Charter A Week 31: Ring Out Those Wedding Bells

By this point, things are going well for Charles. He’s been undisputed king for coming on a decade, the last major Viking raid was four years ago, relations with his cousin Louis seem pretty OK, most of the major magnates are on board (apart from the Aquitanians, who were never really all that on board with any of the West Frankish Carolingians anyway). There is one major question, though: who will succeed him?

DD CtS no. 56 (19th April 907, Attigny)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by the gracious favour of divine clemency king.

If We follow the customs of ancient kings and imitate the habits of the fathers who came before and benignly receive the counsels of Our followers, We far from doubt magnify royal honour, and We indubitably believe that this will benefit Us.

Hence, let it be learned by all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, present and future that when We and Our counsellors were dealing with the realm’s affairs, they brought to Our attention Our marriage, saying usefully that it would be suitable if a worthy spouse were at the royal side, from whom, by God’s largess, a breed of sons might proceed, for the whole realm’s benefit.

And thus, incited by their admonitions and persuaded by their counsel, We joined to Ourself in the bond of marriage a certain girl from a noble bloodline, named Frederuna, only insofar as by the common consent of Our followers, with God, as We believe, co-operating, in accordance with the laws and states of those who came before, and We established her as consort of the realm.

Wherefore, disposing to enrich her, by royal custom, from Our own goods, We concede to her two fiscs, to be constantly possessed in the name of dowry and disposed of at will, that is, Corbeny in the county of Laon, with the cell which is named in honour of the blessed apostle Peter, where the body of the confessor of Christ Marculf rests; and one church in Craonne; moreover Ponthion, in the district of Perthois, on the rivers Sault and Brusson. We present both through this present authority and We transfer them from Our right into her right and property and dominion and We consign them to be held perpetually.

Wherefore, We commanded this edict of royal munificence be made and given to Our said beloved spouse Frederuna, through which We order and in ordering command that she should perpetually have, hold and possess the aforesaid fiscs, to wit, Corbeny and Ponthion, as they are presently seen to pertain to Us, in their entirety, that is, with the aforesaid churches and bondsmen of both sexes, lands cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, waters and watercourses, mills, fisheries, mobile and immobile goods, roads in and out, and all legitimate borders justly and legally pertaining to it; and let her have the firmest free power in everything to do whatever she wishes henceforth.

But that this dowry of Our largess and corroboration of concession might obtain continual vigour of firmness, having been confirmed below with Our own hand, We ordered it signed with Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 13th kalends of May [19th April], in the 10th indiction, in the 15th year of the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 10th his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at the palace of Attigny.

Happily in the name of God, amen, amen.

I’ve put down my thoughts on Charles and Frederuna’s relationship elsewhere. I do think that no matter what the political motives were which lay behind it, it eventually grew into a genuine bond of affection. I also think that the purely political motives are fairly subdued. Frederuna’s family appears to have been respectable, but not one of the first-rank magnate families – a brother became bishop of Châlons, she may have had another brother who became archbishop of Trier but this is at best unproven – so an alliance with her relatives is unlikely to have been very significant. It may just have been that she was pretty enough, noble enough, and of the right age to be fertile, exactly like the diploma says.

Whatever the motivation behind the match itself, Charles pulled out all the stops celebrating it:

DD CtS no. 57 (21st May 907, Le Gros Dizy)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by the gracious favour of divine clemency king.

If We devote the influence of Our Munificence to sacred places given over to divine worship, We are in every way confident that it will benefit Us both in prosperously passing through the present life and in more happily obtaining perpetual life.

Wherefore, let the religiosity of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that Anskeric, venerable bishop of the town of Paris, approaching the presence of Our Serenity, recounted in a happy voice before the presence of Our followers that the church of Notre-Dame, that is, of the aforesaid town, over which the same bishop is recognised as presiding, was nearly destroyed by Northman attacks and reduced almost to nought by their habitual cruelty.  Hence, through the intervention of certain princes attending on Our presence, that is, Our most beloved spouse Frederuna and as well Our beloved Abbess Gisla [of Nivelles], and the venerable Count Robert [of Neustria] and Countess Adele [his wife], moreover Counts Altmar [of Arras] and Erchengar [of Boulogne], and Robert, beloved of Us, he humbly sought that We might deign to concede as compensation for the forsaken church the abbey named Saint-Pierre de Rebais and once named Jerusalem, sited in the county of Meaux, which the same bishop is recognised to have held until now in benefice, through a precept of Our authority, so that it might be sustenance for the same bishop and his successors, by which they might be able to fulfil more freely the duties of Our service.

