Carolingian Normandies

This post was planned anyway, but by sheer coincidence it happens that I’ve recently finished Neil Price’s The Children of Ash and Elm. It’s a good book on the Viking Age and I do recommend it; but it’s not at its best when dealing with the Viking presence in the Frankish world. As a case in point, Price is firmly wedded to the idea that Normandy was created in toto by three grants, in 911, 924 and 933. This is a common picture, at least outside the cutting edge of the scholarly literature. I imagine our old friend Dudo of Saint-Quentin would be very pleased with it, because the idea of an ancient Normandy which burst onto the scene fully formed in the early tenth century was one of his main agendas in writing the Historia Normannorum. However, the idea of ‘Normandy’ is one of those big ones that casts a shadow backwards over what came before it. In this blog post, we’ll look at tenth-century northern Neustria and I will try and argue, first, that the area which would become Normandy spent most of the century as a farraginous and fluctuating group of local polities and factions; and second, and more controversially, that the history of these polities is one in which the Scandinavian heritage of some regional elites played a minimal role for a long time. When Normandy emerged as a ‘Northman’ polity, the role of its Scandinavian past was not straightforward.  

This one goes long, and a map is probably useful. This one is from Mark Hagger, Norman Rule in Normandy 911-1144, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2017, p. xix.

The first place to consider is Rouen itself. We know from Flodoard (who was a more-or-less contemporary witness) that the original grant to Rollo constituted Rouen and the maritime districts associated with it. On its southern end, references from Charles the Simple’s 918 diploma as well as the location of the putative agreement at Saint-Clair-sur-Epte suggest that the grant stopped a relatively short distance south down the Seine and included some portion of the Epte valley – in total, a relatively small parallelogram of land. Already, then, the importance of the 911 grant starts to look relatively small (and the later grants of 924 and 933 were on paper only, have been recognised as purely nominal for a long time, and can be safely dismissed without further discussion).

Moreover, as time goes on, it’s less and less clear to me that Rouen had been under Rollo’s control prior to 911. The problem is that anything we think we know about Rollo prior to 911 comes from Dudo’s work and there’s no real reason to trust it because his depiction of Rollo’s career is precisely aimed at legitimising his family’s control of a Normandy centred at Rouen which means that placing him firmly in control there prior to 911 is rhetorically necessary whether or not it’s true. Notably, thinking of the Battle of Chartres, we know that the Frankish forces who were sent out to fight Rollo were based at Paris. If you’re going from Paris to fight someone based on the Upper Seine, Chartres is not an obvious place to find them; but it is if they’re based on the Loire…

What there was at Rouen instead appears to have been a fully functioning Carolingian regime. The key evidence for this is a diploma of 905 granting the fiscal estate at Pîtres to his notary, Ernust. (Of note is that the commentary I wrote for the Charter A Week post linked is not quite what I’m about to say here.) This reveals two things: first, that Charles was firmly in control of the royal estates in the area; and two, that he felt no qualms about granting them, not to a count or other lay magnate or even to a bishop in order to co-ordinate regional defence, but rather to a chancery clerk. Pîtres and the associated fortification at Pont de-l’Arche had been a sophisticated part of anti-Viking defence under Charles the Bald, so its use here to reward a relatively minor ecclesiastical noble suggests that, as of 905, the Upper Seine was not feeling pressed by attacks from the North. Similarly, Rouen’s ecclesiastical infrastructure seems to have held up pretty well. The archbishops of Rouen were able to offer safe havens to the bishops of Coutances (definitely) and Bayeux (maybe), and they played an important role in Church councils throughout the late ninth and early tenth century. We know, too, that demand for liturgical manuscripts was ongoing into the early tenth century, when the bishop of Sées composed a new benedictional for use at Rouen. 

Rollo, mostly, and his son William Longsword, entirely, behave like normal Frankish magnates. Rollo’s involvement in the civil war surrounding the deposition of Charles the Simple has been used as evidence for the failure of Rollonid Rouen as a Carolingian bastion – but it was a Frankish civil war and the Norse came in on behalf of the Carolingian king. Sure, they turned to fighting for their own advantage shortly afterwards, but this isn’t a failure of Viking policy any more than the precisely identical and contemporary behaviour of Duke Gislebert of Lotharingia. William, even more than his father, was a normal count. From just after the end of his reign we have the first written evidence from inside the Norman court: a Latin poem commissioned by William’s sister for his son which presents him as ‘Count of Rouen’. This picture has been clouded by Flodoard’s consistent reference to William as princeps Normannorum – ‘Viking chief’ – but Flodoard’s titulature here stems from anti-Norman prejudice and doesn’t reflect anything we know about the internal structure of William’s regime.

Where the picture changes a little is after William’s murder in 943. William’s son Richard was a small boy, and Rouen was fought over by a number of factions. First out of the gate, notably, was a faction of pagan Vikings under two rulers named Turmod and Sigtryggr, the latter straight off the boat from York. These men controlled the young Richard, whom they forced to participate in pagan rites. However, they were turfed out easily by Louis IV, suggesting their base of support was shallow. Louis then gave Rouen to his and William’s old ally Count Herluin of Ponthieu. However, despite some strong PR moves – Herluin killed William’s murderer on the battlefield and sent his mutilated appendages to Rouen – the city faced a new problem immediately afterwards, as warrior bands forced out of York by the city’s conquest by the English king in 944 moved on northern Neustria. Louis and Herluin marched into the area around Rouen and purged the city of those who did not want to obey royal authority.

This was not the end of the faction fighting, but without going too deep into the weeds, by the later part of the 940s the winner who had emerged was none other than the legendary Ralph Torta, whose closest ties were to the Robertians. (As noted in the previous post, Ralph may or may not have had biologically Scandinavian origins but his son was bishop of Paris and he was an entirely typical mid-level West Frankish aristocrat in every respect which matters.) We know little of Ralph’s activities as ruler in Rouen, but there is a striking contract between his behaviour regarding Jumièges, where he tore down the abbey buildings to use for wall repair; and the Rouen monastery of Saint-Ouen, where he donated an estate just outside the city. One rather wonders whether this was a deliberate attack on a Rollonid pet project as a way of erasing the family’s local footprint. In any case, the fact that Rouen ended up under the control of a mid-level Carolingian aristocrat who was, nominally, a royal appointee for about a decade is significant. 

