Some Issues in Aquitanian History, pt. 7: New Kid on the Block

Last time, we bid a fond farewell to Bishop Stephen II of Clermont and his generation in a few-hundred-word jaunt through twenty years of deeply under-sourced history. (To give some idea of the occasional frustrations of tenth-century history writing, that was as much time as between 9/11 and the present day, with rather less documentation that currently exists for my office furniture.) The sources for around 980 are not substantially better, but we can see a generational shift as three groups of people make a play for power in eastern Aquitaine.

The most ephemeral of these is also the best-recorded and in a lot of ways the most interesting, and that’s the Carolingian kings. In or around 980, King Lothar decided to make his young son Louis V king of Aquitaine. It didn’t work. I’d like to say that this incident has not received enough scholarly attention, but that’s rather unfair – having lavished scholarly attention on it, there’s just nothing there; it’s like post-Carolingian Aquitaine has friendzoned me.

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And here they are: Lothar and Louis V, both on the left. This is a later copy of a prayer book belonging to Lothar’s wife Queen Emma (on the right), and yes, it would be nice if it had survived… (source)

But what happened, you ask? Well, I will tell you what the sources say, and then go from there. To start with, let’s bring in a perhaps-unexpected group of magnates: the counts of Anjou and their family. For reasons I shan’t go into, they were becoming increasingly powerful at court over the course of the 960s and 970s, as well as developing interests in the south. Count Geoffrey Grisegonelle apparently married off his sister Adelaide-Blanche to a man named Stephen, probably in the mid-960s (come on, it’s eastern Aquitaine – everyone’s either Stephen, Amblard, Bertrand or Eustorgius) who was not himself of comital rank but who was nonetheless a big damn deal in the area. Geoffrey and Adelaide-Blanche’s brother Guy, abbot of Cormery, as already mentioned on this blog, was appointed by King Lothar to be bishop of Le Puy in around 975. Then, in 980, when Adelaide’s first husband was dead (and in fact so was her second), Geoffrey’s people at court apparently started trying to persuade Lothar to marry Louis off to her and make him king of Aquitaine which he did.

Lothar went south, had his son crowned at Brioude by the bishops of the province, and left him and Adelaide there to deal with things. This did not go very well – Louis was about fifteen and Adelaide about thirty, and we are told that they had little in common. Louis was unable to get the magnates of the area to listen to him and he was left poor and helpless. His father had to come pack down, probably in 982, and get him. Adelaide fled to William the Liberator, count of Provence, and married him instead. It is not clear that she and Louis V were divorced first. In any case, the attempt to revive a sub-kingdom in Aquitaine was a failure.

I have a few issues with this account. The biggest is that it comes almost entirely from the pen of Richer of Rheims, who is not one to let a good story suffer for want of contact with reality. As it happens the account of a different historian, Ralph Glaber (who I think is independent) corroborates the very basic outline of a lot of this. Nonetheless, between the three main historians of the early eleventh century, Richer, Ralph and Adhemar of Chabannes, we have three quite different accounts. All agree that Louis’ marriage was unsuccessful, but that’s about it. Ralph claims that coming south was Adelaide’s idea, and Adhemar doesn’t mention Louis’ kingship at all, although he does know that Louis married Adelaide and that Lothar was active in central Aquitaine in the 980s. So this makes me uneasy.  

Even taking the account as it stands, however, there are a few things which we can pick out about this. First, it wasn’t a stupid decision either in terms of Aquitanian politics or the wider world. Adelaide-Blanche was connected by blood or marriage to some of the most important people in Aquitaine, and it was reasonable to think that marriage to her would give Louis some sway there – something similar had proven true a century earlier in the case of King Charles the Child. Second, and more importantly, Lothar and Louis weren’t trying to put Louis over any old Aquitaine – they were looking specifically at Guillelmid Aquitaine. Louis V was crowned at William the Pious’ Auvergnat monastery par excellence, at Brioude, rather than at Poitiers or Bourges or one of the old royal palaces. That Auvergne and eastern Aquitaine, rather than Poitou and the west or Limoges and the centre, was chosen, suggests the kings were trying to pull on the ongoing tradition of Königsnahe which Stephen of Clermont had cultivated – Louis’ kingship was not in its envisagement an alien imposition but an attempt to inscribe Louis into the Guillelmid polity as it had developed under Stephen II. It didn’t work, but it was an honourable failure. Next week, we look at something more enduring: the emergence of the Counts of Clermont under Stephen’s nephew Guy.