Therefore, knowing the counsels of the aforesaid princes to be sound, We acquiesced to their beneficent requests, and by the common consent of Our followers, We concede by royal authority the said abbey of Saint-Pierre, by which it might become a perpetual support for the church of Notre-Dame of the town of Paris alone and the bishops of the same place. Wherefore We commanded this precept of Our authority be made and We commanded it be given to the said church of the blessed Mary through the hand of the bishop of the same place Anskeric, through which We transfer the aforesaid abbey into his right and dominion, and We concede it to be perpetually possessed in its entirety, and with all legitimate borders justly and legally pertaining to it, on the terms that the aforementioned bishop Anskeric and as well his successors should constantly have, quietly hold, securely possess and freely dispose of the aforesaid goods, and have the firmest quiet power in everything to do whatever they want for the common advantage of the church.

And that this concession of Our authority might be held more firmly and be conserved for all time by Our successors and in God’s name obtain continual vigour of firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it to be sealed with Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary witnessed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric.

Given on the 12th kalends of June [21st May], in the 10th indiction, in the 15th year of the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings, and the 10th of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted in the estate of Le Gros Dizy.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

As I’ve said before, this is a nice little family portrait of the great and the good of the realm. It might not even be everyone there. We know from another diploma that Richard the Justiciar and his entourage were hanging around the royal court at this period, and it seems likely to me that they would have been there to celebrate the wedding. If they were – and, frankly in light of the people in the charter above, even if they weren’t – these acts display that Charles’ court still had a reasonable degree of pull in the kingdom at large.


Source Translation: An Early Medieval Love Letter

Apparently when I said ‘tomorrow’ I meant ‘on Saturday’; I would have written this up when I got back from Mons yesterday, but I was distracted by some jousting. What this means is that this week is that it’s some more source translation. A few days ago, I was speaking with some friends about work (I have remarkably few other topics of conversation) and the question of love and marriage came up. There have been a few other things I’ve written about this, and these duly came up; but this raised a question which always gets brought up with these things: how far was marriage transactional?

In response, I mentioned one of my favourite little medieval texts, the only surviving early medieval love letter, preserved in the Formulae Salicae Merkelianae, written probably in the ninth century:

[Edit: as a commenter pointed out, this translation is a bit literal. There’s another effort at the end of the post which tries to keep a bit more of the original’s flavour.]

No. 47: Letter to a fiancée [i.e., specifically to a female recipient].

To my sweetest and dearest in everything, my honey-sweet girlfriend [insert name here], I, in God’s name [insert name here], with dearest love and unceasing desire for you who are so very desirable to me. I send you through this letter greetings for as much joy as is contained within the fullness of our hearts, greetings which walk amidst the clouds and which the Sun and his Moon bring to you. When I go to bed, you are ever on my mind; and when I sleep, I dream always of you. Stay well in the day and sleep well at night. Always keep your boyfriend in mind, and do not forget him, for I do not forget you (*). Come up with a clever way, and I’ll one more acquire, through what kind of trickery we’ll fulfil our desire (**).

Codex Manesse 071v Kristan von Hamle.jpg
A cunning plan! (source)

May He who reigns in Heaven and oversees the whole world lead you into my arms (***) before I die.

(This is a great greeting for two young people; the one sends it to the other and neither gets tired of it (****).)

So, what can I say about this? Well, on a personal level I can tell you that, contrary to what’s advertised, it doesn’t actually work as a Valentine’s Day card; but in terms more relevant to our theme, it illustrates much the same thing as some of the dowry charters I’ve written about before: that, however transactional it might have been in real life, it was expected that relationships be cloaked with what is evidently a close relation of the modern language of romantic affection, right down to the same endearments – ‘honey-sweet’ (melliflua) has been translated an adjective here, but could just as easily have been rendered as a noun; or, in other words, ‘hi, honey!’

