The Problem of Older Brothers

This blog post may be a bit less convoluted than some, because it’s a rant about one general assumption found in earlier medieval scholarship which is so wide-spread that I’ve never even seen it verbalised, but you can find implicit pretty much everywhere: that when there are brothers the most important brother is the oldest.

The most obvious example of this are the three sons of Richard the Justiciar: Ralph of Burgundy, Hugh the Black and Boso of Vitry. Ralph of Burgundy became king, and if you read around you’ll find most historians making the assumption that he was the oldest brother of the three. Yet he’s only attested in 916, whereas Hugh the Black is attested sixteen years earlier, in a royal diploma of Louis the Blind dating from 900 where he’s already a count and clearly important enough to be sent on expeditions to see the king of Provence. Ralph might be the oldest brother, but it’s not proven!

Even more the case of King Odo. It is generally assumed that Odo is older than his brother Robert of Neustria, and again it might be the case. The two siblings were certainly of a similar age. But again, there is as far as I know no specific reference to Odo being older than Robert. In fact, if it is true that Robert was a count near Liège whilst Odo was still hanging around on the family farm in Worms, that might suggest the opposite.

Sometimes, you can prove traditional ideas of who’s older. Arnulf the Great of Flanders, who used to be one of my big hopes for being demonstrably-if-not-provably a ‘younger but more important brother’, actually turned out to be the opposite: re-reading Folcuin of Saint-Bertin’s history of his abbey, I found a reference to Arnulf being maior natu – older – than his brother Adalolf. It’s a shame not to be able to back up my point here, but it is at least a reminder of how rare statements this explicit are.

Still not important enough to be mentioned explicitly in Witger’s genealogy: Saint-Omer, BM ms 776, fol. 33v (source)

Why might this matter? The answer has to do with how succession worked in the early middle ages. We know, I think – and certainly I’ve argued – that norms of succession are extremely flexible, more so than they’re given credit for, and this is part of that. The assumption that the personal who eventually gets the high office must be the older child seems to me to be unconscious, reflex-level part projection of post-twelfth century(-ish) rules of succession-by-the-eldest-male onto a period where that may not have been the case. Ralph is a good example, actually – he might have been a good candidate for king because of his age, sure; but it’s remarkable that both is brothers appear to have been rather more parti pris in the recent and extremely controversial civil war than he was… Age may have been completely irrelevant here. The point is, that unless we recognise this assumption as an assumption, there’ll always be that barrier to our understanding of succession in the earlier middle ages.

(I am, for the record, an older brother myself, so there’s no personal dog in this fight…)

Charter a Week 30: A Property Transaction in Three Acts

Technically speaking, I’m spoiling you today, because this week’s Charter A Week is in fact not one, but three charters. In fact, as you’ll see, that’s probably overselling them. Most medievalists are familiar with the concept of the chirograph, where two copies of the same charter are written on the same piece of parchment with the word chirographum in the middle which is then cut through so each party can have a copy of the transaction which can be compared against the other. Here, though, something more complicated is happening:

DD CtS no. 54 (7th September 906, Laon)

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

Whatever We confer by Our clemency on places given over to divine worship at the suggestion of Our followers, We should truly trust God to repay Us thereafter.

Therefore, let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, both present, to wit, and future, know that Our most beloved follower Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, approaching Our Serenity, made known to Our Highness that he had sought from the monks of the aforesaid abbey certain of their goods, once given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for their particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to him in Our service, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that they might concede the same goods to him in benefice for his lifetime alone. But lest his petition should seem absurd and burdensome, and lest he should hence incur the offence of God and His most dear of priests Amandus, and lest he be seen to inflict any harassment on the servants of God because of this act and lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources fail them, insofar as it can be done, he requested from Our Mildness that We might consign from that abbey and from his demesne the estate which is called Dechy with all of the goods pertaining to it to their particular needs, and that We should deliver it up perennially from the present day to benefit their uses.

We proffered assent, thinking his request just and reasonable, and We commanded this precept of Our authority be made about this matter, and We gave it to the same monks, through which We enact and wish to firm in perpetuity that the said estate of Dechy, which We concede to them at present with everything pertaining to it, should be yielded forever to their demesne, and after the death of Our follower Robert, the cell of Barisis with everything legally pertaining to it should be recalled to their dominion without contradiction from any abbot.

In addition, We decree that whatever was bestowed on the same holy congregation by emperors and kings, Our predecessors, or any good people, in any districts or territories, as We previously confirmed in Our edict made for the same monks at the petition of Archbishop Fulk [of Rheims], should also in the same way now endure perennially undisturbed under the fullest tutelage of immunity.

And that this precept of Our Royal Majesty might obtain inviolable firmness, We confirmed it below with Our own hand, and We commanded it be sealed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the 7th ides of September [7th September], in the 9th indiction, in the 14th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 9th of his restoration of the kingdom’s unity.

Enacted at the castle of Laon.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

DD RR no. 46 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

In the name of God, Robert, abbot of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amandus, to the beloved brothers of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that I sought from you some of your goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for your particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to me in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it, that you might concede the same goods to me in benefice for my lifetime alone. Because I wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as I ought not to, but rather having before my eyes the just judgement of God, and lest I incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest I inflict any harassment on you thereby, I sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail you because of this act, insofar as it can be done, I requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from Our demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to your particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit your uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that I should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which I accepted from you as long as I live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, I should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever I can in any fashion, and each year I should have 12 pennies paid on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After my departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to your dominion without contradiction from any abbot. No less should the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in your manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of Saint-Amand, in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Sign of Abbot Robert.

[Column 1:] S. Bishop Robert [of Noyon]. S. Count Altmar [of Arras]. S. Count Odilard [of Laon]. S. Count Hilmerad. S. Count Richer [of Astenois]. Count Erlebald [of Châtresais].

[Column 2:] S. Ralph. S. Letrand. S. Eilfred. S. Frodo. S. Walter. S. Ingelmar.

[Column 3:] S. Hugh. S. Rainard. S. Madelgaud. S. Ermenfred. S. Rainald. S. Hagano.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

One of the surviving bits of Saint-Amand (source)

DD RR III.1 (24th September 906, Saint-Amand)

To the venerable in Christ Abbot Robert of the monastery of the nourishing bishop and confessor of Christ Amand, we, the brothers of the congregation of the same abbey.

We wish it to be known to many that you sought from us some of our goods, given by that most blessed pontiff Amandus to his monks and confirmed for our particular uses by royal and imperial precepts, but needful and useful to you in the service of our lord and master King Charles, sited in the district of Laonnais: that is, the cell which is called Barisis with everything pertaining to it – that is, Vallemont, Haidulphi cortis, Bouvincourt, Mactaldi cortis, Normezières, Fresnes, Pierremande, Mennessis, Cessières, Marcilly, Hauteville, Persicus – that is, that we might concede the same goods to you in benefice for your lifetime alone. Because you wish to do nothing presumptuously or by force, as you ought not to, but rather having before your eyes the just judgement of God, and lest you incur the offence of His most holy and dearest priest Amandus, and lest you inflict any harassment on us thereby, you sought and accepted the aforesaid goods by a precarial grant in right of benefice.

