve written about in the past, there were forces in Breton politics which actively rejected associations with the Carolingians, and I feel like the model needs to provide conceptual space for conscious rejection of models of rule as well as conscious imitation). Nonetheless, the Breton case shows quite clearly that this is good to think with.

Prima facie, then, we have a good case for the application of a ‘mandala polity’ model to the Carolingian world. I am, of course, about as far from being an expert on southeast Asia or Africa as you could get, so it’s quite possible that I have misunderstood the models. If and when I use them more in my work, I will certainly chop and change them to better fit the specifics of my research’s time and place. For now, though, I leave you on two questions. First, if you’re from one of the fields which generated these models, what have I missed? What should I be reading about this? Second, if you’re from my own field, what do you think of this model as a tool for understanding?


Charter A Week 75: New Peace, Old Tricks

In early 950, Louis IV and Hugh the Great finally agreed to an Ottonian-brokered peace deal. One of the effects of this was a de facto division of the West Frankish kingdom into spheres of Carolingian and Robertian influence. However, this peace was fragile. Part of the reason was that Louis’ and Hugh’s subordinates were not necessarily compliant: they had their own personal interests, and a peace between their masters did not always affect their behaviour. Flodoard, for instance, tells us that in 950 both one of Louis’ subordinates (Ragenold of Roucy) and one of Hugh’s (Theobald the Trickster) infringed the peace deal. Notably, whereas Louis persuaded Ragenold to step back, Hugh was unable to do the same with Theobald. Louis responded by rattling sabres, displaying public support for Hugh’s enemy Arnulf the Great of Flanders and – going back to his strategies of the 940s – seeking to strengthen his alliances in the south.

In 951, Louis set out for Aquitaine. As we’ve seen in previous weeks, there were reasons to think he’d find a good reception there. Bishop Stephen of Clermont, the big cheese of the Auvergne, had probably been appointed by Louis, and had certainly backed him over Hugh when Louis was imprisoned in 945. However, this doesn’t appear to have translated into concrete support in the key years of the late 940s, and it makes sense that Louis would have wanted to renegotiate his relationship with central Aquitaine. Moreover, a little before 951, Stephen had reorientated his strategies of legitimacy:

CC no. 1.792 (c. 950)

In the name of Lord God Eternal.

Stephen, by grace of the Holy Spirit bishop of Auvergne.

If it can be done, I want it to be known to all Christ’s followers in common how I and my father Robert and his wife Hildegard endeavoured to summon to the place which is called Sauxillanges the abbot named Aimard from the monastery of Cluny, who delegated monks therein to build up the same place in accordance with the Rule, both for the salvation of our souls and also for the remedy of Count Acfred [II of Aquitaine], who bestowed that allod on God Almighty, of whom my same father was also an almsman; and for the soul of William [the Pious], the first and greatest duke; and as well for the younger William [the Younger], and for the rest of all our relatives, and all the Christian faithful living and dead, such that they might busy themselves to offer prayers to God Almighty there. 

Therefore, we established concerning this matter that from this day forth for all time the same place should be held and disposed and ordained, with God’s help, legally and in accordance with the Rule by the aforesaid abbot and after his death by his successors and by the monks of Cluny.

If, perchance, anyone is displeased that we have so ordained the goods which were given to God Almighty (as is written in the aforesaid place’s charter), they should remember that Lord Jesus gave His Church, which He deigned to call His bride, and which He bought with his own and precious blood, to the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, commanding not merely once but also twice and three times that he should nourish this flock. And thus, because of this, we prohibit and call to witness in God and through God and through Lord Jesus that no prince, no bishop succeeding me in this episcopal office, nor any invader should presume to prey upon, devastate, or diminish the goods of this place, nor exact any service or dues from the power of this place with any trickeryor ordain anything unjustly using episcopal authority as an excuse, nor exercise dominion over anything by the power of his situation.  

Witnesses: Stephen, bishop of the Auvergne. Viscountess Hildegard. Bishop Otgar [unknown see, probably southern Aquitanian]. Viscount Robert [of Clermont]. Viscount Eustorgius. Stephen, abbot of Mozac. Abbot Robert [of Mozat]. Gilbert. William. Hector. Godo. Andrald. Albion. Desiderius. Hugh. Eliseus. Bernard. Roger. Prior Bernard. Keymaster Stephen. Archdeacon Deodatus. Stephen son of Theotard. Theotard. Eldin. Another Eldin. Gulfer. 

Stephen, like a number of central Aquitanian elites in the first part of the tenth century, kept alive the memory of the Guillelmid dukes, and Sauxillanges became a lieu de memoire par excellence, even if Acfred II wouldn’t have appreciated it. In fact, subordinating Sauxillanges to Cluny would have particularly galled him… In any case, though, this charter shows Stephen and his family, the viscounts of Clermont, putting Sauxillanges into a Cluniac orbit. My best reading of this is that it was an act of ideological reconciliation: with Ralph of Burgundy out of the way, the two halves of the Guillelmid monastic legacy could finally team up, and Stephen and his family, who – as you can see here – claimed to follow in Guillelmid footsteps, could present a past of central Aquitanian regional hegemony where troubles had been smoothed over.

In 951, Louis showed up with an army, evidently expecting trouble. However, the major magnates of Aquitaine – Charles Constantine of Vienne (on whom more next time), William Towhead of Poitiers, and Stephen II of Clermont – appeared and submitted to him. There were several meetings. Stephen’s submission took place, significantly, at Pouilly-sur-Loire, a traditional meeting place for meetings between Aquitanian magnates and West Frankish kings going back to the ninth century. The only surviving documentary evidence for this is the following charter:

D L4 no. 37 = CC no. 1.763 = ARTEM no. 1604 = D.Kar VIII.8 (3rd February 951, Pouilly-sur-Loire)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Louis, by propitiation of divine mercy king of the Franks.

If in giving work to divine worship We endeavour to raise God’s Church to the highest state of holy religion, We use royal custom and the privileges of Our predecessors.

Wherefore let the skill of all the faithful of the holy Church of God both present and future know that the venerable Bishop Stephen [II] of Auvergne, approaching Our Presence, reverently asked that We might deign to confer by a precept of Our Regality certain goods, the same goods which the late Count Acfred [II of Aquitaine] bestowed on God and His saints from the right of his property in the district of Auvergne for the remedy of his soul and that of his relatives to build up the Rule of St Benedict there, for the monastery of Cluny and its abbot, and this We did. 

Whence We commanded this decree of Our Highness to be made and given to Aimard, abbot of the aforesaid monastery, through which the same abbot and his successors might perpetually hold the aforesaid goods in their entirety just as is contained in the charter of the aforesaid Count Acfred, disturbed by no-one.

And that this emolument of Our authority might be inviolably conserved through the course of times to come, confirming it below with Our own hand, We commanded it be signed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of lord Louis, the most glorious king.

Odilo the notary re-read and underwrote on behalf of Archbishop Artald [of Rheims].

Enacted at the estate of Pouilly-sur-Loire, on the 3rd nones of February [3rd February], in the 6th indiction, in the 15th year of the reign of the glorious King Louis. 

The original diploma (source linked above).

Whilst this diploma is significant, it is also straightforward. Despite everything which had happened over the years, despite the many shocks the realm had undergone since the foundation of Sauxillanges in 927, the fundamental dynamic of early medieval kingship had changed little. Stephen of Clermont led a regional aristocratic group, to which he gave Louis access; in return, Louis legitimised Stephen’s position at the head of that group. Way back in my original series of posts on Aquitaine, I noted how important this royal connection was to Stephen, and this was a key link in the chain, next to 945 and 962. This significance came down to the place itself: as Stephen stood in Pouilly, where Aquitanian rulers from Charles the Child to Bernard Plantevelue had met their West Frankish overlords, he must have felt the symbolic resonances empowering his rule. However, Stephen was not there alone. Probably at Pouilly with him was William Towhead, count of Poitiers. The Poitevin counts did not normally come that far east, and one wonders how many plans occurred to William along the journey…

Three Flavours of Viking Ruler

In the 840s, the monk Walafrid Strabo wrote a work called the Libellus de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum. At the end of the work, he compared lay and ecclesiastical hierarchies, going all the way from kings and emperors through dukes, counts, and then local officials and royal vassals. Compared to the elaborate hierarchy of the Byzantine court (or for that matter of Irish laywers), Walafrid’s schema might be a bit rough and ready, but it’s still a fairly well-worked out set of socio-political gradations. Compared to contemporary viking polities, moreover, it’s arcane to the point of absurdity: viking polities are flat, and it’s that flatness we’ll be discussing today.

