Charles the Simple in Lotharingia after 911

One of the chief planks in my case that Charles the Simple was pretty good after all, actually, is that alone of the West Frankish kings he was able to put together a winning coalition to take and rule Lotharingia. He not only managed to defeat his rival, the East Frankish king Conrad I, in battle; he also managed to unite the Lotharingian nobles behind him and rule the kingdom peacefully for almost a decade – not a small thing in the very fractious world of late ninth century Lotharingia. Even more, not only was he able to take most of the kingdom in one fell swoop, he was also able to expand his control over time.

Active hostilities between Charles and Conrad appear to have mostly ended by 912. At that time, Charles had gained all of Lotharingia other than Alsace and Frisia (and Trier, but that’s a different story; and in any case Archbishop Ratbod would come over by 913). In the following years, he would manage to gain both. Conrad was in Strasbourg in March 913, but his hold over the city would not persist much longer. Shortly after Conrad left, his ally Bishop Otbert was murdered, and replaced by Charles’ nephew Gozwin. Admittedly, Gozwin didn’t last very long; he died in early November of the same year. Gozwin’s successor is more of a mystery. His name was Richwin and his background was Lotharingian, but how did he become bishop? In 916, Conrad and his bishops held a council at Hohenaltheim at which they accused him of usurping the bishopric. Intriguingly, one of our major sources for the history of Strasbourg, a series of commemorative poems written by the mid-tenth century Bishop Erchembald, says that he was bishop for fifteen years. Given we know he died in 933, this puts the start of his reign in 918 – not before 916. It’s a reasonable supposition that Conrad’s complaint was that Richwin was Charles’ appointee, and that Hohenaltheim was an attempt to retake this liminal region. Evidently in 918, some kind of deal was made. Perhaps Strasbourg became a kind of condominium, the same way that Cologne may have done as well. Notably, in 922 a synod gathered at Koblenz at the command of Charles and Conrad’s successor Henry the Fowler. None of the bishops present were from Lotharingia proper or the West Frankish kingdom – but both Hermann of Cologne and Richwin of Strasbourg were there, and this may signal a kind of joint rule.

Similarly, we can see the Frisian elites supporting Conrad up until 914, but not afterwards. In 916, we see Count Dirk I of Holland and Count Waltger, also a Frisian, at Charles’ court. When Bishop Ratbod of Utrecht died in 917, he was replaced by Baldric, who was friendlier towards Charles and appeared as one of his followers in 920. Charles’ gains in Frisia are thus more straightforward to demonstrate than the situation in Alsace. Even more, Charles’ activity in Frisia gives us a small glimpse of Charles at work. In 912, Conrad had founded an abbey at Weilburg (where his father was buried) in honour of St Walpurgis; in 914, he granted an immunity to the bishopric of Utrecht at Count Waltger’s request there. Charles, though, was also competing for Walpurgis’ patronage. In June 916, he founded a chapel at Attigny for her relics – which it’s implied he stole from the East Frankish kingdom. This is significant, because around this time Waltger and his wife Alberada founded a church at Tiel in Walpurgis’ honour. Alberada was the widow of Charles’ closest Lotharingian supporter, Reginar Long-Neck, and it was probably from Charles that Waltger acquired the relics he used to endow the church. (We know that Charles was handing out such relics elsewhere at this time too, but that’s a story for another post.) Between them, the marriage and the acceptance of the gift of relics signals the success of Charles’ policy towards the Lotharingian margins. Waltger accepted the gifts and the alliance, and brought himself under Charles’ rule.

