I’ll Bite Your Kneecaps Off! Boso of Provence and Keeping Going after Massive Political Damage

Way back in the day when I first started doing Charter A Week, I did a fair few posts on Boso of Provence. That was a while ago now, so for those who are just joining us, Boso of Provence was the erstwhile brother-in-law of the West Frankish king Charles the Bald. He married the daughter of the king of Italy, and enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top in the last few years of Charles’ reign, a prominence he more-or-less managed to keep up in the reign of Louis the Stammerer. After Louis died in 879, however, Boso ignored his two teenage sons and had himself declared king at the fortress of Mantaille by a congress of Burgundian and Provençal bishops. However, in 880 a combined force of Carolingian rulers led an army south to deal with him, taking Mâcon and besieging Vienne. Most of Boso’s key supporters abandoned him; and this is where we left him: late in 880, a neutered force, his support lopped off, destined to be a hedge-king skulking about the mountains of the French Prealps for the rest of his life. This is, I would venture to say, basically the standard story about Boso. However, since I wrote those posts, I’ve come across a few things and I’ve started to wonder whether Boso was less a spent force and more the Carolingian political equivalent of MRSA.

Boso’s kingdom. c. 883 (source)

You see, after the success of the 880 campaign, the Carolingian rulers leading the army started to drift apart. Charles the Fat wanted to get to Italy to succeed his late brother Karlmann of Bavaria, and Louis III was panicked by reports that his northern army had met a serious defeat at the hands of a Viking force in Flanders. The end result was that they buggered off to do their own thing, leaving Carloman II to handle the anti-Boso action. And, with his support not entirely eradicated, he seems to have been able to slowly grow stronger and resist the Carolingian armies.(*) For one thing, it took another two years to take Boso’s fortified capital of Vienne itself. An attack in 881 appears to have done nothing, certainly not in terms of Boso’s support. Indeed, Regino of Prüm (writing a bit later) takes care to note that none of Boso’s supporters ever betrayed him to the Carolingians despite significant material inducement to do so. Archbishop Otrand of Vienne, one of his most important supporters, had gone so far as to imprison the bishop of Geneva. At the same time, Bishop Adalbert of Maurienne attacked and imprisoned Bishop Berner of Grenoble. These two bishops had been at each other’s throats for years, but it is possible that one or the other of them was a supporter of Boso, giving Adalbert his excuse for invasion.

With that said, Vienne was taken in 882, and the devastation was massive – a charter a few years later was dated by the ‘destruction of Vienne’. This left Boso reliant on the support of the mountainous provinces of eastern Provence, and that wasn’t a great base for launching any serious attacks on his opponents. Still, there are signs Boso had a resurgence towards the end of his life. In 887, Count Odilo of Die issued a charter dated by Boso’s reign as king. We also have signs that he was being sought ought by Provençal churchmen: around this time he issued a lost diploma for the church of Valence, and we also have evidence of grants to the churches of Vienne and Lyon (although it is possible that these might have been death-bed grants, it still implies there was enough of a tie there for these churches to accept some ideologically pointed gifts, such as crowns). If we’re feeling generous, there might even be some evidence from silence – despite his importance in the politics of the 870s and early 880s, Bishop Adalgar of Autun is conspicuously absent from the sources for the reign of Charles the Fat, which could possibly hint at his renewed support for Boso.

We also have a little bit of evidence for Charles the Fat’s response to this. Regino says that he allowed the Viking fleet which besieged Paris in 885-886 into Burgundy to punish a revolt against him there. This can’t be true of the bits of Burgundy the fleet actually went to – Sens, Auxerre, and Langres all show up as loyal to Charles in summer 886 – but it could indicate Charles knew about rumblings from Boso’s old heartlands in southern Burgundy and northern Provence. A more problematic, but potentially more interesting, source is a diploma of Charles the Fat for the church of Nevers, dating to 885. It claims to have been petitioned for by William the Pious, son of Aquitaine’s most important magnate Bernard Plantevelue. In the diploma, Charles recalls ‘the unbroken loyalty of [William’s] father Bernard… [who] with tremendous courage, inner strength, and unending loyalty set himself against… the tyrant Boso and his followers’, in the course of which battle he died. Now, as this diploma currently stands it is a forgery of c. 950-1100 (not least because we know Bernard Plantevelue was still alive in summer 886!). However, it’s a weird thing for a forger in the decades around the millennium to toy with – William and Bernard’s family had long died out by then, and their memory was kept, if anywhere, at Cluny (in the Mâconnais) or in Auvergne, not at Nevers. However, they had ruled Nevers back in the day, and maybe there was some information the forger had access to – otherwise, it’s a very odd thing to put in there, as it doesn’t serve the church’s interests and it doesn’t add formal authenticity to the document. If Bernard Plantevelue did die against Boso in autumn 886, then, it could be a sign that Charles was taking his old rival more seriously than historians have yet realised.

