Charter a Week 65/2: Judicial Duels in the Loire Valley

The real scholarly commentary was on Tuesday. I just wanted to put this charter up because it’s fun. It’s also, somewhat sadly, the last of our Martinian dispute settlement records. The abbey’s surviving archive starts decreasing in content from the end of the reign of Charles the Simple, and in the mid-tenth century there’s a big hiatus. Even after it starts up again in the 960s, it’s never the same (and indeed I don’t think we’ll be encountering another charter of Saint-Martin again). So as a fond farewell:

Introduction 8 (August 941, Amboise)

A notice of how a certain priest of Saint-Martin named Tesmund, from the castle of Amboise, came on the ides of August [13th August], before the presence of lord Fulk [the Red] and of his son [… and of] Fulk [the Good], and of other noble men residing therein, making a complaint concerning… his allod which is sited in the estate of Avon, which his uncle Ansebald left to him in proper order and he legitimately held until the time when the Northmen took him and led him captive overseas, when Isembert wrongly and against the law held that allod.

Then lord Fulk and his aforesaid son interrogated him for which reason he held that allod. The same Isembert responded that he had bought that allod for his fixed price from Guy, who he held to be a late cousin of Tesmund and for that reason he held it. The aforesaid lords also said that he should show a charter or testimony as to how he had bought the aforesaid allod. Isembert responded that he had neither a charter nor testimony. They also interrogated the aforesaid Isembert if he could have such an advocate as would dare to prove on the field against an advocate of the aforesaid Tesmund that the aforesaid allod pertained more to Isembert through purchase than to the aforesaid Tesmund through inheritance from paternal and other relatives. Finally Isembert responded that he would have his advocate prepared to defend this at the established assembly. Therefore, they judged that both should formally bring their advocates to the first court, who would thus be able… one against the other, and thus they did.

But when they came to the court, the aforesaid Isembert… was able to have [nothing], who would dare defend this against the advocate of Tesmund, because… to everyone who was there that he held the aforesaid allod unjustly and against the law.

Then lord Fulk made him give a bond of 60 shillings because of this, that he formally bring his advocate to the established assembly… he was not able to have. Thereafter everyone who was there judged that Tesmund should make no other judgement that on holy relics with his own hand, because he was a priest… which he did immediately. And the aforesaid Isembert yielded thereafter and surrendered it through a rod. Then not… to the aforesaid Tesmund, that he should seek a notice concerning such a decision, which they commanded be done immediately.

This was enacted in the presence and sight of these people:

[Sign of the holy Cross of lord abbot Hugh.] Sign of lord Fulk [the Red]. Sign of his son lord Fulk [the Good]. Sign of Erard, advocate and legislator. Sign of Arduin the legislator. Sign of Eldemand the vicar. Sign of Wanilo the vicar. Sign of Bernard. Sign of Markward. Sign of Fulculf. Sign of Odalger. Sign of Rainald. Sign of Adalelm.

Given in the month of August, in the year of the Lord’s incarnation 941, or the 4th year of the reign of King Louis, son of Charles.     

Amboise today, which had an Early Modern glow-up (source)

So what’s happening here? We start with Tesmund the priest, for whom everything was apparently hunky-dory until he was captured by Northmen. The circumstances under which he was captured bear some consideration, because it’s distinctly unlucky. Amboise is probably too far upriver to be affected by the fighting in Brittany after 936; but there was a raid into Berry in 935 in which the men of the Touraine participated. Tesmund was probably captured in this campaign – the last we know about on the Loire until the Norman War of the 960s. Anyway, Tesmund is ransomed or escaped, but was a captive for long enough that his estate goes to his cousin who then sells it to Isembard. When Tesmund gets home, he wants his land back.

