Holy War and the Kingdom of Heaven: Pope Leo IV’s Letter to the Frankish Army (847/8?)

I’ve recently had cause to think about holy war in the Carolingian period again. One of the things that struck me is that this is a subject that suffers from being in the shadow of the Crusades. This is not just because the Crusades are the archetype for medieval Christian holy wars, by which all others are measured and understood. Much of the scholarship on holy war in the Carolingian age has been carried out by Crusades specialists trying to understand how a religion of peace whose earliest practitioners were suspicious of military affairs came to be the faith of people crying out ‘Deus le volt’ as they stormed Antioch and Jerusalem in the last years of the eleventh century. The result tends to be a whistlestop tour across a millennium, hitting a couple of perennial points such as Constantine’s conversion and Augustine’s formulation of just warfare, before racing onto the next stop a couple of centuries later.

One of the old chestnuts briefly paused at is the letter of Pope Leo IV (r.847-853) to a Frankish army in the middle of the ninth century. This letter is important as possibly the first place a Christian religious authority explicitly says that soldiers who die fighting a holy war automatically go to heaven. This is of great significance for historians of the Crusades, because the concept of a papal indulgence for those who participated in the campaign is at the heart of many definitions of a Crusade. But in most scholarly accounts the letter merits half a sentence and a footnote. This is a shame, because it’s a fascinating text. Because of this neglect, and because if people on the internet are going to argue about medieval holy war they should at least have access to decent sources and I don’t think the Fordham translation is particularly good, I thought it might be useful to offer one of my own.

Leo IV, Epistolae selectae, ed. A. Hirsch-Gereuth, MGH Epp 5 (Berlin, 1899), no. 28, 601.

To the army of the Franks

1. Put aside all fear and panic, and endeavour to act manfully against the enemies of the holy faith and the foes of all lands.

2. Likewise. Up until now your forebears have always proved to be victorious when they marched forth in military array, and no multitude of people could overcome them. For we have not heard that they ever returned without the fame of a victory.

3. Likewise. Beloved, we want all of you to know that whoever dies faithfully in this contest of war (which we say not wishing it comes to pass) will by no means be denied the kingdom of heaven. For the Almighty knows that if any of you die, he died for the truth of the faith and the salvation of the soul and the defence of the country of Christians, and therefore he will obtain the aforesaid prize [i.e. heaven] from Him.

An important thing to note about this letter is that it only survives in later legal collections. The full text is preserved in a manuscript known as the Collectio Britannica (BL Add MS 8873 f.167v) which contains a collection of canons probably assembled in France in 1108. The canonist Ivo of Chartres (d. 1114) included it in his Decretum (X.87) and in slightly shortened form in his Panormia (VIII.30). An abbreviated version of Leo’s letter, attributing it to the more celebrated Pope Nicholas I (r. 858-867) makes an appearance in Gratian’s Decretum (C. 23 q. 8 c. 9). The letter survived because it was used as a legal precedent, but this means we don’t have any sense of context for when it was written, who exactly Leo was addressing or how it circulated before the late-eleventh century (i.e. when the Crusades began), although the Collectio claims to be drawing the letters from Leo’s Papal Register. The conventional date of 853 assigned to the letter has no particular evidence behind it and is not to be trusted, particularly as there was no Frankish army near Rome in that year.

We can say a little more about the context of Leo’s pontificate. It was defined by an event that took place the year before he was elected, when in August 846 a Saracen raiding party sacked the part of Rome that lay outside the Aurelian walls, including the basilicas of Old St Peter’s and San Paolo fuori le Mura. As Pope, Leo responded to this disaster by repairing the basilicas, fixing the city walls and establishing a new set of fortifications, known as the Leonine Walls, which contain what is now the Vatican City. Knowing that the raiders might return, he also sought to mobilise aid from the Carolingian rulers of Italy, Emperor Lothar I (r. 817-855) and his son Louis II (r. 844-875), and from southern Italian cities such as Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi. This preparation paid off when a Christian naval coalition intercepted and defeated a Saracen fleet heading towards Rome at the Battle of Ostia in 849. Despite this success, the sack of 846 was an immensely traumatic moment, which sent shockwaves across Christian Europe and threw Rome into a state of emergency. Although we know that the Eternal City would remain safe from the Saracens from then on, Leo obviously didn’t. In 847 Saracen pirates took over Bari, establishing an Emirate that would raid into southern Italy for the next two-and-a-half decades. This atmosphere of crisis helps to explain the unusual contents of the letter.