What do I mean by ‘flat’? Well, one of the things I’ve noticed is that – almost no matter what the source – there are only ever three kinds of title given to viking leaders. The first is ‘king’. The royal title, moreover, tends to be given in the most straightforward manner available in any given language. Even though there were in fact different grades of kingship in the viking world (as in the earlier medieval world generally), we don’t see words for ‘lower king’ (such as Latin regulus) or ‘higher king’ (such as Old Irish ardri) used in our sources. This isn’t too significant, especially because such technical language isn’t used that often in our historical sources anyway (the earliest use I can find of ardri for an Irish king in the Annals of Ulster is under the entry for 980), but it’s worth keeping in the back of our minds. The most significant exception comes from the case of the Rus’. Given the overtones of Christian monarchy implicit in the word, it’s unlikely any Frankish author would think to apply a word like imperator to a viking ruler; but the Rus’ title of khagan could hold similar meanings. Given that the Rus’ almost certainly had a khagan, this holds quite significant implications for the ideological basis of early Rus’ rulership.

A different kind of viking trefoil. Taken from Jane Kershaw, Viking Identities: Scandinavian Jewelry in England (Oxford: OUP, 2013), p. 82.

The second title is equally simple, and could be summed up as ‘boss’. There are almost endless variations of this in our different source languages, from dux and princeps in Latin, to heretoga in Old English, toísech in Old Irish, ἡγεμών (hegemon) in Greek, رئيس (rais) in Arabic, and so on… On its own, this might not mean very much. One could make the argument that, say, a Byzantine historiographer might not be terribly interested in understanding or communicating to their readers the specifics of viking titulature. Two counterarguments can be made against this point of view. First, as we’ve already seen with khagan and will see below with our third title, often authors did in fact deal with viking titulature on its own terms. Second, the fact that this vague titulature is repeated across such wide vistas of time and space suggests that it’s reflecting something real. Irish authors of the early ninth century or Byzantine authors of any period might not have known or cared what viking captains called themselves; but by the year 900 viking raiders had been known to other societies for a very long time and some authors were writing within polities ruled by Northman elites. That so many viking rulers were known by titles translating as ‘the guy in charge’ strongly suggests that in a lot of these political cultures authority was not very tightly or formally conceptualised.

Our third title also hints in this direction, and that’s ‘jarl’. I say ‘jarl’ specifically because it shows up actually as such in our Old English and Old Irish sources, and I think that odds are very good it’s hiding behind the few uses in Latin of titles such as comes Normannorum. We have no direct evidence for the title in a Rus’ context, but the Russian chronicle tradition makes tantalising reference to nobles called ‘voivodes’ who may well be the same thing. (In any case, there’s no evidence of more elaborate hierarchies amongst the early Rus’.) As this implies, our evidence for the presence of jarls in viking polities is scrappier than for kings or ‘bosses’. This is by itself significant: not only do we seem to have only one non-royal elite title which was conceptualised as a distinct position, it may not have been present always and everywhere.

One intriguing thing about this flatness is that it’s distinctive to viking polities but not obviously ‘genetic’ in the sense of descended directly from Scandinavian institutions. Our evidence for late eighth and ninth-century Scandinavian polities indicates a somewhat more nuanced hierarchy of officials, perhaps based on Frankish models. We have annalistic references to a custos limitis, a border magnate with enlarged responsibilities; and various other references (largely from Rimbert of Hamburg-Bremen) to urban officials. These might, of course, be Franks incorrectly reading the ranks of their own society into the Danish and/or Swedish kingdoms, but I am inclined to think that it’s reflecting developments within Scandinavia – the titles Rimbert gives to urban officials, for instance, are not very well-attested within the Carolingian empire itself. Scandinavian hierarchies, then, might have been more formal than viking ones. However, the threefold division of viking polities is also not reflected directly amongst other groups: descriptions of, say, Magyars and especially Petchenegs (the latter of whom don’t seem to have had individual leaders until very late on), don’t match up.

There are of course exceptions, and I’ll discuss a few now. First, there are some cases where viking rulers assimilated into more elaborate pre-existing hierarchies. The most celebrated case is of course Normandy, where Rollo and his descendants took over the role of a Carolingian count. By the early eleventh century, in fact, Normandy’s administration was almost archetypically Carolingian, with a regional supermagnate of fluctuating but high-status title (dux, marchio, etc) over a smaller number of subordinate counts and viscounts, and then Carolingian-style local officials such as vicarii. A similar pattern can be seen in Frisia, where viking rulers ruled over Carolingian counts. However, Frisia’s situation between the Danish kingdom and the Frankish world made it somewhat peculiar in this regard, and we’ll discuss that more in a future post. In general, though, this exception proves the rule: Rollo and the Frisian rulers were much less ‘genetically’ descended from viking armies (using ‘genetic’ here in the sense of social rather than biological reproduction) and their position was negotiated under the auspices of existing rulership, as opposed to the conquest polities of, say, East Anglia or Dublin.

That’s not the whole story, and the second exception we’ll finish off with before this post gets too long is that of development over time. In our discussion of Normandy above, the key phrase was ‘by the early eleventh century’: it’s unclear, but unlikely, that there was a Carolingian administration in place in early tenth century Normandy, not least because there doesn’t appear to have been a Carolingian administration in place in ninth-century Normandy either. For instance, Rollo was either the first count of Rouen period or the first in about a hundred years. The elaboration of lay hierarchies in Normandy can be paralleled elsewhere: in Rus’, for instance, it kept going for centuries and we have eleventh-century law codes showing a hierarchy of local officials. Even in Dublin, we have some evidence for a more fleshed-out lay hierarchy by the eleventh century. This reinforces my sense that the ‘flat’ nature of viking polities is a functional development from the hierarchies of viking armies, and the further away a polity gets from being a viking army the more elaborate its hierarchies get.

So where does this leave us? One of the questions of my research is the impact of Scandinavian forms of government on viking polities. ‘Scandinavian’ is already a big enough category that I went looking for regional differences; but actually I’m increasingly coming to the opinion (and I’m hardly original here) that ‘viking army’ is probably a more significant laboratory for settled rule than whatever kingdom the Scandinavian element within these armies came from. Naturally, the content assigned to titles such as ‘king’ or ‘jarl’ will be linked to how they’re understood in Scandinavia; but their place in society doesn’t have to have been. However, the comparative example of the Petchenegs is always at the back of my mind. I still don’t know why viking fleets in (say) Ireland and Rus’ look in important ways like each other, but not like either the Danish kingdom or other mobile military polities. I will keep you updated on what I come up with!

Charter A Week 74: Sobbo and Charlieu

More on Burgundy! We did some of this last week, I know. However, the Cluniac archives are such a rich source that it’s hard not to succumb to the temptation to highlight some of the gems they contain. Moreover, the historiographical emphasis on the north-east as both a hub for royal power and, more generally, the cockpit of the West Frankish kingdom is so prevailing; and the historical importance of Burgundy so significant, that it’s really important to emphasise and re-emphasise the point. Burgundian support was key to West Frankish rulers from Charles the Bald onwards, and despite how fragmentary our evidence is, it’s clear that it remained so into the tenth century. As a case in point, this charter:

CC no. 1.730 (c. 950) 

Unless it is defeated either by love of an eternal homeland or frightened off by the terror of future judgement, the insatiable greed of this world is – far from doubt – in no way able to extinguish misery; it happens for this reason that people do not fear to transfer not only the goods of the poor, but also churchly goods, into their own uses. I, Sobbo the sinner, confess myself to have done this. But returning now to my right mind, and considering the most exacting judgment of divine reproach, I wish and desire that both the sublimity of princes and the priestly dignity and also the generality of everyone should know that until now I unjustly kept hold of the abbey of Charlieu, and I render myself culpable thereby. The same place was the inheritance of the late Robert, bishop of Valence, who build a monastery there, and took care to solemnly dedicate it in honour of the blessed martyrs Stephen, Felix, Fortunatus and Achilles, and delegated brothers to live there in accordance with the Rule. Once his praiseworthy vow had been put into effect, he did not neglect to give it over to the holy Roman church, to that it might endure under the perpetual tutelage of the same.

Later, lord Odo [of Cluny], whose memory is fittingly celebrated with praise, through King Hugh [of Arles], by the ordination of apostolic authority, obtained through a privilege that the aforesaid place be bestowed on the monastery of Cluny; the most glorious King Louis [IV] as well deigned to confirm it by a precept of his regality.

Therefore, overcome by such authorities, breaking asunder the bridle of greed, I restored and surrendered the aforesaid abbey in its entirety to lord Aimard, venerable abbot of the abbey of Cluny, for the remedy of my soul, and cast myself out from there forever. To destroy all calumnies, I prayed the testament of this notice of restoration be made, through which let the said abbot and his successors perpetually possess the aforesaid place, hold it as their own, and ordain it legally and in accordance with the Rule.

If any of my heirs, or anyone else, might presume to calumniate this testament, let them be subject to every curse unless they quickly come to their senses.

Sobbo. Maimbod, bishop of the holy church of Mâcon. Guy, bishop of Soissons. Gibuin, bishop of Autun [recte Châlons]. Anskeric, son of Sobbo. Roland. Bernard. Guy. Walo. Prior Humbert. Aimoin. Abbot Robert. Ragenold [of Roucy], count of Rheims. Hugh. Odalric. Theodoric. Ingobrand. Richer. Aimo. Stephen. Aldin. Bernard. Otard.