At this point, the count of Anjou, Fulk the Red, and his son and heir Fulk the Good show up. Fulk the Red is a very old man by now, in his mid-to-late seventies at least. He’s also quite far east of Angers. This charter lends some support to the twelfth-century Deeds of the Consuls of Anjou which say that Amboise was a very early acquisition of the family. Of note, therefore, is that Fulk is probably not holding the mallus court because he’s count of the area. This fits with an argument I’ve made before, that the Carolingian judicial charter tradition covers up a much more flexible and informal set of practices even at very high levels.

In the end, the participants settle on trial by battle. The charter emphasises the problems Isembert has finding someone to support him, to the point that he ends up having to pay a forfeit and Tesmund wins the case. I wonder about the dynamics underlying this. That Isembert can find no-one suggests a stitch up, but the fine of 60 solidi makes me wonder if Isembert wasn’t being punished for being too stubborn and resisting the judgement… In any case, Tesmund gets his land back.

The problem of what to do with captives of the vikings was not unique to Tours. The Old Frisian law-codes, first written down in the thirteenth century but possibly containing older material, have provision for what happens if a child is sold into slavery to the heathens and returns: if he can recognise his land and his close kin, he can reclaim the land without further ado. One wonders if Tesmund wished he had been a Frisian. In any case, this charter is interesting evidence for the problems of re-integrating freed captives back into their original society.


Norman Sexuality, Norse Sexuality

It’s been a busy week here in Tübingen, not least on the blogging front, and that’s why this week you’re getting something a little more light-hearted. I’ve written before about the distinctiveness of Norman sexual culture in the context of Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s biography of the first Norman rulers, but I don’t think I talked about why it’s distinctive. Well, I’ve been doing a bit more research on this topic, and the results are quite interesting.

The first thing to say is that Dudo is not alone in his interest in sex, in the context of Norman literature. There’s a whole cluster of sexually-explicit poetry from basically the same time. For those who don’t know it, I recommend (for a given value of ‘recommend’) checking out the poem Moriuht, which is hair-raisingly explicit even by modern standards; it’s not every medieval source one can describe by using the phrase ‘Viking gang-bang’. Such work isn’t unparalleled from elsewhere in the Frankish world – the Ottonian author Liutprand of Cremona writes a lot of filthy jokes as a way of showing how bad Italian rulers are – but what’s striking is that, whereas for most Frankish authors explicit expression of sexuality is largely a tool of insult, in Norman literature it is neutral or even positive.

All this is simply to repeat that Norman sexual mores are different from those of their neighbours. So what made Normandy different? Well, obviously, its Norse background. Other scholars such as Elisabeth van Houts and Klaus van Eickels have already suggested Scandinavian roots for Norman ideas about sex and gender, but whilst they are very interesting and may well be true, they rest on reading back saga evidence from centuries later into early Norman evidence, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. What I’ve been doing this last week, then, is looking at contemporary Norse literature (which in practice means skaldic poetry) for parallels. And there are some!

“If it’s longer than it’s wide…” (source)

Take, for instance, the Hákonardrápa of Hallfreðr Óttarsson, written in the latter part of the tenth century in praise of Jarl Hákon the Powerful. Hákon’s conquest of Norway is described as follows: ‘[Hákon] draws under himself the foliage-haired waiting wife of Þriði [i.e. the land] by means of true words of swords’. This motif is actually a very direct parallel of one found in Dudo wherein Rollo makes a personified Francia pregnant, although I think that’s parallel evolution rather than direct influence.

There are other examples of this from elsewhere in Scandinavian writing, but I’ll skip past them for the general point. It seems as though Scandinavian sexual culture was more out there, and that in particular sex had a greater role to play in discourses supporting legitimate authority. Normandy’s Scandinavian background therefore makes sense as a reason why its sexual culture was different from its neighbours. This is not to say that randy, macho Vikings imported an alien plant into Frankish soil; rather than elements within Scandinavian culture went well with elements of a Frankish culture that had many points of similarity to it, and so some ideas which in the latter may have been secondary found a more fertile environment and could play a more prominent role.