And, lest in the course of receiving these stipendiary goods necessary resources should fail us because of this act, insofar as it can be done, you requested from the lord king Charles that he might despatch from that abbey and from your demesne the estate which is called Decy with everything pertaining to it to our particular needs, and deliver it up perennially from the present day and confirm it to benefit our uses by a precept of his authority, that is, after an agreement had been confirmed between us that you should hold in usufruct, develop and improve the said goods which you accepted from us as long as you live, and not alienate or diminish anything from them; rather, you should endeavour in every way to add and improve therein whatever you can in any fashion, and each year you should have 12 pennies paid to us on the feast of Saint Amandus, which is the 7th kalends of November [26th October], in vestiture.

After your departure from this light, whenever God wills it, let the aforesaid cell of Barisis in its entirety be recalled to our dominion without contradiction from any abbot. And as well, let the estate of Dechy be held from this day without any prejudice under your dominion in perpetuity. And on the anniversary of your demise, a great feast shall be prepared from that estate of Dechy in memory of you, after solemn masses and offerings for you have been carried out.

But in pursuit of firmness, we had two documents written, made in the same manner, which We confirmed below with Our own hand, that they might endure stable and undisturbed, and We had them strengthened by the hands of good men.

Enacted at Elnon, in the monastery of the blessed Amandus in the 14th year of the reign of the glorious king lord Charles, on the day of the 7th kalends of October [4th September].

Prior Ricfred.

[Column 1:] S. Theobert the priest. S. Ageric the priest. S. Ludio the priest. S. Motgis the priest. S. Eligius the priest. S. Madalgar the priest.

[Column 2:] S. Stephen the priest. S. Hildebrand the priest. S. Rodualus the deacon. S. Magenard the priest. S. Gerard the deacon. S. Everbern the priest.

[Column 3:] S. Rather the priest. S. Mainer the priest. S. Blitgar the deacon. S. Dumher the deacon. S. Winebert the subdeacon. S. Lideric the subdeacon. S. Fredenod the subdeacon.

I, Hucbald the notary, related and subscribed this.

So what we have here isn’t an identical copy of an exchange: it’s both sides of a contract, confirmed by a royal diploma. This isn’t as odd as it sounds. There are a fair few Carolingian royal diplomas from the ninth century confirming exchanges, and if I had to guess I’d say that charters like those of Robert of Neustria and the monks formed the basis of those transactions but weren’t subsequently preserved because they weren’t as authoritative as a royal diploma. This raises interesting questions about why there were preserved, though. I can’t think of any other examples of this where we still have all the documents – perhaps some of my learned readers can help?

In any case, these charters are not just rare diplomatic birds, they also provide important insight into West Frankish politics at this point. The first thing to note is that, despite his by-name, Robert of Neustria – for it is he – wasn’t just limited to Neustria in terms of his power-base. Saint-Amand was an important abbey in the kingdom’s north-east, and as its abbot Robert was able to draw on its resources. Not, however, its ideological resources. Note that the scribes felt the need to reclad the transaction in appropriately royal garb for Charles’ diploma, but with Robert’s charter they just changed the pronouns from the monks’ own act. For one of the first so-called ‘territorial princes’, Robert’s authority is not visibly either territorial or princely…

Robert’s charter does, however, shed some light on the composition of the royal court. The witnesses there are all figures from the royal court rather than Robert’s own entourage. We’ve already met Odilard of Laon last week, and from our past and future narrative sources, we know that Altmar of Arras and Erlebald of Châtresais were Charles’ allies. What we seem to have here, then, are some of the more important people at Charles’ court at the time. The problem is, this isn’t a full snap-shot. We have a witness list full of – insofar as we can place them – entirely north-eastern figures, but the transaction is also taking place in the north-east, and the witnesses are thus probably being selected not just for prestige but for relevance. That is, there is probably a selection bias against people who don’t come from the area, meaning that although we can say that Charles appears fairly well-planted in the north-east, we can’t say he isn’t outside of that region. The witness list hides one other bit of foreshadowing, though. See that guy Hagano who susbscribes last in the third column? We’ll see him again in future…

Charter a Week 27, part 1: Robert’s Back!

The split between Robert and Charles didn’t last forever. In 903, the Neustrian ruler was back in the West Frankish king’s good graces. Quite why then is a little bit open to question. My preferred answer is that there are hints in the sources that 903 was a time when Viking attacks were starting up again – in that year, Tours was burned down by two leaders named Bard and Eric – and Charles, being basically unable to lead an army out of a wet paper bag, needed his most experienced anti-Viking commander to help. This doesn’t really explain why he wouldn’t turn to Richard, who had form fighting Vikings as well, but it’s the best answer I’ve got. Another possibility is that the death of Charles’ mother Queen Adelaide in around 902 had opened the way to reconciliation. But what did the reconciliation look like?

DD CtS no. 47 (5th June 903, Melay) = ARTEM no. 3043 = DK 6.xiv

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

If We pay heed to the petitions of servants of God and things advantageous to churches, and bring them into effect, We are confident that the Lord will make repayment for it.

Therefore, let the profit and skill of people both present and future know that the venerable Count Robert, truly beloved of Us, abbot of the monastery of the holy martyr of Christ, the champion and Our special patron Dionysius and his companions came before Our Clemency and made known a certain little abbey in the realm of Our most beloved kinsman Louis, that is, Lièpvre in the Vosges, which the late venerable abbot Fulrad of the aforesaid monastery had bestowed on the most holy Dionysius and the brothers serving him by charters’ firmness and the authority of precepts; and which the aforesaid brothers had always held from then for their own uses with one salt-pan and one saline in the township of Marsal; and he humbly appealed to Our Clemency that We might deign to renew and confirm the aforesaid goods through a precept of Our authority against abbots to come, so that the brothers might be able to hold the aforesaid goods for all time without any disturbance or invasion or division from any abbot.

And thus, assenting to the prayers of the aforesaid Count Robert, in accordance with what is contained in the testament of the venerable abbot Fulrad and in the privilege of the apostolic lord Leo [III], We perpetually confirm by a precept of Our authority the aforesaid goods for the monks of the aforesaid monastery of Saint-Denis, both for food stipends and for the lighting and for the reception of the poor, reminding and invoking future abbots that they should guard inviolably what We have conceded and strengthened. May he who hears and observes this precept receive an eternal reward, but let anyone who violates it, if they do not come to their senses, remain bound by the chains of the anathema concerning the confirmed goods in the privilege of the apostolic lord Leo.

But that this precept, written after the fashion of a privilege, might be more truly believed and more fully observed, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it to be sealed by Our ring.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Ernust the notary related and subscribed on behalf of Bishop Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the nones of June [5th June], in the 6th indiction, in the 11th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 6th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom.

Enacted at the estate of Melay.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW 27 903
Original diploma taken from dMGH as above.

Once again, this charter has been analysed by Koziol, and in this instance he’s basically right. The Saint-Denis diploma came as the culmination of a series of acts for Robert (I didn’t translate them because there are some minor questions of authenticity over their surviving versions), where he was restored to Charles’ grace over the course of the Easter celebrations. The big difference between my reconstruction and Koziol’s is that I don’t think Robert had prior claim to any of the abbeys he received, so when Charles presented him with the major Parisian abbeys of Saint-Denis and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, these were bribes not restorations.

