Silcher Must Fall?: Lessons about Statues with Difficult Pasts

There are few more beautiful spots in Tübingen to take a stroll than the Platanenallee. Beginning at the Eberhard bridge, which crosses the Neckar at the heart of the city, you descend down onto a narrow island that divides the river, lined by the mighty and ancient plane trees from which the avenue takes its name.  Picnics are held amid these giants. Small children play hiding games behind their trunks. Down the broad avenue, elderly Tübingers wearing their best nod courteously to the revelling teenagers whose paths they cross. On the water, scholars attempt to balance their punts and take them down the river, with varying ratios of skill to enthusiasm. To your right, on the far side of the Neckar, rises the city, where the colourful medieval residential buildings that define the view are further adorned by students sat on the wall in front of them. As you make your way west, you will see the late Gothic tower of the Stiftskirche in the distance, as well as the bright yellow tower on the river in which the poet Hölderlin battled his demons. Looming above it all is the red roofed castle, whose thick walls, which once housed the local count, now defend the treasures of the university museum. Press on, and you will reach the sighing forest, where the regimented plane trees that open one to the world are replaced by their smaller, less-disciplined cousins, creating a space of solitude in the middle of the city.

But before reaching that shelter, one must meet a monster.

Photo by author

The most controversial statue in Tübingen lurks where the avenue meets the forest, commanding an open circle that draws you into his realm. Its subject is the celebrated composer and music teacher Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860). Statues and their role in the telling of history have been much in the news recently, not least in the city of my birth, so my attention was drawn to the Silcher statue. I’ve long felt that the way Germany talks about its history holds lessons for other countries with difficult pasts (that is, all of them). The complicity of ordinary Germans in the crimes of the Third Reich and the DDR are taught honestly and bravely in schools and communicated regularly in public. Nor are they separated from ordinary life. Walking down the streets of Germany, one encounters the little golden bricks (Stolpersteine), giving you the name and details of a person who once lived where you now stand and was murdered by the Nazis. Such moments, which collapse time by fixing you to the place, make it impossible to fully banish the spectre of the past.  Although other parts of German history are still more forgotten than they should be, most notably the colonial empire in Africa that led to the Herero and Nama genocide, even here efforts are being made to face up to that past. (In between my writing this piece and its publication, Tübingen has acquired an excellent set of signs organised by the local museum which inform the reader about the colonial connections of the city and university in preparation for a permanent exhibition on the subject.) Given Germany’s excellence in coping with historical memory, I thought it would be interesting to talk about the treatment of the Silcher statue.

The statue is not controversial because of its subject. As far as I can tell, Silcher was as inoffensive as the average nineteenth-century person could be. His liberal nationalist leanings led him to be sympathetic to the 1848 revolution. His passion for the German nation was primarily expressed by his work collecting and arranging traditional Volkslieder (folk music). As the head of the music school in Tübingen for most of his life, Silcher played a key role in the cultural life of the city, as well as being celebrated across the German-speaking world. His contribution to Tübingen is commemorated by a street named after him, and his grave in the city cemetery is signposted for visitors.

Rather, the controversy comes from the circumstances in which the statue was put up. You get a strong hint about this when you approach the statue from the front. The whole composition is nearly six metres tall, made of sandstone, and features a colossal sitting Silcher, making notes in a book. The monumental style of a simple twentieth century that fetishized clean lines and dynamic force is ill suited to the composer’s delicate Biedermeier face and cravat, rendering them blocky and crude.  Further clues appear as you go round the statue, where, bursting out of Silcher’s back like so many alien parasites, we encounter two soldiers in battle, one of whom has fallen to unseen enemies; another soldier locked in a farewell kiss with a woman; and, most grotesquely, a child marching with a rifle over his shoulder. The effect of the ensemble carried out by these empty-faced figures is to glorify warfare. We can accuse it of many things, but subtle it is not. Just in case we haven’t worked out what we’re looking at yet, we can consult the helpful bright pink graffiti on the base, which accurately informs us that this is a ‘Nazi Denkmal [Monument]’.

The statue was first announced on the 25th June 1939, as Tübingen celebrated the 150th anniversary of Silcher’s birth, and was completed on 11th May 1941. The design and construction followed the specifications of the local Nazi district leader. Given the circumstances, it was felt that the official opening of the statue should be delayed. No such inauguration ever took place. Unlike the overwhelming majority of Nazi-era sculpture, it was never taken down, despite multiple requests over the decades by inhabitants of Tübingen.

I think on balance this is a good thing, because keeping the statue helps to communicate a number of useful points to the people who visit it. The first is the capacity and willingness of totalitarian ideologies to claim and pervert the past and art for its own purposes. The monumental figures of soldiers point towards some of Silcher’s most famous compositions, most notably the tune to Ludwig Uhland’s ‘Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden’. Far from straightforwardly glorifying war, though, the song speaks to the loss experienced by soldiers in battle. This universal applicability has led to it being picked up by militaries from France to Chile. Under Nazi rule, Silcher’s haunting tribute to the sorrow of war was instrumentalised in order to express war’s glory. Nazi leaders used their control of the arts in the present to redefine the art of the past, and place themselves right at the heart of Tübingen’s relationship with its own history.