We already, then, have a picture of a region mostly under normal West Frankish style regional elites for half a century, something which in no way prevented it from having violent, nasty succession crises which the presence of Viking elites embroidered but didn’t fundamentally alter. However, Rollonid Rouen was not the only power in the region, nor the only place to suffer turbulence. Around the year 900, for instance, the counts of Maine were figures to be reckoned with across northern Neustria – a diploma we’ve discussed before shows Count Hugh I patronising the abbey of Saint-Évroult in the Évrecin using lands in the Hiémois, to the south of Bayeux. By the 930s, though, the picture had changed. Dudo of Saint-Quentin keeps the story of a rebellion against William Longsword by a Scandinavian leader named Riulf (a story which does find purchase in other sources). Riulf, who was a pagan, wanted land up to the river Risle – but he appears to have been based in Évreux. This would have been less than a decade after an extensive series of border conflicts between the Seine Norse and the counts supporting the new regime of King Ralph of Burgundy. It is therefore possible that Riulf’s group was a new arrival; it is certainly evident that they wanted out. By the time of the wars after William Longsword’s murder in 943, Évreux was divided between different Viking factions – Flodoard, at least, presents them as religiously motivated pagan and Christian groups – but a significant local elite remained as well. In the end, the Christian Norse and/or local elite (and by that time it may not have been possible to draw a clear on-the-ground difference) handed the city over to Robertian control, embodied in the person of Theobald the Trickster, who held the city until the 960s. 

Further west, around Bayeux and the Cotentin, the picture is sketchier. In a previous post on this blog I looked at Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s picture of the earliest Norman court. One figure in particular stood out to me then and stands out to me now, and that’s Botho of Bayeux. Dudo’s work, like all hagiography, is most interesting at its stumbles: his purpose is so clear and his dedication to it so single-minded that when something doesn’t quite fit, it sticks out more and so it is with Botho, the purportedly Norman aristocrat with a Frankish name and a Frankish title which didn’t exist in later Normandy. In short, I think the Botho of Dudo’s book is an incomplete fossil of a Frankish count at Bayeux. (Remarkably, Flodoard also thinks the people of the Bessin aren’t Norse at this time.) It was probably not until 944 that the picture changed. In that year, a pagan Norse chieftain named Harald (likely another refugee from York) took over Bayeux. He played an adroit hand manipulating the succession crisis after William Longsword’s murder. It is likely that it was to Harald that the pagan Vikings purged from Rouen by Louis IV went. In the immediate aftermath of that affair, Harald organised a meeting with Louis and captured him, eventually handing him over to Hugh the Great. Hugh had been in charge of the initial attempt to get Harald out of Bayeux, and it would not be surprising if Harald’s price for the king was being allowed to stay there. Notably, Harald is remembered in Dudo’s work positively but as a pagan, which suggests that he may have justified his rule by using some kind of specifically ‘Northman’ (i.e. non-Carolingian) discourse, something which would make sense if he had been substantially reinforced by men whom Louis had purged from Rouen. In any case, he didn’t get too long – in 954, Hugh attacked and defeated him. After that, we don’t know precisely what happened. We do, though, have a pretty clear idea that Bayeux and the Bessin, and that whole centre-west region, were not under Norman control until the last decades of the tenth century at the earliest.

But thus far we have largely focussed on comital authority. In fact, northern Neustria was something of a frontier zone in the ninth century, and a fair bit of the continuity we can see in the region comes from people it would be more or less fair to call ‘local elites’ – not Scandinavian (at least not in any political-cultural sense; some, although in all probability a tiny minority, may have originated there but that doesn’t matter for our purposes), but not members of a Carolingian administrative hierarchy. The most obvious point of continuity here is what would become Normandy’s southern frontier, the Perche-to-Domfront area, which were forested lands of light control under local lords anyway and remained so consistently. More interesting are our hints about Coutances. The Cotentin peninsula had been granted to the Breton king Salomon in the late ninth century, and its control during this time seems to have been contested. William Longsword claimed to be overlord in the region. Direct evidence for his control comes from the memory of some land grants he made in the area, all of which are around the coast and none of which suggest a massive landed base there. Dudo has another one of those splinters in his text describing the ‘men of Coutances’ as a kind of praetorian guard for William, although it wouldn’t be sound to speculate too intensively based on that. After 943, whilst the southern belt saw relatively little change, Viking settlement in the Cotentin peninsula established a number of small-scale lordships which may not have been under powerful control from anyone. These lordships, moreover, are the places where the most obvious signs of ‘Northman’ practice – notably paganism – took root.

When Richard the Fearless ran Ralph Torta out of town in the mid-to-late 950s, he faced the prospect not of reclaiming an early tenth-century inheritance, but of expanding into a fractious collection of local and regional polities which had wildly different current statuses and political histories. Those histories all had Vikings in them, whether as enemies or settlers or biological ancestors; but only in the furthest west, and even then only after 943 could any of them be really termed ‘Viking polities’. This is a key part of the context in which Normandy as we know it was created, as I’ve written about before. The ideology of Norman-hood which Richard developed was flexible to the point of incoherence – it let anyone willing to play the game of being distinctive and of obeying the duke into the clubhouse, no matter what kind of Northman they were. With this complex history behind him, could Richard have succeeded with anything else?

Charter A Week 55: The Squabbling Aquitanians

The reign of King Ralph is not a good time for private charters. I don’t know why this should be – with the usual exception (Cluny), a drop-off in the number of private charters from the 920s and 930s is a kingdom-wide phenomenon. What this means is that we’re dealing this week with an undated charter, albeit one that has a fairly narrow range of possible dates (c. 930-935, and my guess is on the earlier side). We’ve already seen in previous weeks how Ralph of Burgundy established his personal hegemony over large chunks of Guillelmid Aquitaine after the death of Duke Acfred – but what were the members of the old Guillelmid network doing?

Cart. Brioude 28 (5th June, c. 930, Polignac)

To the sacrosanct church of God and the martyr St Julian in the village of Brioude, in which that holy martyr of God rests with other saints, in which place Dalmatius [I of Brioude], by God’s grace viscount, is seen to preside as ruler, in the time of Prior Cunebert and Dean Hector administering its cares.

Therefore we, in Christ’s name Bishop Godeschalk [of Le Puy], Bishop Aurelius, Viscount Dalmatius, Suffician, Gerald, Odilo, Heraclius, Desiderius, Rainer, Bernard, the almsmen of William [the Younger, duke of Aquitaine] who is deceased, through a bequest and through his donation and for the absolution of his soul, that the pious Lord, through the intercession of St Julian and all the saints, might deign to give indulgence to his sins, cede to it in the common victuals of its canons his own goods which fell to him as an inheritance from his parents.

These goods are sited in the fatherland of the Auvergne, in the county of Brioude, in the vicariate of Usson, in the estate which is called Pineta. In that estate we cede to God and St Julian two double manses with manses and fields and meadows and woods, cultivated and uncultivated, sought and whatever is to be sought, with two parts; and we cede the whole tithe to God and St Julian to be had and sold, donated or exchanged in common amongst the brothers, such that from this day forth you might have permission to do whatever you wish by your judgement to do with it, without any contradiction.

If any person, though, either my heir wishing to change our mind, or any other person, should exert themselves to disturb the canons of Saint-Julien, in the first place let them incur God’s wrath, and share a place in the inferno with Dathan and Abiron and with Judas the betrayer, who betrayed the Lord, unless they come to their senses and come to make amends, and in addition let them be compelled to pay one pound of pure gold, and let what they seek find no purchase.