Boso never got the chance to do more, because he died in early 887. And there’s a lot of maybes in the above. Nonetheless, I think most of them are plausible maybes. Even then, even accepting most of them all they add up to is a slower decline in the early 880s and a bit of a recovery in the late 880s. Still, that’s more than he’s been allowed thus far. It also makes his career more explicable: rather than an enormous rise and catastrophic fall, it lets Boso’s kingship evolve more naturally, and more accurately reflects the Carolingians’ ultimate failure to crush him completely once they were in a dominant position.

(*) PSA: if your doctor proscribes you a course of antibiotics, be sure to finish it even if you’re feeling better before the end!

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Charter a Week 6: Carolingian Cooperations

Those of you who’ve been following the last couple of weeks may have noticed something of a paradox. Vikings were attracted by a succession crisis, yet I’ve also been talking about Carolingian cooperation to a remarkable degree in the early 880s. What gives? Well, the latter was responsive – in the face of a series of disasters, the Carolingians built (or rebuilt, you could argue) family consensus. What did that look like? Something like this.

In summer 882, whilst making one final crack at the siege of Boso of Provence’s Vienne, Carloman II issued a diploma in favour of Canon Otbert of Langres, issued at the request of Bishop Geilo (another one of those big-cheese palatine magnates from Charles the Bald’s late court):

DD LLC no. 62 (8th August 882, Vienne) = ARTEM no. 137 = DK 5.xxv

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

If We freely proffer assent to the petitions of Our followers, far from doubt We both bind them more tightly in Our fidelity and are satisfied to follow the custom of Our predecessors.

Wherefore let the industry of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us, present and future, know that the venerable man Geilo, bishop of the see of Langres, approaching Our Mildness, made it known that a certain cleric named Otbert had by a resolution(*) of goodwill consigned his very beneficial goods to Saint-Mammès and received a certain part of the goods of the same just from the same Bishop Geilo through a tenancy agreement, that is, on the terms that as long as Otbert and his nephew Gozelm live they should hold and possess both the things they have given and what was conceded by the bishop through a tenancy agreement, and claim their renders for their uses, except solely that they should unhesitatingly pay two solidi to the aforesaid church in vestiture, as is specified in their document.  And thus he asked that Our authority might also confirm the aforesaid tenancy agreement, which the said bishop had entered into with the aforesaid Otbert, with the consent of the clergy committed to him, and corroborated with his hands.

Therefore, assenting to his petition, We commanded a precept of Our authority be writing about this, in which We confirm and corroborate the aforesaid documents, that is, on the understanding that after the aforesaid Otbert and his nephew Gozelm die, the clerics of the same see should claim for their uses both the goods conceded to them by the venerable Bishop Geilo in the tenancy agreement and those which the said Otbert and his nephew Gozelm confirmed through a charter of donation to the church of Saint-Mammès, without any diminution or loss and without any alteration.

But that this precept of Our authority established concerning this tenancy agreement might always in God’s name obtain everlasting vigour and be able to endure into the far future, We confirmed it below with Our own hand and We command it be undersigned with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary subscribed at the command of King Carloman, after the death of his master Wulfard [of Flavigny].

Given on the 6th ides of August [8th August], in the fourth year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 15th indiction.

Enacted at Vienne.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

(*) Reading propositio for praeposito here, because the latter doesn’t make sense to me.

CW 6 882
Carloman’s diploma, from the Diplomata Karolinorum volume linked above.

A few months later, the same man Otbert received a diploma from Carloman’s cousin Charles the Fat, this time at the request of Margrave Guy of Spoleto:

DD CtF no. 61 (4th November 882, Worms) = ARTEM no. 138

In the name of our lord Jesus Christ, God eternal. Charles, by ordination of divine providence emperor.

Truly, if We freely assent to the petitions of Our followers, We are confident that this pertains to the state of Our realm, because We render them more ready in Our service.

For that reason, We wish it to be known to all the faithful of the holy Church of God both present and future that Count Guy brought to Our Highness’ mind a certain tenancy agreement made between himself and a certain canon named Otbert concerning, verily, the goods of the monastery of Notre-Dame de Favernay, which seemed useful in every way to both sides. Verily, Our aforesaid follower sought that by We might content to consider the aforesaid matter worthy and strengthen it by Our precept.