Unfortunately, the only thing I could find left of it was this rather mundane plaque… (source)

What this shows is that Charles’ takeover of Lotharingia was not a fluke. Conrad wasn’t useless and he wasn’t powerless; and as generations of Carolingians before him and Ottonians afterwards would learn to their cost the Lotharingian aristocracy wasn’t either. Nonetheless, Charles was simply able to outcompete Conrad and attract the Lotharingians. The problem with Charles is the way his deposition becomes the story of his reign. If we abandon such a teleological approach, a different Charles emerges. This Charles is a canny ruler able to deploy various different forms of patronage to draw local and regional elites into his regime, and one who could do so better than his regional rivals. This Charles is the one who ruled as king for twenty uncontested years, the one whom the defeat at Soissons buried, and the one we need to resurrect if we want to understand the political changes of the tenth century.


The Bishop of Laon is Minted, and Career News II

Some good career news came down the pipeline last week: I have been elected to be an Associate Committee Member of the SCBI/MEC projects! What this means in practice is loads of coins – the M[edieval] E[uropean] C[oinage] project has been well underway for a while, and further volumes are in preparation as we speak. Further news on the projects’ activities as and when it’s ready to print; but from my point of view what’s exciting is being able to talk about some of my previously-mentioned difficulties in understanding tenth-century coinage with some of the best numismatic minds in the country…

Meanwhile, to celebrate, a post on some coins which I think I do have a handle on. As it happens I have written about these elsewhere, but not here, and not really with the textual links in play. So, let’s talk about Adalbero of Laon. Famous as ‘the old traitor’ because of his betrayal of the last Carolingian candidate for the West Frankish crown into the hands of Hugh Capet, he left behind a relatively extensive corpus of work, including a poem excoriating Count Landric of Nevers as an ambitious and scheming womanizer, and another work addressed to King Robert the Pious complaining about how kids these days weren’t doing things properly. There’s lots in this poem, the Carmen ad Rotbertum Regem, but one clear thing is that Adalbero is worried about the blurring of social roles. He particularly takes to task Abbot Odilo of Cluny for leading a monastic ‘army’ which, as monks aren’t supposed to fight, is useless as well as wrong. What does he propose instead? Well, in the words he gives to the king,

Let [Saint] Basil and [Saint] Benedict[, two of the founding fathers of monasticism,] possess their realms,

Let their realms observe and hold all of their commands.

Let bishops never throng fields hereafter,

If they would keep their rights; if not, let them tend crops!

Let Our order [of warriors] never dare to give up the rule of justice;

Rather, let it apply itself thereto with the greatest effort.

What Adalbero wants is for all the different bits of society to do what they’re supposed to and stop doing otherwise: monks should observe the monastic Rule, bishops shouldn’t be messing around in the fields like peasants, and warriors should protect clerics and labourers justly.

Whatever one might think of Adalbero as politician or as social philosopher, there’s no doubt that he was committed to this point of view, and this does come through in the coins of Laon around the year 1000. During the reign of Louis V (986-987), the mint at Laon began to mint a very unusual double portrait issue. As you can see, the figure on the right is supposed to be a king. I’m not sure the figure on the left is supposed to represent anything – the coin is too worn to tell any iconography, and the inscription around that side is just the word for ‘Minted at Laon’.

obole louis v
Gallica says it’s an obol of Louis IV for some reason, but the numismatical consensus is Louis V (source)

By the 1000s, however, Adalbero had taken this design and changed it slightly towards his ideological views of society. Have a look at this:

That’s more like it! (source)

As you can see, Adalbero had evidently found a slightly more technically-skilled mint master since 987. The design of the coin has also been updated, too. The portrait of the king is not simply a king, it’s a reasonable facsimile of Robert the Pious’ seal.

A picture-heavy post, today (source)

The other portrait is now not just any old male figure, it’s specifically Bishop Adalbero himself. Partly you can tell this from the stonking great cross on his head, and partly from the fact that the coin has the name ‘Adalbero’ engraved around the outside. What we have here, then, is coinage as medium for the political message outlined in the Carmen: the king doing his job, the bishop doing his job, each distinct, both together the two authorities ruling Christian society – in a quite literal sense, two sides of the same coin.