In the reign of King Louis.

Charlieu today (source)

A small thing to start with: there was a protracted (and frankly interminable) debate amongst older scholarship as to whether Ragenold of Roucy was count of Roucy or count of Rheims. Personally, I don’t think his comital status derived from specific comital office at all – Flodoard says pretty explicitly that it derived from his Königsnahe and whatever administrative jurisdiction he possessed was probably irrelevant to it – but this charter is decent evidence that he did have lay jurisdiction at Rheims. It’s not perfect evidence, though – this is an eleventh-century copy that gets other things wrong (Bishop Gibuin’s see, for example), and we’ve seen in the pastthat later scribes were not averse to giving people erroneous titles based on what held true in their own day.

Regardless of that, if last time we saw Burgundians communicating with the royal court, here we can see a fairly hefty delegation of northerners going south. We don’t know exactly when this happened (beyond ‘around 950’), but it’s evidence of continuing and ongoing ties between Burgundy and West Frankish kingship. Particularly interesting is the reference to a royal precept referring to Charlieu. This is one of the Chevrigny diplomas we saw a few weeks ago, and it’s therefore intriguing that we have this private charter later and separately. I think what’s happening here is that, both practically and symbolically, Louis’ delegation is confirming this transaction now that the king is out of Hugh the Great’s thumb. As that specific diploma was also the one granting to Cluny property pertaining to Saint-Martin of Tours, I wonder if we might not also be seeing a kind of show of force in front of Sobbo, reminding him who’s boss?

On a bigger picture, despite the fact that by now Conrad the Pacific was fully set up in Provence, this is yet another occasion where the Trans-Ararian Fluidity Zone is in effect! Sobbo refers to precepts from both Louis and Hugh of Arles, and although the abbey is in the Mâconnais it was founded by the bishop of Valence; and Sobbo himself probably has kinship ties to several archbishops of Lyon and Vienne. There’s a bit of a parallel between this and the Lotharingian networks we were looking at last week: whatever the nominal borders were, cross-border networks were really important for actual on-the-ground politics.

Helpless Franks and Alien Danes?

One of the things I’m slowly getting to grips with is German-language historiography on the vikings. There’s not, in relative terms, a lot of this: most work (maybe three-quarters?) on the subject is in English, with the proportion naturally varying depending on which region one is looking at (thus, the internal history of – say – Sweden has more in Swedish, on Normandy in French, on Frisia in Dutch, and so on). However, because of the role that northern attackers played in the history of the Carolingian empire, there is a fair amount of material to handle, and it’s in this context that I have once again met the work of Johannes Fried. Fried is a very senior and learned medievalist whose heyday as a leading light in the field was, I would say, roughly the ‘80s to the ‘00s. I previously read the English translation of his massive biography of Charlemagne back in 2017, and… Look, there’s no point in beating about the bush. Despite Fried’s erudition, his work displays some of the most bizarre contempt for the subjects of his research I’ve ever read.

In the case of the vikings, our focus is on his article ‘Why viking rulers were incomprehensible to the Franks’ (‘Weshalb die Normannenherrscher für die Franken unvorstellbar waren’), the tone of which is accurately conveyed by the title. Fried’s argument is pretty simple, and can be equally accurately conveyed by one of his subtitles, ‘incapable diplomacy, constant surprise: two hundred years of incorrect models’ (‘Hilflose Diplomatie, ständige Überraschung: zwei Jahrhunderte der falsche Maßstab’). That is, the Franks were irredeemably blinkered by their ‘gentile’ understanding of socio-political formations, in which an ethnic group (gens) and king are ‘quantities firmly bound up in one another, one unit of action, so to speak’ (‘einander fest zugeordnete Größen, gleichsam eine Handlungseinheit’). They were incapable of understanding that the inhabitants of Scandinavia didn’t fit the model provided by the Franks’ own society, and consequently their actions towards the people they called ‘Danes’ were doomed to failure, predicated as they were on the assumption that the Franks could pull the levers of Danish society in the way they could in their own kingdoms to achieve the same effects.

Prima facie, this argument might seem surprising: after all, we know that the Franks sent envoys to the Danish court and we even have eye-witness evidence from some of them, like the Saxon count Cobbo; or well-informed accounts from visitors to the region, like the missionary Rimbert. Surely this would have given some insight into the Scandinavian world? But! Fried has you covered: as another subtitle has it, Rimbert was ‘no less incapable’ (‘nicht minder hilflos’). Rimbert’s description of the Swedish kingdom, for instance, ‘betrays by the way it is formulated that [Rimbert’s] interpretative filter is derived from Frankish social circumstances’ (‘verrät durch die Formulierung sein von den fränkischen Verhältnissen abgeleitetes Deutungsmuster’). Poor Rimbert! Despite actually spending his life and career working in Scandinavia, despite possibly being Danish himself, he too was so arrogant, dogmatic and inflexible to understand the realities of the society and polity in which he worked. It’s tragic, really.

If I seem irritated, it’s because I am. What bothers me about this approach is the sheer high-handedness of it, the assumption that, thanks to the benefits of modern historical science, we have a better grasp on the reality of the earlier Middle Ages than people who actually lived at the time. Of course, distance and perspective are generally very useful in analysing past societies. Consequently, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it were helpful (Eleanor Searle, for instance, wrote in a deliberately obnoxious prose style but as recent posts have probably hinted I think her work is incredibly useful); but in this instance I don’t think it is.

There’s one straightforward reason for this: I’ve looked at the vikings comparatively and I don’t think Fried has. As I’ve already pointed out, Frankish sources harmonize quite nicely with Irish, English, Greek and Arabic ones; you could I suppose make a very weak case that they’re all caught in the straitjacket of Roman ethnographic traditions, but (say) Ibn Rustah does not derive his Deutungsmuster from fränkische Verhältnisse. This is particularly significant because these sources, like the Frankish sources and like Fried, are talking about Northman political formulations; and everywhere we get a picture of kingship, indeed of overkingship, of that kingship being over a group identity which is understood in ethnic terms, and furthermore that this kingship is not always effective. Here, I think Fried actually misreads the Frankish sources: they’re quite aware that the ‘Danish’ king and the ‘Danes’ don’t work as eine Handlungseinheit. There’s a greater degree of canniness than Fried allows in Frankish analysis of Danish political troubles, and a number of our annalists as well as Rimbert draw connections between viking bands and political opposition to ‘Danish’ kings. This all tallies with non-Frankish sources and thus gives us serious reason to doubt that viking rulers were in fact incomprehensible.

Once again, there’s no point dressing this up in pretty words – we can’t understand Carolingian politics if we assume that the Franks are morons. Fried’s argument is not simply that the Carolingian court is severely intellectually blinkered, it’s that this had major policy repercussions because the Franks were incapable of understanding that what mattered to them didn’t matter to the Danes. Thus, the sons of Louis the Pious sent angry messengers to Horic of Denmark threatening him if he didn’t control his people and stop them sending out viking raids because they didn’t understand that Horic couldn’t control them; and at the same time they tried to grant vikings land and make them swear oaths despite the fact that vikings themselves were outsiders who didn’t care about these Frankish systems of rule. The problem is it then becomes a major historical conundrum how people so stupid were able to rule most of Continental Europe for several centuries. As it happens, Fried is underestimating both Carolingian cunning and early Medieval inter-cultural connection. In the case of Horic, for example, the Franks knew perfectly well that the Danish ruler was sitting on top of a snake pit that he didn’t really control (just read Count Cobbo’s account of his embassy to Horic in 845), and their threat was intended to intimidate Horic into making the political gamble of trying to control raiding elites rather than compel him to exert control they already believed he had.

Accepting that Frankish authors could understand the vikings at least a bit (however much they strategically deployed them in their texts; however partial that understanding was) also rescues the Danish kings themselves from being a fuzzily undifferentiated ‘primitive society’ about whom nothing can be known (Fried does discuss the archaeology, a bit, but mostly to prove that the written sources don’t know what they’re talking about). Fried’s argument has Frankish and Danish societies as completely foreign to one another, leaving us with a bunch of Frankish-written snapshots of alien people doing violent things for incomprehensible reasons. However, if we allow that the Frankish people who got to know these elites well enough to accurately transmit nicknames in still-recognisable Scandinavian dialects (thinking here of Osfrid Turdimulo = ‘Razorbill’) had a rough idea of what they were talking about then we have a better picture of an actual society rather than a crude-cut alien monolith.

“Someone called?” (source)

Allowing Franks to not be utterly blind to the world around them means that, for instance, when the Royal Frankish Annals talk about a Danish ‘guardian of the border’ (custos limitis) – a very Carolingian style – we can play with the possibility that the Danes were deliberately taking their cues from the very powerful and important empire to their south in designing their own political regime (in a way with many world-historical parallels), rather than simply dismissing the Franks as incapable of doing anything other than forcing alien worlds into their own wonky mould.