This diploma is also a reminder of how wide-spread these abbey’s resources were. When anyone talks to you about ‘narrowing horizons’ and ‘territorial consolidation’ in the tenth century then, well, they might have a point, but it’s evidently not in terms of the extent of landholding. As you can see if you click through to the map, the cell of Liepvre is in the middle of Alsace; but Robert has to take it into account along with the closer-to-home estates in the Paris Basin. Also interesting is that Charles apparently has no problems confirming an estate in Louis’ kingdom. Unlike when he did the same to Zwentibald, though, here Louis is marked as being the king and being, officially at least, well-regarded. The dynamics at play here are a little shadowy to me, honestly. Maybe it’s something as simple as Charles keeping his hand in re: claims to Lotharingia…

Charter a Week 24, Part 2: Guilt and Negotiation

Robert of Neustria wasn’t doing nothing whilst Charles built up his allies in the north. In September 900 he issued one of the most peculiar magnate charters of the whole late-Carolingian period. Buckle in, people, because this is a long one:

DD RR no. 42 (13th September 900, Tours)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. We, verily, Robert, by grace of God Almighty abbot of the flock of the famous confessor of Christ the blessed Martin and as well count.

We desire for it to be well-known and manifest to all the faithful of Christ and the catholic Church and as well chiefly and above all the abbots of the aforesaid flock of the blessed Martin, Our successors, that the aforesaid venerable flock over which We are seen to preside undertook to gain recompense from Our Paternity and Our Guidance and Piety through a venerable deacon of that flock, Adalelm by name, humbly and tearfully lodging a complaint, namely, for a lost spiritual good. He said that Our predecessor, lord Odo, Our brothers, at that time abbot of the aforesaid flock, thereafter a most pious king of the Franks, We know not whether by the instigation or guile of certain of his so-called followers or seduced by the ruthless greed of his, as We said, so-called followers, without consulting the canons of Saint-Martin, to whom the role of giving out alms and hospitality specially pertained, had at his own pleasure and in accordance with his own fancy conceded all the goods pertaining to the hospice for the poor, which the ready devotion of divers of the faithful of Christ through the course of many times since passed bestowed on the same Saint-Martin, that is, to the little cell of Saint-Clément, to perpetually feed the poor there in alms and for the future remedy of all of the faithful who bestowed the same goods, to wit, present and to come, to one of Our canons, then his follower, as if they were his own goods, to be held in right of benefice, that they might be treated separately from those which provide food for the brothers and alms for the poor and thereafter serve him alone. Then We, succeeding him in the same governance, permitted the same goods of the poor to remain in benefice in Our time, subject to the same perilous invasion. Because of this, all the general kindness for guests and alms for the poor – which in olden days were studiously dispersed in the monastery of the blessed Martin to the poor, the wanderer, and the pilgrim for kings and all the orders of the holy Church of God and also for the magnates of the realm and as well, as We said, for those who bestowed the same goods and all the catholic faithful, both living and who have paid death’s due – had completely disappeared. In addition, all the general hospitality remained destroyed.

Therefore We, carefully considering this very lamentable complaint of this venerable flock and the danger We were in by pondering it in Our mind’s deepest contemplation, began to keenly and carefully consider what is asserted by the voice of Truth: ‘I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not’ [Matthew 25:43], ‘I was an hungered, and ye gave me nought to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink (and so on)’ [Matthew 25:42]; ‘and inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me’ [Matthew 25:45], ‘depart from me into the eternal fire’ [Matthew 25:41].

Whereupon We were struck down with a mighty terror, for We had stolen hospitality away from the poor for Our personal use, We also began to consider what We also believe without doubt: that the very Christ himself is taken in in the poor and the wanderer, as he himself said: ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me’ [Matthew 25:36]. He later made this manifest to us in the clearest of ways, when he showed himself in Heaven amongst the most blessed host of angels cloaked with half of the blessed Martin’s cloak, saying ‘Martin, though yet a catechumen, clothed me in this garment’ [Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini, III.3], ‘I was an hungered and ye gave me something to eat (and so on)’ [Matthew 25:36].

Therefore, considering that not only had We not given to either Christ or Saint Martin from Our own goods that from which the poor might be restored, but in fact had also, as We related, stolen by Our own will and judgement that which the highest devotion of the faithful endeavoured to confer on God Almighty and Saint Martin to sustain the needy for the remission of their sins, despoiling Christ and Saint Martin and clothing Ourself alone, We began once more to be terribly sorry, and, blaming Ourself alone with bitter invective, We decided enough. We know, in addition, that all the good which are bestowed upon churches to sustain the faithful are alms for the poor – but also the price of sins. As the Lord said through the prophet, ‘they eat up the sin of my people’ [Hosea 4:8], and it is also written, ‘Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, death is the penalty’ [Proverbs 28:24/Exodus 21:15]. Moreover, We know that our father is Christ, who redeemed us, and our mother is the holy Church, who spiritually birthed us by Christ through the font of holy baptism. Therefore, whosoever takes anything away from Christ and the Church, from the goods bestowed on them by the faithful, from which the poor should be fed and clothed, will without doubt die an everlasting death, as Ananais and Saphira died, they who unjustly stole something from what they had of their own free will promised they would give to the poor.(*)

Therefore, stirred up by so many terrible spiritual warnings and such great terrors, so that We and Our aforesaid lord and Our brother the lord king Odo, in whose time general hospitality and the taking-in of the poor first disappeared from the monastery of the blessed Martin by his negligence, which was as fearful and grave as We recalled above, should not be struck down on the Day of Judgement by the sentence of the Just Judge saying ‘Because you did this, depart into the eternal fire’ [see Matthew 25:41], We made provision for our souls; and, with the counsel of Our followers, with swift and very ready devotion do restore the aforementioned cell of the blessed martyr Clement, which pertains to the hospice for the poor, with all the goods pertaining to it, from which the poor should be fed, to the old custom and order, and return it to the control of the brothers, with this point of plan and ordering: that Walter, the pupil of the aforesaid Adalelm who was the chief encourager and assistant of this holy work on behalf of all the brothers, might through this testament of Our authority and also the consent of the brothers quietly hold, order and possess all these goods for as long as he lives for the use of the poor and his own people. But after Walter’s death, let the brothers always have permission for themselves, as was ordained in olden times, to elect in accordance with the needs of the moment one of the brothers of the same flock, one who is foremost in total honesty and generosity, who hates all avarice, and who might be a most pious comforter to paupers and pilgrims, who should readily render due comfort from the same goods to his fellow brothers and should similarly not deny due aid to the poor. To him, through Our consent and that of Our successors as abbots of Saint-Martin, let them commit the hospice of the poor. And thus, let what the holy fathers, Our predecessors, moved by the Holy Spirit, established be forever done with the aforesaid goods, remain ever undisturbed.

Concerning this matter, We humbly beg all Our successors as abbot of Saint-Martin that, as We are ruined and condemned by Our obstinacy and that of Our brother, and We judge and accuse Ourself before the divine presence, so too should they see and completely beware that they do not presume to despoil Christ and Saint Martin (in the form of their poor) as We did. Rather, let them vest and permit this restoration of Our authority to endure forever inviolate.

Next, holy bishops, to wit, Archbishop Erbern of Tours, Bishop Raino of Angers, Fulcher of Nantes, Berno of Orléans, Anskeric of Paris, Otger of Amiens, embraced and confirmed Our free will and very ready consent in this matter (which is very salutary and profits our souls both temporally and spiritually) with the power to bind and loose bestowed on them by the Lord in the person of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, in his following words: ‘whatsoever thou shalt bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven. Truly, depending on the assurance of this power, they closed the gates of Heaven with the chains of anathema for all those whose greedy malice is a barrier and who wish to transgress this Our authority and restoration or correction, but also all those who consent and urge them on in this fault. Thus let them be cursed everywhere, and let all the curses with which God Almighty cursed those ‘who said unto Lord God, “depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways”’ [Job 21:14] and ‘Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession’ [Psalm 83:13] come upon them: ‘let death seize upon them and let them go down quick into Hell’ [Psalm 55:16]. Let their part and inheritance be the torment of eternal fire, and let them receive the sentence and summit of eternal damnation with Dathan and Abiram, Judas and Pilate and all others who violate or transgress holy law, unless they quickly come to their senses and set themselves right from temerity of this sort.

