In theory, if there’s any two West Frankish regions I have any special claim to know, it should be Normandy and Flanders. I’ve been working on these areas since I was an undergraduate – in fact, my master’s dissertation was a comparison of tenth-century princely power in the two of them. Yet one of the joys of the tenth century is that by deep-diving into the sources and by making cross-connections you can discover new things and end up changing your mind even after working on it for a decade. Flanders is a case in point. As often mentioned on this blog, I wrote an article reassessing the succession crisis following the death of Arnulf the Great of Flanders; but the state of my knowledge in 2014 was such that I left it there. However, what has emerged out of my research since then is that Flanders played a pretty crucial role in the rest of Lothar’s reign too, and this is what I want to talk about today.
The short version of one of my arguments in the article is that when Arnulf died in 965, Lothar broke his promise to safeguard Arnulf II, the elder Arnulf’s baby grandson, invaded Flanders, imposed a friendly regent, and annexed a huge swathe of the south for himself. However, that’s not where things stopped. A little while ago, I argued that Lothar’s patronage can be detected on the Flemish border during the 970s, hoping to Lotharingian border magnates into his own orbit. That, however, is only half the story. What I left out is that all the magnates Lothar was hoping to attract were indelibly associated with Arnulf II of Flanders: Dirk of Holland was his guardian, Godfrey of Verdun his stepfather, and even though Arnulf of Valenciennes doesn’t seem to have been related to him (at least not in any way we can prove) he was an important figure in the last days of Arnulf the Great. In fact, Lothar’s patronage around 970 extended to Arnulf II directly. In 972, for instance, Arnulf issued a charter for Blandijnberg in Ghent. The Blandijnberg charters are never above suspicion, and indeed in its current form this is a mid-eleventh century forgery. The crucial thing about it for our purpose, though, is that it grants the abbey the estate of Harnes, near Lens. (This donation was confirmed by a more-or-less unsuspicious royal grant a few years later, so this bit of information in the charter is likely legit.) This is interesting, because Harnes was under Lothar’s control twice over after 965. On one hand, it was south of the Lys, the area he annexed after Arnulf the Great’s death; on the other, it was recorded in 899 (in a charter we’ve discussed on this blog before for entirely separate reasons) as belonging to Saint-Amand, an abbey which we know Lothar controlled at this time. The most likely way for it to get into Arnulf’s hands, therefore, is that Lothar gave it to him; and the most likely reason for that is that the king wanted to draw the young count into dependence on him.
Another hint is that despite everything, Arnulf was able to keep hold of at least the northern part of Ponthieu. Conflict over Ponthieu was a structuring element of northern French politics in the middle and late tenth century. To keep things short, I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that the fighting pitted the Flemish counts on one side against the Robertians on the other; and that it was a multi-generational conflict. That Arnulf appears ruling Montreuil in 981, therefore, despite the fact that it was in the area Lothar took over in 965, indicates that Lothar favoured him over the Robertians and backed his continued possession of the stronghold.
All this changed, as I noted in my earlier post, after 973, when the exiled sons of Count Reginar III returned from exile. Their bellicose pursuit of their lost inheritance forced the border magnates to cling closely to Otto II, and undid years work of work on Lothar’s part. In the mid-to-late 970s, therefore, we can see Lothar pivot to attacking Arnulf. In 974, for instance, he issued a diploma for the elder Robertian brother and duke of the Franks Hugh Capet confirming donations he had made of land in the Ternois to the abbey of Saint-Riquier in southern Ponthieu, confirming his overlordship over the southern part of the region and giving him some kind of role in the north (which was in all likelihood under Arnulf’s rule at the time). In 975, he issued a diploma for Marchiennes restoring the estate of Haisnes, which was ‘unjustly stolen from [the abbey] in the time of Count Arnulf [the Great]’ – Arnulf II’s grandfather ended up a historiographical casualty of the new hostility between the king and his comital relative. Interestingly, in 976 Arnulf’s step-uncle Adalbero of Rheims sponsored the translation of St. Thierry in Rheims. Lothar refused to come because he was busy in other parts of the kingdom, and when he did show up he was accompanied by a large army. We don’t know what this army had been used for, but one good suggestion is Flanders.