This affirmation was made on the third nones of June [5th June], at the castle which is called Polignac, in the reign of Ralph, king of the Franks and the Aquitanians.

Let this charter, written at that time, endure firm for all time, with these witnesses: Bishop Godeschalk, Aurelius, Dalmatius, Suffician, Gerald, Odilo, Heraclius, Desiderius, Rainer, Bernard; all these almsmen of William asked this charter be made, with Antoard hearing and Bernard Antrive.

Forteresse_de_Polignac,_Haute-Loire,_France_(DSC0217)

The impressive-looking fortress of Polignac as it exists today (source)

The first thing to note here is that I don’t know who Bishop Aurelius is. He’s not the bishop of Clermont or the archbishop of Bourges; if I had to guess, I’d say either Nevers or Mende, but probably Mende. ‘Aurelius’ is a name which rings more of the Velay than the Nivernais. It would also fit with the general southern tinge of the assembled people. You wouldn’t necessarily pick this up from William the Pious’ appearances on this blog, but compared generally to the Guillelmid following twenty-odd years earlier, this is very focussed on the Auvergne and its environs – no Berrichons, probably no one from Nevers, nor the Mâconnais. It’s also delivered in a much more southerly location than the Guillelmid dukes themselves can be seen. Polignac is a fortification immediately outside Le Puy. This makes sense in terms of the fact that it’s the bishop of Le Puy issuing the charter, but that fact itself is quite important – why not Bishop Arnald of Clermont, given the importance of Auvergne to William the Pious and his successors?

Intriguingly, after receiving the submission of the Aquitanians in 930, Ralph went to meet them in winter 931 because they were discordantes – squabbling. We have (if one follows Jean-Pierre Brunterc’h’s argument) a diploma issued at Ennezat at this time, whose intercessors are Ebalus Manzer and Viscount Adhemar of Echelles. That’s a pretty wide range of recipients in an Aquitanian context, and it makes one wonder what they were squabbling over. In fact, it was probably precisely the question of where power should reside in the newly overturned region. The men not at the table in late 930 were Counts Ermengaud of Rouergue and Raymond Pons of Toulouse. Ralph’s meeting at Ennezat was likely an intercession to resolve these disputes.

In that light, this donation by this group, five years or so after the death of William the Younger, is likely to be preliminary to the Ennezat meeting. We may be looking at an attempt by a network of allies to remember their roots, reaffirm the reputation of their old lord, and determine where they stand in the new, William-less world. As we’ve seen, this network would eventually end up loosely attached to the power-base of Raymond Pons, but it preserved enough continuity to reactivate as a regional power in its own right under Bishop Stephen of Clermont in the 940s. Acts like this are likely to be an important way this continuity was maintained.

Charter a Week 12: The “End of the Carolingian Empire”

We’re here! That legendary year 888, the all-caps Fall of the Carolingian Empire, a year of the succession crisis which SHOOK Frankish Europe to its very CORE and had mostly SHORT-TERM CONSEQUENCES with LITTLE IMPACT ON POLITICS OR POLITICAL CULTURE!

Yeah, I said it. Come at me, bro.

Background: things might have been looking relatively placid from our West Frankish perspective lately, but in the wider world, things weren’t so hot. Charles the Fat had systematically failed to produce a legitimate son – not a world-shattering problem in 880, when he was one of five living male Carolingians; but by 888, after a decade of unforeseen deaths in his family, he was the last one left, and had no obvious heir – or, rather, no obvious heir he wanted to recognise.

Of the four potential options, no-one seems to have considered the future Charles the Simple, a young child being fostered in Aquitaine. The emperor tried to have his own illegitimate son, named Bernard, acknowledged as heir by the pope, which didn’t work. He also may have adopted Louis the Blind as his heir – he certainly adopted him in some sense, and although it’s not clear what was intended, a very weird text known as the Vision of Charles the Fat suggests that Louis was being pushed by some people at least as an heir for the whole empire. (Most historians, it must be said, think that the vision dates from Louis’ coronation in 890 rather than from before 888. I don’t think this fits well into the circumstances of 890 and that there is at least a case that it should be dated earlier.)

In any case, the most obvious candidate was Charles the Fat’s illegitimate nephew Arnulf of Carinthia. Arnulf was an adult, a successful warrior, and had support amongst the aristocracy, particularly in his heartland of Bavaria. Yet Charles didn’t want to acknowledge him as heir, in great part because Arnulf had ended up rebelling against him in a series of events known as the Wilheminer War. Notker the Stammerer’s Life of Charlemagne, which is probably the most entertaining work of pseudo-history from the entire Carolingian era, was written not least to try and persuade Charles to stop ignoring Arnulf.

By November 887, two things had come together. First, one of Charles’ schemes to displace Arnulf looked like it would have some degree of success; and second, the emperor was very, very ill. At an assembly in Frankfurt, a group of East Frankish nobles launched a sudden coup to replace Charles with Arnulf. Charles was pensioned off to an estate where he died shortly thereafter – he was very, very ill – and Arnulf…

Arnulf hightailed it back to his powerbase, first to Bavaria then to Pannonia, not coming back west until May 888. In the meantime, things got very muddy very quickly. Arnulf had only been made king by the East Frankish nobility, and Charles the Fat actually hadn’t been deposed. When Charles died, and Arnulf tarried, it must have seemed unclear that Arnulf was even going to try to be king outside the eastern kingdom.

And so, over winter 887 and spring 888, a group of other kings sprang up. This, I think, was fundamentally compelled by necessity. The Franks needed kings, not least to lead their defence – at this time, the north of the West Frankish kingdom was subject to serious Viking attacks not least from the fallout of the 886 siege of Paris – and I think there was also an element of getting in there first – if your guy wasn’t crowned, then your rival’s might be. Hence the confusion over exactly how many kings there were going to be, and where they would rule. In the West, Odo of Paris faced off against both Ramnulf of Aquitaine (who didn’t make any claims to kingship stick) and Guy of Spoleto (who lost and went to Italy). In Italy, Guy fought against Berengar of Friuli. In the Middle Kingdom, Rudolph of Transjurane Burgundy had himself crowned king, largely it appears as a challenge to Arnulf. It’s clear from the degree of confusion that this was an unexpected scenario, and there was a lot of improvising going on, although I’ll be posting more about the fallout from this on Wednesday.

But, speaking of the now-king Rudolph, his kingdom is probably the one genuinely new development of 888. There are strong implications that Transjurane Burgundy was a defined unit before 888, but it had never been the centre of a kingdom. So let’s take a look at this new kingdom’s new king’s first diploma.

DD Burg no. 3 (10th June 888, Walperswil) = ARTEM no. 1796 = DK 9.xviii

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

Since it behooves royal eminence that it should proffer beneficent attention towards its subjects and bring their just petitions to effect, it is above all befitting that it should clemently share its liberality with those who exert the promptest devotion in its service.