But this is not just a story of alien functionaries imposing a Nazi ideology upon Tübingen’s historical landscape. That would be far too straightforward. Because the second point to take from this is the enthusiastic participation by people in the Nazi project. People in Tübingen liked the Nazis. It was not hard to find a sculptor, Wilhelm Julius Frick, who could fulfil the requirements of the organisers. For the most part the sculpture was organised by local people who were Nazis. Even before Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis had been popular in Tübingen. Although the working class of the city predominantly supported the Social Democrats or the Communists, the university was strongly right wing, and many of its students would be fast-tracked through the ranks of the SS and the Gestapo. The only Jewish professor in the university was forced out in 1931. By 1935 there were no Jewish students at the university. An Institute for Racial Studies was established in order to racially classify people. It was later renamed the Anthropological Institute. The intellectuals of Tübingen, the people who presumed to set its artistic taste and preserve its cultural tradition, were fully on board with the Nazi project. The statue of Silcher speaks to their willingness to corrupt their past for the totalitarian present.

These are good reasons to keep the statue up. But a statue alone can’t communicate that message. Figural depiction is forever ambiguous and you don’t have to be Percy Shelley to know that statues get read in many different ways by the people who see them. The medieval inhabitants of Constantinople believed the ancient statues of their city communicated omens at night. Historians writing in Ottoman Athens interpreted the ancient statues of their home as magical automata, built to act as soldiers for the wizard-philosophers on the Acropolis during their vain quest for immortality. If the statue of Silcher is going to usefully communicate anything about the Nazi past, it needs to be contextualised. Which is why today the statue is accompanied by a lengthy sign explaining its history, with photos. This sign can also be found online, here in English, and is part of a series of nineteen signs set up in 2016, distributed throughout Tübingen, addressing the city’s Nazi past. (They are well worth reading, and will communicate how easy the good people of Tübingen made researching this post for me). Hence, the visitor to the statue does not just get information while at Silcher’s feet. They are also primed and prepared for it by the very explicit signage throughout the city that provides vital context. This commitment to offering information is what allows the statue to be useful in the present, de-fanging its obvious original purpose and helping us in the present to learn its lessons.

It’s also important to note that this is the result of a continuing conversation among the people of Tübingen that has led to changes over the past eighty years, and this is potentially not the end of the conversation. Statues are intended to be permanent monuments, transmuting the fleeting and the perishable by immortalising it in stone. In practice, this is not the case. Untouched, statues decay, slowly corroding or rapidly collapsing in the face of the elements. Their preservation is a choice, and a conscious active one that demands time, money and labour. The Silcher statue commemorates someone of great artistic significance who had a deep connection to the city in which it stands. No one is harmed by the burnishing of his memory. Nor is the statue a rallying point for those who would be heir to the Nazis. Those are essential preconditions for the statue’s continued prominence. If those facts were to change, if the far-right were to start gathering where Platanenallee meets the forest of sighs, or if new information were to come to light about Silcher, then a new decision might have to be made.

I’m aware that this is not a stirring cry for one side or the other in the debate about controversial statues, but I don’t think a contribution to this debate has to be strident to be useful. Statues are part of the conversation that people and communities have with each other about their past. Above all, they need to be useful or meaningful to the people they serve in the present, even if some of that use or meaning comes from the uncomfortable truths they can tell us about our histories. Because they are part of a continuing process, no final rule or decision can be made that will neatly fit all cases or that can bind all generations to come.

Despite the need to think about all statues in their individual circumstances, I think the Silcher statue does offer a useful lesson for the handling of controversial statues. That is the importance of providing historical context. The commitment by the Tübingen Landkreis to making it really easy to understand the history of the statue, the reasons it was put up, and the explanation for its design is what transforms it from Nazi propaganda to a valuable learning moment for the present. That historical context is the most potent antidote to the poison it was meant to spread, and is an insight that I think communities across the world who are grappling with the monuments of a past both too foreign and too near all at once could benefit from.

Source Translation: 936 Ain’t Over Yet

This post was a mistake. Not a serious mistake, to be clear: this was going to be the Charter A Week for 937 and I got the whole way through translating it before I realised that, duh, it’s from 936. Still, no need to waste a diploma, and this one genuinely is quite important and interesting. I keep talking about Hugh the Great’s pretentions to overwhelmingly high status after Louis IV’s accession; and I’ve mentioned that there was tension in the air – but so far you haven’t seen the worst of it. Today’s source gets us up close and personal with that discontent:

D L4 no. 4 (25th December 936, Compiègne)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Louis, by the preordaining clemency of the Highest King king of the Franks.