Onomastic Oddities in Tenth-Century Langres

Names are important. Something’s name is a crucial part of its identity, and also an important part of the identity of the person who named it – just think of the implied difference between someone who names their dog ‘Kylie’ and one who names it ‘Lucifer’. This is just as true of people as of objects or animals. People give names to play up ethnic identities (think of fourth-generation Irish-Americans with names like Muirchertach), family connections (Bill Jnr.), celebrity fixations (Kylie again), political or religious opinions (Francis Xavier), or even simply the aesthetic tastes of the name-giver (liking the way the name sounded seems to be why south India has a politician named Adolf Hitler).

In the early medieval period, where surnames were uncommon to the point of non-existence, names have attracted a lot of historical attention as a marker of family connections. Some names are so common in families, the argument goes, that they can themselves be used as to indicate that someone with such-and-such a name belongs to such-and-such a family. There’s certainly a case to be made along these lines: the Carolingians, notoriously, were big fans of the names Charles and Louis, such that one ends up reading genealogies along the lines of ‘Charles begat Louis begat Charles begat Louis begat Charles begat Louis begat Charles begat Louis’ (an entirely genuine line of descent, incidentally). Whether or not this works as much as many scholars, particularly French- and German-speaking ones, think is for me a bit of an open question.

This was a problem at the time: J. Lake, translation of the Histories of Richer of Saint-Remi, p. 3.

Partly, this is because we have so little explicit reasoning about why people gave their children the names they did. Cases such as Arnulf the Great of Flanders, explicitly named to highlight his connection with his royal ancestor St. Arnulf of Metz, are rare; cases such as King Zwentibald of Lotharingia (a Carolingian, but named after his godfather King Sviatopolk of Moravia to highlight the alliance between Zwentibald’s father and the Moravian ruler) where the reason can be readily inferred are more common, but only slightly.

Sometimes, though, one comes across a name that provokes all kinds of speculation, and this happened to me this week. Reading through a 908 charter of Bishop Argrim of Langres in which the bishop makes an exchange of land, goods and people with his follower Arnold, I came across a list of slaves. Most of them had perfectly ordinary names for the time and place – Benedict, Alberada, Adalsind, Sigelm – but one rejoiced in the name of Bellerophon. This raises so many questions.

A Classical urn showing the Bellerophon of myth.

Bellerophon was the Greek hero who rode Pegasus and slew the Chimera; he appears in the Iliad and a few other ancient Greek works. It’s not a common name in the early medieval West – I’ve never seen it before in ninth- or tenth-century France, and the only other bearers of it I can find are two middling-status Italians from the eighth century. Our Bellerophon, though, is no priest or noble – he’s an unfree dependent, property. This makes me think that he’s likely named after the Bellerophon, which provokes the most interesting question of all: where did his parents hear the name?

Two possibilities arise. First, that the name comes from interaction with high culture: his parents knew their way around Latin – or even Greek – well enough to know a fairly-obscure Classical myth well enough to name a child after it. Second, it comes directly from pop culture: the story of Bellerophon – and presumably by extension other Classical myths – were still in circulation, directly continuous from the Roman past. Here, we would have a peasant thought world which hasn’t changed all that dramatically for centuries.

For me, the former is more likely. The parents didn’t have to read Homer themselves to know someone who did. Bellerophon’s estate, Bannes, is right next to Langres,  so it could be trickle-down from the episcopal court; it could simply be a well-educated local priest or lord (as we know were around at this time). The story here is implicitly rather sweet: it implies a real appetite for learned culture on the part of the slaves (which is not itself surprising) but also good enough relations between social groups as to allow for transfer of knowledge.

(Of course, as I wrote this, the darker interpretation, that this was like nineteenth-century slaveholders naming their slaves ‘Caesar’ as a sick joke, occurred to me. A priori, I wouldn’t give Carolingian lords that level of social control; but I don’t actually know.)

In the end, all these stories are imaginary. We don’t know why Bellerophon was given that name. Whatever story lies behind it, though, Bellerophon’s name speaks to the depths of the social world of the Frankish peasantry.