The Counts of Boulogne Who Mostly Weren’t

Sometimes you just end up chasing ghosts. I’ve addressed the tenth-century counts of Boulogne before in print (which you could read right here and now if you so chose!) but only in passing as part of the game of ‘Which Arnulf?’, which used to be my go-to example of obnoxious prosopographical questions before it became clear to me that compared to some others it was pretty entry-level. More recently, I’ve been revisiting the question whilst dealing with Flanders and Lotharingia in the 970s, and it’s become clear to me just how murky the history is. For this week, then, I thought we’d take a step-by-step look at the tenth- and early eleventh-century history of Boulogne and ask: what do we really know?

A quick bit of early tenth-century background first. ‘County of Boulogne’ is a bit of a vague term, because it can also (but doesn’t always) cover Ternois, and more generally the western part of Flanders, as well. Around 900, Boulogne seems to have been under the control of a man named Erchengar, who seems to have been reasonably important but who also probably lost control of Boulogne to his neighbour, Count Baldwin the Bald of Flanders, who also ruled Ternois. When Baldwin died in 918, his inheritance was split between his two sons: Arnulf the Great got Flanders proper, and Adalolf got the western portions including Boulogne and Ternois. In 933, Adalolf died and Arnulf brought his brother’s inheritance under his own power.

At this point, we hit our first stumbling block. Back in the ‘40s, Jan Dhondt brought up a passage of Flodoard’s Annals under the year 962:

‘King Lothar, having spoken with Prince Arnulf, made peace between him and his nepos of the same name, whom the count held to be his enemy owing to the killing of the brother of the same, whom the same count had put to death having discovered he was disloyal.’

Nepos can mean either ‘grandson’ or ‘nephew’ (although for what it’s worth in Flodoard it seems to mean ‘nephew’ every time). Dhondt argued that this nepos ought to be a son of Adalolf, based on the emergence shortly after Arnulf the Great’s death of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne. Dhondt put this in relation to the death of Arnulf the Great’s son Baldwin III in the winter of 961/2 to argue that Arnulf’s sudden weakness gave his nephews the opportunity to try and win back their paternal inheritance. Dhondt admitted that this was ‘a supposition, pure and simple’; but his supposition has become the historical consensus.

I argued in the article cited above that Dhondt was wrong, but to recap: we have two genealogies and a narrative source from this period which mention Adalolf, and don’t give him any legitimate heirs. It could be argued that one of these genealogies (that of Witger) is pro-Arnulf propaganda, and that the author of the narrative source, Folcuin (writing precisely during these events), was deliberately passing over contemporary controversies to protect himself; you could even argue that the second genealogy (known as the De Arnulfo comite) is completely untrustworthy or itself a political production. However, once you’ve done that, all you’ve done is to defend a hypothesis for which there is no direct evidence – it is, basically, letting the argument dictate approaches to the evidence not vice versa. Moreover, some of these arguments are unconvincing – the De Arnulfo comite and especially Folcuin (who was not Arnulf’s panegyrist) have no reason not to mention sons of Adalolf, if any existed. In fact, Folcuin actually does mention Arnulf the Great’s nepos Arnulf in passing, without mentioning any connection to Adalolf. Dhondt’s arguments, before they passed into the lofty realm of consensus, were rejected by some of his own, equally distinguished, contemporaries – his friend Philip Grierson, for instance, argued against them in his Cambridge fellowship thesis.