If We come to help and concede any gift of honour and restoration to the holy church of God  and also extend the hands of Our Highness and Piety to those who should dwell Catholically in it and devotedly seek the gift of His clemency for the state of this realm and of Christianity, through the deliverance of the King on High Jesus Christ and the most clement intercession of His saints such that they might not be illegally and unjustly oppressed by violence from anyone, We hold most firmly that it will benefit Us temporally and eternally in the augmentation of Our honour.

Thus, let the skill of those both present and future discover that the brothers of the abbey of Compiègne, when We first came there, made a complaint before the summit of Our Highness concerning Bishop Rothard of Meaux, previously prior of the same place, regarding their own land, which ought to pertain to their allowance of food, and clothing, and which had been conceded by Our progenitors to the nourishing mother of God and undefiled virgin Mary and the most precious martyrs Cornelius and Cyprian, for the work of the brothers serving therein; to wit, concerning the estate which is called Chauny and also concerning Gury and concerning Mareuil-la-Motte and Marest-sur-Matz and Manseau and concerning Margny-sur-Matz and concerning Elincourt and concerning the churches sited in them, that is, Notre-Dame, Saint-Denis, Saint-Médard, Sainte-Marguerite, and concerning their tithes and concerning the other side of the river Aronde and the mill which is called Frost and concerning the land which lies besides the same river, on this side of the aforesaid river and on the far side, and also concerning the space next to the aforesaid river on which he had strengthened a residence, which space, that is, is named Coudun; all of which, when in fact he should have been a servant of the said place, he kept hold of and usurped for himself, purportedly for rent, which he also never paid any of.

We, then, hearing this and enjoying the common consent of Our followers, to wit, of Hugh [the Great], Our most beloved and the duke of the Franks, who is second to Us in all Our realms; and Our most faithful pontiff Walbert [of Noyon], and also with the counsel of the most prudent man Bernard [of Beauvais], tremendously great in Our fidelity, and Ermenfred [of Amiens], restore to them, to the common portion of the brothers serving the Lord therein, all the said land with all the aforesaid things, in order that from this day forth they might hold and possess that land and all the aforesaid things for their allowance of food, and clothing in times to come without the trouble of any contradiction.

In addition, moreover, We concede to the said brothers that they should have free power to distribute prebends and that they should have all the service given for them for their own uses, just as Our most glorious father King Charles [the Simple] conceded to them in a precept of renewal.

Let them have the same power over the appointed ministers of the place as well, except the prior and dean, treasurer and cantor; and in these cases, with the counsel of the senior brothers and the election of the other clerics.

Let them have the same, too, over houses given between them or over land within and without the castle pertaining to the same brothers.

We concede to them, furthermore, in regard to the castle and its ramparts and concerning the outside area inside the walls and defensive ditch, that none who is an outsider to the same place should accept command on the pretext of overseeing the castle; and that no-one should claim rights of hospitality there.

Next, We concede to them in regard to the cultivated land which they have for outward uses that no-one should presume to enter their residences; and the toll from the ovens which have been or will be built there and from the wine-taverns within the castle and without the castle which customarily came to the part of Our predecessors.

From the confluence of waters next to the estate of Clairoix up to the bridge of Venette, We concede to them the river with both banks, and fishing-rights, and ship-passage and wherever nets ought to be dragged out of the river, whether going upriver or downriver, and from there up to Magnicurtis; also that no-one should presume to fish or hunt there without permission from the brothers; and if any fleeing wild animal comes there without being pursued by hunters, let it be brought to the brothers’ table. And similarly We concede to them whatever might be found from the confluence of waters next to Clairoix up to Magnicurtis.

We also concede permission that if any fiscal servant wishes to sell or give anything from his allod to that holy place or to the canons of that place, they may have free power to do it and the deed may endure perpetually, as Our father King Charles [the Simple] once established and conceded there through a precept.

If, though, anyone might presume to violate this statute and that which Our father established and Pope John of the holy Roman see conceded in his privilege and excommunicated and cursed those who might try to violate it, let them have portion with Judas, the betrayer of the Lord, and be anathema maranatha, and be excluded from the company of the faithful and be burned forever in the punishments of Hell.

But that this precept of Our authority might endure firm and inviolable eternally without fear, confirming it below with Our own hand We mandated it be signed with the signet of Our royal dignity.

Sign of the most glorious king Louis.

Gerard the notary witnessed on behalf of Artald, Archbishop and High Chancellor.

Enacted at the royal palace of Compiègne, on the day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the 10th indiction, in the 1st year of the reign of the most glorious King Louis.