And that, in God’s name, this might be believed more certain to have been done by Us and be conserved forever inviolate, We corroborated it with Our own hands with the sign of the holy Cross, and We asked the aforementioned bishops and Our followers to subscribe and affirm this authority.

Sign of the holy cross of lord Robert, most glorious of abbots, who asked this holy authority to be made and confirmed.

Erbern, by God’s mercy archbishop [of Tours], subscribed this authority. I, Raino, bishop of Angers, subscribed with my own hand. Fulcher, bishop of Nantes, subscribed. Berno, although unworthy bishop of Orléans, subscribed. Anskeric, bishop of Paris, at the request of Count Robert, confirmed this authority. Otger [of Amiens], episcophilax, strengthened this. I, Abbot Aimo [of Cormery] subscribed.

Sign of Viscount Atto [of Tours]. Sign of Viscount Guarnegaud [of Blois]. Sign of Viscount Fulk [the Red, of Angers]. Sign of Viscount Rainald. Sign of Maingaud the vassal. Sign of Walcher. Sign of Bernuin. Sign of Adalard. Sign of Eric. Sign of Ernust. Sign of Gerard. Sign of Walter. Sign of Alberic. Sign of Erwig. Sign of Wandalbert. Sign of Gundacer. Sign of Suger. Sign of Eudo. Sign of Berard. Sign of Teudo. Sign of Guy. Sign of Robert. Sign of another Walter. Sign of Landric. Sign of Blado. Sign of Odo.

The authority of this restitution was given on the ides of September [13th September], in the city of Tours, in the 3rd year after the death of the lord king Odo, in the reign of the lord king Charles.

I, Archenald, a levite of the flock of the blessed Martin, having been asked to do so, wrote and subscribed this.

(*) It’s not a specific quotation, but it’s remarkably reminiscent of some of the Pseudo-Isidorian decretals – we saw John VIII using Pseudo-Lucius saying much the same thing a few months back…

The church of Saint-Clément, which was demolished in the nineteenth century after having served as a wheat warehouse. (source)

First, the witness list. We’re looking here at most of Robert’s important fideles, the viscounts who run the Neustrian March on his behalf as well as most of the prominent local bishops. (Noticeably, the bishop of Le Mans is missing…) What we have here, it seems, is an emergency meeting convoked to decide what exactly to do about Robert’s sudden exclusion from court.

This isn’t to say that Robert is operating from a position of strength; far from it. Being appropriately penitential can do wonders for your authority in the Carolingian world, but this is quite excessive: not merely Robert but also Odo come in for criticism – both are presented as greedy, negligent, and easily-swayed by bad advice. The implication is that he has had to submit to pressure from the canons.

Note also in the witness list the presence of Bishops Anskeric of Paris and Otger of Amiens, both of whom are allies of Charles not Robert. I haven’t even tried to translate episcophilax, which is a unique word. Etymologically, it is derived from a Greek word meaning a guard or sentinel. The closest parallel from this time is a late tenth century reference to a crisonphilax (sic), a word used by Harmer, the author of the Miracula Sancti Maurilii to describe a treasurer, presumably a ‘gold-guarder’.  Episcophilax, then, would seem to be a ‘guard-bishop’ – an ‘episcopal ombudsman’? Either way, I think it’s fair to see Anskeric and Otger as part of a royal delegation to Robert, using their authority to bolster the canons’ position.

The whole charter is remarkably authoritative. It’s one of the few private charters from the period to have strong liturgical overtones: that bit about ‘paying death’s due’ comes from a Saint-Martin mass for the salvation of the living and the dead. But this bolsters the authority of Saint-Martin rather than of Robert. By storming out of Charles’ court, losing his closeness to the king, Robert had opened himself up politically.

Charter a Week 24, Part 1: Making Allies in Northern Neustria

So far, Charles the Simple’s sole rule has being going reasonably well; in this year, 900, things kick off a bit. There were some major shake-ups at court. Baldwin Iron-Arm of Flanders, who’d been operating as a bit of a third party for most of the civil war, tried to get back in at court. His two local enemies, Archbishop Fulk of Rheims and Count Heribert I of Vermandois, both of whom were high up in court circles, opposed this; so Baldwin had Fulk murdered. No sooner had Charles lost his adopted father-figure to terrible violence than a meeting to determine what to do about Viking raids fell apart spectacularly: Manasses of Dijon, the right-hand man of Richard the Justiciar, apparently said something terrible to Robert of Neustria and so Robert stormed out of court, not to return for another three years.

That some naughty words led to a break of this length speaks to just how fractured things had got at the court. The leading figure of Charles’ reign, Fulk of Rheims, was dead; and with him went both a source of advice (although I question how good that advice always was) and the stability of having an obvious leading figure in the realm. Robert, who had played that role under Odo, may be at fault here: it could well be that the reason that Charles backed Richard and Manasses rather than Robert was that Robert was seen to be claiming something unduly. Robert, though, had been a prime mover in getting Charles on to the throne in the first place. Both William the Pious and Richard the Justiciar had waited to see if Robert would submit to Charles, something he apparently did without hesitation. Charles therefore needed to look for new allies and broaden his appeal.

DD CtS no. 35 (31st October 900, Fleury)

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

If We lend the ears of Our Serenity to the just petitions of Our followers and proffer assent to them, We are seen to imitate the custom of Our predecessors, to wit, Our relatives as king, and through this We do not doubt God will be favourable to Us and We enkindle their souls with devotion to Our fidelity.

Wherefore let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future as well, know that Our sweetest mother Adelaide and Our beloved kinsman Count Hugh [I of Maine], and as well the illustrious count Ecfrid [from around Artois], approaching the excellence of Our Dignity, humbly asked that We might deign to have made for the holy canons of the monastery of Saint-Pierre in which Saint Ebrulf rests in body, which is called Ouche, in the county of Hiémois, such a precept as might benefit them and their successors in future times, that is, that the estates which antiquity allotted to their uses and the goods named below which were given to the same place by the just desire of God-fearing people might by such a precept be joined to them and their church such that it might remain inviolable in perpetuity.

Finding their petition valid, We commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made and given to the brothers, through which We order and command that from this day forth

these estates – to wit, in the county of Hiémois, the estate of Heugon, Le Pont, Neuville-sur-Touques, Merri, Mardilly, Villiers-en-Ouche, Bocquencé with Le Pont, Bailleul, the mount of Noyen-sur-Sarthe, Acquigny, Macé, Abrontinus, Le Breuil; in the county of Maine, in the vicariate of Joué-l’Abbé, the estate of Nuillé-le-Jalais, which Count Hugh and his mother Rothild gave to Saint-Evroult with all their dependencies; elsewhere, in the vicariate of Sougé-le-Ganelon, 4 quarterées at La Couture; 4 quarterées in Vallas and Gesne-le-Gandelin; in the vicariate of Beaufay, six manses in Bérus with everything beholden to them; in the estate which is called Mont, one manse with a vineyard, with 1 quarterées, which Isembard gave there; and one manse with 1 quarterées in that estate which Basoin gave there; in the estate which is called Crennes, one manse with a vineyard and outwith arable land which Ingelbald gave with all its things to the monastery of Saint-Evroult.