This brings us to a question we’ve covered before on this blog, the emergence of a separate line of counts of Boulogne. I argued in the previous post that our earliest evidence for any kind of count in the area comes not from the start of Arnulf II’s reign, but from the end. Count Arnulf, that shadowy figure who is nonetheless the clearest outline we can see from this shadowy time, evidently had a powerbase in western Flanders. This is interesting, because Lothar had some support in that region (including, probably, the chronicler Folcuin of Saint-Bertin); and Arnulf II seems – from later, bitter reports of his behaviour towards Saint-Bertin – to have left a bad memory there. This is speculative, of course, but I think it’s quite possible that, first of all, Arnulf of Boulogne/Ternois was from the family of the advocates of Saint-Bertin (based on their onomastics); second, that that this advocatial position was the basis for the assumption of comital status; and third, this may have been helped by Lothar’s military intervention. Notably, our last attestation of this family as advocates is from 975 – by the 980s, a new family, the Gerbodos, was in place. It is worth considering, therefore, that the fragmentation of Flemish comital power which we know to have taken place by 988 was helped along by royal support for local opposition.
Lothar’s position changed again after 978. As we’ve seen, his invasion of Lotharingia in that year failed. It is therefore noteworthy that – by contrast with Charles the Simple’s invasion of 898 which I have argued was its closest comparison – it took over a year for peace to be made after direct fighting had stopped. What was Lothar doing in that time? Dudo of Saint-Quentin has a confused anecdote as part of a panegyric on the peacemaking efforts of the Norman duke Richard the Fearless, which says that Arnulf II refused to do military service for Lothar and the king therefore invaded Artois and the area south of the Lys. This has intriguing parallels with a passage in the Gesta Episcoporum Cameracensium which says that Lothar invaded the area at the end of the reign of Bishop Teudo of Cambrai (so, late 978). Either on their own could be written off as a simple repetition of the events of 965. However, although both are evidently confused, the fact that two independent sources have put figures from the late 970s into the same scenario suggests that what is being confused with 965 is real events of 978. That is, Lothar invaded Artois, targeting Arnulf’s possessions or (more likely) those of the church of Cambrai or (perhaps) both.
He then used his gains to reconcile with Arnulf. This gave him a point of entry back into Arnulf’s family networks, and we can in fact see hints of his step-family being used to negotiate the peace between Lothar and Otto which was ultimately signed at Margut in 980. This peace and reconciliation between Arnulf and Lothar, though, led to hostility between Lothar and Hugh Capet. Hugh made a separate peace with Otto II at Rome in 981 and then rushed home to besiege and attack Montreuil, which he was able to take by surprise. Arnulf agreed to hand over the fortress and northern Ponthieu.
After decades of fighting, the Robertians had finally defeated the Flemish for Ponthieu. At the same time, Lothar had established himself as master of Artois, even if his more grandiose schemes for using his Flemish connections had failed to pan out. Lothar’s relationship with Arnulf, in fact, is a kind of microcosm for his entire reign. He was a canny politician and powerful ruler whose capacity to manipulate and control events within his kingdom was generally significant. However, he was not great at resolving the contradictions within his own policy aims. Thus, during the 970s, he treated Flanders and its associated elites as on one hand targets but on the other hand important allies. What this meant was that when Lothar was treating Arnulf II as an ally his capacity to get things done in the region was weakened through what Lothar had done when he was his enemy. There must have been other issues too – trust springs readily to mind – but this factor is a key for understanding why, despite all his efforts, the gains Lothar reaped from his Flemish policy during the 970s were so relatively limited compared to his designs.