Raphael’s depiction of The Battle of Ostia in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, painted in 1514-15. Note Leo IV on the left, bearing a strong resemblance to Pope Leo X (r.1513-1521).

Although Leo specifies that the Frankish army is fighting against enemies of the faith in c.1, the discussion of holy war is mostly confined to c.3, where it is pretty explicit. Franks who die righteously in this war will go to heaven. Leo lays stress on the causes they are defending – the truth of the faith, their souls, and the defence of Christendom. It’s hard to find much in the way of precedent for this statement. This is surprising given how many of the elements that made it were already available. Paul compared Christians to soldiers fighting for the cause. Christian martyrs had been dying for the faith from the very beginning, and they automatically won eternal life for doing so. As I have discussed elsewhere, Charlemagne waged wars that were meant to bring Christianity to new peoples such as the Saxons, or to rescue Christians believed to be suffering persecution in the Iberian Peninsula. Bringing together the ideas of fighting for the faith and going to heaven for dying for the faith seems like an obvious thing to do.

Pope Leo’s letter is perhaps not as isolated as it may appear. Many of the papal letters preserved in the Codex Epistolaris Carolinus on Charlemagne’s orders in 791 contain suggestions that going to war on behalf of the pope could ensure one’s path to heaven. A particularly striking example appears in a letter of 756 sent by Pope Stephen II (r. 752-757) to King Pippin III (r. 751-768) and his sons, which purports to be the words of St Peter addressing the Franks. Stephen wanted Frankish help against the Lombard king Aistulf (r. 749-756). St Peter lists the crimes of the Lombards to the Franks before stating that he was:

Offering you the rewards of eternal recompense and the unending joys of heaven – provided that you have very speedily defended my Roman city and my own people, your Roman brothers, from the hands of the evil Lombards.

(Translated in McKitterick, van Espelo, Pollard and Price.)

There are some obvious differences with Leo’s letter. Peter/Stephen doesn’t state that the Franks would have to perish while on this campaign to enjoy this heavenly perk. More surprising is the target of this campaign, the Lombards being Christian, albeit not behaving particularly so from a papal perspective.

Despite these differences, this letter and others in the same collection offer a Carolingian context for Pope Leo’s exhortation to the Frankish army. Something similar appears in material celebrating Gerold, the Prefect of Bavaria, who died fighting the Avars in 799. Heito’s Visio Wettini from 824 declared that Gerold deserved ‘everlasting life’ because he died ‘in defence of the holy church against the infidels’. Fraser recently drew my attention to a sermon of Abbo of Saint-Germain from the 880s, translated by Charles West, which calls upon the listener:

Do not let your enemies multiply and grow but, as Scripture commends, fight for your homeland (patria), do not fear to die in God’s war (bellum Dei). Certainly if you die there, you will be holy martyrs.

I suspect that such ideas were not unknown elsewhere in the Carolingian world, but they might not have been commonly expressed. This is hinted by the fact that in 878 Pope John VIII (r. 872-882) had to reassure the bishops of the West Frankish kingdom that those who died fighting against pagans would go to heaven, suggesting that it wasn’t an idea that they regularly encountered. Likewise, the importance of Leo’s letter for the canonists was in large part the result of the absence of other authorities to draw upon. When Peter Comestor (d. 1179) sought to defend the point in a tract addressed to a Patriarch of Jerusalem, his only sources were Leo and Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099).