Let no abbot nor any power presume to grant absolutely or benefice anyone with these estates and goods. Rather, let the canons freely hold and canonically dispose of them.

And that this edict of Our precept or confirmation might obtain inviolable vigour, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be sealed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Herluin the notary witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Chancellor Anskeric [of Paris].

Given on the day before the kalends of November [31st October], in the third indiction, in the 3rd year of the restoration of the kingdom’s unity, in the reign of lord Charles, most glorious of kings.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire.

Happily in the name of Christ, amen.

The abbey of Saint-Evroult, today in ruins (source)

Fleury is rather outside Charles’ usual itinerary. It’s also right in the middle of the Orléanais, a region which had been important under Odo and which historians usually assume was important under Robert as well; which it was, but probably not this early. Fleury is actually a major royal abbey situated at the border of the interests of William the Pious, Richard the Justiciar, Charles the Simple and Robert of Neustria, and Charles’ presence here must therefore be significant.

Just as significant is who he’s granting the diploma to. Hugh I of Maine is the son of Roger of Maine, whom Charles had probably backed in a dispute over possession of Le Mans in the 890s against a man named Gozlin, and Rothild, daughter of Charles the Bald and past supporter of Charles’ actions. By doing this, Charles is trying to build up his allies in northern Neustria, perhaps against Robert but perhaps in tandem with trying to win Robert back on side. By this point, the narrative sources have ended and won’t start up again until 919, so much of the next several months is going to be fairly speculative.

One final thing to note, though, is that the area around Saint-Évroult – in modern-day southern Normandy – is apparently fine. Whatever is going on with Viking raids in what is going to become Normandy, it evidently hasn’t yet got to the point where secular or ecclesiastical structures of governance and control have broken down.

Charter a Week 16: Smoke-Filled Rooms in Neustria

For once we’re not going to be looking at high politics, but something a little more domestic. We have actually met today’s charter before, back when I did that list of my top 10 charters. Given that you don’t need much context in advance here, we may as well kick straight off.

DD RR no. 37 (13th June 892, Tours)

A notice of how Prior Erfred, with Adalmar, advocate of Saint-Martin, came into the city of Le Mans on Monday, the eighth kalends of May [24th April], before Count Berengar, and lodged a complaint that his vassal, Patrick by name, was wrongfully retaining the goods of the brothers which Guy had once held due to his advocacy.

Then Count Berengar responded that he was not only his vassal, although he held something from his benefice, but rather a vassal of his friend Robert, because he held more from him in benefice. But he immediately restored that which pertained to him, for love of Saint Martin, saying ‘If he wants to enjoy my benefice, he won’t retain any of the land of Saint-Martin anymore.’ And thus they left.

Still, he was unwilling to give up these goods, but rather began to issue threats. Then Erfred and Adalmar went to Tours, on the ides of June [13th June], into the presence of lord Robert, count and abbot, and they said to him that the canons of Saint-Martin wanted to lodge a complaint before King Odo – who was then present in the city of Tours – concerning his vassal Patrick, who unjustly held the brothers’ goods.

He said, ‘There won’t be a need for you to lodge a complaint before the king, because I’m their abbot and I should do justice regarding others much more than I should consent to injustice done by others. But now, Adalmar, tell me, by the oath you have sworn to me, how many shields you saw he could provide for my service.’

‘Not more,’ he replied, ‘than three.’

‘What, I’m supposed to steal their goods from Saint Martin and the brothers and lose my soul [see Matthew 16:26] for three shields? Who,’ he said, ‘has a wadium?’

Then Erfred took out a dagger from the scabbard which he had with him and gave it to him. He extended the dagger to Adalmar the advocate and said to him, ‘You should take this, because you’re their advocate. And if it is necessary, you will fight for them.’ And thus was the complaint resolved.

Enacted in the presence of the noble men who confirmed below.

Sign of the holy cross of lord abbot Robert, who confirmed this notice with his own hand and commanded his followers to confirm it. Sign of Viscount Atto [of Tours]. […]

I, Maimbert, having been asked to do so, wrote and subscribed, in the city of Tours, on the ides of June, in the 4th year of the reign of lord king Odo.

So, first off, it’s a strange little document. Roman Deutinger for one has argued that it’s not authentic– none of his reasons stand up (to give the least technical one, why would a twelfth-century forger not mention the name of the land in question?), but you can see why he’s puzzled. This looks a lot more like a little bit of a saint’s life than the documents we’ve been seeing so far.

 That’s really more of a problem on our end, though. A ‘charter’ is a kind of historiographical label of convenience. Most ‘charters’ resemble one another perfectly well, but there are several which start pushing into other forms of texts. One of my favourites to illustrate this is something which by every formal external characteristic is a charter, but which is in its text a combination saint’s life/property inventory. So it’s entirely plausible for scribes to be writing these little vignettes.

What does the vignette show? Partly, it shows the growth of Neustrian governance – note the presence and role of Adalmar the advocate, which we’ve discussed before. Adalmar’s role as an enforcer for the brothers is relatively new; we’ll be talking more about this when we reach 908, but here let’s just note that this charter relies on an office which may not have existed in 877 when this series started.

But it also shows the many recourses available for people seeking to resolve disputes. It’s clear that the participants here can slide between formal and informal methods of dispute settlements, and that this had different weights. There’s no particular reason that formal methods were better or more just. The implication Robert gives when the brothers threaten to go to Odo is that they’re rather more embarrassing. This is how studies of dispute settlement have argued that conflict resolution in large chunks of the middle ages happened – the participants switching between different venues to get a favourable result – and it’s nice to see it in action here.

The final thing is a question of scale. Patrick has to provide men for Robert’s military forces, but it’s clear that three men is not considered a major addition certainly to Robert’s armies and perhaps to Patrick’s. This suggests a certain minimum size of aristocratic military forces in the tenth century, although it would be easier to say more if we knew anything else about Patrick. He never shows up again in Saint-Martin’s charter record and my suspicion – given the role of Count Berengar, who was probably based in Rennes, that he’s a point man near the Breton border. This has implications for his social status and certainly for his military preparedness; it’s just a shame we can’t go into any detail about it.

Charter a Week 10: The Robertians

It’s time to introduce another important member of our cast of characters. By late 886, Hugh the Abbot, ruler of Neustria and dominating figure in West Frankish politics, was dead. His command passed to the son of its original ruler Robert the Strong: Odo, count of Paris. Odo’s rise to command the Neustrian March was by no means inevitable. After his father’s death, Charles the Bald had taken his father’s remaining honores away from Odo and his brother Robert – neither of whom can have been terribly old at the time – and they went to live with their relatives in the Rhineland, where Odo can be seen with his uncle Megingoz I of Wormsgau giving land to Lorsch in 876. Megingoz died in around 880, which might have been the impetus for Odo to move back west. Frankly, the beginnings of Odo’s career are very shady: how a relative/client of an East Frankish count went from being a no-one in 876 to being count of Paris in 882 is open to speculation.