Compared to my 2017 article – which was written in 2014 – I can actually go one further now. The charter on which Dhondt bases the existence of a Count Arnulf of Boulogne after the 960s is, as we technical diplomatic types say, ‘well dodgy’. It purports to be a 972 grant by Count Arnulf II of Flanders to the abbey of Sint-Pieters of Blandijnberg in Ghent, granting them the estate of Harnes, near Lens. In the witness list, one does indeed find the signum of ‘Arnulf, count of Boulogne’. However, in its current form this act is a mid-eleventh century forgery. It does seem to have been based on some sort of real act – Harnes shows up in a more or less unsuspicious royal act from a few years later – but its forged status is really significant for our purposes. Tenth-century charters almost never have a count’s jurisdiction in their titulature in witness lists, so the ‘count of Boulogne’ appears very suspicious. This is especially so because there are clear grounds for confusion here. A figure who in the 970s was closely associated with the Flemish court was Count Arnulf of Valenciennes. However, by the mid-eleventh century the area around Lens was a key part of the patrimony of the contemporary counts of Boulogne. We may very well be dealing with a situation where the forger saw a ‘Count Arnulf’ in the witness list and assumed it must be the count of Boulogne. In any case, this forged document is a bad foundation for a ‘Count Arnulf of Boulogne’.

This is doubly so given the evidence adduced by Vanderputten and others that the Flemish still controlled the Ternois at the very least for several years after Arnulf the Great’s death. This evidence is not entirely conclusive, but abbatial witness lists from the abbey of Saint-Bertin do suggest that the lay abbacy was held first by Arnulf II’s regent Baldwin Baldzo and then by Arnulf II himself until the early-to-mid 970s. The loss of the abbacy could – emphasis on could – mean that Arnulf II lost control of the region then – but this is a decade after 962 and doesn’t give any link to the ‘nephew of the same name’ mentioned by Flodoard.

The next bit of evidence for a count of Boulogne comes from ‘988’, and a charter of Baldwin the Bearded for Blandijnberg. At the bottom of this charter one finds the signa of Count Dirk [II of Holland], Count Arnulf [probably Arnulf of Ghent, Dirk’s son], Count Artold, Count Baldwin, and another Count Arnulf. These last three have been identified as the counts of Guînes, Boulogne and Ternois respectively. However, as the scare quotes above probably suggested, this charter is another eleventh-century forgery – and in some respects blatantly anachronistic, as in the attribution of the title of ‘Queen’ to Baldwin’s mother Rozala-Susannah well before her marriage to Robert the Pious could have taken place. The identification of Artold and Arnulf ‘of Ternois’ was certainly accepted by c. 1200 – both men show up in the legendary early parts of Lambert of Ardres’ History of the Counts of Guînes – and the forged 988 charter is certainly passable evidence that there were other counts in the Flemish sphere of influence by the late tenth century, but who these men were, where they were based, and how they were related to each other or to the counts of Flanders is unknown.

Beyond this 988 charter, I know of three more-or-less unimpeachable references to counts of Boulogne/Ternois in the decades around 1000.

  1. A papal letter of perhaps c. 995 inserted into the Chronicle of Hariulf of Saint-Riquier addressed to ‘Count Arnulf, Count Baldwin and his mother’. (Zimmerman thought that this was a forgery but he was probably wrong about this.) Baldwin and his mother are pretty clearly Rozala-Susannah and Baldwin IV, so the Count Arnulf is not Arnulf II of Flanders but a count in the area between Ponthieu and Ternois.
  2. An unnamed count of Boulogne was also mentioned by Hariulf as having been killed in battle by Enguerrand, first count of Ponthieu. This can’t have been Count Eustace I of Boulogne – first attested, to my knowledge, in 1024 (although the charter he appears in is also dodgy) – so must be one of his unnamed predecessors.
  3. Finally, we have our most important source, the miracles of St Bertha of Blangy, written in the early eleventh century, which identify a Count Arnulf of Ternois in the years after 1000. This Arnulf has both a wife and children, but the miracles give no other genealogical information.

As far as I have been able to trace, everything else we claim to know about the counts of Boulogne or Ternois before the 1020s/1030s is based on either indirect evidence or very late and legendary thirteenth-century sources.