Fried’s argument creates artificial divisions between Franks and Danes based on a high-handed dismissal of Frankish sources per se that doesn’t stand up to either comparative or empirical reading. What I find so bizarre about this is that studying the Carolingians is a major part of Fried’s long and distinguished career, and he has this particular kind of dislike for them. It makes me wonder: why would you bother spending so much time with people whose capabilities you respect so little?

Charter A Week 70/2: Restoration

Last time, things were going badly for Louis IV. He was being kept in prison by Hugh the Great, whilst the duke of the Franks decided what to do with him. It’s probable that Hugh wasn’t trying to depose the king, although not certain; but what seems likely is that Hugh was trying to work out just how tightly he could put the screws on. And so, by July 1st, two weeks after Hugh’s charter for Chartres, Louis was released. The price? The price was Laon, which had been held by Louis’ wife Queen Gerberga. Laon was the most powerful and important fortress of the north-east, and by holding both it and Rheims, Hugh could make a reasonable claim to have won the war which he, his late brother-in-law Heribert II of Vermandois, and various kings had been fighting since the late 920s about control in the region.

In return, Louis got to be king again, having his status and honour fully restored to him. This was marked by a ceremony at Chevregny, just south of Laon. No fewer than three diplomas to Cluny were issued on this occasion, but all three are textually similar so – in an experiment with the format – I’ve translated them all side-by-side, so that you can see where they are similar and different.

D L4 no. 27

D L4 no. 28

D L4 no. 29

In the name of Lord God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.


by ordination of divine providence,

by propitiation of divine clemency,

king. (no. 29: king of the Franks).

If We indeed proffer assent to the prayers of servants of God


and as well

their advantage, We far from doubt conserve (no. 27: exercise) royal dignity (no. 28: in all things) and We decree (no. 27: wish) that it should endure in future with the firmest (no. 29 and inviolable) right (no. 28: inviolably).

Therefore, let the industry of all the followers of the holy Church of God and Us, to wit, present and future, know that


most illustrious

most celebrated

princes of Our realm, that is, Hugh [the Great], duke of the Franks, and another Hugh [the Black], (no. 27: to wit,) duke of the Burgundians, and Count Leotald [of Mâcon], approached


the excellence of

Our Royal Serenity, deprecating that We might concede through a royal precept to the monastery of Cluny, consecrated in honour of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul,

certain goods, that is, a church dedicated in honour of St Jon sited in the suburbs of Mâcon, with all the goods pertaining to the same church, and also the estate of Vésines and Ozan, and the woods and estate of Senozan,



a certain little estate, from the rule of the viscount of Lyon. This estate is sited in the same district of Lyon, on the river Saône, which We donate with all the goods pertaining to it, to wit, vineyards and fields,

a certain monastery consecrated in honour of St Stephen, which is named Charlieu, and the cell of Rigny pertaining to it, dedicated in veneration of St Martin; also a church pertaining to the rule of the blessed Martin of Tours, sited in the suburbs of Mâcon. We concede these places named above, sited in the district of Mâconnais, with all the goods pertaining to it, that is, churches, estates, bondsmen of both sexes, vineyards, fields, meadows, woods, waters and watercourses, in their entirety.

with lands, meadows, woods, (no. 28: waters and) great water(no. 28:course)s and little streams, parks, ditches and the port

of the abovesaid Ozan, and other ports


With (no. 27: pastures,) incomes and renders, (no. 28: with pastures) and all adjacencies, and all fisheries (no. 28: and fishers, and all male and female serfs and colonis with their children and their whole kin-group,) sought and to be sought after,

and with Arnulf and his wife and their sons and daughters and all the male and female serfs and children beholden to the aforesaid goods, and their allods within and without, wherever they are, except a third part of Osan which pertains to Saint-Vincent [of Mâcon], and also Sigebert of Davayé with his wife, sons and daughters, with all their allods and goods, and everything which he holds in the said county.

I cede and transfer wholly and entirely

(nos 27, 29: We did this freely both) for love of (no. 28: God) (no. 29: the divine) and of the (no. 28: His) blessed apostles (nos 27, 29: and for Ourself, and also) for the state (no. 28: and stability) of Our realm, and at the same time the salvation of Our princes and all the (no. 27: Christian) faithful (nos 28, 29: of Christ) (no. 28: to wit, the living and the dead.) (nos 27, 29: and We freely assented to their pious and devoted petition.)

Commanding, therefore, We order that hereafter the aforesaid witnesses of Christ (no. 28: judges of the age, that is) the blessed Peter and Paul, and their abbot (no. 28: the abbots and rulers of their aforesaid abbey) and (no. 28: also) the monks serving the same apostles of Christ should hold and possess (no. 29: the aforesaid goods) with the firmest right through


this Our authority,

this authority of Our sublimity,

and whatever they wish to do or judge concerning it, they may enjoy (no. 28: use) free judgement in everything to do (no. 28: and ordain) whatever they choose.

And that this

Our authority

authority of Our Highness

authority of Our Sublimity

might be held more firmly and conserved better through future (no. 28: coming) times, We commanded it be sealed below with Our signet.

Sign of King Louis.

Chancellor Roric witnessed on behalf of [Bishop] Achard [of Langres].

Enacted at the estate of Chevregny, on the 1st July, in the 11th year of the reign of King Louis, when he also recovered Francia.

So everything’s hunky dory now, right? Not quite. You’ll note these acts all have the same intercessors: not just Hugh the Great, but Hugh the Black and Leotald of Mâcon. Hugh the Great – finally – got to be re-acknowledged, for the first time since 936, as dux Francorum in a royal diploma, but this had to be balanced out. Hugh the Black is called dux Burgundionum, a title he had not previously claimed in any of his own acts or any royal diplomas, and which he would not claim in the future. It seems that he, too, agreed with Raymond Pons’ analysis of the problem posed by Hugh the Great: ‘duke of the Burgundians’ meant that he remained Hugh the Black’s equal and not his superior. Equally, the presence of Leotald of Mâcon is interesting. Cluny was of course in the Mâconnais, but there’s more to it than that. Leotald’s presence reminded Hugh the Great that the Burgundians mattered, that they were watching and – bluntly – that they outnumbered them.

The content of the diplomas is also carefully balanced in this regard. The first deals with property in Mâcon itself.  The second, however, deals with land pertaining to the viscounts of Lyon, in the kingdom of Conrad the Pacific, where Hugh the Black was count.  This, though, was counterbalanced by the gift of a church in Mâcon under the rule of the abbey of Saint-Martin of Tours, over which Hugh the Great ruled. That is, we have three different acts speaking to the interests of the three different magnates, rather than having Hugh the Great clearly dictating terms. For all that Hugh the Great might have had his title recognised, after almost a decade of hard fighting, he had not been able to overawe the kingdom’s other leading magnates, and these tense acts were the result.

This makes Louis’ ‘recovering Francia’ somewhat ironic. Hugh’s stripping him of key fortresses meant that the Chevregny acts didn’t convince everyone. For all Flodoard says that he had the royal name and power restored, East Frankish sources were more cynical: Adalbert of Magdeburg said that Louis was ‘expelled from the kingdom’. The reason that Adalbert knew this was that Queen Gerberga spent a big chunk of 946 in her brother Otto the Great’s kingdom trying to call for his help. Next week, we’ll see how that went.

Source Translation: Louis IV in the Midi

Once again, I ummed and erred about which charter to give you for Charter A Week 942, and once again I ended up translating more than I needed. But, given there’s no point letting a perfectly good charter going to waste, and because it also feeds back to things I’ve spoken about before, I thought it would be useful to put this one up on our semi-regular Translation Tuesday. So, a quick reminder of context and then we’ll get on with the show. At the end of 941, Louis IV, forced out of the north-east and Burgundy by a coalition under the overlordship of Otto the Great, began a great tour of the south and west of his kingdom, building up a group of allies to fight back. Last time, we focussed on Poitou, but that wasn’t the only place he ended up going:

D L4 no. 17 – 5th December 941

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Louis, by assent of divine grace, king of the Franks.

If We confer anything to places of the saints surrendered to divine worship for love of God and His saints, or corroborate by Our royal authority that which has been devotedly bestowed by the faithful, We are confident for certain that it will be repaid to Us by the Highest Repayer of all goods.

Wherefore let the industry of all of the faithful of the holy Church of God, both present and also future, know that the monks of the outstanding confessor St Marcellinus of the abbey of Chanteuges, humbly approaching Our the presence of Our Dignity, strenuously asked that We might deign to confirm for them by a precept of Our Regality certain goods, which the late Prior Cunebert and the other brothers of Saint-Julien [de Brioude], for their common salvation, through the consent of Raymond [Pons], prince of the Aquitanians, and of the other magnates of that country, both bishops and laymen, bestowed on the aforesaid monastery, as is sanctioned in their testament.