Looking at c.3 of the letter alone makes Leo IV look like a solitary prophet of the age of the Crusades. The rest of the text however very firmly places him in the Carolingian world. This is a letter written by Leo to stiffen the spine of a Frankish army, and the consolations of heaven to the fallen is the very last argument he uses to steady the troops. He begins by emphasising the evil of the enemy, who are both inimical to the faith and the peace of all people (c.1). Interestingly, Leo addresses the men in the context of the history of the Franks in c.2, recalling to them the example set by their ancestors. In doing so, the Pope was probably doing more than reminding them of the formidable achievements of Frankish arms over the previous century and a half. He also implicitly harked back to the relationship between the Carolingians and the Papacy that stretched back to the days of Pippin and Stephen, in which the Franks protected Rome against all threats. The sack of 846 was a shocking moment for the Carolingians as well as the Papacy, prompting Lothar and, particularly, Louis II to pay much more attention to southern Italy. The latter would define his reign by his capacity to protect Italy and the Pope from Saracen threats. That bond was acknowledged by Leo as he steeled the Franks of his own day by celebrating the deeds of those long past.  

This may give us a clue for dating the letter. Louis II arrived in southern Italy with a Frankish army in 847, and spent much of 848 campaigning against Muslim pirates while trying to end the civil war that had riven Benevento, leading to the formal division in 849 of the troubled principality. He returned south in 852 to campaign against Bari. This suggests 847-8 or 852 as the most likely contexts for the Leo’s address to a Frankish army. Although it could be either, I’m tempted to go with the earlier date, simply because praising the efforts of the ancestors of the Frankish army seems like a slightly odd move if there had already been an expedition five years earlier in which some of the army of 852 had probably participated. By contrast, before 847 there hadn’t been a Frankish army south of Rome since the days of Charlemagne, a full generation earlier.

Even if we can’t pinpoint the exact year of the letter, we can locate it in a Carolingian milieu. Leo’s comments on the souls of those fallen in holy war were unusual for his period. They would go onto be highly influential in the very different circumstances of the Crusades. But by reading the entire letter as it survives to us, we can see it as the product of the Carolingian world, written not to be an example for lawyers, but as a rallying cry for desperately scared and fiercely proud men in a time of crisis.

Brothers-in-Arms: The Treaty of Liège (Feb 854)

One of the enduring fascinations of the medieval world for the present is the way it pitches high politics as family drama. The cosily intimate domestic squabble prosecuted on the battlefield is an inherently gripping story. Notoriously the Carolingians have a great deal to offer for aficionados of familial conflict in the Middle Ages. This is also an interesting period in the study of diplomatic relations. The middle of the ninth century saw three brothers – Lothar I, Louis the German and Charles the Bald – who all ruled separately as independent monarchs over a population of elites that saw themselves as part of a wider shared Frankish and Christian community. Their struggles against each other married dysfunctional family relationships with matters of state in front of an aristocratic audience who could easily change allegiance or refuse to participate. The Treaty of Liège of February 854 serves as a sort of sequel to my previous post on the Treaty of Valenciennes. But it also offers a window into the way the brothers sought to communicate the rightness of their respective causes to each other, and to the watching Frankish nobility.

‘Hlotharii et Karoli Conventus Leodii Habitus’, in MGH Capit. II, no. 207 (pp. 76-8).

The most serene Emperor Lothar:

  1. We wish all those who are faithful to us to know that in the past year we have frequently sent invitations to our most beloved brother Louis in order that we might have a common conversation with our faithful and with his concerning the Lord’s will, insomuch as He wishes to send inspiration, and that we might manage and ordain the advantage of God’s holy Church and the common progress, honour and needs of ourselves and our men. But because our aforesaid brother has because of some sort of impediment put off coming until now, as we had hoped, We were unwilling to set it aside in such a way that we did not usefully come together. 
  2. Now we want you to be sure of our coming together, because, with Christ propitious, we want to come together indissolubly in thought and deed in accordance with God’s will, for the salvation of the holy Church and for our and your common advantage and needs, so that we may be one in Christ and you may be one with us.
  3. Understand that we grant to you a law of the kind which our ancestors, that is, our father and grandfather, conceded to and conserved for your ancestors, and we wish to respect it in every way inviolably and incorruptibly, in both present and future times.