The first record I know of of Count Eustace I of Boulogne: a forged charter of Baldwin IV of Flanders nominally dating to 1024. Taken from ARTEM, no. 367 (source)

One final note before I sum up is that later genealogies of the counts of Boulogne don’t give Eustace I a father. This is mostly a reflection of their interest in the Carolingian descent of the counts via Eustace’s wife Matilda of Leuven, but I think it also relates to the fact that they don’t know anything in particular about his descent because Eustace basically comes out of nowhere – as Nieus points out, there’s little connecting the two families.

So what do we have? The existing scholarly picture is that a cadet branch of the counts of Flanders, usurped for most of the mid-tenth century, took advantage of a succession crisis to strong-arm their way back into their paternal inheritance in 962. After Arnulf (II) of Boulogne died after a reign of at least a decade, the county was partitioned between his sons, Baldwin (IV) of Boulogne and Arnulf (III) of Ternois. Arnulf died in 1019* and Baldwin in 1023, whereupon the county passed to his son or brother Eustace. What I think we can say after reviewing the evidence is that very little of this is demonstrably true. The emergence of late tenth century counts in Boulogne/Ternois has nothing to do with the events of 962, and should probably be dated to the years around 980 at the absolute earliest. The only evidence of a Count Baldwin in Flanders other than Baldwin the Bearded is the 988 charter, which is not great; and there is nothing connecting him to Boulogne specifically. Arnulf of Ternois is better attested, but was probably only one person. If there was a kinship connection between them and the counts of Flanders, and there may well not have been, they were certainly not a cadet branch. Arnulf may have been the count killed by Enguerrand of Ponthieu; if he wasn’t, we know nothing at all about background of the man who was. Finally, it is overwhelmingly probable that the later counts of Boulogne are nothing to do with these shadowy figures.

You may be wondering, do you have anything constructive to add, or is this demolition work? Well, mostly the latter today. However, there is more to say on this matter. In the next few weeks, I will follow this post up with one looking at King Lothar’s relationship with Flanders after Arnulf the Great’s death in 965. There’s also going to be as much supposition in that post as in Dhondt’s work, and I wanted to keep the directly evidenced-based stuff separate from the more hypothetical material (not to mention that this post is running long)! However, when we get there this post will be important background for royal politics in late tenth-century Flanders – so stay tuned!

Also, this is definitely a case where chasing the threads is a complicated job and I’m slightly out of my comfort zone. This post represents my current understanding, but if you know of a source which contradicts or adds to anything I’ve said, please put it in the comments!

*As far as I can follow it, the reasoning for this is such: there is a record of a siege of Saint-Omer by Robert the Pious in 1020. The assumption is that 1) Robert was pushing against Baldwin the Bearded and 2) Baldwin was taking advantage of Arnulf’s death to conquer Ternois. These seem like pretty big assumptions in the absence of other evidence.

The Extra-Long Post on the Genealogy of the Tenth-Century Counts of Toulouse No-One Was Asking For

This is something of a lengthy digression, but an important one. Before marrying Louis V, Adelaide-Blanche’s previous husband was Raymond, ‘duke of the Goths’. His legacy is evidently important for the marriage and the realm. But who was Raymond?

Part of the problem is that the family of the counts of Toulouse and Rouergue is famously complicated. Sébastian Fray put it best: he said (paraphrasing): it’s not that the sources are bad or in limited supply, it’s simply that the counts are attached to using an obnoxiously small number of personal names. Thus, trying to distinguish all of the different Raymonds and Hughs makes things like the problem of the Three Bernards look entry-level. I was going to go to a café for lunch last Tuesday, but instead I dove down this rabbit warren and next thing I knew it was five hours later and my fiancée was concerned. After all, there’s about half a dozen historians who’ve written about this and the reconstructed family tree can vary wildly whether you’re reading Fray, or de Latour, or de Framond, or any of the others whose work is less immediately linkable…

(You know, I’m re-reading this in the editing process and I think I’m going to start giving all the Raymonds and Hughs numbers to make my life easier. Anyway, back to the sources:)

