This week I got back to the UK from Tübingen to discover that something I was looking forward to receiving very much had arrived! Some of you may remember that several years ago I wrote a blog post about a bit of tenth-century textile work known as the Kriegsfahne of Queen Gerberga. As of this week, that article now exists in the world for you to read in the latest issue of Viator. This makes it the second article I’ve got into print which had its genesis on this here blog, so I’m doubly proud of it.
This article rexamines whom the Kriegsfahne depicts and, having identified that figure as Ragenold of Roucy, the son-in-law of the textile’s patron Queen Gerberga, proceeds to examine changing strategies of aristocratic legitimation as they evolved hand-in-glove with changing strategies of royal legitimation. It’s probably the clearest exposition of the capillary nature of political culture I’ve ever written, which is to say that it looks at how changes in the nature of legitimate authority spread down socio-political networks like an inkblot. Even though it’s about the Ottonians and the West Frankish kingdom, I think it’s worth a read if you work on anything in the earlier Middle Ages.
Sadly it’s not open access, but if you’d like to read it I have a PDF offprint I’d be very happy to send you if you e-mail me on the usual address at ralph [dot] torta [at] gmail [dot] com. The citation in full is:
Fraser McNair, ‘The Kriegsfahne of Queen Gerberga and the Liudolfing ascendancy in the West’, Viator 52 (2022), pp. 115-135.
The gritty details: This one was actually pretty straightforward. I wrote the blog post back in 2019, and wrote up a first draft of the article pretty quickly. I sent it round a couple of beta readers – my thanks to Simon MacLean and Megan Welton, the latter especially for some very focussed suggestions on clarifying the structure – and thence to Viator. One round of relatively minor revisions later*, it was accepted in summer 2021 and came out now in summer 2022.
* and I have to say, my respect for the anonymous reviewer who remembered that Heinrich Löwe had made the identification with Ragenold in an offhand footnote in a piece dedicated to something else has my serious respect for their memory and/or note-taking system…
One more thing: both Sam and I will be at the Leeds International Medieval Congress this coming week. I’m not speaking myself, but Sam will be doing a roundtable on ‘Rethinking the Medieval Frontier’ on the Monday night at 19:00 in the Esther Simpson Building room 3.08, and then giving a paper on the Thursday morning at 11:15 on Stage 2 of Stage@Leeds on ‘Hungry Borders: Escalating Conflict on the Carolingian Frontier’. So do pop along to both of those if you’re interested, and please do come and say hi to either of us if you see us around – we’d love to meet the blog’s audience!
At some point in the third quarter of the tenth century, several military commands appeared on the river Scheldt, based at Antwerp, Ename and Valenciennes. By the year 1000, their purpose was clear enough: defending Lower Lotharingia against attacks from the counts of Flanders. However, their original purpose is a bit fuzzier. The extant debate in historiography pitches one side which sees them as creations of the mid-960s, after the death of Duke Godfrey of Lower Lotharingia from plague whilst on campaign in Italy; and another which places their genesis in the early-to-mid-970s, responding to the return from exile of the sons of Reginar III, who had a military following, a lot of claims to land, and a grudge. (The wars began in 973 and kept going for years.) Basic to all these claims is the idea that from the very beginning the Flemish marches were a creation of the Ottonian emperors.
However, I wonder if we might not benefit from inverting our perspective. As I have written about before, when Count Arnulf the Great of Flanders died in 965, Lothar launched an invasion to take over as much of Flanders as he could get. Eventually, he grabbed most of the southern portion and placed his own man (Baldwin Baldzo) in the north, watched over by Queen Gerberga and Lothar’s brother Charles. This was presented to the East Frankish king Otto the Great – possibly as a fait accompli – and he signed off on it. One of the reasons he signed off on it was that he was keen to get back to Italy, where he spent most of the years from then until his death, bringing with him his heir Otto II and a surprisingly large chunk of the Lotharingian nobility.