The most glorious king Charles: 

  1. Accordingly, we have for this reason delayed having this meeting up until now, because we wished that our aforementioned brother would meet with us as well and attend the same meeting with us. But because he, being hindered by some impediment, neglected to come, we, having heard the disturbance which his son is attempting to cause, wished to ally with each other. Know therefore that we shall be together in prosperity and adversity; nor, with God’s help, will any trifling offence be able to separate us from that love by which we are bound together by fraternal bonds. Rather, wherever we are in need of reciprocal comfort and assistance, as far as the Lord permits, we desire to be supported and sustained by each other, and we wish to bring one another assistance against every earthly enemy.
  2. But if our same brother delays coming to us in the manner that we desire and send to him, we are united to each other such that one shall provide such comfort and assistance to the other wherever it is necessary from this time forward, as we have said above, so that each can rest assuredly in the kingdom that has been entrusted to him by God. And if either one outlives his partner, let him who is left keep his nephews under their tuition and protection together with their father’s kingdom, so that they may be so fortified against the machinations of adversaries with the help of God that they can rest assuredly in the kingdom of their father.
  3. Therefore, We desire Your Devotedness to know for certain that we truly recognize that we have offended God in many things and have carelessly troubled your minds, so have made a vow to, by Christ’s favour, make every effort to amend all of these things so that we might be able to appease God and give satisfaction to Your Devotedness. When a greater number of our faithful men shall come together, or when our aforesaid brother, as we have commanded him to, shall come, if he wishes to come, We will take care to keep you informed of all things in whatever way will be agreeable to you, such that you might truly know us to want to observe and keep our promise most fully and in every way.
  4. In addition, let your skill and the skill of everyone discover it in common, that for this reason we earnestly wished to announce these things to you in this sacred place so that you may know that we will inviolably observe everything which we say, with the favour of the Lord and the support of his saints in whose presence they are announced. 

This is the oath which they swore to one another:

From this day forth, if our brother Louis (or his sons) is breaking or will break the oath he swore to us, regarding that part of the realm which you have received as your share from him, insofar as the Lord give me the power to do so, if you ask it I will offer you help with your defence against him, and against his sons and against all others who wish to take it from you without just or reasonable pretext. And if I should outlive you, I will not take away from your sons that part of the kingdom which you have received as your share from me and my brother but will consent for them to have it. And if they or their faithful men ask for help in defending against our brother, his sons, and anyone, so that they can hold it, I will aid them as far as I can, so long as you and your sons give us the same aid and do not part with us.

Regular readers will remember that when we last left Charles and Lothar in November 853 things were looking pretty good. The situation was stable enough that Charles could concentrate on domestic affairs and the two brothers went through a number of items concerning the church and the law. By February 854 things were considerably less rosy. In late 853, leading Aquitanians had invited the second son of Louis the German, Louis the Younger, to become their king. Charles had only recently won the last war for Aquitaine and had managed to alienate an important kindred of magnates by having an otherwise unknown Gauzbert beheaded in March 853 for similarly mysterious reasons. These rebel Aquitanians received a positive reception from Louis. Alarmed by the alliance between his brothers and annoyed at getting shut out of the question of Lothar’s inheritance, Louis was inclined to support the venture. As news of this development spread, Charles became increasingly concerned that Lothar might decide he was a bad bet and reach out to Louis instead. The result was another meeting between Charles and Lothar, this time at Liège in February 854, where the brothers made their military and political alliance explicit in this treaty.