For our purposes, the main question revolves around the identity of Raymond [1] dux Gothorum, the former husband of Adelaide-Blanche. Looking at the attestation of counts called Raymond in the Midi, we know very little about him, and he’s never attested with Adelaide during his lifetime. Our specific data about him personally consists of his rough date of death, c. 980; and the fact that he was a descendant of Count Raymond Pons (at the very least, his great-grandsons William IV of Toulouse and Raymond of Saint-Gilles were and there’s no more plausible way that that filiation comes to them then via Raymond dux Gothorum). The next question becomes, how is he a descendant of Raymond Pons?

There are two important pieces of evidence. The first comes from a manuscript known as the Roda Codex. This work includes genealogies for dynasties around the Kingdom of Navarre, and one of the shortest and most succinct is of Raymond Pons’ family:

“The names of the counts of Toulouse. Pons took to wife a daughter of Garcia Sanchez and begat Raymond [2]. Raymond begat Raymond [3], whom they killed at Garazo, and lord bishop Hugh [1], who himself died hunting.”

The second bit of evidence is the will of a Count Raymond [4] which dates from c. 960 and includes information about a number of his family members, including his wife Bertha and sons Raymond [5] and Hugh [2] (as well as his nepotes – and in this case it’s vanishingly unlikely that doesn’t mean ‘nephews’– Raymond [6] and Hugh [3]), and his kinsman (consanguineus) Count William. Bertha, incidentally, is a niece of Hugh of Arles, meaning this Raymond is the ‘prince of the Aquitanians’ referred to by Liutprand of Cremona.

Can we put these sources together, and say that the Raymond [4] of the will is Raymond [2], son of Raymond Pons? Not so fast, alas. The consensus amongst historians is that this particular Raymond [4] is actually Raymond [7], a son of Count Ermengaud of Rouergue. (This Ermengaud is usually said to be part of the family of the counts of Toulouse, but there is no evidence for this at all.) Ermengaud is attested as having two sons, a Raymond [7] and a Hugh [4]. (See! Told you this was a pain!) Is there any reason to equate Raymond [4] of the will with Raymond [2] son of Raymond Pons rather than Raymond [7] son of Ermengaud? (For what it’s worth, those are the only two plausible options, thank the Lord.)

I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.

Not directly; but before we get into why, I want to introduce one further piece of evidence. We also have a will from Raymond Pons’ second wife Garsendis, from c. 972, referring to various nepotes (again, almost certainly nephews) including a ‘Count Hugh [5]’ and a ‘Raymond [8] son of Gudnildis’. These two figures are often taken to be brothers; personally, I think Raymond [8] son of Gudnilidis is a red herring. Without the comital title, he is unlikely to be Count Hugh [5]’s brother and it’s not like there aren’t enough Raymonds running around. So besides Raymonds we also want a reconstruction which will somehow make Garsendis aunt of a Count Hugh [5] who either does not have a brother Count Raymond or has some plausible reason that the brother Count Raymond doesn’t show up in the will.

So, going back to the question, who is Count Raymond [4] of the will? Having weighed the options at extreme length, I do think it is Raymond [2] son of Raymond Pons. The identification with Raymond [7], son of Ermengaud, has a few attractive features. It makes a family tree based on the attested relationships in our sources slightly more economical, insofar as we have to hypothesise fewer relationships and unattested people. (Don’t get me wrong, though, unattested people do still have to be hypothesised.) However, it has a number of weaknesses. For one thing, it makes placing a number of relationships we known about (such as the existence of a Hugh [6] abbicomes son of Raymond [9] in the mid-980s) harder than the alternative. There’s also no terribly plausibly way to have Counts Hugh who are nephews of both Raymond [4] of the will and Garsendis, but who don’t have comital brothers named Raymond.