Therefore, We assented and strengthened it with Our precept, that Otbert himself and one of his heirs should quietly possess the said goods in their lifetime, abiding strictly by the condition which is specified in the text of the tenancy agreement.

And that this precept might endure firm and stable, We commanded it be sealed with Our signet and We confirmed it with Our own hand.

Sign of Charles, most serene of emperors.

Waldo witnessed on behalf of Archchaplain Liutward [of Vercelli].

Given on the day before the nones of November [4th November], in the year of the Incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ 882, in the 15th indiction, in the 3rd year of the aforesaid king’s empire.

Enacted at Worms.

01381
Charles’ diploma, from the ARTEM page linked above.

There’s more going on here than at first meets the eye. The first thing is that Otbert here is no simple canon, but someone who appears to be one of those second-tier fixers you don’t see much of. He was an archdeacon at Langres, and eventually prior; and possibly also prior of Flavigny and maybe even bishop of Troyes (although the chronology for the last two is confusing and it might be a different Otbert). He also shows up a surprising number of times in royal diplomas, and it looks rather as though he was successive bishops’ go-to man for dealing with royal courts. What did he get out of it? Status, but as in this particular instance, land as well. These diplomas are rewarding Otbert, but they’re also signalling rather more.

First, Carloman’s diploma has at least two things going on. First, note that the petitioner is Bishop Geilo of Langres. Geilo, like Adalgar of Autun, was one of Boso of Provence’s initial supporters – it was in fact Boso who made him bishop of Langres! That Geilo is acknowledging Carloman so publicly as king, just as Carloman is about to break off the siege of Vienne to go north, is a sign – the campaign has worked. Boso has lost all his friends. Everyone knows who the real king here is.

Ah – yes. Forgot to say. Carloman is about to break off the siege of Vienne and go north. This diploma was issued on the 8th August 882, but on the 6th August 882 Carloman’s brother Louis III had died at Saint-Denis after a brief illness. Carloman can’t possibly have heard about the actual death at this point, but the magnates of Louis’ kingdom must have been in constant communication with the king, making preparations for Louis’ death. This diploma, then, is part of that preparation.

By November, when Charles the Fat issues his diploma, Carloman II is sole king of the West Frankish kingdom. Charles, though, has himself benefited from the death of his own brother. At the beginning of the year, Louis the Younger died, and Charles became sole king in the East Frankish kingdom and Italy. This raised a number of questions, the most important of which was the status of Lotharingia. Louis the Younger and the West Frankish brothers had made a deal about who got which bits, and this had held firm after Louis the Younger’s death, but would it hold steady after Louis III’s?

Charles’ diploma is therefore walking a very narrow tightrope. At the assembly in Worms where it was issued, Hugh the Abbot (whom we will meet in more detail next week) was present to try and negotiate the return of parts of Lotharingia to Carloman, something which Charles refused. Thus, confirming a property at Favernay, right in the march-lands between southern Lotharingia and West Frankish Burgundy, is making a statement that Lotharingia will remain Charles’. However, confirming this property for a cleric of Langres is I think a gesture of goodwill: acknowledging that he and Carloman will continue to co-operate by favouring the same person Carloman had favoured back in August. The intercession of Guy of Spoleto is also important: Guy had a lot of Burgundian connections, particularly with Geilo of Langres (Geilo, in fact, would invite Guy to become king in the West Frankish kingdom in 888). So we have co-operation – but not that much co-operation.

Charter a Week 4: The Provençal Anticlimax

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent a lot of time with Boso of Provence, former brother-in-law of Charles the Bald, biggest cheese in the West Frankish world, and the first man since the eighth century who wasn’t a descendant of Charles Martel to declare himself king. We’ve seen him accumulate power and status, marry into the Carolingian family, inch his way towards royal status, build up a surprisingly-large base of support, and theorise his right to be king at length and in detail.

And then it all came crashing down. There’s a case to be made that Boso was too successful. 879 and 880 had not been good years for Louis III and Carloman II, or their East Frankish cousins Louis the Younger and Charles the Fat. In winter 879, there had been Viking attacks, which the West Frankish brothers had defeated; then the bastard son of Lothar II, Hugh, tried to launch his own coup to become king; at the start of 880, Louis the Younger made one more go at supporting that faction of Western magnates which had turned to him the previous year after the death of Louis the Stammerer before making a treaty and turning back to defeat more Viking attacks on his own kingdom; and then in addition to all that was Boso, probably the most successful challenge to the status quo and therefore the biggest target.