Particularly interesting is that it’s in a formulary collection. Scholars have recently become more and more interested in formularies, or collections of form letters, and one of the reasons for this is that they contain lots of things that don’t otherwise survive, such as, indeed, love letters. Its inclusion in a formulary implies that there was demand we can’t otherwise see. This is perhaps due to the predominance in written culture of male celibates… What is a little frustrating is the way the nuances are lost. It’s not completely clear whether the tone of this letter is simply ‘I miss you’ or the more passive-aggressive ‘why don’t you write me?’. I’ve chosen to render it in the first way, but it could well be the second, which has interesting implications; not least that there were other letters of a more straightforward kind, of which this is a slightly acidic sub-variation.

I’ll admit, though, either way it’s not as attractive as talking about Vikings

(Short one today b/c I’m on a train back to the UK for a week; this also means there won’t be a post next week at all.)

(*) OK, a more literal translation here is ‘I don’t do that to you’, but that sounds much pissier in English than in Latin…

(**) This actually is a literal translation, insofar as the metre’s off and one of the words doesn’t quite rhyme, even if you assume that the MS’ altero is supposed to be alterum (as other scholars have, I’m not spitballing here).

(***) Lit, ‘give you into my hands’, but that’s a lot more ‘cartoonishly villainous’ than ‘sweetly romantic’.

(****) That last bit is odd; in Latin it’s neminem sufficit, which literally means ‘it suffices no-one’. My initially guess was that the whole sentence was a marginal annotation from a disgruntled youth, but as it turns out the MS is online, and nope, it’s in the text. This phrase in the translation is based off a French translation I found with a quick Google…


Edit: So, here’s version 2:

No. 47: Letter to a fiancée [i.e., specifically to a female recipient].

With affectionate ardour and unceasing desire, I, in God’s name [insert name here], to my utterly affectionate and dearest, my mellow and much-desired amour [insert name here]. I send you in this letter greetings for as much joy as is contained within the fullness of our hearts, greetings which walk amidst the clouds and which the Sun and his Moon bring to you. When I lay me down for bed, you’re always on my mind; and when I close my eyes and sleep, it’s you in dreams I find. Be well in the day, sleep sweetly at might; and always keep your boyfriend in mind, and do not forget him, for I do not forget you. Come up with a clever way, and I’ll one more acquire, through what kind of trickery we’ll fulfil our desire.
May He who reigns in Heaven and oversees the whole world lead you into my arms before I die.
(This is a great greeting for two young people; the one sends it to the other and neither gets tired of it.)

A Love For The Ages? Charles the Simple and Frederuna

‘Just once, one would like to break out of our disciplinary straightjacket and say simply that this most misunderstood of kings loved his first wife. But we cannot.’

Geoffrey Koziol, The Politics of Memory, p. 518.

It is startling how little we know about Charles the Simple’s first wife, Frederuna. As I said last week, we know they were married in 907. Her dowry charter describes her as being of noble blood; we know she had a brother named Bovo who eventually became the bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, and a cousin named Berengar who became bishop of Cambrai. Berengar (but not Bovo) is described as being ‘from across the Rhine’ (i.e. East Frankish), but historians often assume Frederuna herself was Lotharingian. Her parents are unknown. Charles’ dowry for her calls her his consors regni, but as a queen she was not a major figure in Charles’ court. Compared to the roles played by Charles’ mother Queen Adelaide and Charles’ daughter- and granddaughter-in-law Queens Gerberga and Emma, Frederuna is conspicuous by her absence in Charles’ diplomas – indeed, she’s only actually called queen (regina) once, after her death, so it’s possible she was never actually crowned.

Frederuna is much more visible to us dead than alive. After her death in or around 917, Charles began to endow a programme of commemorative masses on a grand scale. This was a truly massive programme, all aimed at propagating his wife’s memory – there just isn’t a comparison to be made with any other requests for commemoration Charles made in his whole reign. No other Carolingian king devoted so much effort in commemorating their dead wives. This is particularly relevant because Charles soon afterwards married again, and his new wife, Eadgifu is never mentioned – only Frederuna. This seeming concern for his first wife sets Charles apart from his grandfather and namesake Charles the Bald, who once ordered commemorative masses for his wives with the rather arresting formula ‘[let them pray] for Ermengard, who’s dead; and Richildis, who isn’t’.

Historians have been at something of a loss to understand Charles’ drive to ensure that Frederuna was remembered. Often, it is taken as part of Charles’ strategy to bolster his rule in Lotharingia. This is, frankly, a bit silly. As I said, we don’t know anything about Frederuna’s family, so these arguments assume something of a circular quality: we know, it is argued, that Frederuna’s family was powerful because Charles commemorated her so much, and that Charles commemorated her so much because her family was powerful.