The hypothesis that Raymond [4] of the will was Raymond [2] son of Raymond Pons, though, has some external strengths. Above all, it explains the marriage with Bertha of Italy: Hugh of Arles, being in pretty desperate straits at that point, would have rather more reason to seek a marriage alliance with the sole son of the most powerful man in Aquitaine than with the joint heir of a relatively minor southern count. It also explains the kinsman Count William in the will (the land Raymond [4] bought from him is not named but is implicitly in Rouergue). This figure is certainly not William Towhead of Poitiers, because the counts of Poitiers are never seen that far east. It is unlikely to be either William the Pious or William the Younger of Aquitaine, largely for chronological reasons. However, it could very well be one of the Count Williams of Angoulême and/or Périgord. That family married into the family of Raymond Pons at the beginning of the tenth century, explaining both the kinship connection and why they would have land in the area to begin with.

Furthermore, the proposed identification makes it easier to construct a hypothesis that explains all of the different nepotes. By making Raymond [7] son of Ermengaud husband of a putative sister of Garsendis and father of the Count Hugh [5] we know was around later in the tenth century, we have a Count Hugh at the right time with the right relationship who doesn’t have a comital brother named Raymond. Giving that Raymond [7]’s brother Hugh [4] a wife who was a daughter of Raymond Pons, followed by two sons called Hugh [7] and Raymond [10], then allows for Raymond [4] of the will to also have the right nepotes as well. This does raise the question of why neither of them are called counts in Raymond [4]’s will, given that Hugh [4] had probably been dead for about fifteen years at that point, but it’s easier to imagine a scenario in which they did not immediately inherit their father’s position – possibly because they were young at their father’s death – than it is to fit the necessary preconditions around another scenario.

So Raymond [4] of the will, husband of Bertha, is very likely Raymond [2] son of Raymond Pons. How does this help us? Well, the good news is that thanks to the work of de Gournay and Fray I’m pretty confident about his descendants. One of the bequests in his will is of an estate called Pallas to his son Raymond [11]. Pallas was later bestowed on the abbey of Conques by a Count Raymond [12] of Rouergue, son of a Count Raymond [13] and Bertildis, who controlled it ‘by hereditary right’. Now, Bertildis and Bertha are not the same name. This means that the Raymond [12] who donated Pallas can’t be the son of the Raymond [4] who wrote the will. He can, however, be a grandson. What we have, then, is Count Raymond [13 = 3], son of Bertha, who appears in charter evidence and who, per the Rodas genealogy, would be the man killed at Garazo (per the Book of the Miracles of St Foy, he was murdered on the road to Compostela (presumably Garazo is on the road to Compostela; such a thing has been suggested but I haven’t been able to find corroborating evidence of this). From him descends Count Raymond [12] donor of Pallas and from him the counts of Rouergue.

The importance of this is that Bertildis was still alive in the 1010s. Neither her husband nor her son, therefore, fit easily into a chronology which requires Raymond [1] dux Gothorum to have married Adelaide-Blanche in the mid-970s and to have died shortly thereafter. This means we need to look elsewhere for our Raymond dux Gothorum.

You may have noticed me cunningly setting up the descent-line above. If Raymond [1] dux Gothorum were the son of Raymond [7] son of Ermengaud through a daughter of Raymond Pons, this fulfils all the extant data points, makes sense chronologically, and preserves the Raymond Pons ancestry of the later counts of Toulouse. Consequently, for the purposes of my reconstruction of the events surrounding Louis V’s kingship in the next post, this is the family tree we’re going to go for:

(If the kerning on this looks wrong, as though I had to edit it after it was made, that’s 100% accurate. My original reconstruction had Raymond dux Gothorum as son of Raymond (II) and Hugh (II) as son of Hugh (I), but re-examining the pattern of their appearances in the charters, Hugh (II) probably wants to be son of Raymond (II) instead.)

And next week, we’ll write the post that was originally supposed to be Part 2 and Last before I got sucked down onto this lengthy, lengthy detour.