But hey, I love speculation! One interesting piece of evidence is an interpolated diploma which can be dated to summer 884, probably in the general area of Worms or Metz, which features a Count Robert as intercessor. This Robert is identified by historians as a) Odo’s brother Robert of Neustria and b) count of Namur, for reasons I in the first case don’t really understand and in the second case think is a dubious assumption – to wit, that because the document deals with land in the area, Robert must have been count there. However, if the identification of Count Robert as Robert of Neustria is correct, then that might be Odo’s in – Robert of Neustria used his family connections to become a count, and then, when Charles the Fat took over the West Frankish kingdom, the emperor was able to appoint the brother of one of his more conspicuously loyal Lotharingian followers to the important stronghold of Paris. This requires Odo’s appointment to be in 885 rather than 882, but we have no solid evidence pinning him to Paris until that year anyway. (It also implies although doesn’t require that Robert is Odo’s older brother rather than vice-versa; but historians are always very quick to assume that the most successful brother is also the oldest. See also Ralph of Burgundy, although I think in that case his not necessarily being the eldest brother is rather easier to make a case for.)

Anyway, in 885 Odo became the West Frankish celebrity count. That year, a huge Viking army besieged Paris, and Odo, Bishop Gozlin of Paris (who died during the siege), Abbot Ebalus of Saint-Denis, and Gozlin’s eventual successor Anskeric led the Frankish resistance, which was eventually successful, although it took over until 886 for Charles to lead an army to relieve the city.

Some Carolingian soldiers, from the Golden Psalter of St Gallen (source)

In the aftermath, and with Hugh the Abbot having meanwhile died, Charles granted Odo the Neustrian March. Odo was Charles’ favourite in the West Frankish kingdom.

DD CtF no. 143 (27th October 886, Paris)

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

If We clemently lend the ears of Our Imperial Dignity to the petitions of servants of God and Our followers, and We furnish the work of Our Munificence for their advantage, We little doubt that this will benefit Us both in the state of Our empire and in the reward of perpetual repayment.

And so, let the industry of all Our followers, to wit, present and future, know that one of Our followers, Count Odo, made known to the highness of Our Dignity how, by a tenancy agreement, the venerable abbot the late Hugh [the Abbot], that is, Our dearest kinsman, with the consent of the canons of Saint-Aignan [d’Orléans], gave to certain venerable bishops, Archbishop Adalald [of Tours] and also the brother of the same, Bishop Raino [of Angers] a certain estate named Aschères-le-Marché, in the district of Orléanais, in the vicariate of Lion-en-Beauce, with all its appendages and goods appertaining to it, by a tenancy agreement as We said; and in recompense for the same service, they gave from their own goods to Saint-Aignan and to the same Abbot Hugh and the canons dwelling in the abbey 7 manses with bondsmen of both sexes, with a chapel constructed therein in honour of the mother of God Mary, such that as long as the aforesaid bishops lived, they should hold and possess everything , all the same goods, to wit, the estate of Aschère and the estate of Bracieux, where the aforesaid 7 manses are located, in the district of Blésois in the vicariate of Huisseau-sur-Cosson, quietly, on the condition that they pay each year 5 silver solidi for the lighting of Saint-Aignan, and in addition that they should pay the tithes from the demesne labour and from the demesne vineyards and from the corvées to the canons of the aforesaid Saint-Aignan, for the hospice of the same saint.

They appealed to the serenity of Our Highness on this matter, that We might deign to confirm it through a precept of Our authority.

Observing their petition to be valid, We commanded this precept of Our rule to be made for them by imperial custom, through which We decreed and at the same time in ordering command that from this day and in time to come, the aforesaid bishops should hold and possess all the aforesaid goods in their dominion and power, corroborated by Our authority, quietly, by a tenancy agreement, without disturbance from anyone, rendering each year the rate laid out above.

But that this imperial authority liberally conceded by Us to the same might be observed more freely and devotedly by everyone, We confirmed it with Our own hand and We commanded it be authenticated by the signet of Our Dignity.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of august kings.

Amalbert then notary witnessed on behalf of Liutward [bishop of Vercelli].

Given on the 6th kalends of November [27th October, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 886, in the 4th indiction, in the 6th year of Emperor Charles’ empire in Italy, the 5th in Francia, the 2nd in Gaul.

Enacted in Paris.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

In terms of Odo’s career, this diploma is fairly straightforward. One of several diplomas Charles the Fat issued at Paris in the aftermath of the Viking siege, this diploma honours Odo, the hero of that siege, by showing him as the emperor’s counsellor. It also shows him as ruler of Neustria, written in as successor to Hugh the Abbot, and intervening on behalf of the two main bishops of the Neustrian March, those of Tours and Angers.

In fact, it is one of a series of diplomas issued in late October 886, almost all of which deal in one way or another with the siege of Paris or Hugh the Abbot’s legacy. Thus, Charles issued a diploma in favour of a man named Germund who is almost certainly one of Odo’s followers. He issued a diploma for Saint-Martin (although interestingly the petitioner there is Archbishop Adalald rather than Odo – maybe Odo hadn’t been invested at that point); and he issued a diploma for Saint-Germain d’Auxerre, where Hugh the Abbot had been buried. Unlike Neustria, Saint-Germain went not to Odo but to Bishop Anskeric of Paris: next time we see it, in 889, Anskeric is the abbot. It’s possible that it was given to him by Odo in 888/889, but I think it’s more likely it was given to him by Charles the Fat at this point, in 886, as another reward for a hero of Paris.

A final point: Odo’s ending up in Neustria was largely accidental. The fact that his father had also been marchio there can lend it a whiff of familial right, but this is mostly illusory. It just so happened that an important military command had opened up at the same time that Odo proved himself militarily competent. Had Hugh the Abbot lived an extra few years, I think it likely that Odo would have been reward with honores elsewhere, perhaps in Burgundy or Lotharingia; and history would have taken a very different course.

Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 2

We’ve already covered the first half of the #top10charters list I put up on Facebook a couple of months ago; so without any further ado, let’s get on with the second half!

No. 5: Robert of Neustria to Saint-Martin of Tours, 892.

‘I’m supposed to steal the property of Saint-Martin and the brothers and hurt my soul for three shields?’

Roman Deutinger is sceptical of the authenticity of this charter. I’m not: his reasons basically boil down to ‘it’s weird, and it doesn’t look like a trial record’, to which I would respond ‘it’s not that weird, and that’s because it isn’t one’. It’s a notice wherein the brother of Saint-Martin and advocate Adalmar of whom we have spoken go and get some land of Saint-Martin of their abbot Robert; it’s interesting institutionally, and it’s got some nice echoes of personality in it.

No. 4: Richard the Fearless to Saint-Denis, 968.

‘Wherefore let the provident industry of both peoples, to wit, the Franks and the Normans, know…’

This is the foundational document of Norman identity. I’d write more about it, but as it happens I’ve already done that at length elsewhere, so you can read that if this interests you.

No. 3: Louis IV to Saint-Remi of Rheims, 953.

‘…the most blessed bishop, who was specially bestowed by God on Our royal bloodline as a pastor and patron…’

The middle of the tenth century was a crucial time of change for West Frankish kingship. Briefly, after about 920 everything went to hell and stayed there for about thirty years. It took Louis IV his entire reign, quite a lot of desperate improvisation, and in the end the help of some absolutely vast Ottonian armies to establish his throne on solid ground, and when he did so its ideological basis was distinctly different. Key here was the see of Rheims, and this charter exemplifies that, drawing links between the Carolingian bloodline (which is otherwise unusual), the patron saint of Rheims, Remigius, and the office of king.

It also has links to a diploma of Otto I issued at around the same time, linking the three protagonists – Carolingians, Ottonians, and the see of Rheims – together in an ideological framework which reinforces the hegemonic role of the Ottonian kings in stabilising West Frankish kingship.

No. 2: Charles the Simple to Saint-Denis, 917.