The closest surviving thing we have to part of the Carolingian palace, and it ain’t that close (source)

Christmas at Compiègne was by itself a sign that something new was in the air. Under Ralph of Burgundy, Compiègne was not a significant royal palace. In fact, it seems to have been something of a neutral zone – there are a couple of times when Ralph and his squabbling brothers-in-law met there seemingly because it was a liminal location where they could get together on a roughly even footing. Compiègne was Charles the Simple’s place, and it’s appropriate that Louis IV issued his rehabilitative diploma for ‘the glorious king Charles’ quoting at length from one of Charles’ own diplomas for the abbey. Louis also pulled in Count Ermenfred of Amiens, whom we’ve met before as a prop of Charles’ late period regime. Hugh’s own father Robert of Neustria had been rehabilitated in the early 930s – but, of course, rehabilitating Charles was more fraught, given Hugh’s personal role in his overthrow.

This isn’t to say that Hugh was opposed to this. In fact, one wonders if it was the bone he threw Louis, because otherwise the diploma shows off Hugh’s power over the king. Note the presence of Bernard of Beauvais, with a remarkably exalted epithet.  Bernard had been Hugh’s right-hand man during the Burgundy campaign, and his presence – and elaborate praise – here gives an insight into how cloying Hugh’s oversight of the king may have been. Bernard was also the cousin of Heribert II of Vermandois, who had led Charles to imprisonment at Saint-Quentin, and thus his presence was at best ironic. Too, Ansegis of Troyes has been replaced as archchancellor by Archbishop Artald of Rheims. Given later developments, it can be hard to remember this, but in 936 Artald was Hugh’s ally, the man to whom he owed his position. Most important of all, though, is the description of Hugh himself. Hugh’s new title, ‘duke of the Franks’, was ambiguous, and it seems that he may have been pushing for a clarification. The act spells it out, and it is startling. Raymond Pons was right: Hugh was a menace to the ambitions of every other aristocrat in the kingdom. He is placed as greater than all the realm’s other magnates, not simply in the north of Gaul but in Aquitaine and Burgundy as well. Even Robert of Neustria at the peak of his power had never had his status exalted in such concrete terms.

Perhaps the most appropriate presence was Bishop Walbert of Noyon. This diploma was the last thing he ever did: he died on Boxing Day 936. Hugh and Louis’ alliance would follow suit soon after.

Charter A Week 45: Memory, Family, and Favourites

921 was a key year for Charles the Simple’s fortunes. Having brokered a compromise with Robert of Neustria the year before, the two men were engaged in sorting out their positions. One of the threads of this year, in my reading, is how hard either found it to get any kind of unequivocal support on side. Duke William the Younger of Aquitaine was hostile to both; Richard the Justiciar of Burgundy had recently died and his sons seem to have had very different political orientations (Hugh the Black, pro-Robert; Boso of Vitry, pro-Charles; Ralph of Burgundy, on the fence). Meanwhile, Charles began lavishing favour on men from his north-eastern heartlands, above all our old friend (?) Hagano.

In Easter 921, Charles issued this diploma for the abbey of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés:

D CtS no. 108 = ARTEM no. 2050 = D.Kar 6.XIII (22nd April 921, Compiègne)

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

We believe without doubt that the good and useful things which We carry out, at the suggestion of Our followers, for love of divine worship profit the realm of Our rule in its greatest increase, and that it benefits the blessing of Our salvation.

Therefore, let it be held known by the followers of the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, that the most reverend bishop Abbo [of Soissons] along with the venerable Count Hagano, and the reverend Abbot Rumald [of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés] endeavoured to make it known to Our Serenity how the abbey of Fossés, which is sited in the district of the Parisis, on the river Marne; and which is built in honour of the holy mother of God Mary and the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, where the aforesaid Abbot Rumald now presides, having previously been destroyed, was restored by kinsmen from the side of Our mother Adelaide, building it again, with a full restoration under the monastic order; and that they strengthened through the precepts of the kings Our predecessors – from Our great-grandfather Louis [the Pious] and Our grandfather Charles [the Bald], and other kings – whatever had been bestowed upon the same monastery in any increase of goods; and that Abbot Rumald, together with his congregation, asked that they wanted the same monastery to be held by Us in the same manner as prior kings by a renewal from Our precept. Whence they brought before our gaze the authority of Our lord and great-grandfather the augustus Louis, in which is contained how Bego, the great-grandfather of Our mother, had restored the monastery (which was nearly destroyed) to its original state under the norm of religion; and how he came and commended the abbey under that emperor’s tutelage and defence, with the abbot and monks and goods pertaining to it; and that this authority was reinforced by Our grandfather Charles and by their other successors.

Hence, We wish that the said abbot and the monks established under him, with all the goods beholden to the same monastery, should fully persist under the defence of Our immunity. Besides which, the monastery of Saint-Maur [of Glanfeuil] sited in the district on Anjou, on the river Loire, which was subjected to the abbey of Fossés by Our late brother Carloman [II] through a precept of his command that they should be one and governed under one abbot, We in like manner commend to persist.

Commanding, therefore, We order that no judge nor any judicial power should presume to require anything through distraint in any of the goods of the same monasteries from which anything is seen to be able to be exacted; rather, let everything which Our fisc can exact therefrom go to alms for the poor and stipends for the monks, and let both of the said abbeys, under one abbot, have the liberty of Our royal defence, without the military service from which We absolve the same places in every way.

Finally, when the aforesaid Abbot Rumald, by the command of divine calling, goes forth from this light, let the monks of these monasteries have license to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, unless it should so happen that there can be found therein one living in accordance with the Rule from amongst the kin of Our mother, who should always carry out the office of abbot therein.

We decree, then, by the word of Our authority and the writing of these letters, that everything written above should persist fixed and stable for all time, so that the aforesaid monks might be able without disturbance to exhort God’s clemency for Our salvation for all time – but especially, whilst We live, on the 5th kalends of February [28th January], on which day We were anointed as king, let them carry out Our memorial in their prayers; and after Our death, let them change these prayers to the anniversary day of Our death. Furthermore, let them mark the anniversary of Our former wife Frederuna on the 3rd ides of February [11th February], always adding to them as well the memory of Our kinsmen who built their place; and in addition, with all of Our offspring, let them have a continuous perseverance in prayer for Count Hagano, who is very faithful to Us.

That this authority might obtain firmness forever by industry of this sort, We command it be sealed with Our signet, confirming it with Our own hand.

Sign of the glorious king Charles.

Gozlin the notary of this royal edict witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop Roger [of Trier].

Given on the 10th kalends of May [22nd April], in the 8th indiction, in the 29th year of the reign of the glorious king Charles, in the 24th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom and the 10th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted, truly, in the palace of the royal seat of Compiègne.

Faithfully. Amen.

caw 43 921

The original of Charles’ diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

In this act, issued at the height of Easter time, Charles is doing a number of things. Above all, he is establishing Fossés as a monastery dedicated to the memory of his kinsmen, and specifically his female kinsmen, in particular his mother Adelaide and wife Frederuna. By this point, the initial splurge of dedications memorialising Frederuna has abated, so this demand for a memorial service is targeted and calculated. He places both Fossés and the Loire valley abbey of Glanfeuil (which had been united for about forty years at this point) under his mother’s kin. He also, in a quasi-adoptive act, places Hagano’s memory alongside that of his own family.

Equally noticeable in this act are the intercessors, above all Bishop Abbo of Soissons. Abbo shows up a few times at the end of Charles’ reign as someone high in his confidence, but when it came down to it he sided with Charles’ enemies. It is interesting to wonder whether we are dealing with Charles trying to bribe someone of uncertain loyalties, or whether Abbo’s betrayal was unexpected…

It is also interesting to note that the abbeys Charles is dealing with are in Paris and Anjou. Anjou was a core area of Robert of Neustria’s support, and Paris was an increasingly important liminal area between Charles’ sphere of direct influence and Robert’s. It may be that this diploma was part of a set of provocations in this area, because the final blow-up was also set in this area: Charles confiscated the abbey of Chelles from Rothilde, the mother-in-law of Robert’s son Hugh the Great, and gave it to Hagano. By 922, Robert and Charles were in open war.

Charter a Week 22, part 2: Overwriting King Zwentibald

Describing the opening of Charles’ reign as ‘competently-executed’, as we did on Wednesday, seems a bit damning-by-faint-praise for such an interesting and intelligent monarch. Happily, though, Charles’ next diploma does something a little more out of the ordinary:

DD CtS no. 11 (13th February 898, Compiègne)

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

If We bestow advantageous benefices on places given over to divine worship for love of God and of those who serve in the same places, We are not doubtful that We will be repaid with the prize of eternal repayment before the Lord.

Therefore, let the sagacity of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future, know that Our venerable mother Queen Adelaide approached the presence of Our Dignity, devotedly asking that We might for love of God deign to consign through a precept of Our authority certain goods of the holy archangel Michael, which are known to have formerly been given over as benefices for certain people, to the stipends of the brothers serving the Lord therein.

Favouring her petitions with pious love, We concede and consign them to the brothers of the holy archangel Michael for their use and stipends, that is, in the district of Verdunois, the estate of Buxières-sous-les-Côtes with Heudicourt-sous-les-Côtes, with all their dependencies, meadows, fields, woods, buildings and bondsmen of both sexes pertaining thereto; and in the estate of Vaux, the chapel of Saint-Rémi with all its dependencies; and in Refroicourt one manse with a mill; also, in the district of Scarponnais, in the estate of Essey, one chapel with all its dependencies.

Whence We decreed this precept of Our Magnitude be made for them concerning this, through which We order and command that from this day forth the monks should hold and possess the goods here enrolled for their advantage in their entirety, and do whatever is necessary for them therewith, disturbed by no-one.

And that this edict of Our precept might in God’s name be conserved inviolably through times to come, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it to be sealed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Heriveus the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and Head Chancellor Fulk [of Rheims].

Given on the ides of February [13th February], in the 1st indiction, in the 6th year of the reign of and 1st year of the restoration of the kingdom’s unity by of Charles, the most glorious of kings.

Enacted at the palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Any of this looking familiar? Yes, Charles the Simple is getting his claws out. This diploma basically overwrites Zwentibald’s diploma from Trosly-Loire – “Now I’m the king you damn well go to”. There is, methinks, some bitterness here. Even more, though, Charles is confirming lands in Zwentibald’s own kingdom. This is surely a precursor to Charles’ invasion of Lotharingia, which we have discussed on the blog before. It’s certainly a good sign about Charles’ regime, though, that he was after so little time sufficiently well-entrenched that he could launch a credible attack on another king.

That king’s days were themselves numbered. This will be our last encounter with King Zwentibald – enough is happening in the West in 899 and 900 that none of his diplomas made the cut – but Charles’ involvement was not finished. Zwentibald bungled his patronage – switching from supporting Reginar Long-Neck to throwing him to the wolves might have made sense in theory, but somehow he failed in practice – and ended up with most of his nobility arrayed against him. Charles had a hand here. In 899, Zwentibald held a major colloquium at Sankt Goar, on the Rhine. Present were Bishop Anskeric of Paris and Count Odoacar, both Charles’ men. Privately, Charles’ men, the men of Zwentibald’s dying father Arnulf, and the Lotharingians, were probably conspiring to overthrow Zwentibald, something which happened in 900 and which led to Zwentibald’s death in battle. In the end, Charles go the last laugh over his once-so-overbearing cousin.

Charter a Week 1, part 2: Carlopolis

As warned on Monday, there’s another of these last diplomas of Charles the Bald. Sometimes, you just can’t choose, and this is a particularly rich case. I mentioned on Monday that in 877, Charles did not expect to die; he expected to rule more and more of his family inheritance. This diploma in particular is a rich tapestry of Carolingian memory and aspirations:

DD CtB no. 425 (5th May 877, Compiègne) = ARTEM no. 1787 = DK 5.xx

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Charles, by mercy of the same Almighty God emperor augustus.

Whatever We offer by way of thanks in vow or action to God Almighty, to Whom We owe not only that which We have and which We got from His hand but Our very self, Who deigned to elevate Us and the emperors and kings Our predecessors to the garland of royalty not by Our merit but by His most beneficent grace, We in no way doubt that this will be of greater consequence for Us in more happily passing through the present life and more fruitfully laying hold of the future.

Hence, because the emperor of rich recollection, to wit, Our grandfather Charle[magne], on whom divine providence deigned to bestow sole rule of this whole empire, is recognised to have built a chapel in the palace of Aachen in honour of the blessed virgin Mary the mother of God, and to have established clerics therein to serve the Lord for the remedy of his soul and the absolution of his sins and equally for the dignity of the imperial highness, and to have consecrated the same place with a great collection of relics and to have cultivated it with manifold ornaments, We likewise, desiring to imitate the custom of him and other kings and emperors, to wit, Our predecessors, since that part of his realm has not yet fallen to Us as a share of the division, nevertheless raised from the foundations within the domain of Our power, that is, in the palace of Compiègne, a monastery in honour of the glorious mother of God and always ever-virgin Mary, to which We give the name ‘royal’, and We enriched it, by the Lord’s help, with great offerings, and We decreed that there should be clerics therein numbering a hundred, to constantly implore the Lord’s mercy for the state of the holy Church of God, for Our fathers and progenitors, for Us, Our wife and offspring, and for the stability of the whole realm.

We consigned these estates to be held perpetually for the use of this basilica and for necessary stipends for the aforesaid brothers. That is, in the district of Tardenois, the estate of Romigny with a chapel and in its entirety; and in the district of Beauvaisis, the estate of Longueil-Sainte-Marie, Sacy-le-Petit, and Marest-sur-Matz with everything pertaining to them; and in the district of Amiénois, Piennes and Erches; in the district of Boulonnais, the estate of Attin, and the cell of Sainte-Macre in the district of Tardenois with all its appendages; and in the Soissonnais, the estate of Bruyères; and in the district of Laonnois, the estate of Estraon and Berry-au-Bac (after the death of Primordius); and in the district of Vermandois, the estate of Cappy, and also the cultivated land which We conceded with a fishery to the same brothers for their outside uses outside the monastery; a chapel in Venette, a chapel in Verberie, a chapel in Nanteuil-le-Haudoin, a chapel in Montmacq (after the death of Berto); in the district of Noyonnais, the small estate which is called Les Bons Hommes; also, the tithes of the fiscs which We conceded to them through a precept, that is, the tithe of Le Chesne, Verberie, Cuignières, Roye, Montmacq, and two parts of the tithe of the estate of Orville, Doullens, Creolicupinus, Ferrières, Sinceny, Amigny, Voyenne, Rozoy-sur-Serre, Samoussy, Andigny, Erquery, Sevigny-Waleppe, Attigny, Belmia, Taizy, Bitry, Ponthion, Merlaut and Bussy, and all the others which they have through Our precept; and cottages in Bourgogne, and the bridge over the Vesle pertaining to Fismes, and the all the toll of the annual market with the meadow by Venette where it usually takes place. Also, We similarly confirm that the custom of complete silence and quiet should be canonically observed there, and be violated by no outside guest, as is contained in the same precept. Moreover, We concede to the said holy monastery and the brothers assiduously serving the Lord therein on this day when We celebrated the dedication of that holy basilica, that is, the 3rd nones of May [5th May], through the same precept of Our authority, the estate of Sarcy in the district of Tardenois, with a demesne, and a chapel, and whatever is beholden there, and whatever Count Othere once held from the same; and in the district of Beauvaisis, in Béthancourt, whatever is beholden there from Margny-lès-Compiègne.

And thus, We resolve that all the aforesaid, those estates and goods which We conceded before the dedication of the aforesaid basilica and those which We conceded at the dedication of the same, with chapels and all their appendages, lands, vineyards, woods, meadows, pastures, waters and watercourses, mills, bondsmen of both sexes dwelling thereon or justly and legally pertaining to the same, roads in and out, and all legitimate boundaries, should be eternally held and canonically disposed of by the said holy place and the congregation serving the Lord therein for their advantage; and from Our right We place them in the right and power of the same monastery, such that, as We ordained in Our other precepts, they may have, hold and possess whatever from this day divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said place and brothers through Us and through Our successors or by gift of any other person and have free and most firm power to act and make canonical dispositions in everything, to wit, on the condition that the offices and ministries of the same place, to wit, of lighting, of guests, and of the reception of the poor, and of the brothers’ stipends should remain ordained in accordance with what We or Our representatives or the prelates of the same monastery might dispose.

Finally, We enact as well that all the aforesaid goods should remain under that defence of Our immunity and tutelage under which the goods of other churches which earned to obtain this from Us or from Our predecessors are known to remain, such that none of Our followers or anyone with judicial power or anyone else, both present and also future, might dare to enter into the churches or places or fields or other possessions of the aforesaid monastery which it justly and legally possesses in any pagi or territories, or those which henceforth divine piety wishes be placed within the right of that holy place to hear cases or exact fines or tribute, or make a halt or claim hospitality, or take securities, or distrain the men both free and servile dwelling on its land, or require any renders or illicit requisitions in Our or future times, nor might they presume to exact anything from what is noted above. And whatever the fisc might be able to hope for from the goods of the said church, let it be completely open that We have conceded it to the aforesaid holy place for eternal repayment, so that for time everlasting it might contribute towards alms for the poor and an increase in the stipends of the canons serving the Lord therein, so that it might delight these servants of God and their successors to exhort the Lord’s mercy for Us more fruitfully. And because all the aforesaid goods are from Our fiscs, We wish and equally command that they should be protected and defended under that law under which the goods of Our fisc constantly remain, and under the relevant mundeburdum and defence, and that they should remain under that imperial tutelage under which the abbey, to wit, Prüm, which Our forefather Pippin built; and the monastery of nuns at Laon established in honour of Saint Mary are known to remain.

Verily, whatever We have conceded in gold, silver and jewels, garments, goods or in any kind to the same place, because We offered them to be consecrated to the Lord out of love for divine worship and equally for the remedy of Our soul and Our fathers and progenitors, We ask and prohibit under the witness of the divine name that no successor of Ours as king or emperor, nor anyone endowed with the dignity of any rank, should receive anything from whose which are recorded above into their own uses or put them to use in the worship of their chapel, nor (as is known sometimes happens) confer them to another church under the supposed pretext of almsgiving. Rather, let them completely and perpetually conserve them as We have given them, to be held by the Lord and the aforesaid holy place. Truly, let no-one presume to diminish anything from all of the aforesaid goods, which We have established as aid for the advantage of the basilica and the aforesaid brothers, numbering one hundred. Rather, this concession of Our piety and ordinance of imperial highness be as conserved in perpetuity as is set out in the privilege of the lord and Our most holy father John [VIII], the apostolic and universal pope, and in the privileges of other bishops. And, if anyone might wish to add to it, after their goods and uses have been increased and multiplied let the number of those taking care of divine service be increased. Finally, We confirm through this Our word the said privilege of the most holy pope lord John, and, as his ordinance decreed, let Our strengthening also decree that it should endure in perpetuity.

And that this authority of Our donation and establishment of an edict and strengthening of an immunity should be conserved, in God’s name, inviolably and be more truly believed for all time, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be sealed with impressions of Our bulls.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of august emperors.

Sign of the glorious king Louis [the Stammerer].

Odoacer the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Gozlin.

Given on the 3rd nones of May [5th May], in the 10th indiction, in the 37th year of the reign of lord emperor Charles in Francia and the 7th in succession to King Lothar [II] and the second of his empire.

Enacted at the imperial palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW1.2 877
It’s an impressive looking sucker, too. From the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above. 

The year before this, in 876, Charles’ dangerous older half-brother Louis the German had died. Charles immediately moved to try and claim a portion of his kingdom – Louis had already thwarted his efforts to claim Lotharingia in 869, after the death of Lothar II. However, Charles suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of Louis’ son Louis the Younger at the Battle of Andernach.

With that in mind, this diploma doesn’t sound particularly defeated. Sure, Charles is explicitly building a substitute for Aachen; but that’s only because it hasn’t fallen to his part yet. In the meantime, Charles is building a full statement in stone of his absolute right to succeed Charlemagne: Compiègne is big, it’s rich, and above all it’s royal. Charles calls it royal, and he endows it with the same privileges of Notre-Dame de Laon and above all of Prüm, which is the Carolingian family foundation. It’s a statement of intent: Charles will be the head of the Carolingian family no matter who controls the dynasty’s old heartlands.

Of course, within a few months Charles would be too dead to do anything much, and Compiègne’s importance abated somewhat. Hereafter, its associations would be primarily not with Charlemagne, but with Charles the Bald himself – and one future monarch would be particularly interested in the place. However, that’s many moons down the line from here…

Who Were The Preceeding Kings?

Man, I had such a good idea for my IMC paper next year. I was going to look at every post-Carolingian royal diploma, seeing who named their predecessors, either by name (‘King Odo’) or generically (‘the custom of Our royal ancestors’) and see what changed. Problem was, this was such a good idea that someone else on the panel had already had it, based on their long-standing research… Still, thanks to my collection of West Frankish royal diplomas actually doing the start of the research as a feasibility study only took a morning, and if I can do nothing else with it it can at least serve as a blog post, so here goes. At least this way I don’t have to spend a thousand words on the methodological issues (although I have thought about them!) …

The first thing I noted was that the overall amount of citations in both categories remains fairly consistent between 888 and 1032, at around 66%. There are two major exceptions to this: Ralph of Burgundy, and Robert the Pious. My first thought was that Ralph and Robert both came to power in coups, so might not want to remind people of their – implicitly more legitimate – predecessors; but this isn’t true of Hugh Capet… I still wonder if the ‘don’t mention the predecessors’ reason might be valid for Ralph – who also basically never mentions specific, named, precursors, and who did after all come to the throne after a shockingly-violent battle – but I think in Robert’s case it might fit into a wider pattern in his kingship, the meandering trend towards being less royal about the whole thing. This is also, as far as I can tell, not a universal percentage: I also did the kings of Transjurane Burgundy, and their historical memory is very limited – they hardly ever mention their predecessors, and when they do it’s overwhelmingly their father.

Not that most kings aren’t above all interested primarily in their immediate predecessors, if you look at who they cite by name. This usually, but not always, means their father: Louis IV cites Charles the Simple, and Lothar cites Louis IV. However, this does mean there are some interesting exceptions: Louis isn’t interested in his immediate predecessor (and father’s usurper) Ralph of Burgundy, for instance. More widely, both Charles the Simple and his predecessor Odo of Paris take as their most-cited figure Charles the Bald, not Charles the Fat; probably because Charles the Bald was such a dominating presence that his after-effects were still being felt a quarter of a century later.

Finally, historical memory going further back is a lot weaker. Contrary to what you might expect, Charlemagne is not a normative figure: Odo and Louis IV don’t mention him at all, and in total Louis the Pious is rather more cited than Charlemagne is. On the other hand, exactly in accordance with what you might expect, the Merovingians hardly ever appear. The exception is Charles the Simple, whose memory evidently goes back much further than his fellow-kings’: he cites no fewer than six Merovingian monarchs, and has more time than the other kings for Pippin the Short. Admittedly many of these Merovingian mentions can be accounted for by Saint-Denis’ interest in King Dagobert I and Archbishop Fulk of Rheims’ pulling out all the stops in terms of historical precedent in one particular charter for Saint-Vaast; but not all of them can. It does seem to support Geoffrey Koziol’s idea that Charles is an unusually thoughtful monarch. Talking to a colleague the other day, I was saying that I increasingly get a kind of Joseph-II-of-Austria-vibe off Charles: a policy wonk who happened to actually be the ruler…

On that note, it’s announcement time! As previously said on this august forum, I’m shortly going to be moving countries, and will be trapped in Schwäbisch Hall on an intensive German course for the next two months. Consequently, blog posts will be few and far between. If inspiration really strikes me, I might write something; but I rather suspect my time will be full-up… Thus, normal service will be resumed in November.