All the Bishops in the ‘Verse: Part 1 of the Ghent/Bruges Conference Report

Although the kind of reporting I ended up doing on the Tübingen conference was born out of necessity, I discovered that I actually enjoyed doing it more than a straightforward conference report. Thus, for the next conference on the reportage list, Bishops in the ‘Century of Iron’: Episcopal Authority in France and Lotharingia, 900-1050, I’ll do as I did before, only commenting on the papers where I had anything interesting to say in response.

The first of these was in fact the first paper, the keynote lecture, given by Professor John Ott of Portland State University, with the title ‘In Praise of Bishops’, a title originally picked, he told us, because ambiguous titles let you change your subject at the last minute; but as in this case the topic was episcopal praise-poetry, it was thoroughly appropriate. Professor Ott led us through a cavalcade of poets from the eleventh- and twelfth-century archdiocese of Rheims, arguing that poetry in episcopal courts was so common as to be omnipresent: from declamation before the bishop himself to little inscriptions engraved on common items. At Rheims, for instance, a chalice commissioned by Archbishop Adalbero bears these lines:

Hurry, O faithful, hunger and thirst flee from here:

Bishop Adalbero divides these treasures amongst the people.

This is not that chalice, nor from that century, but it is a chalice from Rheims.

Professor Ott argued that the Gregorian reforms of the late eleventh century saw the beginning of the end of these poetic practises: Pope Gregory VII and those of like mind to him just don’t seem to have been very interested in poetry. He noted that while Gregory received poetry, he never wrote any himself. This was seen as an important cultural change – he argued that because poems were so widespread in episcopal culture, poetry, from cups to epitaphs to letters in verse, needs to be taken more seriously by historians if we are get a proper idea of what the courts of tenth- and eleventh-century bishops were like.

I agreed with this, for the most part, but one niggling doubt stuck in my mind. The verse of Adalbero mentioned above rather sets the tone for the kind of poetry Professor Ott was dealing with; ‘worthy’, I think, would be the appropriate word. Something of the exception which proved the rule was an inscription on a (no-longer-surviving) bronze statue of a stag from Rheims, commissioned in the mid-eleventh century by Archbishop Gervaise. Gervaise was a Loire valley magnate who had originally been bishop of Le Mans, but had been kicked out and given Rheims instead: by all accounts, he was bellicose, flamboyant, and very wealthy. He commissioned the stag as a reminder of his old home to the west; the poem on it reads:

              When he wandered in the woods of Maine,

              Gervaise had many stags.

              So that it might stand always as a memorial to his fatherland,

              He had this one cast in bronze.

This in turn made me think of one of my favourite bishops, Archbishop Archembald of Sens, who reigned in the late tenth century. Archembald had a terrible reputation by the eleventh century, when he was accused of having kicked the monks of Saint-Pierre-le-Vif out of their monastery to make room for his hunting dogs, but seems to have been reasonably well-respected at the time. The question which arises for me, then, is ‘what was episcopal court culture like under Archembald?’

(The same question, albeit reversed, could be asked about Archembald’s successor Anastasius, who seems to have been extremely aesthetic, and – it might be speculated – have seen Latin poetry as frippery).

As I said, most of the poetry which survives is very worthy, moral stuff, supposed to teach the audience moral lessons and impart theological messages. This, though, presumably made it more likely to survive than, say, an episcopal joke-book, and certainly more so than hours and hours of silent prayer. Given this, I wonder if this kind of poetic episcopal culture was as pervasive as Professor Ott was arguing, or whether it was only one of a number of modes of tenth- and eleventh-century episcopal culture, and the one which just happened to be usable for other things outside its immediate context – and thus the only one which survives?

This post is the last before the Christmas break. I’ll be back in January. In the meantime, as, for the first time in a while, I’ll have access to a computer rather than a slowly-decomposing tablet, I’ll be putting up a poll about the look and layout of the site, so keep an eye out for that. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!