Some dubious looking brethren assembling in the Stuttgart Psalter, Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Bibl. fol. 23.149v.

This background emerges in the text of the treaty. In order to keep Lothar invested in the alliance, Charles promises to protect his children’s inheritance if Lothar predeceases him (Charles c.2; oath). The treaty is very clearly aimed at Louis, inviting him to join them in their alliance (Lothar cc.1-2; Charles c.1), but warning him that an attack on one will be counted as an attack on the other (Charles cc.1-2; oath). Special reference is made to the ambitions of the younger Louis in Aquitaine, with Louis the German called upon to restrain his son (Charles c.1), and the brothers specifying that their alliance would also apply against Louis’ children (oath). Even as they threatened him, Lothar and Charles were probably sincere in inviting Louis to join them, at least in the short term. Both would benefit from peace as Charles dealt with his problems in Aquitaine and Lothar would get the agreement of both of his brothers for his succession plan.

But there was another audience for the treaty, and that was a Frankish elite that was largely tired of internecine conflict. Family drama is entertaining from a distance, but participants in it need to find ways to make other people care about and adopt their cause as their own. By publicly offering Louis a place at the table, Lothar and Charles were deflecting blame for subsequent fighting while suggesting a means by which the multipolar Carolingian world could be peacefully organised. For anyone watching who felt that the problems besetting the empire had more profound causes, they also promised to discuss ecclesiastical matters and to undertake measures that would win back divine favour (Lothar c.2; Charles c.3). Lothar placed particular emphasis on the laws initiated by Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, assuring that the brothers would follow and keep the legal protections accorded to their people (Lothar c.3).

A further, more speculative, point. Liège was an important site in Lothar’s realm, which benefitted Charles in that it meant that the emperor publicly committed to the alliance in front of an assembly of his own people, making it harder to weasel out of it without losing face. I’m struck by the reference to the oath being sworn in a sacred place (Charles c.4), and I wonder if it means that it is being taken in St Lambert’s Cathedral. Liège had been patronised in the early eighth century by the Carolingians as an alternative to Maastricht. Liège was also the centre of Charles Martel’s power in the civil wars that followed the death of Pippin II, and as much the cradle of the Carolingian dynasty as anywhere else. While it is almost certainly a coincidence, I can’t help wondering if there was a deliberate choice made in making this treaty about the need for family unity in a place intimately associated with the beginning of that family, in a cathedral dedicated to a bishop who had been killed as a result of civil conflict (slightly awkwardly by Pippin of Herstal).

Viewed from a distance, this treaty was a success. The alliance between Lothar and Charles held down to the former’s death a little over a year and a half later, at which point Lothar’s sons succeeded as planned. Looked at more closely, this outcome had relatively little to do with the treaty. Lothar had talks with Louis later in the year, forcing Charles to hold another meeting with the emperor, this time at Attigny, to remind him of the agreement, distracting him from affairs in Aquitaine. Undeterred by the alliance, Louis the Younger had travelled to Aquitaine to claim the throne in early 854. Although support for his bid was not as strong as he had been promised, he managed to make trouble until he went home in the autumn.

Charles’ dealing with these problems owed fairly little to the vision of family comity found in the treaty of Liège. There is no evidence that Lothar intervened in the conflict. Rather, Charles neutralised Louis the German by encouraging Slavs and Bulgars to attack the East Frankish kingdom, leaving him unable to support Louis the Younger. He also may have divided the Aquitanians by releasing the imprisoned Pippin II, who immediately gathered many of the people who might have otherwise backed Louis the Younger. The Treaty of Liège may have promised a concert of Carolingian princes working in amity to resolve problems. The reality was altogether messier and depended more on the politics of division than of unity.

