Charter a Week 41: The Mourning is the Twilight

The last time we checked in on Charles the Simple, it was way back when he gained control of Lotharingia in 911. There’s a few reasons for that, but ultimately it boils down to the fact that although there were a few royal diplomas I considered translating in previous entries, mostly the interesting things happening have been elsewhere. And that’s perfectly to be expected. The early 910s were a relatively calm time for internal West Frankish politics: no Vikings, internal problems in Aquitaine largely dealt with, a victorious war against the East Frankish king for the incorrigibly belligerent. In comparison with what was to come, the Belle Epoque of Charles the Simple’s reign seems positively prelapsarian.

Of course, it’s been a while since we checked in on Charles the Simple, we haven’t seen Queen Frederuna since she got married. It’s hard to tell because of how reliant we are on the charter record, but she doesn’t seem to have been particularly politically significant. Now, there are methodological concerns here. One of the unspoken reasons, I think, that Frederuna is dismissed is that she doesn’t have the presence in Charles’ diplomas which Ottonian queens will have in later tenth-century royal diplomas. However, Charles wasn’t an Ottonian ruler: he was placed directly in a ninth-century Carolingian tradition. Whilst it’s far from unheard of for Carolingian queens to show up in their husbands’ charters, it’s nowhere near as common – virtually everything we think we know about the power of, say, Charles the Bald’s second wife Richildis, for instance, comes from narrative rather than documentary sources. Still, the thing about absence of evidence not being evidence of absence is that you still don’t have any evidence, which is why it’s a sudden surprise when this happens: 

DD CtS no. 87 (14th February 917, Rheims)

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

We wish it to be known to all men, to wit, present and future, that the late queen Frederuna, my dearest wife, for love of God Almighty and veneration of St Remigius, the apostle of the Franks, before whose most holy relics she was anointed as queen by consecration and benediction of oil, gave to the monks actively soldiering for God in that place, for their mensa [portion of the abbey’s resources], for the remedy of her soul, whatever she was seen to have in the dominion of her control, while life yet ruled her body’s frame, to wit, from the dowry of Our royal marriage: that is, Corbeny, in the county of Laon, except the little cell which is named in honour of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and where the body of the confessor of Christ Marculf rests, and which the aforesaid coenobites as a body conceded to me in my lifetime for a rate of 10 solidi to be paid each year.

She also gave them one church in Craonne, strenuously asking Our Munificence that I might give it to the aforesaid monks in accordance with legal custom and make a precept of Our authority for them, so that they might be able to hold it more securely through times to come without resistance or indeeddisturbance from anyone; and importuning Us to leave it to her nephew, named Ernust, in his lifetime, to wit, on the condition that each year on the anniversary of her death, he should pay one pound of silver to the brothers’ mensa in vestiture. After his death, finally, let the same brothers receive it presently, without resistance from any of her kinsmen, with all its dependencies, for the banqueting tables.

Beneficently favouring her freely-made petition in every aspect, as was fair, by the Lord’s largess We executed in every which way what she had asked and her heart desired.

If in future there should be anyone, therefore, which We little believe shall come to pass, who might endeavour to frustrate this gift and endeavour to damage the aforesaid brothers, or rather steal it from them, just as she invoked with complete singlemindedness the Judge of the quick and the dead, let him incur His wrath, and be anathema maranatha before the tribunal of the same Judge.

And that this precept of Our authority might be held more firmly and believed more truly and observed more attentively, confirming it below with Our own hand, We ordered it to be signed by Our signet.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Gozlin, notary of royal dignity, witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Archbishop and High Chancellor Heriveus [of Rheims].

Enacted on the 16th kalends of March [14th February], in the 5th indiction, in the 25th year of the reign of Charles, most glorious of kings, in the 20th of his restoration of unity to the kingdom, in the 6th of his acquisition of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at the monastery of Saint-Remi.

Happily in the name of God, amen. 

West Façade of Basilique Saint-Rémi, Reims 140306 1.jpg
The basilica of Saint-Remi in Rheims as it is today (source).

You knew it was coming. Charles’ reaction to Frederuna’s death is something I’ve covered before on this blog. This diploma is one of several dealing with her pious benefactions – from the surviving charters, sorting out Frederuna’s last wishes seems to have taken up a very large portion of Charles’ 917. For now, I’m not so interested in their content – the most interesting thing about this particular donation is that it shows an interest in the relics of St Remigius and their connection with Frankish royalty which has up to this point been unusual (although watch this space for what’s going to happen in about thirty years’ time) – as in using them as a sign of where the kingdom is heading.

My hunch is that losing Frederuna was a real blow to Charles’ state of mind. Obviously I can’t prove that; but I do think he did not handle his grief well. He does seem to have reached out to people who had been close to Frederuna – Bishop Bovo of Châlons, her brother, appears more frequently in royal acts from this point, for instance. The most significant, however, was a man who Charles promoted up the ranks from the lower nobility, a man whom Charles would eventually lose his kingdom over: Hagano. There has been a lot of speculation as to why Hagano was so dear to Charles that the king would stake so much on him; and certainly there are more-or-less plausible arguments about the principle that a king should get to choose his own councillors. However, if you’re asking why this man specifically became the focus for arguments like that, I think it boils down to what Hagano ultimately offered Charles: a shoulder to cry on.