And through this let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God both present, that is, and future know that there came before the clemency of Our Magnitude Our sweetest and most beloved sister Adelaide, seeking and supplicating that We might through a precept of Our royal dignity concede to her for her lifetime the abbey of Romainmôtier, which was constructed in honour of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, and is sited in the county of Vaud; and that after her death she might have power to leave it to whichever of her heirs she wishes.

We received this petition with the deepest sincerity and through the authority which We have We bestow upon the same woman the said principal abbey of Romainmôtier for as long as she lives. When, moreover, God deigns to summon her from her body, let her have permission and by all means relinquish it to whomsoever of her heirs she might elect.

And that this Our largess might be held more firmly and be conserved undisturbedly for all time, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We order it be sealed with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Rudolph, most pious of kings.

Berengar the notary witnessed on behalf of Archbishop and Chancellor Theodoric [of Besançon].

Given on the 4th ides of June [10th June], in the first year, with Christ propitious, of Rudolph, most pious of kings, in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 888, in the 6th indiction.

Enacted at Walperswil(*).

Happily in the name of God, amen.

(*) The MGH editor is very firmly against Uabre villa being Walperswil and insists we simply don’t know where it is. Some modern scholars do still go with Walperswil so I’ve included it, but it shouldn’t be taken as a reliable identification.

cw 12 888
Rudolph’s diploma, taken from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

This is very much improvised. The editor notes that the scribe appears to have come from the abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune, where Rudolph was lay abbot and which lay at the centre of his power. The scribe clearly knew what royal diplomas looked like, and was trying to do it properly, but did not himself have any experience in writing the things, hence why the script looks a little off by the standards of regular royal acts. This is probably to be expected – none of the kings of 888 except Arnulf himself expected to be kings a year earlier, so it’s not as though they could have clerics practising for their inevitable moment of triumph.

This also makes sense in the context of Rudolph’s reign, because it’s not immediately clear where he was trying to be king of: he appears to have been made king once in Transjurane Burgundy and then again at Toul, before Arnulf came and attacked him, which suggests that he was trying for the whole of Lotharingia. This is a controversial point, but I lean towards thinking that, like Boso, Rudolph was in fact going for as much as he could get away with. Political geography was fairly fluid at this point, and no-one knew what the surviving kingdoms would eventually shake down as – in the west, for instance, Odo ending up as ruler of Aquitaine as well as the north was at the least not completely certain, thanks to Count Ramnulf; had things gone really badly for Rudolph, Transjurane Burgundy could have been a similar blip.

Consequently, it’s very interesting that the diploma is for Rudolph’s sister Adelaide. Adelaide had probably been married to Richard the Justiciar since the early 880s, and Richard’s connections were quite far-spread: his family had interests in Lotharingia which his son Boso of Vitry would pick up, Richard himself had ties in various places in Burgundy, and – as we’ll be seeing in a few weeks – he was very intimately involved in the early days of Louis the Blind’s regime. We’ve seen before that in this region, things can be very fluid and cross-border activity is the norm rather than the exception. What this diploma looks like, then, is trying to bring Adelaide on side, and through her all her marital family’s links, in order to try and build a wide-ranging network of support for Rudolph’s kingship bid.

This is particularly interesting if Uabre villa is, as several historians have suggested, near Toul – in that case, it becomes particularly intimately tied to Lotharingian politics in a way which, although it didn’t work out in the long term, suggests that Rudolph was making a very serious try to push his kingdom’s boundaries north.

Charter a Week 5: They Come From the Land of the Ice and Snow

How important were the Vikings? Viking raids are very flashy and get a lot of press, but were they that much of a danger to late Carolingian rulers? The difference between the British Isles and Gaul is noticeable: whereas most of the former was actively conquered by Vikings in the latter part of the ninth century, only the North Sea littoral of Gaul was ever subject to Scandinavian rule (whatever that meant in practice…).

The thing is, Viking attacks got a lot of press at the time, and the Carolingian response was traditionally derided. In part, this is because one of our major sources, the Annals of Saint-Vaast, are just miserable as all get-out. An old colleague of mine once compiled the ‘Saint-Vaast Table of Pessimism’, categorising all of the different ways the annals say ‘They tried X and it didn’t work’. Thing is, this is so consistent and so clearly this one source’s particular bias that it shouldn’t be taken as Gospel – we know that Frankish responses to Viking attacks were often fairly successful, both in terms of winning battles and in terms of changing the strategic picture.

The problem at the start of the 880s, though, was that the West Saxons were currently more successful. Dealing with Viking raids has a lot of similarities to the old saw about running away from a bear – you don’t need to be fast, just faster than the slowest person in the group. The same is true with Vikings: you don’t have to construct impregnable fortifications, just make it more inconvenient to raid you than your cross-Channel neighbour. Thus, when in the late 870s Alfred the Great defeated the Great Army at Eddington and signed an agreement known as the Alfred-Guthrum Treaty, Wessex suddenly seemed like a rather poorer opportunity than the Frankish kingdoms. Remember how they were in the middle of a succession dispute in 879? Vikings love that. It means the Frankish kings are too distracted to respond… A veritable Norman storm fell on the northern shores of Gaul, particularly Flanders; and although the Carolingians had a number of military successes against them, there were too many different Viking bands to have real success.

So, we need to balance the sources written by pessimistic churchmen – monasteries being famously rich and in theory undefended – with the recognition that Vikings might have provoked genuine trauma.  And then there’s sources like the one which follows:

DD LLC no. 55 (5th June 881, Pouilly-sur-Loire)

In the name of God Eternal and our saviour Jesus Christ, Carloman, by grace of God king.

Whatever We strain eagerly to do for the advantage and need of servants of God, We are, far from doubt, confident that it will benefit Us in more easily obtaining eternal blessing and more happily passing through the present life.

And thus, let the skill of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and to Us, both present and future, know that the venerable man and religious abbot Ralph of the monastery of the blessed Florentius, along with the monks soldiering for God therein, coming before Our Sublimity – lamentable to hear –exposed to Our Mildness by his lamentable intimation the misfortune of the aforesaid monastery and other woes of that region cruelly and frequently inflicted for Our sins by those cruellest enemies of God the Northmen, such that the same province, once very beautiful to see, appears reduced to the appearance of a wilderness. Wherefore, there was no dwelling-place at all in the same place, as with other former inhabitants of that countryside, but much worse for the monks of the said monastery overseen by the care of that religious man the same abbot. Therefore, the same venerable abbot Ralph suppliantly prayed that We might deign to concede to him, as a refuge for his monks and to receive the most hallowed body of the blessed Florentius, a cell by the river Loire, sited in the district of Berry, which is called Saint-Gondon, as We are known to have done for his predecessor the late abbot Dido, in which cell the grace of Saint Gundulf is reverently honoured, so that, rejoicing that they have slipped through the hands of the aforesaid enemies of God, they might finally deserve to find a rest therein from such persecution, with Christ propitious, and be able to enjoy a respite in praise of divine mercy.

But We, proffering beneficent assent to the beseechments of the same Abbot Ralph and the prayers of his monks, commanded this precept of Our Highness to be made, through which We concede and bestow the said cell of Saint-Gondon, with dependents of both sexes and the total of all other things to be held by the said venerable abbot Ralph and his successors: that is, so that, in the name of God and for the washing-away of Our sins, that monastery with everything pertaining to it might be lead in accordance with order of the institution of the Rule by the same reverend Abbot Ralph and his successors, and be disposed of in accordance with the Rule without the disturbance of any contradiction, for the advantage and need of the servants of God serving and attending upon the Lord therein in Our and future times in accordance with the norm of the sacred institution of Saint Benedict.

And We concede to the aforesaid monastery four ships in every waterway which flows through Our realm, and permission to sail them without any impediment, that no officers should take river-fees or toll, nor should the aforesaid abbey pay any kind of price for them.

Finally, We wish and decree and command through this precept of Our authority that no public judge or anyone with judicial power should dare to enter into the churches or places or fields or other possessions of the said monastery, which it justly and reasonably possesses in modern times within the domain of Our realm or which hereafter divine piety might wish to bestow upon the said monastery, to hear cases or exact peace-money or tribute or make a halt or claim hospitality or take securities or distrain the men of the same monastery both free and servile dwelling on its land, nor require any renders in Our and future times. Rather, let the said abbot and his successors be permitted to possess the goods of the aforesaid monastery in quiet order under the defence of Our immunity.

In fact, it pleased Our Highness to decree by royal authority that We should establish a privilege for the aforesaid place through a precept of Our authority that if anyone is seen to infringe anything from the aforesaid at any time, they should be compelled to pay an immunity of six hundred solidi to the rulers of the same place. And whatever hereafter Our fisc can hope for, We concede entirely to the aforesaid monastery for eternal repayment, so that it might accomplish an increase in the alms for the poor and stipends for the monks serving God therein for all time. And when, by divine summons, the aforesaid abbot and the others following him depart from the light of this world, let the monks serving God therein through Our permission and consent, in accordance with the order and rule of the blessed Benedict, always have permission to elect an abbot from amongst themselves, so that it might delight these servants of God who serve God therein to constantly exhort the Lord for Our grandfather, father, for Us and the stock of Our bloodline and to conserve the stability of Our whole realm. Let them have an advocate whom they rightly elect, and for Our repayment We remit all torts to him.

But that this authority of Our munificence might be held more firmly and be more diligently conserved in future times, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We commanded it be signed with Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary witnessed on behalf of Wulfard [of Flavigny].

Given on the nones of June [5th June], in the third year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 13th indiction.

Enacted at the township of Pouilly-sur-Loire, happily, amen.

The venerable abbot Hugh [the Abbot] ambasciated.

exhibition_in_viking_ship_museum2c_oslo_01
Were the Vikings trying to Karve up the Carolingian Empire? (wahey!) (source)

First of all, again, there have been questions about the authenticity of this diploma. The modern editor, Bautier, reckons it’s legit, and I agree with him, but it is still within the realms of possibility that this is a later fake. In any case, in terms of its text, the first half is largely a copy of an 866 diploma of Charles the Bald. What that means is that all of the Viking depredations it’s describing had happened twenty years previously. This is a major problem – it doesn’t take very long for Viking raids to become a canard, a fossilised excuse to explain monastic behaviours. This community, which had formerly been located at Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, had now been relocated upriver from Orléans, a region which was passed over by the Viking attacks of the years around 880.

This isn’t to say that the old site of the abbey was peaceful by now. In addition to a Frankish succession crisis, the late 870s also saw the beginning of a civil war in Brittany, and although we don’t know about any Viking raids there during those years, we do know that Vikings were active on the lower Loire during that period and it would surprise me if they weren’t ratcheting up their raids in Brittany and the region west of Angers. Thing is, this wouldn’t necessarily have any impact on the new community in Berry!

In fact, the main object of the diploma appears to be to exempt the abbey’s shipping from river tolls. What we have, then, is a diploma where the rhetorical spectre of the pagan menace overlies a much more mundane goal. This is actually a fairly nice illustration of what I, at least, think is happening with the Vikings: their shadow is much larger than their presence, but that shadow can be quite important in and of itself. It might have been that what the monks of Saint-Gondon wanted was relief more from toll-collectors than Danes, but anti-Viking activity provided a useful cover for royal action. (The parallels between Viking attacks and terrorism in the modern world are there to be found, and I wouldn’t be the first one to notice that by a long shot…)

(I did also do a search for ‘vikings + terrorists’ and… oy. Don’t go down that snake-hole…)

Source Translation: Hang On, What’s the Bishop of Autun Doing Here?

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Louis, by grace of God king of the Franks. If We proffer the necessary assent to the just and rational petitions of servants of God and chiefly of reverend pontiffs which they relate to Our ears concerning the necessity of the churches of God committed to them, We press on with works of royal highness and through this We do not doubt that We will more easily secure divine propitiation.

And thus, be it known to all of the fideles of the holy Church of God and Us, to wit, present and future, that Our well-beloved, dearest and extraordinary Hugh, outstanding duke of the Franks, and Bernard, count of Beauvais, bringing themselves before Our Sublimity, prayed full humbly that We might concede to Rotmund, the memorable bishop of the church of Autun beloved by Us, a precept of Our authority concerning all the things of his holy mother church, which is dedicated in honour of the nourishing mother of God Mary and the martyr of Christ Nazarius; that is, that, because by the occurrence of some carelessness (by accident, as usually happens), the goods and testaments of the same church’s charters were burned and destroyed, the necessity, or diminution, of their goods might by this precept of Our authority be relieved and made new, as if all the instruments of the same goods or charters were at hand. They also humbly asked that at the same time an authority of Our immunity might be written down in the same precept.

Hearing, I say, their just and reasonable prayers, We commanded this precept of Our Highness, which is called a pancarte, to be made and given to the said bishop, through which We establish, sanction and decree that the said church of the holy martyr Nazarius should obtain everywhere, both in the public mallus and also before Our presence and the sight of all Our fideles, a vigour as much and as great as if all their instruments were at hand, that is, concerning the monasteries subject to the same church and concerning the villas newly stolen from it, which Our predecessors, that is, Ralph and others, restored; that is, Tortoria and Sully and Laizy, which St Siagrius bestowed on the same church, Savigny-le-Vieux, Commissey, Cussy-en-Morvan, Luzy, Tillenay, and the little abbey of Saint-Pancrace, and the woods of Montes with everything legally pertaining to them, and with the other villas and churches concerning which it is now seen to hold just and reasonable and legal vestiture.