Making a Multipolar Carolingian World Work: The Treaty of Valenciennes (Nov 853)

The Treaty of Verdun, 843 – Lothar I’s realm in orange, Louis the German’s in blue and Charles the Bald’s in brown (source)

No student of early medieval history is unfamiliar with a variation of this map showing the division of the Carolingian empire by the sons of Louis the Pious at the Treaty of Verdun in 843. There are problems with it. It is too neat, leaving out Pippin II, who would battle Charles the Bald for possession of Aquitaine for decades to come. It also overstates the finality of the division. The brothers would war against each other repeatedly to try to redraw the map. In the years that followed, the kingdoms would be re-divided and amalgamated in new ways until Charles the Fat inherited the entire lot in 884 (with mixed results). Nonetheless, Verdun did indicate something important. The efforts of Emperor Lothar I to establish overlordship over the empire had been thwarted by the alliance of his younger brothers, Louis the German and Charles the Bald. In consequence, the Carolingian world was to be a multipolar empire in a way that it hadn’t been since 771. The brothers would rule their kingdoms independently, yet their territories were still conceived of as part of a greater whole, with members of the Frankish elite operating across the empire. That is simple enough to say, but making it work in practice was much harder. To get a sense of what that looks like, I’ve translated the Treaty of Valenciennes, an agreement made between Lothar and Charles in November 853:

Lothar I and Charles the Bald, ‘Conventus Valentianas’, in MGH Capit. II, no. 206, pp. 75-6.

 Declaration of Lord Lothar:

  1. Concerning the missi sent throughout the kingdom so that the people might have peace and justice. Concerning robbers, plunderers, brigands, and other wrongdoers, and concerning every aspect of justice. 
  2. That when missatici [a missi’s areas of responsibility] overlap, the missi should come together, and if someone should flee from one kingdom to another, or from one missaticum to another, they shall capture him together.
  3. That proof (OR a notice) is to be sent wherever they flee, so that the count may distrain him either with his hereditary lands, or through whatever means he can, so that he might return there and make amends where he has done wrong.
  4. That it should be recommended to the missi that they do justice; and that if they have not, that you ought to pursue it. 
  5. That if someone is in need, everyone should be ready to help each other in whatever way you can. 

Declaration of Lord Charles:

  1. Concerning episcopal pronouncements and the honour of priests.
  2. Concerning rebuilding churches and the ninths and tenths [the rent due from holding a benefice amounting to a fifth of the produce].
  3. Concerning the observance of the capitularies of lord Charles [i.e. Charlemagne] and of lord Louis [the Pious] concerning churches.
  4. Concerning observance of the peace and avoiding greed for and oppression of the goods of the Church and the poor.
  5. That we wish to arrange with the counsel of our fideles how we can live honestly and without want in our court, as our predecessors did. And we admonish our counts and other fideles, that they themselves should order their condition and life in such a way that their neighbours and the poor are not oppressed on account of their needs.
  6. Concerning harmony and mutual assistance between the bishop and the count for the doing of justice and the execution of the divine ministry.
  7. Concerning the justice to be strived for by our bishops, missi, and counts.
  8. Concerning the abduction and marriage of nuns, kinsmen, or others’ betrothed, such that what has been done in the past may be corrected in accordance with the advice and judgment of the bishops; and that every precaution should be taken in the future. 
  9. That if out of necessity we have done anything against churches of God, or against any of our fideles, we will most freely make amends for this as soon as we can. And from now on, if any of us should wish to injure his own peer, we wish to restrict this in accordance with the custom of our ancestors.
  10. Concerning our assembly and our common assistance against the Northmen and our fraternal discussion.

The big context for this is the development of an alliance between Lothar and Charles, which was a dramatic shift in the political landscape which had previously pitted the Emperor against his younger brothers. Lothar and Charles had met at Saint-Quentin in 852, campaigned together over the winter against a viking army that had entered the Seine (commanded by Godfrid Haraldsson, Lothar’s godson, which must have been awkward), before Lothar became godfather to Charles’ daughter in January 853. These good relations were helped by Lothar’s disavowal of Pippin II, who had been captured by Charles in 852, removing the largest stumbling block to an understanding. Lothar was preparing for his succession. He intended to divide his territories between his three sons, and wanted Charles to support them. 