Proffering Our assent to their petitions, out of love of Christ and His saint, the aforesaid Marcellinus, and owing to the request of Our followers, that is, of Bishop Heiric of Langres and Bishop Godeschalk of Le Puy and of the illustrious Count Roger [II of Laon], We commanded this royal decree be made, in which We through confirming decree and through decreeing confirm that the monks of the aforesaid place of Chanteuges should perpetually possess the said goods in their entirety, with both bondsmen and everything rightly and legally pertaining to it, and that whatever in future might be conceded to them should be corroborated by the same authority.

Finally, We order that no powerful person should inflict on them any prejudice at all, nor unjustly require any renders; rather, let them and all their goods be free and absolved from all dominion of any person. Let them institute an abbot for themselves not through anyone’s command but in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict for all time.

And that this grace of Our authority might be observed inviolably through the succeeding course of times to come by everyone, confirming it with Our hand We order it be confirmed by the image of Our signet.

Sign of the most glorious king Louis.

Odilo the chancellor witnessed on behalf of Heiric, bishop and high chancellor.

Given on the nones of December [5th December], in the 15th indiction, in the 6th year of the reign of the most glorious King Louis.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Raymond Pons’ role in this diploma is significant. You may remember from 936 that the foundation of Chanteuges was a moment when Raymond made a special display of his power over the elites of Auvergne, a display closely connected with Hugh the Great’s assumption of the title dux Francorum. Now, Louis confirms the original charter. The importance of this is that Raymond Pons and the Auvergnats didn’t have to seek out Louis – Raymond Pons in particular was much geographically closer to Hugh of Arles in Italy. However, in an Auvergnat context in 941, it was considered important to have royal endorsement. The key was that Louis was finally out from under Hugh’s thumb, and could therefore bestow patronage on his rivals. Raymond was ideally placed to take advantage of that, and in this diploma that’s exactly what we see him doing.

If that’s what Raymond was hoping to do, though, then the title he is given in this diploma specifically suggests what Louis IV’s circles were doing. Louis was not an ignorant man. He was well aware of how Raymond had responded to his accession, and to the claims of Hugh the Great. By now acknowledging Raymond’s role as ‘prince of the Aquitanians’, in a diploma to the same institution as the charter of 936, he was participating in this ongoing conversation, endorsing Raymond’s analysis of the problem, and agreeing with its solution.

Raymond’s sphere of influence had never been that closely connected to West Frankish kingship in the ninth century under Charles the Bald, and it’s unsurprising that the rest of Louis IV’s reign saw the king reproduce his predecessors’ much closer ties to königsnah Poitou. However, Raymond and Louis’ joint intervention at this critical moment undoubtedly did much to strengthen Louis’ hand, and gave the young king the in he needed to worm his way into the Midi. A few years later, in 944, as Raymond was probably dying, Louis came back and (as we have talked about in previous posts) rearranged matters in Aquitaine once more. This diploma, then, acts as a pointer towards a West Frankish kingship that has much more geographical reach than is usually allowed – and a southern nobility more concerned with it.

Who Were the Viking Kings?

As part of my ongoing Viking research, I was looking through references in our sources to Viking kings to try and work out who they are. One surprise was that the answer is relatively few; and these can be generally split into a relatively small number of categories. One of these are figures about whom we know nothing, like the Kalbi of the Annals of Xanten or the Oscytel of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. One of the two other main categories are ‘people who are definitely related to the royal families of ninth-century Denmark’. The other, I have come to believe, is ‘people who are probably related to the royal families of ninth-century Denmark’, and that’s what I want to try and argue today.

 So, first things first: families? Yes, families plural. The most famous king of ninth-century Denmark was King Godefrid (r. -810), who is one of the few people who was able not only to fight Charlemagne but to win, at least until he was murdered by a retainer. Godefrid’s successor was not any of his sons – of whom he had at least five – but his brother’s son Hemming. Hemming lived for only a couple of years, dying in 812, whereupon the succession was disputed between a man named Siegfried, another nephew of Godefrid (probably from a different brother); and a man named Anulo. With Anulo, we appear to have another reigning family, as the Royal Frankish Annals call him a nephew of a man named Harald. Harald is not named as a king in the Annals, but implicitly seems to have been one; perhaps the historical prototype of the legendary Danish king Harald Wartooth. In any event, Anulo was also the nephew of one of the more immediate kings, either Godefrid or Hemming, in my money the latter. (In fact, my specific conjecture is that a Danish noble named Halfdan, who was almost certainly Anulo’s father but who is not named as any relative of Godefrid when he appears in the late ninth century Poeta Saxo under 807, was married to a sister of Hemming.) Both these men died in the following battle, but Anulo’s brothers Harald Klak and Rognfrith both became kings. So far, so good – more internal politics within Denmark follow, but for our purposes we will focus on this royal family, the sons of Halfdan, until right near the end.

Our first stop are kings in Frisia. These are very clearly part of this royal family, not least because we’ve already met one of them: the first Danish leader granted land in the region was none other than Harald Klak. He was followed by probably the most famous ruler of Viking Frisia, Roric of Dorestad, who was probably but not entirely certainly Harald Klak’s nephew. Roric was also, on occasion, entitled king – but he too ruled in Denmark. After a protracted internal struggle, a son of King Godefrid named Horic I ruled the Danes for several decades. In 850, though, his position came under threat: two of his nephews (unnamed in the annals) attacked him and he was forced to partition his realm. This seems to have opened the floodgates: a different nephew (whom we’ll come back to) attacked Horic in 854 and in the ensuing fighting Horic and his two co-reigning nephews were killed. In the aftermath of this, in 855, Roric and his brother Guthfrith tried to gain royal power in Denmark for themselves. They didn’t succeed at that time, but in 857 Roric was able to exploit the youth of the eventual winner Horic II and gain a portion of Denmark for himself; from this point, he was called king. Later, in the 880s, another King Guthfrith was granted Roric’s benefice in Frisia by Charles the Fat. Our sources don’t say that Guthfrith was Roric’s relative; but they seem only to have been aware of first-degree kinship, and the onomastics, royal title, and similar area of operations make it likely that Guthfrith was also related to the Danish royal family.

 That’s relatively straightforward, but I think there’s a bigger connection that can be made. Starting in the mid-ninth century, a dynasty known to historians as the Uí Ímair (which is an Irish phrase meaning ‘descendants of Ivar’) ensconced themselves in Britain and Ireland. Their most famous member was, as you might expect, called Ivar, the historical prototype for the legendary Ivar the Boneless. However, Ivar was not the only one of his family gallivanting around the Irish Sea in the ninth century.

Let’s start by establishing who Ivar’s family were. The Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, an eleventh-century source comprised of pseudo-historical saga material on one hand and older chronicles on the other, says that Ivar was brother to a man named Olaf, who appeared in Ireland in 853 to subjugate the Irish Vikings on behalf of his father, the king of Laithlinn. This has been challenged, but I don’t think these challenges are particularly convincing: this relationship is stated in a couple of ways in the non-legendary portion of the material and although there is room for doubt, I find it convincing. (Less convincing but still possible is the ascription of a third brother, Asl; this figure is historical and associated with Olaf and Ivar, but that he was their brother is only mentioned in one of the more legendary-leaning portions of the Fragmentary Annals.) The Ivar of the Irish annals is almost certainly the same man as the Ivar of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Chronicle refers in 878 to an (unnamed) brother of Ivar and Halfdan, indicating that Ivar was also brothers with that Great Army leader, who was the first Viking ruler of Northumbria. (This reference has also been questioned on the grounds that the construction of the sentence is peculiar; but the Chronicle is a good contemporary source and I am uncomfortable with arguments that presume we know how our sources should be written better than their actual authors.) Olaf, Ivar, Halfdan and – if he was their brother – Asl are all called kings.

Who was their father? The Fragmentary Annals name Ivar and Olaf’s father a couple of times as a man named Guthfrith, and at one point there is a longer genealogy given:

Guthfrith -> Guthfrith Conung [i.e. king] -> Ragnar -> Guthfrith -> Ivar

This genealogy has been generally dismissed, except maybe the name of the final Guthfrith, Ivar’s father. However, I think there are grounds for taking it seriously. Again, this material is found in the annalistic rather than the legendary portions of the Fragmentary Annals, and the early-to-mid tenth-century source from which it is derived would have been within memory of Ivar’s generation. Moreover, taking it seriously produces some remarkable synchronicities between Irish and Danish history.

Guthfrith Conung’s nickname, I would suggest, derives from the memory of a particularly impressive king who, from the generations, we might expect to have reigned around the year 800. Obviously, this would be King Godefrid (‘Godefrid’ and ‘Guthfrith’ are in fact the same name). Now this is interesting. There actually was a Viking chief named Ragnar who attacked Paris in the mid-840s, but I think it’s unlikely this was Ivar’s grandfather, largely because we have an eye-witness report from an ambassador to Denmark who saw the audience between Ragnar and Horic I of Denmark after his return from Paris. Horic I was definitely a son of Godefrid and it seems unlikely that the ambassador, or anyone else at the time, would have not mentioned the relationship given how touchy the Franks were about Horic’s apparent refusal or inability to prevent Viking raids. More interesting are the events of the 850s. As we’ve noted, in 850 Horic was attacked by two of his nephews, neither of whom the sources name. If one of them were the putative Guthfrith Ragnarsson – i.e. Ivar’s father – then the course of Irish history in the following years takes on a new light.

I mentioned that the first appearance of the Uí Ímair comes in 853, when Olaf, son of the king of Laithlinn, appears to subjugate the Irish Vikings. These events have become caught up in the controversy over where Laithlinn was: in Scotland or in Norway? This controversy has been remarkably bitter given that there are only four contemporary mentions of Laithlinn (and I’m normalising the spelling below): one in 848, when the king of Laithlinn’s deputy Jarl Thorir was killed in battle; the mention of Olaf’s being the king’s son in 853; an Old Irish poem where a monastic author is relieved at a stormy sea because it makes the voyage impassable to ‘the fierce warriors of Laithlinn’ and another Old Irish poem referring to an army coming over from Laithlinn in 866. Personally, I think that both Scotland and Norway are barking up the wrong tree. In response to Jarl Thorir’s death, a Viking fleet showed up in 849 on behalf of the ‘king of the Foreigners’ – i.e., the Vikings. The similar-sounding but unrelated word which replaced Laithlinn, Lochlann, generally denotes ‘Norway’, at least by the latter part of the eleventh century; but it can also just mean ‘generically Viking’, and I think that Laithlinn means the same thing – ‘king of Laithlinn’ and ‘king of the Foreigners’ are synonyms. The Irish authors didn’t know much about Scandinavia at all, and so used these general terms. But the king of Laithlinn, I think, did have a location: the mid-ninth century Danish kingdom.

In this reading, the ‘King of Laithlinn’ of 848 and the ‘King of the Foreigners’ in 849 is Horic I. It may well be that the Irish victories against the Vikings in 848 were one of the factors which made him look vulnerable to attack by his nephews in 850. In any case, when Horic’s nephews became kings, their position was not secure. A renewed wave of Viking attacks across Europe in 850-852 suggests that political losers were fleeing Denmark and engaging in raiding activity to gather political and financial capital; an 852 reference in the Annals of Fulda to Harald, probably the brother of Roric of Dorestad, fleeing to Louis the German and living in Saxony sometime earlier strongly suggests that the court had been purged of potential rivals from within the royal family. (Notably Roric too sought a benefice in Frisia – it looks like both men wanted a base close to the Danish kingdom to exploit instabilities in it. Harald was actually killed in 852 by the ‘wardens on the Danish March’ and I wonder if it might be because they suspected that he might go a-viking the same way Roric had a year or two before…) In 852, Guthfrith, son of Harald Klak, seems to have made a brief attempt to assert power in Denmark before going out and plundering the West Frankish kingdom. In this context, Olaf’s appearance on the Irish scene in 853 has the clear aim of reasserting royal authority over the Irish Vikings and of gaining resources to shore up Olaf’s father’s power in the Danish kingdom. This should be seen in the context of the civil war which killed Horic in 854. This war probably also killed Olaf and Ivar’s father as well – the Annals of Fulda and the Vita Anskarii say that the attrition amongst the Danish elite was serious, and the Annals of Saint-Bertin refer to the deaths of Horic’s co-kings.

I think this presents a decent, if circumstantial, case that the Uí Ímair and the kings of Denmark were related. There is one more interesting overlap to note. After the 850s, Frankish interest in the Danish kingdom itself waned dramatically. One of the few notices – and essentially the only detailed one – comes from the Annals of Fulda, which under 873 notes that the kings of Denmark, Siegfried and Halfdan, sent messengers to Louis the German asking for his protection. The implication is that they had not been on the throne for very long, and it is unlikely they stayed on the throne for very long either. Siegfried is generally supposed to be the King Siegfried whom Charles the Fat besieged at Asselt in 882 and to whom he gave vast sums of money to go away. Siegfried did go away, but he returned in 885 at the head of the fleet which besieged Paris in the famous siege of 885-886. After the siege was lifted, Siegfried raided in the West Frankish kingdom some more before going to Frisia where he was killed – so say the Annals of Saint-Vaast – shortly after autumn 887. This is interesting, because we have reports of an (unnamed) son of Ivar ravaging Lismore in 883 – precisely the one time that we can’t see our Frankish Siegfried active, and the only appearance of a son of Ivar in the Irish annals until 888, when the Annals of Ulster record the death of Siegfried, son of Ivar, by his kinsmen. This is interesting, because the deaths of King Siegfried and of Siegfried Ivarsson appear to match up. The slight difference in date is quite explicable by 1) the fact that the Saint-Vaast annalist doesn’t say that Siegfried died in autumn 887, just sometime after it; and 2) the news would have taken a little time to get to Ireland – it would be quite feasible for Siegfried to have been killed at the very end of 887 and for the report of his death to have reached Ireland in time for the 888 annal. Moreover, the circumstances are intriguing: Siegfried was killed by his kinsmen, and Frisia had been in the hands of members of the Danish royal family for decades at this point. Siegfried’s quondam comrade King Guthfrith, the last man known to have held it, was killed in 885; but there could well have been relics of the family hanging around in the area.

In short, I think there is a reasonable case to be made that the Uí Ímair were offshoots of the family of King Godefrid of Denmark, which means that most of the Viking kings we can place in the ninth century were all related to each other. Before I finish up, I’d like to talk about a few of the others, notably the kings of East Anglia and the early Rus’ princes. The first Viking king of East Anglia was Guthrum. The nephew of Horic I who led the civil war which ended up killing Horic was also called Guthrum, and the two men have been held to be identical, for instance in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry. Personally, I think the language of the annals implies that Horic’s nephew Guthrum died; but it is interesting that the only other king of East Anglia whose name we know was Eohric = Horic. Onomastics suggest there could be come connection. On a similar, but even more conjectural note, the first three princes of Kievan Rus’ were called Rurik (Roric), Igor (Ivar) and Oleg (Helgi). We have already seen Rorics and Ivars in action, and Helgi is the same name as a c. 900 king of Denmark named by Adam of Bremen. Given just how shadowy the early Rus’ rulers are, I don’t want to propose anything concrete, but the overlap is interesting…

You may be asking, at this point: so what? In fact, if most Viking leaders given a royal title in our sources whose background we can ascertain or hypothesise about were related to one of the existing Danish royal families, that has a number of important implications. However, this post is going long, so we will have to park it for now. Look forward to a post on social status and rank within the Viking world shortly down the line!

Charter A Week 66: Coalitions and Königsnahe in Poitiers

Last time we saw Louis IV, he had been pounded flat by Otto the Great and a group of West Frankish allies, and it’s safe to say his position had not massively improved in the meantime. In mid-to-late 941, he had been caught in a surprise attack by Hugh the Great and Heribert of Vermandois, suffering an embarrassing defeat and losing key supporters, notably Archbishop Artald of Rheims, who threw in the towel and surrendered to the two magnates. This was a worrying position to be in – but Louis was not out yet. Owing to the importance of Flodoard’s Annals, historians tend to focus on the kingdom’s north-east, but there was a lot more kingdom than that, and in late 941 Louis set out to strengthen his position in the rest of it. He began by approaching Vienne, where he met Count Charles Constantine. From there, he set out into Aquitaine, where Flodoard loses sight of him, beyond saying that he received the submission of the Aquitanians. However, the charter record gives us a sense of both what Louis was doing and how it was received. By the turn of the year 941/942, Louis was in Poitiers. Poitou was a part of Aquitaine which had enjoyed close ties to the West Frankish monarchy since the reign of Charles the Bald, and Louis set out to capitalise on that. And to demonstrate what’s happening, we have no fewer than three acts! 

D L4 no. 18 = ARTEM no. 1106 = D.Kar VIII.6 (5th January 942, Poitiers)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Louis, by propitiation of divine clemency king of the Franks.

If We rightly ordain and deal with holy places surrendered to divine worship on account of love of God and reverence for the saints resting within, We little doubt God will be propitious towards Us on account of it in the present world and that to come.

Wherefore let the skillful industry of all the followers of the holy Church of God both present and also future know that, approaching the presence of Our Serenity, the count and margrave William [III Towhead of Poitiers] and his brother Ebalus [later bishop of Limoges] and Count Roger [II of Laon] humbly asked that We might deign to confer upon the brothers of the most excellent confessor of Christ Hilary a precept of Our authority concerning the estates and churches assigned to their divers usages by Our predecessors, and concerning their prebends and houses; and this We did.