Giving orders about all of these, We command that they be held honoured and supported by a privilege of immunity, along with their mother, that is, the church of Autun; as other bishoprics and houses of God are known to be held by the largess and concession of Our predecessors as kings and emperors and Ourself; and might endure in the oft-said holy mother church of Autun through future times by the perpetual stability of assignment, donation and restitution in royal mundeburdum and the defence of immunity, both those which are now contained by the same (as We said) in legitimate vestiture; and as well those which anyone might assign thereto hereafter.

And that this munificence of Our authority might through times to come obtain fuller vigour in the name of God, We confirmed it below with Our hand and We decreed it be sealed with the impression of Our seal.

Sign of the most glorious king Louis.

Odilo the notary witnessed on behalf of Ansegis, bishop and archchancellor.

Enacted at Auxerre, on the 8th kalends of August [26th July], in the year 936, in the 9th indiction, in the first year of the reign of the most glorious king lord Louis.

So, I’m back in the UK. I’m also about to head out to go to a conference, so there’s not that much time to write something for the blog. But, I can give you a preview of next week. I mentioned last time that one of the things on my deck I need to clear off it is a short bit on Louis IV’s Burgundian campaign of 936. We’ve spoken about this before, and when we did I brought up exactly this charter. To recap: after the death of King Ralph in 936, his regional hegemony in Burgundy fell apart a bit, and there was a short but sharp war between his brother Hugh the Black on one hand and Louis IV and Hugh the Great, Louis’ main supporter, on the other. This diploma was issued when it was clear that Louis and Hugh the Great had won.

The mere fact it’s being issued for Autun is interesting. Last time I said that Bishop Rotmund was actually there in Auxerre for the issuance of this diploma, which was actually wrong – the church of Autun might be receiving the precept, but it’s clear that the bishop isn’t actually there. Autun is one of the places where Hugh the Black is strong – his first (surviving) charter as ruler of Burgundy was issued for an Autunois institution – and so now I would read this diploma as a way of enticing Rotmund to clearly support the ‘royalist’ party. After all, it’s no mean concession. Koziol reads this diploma as a ‘canard of an excuse’ for Hugh the Great and Louis to have a big mutual back-slapping party; but actually what it represents is basically a carte blanche for the church of Autun to win any legal disputes where it doesn’t have any evidence – what it basically says is that if the bishop of Autun is called to the court or before the king about their claims to property, it should be treated as though they have appropriate written title even if they don’t unless the claim is flagrantly wrongful.

The diploma survived, so evidently Bishop Rotmund took the bribe. And why would he not? One point of the diploma is how Louis is perfectly properly Ralph of Burgundy’s heir, and Rotmund had been a quite important supporter of the late king. Why wouldn’t he support the new king now? But, of course, that’s the same point I made last time. There’s more to this story – but that’ll wait for next week.

Source Translation: Hugh of Arles and Louis IV’s succession

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity. Hugh and Lothar, by grace of God kings. Let the entirety of all the fideles of the holy Church of God and us, to wit, present and future, know that […] humbly asked Our Majesty that We might deign to concede to and bestow on Count Hugh, Our most beloved nephew, Our certain estate within the realm of Burgundy, and near the county of Vienne, which is named Saint-Jean-d’Octaveon, with 700 manses, and in its entirety, by Our perceptual authority.

Assenting to his petitions, and considering the love, goodwill and fidelity of this Our nephew, We commanded this Our precept to be made, through which, just as We are justly and legally able, We concede, donate, and bestow the aforesaid estate, pertaining to Our right, lying by the aforesaid county, in its entirety, to Our said nephew, by Our perceptual authority; and We transfer and consign it entirely from Our right and dominion into his right and dominion, along with churches, houses, lands, vineyards, meadows, pastures, woods, groves, plantings, waters and watercourses, mills, fisheries, mountains and valleys, peaks and plains, with male and female serfs of both sexes, with emburdened freedmen and -women (aldionibus et aldianis), with its distraints and renders, and with all the things justly and legally beholden to that estate, which is named Saint-Jean-d’Octaveon, that is, seven hundred manses entirely, that he might have, hold and firmly possess them, and have power to sell, hold, donate, exchange, alienate, make dispositions for the state of his soul, and do whatever his own lights dictate, absent contradiction from any man. And thus, if anyone might violate this Our precept, let them know themselves liable to a fine of one hundred pounds of pure gold, half to Our treasury and half to Our aforesaid nephew Count Hugh and his heirs. And that this might be more truly believed and more diligently observed by all, strengthening it with our own hands, We commanded it be marked below with Our seal.

Sign of Hugh and Lothar, most serene of kings.

Chancellor Peter witnessed and subscribed on behalf of Abbot and Archchancellor Gerland.

Given on the 8th Kalends of July [24th June], in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 937 [sic], in the 10th year of the reign of lord Hugh, most invincible of kings, and the 6th of lord Lothar, also a king., in the 9th indiction.

Enacted at Pavia, happily, amen.

So, at the moment things are a little hectic chez McNair. I’m in my last six weeks at Tübingen (alas!), and in that time I have to write up a lengthy contribution to a conference that I’m organising, do revisions to an article about land-lease practices, organise international moves (again), and, at some point, sort out my actual work. Last week, I had actually just finished part of the penultimate one of these, and was flying back to Germany, hence why there was no blog post. I’m going to try and keep on top of the blogging, but things might be a little sporadic: after all, I do this because it forces me to write something relatively chunky every week, but at the moment I’m already doing that so this might take a back seat.

But not today! After all, when all else fails, there’s charter translations. In this particular case, I mentioned in a previous week that there appears to have been an unofficial division of Provence into zones of influence after about 928. This charter neatly illustrates that.

If you remember, after the 928 death of Louis the Blind, it doesn’t look like Provence actually had a king. Based on my research, it looks like Provence was split into a northern, southern, eastern and western zone, and here we’re interested in the north-south division. In the south, it looks like Hugh of Arles was unproblematically hegemonic even if not actually king; in the north, by contrast, everyone looks to have piled in. The line of division between this is roughly around Valence.

Now, this diploma was issued in 936. As we’ve also covered before, in that year King Ralph of Burgundy died, and his place was taken over by Louis IV. Louis, along with his chief magnate Hugh the Great, immediately went forth to profit from Ralph’s death by trying to scoop up the allegiance of his allies in Burgundy, for that network was recently – and rather violently – created and after Ralph’s death was distinctly floppy. Both Louis IV and Ralph’s brother Hugh the Black attempted to assert themselves in this region by force of arms.

As you may also remember, part of Ralph’s hegemony was Vienne, and he’d pushed further south as well at points. Hugh of Arles may well have feared that this disruption would spread into the south of Provence. This diploma looks to be his response. His nephew, another Hugh, Hugh the Cisalpine (that makes four, for those keeping score), was the son of Count Warner of Sens and the brother of a Count Richard (of Troyes?), as well as a prominent figure in the court of Transjurane Burgundy, and a colleague at least of Hugh the Black for that reason. As a point-man for this region where the three kingdoms met, he was a good choice.