This argument, however, has the merit of avoiding questions about emotions that medieval historians are not comfortable asking. This discomfort is for very good reasons. After the quotation with which I opened the post, Geoffrey Koziol goes on to point out that the vocabulary of love and affection in these diplomas is heavily political. Take ‘friendship’ (amiticia), for instance. In 922, Charles made a treaty with the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler promising to ‘be a friend to this man, my friend, Henry, King of the East, as a friend rightfully ought to be towards his friend’. Does this mean Charles liked him? Of course not, no more than a modern leader talking about the ‘great friendship between our two countries’ indicates that two rulers really do have warm personal bonds. Similarly, just because Charles calls Frederuna his ‘beloved wife’ doesn’t actually mean he loved her.

At the same time, because the sources we have to study medieval individuals are accounts of them by others and documents largely for public consumption, trying to gain a handle on ‘who they were’ is a barely-possible goal. One historian, Timothy Reuter, once characterised early medieval rulers as ‘black boxes’ – we see the outputs, we can get some notion of the inputs, but what happened in their heads to turn one into the other is lost.

But. This is one case where being methodologically strict makes our history demonstrably less correct. It may be true to say that we can’t know what emotions Charlemagne, for instance, actually felt; but he had emotions and made decisions based partly on them. If we take individual’s emotions – and consequently personalities – out of the equation entirely, we are sticking more closely to what is proveable but straying further away from what is accurate.

In this case, to stay within our disciplinary straightjacket is, simply, to get things wrong. In 917, Charles issued a diploma for Saint-Denis in Paris. It’s preserved in the original, and has one distinctly unusual feature.

Image from Diplomata Karolinorum, vol. 6, no. 2, eds. F. Lot & P. Lauer (1)

Diplomas are supposed to represent visually the majesty of the ruler, and consequently they’re usually neat, impressive looking documents. In this case, though, something’s different. The prayer clause in this document specifies that the monks are to have a feast on Charles’ birthday, another on the day of his coronation, and another after he dies. Above this, in a neat non-diplomatic hand (possibly Charles’ own? I’d like to think so, but that’s more than likely just romantic dreaming), is specified that there should be another feast on Frederuna’s death.  This visual intrusion – the word Frederune collides messily with the ligature of the et below it – detracts from the otherwise imposing appearance of the diploma. It seems rather that it was added in after the diploma had been written up because it was simply that important to Charles that it be in there, and never mind any oddities in the diploma’s appearance.

If we say that Charles commemorated Frederuna because she mattered to him personally, is this certain? Certainly not. But that doesn’t actually make it different from other aspects of medieval history. As the tagline of this blog has it, non sic gesta scias sed cuncta geri potuisse – it didn’t happen this way, but it could have done. When it comes to assigning motivations for Charles’ actions, politics is as conjectural as love. This is not to say that either is pure speculation – both have evidential support, but not certainty.

An important distinction, though, is that politics is less revealing than emotion. Each historian creates their own Middle Ages. My Middle Ages is not Geoffrey Koziol’s Middle Ages. Consequently, when it comes to filling in the gaps, each historian puts a portion of themselves into the world they create. This is one thing when it comes to dealing with tax policy or territorial ambition, but when it comes to dealing with love, hate, or forgiveness, the personal element is more fundamental and more idiosyncratic to the historian themselves. Putting emotion into the Middle Ages runs the very real risk of showing more of yourself to the world than you intend, of losing control of your own image.

Again, I’m not saying that history of any sort is a matter of unfettered self-expression; simply making the point – almost expressing the truism – that you can’t take the historian out of the history. The solution, which is a method rather than an answer, though, is the same as any other problem of this sort in history: a return to the sources, to make the argument to which the evidence leads you as well and as honestly as you can, even acknowledging that you yourself are consciously or unconsciously filling the gaps. A leap of this sort may be made darkly, but it need not be made blindly.

A leap, though, must be made, because otherwise we are actively leaving out a crucial element in understanding the past. In this case, without thinking about Charles’ emotions, we can’t understand his programme of commemoration. Not politics, not Lotharingia, not placating his in-laws: Charles commemorated Frederuna because he loved her and he missed her.

(1) Available online at: