Charter A Week 66: Coalitions and Königsnahe in Poitiers

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

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

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign of lord Louis, the glorious king.

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

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

In the name of God, amen. 

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

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

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

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

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

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

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

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

Sign of lord Louis, the most glorious king.

Odilo the notary witnessed on behalf of Bishop Heiric.

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

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

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

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

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

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

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warner wrote and subscribed.

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

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

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

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

Carolingian Normandies

This post was planned anyway, but by sheer coincidence it happens that I’ve recently finished Neil Price’s The Children of Ash and Elm. It’s a good book on the Viking Age and I do recommend it; but it’s not at its best when dealing with the Viking presence in the Frankish world. As a case in point, Price is firmly wedded to the idea that Normandy was created in toto by three grants, in 911, 924 and 933. This is a common picture, at least outside the cutting edge of the scholarly literature. I imagine our old friend Dudo of Saint-Quentin would be very pleased with it, because the idea of an ancient Normandy which burst onto the scene fully formed in the early tenth century was one of his main agendas in writing the Historia Normannorum. However, the idea of ‘Normandy’ is one of those big ones that casts a shadow backwards over what came before it. In this blog post, we’ll look at tenth-century northern Neustria and I will try and argue, first, that the area which would become Normandy spent most of the century as a farraginous and fluctuating group of local polities and factions; and second, and more controversially, that the history of these polities is one in which the Scandinavian heritage of some regional elites played a minimal role for a long time. When Normandy emerged as a ‘Northman’ polity, the role of its Scandinavian past was not straightforward.  

This one goes long, and a map is probably useful. This one is from Mark Hagger, Norman Rule in Normandy 911-1144, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2017, p. xix.

The first place to consider is Rouen itself. We know from Flodoard (who was a more-or-less contemporary witness) that the original grant to Rollo constituted Rouen and the maritime districts associated with it. On its southern end, references from Charles the Simple’s 918 diploma as well as the location of the putative agreement at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte suggest that the grant stopped a relatively short distance south down the Seine and included some portion of the Epte valley – in total, a relatively small parallelogram of land. Already, then, the importance of the 911 grant starts to look relatively small (and the later grants of 924 and 933 were on paper only, have been recognised as purely nominal for a long time, and can be safely dismissed without further discussion).

Moreover, as time goes on, it’s less and less clear to me that Rouen had been under Rollo’s control prior to 911. The problem is that anything we think we know about Rollo prior to 911 comes from Dudo’s work and there’s no real reason to trust it because his depiction of Rollo’s career is precisely aimed at legitimising his family’s control of a Normandy centred at Rouen which means that placing him firmly in control there prior to 911 is rhetorically necessary whether or not it’s true. Notably, thinking of the Battle of Chartres, we know that the Frankish forces who were sent out to fight Rollo were based at Paris. If you’re going from Paris to fight someone based on the Upper Seine, Chartres is not an obvious place to find them; but it is if they’re based on the Loire…

What there was at Rouen instead appears to have been a fully functioning Carolingian regime. The key evidence for this is a diploma of 905 granting the fiscal estate at Pîtres to his notary, Ernust. (Of note is that the commentary I wrote for the Charter A Week post linked is not quite what I’m about to say here.) This reveals two things: first, that Charles was firmly in control of the royal estates in the area; and two, that he felt no qualms about granting them, not to a count or other lay magnate or even to a bishop in order to co-ordinate regional defence, but rather to a chancery clerk. Pîtres and the associated fortification at Pont de-l’Arche had been a sophisticated part of anti-Viking defence under Charles the Bald, so its use here to reward a relatively minor ecclesiastical noble suggests that, as of 905, the Upper Seine was not feeling pressed by attacks from the North. Similarly, Rouen’s ecclesiastical infrastructure seems to have held up pretty well. The archbishops of Rouen were able to offer safe havens to the bishops of Coutances (definitely) and Bayeux (maybe), and they played an important role in Church councils throughout the late ninth and early tenth century. We know, too, that demand for liturgical manuscripts was ongoing into the early tenth century, when the bishop of Sées composed a new benedictional for use at Rouen. 

Rollo, mostly, and his son William Longsword, entirely, behave like normal Frankish magnates. Rollo’s involvement in the civil war surrounding the deposition of Charles the Simple has been used as evidence for the failure of Rollonid Rouen as a Carolingian bastion – but it was a Frankish civil war and the Norse came in on behalf of the Carolingian king. Sure, they turned to fighting for their own advantage shortly afterwards, but this isn’t a failure of Viking policy any more than the precisely identical and contemporary behaviour of Duke Gislebert of Lotharingia. William, even more than his father, was a normal count. From just after the end of his reign we have the first written evidence from inside the Norman court: a Latin poem commissioned by William’s sister for his son which presents him as ‘Count of Rouen’. This picture has been clouded by Flodoard’s consistent reference to William as princeps Normannorum – ‘Viking chief’ – but Flodoard’s titulature here stems from anti-Norman prejudice and doesn’t reflect anything we know about the internal structure of William’s regime.

Where the picture changes a little is after William’s murder in 943. William’s son Richard was a small boy, and Rouen was fought over by a number of factions. First out of the gate, notably, was a faction of pagan Vikings under two rulers named Turmod and Sigtryggr, the latter straight off the boat from York. These men controlled the young Richard, whom they forced to participate in pagan rites. However, they were turfed out easily by Louis IV, suggesting their base of support was shallow. Louis then gave Rouen to his and William’s old ally Count Herluin of Ponthieu. However, despite some strong PR moves – Herluin killed William’s murderer on the battlefield and sent his mutilated appendages to Rouen – the city faced a new problem immediately afterwards, as warrior bands forced out of York by the city’s conquest by the English king in 944 moved on northern Neustria. Louis and Herluin marched into the area around Rouen and purged the city of those who did not want to obey royal authority.

This was not the end of the faction fighting, but without going too deep into the weeds, by the later part of the 940s the winner who had emerged was none other than the legendary Ralph Torta, whose closest ties were to the Robertians. (As noted in the previous post, Ralph may or may not have had biologically Scandinavian origins but his son was bishop of Paris and he was an entirely typical mid-level West Frankish aristocrat in every respect which matters.) We know little of Ralph’s activities as ruler in Rouen, but there is a striking contract between his behaviour regarding Jumièges, where he tore down the abbey buildings to use for wall repair; and the Rouen monastery of Saint-Ouen, where he donated an estate just outside the city. One rather wonders whether this was a deliberate attack on a Rollonid pet project as a way of erasing the family’s local footprint. In any case, the fact that Rouen ended up under the control of a mid-level Carolingian aristocrat who was, nominally, a royal appointee for about a decade is significant. 

We already, then, have a picture of a region mostly under normal West Frankish style regional elites for half a century, something which in no way prevented it from having violent, nasty succession crises which the presence of Viking elites embroidered but didn’t fundamentally alter. However, Rollonid Rouen was not the only power in the region, nor the only place to suffer turbulence. Around the year 900, for instance, the counts of Maine were figures to be reckoned with across northern Neustria – a diploma we’ve discussed before shows Count Hugh I patronising the abbey of Saint-Évroult in the Évrecin using lands in the Hiémois, to the south of Bayeux. By the 930s, though, the picture had changed. Dudo of Saint-Quentin keeps the story of a rebellion against William Longsword by a Scandinavian leader named Riulf (a story which does find purchase in other sources). Riulf, who was a pagan, wanted land up to the river Risle – but he appears to have been based in Évreux. This would have been less than a decade after an extensive series of border conflicts between the Seine Norse and the counts supporting the new regime of King Ralph of Burgundy. It is therefore possible that Riulf’s group was a new arrival; it is certainly evident that they wanted out. By the time of the wars after William Longsword’s murder in 943, Évreux was divided between different Viking factions – Flodoard, at least, presents them as religiously motivated pagan and Christian groups – but a significant local elite remained as well. In the end, the Christian Norse and/or local elite (and by that time it may not have been possible to draw a clear on-the-ground difference) handed the city over to Robertian control, embodied in the person of Theobald the Trickster, who held the city until the 960s. 

Further west, around Bayeux and the Cotentin, the picture is sketchier. In a previous post on this blog I looked at Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s picture of the earliest Norman court. One figure in particular stood out to me then and stands out to me now, and that’s Botho of Bayeux. Dudo’s work, like all hagiography, is most interesting at its stumbles: his purpose is so clear and his dedication to it so single-minded that when something doesn’t quite fit, it sticks out more and so it is with Botho, the purportedly Norman aristocrat with a Frankish name and a Frankish title which didn’t exist in later Normandy. In short, I think the Botho of Dudo’s book is an incomplete fossil of a Frankish count at Bayeux. (Remarkably, Flodoard also thinks the people of the Bessin aren’t Norse at this time.) It was probably not until 944 that the picture changed. In that year, a pagan Norse chieftain named Harald (likely another refugee from York) took over Bayeux. He played an adroit hand manipulating the succession crisis after William Longsword’s murder. It is likely that it was to Harald that the pagan Vikings purged from Rouen by Louis IV went. In the immediate aftermath of that affair, Harald organised a meeting with Louis and captured him, eventually handing him over to Hugh the Great. Hugh had been in charge of the initial attempt to get Harald out of Bayeux, and it would not be surprising if Harald’s price for the king was being allowed to stay there. Notably, Harald is remembered in Dudo’s work positively but as a pagan, which suggests that he may have justified his rule by using some kind of specifically ‘Northman’ (i.e. non-Carolingian) discourse, something which would make sense if he had been substantially reinforced by men whom Louis had purged from Rouen. In any case, he didn’t get too long – in 954, Hugh attacked and defeated him. After that, we don’t know precisely what happened. We do, though, have a pretty clear idea that Bayeux and the Bessin, and that whole centre-west region, were not under Norman control until the last decades of the tenth century at the earliest.

But thus far we have largely focussed on comital authority. In fact, northern Neustria was something of a frontier zone in the ninth century, and a fair bit of the continuity we can see in the region comes from people it would be more or less fair to call ‘local elites’ – not Scandinavian (at least not in any political-cultural sense; some, although in all probability a tiny minority, may have originated there but that doesn’t matter for our purposes), but not members of a Carolingian administrative hierarchy. The most obvious point of continuity here is what would become Normandy’s southern frontier, the Perche-to-Domfront area, which were forested lands of light control under local lords anyway and remained so consistently. More interesting are our hints about Coutances. The Cotentin peninsula had been granted to the Breton king Salomon in the late ninth century, and its control during this time seems to have been contested. William Longsword claimed to be overlord in the region. Direct evidence for his control comes from the memory of some land grants he made in the area, all of which are around the coast and none of which suggest a massive landed base there. Dudo has another one of those splinters in his text describing the ‘men of Coutances’ as a kind of praetorian guard for William, although it wouldn’t be sound to speculate too intensively based on that. After 943, whilst the southern belt saw relatively little change, Viking settlement in the Cotentin peninsula established a number of small-scale lordships which may not have been under powerful control from anyone. These lordships, moreover, are the places where the most obvious signs of ‘Northman’ practice – notably paganism – took root.

When Richard the Fearless ran Ralph Torta out of town in the mid-to-late 950s, he faced the prospect not of reclaiming an early tenth-century inheritance, but of expanding into a fractious collection of local and regional polities which had wildly different current statuses and political histories. Those histories all had Vikings in them, whether as enemies or settlers or biological ancestors; but only in the furthest west, and even then only after 943 could any of them be really termed ‘Viking polities’. This is a key part of the context in which Normandy as we know it was created, as I’ve written about before. The ideology of Norman-hood which Richard developed was flexible to the point of incoherence – it let anyone willing to play the game of being distinctive and of obeying the duke into the clubhouse, no matter what kind of Northman they were. With this complex history behind him, could Richard have succeeded with anything else?

Where Did the Normans Get Their Haircut?

Have a look at this:

(source)

See the two guys on the right? They’re Normans, messengers from Duke William the Bastard. One of the ways you can tell they’re Normans (beyond the fact that the captions read, loosely translated, ‘yo, these guys are the duke of Normandy’s’) is their distinctive haircut: floppy fring, and shaved back of the head. It’s a very distinctive hairstyle – so where did it come from?

There are basically two camps. Camp 1 (represented, for instance, by the noted scholar Nicholas Brooks) pegs it as a Viking thing. The evidence for this comes from a letter from the early eleventh century, written by one Englishman to his brother (trans. D. Whitelock):

‘…you dress in Danish fashion with bared necks and blinded eyes…’

However, there is a second camp. Camp 2 situated the origins of the Norman hairstyle somewhere in Aquitaine, based on a passage in the Histories of Ralph Glaber. Glaber (the nickname means ‘bald’ – possibly there’s sour grapes here?) wrote of the entourage of the West Frankish queen Constance of Arles that they were:

‘stripped of hair from the middle of their heads, and shaved their bears like actors do…’

Both descriptions seem to encompass our hairstyle. So from which source did it come? Denmark and Aquitaine are about as far apart as you can get and still be in Europe, so although we could perhaps be dealing with independent origins, I find it unlikely.

How can we solve this riddle? Let’s turn to Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum, much beloved of this blog. Dudo describes Duke Richard the Fearless as follows (trans. E. Christiansen):

‘Most lovely to look upon, bristling with brilliant white hair, brilliant in eyebrows and in the pupil of the eye, resplendent of nostril and cheek, honoured for a thick, long beard…’

Dudo’s pen portrait of Richard, you’ll note, has both a thick head of hair and a big beard. However, this description of Richard is entirely conventional, in accordance with descriptions of other figures at the time – Widukind describes Otto the Great in a very similar way, as does Helgaud of Fleury with Robert the Pious. That itself is significant, though: I think in this case there’s an acknowledged look (in terms of personal grooming) for rulers which all three men are more-or-less pursuing (Widukind explicitly notes that Otto’s beard went against prior custom because he wore it long).

Given, therefore, that the one Norman we have a description of from someone who knew him in the years around the millennium does not have the characteristic hairstyle, it seems to me more likely that the Norman hairstyle was not a survival from a Scandinavian past, but an early to mid-eleventh century adoption based on trendy Aquitanian fashions.

Why might this matter? Norman hair is a microcosm of the wider development of Norman identity. It’s easy to get distracted by the fact that the Norman rulers had their point of origin in Scandinavia and declare that all kinds of things are authentically Viking. In practice, most things about Normandy that are distinct, from their powerful dukes to their ideas about what being Norman means, to their haircuts, come from Gaul. How these Frankish ideas mutated in this particular province, then, to produce a new and distinct ethno-political group requires subtle and careful thought within the context of West Frankish political and cultural developments. Vikings are fashionable – but not, in this case, literally.

Coins, Bullion and Legitimacy in Viking Realms

For reasons that will become clear down the line, I’ve been starting to think about coinages in the ninth-century Viking world, particularly in places where incoming rulers had to establish themselves. There’s lots and lots of people looking at Viking coinage, of course – you won’t struggle to find people comparing York’s coinage with Thor’s hammer with the St Edmund coinage of East Anglia memorialising not just any saint, but one the region’s Viking rulers had martyred just a few decades earlier. However, I want to a) take a bit of a broader perspective and b) bring in bullion too. Let me spit-ball some ideas at you to give you a sense of what I mean.

The ideological content of Viking coinages are, as I’ve said, oft-discussed; but these coinages are remarkably tightly bounded geographically: they’re in parts of Britain, and (sort of) on the Gaulish coast. They’re not, for instance, found in Ireland or Rus’. Part of this might be absence of evidence rather than evidence of absence. For instance, we know that Rus’ neighbour the Khazar Khaganate minted coinage with an ideological message on it after its elite converted to Judaism; but we know this from a meagre handful of coins. If there had been a small issue of coins in some Viking polity in the eastern Baltic in c. 860, we might very well not know about it. Still, we should consider the ideological role of bullion, not least because its use seems to have persisted even in Britain. Most scholarship I can find on the role of bullion is purely economic – one historian actually contrasted coins (as something which could have ideological uses) against bullion (which couldn’t).

Yet this doesn’t explain why we don’t see more minting earlier. Viking rulers were well-familiar with coinage, and with its use as an ideological tool – the raiders who came back from Gaul with bags of silver deniers marked BY GOD’S GRACE CHARLES IS KING could hardly fail to get the picture, even if there hadn’t been bands based in Frisia (who also played an active role in Scandinavian politics) actively overseeing minting themselves. And indeed in Rouen, East Anglia, and elsewhere Viking rulers were quick to use making coins to say things about their rule. (You may be wondering, especially if you’ve read what I’ve written on this blog before: do William Longsword’s coins of c. 930 count as those of a ‘Viking’ ruler? Surely it’s more comparable to ‘feudal’ coinages? The short answer there is that I suspect the dynamics behind the minting practices of, say, the Northumbrian Viking ruler Cnut and William the Pious trend in similar directions…) So why not do so in Dublin or Kiev?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the vast majority of coins I’ve encountered so far are imitative – Carolingian-style in Normandy and Frisia, West Saxon in East Anglia, and so on. Minting seems to come with a displacement of ideas about rule, a gravitational pull towards pre-existing habits of kingship in the region. Understanding coins requires a certain amount of political and cultural literacy. To illustrate the point, I’ve just gone into my desk and pulled out (appropriately enough) a Norwegian 1-Krone coin, and even with coins from a relatively close country I don’t know why it’s got a hole in the middle and I don’t understand the picture of a bird on the reverse.

Mysterious! (OK, not that mysterious because I had to look up the meaning of the design to find out which side was the reverse; but still. Modified from source.)

This means that starting minting requires a certain amount of indoctrination to start with: in the case of William Longsword’s Temple-type coinage, for instance, you have to know that the ‘W’ on the obverse means ‘William, count of Rouen’; you have to know that the design is supposed to be a temple; you may well have to know that it’s a deliberate imitation of a coin which hadn’t been in common circulation for about seventy years. It’s a lot of work.

In addition, incoming elites were already plugged into an existing ideology of precious metals disconnected from coinage. Flicking through the skaldic poetry preserved in the kings’ sagas, it’s noticeable that ‘gold-breaker’ is such a common circumlocution for ‘generous man’. Similarly, Thjodolf of Hvinir describes how ‘the glorious ruler gave his champions red gold and many rings, bright mail-shirts and keen blades, shining and richly-decorated shields’. Good, i.e. generous, kingship is here tied tightly to a non-monetarised economy. This isn’t to say that a Scandinavian chief of the mid-ninth century would have turned down a bag full of coins, but he might not have drawn a distinction between them and a bag full of hack-silver; and probably wasn’t worth the effort to make him try.

Of course, even if this baseless speculation is right, that still raises the question of what motivated coin production and coin design across the Viking world. That’s one of the questions I’ll be looking at in future, so keep an eye out. This post was very much The Historian’s Sketchpad at its sketch-padiest. This time next year, hopefully I will be able to present you with thought-out conclusions based on evidence. In the meantime, with an at-best vague knowledge of the sources and the literature, I’m happy to have got something down to orientate future research.

Charter a Week 42: The Defence of the Realm

When I’ve spoken before about the foundation of Normandy, I’ve referred to the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, made in 911. The problem is that this date, whilst traditional, is less secure than it looks. The only person who actually puts a date on the agreement made between Charles the Simple and Rollo is Dudo of Saint-Quentin, whose chronology is dreadful. For instance, he puts Rollo’s arrival in the West Frankish kingdom in 876, a date cherry-picked from his written sources with no internal logic behind it. 911, in Dudo’s work, was clearly picked because that was the date of the battle of Chartres, and whilst we know from other sources that an agreement was reached soon after that, it could have been up to several years later. (One historian, in fact, has argued that the foundation of Normandy happened several decades before, in the 880s; but her arguments have not generally found any traction because they’re very reliant on internal chronological indicators within Dudo’s writings which aren’t themselves trustworthy.)

What that means is that the earliest reference we have to the existence of Rollonid Rouen is in fact this:

DD CtS no. 92 (14th March 918, Compiègne) = ARTEM no. 2049 = DK 6.xxi

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

Because God Almighty, Who is King of Kings, by His gift worthily placed Our Clemency over both His realm and His people, it therefore behoves Us not only to preside over, but truly rather to profit holy churches, and especially the downfallen, in whom the bodies of the saints lie beaten by pagan savagery, lacking until now due veneration.

Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, as well present as future, ascertain that the venerable margrave Robert [of Neustria], the counsel of Our realm and a helper to Us, and also abbot of the monastery of the holy martyr Vincent and the outstanding pontiff of Paris Germanus, approaching Our Sublimity with Count Heribert [II of Vermandois] and the extraordinary Bishop Abbo [of Soissons], advised that both for the veneration of holy remains, to wit, of Archbishop Audoënus and as well of the blessed confessors Leutfred and his brother Agofred, and also moreover for Our salvation and that of the whole realm, the abbey which is named Croix-Saint-Ouen should be conceded to the monks of the aforesaid confessor Germanus, so that from now and in future, the limbs of the aforesaid saints, which have for a long time gone without the divine office, might be reverently received by the same abbey-dwellers and be honoured, having been set beside the blessed limbs of Germanus.

Assenting to their worthy petitions, to wit, those of Our followers, We donated and subjected that abbey, whose head is in the district of Madrie, on the river Auture, to Saint-Germain and its monks, to constantly [serve] their mensa, except the part of that abbey which We granted to the Seine Norse, that is, to Rollo and his comrades, for the defence of the realm.

Therefore, We decreed the goods of the aforesaid abbey, with all estates, lands cultivated and uncultivated, vineyards, meadows, woods, waters and watercourses, mills, with bondsmen and cottars, and with all other dependencies therein, except the Northmen’s portion, be given and subdued and confirmed for the food, clothing, and also other uses of the congregation of Saint-Germain, so that each year, on the 4th ides of February[10th February], they might markthe anniversary of Our most beloved spouse Frederuna with vigils and offerings of masses, and celebrate the day of Our unction, the 5th kalends of February[28th January], the feast of Saint Agnes, with a great feast; and after Our death, let this be changed and the help of prayers and feasts be on the day of Our passing.

And We commanded this Our royal precept be made concerning the authority of this cession, through which We decree and command that none of the faithful of the holy Church of God, present and future, or the abbot of that abbey, should try to cause a disturbance or resistance or inflict prejudice or violence concerning the abovewritten goods. Rather, the same congregation should be permitted to securely and perpetually possess and enjoy the same goods in their entirety, inviolably, without any calumny or contradiction, without any subtraction or diminution.

Therefore, that this precept of Our authority might firmly obtain the vigour of continuation and be truly believed through the course of years to come, confirming it below with Our own hand, We commanded it be signed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

 

Gozlin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Heriveus [of Rheims].

 

Given on the 2nd ides of March (14th March), in the 6th indiction, in the 26th year of the reign of the glorious king Charles, the 21st of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, and the 6th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

 

Enacted at the palace of Compiègne.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

Charles’ act, which survives in the original, from the Diplomata Karolinorum (source).

The abbey of Croix-Saint-Ouen, in the village now called Croix-Saint-Leufroy, is somewhat to the north-east of Évreux, which is an interesting place for a dividing line to be drawn by itself. We know from Flodoard’s account that Rouen was always the home-base of the Seine Norse, but the boundaries of their power are somewhat vague. To the north-east, the river Bresle seems to have been generally acknowledged as a border. To the south-east, the river Epte was the border in place by the turn of the millennium, although there are hints in our sources that the original border was rather further north, at the river Andelle. To the west of the Seine, though, things get a lot murkier. Évreux itself, for instance, seems by the 930s to have been under the control of a band of Northmen with only a loose affiliation to Rouen. (Further west, as we saw in previous weeks, Bayeux was under the control of Botho, who despite Dudo’s efforts to make a Viking chieftain was probably a Frankish count.)

Given the liminal position of Évreux, it is notable that taking possession of Croix-Saint-Ouen implants the Robertian abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés right in the middle of this zone of loose control. One thing I’ve always wondered about is what the phrase ‘for the defence of the realm’, pro tutela regni, is actually supposed to attach to. It’s normally taken as referring to the grant of lands to Rollo; but If the part about Rollo is an extended sub-clause, it could refer to the grant of lands to Saint-Germain. If the former, Charles is commenting on his ‘poachers to gamekeepers’ strategy of setting Rollo to defend against other Vikings; if the latter, it’s a comment on how the king doesn’t trust his new Northman subordinate.

You see who he does trust, though; or, at least, who he wants to make damn sure everyone else knows he trusts? Robert of Neustria. The dramatic set of epithets Robert is given in this diploma is about as high as he ever gets. At this point, his influence stretches from Nantes to Flanders, and he’s easily the most powerful man in the realm besides Charles himself. Some measure of his power here can be seen in the other count making the request alongside him: Heribert II of Vermandois, his son-in-law. Older historians will tell you that Heribert was in charge of the Vexin, but there’s little enough evidence for that. His presence here seems instead to be due to his role as a Robertian protégé being shown onto the royal stage for the first time. In fact, he’s very well-placed to take advantage of both Charles and Robert, as the latter’s in-law and the son of the former’s most prominent lay support back at the start of his reign.

As we leave 918 behind us, take a deep breath. This is going to be the last peaceful year for a very, very long time…

Dudo of Saint-Quentin and the Earliest Norman Court

Recently, I’ve had cause to look at the Historia Normannorum of Dudo of Saint-Quentin again. As many of you will know, I have past form with this work, but this time I was looking at it as a source for the events of the 940s rather than the ideology of the 1000s. Now, if you’ve encountered Dudo’s work, you’ll know that that’s a rather dicey thing to do, and I really wouldn’t want to disagree with it. In fact, probably the best thing you can say about Dudo is that he’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ll encounter reading about the earliest Norman elite…

Anyway, what I was looking for was a simple question: who does Dudo say was in the following of the Norman rulers in c. 940? The short answer is not many people. Rather like his contemporary Richer of Rheims, Dudo is not a court chronicler in the strict sense. He’s not interested in nailing down who surrounds the Norman duke – the duke’s soldiers, advisors, and nobles appear as a faceless group to lend their presence to crowd scenes, but Dudo isn’t interested in them as individuals. In fact (minus speaking roles for two Breton counts which are significant for other reasons but whom I’m going to ignore now), Dudo only names four really important men other than the duke in the earliest days of Normandy: Botho of Bayeux, Bernard the Dane, Anslech, and (the legendary) Ralph Torta.

Of those four, only Ralph Torta shows up in other independent sources – specifically, a section of William of Jumièges’ Gesta Normannorum Ducum which appears to be based on oral tradition from the monastery of Jumièges.

The abbey of Jumièges as it stands today (source).