Moreover, I would emphasise the sheer scale of this donation. 700 manses is a vast number, roughly equivalent to a mid-level monastery such as Lobbes. It’s enough to make Hugh the Cisalpine a regional-strength military power in and of itself. Thus, Hugh of Arles’ response to Louis IV’s succession was to implant a locally-well connected close family member in the border region of his sphere of influence with enough muscle to back up any threats he might need to make. I think it’s fair to say that he was concerned…

Which Ralph? Italy, Provence and the Succession to Louis the Blind

Happy New Year, y’all. Apologies for the delay in blogging – I had meant to start yesterday, but I’ve been polishing off an article for the proceedings of the Power of the Bishop conference I went to last year, and between that and the Humboldt Lecture I’m supposed to be giving at the start of February, things are fairly hectic. It’s a shame, because what I really want to be doing is tapping away at writing a detailed narrative history of post-Carolingian France (well, that and working my way through a) Adhemar of Chabannes and b) the charter evidence from Limoges). But I’m putting in the odd hour on it here and there, and at the moment I’m writing about the year 928. 928 is an important year, once again because of a succession crisis (I am finding, a bit, that you can write the entire history of the century as one succession crisis after another). Specifically, the death of Louis the Blind, emperor and king of Provence, in June of that year.

This is an issue for me, because I hardly ever go that far south-east, and because Italian history is largely a closed book to me. But because it’s clear that King Ralph gets involved in the transfer of power in the region to – well, that’s one of the questions – it behoves me to get involved. And I’ve got a question about Bishop Liutprand of Cremona, which hopefully someone can answer for me, and the question is this. In Antapodosis 3.48, Liutprand describes how the Italians ‘sent for Rodulfus in Burgundia’; whereupon Hugh of Arles, king of Italy since 923 and old right-hand man of Louis the Blind, promised him all the land he had in Gaul in return for a promise that Rodulfus wouldn’t interfere in Italy ever again.

Historians are, as far as I can tell, almost unanimous in dating this to around 933, largely because it comes in the text after a description of Hugh of Arles’ expulsion from Rome, which according to Flodoard happened around this time, and his granting the march of Tuscany to his brother Boso, which happened shortly before 931. Equally unanimous is the opinion that the Rodulfus in question is Rudolf II, king of Transjurane Burgundy: Rudolf had been an active contestant to be king in Italy for several years, and the deal described by Liutprand seems to explain how Provence ended up under Burgundian rule. But, there are some issues here, at least if we follow Janet Nelson (who isn’t concerned with this story and brings them up quite separately): first, Burgundian rule in Provence appears to be, in practice, several decades later. Second, Rudolf may have given up his claims to rule in Italy years earlier, in 926. Third (and this is me), the Italians had kicked Rudolf out only a few years previously. I know Italian politics is turbulent, but is it that turbulent?

Here’s another story. The Rodulfus and Burgundia aren’t Rudolf and Transjurane Burgundy, but Ralph (which is the same name as Rudolf) of West Francia and ducal Burgundy. A faction of Italians invited him to be king as the closest living already-royal relative of their one-time ruler Louis the Blind (his first cousin), and Hugh of Arles bought him off with a grant of land which is the same as Flodoard records in 928.

This story also has problems. First, it requires Liutprand to have made an error. Evidently, this is not so implausible – in the aforementioned story about the Romans expelling Hugh of Arles, he makes it sound as though the local bigwig did it with the Pope’s help rather than (according to Flodoard) imprisoning him. Plus, Rudolfus and Burgundia could well be quite confusing without other qualifiers. But still, it’s an issue. Second, the 928 grant of land Flodoard describes is the land of ‘the whole province of Vienne’ being given not directly to Ralph but to the son of Count Heribert II of Vermandois; whereas Liutprand describes Hugh giving Rodulfus ‘all the land he had in Gaul’. This could be poetic license (if ‘province of Vienne’ means ‘ecclesiastical province’ rather than just ‘region of’, it’s not actually that much poetic license), but it’s another issue.

It also fits oddly into the political context. On one hand, it explains why Ralph isn’t in the north of the West Frankish kingdom for the whole of 929 – he’s dealing with matters in the south which are a bit more important, trying and (eventually) failing to assert himself in the region. It also explains why so many diplomas in the region keep being dated by the reign of the late Louis the Blind – that’s what you do when kingship is contested. On the other hand, Hugh of Arles spent the latter months of 928 issuing diplomas for recipients in Vienne and the surrounding regions, which implies that he made a deal and immediately abrogated it. (On a third hand, this is also fairly odd anyway, given he’s supposed to have granted it to Heribert’s son.)

As you can tell, I’m not fully convinced by the Rodolfus-is-Ralph story. So what do you think? Is there any outstanding reason to favour one version over the other?

Dead King, Floppy Duchy: Burgundy, c. 936

OK, so on Wednesday I started talking about the history of the duchy of Aquitaine after the end of Guillelmid rule. During that process, I mentioned that Burgundy after King Ralph’s death was also very interesting, but that was really a separate post. So, this is that post, being something in the way of a side note. (Plus, posting it today gives me time to do a little more research on the Ratold Ordo!)

The first thing to do when dealing with the history of Burgundy is to acknowledge the intellectual debt I owe to the 2012 PhD thesis of Steven Robbie. I’ve never met Robbie. Friends in St. Andrews tell me he’s left academia and has no plans to publish the thesis; thankfully, it’s online, and highly recommended.

So (and here I follow Robbie fairly directly), the ‘founder’ of Burgundy, Ralph’s father Richard the Justiciar, built his polity out of duct tape, spit, and bloody-handed murder. His original power-base was a small group around Dijon and Autun (where he was by no means the most powerful figure – that would be the city’s bishop, Adalgar, who was a big damn deal). By taking advantage of the civil war between King Odo and Charles the Simple from 893 to 898, Richard was able to have Adalgar of Autun murdered, capture and blind Bishop Theobald of Langres, capture by force the city of Sens and imprison its archbishop Walter, and impose his nephew Ragenard as viscount of Auxerre.

Ralph followed in his footsteps, as has already been hinted. Richard appears to have been infirm for a few years before his death, and Ralph positioning himself as his successor within Burgundy proper. His position as regional strongman was upset but not ended by becoming king, and he also expanded his authority in the south-east through force, including capturing Bourges from Duke William the Pious, trying to capture Nevers multiple times – Nevers seems to have been something of a battleground during the 920s and 930s – taking over Mâcon after the death of William the Younger (much to the chagrin of Duke Acfred), and trying to thrust his way into Vienne.