Some further notes:

  1. Garsendis’ parentage: Garsendis has been identified as both the same person as Raymond Pons’ Gascon bride and also a daughter of Ermengaud of Rouergue and also as a relation of the viscounts of Narbonne. We have no evidence for any of them, and I don’t think the second assumption in particular is at all necessary. As for the first, it is even less likely: Garsendis’ will doesn’t mention children living or dead, so a number of historians have made the quite reasonable assumption that the marriage was childless.
  2. Sadly, we don’t know where Hugh [1] was bishop of. It wasn’t Toulouse, for sure. His see has been placed in Gascony, which makes sense given that the author of the genealogy seems to have only been interested in the material insofar as it pertained to the Basque country.
  3. Relatedly, Gerbert of Aurillac’s letters mention a Hugh [6] abbicomes son of Raymond, and ask about his marriage. If you thought this was enough to disqualify him from contention as Hugh [1] the bishop then I wouldn’t think you were crazy; but although the case for uxoriousness amongst the tenth-century episcopate is wildly overstated in general, one of the places it does apply is Gascony. Also, the other use of the word abbicomes I’ve found is in the chronicle of Hugh of Flavigny, where it refers to Hugh, bishop of Auxerre and count of Chalon, so it may well be that Bishop Hugh [1] could be Hugh [6] abbicomes.
  4. The Vita Sancti Fulcranni mentions Bishop Fulcrand of Lodève in the second half of the tenth century running across a Count of Toulouse who had repudiated his first wife to marry another woman who had been repudiated by her husband. If this information is accurate, we could hypothesis that Raymond [1] dux Gothorum was also Raymond [13] son of Bertha and husband of Bertildis, having divorced Bertildis in order to marry Adelaide-Blanche. This would have the advantage of being elegant. However, the Vita Fulcranni is of no historical value at all for this period. Besides being constructed of barely-rephrased hagiographical tropes, and besides being thirteenth-century, it is very likely that this episode is based on something which itself happened in the late twelfth century.

The Problem of the Three Bernards

Whew. This year has been exhausting. How about something more fun? Let’s head back over a century to mid-ninth century Aquitaine, and deal with one of the most entertaining antiquarian problems in Carolingian history: how many people called Bernard were there?

It’s called the ‘Three Bernards’ problem because of a line in Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims’ Annals of Saint-Bertin where he refers in 868 to ‘the margraves, Bernard of Toulouse and Bernard of Gothia and another different Bernard’. However, nobody thinks there are three Bernards in play. The most generous number I’ve seen is actually about seven, and personally I think there are either four or five.

So who are they? Let’s start with the first two above. Bernard of Gothia is by far the least controversial: he is the brother of a man named Emeno, he was dispossessed in the 870s and he died in rebellion. So far, so easy. Bernard of Toulouse is also fairly easy to deal with: he is the son of a man named Count Raymond of Toulouse and his family have been in charge there for a couple of decades by this point. However, here we run into the first problem. In 872, Hincmar refers to a man named Bernard the Calf dying. Is this Bernard of Toulouse? Janet Nelson argues no: because Charles the Bald received the news in Burgundy, Bernard the Calf should belong in Burgundy and thus Nelson identifies him as perhaps a brother of Count Heccard of Mâcon. This seems like a weak basis for an argument to me. Bouchard points out that the evidence for Bernard of Toulouse’s death being in around 872 is very good, if circumstantial, and the lands and offices held by the Aquitanian magnates of the later 870s makes better sense if Bernard of Toulouse and Bernard the Calf are the same man. So I am therefore quite happy to go along with this identification. (For those of you keeping score: number of actual Bernards: 2; number of potential Bernards: 3.)

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Bernard Bernard Bernard Bernard mushroom mushroom…

This brings us to the other different Bernard, and this is where things get tricky. Let’s stay with Bouchard for a minute. Bouchard argues that ‘the other different Bernard’ is the same man as one named in Hincmar’s Annals as ‘Bernard son of Bernard’. So let’s start with, who is Bernard son of Bernard?