The rest are only known from Dudo’s work. So, what does he say about them? Botho is probably the most significant figure. He has two distinct personalities, one as an ‘outstanding count of the Normans’ strongly associated with Bayeux, and the others as the commander-in-chief of the Norman army. He then disappears from the work around the beginning of the reign of Richard the Fearless (c. 945). Bernard the Dane (Dacigena, ‘Dacian-born’) is described as one of William Longsword’s chief confidantes (the word used is secretarius, which as he is also called conscius secretorum – i.e. a secret keeper – can’t really be translated as ‘secretary’ or any other kind of household position), and one of the leading citizens (optimates) of Rouen. After William Longsword’s death and Botho’s disappearance, he steps into the role of ‘leader of the Norman army’ and plays a major role in keeping the young Richard the Fearless safe from the machinations of his Frankish enemies. He’s also the one whom Dudo gives us the best sense of a personality for – Bernard gets a lot of the best lines, and he comes across as a loyal but acid straight-talker not afraid to say ‘I told you so’. Notably, where Botho was called a ‘count’ Bernard is only ever called a knight (miles). In turn, he disappears from the narrative when Richard comes of age. Anslech is by far the least fleshed-out – like Bernard, he is called William Longsword’s confidante and a principal citizen of Rouen; but his role in the book is peripheral at best. Finally, Ralph Torta, who is another of the leading citizens of Rouen. In what in context is the late 940s he was able to claim the ‘entire honour of Normandy’ for himself, although Dudo doesn’t say how or on what grounds. (William of Jumièges adds that he was a royal appointee.) Dudo presents him as a tyrant whom Richard eventually overthrows, forcing Ralph to go and seek refuge with his son, the bishop of Paris. 

First question: how much of this might be true? Starting with Botho, it’s noticeable that despite Dudo’s insistence on his Norman background, he has a very Frankish name (= Bodo) with no real Old Norse equivalent. (In fact, of the four only Anslech has a visibly Old Norse name and Bernard’s name is Carolingian par excellence.) It’s also noticeable that he is called a count, since at the time Dudo was writing there wasn’t a count of Bayeux, and in fact there was never again a count of Bayeux whilst Normandy was under ducal rule. The timing of his disappearance is also noticeable, given that Botho vanishes from the text at what we know from Flodoard’s Annals was the same time that Bayeux was conquered by a Viking warlord named Harald. Bernard the Dane is more difficult – we are given few incidental details about his background, and although his personality is well-developed it’s also idealised. Vikings in Frankish sources are often presented as witty, albeit cruelly so; and Dudo’s combination of that trait with loyalty and resource is a model of the ideal Norman retainer, not a specific person. Finally, I am inclined to believe that Ralph Torta’s son was the bishop of Paris, because it’s such an odd and pointless bit of information that the most plausible reason it’s in there is that it was true. What makes this interesting is that this elite seems to have been deeply enmeshed in the Carolingian world. It’s possible that ‘Bernard’ is a baptismal name (‘William’ doesn’t seem to have been the name William Longsword was born with either), but Botho seems much more likely to have been actually Frankish, a Frankish count no less, bound to Rouen by ties of fictive kinship engendered by fostering. Similarly, Ralph Torta was able to persuade Louis IV to appoint him as ruler of Rouen in the mid-to-late 940s, and his son (probably Bishop Walter of Paris) was a major figure in the Church hierarchy outside Normandy. (In fact, given that the contemporary archbishop of Rouen, Hugh de Calvacamp, had been a monk at Saint-Denis, the rather arresting image is raised of a kind of bishop exchange programme…) Dudo, then, has taken this elite and recast it in a Norman image.

Such a recasting is unsurprising in terms of what we know about Dudo’s agenda; but can we use Dudo’s reimagining of the men to get negative information about them? I think so. Above all, I think it shows that these men had no descendants, if not biologically at least in terms of people who wanted to claim them as ancestors. In the case of Botho and Ralph Torta, this fits what we know about their careers as well. (Later genealogists have claimed a posterity for them – the house of Taisson for Botho, that of Harcourt and also Beaumont for Bernard the Dane, and Montfort for Anslech – but the earliest evidence for this comes from hundreds of years later and more contemporary sources don’t know it.*) It is of course possible that there were myths and stories circulating about these men, but if so Dudo either didn’t know them or didn’t want to use them – and his Norman patrons clearly agreed with him. This fits in with an argument I’ve made before: the tumultuous period between c. 940 and c. 960 represents a significant break with the early Rouen countship of Rollo and William Longsword, and part of that was a massive turnover amongst the elites, definitely in terms of their self-understanding and quite probably in terms of the actual people concerned. In short: the old elite were killed or forced out, and a new, heterogenous elite who owed their positions to Richard the Fearless came to the fore. This elite and their descendants, then, would be the people who built pre-Conquest Normandy.

(*If you’ve found this blog post because you’re following that particular rabbit hole, then let’s be clear: this is all nonsense, there’s no evidence for this, and ridiculous claims like Bernard the Dane being “of the blood-royal of Saxony” are bad Victorian inferences.)

The Earliest History of Ducal Normandy

The Fécamp Chronicle

1. In the days of Chlothar, king of the Franks, there was an illustrious man, eminent in prudence, very conspicuous in goodness, and obedient to God, named Waning, who built many dwellings for monks on his possessions, one of which was called Fécamp, whose affairs turned out in this way. He was brought to the same place on his deathbed, seized by a terrible illness, and taken up in ecstasy, the torments of the damned and the joys of the just were shown to him, and he heard in a prophesy shown to him by divine gift that he would live for 20 more years and the holy martyr of Christ Eulalia, to whose prayers he was accustomed to sedulously commend himself, asked this from the Lord. And that martyr appeared to him and admonished him that he should build a little monastery in the aforesaid estate where he was staying, and he should commit it to none of his line to be ruled. He, having returned to the world above, called to him Audoënus, archbishop of Rouen and priest of Christ, and the man of God Wandregisl, abbot of the abbey of Fontenelle, and he told them about his vision, and at the same time received by their prayers the desired recovery from the fever which oppressed him; and he began to build the aforesaid abbey there as he had been admonished.

2. King Chlothar, son of Clovis the Younger, was at the same gathering, and was summoned by the famous and greatest marvel of that miracle which had been done for Waning: that is, that he had been restored to the gate of life from the threshold of death by the prayers of the priest and the abbot, and that on his deathbed the chaos of Hell was revealed to him through a rapture, and that through a heavenly vision, as happened to King Hezekiah, 20 years had been added to his life. Whereupon, at this heavenly spectacle, a mighty rumour gathered all the primates of the Franks and a great multitude of the people. Therefore, the work for which the pontiff and the abbot had convened was carried out, the monastery was dedicated, a number of holy virgins was gathered and a Rule for living was set out. There was at that time in the town of Bordeaux a virgin of Christ name Hildemarca, governess in a very holy monastery of nuns, to whom a certain man of God and deacon named Sindard, when he was sent to those parts on the business of the servants of God at Fontenelle, was accustomed to turn for hospitality. She told him that she had been admonished in a vision that she should go to Rouen and visit the man of the lord Wandregisl and obey the divine edicts under his rule. As is described in her deeds, she went to the servant of Christ, and he led her to the aforesaid very illustrious Waning, and the same Waning, bestowing the aforesaid abbey of Fécamp on the blessed Wandregisl through a testament, by his advice gave it to the same very religious virgin to be ruled. The little book which was written of her acts clearly tells of her biography and her laudable way of life.

3. After King Chlothar had died, Childeric received the realm of the Franks. He did not quite hold the realm for four years before he died and was succeeded by his brother Theuderic. In his time, Ebroin the mayor of the palace held St Leodegar, bishop of Auxerre, in chains. He summoned the aforesaid Waning and said ‘Take Leodegar, whom you have often seen as a proud man. It is to be the time of his final summons, when he receives what he deserves from his enemies.’ Having received him, he took him to the aforesaid abbey, in which, abiding for many days, he stayed under custody. And indeed his tongue, although it had been cut out, received its usual office, and gave unto the people the mighty seed of his doctrine, so that as many times as he went amongst the virgins, as it is said, so many times did his sweet eloquence shine, so that anyone who heard it marvelled how great a mercy of God had been worked; and having converted from their wicked works they quickly sought the fruit of penitence.

4. The same place flourished from the time of the aforesaid kings until the time of Emperor Louis, son of Charlemagne. In his time, the cruellest race of the Danes burst in on France’s shores, and brought no little slaughter to the Christian people. Whence it happened that the nuns fled the aforesaid monastery, and the same place was returned to wasteland, such that what had been an ornament for those who worship Christ became a dwelling-place for wild animals.

5. In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation eight hundred and seventy six, with King Charles governing the realm of the Franks, a certain Rollo, a Dane by nation, a pagan by rite, a knight by order, with his men, entered France by ship. After wreaking terrible havoc on the land, he received a part of it from the aforesaid king and the magnates of the realm; and having gained baptism’s grace he remained faithful for the rest of his life. As long as he lived, he ruled that land well, and he preserved for its dwellers their paternal laws and rights. In the nine hundred and seventeenth year from the Lord’s Incarnation he quit this world.

His son William succeeded to his realm, who built the palace of Fécamp with marvellous workmanship. While he dwelled there, he begat a son named Richard, a child elegant in form, whom he commanded be instructed in legal disciplines by the princes of his land. In that time, no-one yet lived in the aforesaid destroyed monastery, because a great wood had grown over the destroyed walls there. In that place, the estate’s peasants covered up, as far as they were able to at the time, an altar they had found amongst the brushwood, concerning the beginnings of which (as we have heard from the ancients) the Creator and Redeemer of the human race, foreknowing that He would be served in that place in future, deigned to reveal a great miracle in the form of a certain marvellous stag.

6. It happened that in those days, in the district of the Cotentin, on a certain island in the sea named Saint-Marcouf, there was a chapel build from well-worked wood in memory of that confessor. God, wishing to show mortals how great and good the same place would be in future, which was then little and vile to men, deigned to work a certain act. Truly, the sea, obeying the commands of its Maker, led by an angel, sent that whole building to the aforesaid place of Fécamp in the same state it had previously been in, without human help, and left it there.

7. Widespread rumour of this deed spread, and nearly from that hour it began to be venerated by the nearby inhabitants, and when it came to pass that they wanted to celebrate the divine office there, not at that time knowing in whose honour the place should be venerated, there suddenly appeared to them a man elegantly fit out in venerable white, who entered the oratory in the sight of everyone and placed on the altar a dagger on whose hilt was written in letters of gold: ‘in honour of the Holy Trinity’. When he had placed this on the altar, he prayed, and saying nothing to anyone he left the oratory and then was not visible, from which he was shown to be indubitably an angel of God. The dagger is kept to this day in that church as a great gift, in testimony of this miracle.

8. In the year of the Lord’s Incarnation nine hundred and forty three, Duke William was killed by a trick by Count Arnulf. The youthful Richard, of pious memory, succeeded to his realm. He, because of God’s will and his birth, loved the aforesaid place. One day, standing at the entrance to his house, he noticed that the house itself was taller and more capacious than the basilica dedicated in honour of the Holy Trinity. He summoned a stonemason who was skilled in the art of architecture and said to him: ‘It is right and fitting that the house of God and of prayer should be roofed superlatively well, with particular beauty and appropriate height, to be supereminent over all the buildings of this city; because the Shaper and Redeemer of mankind assigned it to himself by his generous indulgence, to be the mother of wonderful regeneration through the bath of symbolic washing, and in this building we ought to hear the words of divine wisdom and weep for our sins. For this hall is named the gate of Heaven, and it is where they dwell and over which heaven’s dwellers preside. This house is, as the Psalmist says, ‘the hill of God, the fat hill, the hill in which God is pleased to dwell’, ‘for the Lord will dwell in it to the end’. For this is the hill on which my grandfather Rollo saw himself standing, through the salutary mystery of the holy vision, and washing himself in the fount of salvation; and in a dream beheld himself purified from the leprosy of the vices by which he was infected. Therefore, as it is fitting that the house of God should excel our house, with a loftier design and a bigger roof, try and find if you can any building stone in the gullies and heights of the nearby hills, with which you might be able to construct a temple of God taller than the house we live in’.   

And the man grasped a mattock forthwith, and went first to the cliffs along the hills, and picked away at their base with digging tools, and not finding any stony materials hard enough for his wall, he went to the slopes of the hills lying between two little streams near Fécamp and there he found a mass of gypsum. And he cut out one stone of gypsum in the shape of a cube and brought it before Duke Richard. Then said the great duke Richard: ‘Can you find enough such stone?’ He replied ‘Enough, my lord’. And Richard: ‘Put this stone in a safe place, and send many workmen to quarry the rocks, and make up a good many kilns of quicklime; because, when all the things that are necessary have been prepared, this is what I will lay down first, as the initial foundation, as notice of the raising of a house of God.’

Eventually, when the lime was prepared and the stones quarried and piled up and the tiles artfully manufactured, the most celebrated margrave constructed a shrine in honour of the Holy Trinity which was wonderful to speak of and to see. It was formed on an admirable plan, being girded with towers here, there, and on every side, and was amazingly double-arched and roofed with tiles artfully fitted together. Then he whitewashed it on the outside; but the inside he painted with historical scenes and decorated the altars with gold and jewels acquired at great cost; and he made crosses of admirable largeness from the purest gold, and he added chalices of great weight and cost in gold, and he set up golden candelabra before the sanctuary that were much taller than the figure of a man, and he assigned incense-burners of unheard-of bigness and value, made of gold, and vestments embellished by the Phrygian loom and dyed more than once in Tyrian reds. To which he applied panels with coarser gold and emerald greens, and white and purple linens embroidered with gold, and to the embroidery he devoted full silk of admirable workmanship. And he caused a numerous throng of clergy to serve Christ and labour under the discipline of the practical life and receive a day’s allowance every day.

9. In those days there was a certain priest named Isaac, a man of good life, who frequently celebrated solemn masses at the altar of the holy bishop and confessor Macutus not far from Fécamp, two miles away. One day, in his usual way, he was doing this after the Sunday prayer and he found the host turned into flesh and the wine similarly to blood. And thus, after he had completed the mysteries and dismissed the faithful who were in the church, he went to Prince Richard and told him what had happened to them. The joyful duke gave thanks to God, Who deigned to reveal such a mystery to mortals, lest anyone thereafter should doubt it to be the body and blood of God. Therefore, having gathered a multitude of clerics, they brought the true body into the church at Fécamp and placed it on the altar of the Holy Trinity. With everything which was necessary for the dedicated prepared, the aforesaid duke gathered fourteen bishops, and with great joy, in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation nine hundred and ninety, on the 17th kalends of July [15th June], they happily dedicated the church. On that day, Duke Richard gave as a gift to that church… Argences and Mondeville with everything which pertained to them…

[Underlined sections very lightly adapted from the translation by Eric Christiansen]

fecamp_abbey_chevet10
The abbey of Fécamp today (source)

The other major event in the West Frankish kingdom in 911 was of course* the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, granting Rouen and the adjoining districts to the Viking leader Rollo and laying the foundations for the duchy of Normandy. I didn’t want to let this pass unnoticed, but I’ve already said much of what I wanted to say under the Charter A Week for 905, and much of the rest will come in the equivalent for 918. So, with that in mind, I have translated for you possibly the earliest history of Normandy from within the duchy itself.

This text, known as the Fécamp Chronicle, comes, unsurprisingly, from the abbey of Fécamp. It can be dated quite precisely: it was written after the death of Duke Richard I in 996 (note that he shows us as ‘of pious memory’) but before the replacement of the canons of Fécamp by Benedictine monks in 1001, a year that the Benedictine community regarded as its real foundation date. This, incidentally, provides important evidence about the dating of Dudo’s Historia Normannorum, because the underlined section was taken from there wholesale by the Fécamp Chronicle’s author (who appears not to have been Dudo, because he uses a completely different set of hagiographical sources). This means that parts at least of Dudo’s work were both extant and circulating as early as 1000.

That is in and of itself significant. Cross has recently argued that one of the reasons we think of Normandy as, well, ‘Normandy’, is that the dukes were willing and able to throw vast amounts of patronage at literary production. The value of the word ‘propaganda’ has been questioned in this context, but I think it’s apt enough. This text is a good example of that. The work is not really about how great the Norman dukes are, it’s about how great the abbey of Fécamp is, and about showing continuity in its holiness between the year 1000 and its far-flung Merovingian past. Yet when they need to draw on a Norman past, it is the ducal version (and Dudo’s specifically) which they draw on. Fécamp was very close to the dukes, but we can see similar phenomena in other Norman abbeys as the eleventh century progresses.

One can even see it outside of Normandy by a later period – when versions of Norman history show up in twelfth-century French works, from my admittedly-limited experience, they tend to be based on Dudo. This is particularly interesting, because what you don’t find are the versions of the story found in, say, the histories of Adhemar of Chabannes or Richer of Rheims. Neither of these specific works circulated terribly widely, but the stories they are telling may have done. Especially in the former case, some bits of the Fécamp Chronicle look like they’re addressing specific charges made against Rollo. For instance, Adhemar describes how Rollo continued with pagan practice after his baptism, including sacrificing prisoners to the Norse gods; by contrast, the Fécamp Chronicle insists that he remained faithful until his dying breath. It therefore looks like the dukes were using their resources to flood the market with their own version of the story – and that it worked.

*I say ‘of course’; our evidence for the date of the foundation of Normandy comes from Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum and is… a bit tenuous, let’s say.

Charter a Week 29: Carolingian Normandy

The coast of the English Channel is a highway for ships. This has, as we’ve seen, already caused the Carolingian kings some problems, and it will, spoiler warning, continue to do so in future. The extent to which Charles the Simple could exert any control over Rouen at this time is the subject of some debate. Anything we know here comes from the archaeology: there was a new street plan laid out at some point in the late ninth century, but who was behind it we don’t know. Pierre Bauduin thinks that there was a modus vivendi between the Vikings and the people of Rouen in place by the 890s; Jacques le Maho thinks that the Franks were able to kick out the Vikings under King Odo. And then there’s this:

DD CtS no. 51 (17th December 905, Laon) = ARTEM no. 2045 = DK 6.xv

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

Whoever takes great care to serve the king’s faithful commands should advance honoured by his gift.

Therefore, let the entirety of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, to wit, present and future, know that the venerable bishop Ralph [of Laon] and Count Odilard [of Laon], coming before the presence of Our Highness, made an appeal that We might concede to a certain deacon, Our chancellor Ernust, certain bondsmen of Our property to be held perpetually.

In short, We freely assented to their petitions, and We donate to him these bondsmen from the fisc of Pîtres on the river Seine, in the district of Roumois, to be possessed in right of property, whose names are as follows: Enguerrand, Hildegard, Blismodis, Engelhard, Engelmund, another Enguerrand, Ingelburgis, Ermengard, Elemburgis, Amalberga, and Dominic; and We consign, transfer and make a disposition of them from all right and power into the right and power of the same deacon Our chancellor Ernust, so that from this day forth, with no-one contradicting, he might have, hold and possess them in perpetuity, and freely do through this precept of Our authority whatever he wants to do, and dispose of them at will.

But that this edict of Our Magnitude might be held more firmly and be believed more truly and be guarded and observed more inviolably, having been confirmed below with Our own hand, We commanded it be sealed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary wrote this down and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 16th kalends of January [17th December], in the 10th indiction, in the 13th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 8th of the restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at Laon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

cw 29 905
The original diploma, from Diplomata Karolinorum as linked above.

What’s important about this diploma is that Pîtres is directly downstream from Rouen. It’s maybe half a day’s walk, probably gentler by ship. This act, though, seems to suggest that five years before Charles officially recognised Rollo’s control, he was able to control the royal fisc in what would become Normandy. So what’s going on? Who’s in charge in Rouen – the Normans or the Franks?

Well, there are a few potential options. First, this act is issued in Laon with the local bishop and a local count as intercessors, and it only concerns mancipia (slaves, sort-of) rather than real property. This raises the possibility that the whole transaction is going on in Laon and that Enguerrand, Hildegard et al. could be refugees from Pîtres rather than still living there.

This is possible, but I prefer a second possibility. There is an underlying assumption behind discussions of Rollonid control over Rouen c. 900 that either the Franks or the Vikings were in control. That is, if Rollo was already based in Rouen by 905 then it couldn’t possibly be the case that Charles the Simple (or Robert of Neustria, or whoever) could get anything done there, and vice-versa. Yet historians have at the same time been emphasising the role which Rollo’s ties to the Frankish world played in the concession of Rouen and the surrounding region. There is a tension here.

In fact, if Rollo had decided to settle down, why wouldn’t this involve making deals with local royal agents such as fiscal overseers? There’s no reason to assume that Rollo would have been able to lock the kings out of all the fiscal property on the lower Seine. Assuming that royal and Rollonid power in early Viking Rouen could co-exist lets us untangle several problems: first, it explains why Charles could dispose of property in the Roumois in this diploma. Second, it means that we don’t have to envision a very short time for Rollo to establish himself in Rouen. Third, if there were this longer history between Charles and Rollo, it helps explain the generous grants made by the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte – Rollo might not have been completely reliable, but neither was (e.g.) Robert of Neustria. But both had proven themselves reliable enough in the past to be worth rewarding when it was opportune to do so.

The Spread of a Charter Prologue

“Not back on it, Joe, still on it.”

Yep, it’s back once again to the wonderful world of arengae and indeed back again to the specific arenga we’ve already covered on this blog. One thing which happened at the recent International Medieval Congress was that it occurred to me that this arenga, in its ninth-century form, is a nice little illustration of something I bang on about a fair bit, which is the portability of Carolingian ideology. So let’s revisit the spread of this prologue to illustrate that.

In 862, King Charles the Bald’s long-standing ally Abbot Louis of Saint-Denis was looking to make a very substantial settlement of his abbey’s administration, fixing the revenues available to the monks versus those available to the abbot. To mark the occasion, someone in the royal chancery – over which Louis presided as archchancellor – came up with a new prologue to the royal diploma formalising the split, as follows:

If We confirm by Our edicts that which Our predecessors, by the ordination of divine providence endowed with regal sublimity and illuminated with celestial honour and stirred up by the devoted admonition and prayers of those faithful to the holy Church of God and to them, decreed be established for the state and convenience of churches and servants of God, and if We consent to their most devoted dispositions and carry out the same most pious gifts to the Lord, We believe that this will far from doubt benefit Us in eternal blessing and the tutelage of the entire realm committed to Us by God, and We are confident that the Lord will repay Us in future…

K//13/10/1
I found a colour version of this; and having not seen it in the flesh before, gosh, I’m impressed. [source]

It’s pretty fancy, fancy enough to be recognisable, but the sentiment is conventional. It served its purpose for a more-literary-than-usual introduction to a particularly solemn act, and there it rested for five years. At that time, in 867, with Louis dead, his successor as archchancellor, who also happened to be his half-brother, Gozlin, was doing something very similar at the abbey of Saint-Vaast, in Arras. Evidently he, or a member of his entourage, decided this was an appropriately formal occasion to dust off the old prologue, and so it shows up again here.* Five years after that, Gozlin did the same for another one of his abbeys, Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The final diploma with this prologue, that to the cathedral of Rouen we mentioned before, was also issued around this time.

Not a huge number, but a revealing case. What we have here is an example of a prologue invented for one particular circumstance at Saint-Denis being re-used for no fewer than three other institutions, one also Parisian but the other two in what would become Normandy and southern Flanders. We can see (except perhaps in the Rouen case) fairly clearly how they spread, but what’s more striking is that they could. Charles the Bald and his court could issue diplomas for recipients in such diverse areas in the same language with no problems.

A century or more later, this would not be the case. Normandy, Flanders, and Paris spoke about how and why their rulers were legitimate in very different ways – you couldn’t easily port something as regionally-specific as Norman identity to the heartland of Capetian rule at Saint-Denis. In the ninth century, by contrast, there is a much more coherent idea of legitimate rule at play, which speaks to people in all these different places, and means that a king and his followers can talk to Saint-Vaast like it’s Rouen and Rouen like it’s Paris.

*Actually many of these have minor variations, but they’re all recognisably from the same stem.

What do we want? Charter pedantry! When do we want it? NOW AND ALWAYS

(with apologies to Levi for stealing his tweet for the title)

I’ve mentioned before that putting up discarded blog ideas on Twitter lead to the discovery that I have no idea what you people want. And it turned out, when I did this ages ago, that at least two of you want a really nitpicky point about a 966 diploma of King Lothar for the Mont-Saint-Michel. It got put on the back-burner for a while because for a moment it looked like it was going to be trickier than I thought it was, but actually it isn’t, it’s written up, and it’s ready to rumble.

So, what’s the story? Well, first of all, there’s a relatively long-standing debate over whether this diploma is forged, and if not how much of it is interpolated. This has wider ramifications than just shoving another royal precept in the Unecht basket: the Mont-Saint-Michel was on the frontier between Bretons and Normans.

600px-2017-04_Mont_Saint-Michel_sunset_05
Seen here backgrounding a tiki restaurant (source)

Our old friend Dudo of Saint-Quentin claims that Duke Richard I of Normandy (with whom we have some prior acquaintance*) sent in a bushel of monks to reform the abbey, but it doesn’t look like this dragged the Mount undisputedly into the Norman duke’s orbit, to say the least, and Dudo being Dudo, if it were just him we’d raise eyebrows about whether or not it happened. But, we have this diploma.

As it happens, some scholars have thought that Richard I messing around that far west is so unlikely that the diploma must be a fake. The argument is that it must have been produced in the early eleventh century – when we know the Norman rulers had a presence that far west – rather than the mid-tenth – when they can’t possibly have done. There is a prima facie case to answer here. The reason for that is that the diploma as it currently exists includes reference to a papal bull of Pope John XIII which was definitely an early eleventh-century forgery. So it’s definitely been interpolated; but was it outright forged? As I said, some scholars think so. I don’t.

That reason is the prologue. The diploma’s prologue begins ‘If We confirm that which Our predecessors, illuminated by divine esteem…’ It appears to have originally comes from the abbey of Saint-Denis in the 860s, and shows up in a few diplomas of Charles the Bald making Very Serious Arrangements for organising Church estates; but the specific version of the formula that the Mont-Saint-Michel diploma is copying was issued for the cathedral at Rouen in around 872. (Incidentally, actually looking this up required an awful lot of intense diploma research before I discovered there’s an entire book which is specifically a reference work for this topic, which would have resolved the whole question in about five minutes…)

The fact that this formula was in the Rouen Cathedral archive and nowhere else goes well with another detail from the diploma. Lothar’s act doesn’t mention anyone from the Mont itself petitioning for it, but it does say that Archbishop Hugh of Rouen did. Normandy in 966 was not exactly drowning in very solemn royal diplomas (and, actually, if Hugh – originally a monk from Saint-Denis – was familiar with his old house’s archive he would have had extra associations with prologues of this type), so the most plausible scenario is that Hugh brought this formula with him when petitioning Lothar for the diploma. Point is, having that prologue in this diploma requires that it was produced for a Norman visit from Rouen to Lothar’s court in the 960s rather than cooked up out of whole cloth in the Avranchin in the 1020s.

This in turn means that we can say with some confidence that the Norman rulers were successfully claiming authority over Brittany in the second half of the tenth century. In general, I think in general the evidence for Norman involvement in the area which would eventually become western Normandy tends to be downplayed, not least because it looks weird by the standards of people expecting the strong and stable government of early eleventh-century upper Normandy – but it’s pretty convincing for a vaguely-conceived but nonetheless-important hegemony over a factionalised borderland.

* Back when I was first drafting this, I got @-ed into a discussion thread about the then-recent proposal to move the Bayeux Tapestry, and it turned out that people are actually reading my articles; and I know that’s the point but I still got unnerved. Does anyone else find this?