Some of the text is concerned with the sort of things we expect from diplomatic treaties. Charles c.10 confirms that the two brothers would continue to cooperate against the vikings. Lothar cc.2-3 are effectively a ninth-century extradition treaty, promising that royal officials would aid each other in the pursuit of wrongdoers across their jurisdictions. But the majority of the treaty reads very weirdly if we assume we’re dealing with two sovereign states. Much of Lothar’s declaration is devoted to a commitment to the enforcement of justice and establishment of order (cc.1, 4). That of Charles is even stranger, covering subjects such as the state of the church and the poor (cc.1-2, 4-5, 9), the observation of previous laws (c.3), the abduction of nuns (c.8), the adoption of a simpler lifestyle (c.5), and a promise of redress for wrongs he had previously committed (c.9).

This all becomes more understandable if we think about Charles’ position. The decade after Verdun had not been easy for him, but by 853 he had reason to think that the rolling crises might be abating (he was wrong because ninth-century Carolingians are not allowed to have nice things). With the capture of Pippin, he could hope that he had won the war for Aquitaine. Peace had been achieved with the Bretons. The death of Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman II in 852 offered the prospect of quiet on the Spanish March. For the first time in his reign, Charles had a real opportunity to articulate a domestic agenda, and he seized it with both hands. This was a busy year, involving a synod at Soissons wrapping up the lasting effects of the defrocking of Archbishop Ebbo of Rheims, and a statement on predestination at Quierzy. His meeting with Lothar at Valenciennes was followed by an assembly at Servais the same month. The capitulary issued from there covers much of the ground from the Treaty of Valenciennes but in much greater detail.

As a statement of domestic policy, Charles’ half of the treaty makes a lot of sense. Ecclesiastical matters were a major priority for him that year. The text also serves to draw a line under the unpleasantness of civil war. Charles acknowledges that wrongs had been committed, offers a form of redress and restricts future conflict among his magnates. He also makes clear that he intends to return to traditional Carolingian rulership, by emphasising the legislation of his grandfather and father, and that he intends to live in a simple manner like them. The message is that after decades of instability, peace and good governance are back on the table.

Through the Treaty of Valenciennes, Charles effectively got Lothar to endorse his agenda. This mattered to his domestic audience. Happy days are here again is a more convincing message when your most powerful neighbour has confirmed he’s going to stop directly and indirectly undermining you and might start helping you with your viking problem. But it also served as a demonstration that the brothers were committed to making the multipolar Carolingian world work, by articulating shared ideological values and beginning to develop the legal institutions for cooperation. For a Frankish elite that still thought in terms of the entire empire, this was a welcome development, and provides a hint as to how this new adaptation of the empire might work.

Assessing the success of the treaty is a little complicated. Barring a wobble in 854, the alliance between Charles and Lothar lasted until the latter’s death in 855. That this did not lead to a glorious period of peace and stability lies more with the people the treaty left out; Louis the German and the Aquitanians. Louis was unsettled by the prospect of his brothers teaming up and angered by the prospect of being unable to take advantage of Lothar’s succession. The Aquitanians were much less subdued than Charles had thought. The two combined when prominent Aquitanians invited Louis’ second son, Louis the Younger, to become their king in 854. The result was a series of invasions that would push Charles nearly towards the end of destruction. The death of Lothar and Charles’ political woes made the treaty largely irrelevant. Nonetheless, it is fascinating as a window onto how the multipolar Carolingian world would be understood by contemporaries, and as a clue as to how external and internal politics intertwined in the period.