Most historians would happily identify him as the son of an earlier ninth-century magnate named Bernard of Septimania, most famous for being accused of sleeping with Charles the Bald’s mother and eventually being executed for treason. However, a historian named Mathieu has argued that Bernard son of Bernard is not son of Bernard, but the son of Bernard.

(Feel free to pause for refreshment here.)

Specifically, he argues that ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ is not the son of Bernard of Septimania, but of a man named Count Bernard I of Auvergne. The reasoning for this has to do with Bernard son of Bernard’s career in Lotharingia looking after King Lothar II’s bastard son Hugh, a position Mathieu sees as too responsible for a rebel, too important for someone without much of a patrimony, and too dangerous in terms of Lothar’s relationship with Charles the Bald. This is not a very substantial objection: by analogy with Baldwin Iron-Arm of Flanders, we know that Carolingian kings were quite happy to attach their sons to people who might be described as adventurers, and Hincmar’s description of Bernard as ‘son of the tyrant Bernard’, as he does a few times, fits neatly with a son of Bernard of Septimania. Bernard I of Auvergne certainly existed, and may have been Bernard son of Bernard’s father-in-law, but is unlikely to have been his father.

One thing we can all agree on is that ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ is the same person Hincmar at one point calls ‘Bernard Plantevelue [Hairypaws]’, so that’s nice.

Was Bernard Plantevelue the ‘other different Bernard’ of the 868 annal, though? Bouchard’s argument that he was rests on the assumption that Hincmar is explicit about only meaning three Bernards. However, I don’t think he does. The description of Bernard as ‘another different Bernard’ seems to mark him out from not only Bernard of Gothia and Bernard the Calf, but also Bernard Plantevelue. Bernard Plantevelue, as mentioned above, seems to have spent 868 and 869 in Lotharingia, and Hincmar looks to be distinguishing between him and, well, another, different, Bernard. (The Lotharingian adventure also provides a good contextual reason why Bernard Plantevelue wasn’t hanging around in Aquitaine at the same time.)

So who was the other different Bernard? Nelson proposes that he was Count Bernard I of the Auvergne, and this does just about work. However, the problem is that the most natural reading of the charter evidence from the abbey of Brioude is that Bernard I of Auvergne died by September 868, which is just about possible, but requires him to get home from the meeting reported in the 868 annal and die immediately. It also requires Charles the Bald not to find out about it for a year or so, because he was apparently expecting to meet this Bernard in 869. (He didn’t, and there may be a reason why, but it’s an odd lapse in information gathering at best.)

The alternative is that ‘the other different Bernard’ is another, different Bernard. The Latin of Hincmar’s passage can be construed as drawing a distinction between Bernard the Calf and Bernard of Gothia, who are margraves, and the third who isn’t; in which case the third need not be a layman at all. If not, my guess would be Abbot Bernard of Solignac, who was an important churchman with close ties to Charles the Bald’s court.

So where does this leave us? With four or perhaps five Bernards: Bernard of Toulouse, who is Bernard the Calf; Bernard of Gothia; Bernard Plantevelue, who is also ‘Bernard son of Bernard’ and the son of Bernard of Septimania; Bernard I of Auvergne, who might be the ‘other different Bernard’; and Bernard of Solignac who is another reasonable candidate for the other different Bernard.

If you’ve read this far, then congratulations! If you see me at a conference, use the code word ‘vanadium’ and I’ll buy you a drink. But more seriously, you might be wondering why any of this matters. The short answer is that who we think is doing things can change the picture dramatically. To take only one example: if Bernard son of Bernard isn’t the other different Bernard, his support of Lothar II’s son Hugh is a regional problem at best. If he is, it’s an international conspiracy and this has important effects on how we tell the story of the politics of this decade. The Three Bernards problem, then, might be dry, or even comically absurd, but it is worthy of attention.