Whence We ordered this decree of Our Highness to be made and given to the said brothers, through which We command and sanction by royal authority that the aforesaid canons should with everlasting right possess all this: the aforesaid estates with their churches, that is, Champagné-Saint-Hilaire, Rouillé, Pouant, Luzay, Frontenay, Benassay, Mazeuil, Cuhon, Gourgé, Vouzailles, Vieracus, Saint-Laurent, in the county of Quercy, a church in honour of Saint Hilary; and Cainontus in the district of Toulousain, and in the district of Carcassès the place of Saint Mamet and the field of Olivetus; and in the county of Poitou, Allemagne, Moussay, Neuville, with allods, that is Crispiacus, Eterne, Remcionacum, Clavinnus, Belloria; let their prebends too always be under their power. We also concede the houses with the land within the walls recently built around the monastery, and establishing without and within the walls of the city in the same way to the same brothers, that each might have licence to do as he wishes with his own goods, except alienate them to an outsider; and let no count or other official of the commonwealth dare to become an invader of these goods and of the land placed mutually within the walls from a quarteron in the estate of Pouant without the will of the canons.

If anyone might presume to violate the muniment of this royal authority, in the first place let them incur the wrath of God Almighty and of Saint Hilary and of all the saints, and have perdition with Dathan and Abiron, whom the Earth swallowed alive, and know themselves to be perpetually damned, immersed in the inferno with Judas the betrayer, consumed all over by flames and worms, under the chains of anathema.

Whence, so that this testament of royal dignity persevere through the course of times to come, and be more firmly believed and attentively observed by all, confirming it under Our own hand, We commanded it be corroborated by the image of Our ring.

Sign of lord Louis, the glorious king.

Odilo the chancellor witnessed on behalf of Bishop Heiric [of Langres].

Enacted at the city of Poitiers, on the nones of January, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation 942, in the 15th indiction, in the 6th year of the reign of the most glorious king of the Franks Louis.

In the name of God, amen. 

The original of this diploma, from D.Kar linked above.

D L4 no. 19 (7th January 942, Poitiers)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Louis, by God’s grace king of the Franks.

If We rightly deal with places surrendered to divine worship on account of love of God and his saints, and reform them for the better, We are certainly confident to be repaid for this by the Repayer on High.

Wherefore, let the skill and prudent industry of all the followers of the holy Church of God both present and future know that, approaching the presence of Our Dignity, the illustrious Count Roger [II] of Laon and Ebalus [later bishop of Limoges], humbly asked Our Clemency that We might deign to confer a certain abbey in honour of St John the Baptist, in the place which is called Angély, which is now completely devoid of its original honour, on a certain servant of God named Martin through a precept of Our Regality in order to improve it; and this We did.

Whence We commanded this decree of Our Highness to be made and given to the said Martin, through which he might hold the aforesaid abbey in its entirety as long as he lives, and gather, with God’s help, monks there in accordance with the Rule; and let the monks after his death for all time elect an abbot for themselves in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict; and let no count or any other powerful person inflict any damage on the aforenamed abbey of Saint-Jean. Rather, in accordance with the custom of other places soldiering under the Rule of the said nourishing Benedict, let it remain immune under Our defence and that of Our successors.

And that this emolument of Our authority might persevere inviolably through the course of times to come, confirming it beneath Our own hand We commanded it be corroborated with the image of Our signet.

Sign of lord Louis, the most glorious king.

Odilo the notary witnessed on behalf of Bishop Heiric.

Enacted at the city of Poitiers, on the 7th ides of January, in the 10th indiction, in the 6th year of the reign of Louis king of the Franks.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

Let’s start with the obvious. The first document has three petitioners, and the first two are brothers, the sons of Ebalus Manzer, Count William Towhead, and Ebalus, abbot of Saint-Maixent. Ebalus also shows up in the second document. Both of them are receiving a big dose of Königsnahe. William, you’ll note, gets the prestigious title of marchio (‘margrave’), something neither he nor his father had at any other time. Ebalus doesn’t get anything quite that formal, but he was given a more concrete reward for his support. As we’ve discussed before, it was likely at this time that Ebalus was assured of his succession to the bishopric of Limoges, which he would then assume a few years later. This alliance had real and ongoing effects. After Louis’ return to the north, he mustered his armies at Rouen, and William Towhead showed up with troops. The royal army then marched to the Oise, where they were able to compel Hugh and Heribert to negotiate. 

The role of Abbot Martin here is also significant. Martin had been a very big name in Aquitanian monasticism for about a decade. He was abbot of institutions in Limoges, Angoulême and Poitiers, as well as of Jumièges in Normandy. That is, he was extremely well-connected, better so even than William Towhead, and drawing him into the coalition that was being assembled was an important was of stretching that coalition’s boundaries. Indeed, after leaving Poitou Louis actually went to Rouen, where he confirmed his alliance with William Longsword, count of Rouen.

This is all well and good, though – but what makes this set of actions really something special is that we also have a charter from William Towhead issued during Louis’ stay.

Saint-Hilaire no. 20 = ARTEM no. 1107 (January 942)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

William, by God’s grace count of the palace of the Poitevins.

We wish it to be known to all of the faithful of the holy Church of God, to wit, present and future, that one of Our followers, named Viscount Savaric [of Thouars], and his vassal Elias, approaching Our Mildness, beseeched Us that We might deign to concede to a certain man named Hosdren and his wife Aldesind something from their benefice, which is sited in the district of Poitou in the lower district of Thouars, in the vicariate of Thénezay, in the estate which is called Vaulorin* and in the place which is named Ad Illo Maso, amongst the goods of Saint-Remi, which is in the brothers’ wasteland, that is, more or less 8 uncultivated quarterons with no heir, along with meadows and arable land along the stream of the Vandelogne, cultivated and uncultivated, visited and unvisited, and as much as is beholden or seen to be beholden to these quarterons, through this writing of Our authority under an rent from a rental agreement; and this is please Us in every way to do.

We, then, considering their petition just did not deny it, but freely granted to him what he asked, that is, on the condition that each year on the feast of St Hilary which falls on the kalends of November [1st November], the aforesaid Hosdren and his wife Aldesind should without any delay act to render a rent of 3 shillings to the ruler who is seen to hold the same benefice under their rule, and after their deaths… their… have, hold and possess it, and if they appear tardy or negligent with this rent for any difficulty, let them render the rent twofold, and let them in no way lose the aforesaid goods.

But that this rental agreement might in God’s name obtain firmness, I confirmed it below with my own hands and after Us We decreed that venerable men should corroborate it below.

+ Count William. Sign of Viscount Savaric. Sign of Viscount Fulk. Sign of Lambert the auditor. Sign of Acfred. Sign of Ebbo. Sign of Rorgo. Sign of Gozlin. Sign of Boso. Sign of Rainald. Sign of another Boso. Sign of Adalelm. Sign of Abiathar. Sign of Aimeric. Sign of Elias. Sign of Rocco. Sign of Dilibal. Sign of Odo. Sign of Thietmar. Sign of Geoffrey. 

Given in the month of January, in the 6th year of the reign of King Louis.

Warner wrote and subscribed.

The original of William’s charter, taken from ARTEM linked above.

 *ID mine based on looking at the map; to be taken with a large pinch of salt. 

The really key part of this charter is William’s title. Comes palatii is new, a title never held by Ebalus Manzer or by William before now. That William issued his own charter with this title whilst Louis was present and in a position to be seen to personally endorse it shows that the count of Poitiers was actively taking advantage of the king’s being there to take to the stage himself and display his Königsnahe and bolster his legitimacy. That is, we know that Louis was not shouting into a void: William was in fact integrating his new-found role as the king’s close ally into his own strategies of legitimacy.

One final note. It’s interesting that the recipient of this charter is named Hosdren. Hosdren is a Breton name. It’s not wise to rest too much about this, but at the very least it’s interesting to note in this regard two things. First, that the Breton duke Alan Barbetorte was also part of this alliance, and also showed up with troops alongside the two Williams. Second, that Alan and William were also negotiating concerning the disposition of some districts south of the Loire, the Mauges and its neighbours, at about this time. It might be that Hosdren played a minor role here, or that his reward was part of these negotiations; it might well be that Louis was arbitrating these negotiations to give them the stamp of royal approval. This is speculative, certainly, but it’s not wise to underestimate the authority of kingship…

Charter a Week 65/2: Kings in Flanders, of Various Vintages

The archives of the abbey of Blandijnberg in Ghent can do one. I’ve actually been to the abbey on holiday, it’s an interesting visit and I liked the site – but the archives are something else. The monks of Sint-Pieters are some of the most notorious forgers of the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Koziol has described the Blandijnberg archives as retreating into ‘an Escher-like dimension where fact and fiction become indistinguishable’. Charters have been worked up out of whole cloth, reworked thoroughly, lightly touched up. Their dating clauses have been stripped and remade on the basis of – seemingly – nothing. And how tainted any given charter is is going to vary wildly depending on which diplomatist you’re talking to. As such, it’s quite pleasant to note that the charter establishing the reform of Blandijnberg, issued by Count Arnulf the Great in 941, has not only been given a generally clean bill of health, it’s also really interesting.

Dip Belg 53 = DiBe no. 538 (8th July 941, Ghent)

Arnulf, supported by the clemency of the King on High margrave, to the followers of the Holy Church soldiering catholically for God anywhere and in any order of society.