Source Translation: A Challenger Appears! Pt. 1 (A Small Bavarian History)

Over in Sheffield recently, they’ve been having a burst of translation activity, most recently this very useful translation of Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims’ round letter responding to Louis the German’s invasion of the West Frankish kingdom in 858, about which we have previously spoken on this very blog. This is all very well and good, but it definitely poses a threat to The Historian’s Sketchpad’s incipient predominance in the blogological field of late- and post-Carolingian source translations. Like any good Carolingian king, of course, I can do only one thing: performatively issue another translation to establish my dominance!

(In all seriousness, this colloborative translation activity is a fantastic idea, and it has actually reminded me that I’ve been remiss in not providing you all with the goods lately. Incidentally, if any of the people involved are reading this, hello! And, have you considered doing one of Hincmar’s 875 round letter? I’ll swap you Archbishop Fulk’s letter to Arnulf of Carinthia…)

So, here you go:

… and if the resources had been to hand, over the whole realm and over the throne committed to him. Then, the same Henry the Saxon, as many witness, at the exhortation and with the counsel of the same bishop [possibly Salomon III of Constance or Teudo of Würzburg], entered the realm of Bavaria in a hostile manner, where none of his relatives had been seen to hold so much as a foot of land! For that reason, we believe, on his first entry [into Bavaria] he was by God’s will overcome by the inhabitants of one city; and he withdrew defeated, with many of his men slain.

Before this – that is, in the time of King Conrad [I] – they accused the same bishop, with the king and his army, of entering the province in a manner not royal but hostile, and to have set no small number of fires, and to have choked widows and orphans with many miseries. During the same attack, they came to a certain city [i.e. Regensburg], full and inhabited by the household of the blessed apostle Peter and Saint Emmeram, which they assaulted and burned, and they despoiled over 170 of them [his et illis], and left the rest afflicted with many sorrows. Stuffed and burdened by these sins, they perished by divine will, and were compelled to leave.

After these and other events had transpired, our glorious duke Arnulf, clothed in virtue from on high, shining in courage and extraordinary in victory, shone forth, because he was born from the family of kings and emperors, and through him the Christian people were redeemed from the ravaging sword of the pagans and brought into the liberty of life.

This is a tiny work known as the Fragment concerning Duke Arnulf of Bavaria. It has survived completely by chance: originally written in the monastery of St. Emmeram in Regensburg, in Bavaria, probably during the second quarter of the tenth century, this is the only bit which survives. It’s therefore useful not least because King Henry (the Fowler)’s family eventually did assert themselves over Bavaria, and got to write most of the histories, hence why Duke Arnulf is known as Arnulf the Bad… So this work explicitly glorifying Arnulf and setting out a point of view wherein the king is best of staying out leaving the regnum to the essentially-royal local prince anyway is a neat little corrective.

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Seal of Henry the Fowler (source)

But, I hear you ask, why are you looking at it? Aren’t you interested in places where the wine is better than the beer, not vice-versa? Well, yes, that’s true; and I admit putting this text up here is more of a setting out of a research agenda than the fruit of one. It’s always seemed to me that Bavaria in the East Frankish kingdom is a good comparison with Aquitaine in the Western one, a southern region with a tradition of resistance to northern and, initially, Carolingian rule which spends most of the tenth century resenting or ignoring its nominal superiors in the north. Of course, there is one huge difference, which is that Bavaria actually is a central place for the East Frankish Carolingians a lot of the time, whereas Aquitaine always remains basically peripheral; but it’ll do for loose parallels.

Why is this interesting? Because one of the big things which is supposed to show how bad the tenth-century West Frankish kings are is that they don’t go into Aquitaine anymore. Now, we’ve already seen that as a picture this is not actually right, but I want to approach it from the other side: that is, Aquitaine was always a bit out of frame for the ninth-century Carolingians, and under William the Pious, I think you can see hints of what we seem to see here in Bavaria: a meridional region with a lot of very exalted quasi-regal language which basically just wants to be left alone by kings who have no real business being there. Like I say, it’ll be an interesting point of comparison if nothing else.