It must be said, this is not how most of the other main regional blocs of the West Frankish kingdom were put together; William the Pious’ Aquitaine appears to have come to him largely through inheritance, and Robert of Neustria’s Neustria genuinely was an administrative unit he was granted. Thus, all of Ralph and Richard’s gains were subject to challenge. In Vienne, he seems eventually to have come to some kind of deal with Count Charles Constantine. Nevers and Bourges both required an awful lot of effort to hold on to. In Auxerre, Avallon, and Autun, in the north-west of Burgundy, the power of the family of the aforementioned nephew Ragenard increased, and indeed several members of it rebelled against Ralph; and there are whispers of disgruntlement in Sens.

It’s therefore unsurprising that when he died, ‘Burgundy’ appears to have been in trouble. Ralph had no son, and although we tend to assume that his surviving brother Hugh the Black was his due successor, there’s no reason to think that people at the time shared this opinion. Hugh’s lands were in Upper Burgundy (that is, the Kingdom of Burgundy rather than the duchy) and most of his support appears to have been in Mâcon. Thus, Flodoard describes him as ‘seizing’ Langres, presumably from the bishop, and being forced out by Hugh the Great and Louis IV; and indeed the main figures in the area in the mid-tenth century appear to have been the bishops, as it was before Richard’s capture of it. Bourges appears to have been already in the sphere of influence of Hugh the Great, and certainly Hugh the Black doesn’t seem to have done anything with it.

When Louis IV and Hugh the Great invaded Burgundy in summer 936, historians, as I said, have tended to see this as the Robertian launching a coup to seize the area from its rightful heir Hugh the Black by force of arms. But this rests on the assumption that Hugh the Black was the rightful heir. Louis and Hugh appear to have stuck to the north of the duchy, but they were visited there by Bishop Rotmund of Autun, whom they could not possibly have compelled to be there. Equally, from the area came representatives of the important abbey of Vézelay, and from a little further north Bishop Ansegis of Troyes. It is possible these latter two might have been carted off by force, but not Rotmund: the best explanation for his presence is that he thought the king, or Hugh the Great, but in any case not Hugh the Black, was the legitimate power in Burgundy after Ralph’s death. The mass of more-or-less disgruntled territories that Richard and Ralph had acquired had no particular unity, and so presented an opportunity for locals and outsiders to enrich themselves when Ralph died.

Loyalty and Regime Change in Neustria, part 2: The Keys to the Kingdom

So, as of last time, Hugh the Great, duke of the Franks and master of kings, had died at the height of his power. What happened next? Hugh left split his domains between his two (presumably) oldest sons, Hugh Capet, the later king, and Odo. Hugh got Neustria (Paris, Orléans, and the Loire valley) and Odo got Burgundy – but in both cases, only for a given value of ‘got’.

Here, we must introduce a new character: Theobald the Trickster, count of Blois and Tours. Theobald had been Hugh the Great’s chief leg-breaker – it had been he, for instance, who had been Louis IV’s jailer after he was sold to Hugh in 945. After Hugh the Great’s death, he seems to have actively and aggressively expanded his power, capturing the cities of Châteaudun, Chinon, and Évreux on the southern border of Normandy. He also seems to have excluded Hugh Capet from exercising his father’s authority – in one memorable charter, he and his ally Count Fulk the Good of Angers are referred to as ‘by the generosity of the Lord, the administrators and governors of the [realm of Neustria]’ – Hugh doesn’t get a look-in. This is sometimes referred to as Hugh’s minority, but he was probably around 940 or so, making him around 16 when his father died and around 18 when the charter mentioned above was issued – easily old enough to be considered an adult. (King Lothar, as a parallel, took over his father’s role at a slightly younger age.) So it looks awfully like Theobald locked Hugh out deliberately.

The fallout from Hugh the Great’s death is fascinating, and I would probably argue for it being either the most or the second-most important moment in tenth-century West Frankish politics. This will not be last time I’ll come back to this time, so for the moment, here’s that question which bothers me about Theobald’s role: why did he do it? Why betray the son of his lord and benefactor?

Obviously, were I a Victorian (and even if I were a distressingly large number of modern people), I’d say it’s because he’s a Treacherous Aristocrat in the Century of Iron, Motivated only by Greed and Short-Term Advantage™. This is roughly on the level of accusing him of being naturally inconsistent because he’s French, and doesn’t work on its own terms – if Theobald were really interested in maximum returns from the new duke, why oppose him when it would be easier and less potentially perilous to simply sell him your services? Hugh’s brother Odo was fighting for his rights in Burgundy at this point, and Theobald had useful connections there – all he’d need to do was get Hugh to pay him, I don’t know, northern Burgundy for his help, and he would have made an easy profit. It must be that something actively drove Theobald out of Hugh Capet’s camp.

Hugh Capet was not an unknown quantity. Charter evidence indicates that his father had been putting him on the political stage, as it were, since he was a small child – his first appearance in the documentary record is in 946, and he witnesses charters alongside his father several times thereafter. Theobald and Hugh knew each other – so what didn’t Theobald like?

In 943, the ruler of Normandy, William Longsword, had been murdered. His son and heir, Richard the Fearless, was at the time a small child, and so a free-for-all over what would happen to Normandy resulted. Eventually, what seems to have happened is that Hugh the Great, allied to a Northman cabal, had left Richard in place in Rouen under his tutelage, whilst accepting the rule of a pagan Viking named Harald in western Normandy. At this time, though, the important city of Évreux in southern Normandy seems to have come under Theobald’s auspices – its bishop is found in his retinue by the late 940s.

By the time of Hugh the Great’s death, Richard the Fearless seems to have worked his way towards a closer alliance with Hugh and his family. The historian Dudo of Saint-Quentin claims that Hugh the Great betrothed his daughter Emma to Richard before his death. Dudo was writing a tendentious piece of Norman ducal propaganda, and so this claim is surrounded by panegyric addressed to Richard, and its chronology is all over the place. However, the contemporary chronicler Flodoard does record that Richard and Emma married in 960, and that after that Hugh and Theobald were hostile. It may be that, leaving aside Dudo’s extraneous verbiage, the basic elements of his story – that Richard was betrothed to Emma before Hugh the Great’s death and had a more prominent place in Hugh Capet’s entourage afterwards because of this – are roughly correct.

In that case, the potential threat to his control of Évreux might have been an important push factor leading Theobald to oppose Hugh. It might even have been that the idea of handing land back over the Normans from whom Hugh the Great had captured it only a decade or so before was morally repugnant to Theobald, although this is speculation. To my mind, though, whatever the specific factors behind Theobald’s decision, a sense comes through that his opposition to Hugh Capet followed on from his role under Hugh the Great – a sense that he could hold up the elder Hugh’s legacy better than his son could, that after risking life and limb in service to his ruler, he wasn’t going to be pushed out in favour of parvenu Northmen by the son. Of course, looking at the ideological aspect of Theobald’s conflict with Hugh is another long essay, and this has gone on for two posts already, so I’ll leave it here. As I said, though, this is not the last time I’ll come back to this…