And so it came to pass that 880 saw an almost-unprecedented display of Carolingian unity, as the four Carolingian kings sent their armies to Vienne to take Boso down. They first of all took Mâcon, which was being held by Bernard of Gothia on Boso’s behalf, and gave it to Bernard Plantevelue, father of William the Pious. Carolingian unity was a worry for magnates who had supported Boso on a couple of grounds, both of which this nicely illustrates: a unified front meant that Boso probably couldn’t hold for that long against them, and it also meant that they would have more success confiscating offices and lands. The transfer of Mâcon was a major statement that the rebels could lose a lot.

They then proceeded to Vienne itself and besieged it, as Boso fled to the hills. This was probably a sensible strategic decision, but not one designed to reassure his followers. The Carolingians had to lift the siege of Vienne because Charles the Fat had things to do in Italy, but we can see that winter that several of Boso’s closest supporters had abandoned him.

DD LLC no. 49 (30th November 880, Nérondes) = ARTEM no. 4796 = DK 5.xxxiii

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

If We impart by Our authority aid to places given over to divine worship, We believe that because of this We will better acquire the emolument of a heavenly country and more comfortably pass through the present life.

Wherefore, let the concordant entirety of all those faithful to the holy Church of God and Us know that We, at the appeal of Richard [the Justiciar], count of Autun, for love of God and the recompense of eternal prizes, eternally restore and consign to Saint-Nazaire and to the present bishop Adalgar and his successors the estate of Teigny, which was once stolen from the bishopric and associated with the county by Our crooked ancestors, although with the nones and tithes going to the said church, which estate is actually sited in the county of Avalois.

Therefore, We establish and decree, with God as both witness and judge, that this authority of Our largess should never be violated by any of Our successors as king; but, like the other goods of the same bishopric, it should endure eternally in regard to this estate. And let this same estate have an immunity like the other goods of the same church and endure and remain subject to the other privileges of the same church.

But that this authority of Our confirmation might in the name of God obtain fuller vigour of firmness, We commanded it be signed below with the impression of Our signet.

Sign of Carloman, most glorious of kings.

Norbert the notary subscribed.

Given the day before the kalends of December [30th November], in the second year of the reign of Carloman, most glorious of kings, in the 13th indiction.

Acted at the estate of Nérondes.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

Count Theodoric [of Vermandois] ambasciated.

CW 4 880
The surviving original, from the Diplomata Karolinorum linked above.

The key piece of information you need to understand this diploma is that Richard the Justiciar was Boso’s brother. He had subscribed the Montiéramey charter of 879, but had now apparently decided that the combined might of the Frankish kings was not worth fighting against. This opinion was also evidently shared by Bishop Adalgar of Autun.

This latter is interesting in light of Boso’s diploma last week. The route taken by the Carolingian armies, coming from Troyes, would have taken them right through that part of northern Burgundy which was one of Adalgar’s centres of power, and perhaps where he had been expected to defend it. Adalgar might have had a chance against a factionalised and divided Carolingian family, but against their unified might, well – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…

It is therefore striking that this is the first surviving diploma issued by Carloman. It probably actually was one of his first (although probably not the first) – there hadn’t been that much opportunity in the previous year. That it is for Richard and Adalgar looks rather strategic, therefore – “be like Bernard of Gothia and lose your honores, or be like Adalgar and Richard and keep them!” It didn’t matter how close they had been – changing sides promptly got them back in the kings’ good graces.

Vienne itself turned out to be a tough nut to crack, and Carloman was still besieging it in 882. In the end, it was Richard himself who took it – an ultimate proof of commitment to the new regime – but Boso’s serious claims to kingship had been dead for years before that, crushed under the steamroller of Carolingian family togetherness. Boso himself was never captured, and died a fugitive, an outlaw king, in the hills of the Viennois in 887. His family would have better luck – we will be hearing again from Richard; and Boso did manage to have one son, who would go on to have a very strange career indeed…