‘…similarly let them carry out my memorial, and the memorial of my dead wife Frederuna…’

Rather like no. 4, I’ve already written about this elsewhere. Suffice to say, it is the greatest love story of the entire century.

No. 1: Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours to Bourgueil, 995.

‘…and unless he repents, let him join Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and those who followed them as persecutors of martyrs in the eternal fires of Gehenna’

Coming from the same tradition as number 6, this charter, purely and simply, validates my whole approach to these documents, by proving that questions of legitimacy mattered enough to fight over, and being one of the few direct responses to ideological claims by lay magnates. That legitimacy mattered should, you’d think, be self-evident, but apparently not: I have been told, by a senior scholar as well, that no-one in the tenth century cared about legitimating their power because they were all bloodthirsty warlords who only spoke the guttural tongue of violence.

But no! The situation here is fairly simple. Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, and Odo I of Blois-Chartres-Tours were fighting for dominance in Brittany. In the year 992, Fulk had fought a battle with Count Conan of Rennes at a place called Conquereuil, and massacred him and his army. This was a big deal – killing Christians was never seen as a good thing, and was increasingly frowned on at this time. Thus, when, two years later, Fulk’s castle at Langeais was besieged by Conan’s patron Odo, before setting off to defend it, Fulk issued a charter ‘in penitence for the exceedingly great slaughter of Christians which happened on the plain at Conquereuil’, evidently issued in order to gain divine favour before the siege.

The author explaining all this at the tenth-century donjon of Langeais, which still survives.

The siege of Langeais lasted for some time, beginning in or around May or June and continuing into the next year. Things got desperate for Fulk, sufficiently desperate that he offered to surrender to Odo. These terms, as recorded in the history of Richer of Rheims, were humiliating: Fulk offered to pay compensation for the death of Odo’s ally Conan of Rennes, to give service to Odo, and to pledge his son to Odo’s service. However, news reached Fulk that reinforcements were coming, and he withdrew the terms. After this, and almost certainly in response to it, Odo issued this charter.

In it, there is one key clause in the charter which demonstrates that the siege of Langeais was an ideological as well as a literal battleground. Odo threatens violators of his grant thusly: ‘let him be associated in the flames of eternal gehenna with Nero and Diocletian and Julian the Apostate and their followers as persecutors of martyrs.’ This formula is unique in tenth-century France, and it is a directly and unsubtle attack on Fulk Nerra: Fulk was a killer of Christians, Fulk was an insincere penitent, Fulk would not get the salvation he claimed.

The greatest princes of tenth-century France, then, were sufficiently concerned about justifying their rule to go beyond simple school-bully tactics. They developed and contested ideological claims, going beyond simple coercion to develop strategies of legitimacy which not only existed, but mattered. For Odo, denying Fulk the moral high ground was as important as denying him the literal high ground.

Top 10 Charters: The House Selection, pt. 1

Well, my list of the #top10charters has now come to an end, so here and in an upcoming post I’ll list them for posterity, and for those of you not following me on Twitter. It was a fun little experiment. What makes a charter top ten material is wildly subjective: some of them show interesting things about the way documents were used, others about specific historical moments, others about longer-term trends; some were the most elevated of politics, and others snapshots of individual life. Into this latter category falls:

No. 10: Adalelm the knight donates some land and a silver crucifix to the abbey of Fleury, 975.

“… I offer to our Lord and Saviour… an exquisite silver cross… with the wish and desire that He who, by his death hanging on the wood of the Cross, destroyed death and defeated the Devil might deign to wipe out the weight of my crimes…”

It goes without saying that the Cross has always been important for Christians, and this was no less true for tenth-century Christians. The abbots of Saint-Martin of Tours – who, by 975, had also been the Robertian rulers of Neustria for almost a century, and whose contemporary representative Hugh Capet was Adelelm’s lord and hosted the assembly at which this gift was made – had as one of the key visual representations of their authority the fact that they signed their documents, explicitly, with the sign of the Holy Cross. Nonetheless, Adalelm is doing something interesting here. He’s participating in a renewed Cross-focused spirituality, and he’s also picking up on an artistic trend for making large, monumental crucifixes, which at this time were becoming more common in the Ottonian empire. This was quite important for the Church in the area around Orléans – this 975 charter is actually the first evidence for monumental crucifixes in the Orleanais. And it was pretty substantial – thanks to a later description of it, it seems likely that this cross was made of about ten kilos of silver.

In light of the solemnity of the occasion, the charter offers a meditation on the role of the Cross in the salvation of mankind, and it’s this which makes it worthy of a spot on this list. The role of charters was to communicate information, but this information wasn’t just legal. A charter was as much a sermon as a notification of donation – in the charter, Adalelm communicates to the audience not just that he’s given Fleury some holy bling and land near Sens, but why he’s done it and how the sacrifice of Jesus works for him and the whole world.

No. 9: Albert III of Habsburg donates a hunting horn to the abbey of Muri, 1199.

“Let everyone who sees this horn know that Count Albert… enriched this horn with sacred relics…”

Photo by author.

As the picture indicates, this is not a single sheet of parchment, or a cartulary copy of a text. This is in fact an ivory horn. But it is no less a charter – the text inscribed on it uses the formulae of charters, albeit in this case of a short charter. What’s particularly interesting about this one is that the donation and the text recording it are identical. This isn’t how we use documents nowadays, but it was much more common in the earlier medieval period. At least in some cases, the issuance of a (parchment) charter text served itself as a symbol of the donation, aiding in the performance of handing over property from one party to another. This horn is probably the epitome of this way of using the written word.

No. 8: Robert of Neustria donates land to the abbey of Saint-Denis, 923.

“…by divine clemency, because the situation made it necessary, with the support of all the princes, We took up the sceptre of royal majesty to steer the ship of the kingdom…”

This is the only charter on this list that isn’t important to me because of work I’ve done on it, but rather because, if it weren’t for Geoffrey Koziol’s work on this charter, I’d never have worked on any of the others. We’ve mentioned here before how Robert of Neustria rose in rebellion against Charles the Simple; and, as Koziol, demonstrates very clearly, this document is not simply a donation, but a manifesto very specifically justifying Robert’s actions and his claim to the throne. I don’t agree with everything Koziol says, but his article is fantastic.


No. 7: Geoffrey Grisegonelle confirms his reformation of Saint-Aubin d’Angers, 966.

“…so that the mercy of the pious Redeemer might be well-disposed to concede His help and aid to me, Geoffrey, caught up in the whirlwinds of worldly wars…”

I’m going to be a bit less fulsome with these last two. Here, it’s because I wrote about this charter for my thesis and when that eventually becomes a book, this document is going to feature prominently; so, you know, spoiler warning…

What I will say about it is, whatever my own very particular theories, this charter commemorates what may be the single most cynical ‘reform’ of a monastery in the tenth century. Saint-Aubin had been ruled by Geoffrey’s ancestors as count of Anjou as lay abbots, but by the 960s it was under the rule of his brother Guy, who might have been a cleric but probably wasn’t a monk. A very strange charter exists in which Guy appears to say that he tried and failed to be a good abbot, and so turned it over to monks out of Saint-Remi de Rheims. However, Geoffrey appears to have used the opportunity to assert his control over the abbey, and Geoffrey’s son Fulk Nerra even more so: the counts of Anjou appear to have disposed of Saint-Aubin’s land to reward their own followers. This lack of interest in reform for its own sake comes through in the document itself: ‘Supposedly,’ Geoffrey says,  ‘monasticism flourished in the monastery once upon a time; but because there’s no obvious proof, We don’t care whether it flourished or not’.

No. 6: Liutgard of Vermandois and Godeleva make a bequest of land to the abbey of Saint-Père de Chartres, 979.

“I myself, and another woman dedicated to God, Godeleva by name, joined to me in both body and soul…”

This one I won’t say anything about at all, because I have promised a whole blog post about the Lesbian Nun Property Magnate Commune of Chartres before, and by thunder, a whole blog post you will get… Possibly soon, although not this week. The week after is a possibility, though. Also, I’ll be posting part 2 of this countdown soon, outside my normal schedule for posts – so stay tuned!

The Tria Regna pt. 1: The Land

Historiographical Introduction

Aquitaine, Burgundy, Neustria. These are the three great subdivisions of the West Frankish kingdom for decades after the end of the Carolingian empire in 888. Known, sometimes, as the tria regna, the ‘three kingdoms’, under the respective rules of William the Pious, Richard the Justiciar, and Robert of Neustria, are obvious starting points for historians who want to look at the political world after the end of the Carolingian empire and, well, I’m evidently no different.

The Tria Regna. Red is Neustria, orange is places under looser Neustrian control. Blue is Aquitaine, yellow is places disputed between Aquitaine and Burgundy. Green is Burgundy. Bourges, disputed between all three, is in purple.

With that said, I’m increasingly less comfortable with the way the three are lumped together. Most of the work on the ‘first wave of territorial principalities’ is pretty old by now, and the frameworks analysis are hung within are pretty much those which they were hung in thirty years ago. It’s probably time to look again at this period. With that said, this blog says right on the ‘About’ page that it’s a vessel for getting things written down, and this series on the tria regna – however many weeks it takes – is going to be more thinking out loud than usual. I can’t even promise a conclusion at the end! But, if I don’t write this down, I’ll never get these thoughts in so much as a policy document, let alone something coherent and polished. Thus, what I plan on doing is going through a number of themes for each regnum, and seeing what emerges.

The Ninth-Century Background

In the mid-ninth century, all three areas were part of a band of territories where the most intensive competition for honores was played out. If, within the West Frankish kingdom, some places – like Champagne – were locked down under direct royal lordship; and others – like Rouen – seem to have been backwaters, a banana of land stretching roughly from Tours to Lyons via Bourges looks to have been a particularly fertile place for conflicts over land, office and status.

The western valley of the Loire – Robertian Neustria, as it would become – was taken out of the game relatively quickly. This region was directly proximate to both the sea (and thus the Vikings) and Brittany (and thus the Bretons). The interaction of Bretons, Vikings and rebellious Frankish magnates created a kind of resonance effect which led to Charles suffering substantial military defeat and territorial losses which haven’t yet been made up – to date, Rennes and Nantes, lost by Charles, are still part of Brittany. Eventually, in the name of consolidating his command structures, he endowed a magnate named Robert the Strong with a vast number of honores (lands, offices, status) based on the abbey of Saint-Martin of Tours. Robert didn’t live long enough to enjoy it, as he was killed in battle in 866 shortly after receiving these honores, but the aim seems from the very beginning to create an institutional framework for the Loire, as Hincmar of Rheims records the Charles sent another man, Hugh the Abbot (of whom we have lately heard), loco Rotberti – ‘in Robert’s place’, taking over his resources and role. The position isn’t named, or conceived of terribly clearly, but there’s clearly an element of institutional continuity here, which lasted down to the tenth century.

However, the ‘south’ of the kingdom (used here to denote the lands south of a line drawn between northern Poitou and Dijon) was still an active spot in competition for honores. Irritatingly, for a crucial couple of decades there were no fewer than three major players in this region called Bernard – Bernard Plantevelue (‘Hairypaws’), Bernard the Calf, and Bernard of the Auvergne – and the situation is not helped by the fact that the main narrative sources aren’t terribly interested in affairs in this area. Still, it seems apparent that this part of the kingdom was a fertile area for treason, murder, and becoming very wealthy and powerful in the 860s and 870s – one of the abovesaid Bernards (Plantevelue) murdered another one for his honores, and the magnate Boso, whose power-base was in the valley of the Saône, became the most powerful man in Louis the Stammerer’s kingdom before declaring himself king after Louis’ death (abortively, as it turned out).

Even his only surviving royal diploma is forged…

This is not to say that the area, or at least all of it, was a playground for secular magnates. One important regional difference is the much more active and important role of both the episcopate and the West Frankish king in Burgundy. Whilst at the end of Charles the Bald’s reign figures such as Boso of Provence and Bernard Plantevelue held important clusters of Burgundian honores, the local episcopate remained powerful and became more so by the end of the century. By the end of the Carolingian empire in 888, the most powerful figures in the region were the court-focussed bishops such as Geilo of Langres and Adalgar of Autun. The same is not true in either Neustria or (for the most part; Bourges is an exception) Aquitaine: the archbishops of Tours and bishops of Clermont, for instance, are almost totally obscure during this period.

Similarly, kingship was felt much more immediately in Burgundy, and particularly in some parts of it such as Auxerre, than in Aquitaine. Charles the Bald and his successors visited the area more frequently, and had closer ties with (particularly) the regional bishops. This had been the case for a while, in fact – during the invasion of Charles’ kingdom by his brother Louis the German in 858-859, Burgundy had been the region of Charles’ steadiest support. By contrast, whilst royal authority was important in Neustria – the office of its ruler remained a royal appointment – the kings rarely visited there; and Aquitaine was never under West Frankish control to the extent of the other two areas.

One reason for this is that, for much of the period in question, Aquitaine had its own sub-king. (Neustria briefly did as well in the 850s, when Charles set up the west as a kind of Baby’s First Kingdom for Louis the Stammerer, but this was fairly short-lived and doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Continuity with the Neustrian regnum of the Merovingian period appears to have been entirely absent.) The Aquitanian sub-kingdom was a long-lived and relatively serious institution: it persisted on-and-off for most of the ninth century, and several of its holders, such as Charles the Bald’s son Charles the Child, appear to have made a serious effort to be taken seriously as proper quasi-kings. Consequently, West Frankish authority in the region generally operated at more of a remove than elsewhere.

A coin of Pippin II, king of Aquitaine (when not deposed or imprisoned).

Whether as cause or consequence, Aquitaine also had more of regional identity. It is common, although not universal, for charters to be dated by the West Frankish king, identified as ‘King of the Franks and the Aquitanians’, indicating a consciousness of separation in the region. This isn’t to suggest that there was some yearning for national freedom in the breast of all true Aquitanians, but it was a potential resource seemingly not available in Burgundy or Aquitaine, where regional identities are a lot less visible. The foundation documents of the abbey of Vézelay refer to it being placed in the regnum of Burgundy; several decades later, the poet Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, author of a poem about the Viking attack on Paris in 886, was very vocally Neustrian – but both of these are hard to parallel.

The Hour Cometh…

At the end of the ninth century, then, we have three very distinct regions. Well over to one side is Neustria, relatively tightly unified, administratively focussed, in royal gift, and already under the control of a single lay magnate. Aquitaine and Burgundy are more similar to one another, but still important differences emerge. Both are part of a ‘contested belt’, but Aquitaine has both more contestation and a stronger regional identity, and even semi-separate political framework, whereas Burgundy is distinguished by royal presence, both per se and through powerful and well-connected bishops. The first question to ask next time, then, is what happened, how did they all end up under one dominating lord, and is this a significant as it looks?