We read in the divinely-written books of Maccabees that God’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the most nefarious of kings Antiochus, but that after many and most weighty triumphs in battle Judas Maccabeus rebuilt and decorated it with the gold and silver which he had acquired from the spoils of the enemy; by which deed, to wit, he believed he would receive help from the heaven of the King of the Stars.

Therefore, urged on with keen desire to follow this example, I, the most humble Arnulf, wishing with every sinew of my heart to share in the benefits of those who, obeying the Lord’s commands, have transferred a worldly patrimony for heavenly treasure, was animated by the exhortation of religious and truthful men and – so to speak – rising as if awoken from a deep sleep, I began in silent contemplation day and night to reflect upon a certain monastery, under my rule, anciently sited by the most holy Amand, a pontiff worthy of praise from the good, next to the river Scheldt in the castle of Ghent, which he called Blandijnberg, and which, by Christ’s favour, he solemnly ennobled with relics of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and many saints which he brought with him on his second return from Rome. He did this at the time when Pope Martin [I] ruled the Roman Church, 75 years [sic] after the blessed Peter, keymaster of Heaven’s hall, in the time of the famous King of the Franks Dagobert [I], while Eligius of wonderful sanctity presided as bishop of Noyon and Tournai. I rejoice, truly, that the said monastery is made illustrious in so many ways by the relics of such saints; but I sorrow greatly that it lacks the honour with which the saints these relics came from shine in the court of Heaven; with which, if I had my way, I would raise up relics of such dignity on Earth.

Finally, with the permission of King Louis, and having taken counsel with Bishop Transmar [of Noyon], to whose diocese the place pertains, and with my friends and especially with my followers, I made returns and restorations to the holy place, partially of those renders from the land which the most blessed Amand sought from the kings who at that time subjected themselves to divine laws; and which, out of love for the prince of the apostles Peter, he gave in perpetual right to those dwelling in same abbey; and partially of those which faithful people in divers times and places have bestowed from the time of the aforesaid King Dagobert up to Our days. And if not everything, I have at least returned some of what was taken away from there in the time of my predecessors; and which I estimate will suffice the monks dwelling there for love of Christ.

That is: I concede to the relics of the aforesaid monastery the census which is taken from the houses sited in the port of Ghent, from the river Scheldt up to the confluence with the river Lys; and the tithe which those dwelling in that port should pay to God for the remedy of their souls; and the fare exacted from passing traffic; and the floral meadows which lie next to the port.

I cede to their power 1 mill in the place which is called Afsnee; 1 chapel named in honour of St Mary in the estate of Mariakerke; the vineyard which I rebuilt next to the monastery and the land which lies adjacent to it up to the port; and the other farms which are next to the monastery, on which they may built suitable workshops and gardens in which they may plant vegetables appropriate for the monks; and I restored and strengthened with my own hand the other things which are written in the charter of Abbot Einhard.

In the district of Flanders, next to the castle of Oostburg in the place named Merona Bennonis, pasturage which can suffice 120 sheep; and in another place next to the sea named Kommerswerve, land to feed 100 sheep; and in that district half my fisc which is called Snellegem, the half-part of which lies next to the eastern part; of which I consent to give 1 manse to the abbot and brothers of the aforesaid monastery whilst I live; and desire with all my heart that they should have, hold and possess the part of the remaining half after the end of my life.

In the district of Hainaut, on the river Selle, I restore to them the estate which is called Douchy-les-Mines with its appendages.

Moreover, in the district of Waas, on the river Scheldt, there is an estate named Temse in which for a long time rested the body of the most blessed virgin Amalberga, which she was seen to possess in hereditary right while she lived; and because of this I restored it to those who keep vigil attending her holy body day and night.

All though all this seems a bit small in quantity and number, let the crowd of monks and their abbot established in the aforesaid monastery perpetually obtain them, provided with solace from which they may be able to indefatigably serve the Lord, putting aside all grumbling, which is generally typical of monks.

I desire and greatly wish that the monks in the aforesaid monastery should serve Christ according to the Rule for all time, as was enacted in the time of the said most holy Amand; and let them, living in accordance with the norm of St Benedict, place in charge an abbot in accordance with their choice and the consent of that lord and margrave who might have succeeded me in the chief position after my death. Animated by his exhortation and rule, let them put aside the worldly and endeavour to meditate on the heavenly.

If any of my successors should endeavour with abominable daring to calumniate or diminish these benefices of my restitution which We restored out of love of God and the holy prince of the apostles Peter and the other saints whose precious remains are kept within, unless they quickly come to their senses let them incur the wrath of God Almighty, for Whom St Amand, the builder of this place, sincerely soldered; and the offence of the keymaster of the stars Peter and the outstanding teacher Paul and the miraculous virgin Amalgberga and of all the saints; and let him endure forever deprived of their company, indissolubly joined to the company of demons. The company of all good men and I say amen!

Enacted at the abbey of Blandijnberg, on the 8th ides of July, in the 6th year of the reign of Louis, son of the imprisoned King Charles.

Sign of Arnulf, most clement count and margrave, who asked the writing of this document be done and confirmed.

[col. 1] + Bishop Transmar [of Noyon]. + Bishop Fulbert [of Cambrai]. + Archdeacon Bernacer. + Archdeacon Odilbald. + Archdeacon Wulfard. + Dean Ingelfred. + Tancred. + Wibert.

[col. 2] + Baldwin [III], son of Margrave Arnulf. + Count Isaac [of Cambrai]. + Arnulf his son. + Count Dirk [II of Holland]. + Winemar, advocate [of Blandijnberg]. + Fulbert, vicar [of Ghent]. + Wolbert. + Baldwin. + Leutbert. + Anskeric.

[col. 3] + Everard. + Heribrand. + Otgaud. + Siward. + George. + Everard. + Ebroin. + Dodo. + Blithard. + William.

[col. 4] + Fulcard. + Arnulf. + Erembald. + Theobald. + Onulf. + Lambert. + Ralph. + Ebroin. + Robert. + Adso. 

The original of the charter (sourced from DiBe as above).

Before looking at the content, let’s address what at first sight appears to be the most suspicious thing about this charter: the seal. A layman’s seal on a charter from this early is by itself a massive red flag to Continental diplomatists, because lay seals don’t start showing up, really, until well into the eleventh century and only explode in popularity in the twelfth. However, I want to make a small attempt at defending both this example and others. All the examples of sealed lay charters (most only now known through later descriptions and/or drawings) come from the Channel coast – Flanders, Normandy, Brittany. This is significant because lay seals are a well-known phenomenon in England. There aren’t huge surviving numbers, but they definitely existed, and existed this early. Given the geographical proximity and political-cultural influence of England on the coastal parts of Gaul, I think there’s at least a meaningful possibility that lay aristocrats in these areas adopted – even if only temporarily – Insular sealing practices. (And, in fact, Jenny Benham has pointed out that an Anglo-Norman treaty of 991 makes reference to Normans carrying seals.)

In terms of the content, the most interest thing to me is the arenga. A big part of my research is the use of charters to transmit ideology and communicate legitimacy to audiences, and this is one of the most straightforward examples. The witness list of this charter is relatively amenable to prosopographical investigation, and once you’ve done that the result is that they are all what Flodoard calls maritimi Franci: men from the seaside parts of Flanders around Saint-Omer and Ghent, and more generally people on the wrong side of the river Oise, which is where West Frankish kings tended to make their stand against Viking fleets. Men like these had borne the brunt of the viking attacks for generations by 941, and in particular Arnulf himself had likely led many of them against the Northmen of Rouen about ten years earlier. By casting himself as Judas Maccabeus, Blandijnberg as Jerusalem, and the vikings as the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, Arnulf was able to relate their shared experiences to a well-known and prestigious narrative which bolstered his own position by analogy.

However, it’s not quite enough. Striking in a charter otherwise so replete with Arnulf’s own authority, the count puts right up front that he is doing what he is doing with the permission of Louis IV. This added legitimacy to Arnulf’s games with Blandijnberg. For a man so heavily involved in Church reform, Arnulf’s actions could be breathtakingly cynical, and historians have consequently speculated about his motives. The most recent hypothesis is that reform removed the final vestiges of royal rights over the abbey, but I don’t find this convincing. There had been no royal intervention in Flanders for decades at this point. Rather, I suspect that Arnulf was using royal authority to expel local rivals. In the case of Blandijnberg we don’t know who those were – there are some very scattered and/or iffy hints that the Robertians had a presence there – but it’s likely that Arnulf’s control of Ghent was not as good as is usually imagines.

However, although Louis had in fact visited Flanders multiple times in the run-up to this charter, this reminder of Arnulf’s Könighsnahe would have sounded awkward in 941. Arnulf was temporarily on the outs with Louis, having been part of the Ottonian-led coalition which attacked him the previous year. The mention of Louis, then, can also be seen as aspirational on Louis’ part. Arnulf’s hostility to Louis had a pretty clear policy objective: compelling him to abandon his designs on Lotharingia and resume the alliance with Otto the Great which Arnulf had originally brokered. In this context, the 941 charter also shows Arnulf and his supporters dreaming of the great things king and count could do together.