Provence Continues To Be Weird

Not about Liutprand this time, you’ll be pleased to hear. Rather, this time I want to zoom out and talk about just how odd Provence is as a kingdom after the death of Louis the Blind. Chiefly what is weird about it is that there are six potential kings, and the one most people seem to recognise is the one who’s already dead, which is to say Louis the Blind himself. Now, Louis himself doesn’t appear to have done much during the last years of his reign. In the early 900s, he got mixed up in Italian politics, which is as bad an idea for tenth-century kings as twenty-first century historians, which is how he ended up blind in the first place. Louis is supposed to have been fairly useless during the last years of his reign – one historian called him a ‘shadow king’ – although I have questions about how far this is just due to the combination of a lack of narrative sources and the fact that (as you might expect, given the constraints upon disabled people at the time) he didn’t get around much. Certainly, he appears to have spent twenty years staying in Vienne and not moving, but looking through his diplomas people did come to him from all over the kingdom. The most important of these people was Hugh of Arles, who became Louis’ right-hand man up to the point in 924 where Hugh himself went to become king of Italy.

c389glise_saint-andrc3a9-le-bas-_010
Saint-André-le-Bas in Vienne (source)

Louis died in 928. Well, probably. Overwhelmingly probably. We don’t actually know in what year he died, although it was certainly by 932, but scholarly consensus is basically-unanimous in putting his death in June 928 based on circumstantial evidence, and I think scholarly consensus is in this case correct. After Louis’ death, the first bit of weirdness comes into play: Louis had two adult sons, Charles Constantine and Ralph, neither of whom succeeded him. Some people have suggested that Charles Constantine didn’t succeed him because he was a bastard, but the source for his illegitimacy is late – it’s Richer of Rheims – and I strongly suspect that Richer is back-projecting, filling in an explanation for why Charles didn’t inherit, because the detail is not in Flodoard, which is Richer’s only source. In any case, Ralph is very unlikely to have been illegitimate, but he didn’t inherit either. Charles Constantine appears in Louis’ lifetime as Count of Vienne, which is unusual – royal heirs, even with counties, are not usually called counts (anyone got any counterexamples from this time?); and it has been suggested that this means that Louis did not intend Charles to succeed him; but again, this isn’t true of Ralph. (I did play around with the notion that the ‘Ralph, king of Vienne’ who shows up in a number of charters was Ralph son of Louis the Blind; but this doesn’t work chronologically if nothing else.) What this means is that we have a case where a reigning king with adult sons born to him whilst he was a king isn’t succeeded by his son, which I think is the only example from the whole Carolingian and post-Carolingian period. Pippin II of Aquitaine, maybe?

The thing is, if Louis isn’t succeeded by his sons, it doesn’t look like he’s succeeded by anyone. Kings Ralph of West Francia and Rudolf II of Burgundy both nibble away at bits of territory. Rudolf slowly pulls some of the Alpine bits of Provence, such as Belley and maybe Apt, into his orbit; and looks like he made a short-lived play for Lyon – if so, he was probably kicked out relatively quickly. Ralph made a better go of it, asserting his authority over Vienne and as far south as Uzès, which is only a little distance away from Avignon, so very deep. However – and we do admittedly have evidential problems here – it doesn’t look like either tried to become Louis’ successor directly rather than just annexing some of his territory (which in both cases, they were inching towards even before Louis’ death).

Hugh of Arles’ role is even weirder. You’d have thought he’d be the obvious choice to succeed Louis – already a king elsewhere, powerful allies in the form of his brother Count Boso and nephew Archbishop Manasses of Arles, and personally possessed of a lot of land in the kingdom from back when he was its chief magnate. But although Hugh shows up in autumn and winter 928 and issues a bunch of diplomas, it looks to my eyes rather as though he was trying to stay the kingdom’s chief magnate whilst at the same time being king in a different kingdom. (This, incidentally, is why I was asking for help on Twitter from Crusade historians – trying to look for parallels. The closest is William the Conqueror, but even then the situation is only loosely comparable.) Hugh maintains an interest in Provence, right through into the 940s, but it’s unclear that he ever tried to assert himself as king and very, very likely that no-one every accepted him as their ruler – there are, to my knowledge, no charters dated by Hugh’s reign, even those issued in the name of Manasses of Arles.

Rather, most people, especially in the south of the kingdom, seem to have continued to recognise Louis the Blind as king, through to the mid-930s. One charter from 934 refers to Louis as the currently-reigning emperor even though he’s been in the ground (overwhelmingly probably) for six years and (certainly) for two. To me, this says that most people don’t recognise anyone as their legitimate king (and that, for some reason, Hugh of Arles doesn’t want to be king there even though he probably could). I haven’t thought through the implications of all this yet, but it’s striking that Louis’ realm is apparently coherent enough to keep going after his death but that Louis’ kingship laid so lightly on his subjects that no-one needed someone else to keep doing it…