Political Dating in Ninth-Century Aquitanian Private Charters

So I discovered something really cool but also quite frustrating, not least because although it’s been noticed by a few people before as far as I can tell I’m the only one whose ever thought it noteworthy, and it’s giving rise to one of those situations where I’m convinced the problem is my ability to find literature despite the increasing probability that the literature just isn’t out there. What I’ve found is an unusual pattern in Aquitanian charter dating clauses. At the end of most charters, there’s a date given, often in the king’s regnal years (e.g., ‘the tenth year of King Charles’, or suchlike), and these can as you’d expect have political overtones – so if you don’t accept the legitimacy of any of the claimants to the throne, for instance, you might put ‘two years since the death of the last emperor’, or in one particularly striking case I saw ‘with Hugh reigning, but hoping for Charles’.

But first, some background. Charlemagne had the dubious good fortune to outlive all but one of his sons, so when he died there was relatively little controversy about who got what – the empire went to Louis the Pious. Louis, on the other hand, had no fewer than three sons, and trying to divvy the empire up between them was difficult. Louis’ firstborn son Lothar was crowned co-emperor, and reigned alongside his father; the other two sons, Louis the German and Pippin I, got sub-kingdoms (Bavaria and Aquitaine respectively). So far, so good; but Louis the Pious remarried and had another son, Charles the Bald, which meant he needed to provide a kingdom for the new kid. This meant that the Carolingian family was divided between Louis (trying to take their inheritance away from them to provide for their half-brother) and Lothar (trying to assert an unfraternal predominance over them; and also kinda take their inheritance away from them), and there were coups and plots and tension and it all got very messy and resentful. In 838, Pippin I died, leaving two sons; but rather than giving Aquitaine to Pippin II, Louis decided to give it to Charles the Bald instead. Some Aquitanian nobles made Pippin king anyway, and Louis and Charles invaded, which was what Louis was doing when he died in 840.

Pippin II’s key support in these early years belonged to a family descended from Count Rodulf of Cahors, and included especially Count Rodulf’s son, also Rodulf, whom Pippin made archbishop of Bourges. Rodulf of Bourges had a complicated career over the next decade-and-a-half, flipping between Charles and Pippin, until Pippin’s royal ambitions came to an end in the mid-850s (which is another story).

What no-one seems to have picked up on are some charters from the abbey of Beaulieu. Rodulf founded Beaulieu, and what seems to have happened is that his personal archive got shoved in with that of the abbey, because there are several charters there from before its founding which are not directly connected with it. Of those charters, there are about half-a-dozen which deal with the period between 840 and 855. All of them feature Rodulf and/or close family members (mother, sister), and all of them are dated not by the reign of Pippin II, and certainly not by the reign of Charles the Bald, but by the reign of Emperor Lothar.

As in this case, a charter of 841 from the Beaulieu cartulary, BNF MS NAL 493 (source, image from Gallica)

Lothar did provide important political support to Pippin at several points, but that Rodulf so consistently dated his charters by Lothar suggests that the archbishop of Bourges – Pippin’s core supporter – wasn’t Pippin’s core supporter so much as Lothar’s. This does actually make some degree of sense in understanding Rodulf’s flip-flopping, but it raises a whole bunch more questions about things like how far Pippin II was conceived of as a ‘real’ king, how far the Frankish polity was still conceived of as a unity, and how far Lothar’s position in the Frankish world genuinely was a kind of proper overkingship of the kind we’ve discussed before (and whilst these questions are interesting, they are not helping make the book sub-chapter this came up whilst researching any more a manageable length!).

Just as interesting is that after Lothar’s death and Pippin II’s political eclipse in 855, Rodulf, equally consistently, dates his charters by Charles the Bald’s son, King Charles the Child of Aquitaine. What we have here is a case where a ‘pan-imperial’ political operator seems to have dramatically changed register to being a ‘regional’ one; and also a case which does seem to be an ‘any king but Charles the Bald’ party in Aquitanian politics – which does make me wonder, what was their beef?

(Lots of Aquitaine lately. I should do a Burgundy post…)