Nothing about this time period is easy or clear – in fact, I’ll put an asterisk next to all the seemingly simple statements of fact which would require a lengthy discursive footnote to justify – but there are hints that Lothar took advantage of the cats being away to try and spread his influence across the Lotharingian frontier. Let’s work north-to-south. From the latter part of the tenth century, we find scattered references in our sources to a ‘county of Ghent’ which did not exist in Arnulf the Great’s time. In 969, however, we find Lothar granting Count Dirk of Holland ‘the forest of Waas in the same county’.* One of our sources explicitly equates the county of Ghent and the pagus of Waas. It may well be that Lothar deliberately sliced off an area of territory around Ghent to give to Dirk in return for the count’s support. Notably, despite the fact that Baldwin Baldzo had been put in place by Lothar as the guardian of the child-count Arnulf II, we find Dirk and Arnulf together in Ghent a few days before Lothar’s grant*.
Even more interestingly, Dirk’s donation was witnessed by Godfrey the Prisoner, count of Verdun. Godfrey’s powerbase lay around Trier and Verdun, and he had no existing ties to the Scheldt region – except one. Probably around this time*, he married Matilda Billung, the widow of Baldwin III of Flanders and Arnulf II’s mother. It is also around this time that Godfrey and Matilda were endowed with a significant estate at Ename. This is extremely unlikely to have belonged to either of them as their own hereditary property, and Matilda is also unlikely to have received it as a dowry from Baldwin. It has been suggested that Ename was a strategic wedding gift from the Ottonians. However, we know that the (by this point recently deceased) Queen Gerberga held estates in this area, just up the river at Krombrugge. Given this, Lothar is as if not more likely a source for this estate than the Ottonians.
This leaves Valenciennes. Valenciennes had been a Carolingian royal estate in the ninth century, but had been badly hit by Viking attacks. I need to do some more reading about this – Leeds’ library doesn’t have the relevant books – but it could well have belonged to Gerberga by the mid-tenth century as well. More significantly, though, Count Arnulf of Valenciennes (whose career would stretch well into the eleventh century) emerges into our sources in the 960s* as a man whose interests and estates were split between Lotharingia and southern Flanders. In fact, he seems to have acted as Queen Gerberga’s advocatus when she donated Meerssen to Saint-Remi in 968*.
However, there is more. Later in 969, Archbishop Odalric of Rheims died. His successor was Adalbero, a canon of the church of Metz. Metz’s cathedral was one of the tenth century’s ‘episcopal finishing schools’, so this is not by itself surprising; but more significant than his ecclesiastical background is the fact that he was Godfrey of Verdun’s brother. In light of all of the above, the shadows thrown by our sources come together to form a picture that looks rather like Lothar was trying to weave a network of alliances covering the whole of northern Lotharingia, infiltrating himself into a area stretching from the Netherlands to Luxembourg. This was probably not, originally, intended as a military rather than a political network. Archaeological excavation at Ename has revealed that at this time it was set up as a trading rather than a military site. The transformation of the site into a military base probably did come in the 970s with the return of the Reginarids, which pushed Godfrey and Arnulf away from Lothar and towards Otto II.
It is questionable whether Lothar’s plan would have worked that well anyway. Godfrey and especially Adalbero turned out to be very canny political operators, neither of whom cared that much for Lothar’s interests. Still, it’s worth thinking about Lothar’s part in the story of these marches, because otherwise we run the risk of putting the Ottonians at the centre of everything, perpetuating the stereotype of the West Frankish rulers as weak and lacking initiative. Quite apart from anything else, this doesn’t explain anything about late tenth century politics. By the 970s and 980s, Lothar thought he could fight and win against the Ottonians, and he was never definitively proven wrong. His schemes came to an end with his death in 986, and the reaction against them led to the end of his dynasty as kings in 987. As such, putting Lothar back in his place as a major Lotharingian player is key to explaining political changes which had repercussions for centuries afterwards.