Revisiting Louis V in Aquitaine II: Divide and Fail to Conquer

Last time, we looked at Richer of Rheims’ account of Louis V’s kingship in Aquitaine and I suggested that it may not be worth taking it entirely seriously as an explanation for why Louis failed. This time round, we’ll be looking at the situation in Aquitaine around 980, and I’ll be suggesting my own explanation for what went wrong. Let’s start by zooming on the woman at the centre of events: Louis’ wife Adelaide-Blanche. Louis was Adelaide’s third husband, the first two being a nobleman named Stephen of Gévaudan (although he was never count), with whom she had two sons named Pons and Bertrand; and Raymond dux Gothorum, with whom she had a son named William Taillefer. These two men take us into the two key regions of Auvergne and Toulouse.

Auvergne we’ve largely covered already in other posts, but to summarize: Bishop Stephen II of Clermont, the most important man in the area for decades by now, is getting very old and probably dying. Other important figures – notably Amblard of Lyon and Stephen of Gévaudan himself – have died. There are a number of people who want to re-carve the pie, including Bishop Stephen’s nephew Viscount Guy of Clermont and Adelaide’s sons Pons and Bertrand. Toulouse is a little more complicated, although the most complicated thing is the genealogy, which we’ve already got out of the way. This does means that I get to reveal to you that this particular extended digression actually has a point! The upshot is as follows: sometime in the early 970s, Count Raymond son of Ermengaud seems to have usurped Toulouse from Raymond ‘the Disinherited’ (to use Sébastien Fray’s useful nickname), the grandson of Raymond Pons. (Perhaps he owed his good fortune to the backing of dowager countess Garsindis, Raymond Pons’ widow, with whom he appears in a charter for Saint-Michel de Gaillac and who in turn richly endowed his son Hugh in her will; possibly she preferred her brother-in-law and nephew to her stepson.) He in turn was succeeded in the mid-970s by his own son Hugh (II), but Hugh disappears from the scene relatively shortly afterwards. Hugh’s successor wasn’t a son or brother of his, nor a scion of Raymond Pons’ family, but a cousin of both Hugh (II) and Raymond ‘the Disinherited’, also called Raymond. This Raymond appears to have had pretentions: Richer calls him ‘duke of the Goths’ – not a technical term, because as previously established Richer doesn’t have much in-depth knowledge of Aquitaine in this period – but a marker of someone whom Richer thinks is really important in the area. Moreover, what we can see of Raymond’s activity suggests very widespread ambitions indeed: on one hand, his marriage to Adelaide-Blanche, giving him a potential ‘in’ to the area around Mende, Vieille-Brioude, and even Le Puy; on the other hand, we are fairly confident he is the (unnamed) count of Toulouse who launched an attack on Count Roger the Old of Carcassonne around 980. My best guess is that having usurped Toulouse the young conqueror was trying to vindicate his position through military glory. His death shortly afterwards, along with the situation in the Auvergne, led to a power vacuum.

It was this power vacuum that Lothar was trying to exploit. Louis’ marriage to Adelaide put him right in the middle of these networks, with Pons and Bertrand as his stepsons, their uncle Bishop Guy of Le Puy – an old ally of Lothar’s – backing him, and Toulouse up for grabs. Lothar also tried other means to win allies – it’s far from certain, but there’s a decent chance that contrary to what I have previously implied, Guy of Clermont received his comital title from Lothar at this time.

So, the year is 982. (At the moment, the impression I get is that the scholarly consensus is that Louis’ reign lasted from 980-982, and I don’t think that’s right. The basic belief here is that the diplomas of Lothar dating to 982, which are unquestionably in Auvergne, are from the king’s second trip south, to pick up Louis rather than to drop him off. However, there are two pieces of evidence which point in favour of the later date. The less convincing is that Adhemar of Chabannes’ Commemoratio of the abbots of Saint-Martial in Limoges has Lothar arriving in Limoges in 983/4. The more convincing is that a charter for the abbey of Fleury is dated to 982, which it specifies is Louis V’s first year as king. This cannot mean the year of his coronation – the abbot of Fleury was at Louis’ coronation in 979 – and it’s unlikely that Fleury, an abbey whose abbot was appointed by Lothar, would have got his regnal years wrong (they don’t habitually in other charters), so the logical follow-on is that it refers to Louis’ first year as king in Aquitaine.) Louis is packed off to Aquitaine. Two years later, he’s back again. What went wrong?

Fundamentally, I think the problem was one of mismatched expectations. Lothar clearly expected Adelaide-Blanche’s connections within the region to be used to cement Louis’ control. However, sources show that Adelaide’s position was nowhere near as strong as the northerners thought. For one thing, she was in open conflict with the abbey of Brioude, which resulted in her and her sons’ excommunication, a serious blow to their legitimacy. Even once Adelaide backed down in the quarrel, the canons of Brioude refused to acknowledge Louis as king. Even more, Pons and Bertrand don’t seem to have wanted to play ball. Around this time, they captured Prior Wigo of Le Puy, a favourite of Bishop Guy, and imprisoned him in Mende. This particular conflict seems to have been one where Guy of Auvergne was on the other side. Guy was an ally of other cathedral dignitaries from Le Puy, and eventually lost his life in an attack on Mende. Given the importance of these people to any regime in Auvergne, Guy of Puy and Guy of Auvergne versus Pons and Bertrand was a cleavage right down the middle of Louis’ regime.

At the same time, Adelaide’s position in Toulouse was evidently shaky. Her son William Taillefer was young at the time, and either Raymond the Disinherited or his son appears to have taken the opportunity to force their way back into power there. Around 983, an unnamed count of Toulouse (but definitely not William) forced Abbot Bernard of Solignac into the abbey of Beaulieu by force of arms. Indisputably, by the early eleventh century, Raymond the Disinherited’s family was firmly in place as counts of Rouergue, a position they are likely to have consolidated by precisely such actions as the conquest of Beaulieu. In Gothia like in Auvergne, Adelaide’s family connections were not building-blocks, they were highways directly into conflict.

There was also one particular rivalry without these regions. Recall that Raymond dux Gothorum had been defeated c. 980 by Roger the Old of Carcassonne. Roger’s family was relatively new-come to its comital rank, and after that rank had been attained around the mid-tenth century Roger seems to have spent about twenty years chilling. However, when things kicked off in the region in the late 970s, Roger made his own bid for regional hegemony. Seemingly convinced that St Hilary fought in person by his side, he defeated his northern and southern neighbour and by the early 980s assumed the titles of ‘duke’ and ‘margrave’. It is a little dangerous arguing from this, but in a charter of 984 he switched from dating by Lothar’s reign to AD dating. This could indeed be a coincidence, but it could also signal a rejection of royal authority. If Louis’ aim was to step into the shoes of Raymond dux Gothorum, he was stepping directly into the role of Roger’s rival, and there was no reason for the count of Carcassonne to accept him.

Carcassonne today (source)

What we have, therefore, is not the situation Richer describes, where Louis’ fecklessness led him inexorably to personal and political ruin; but the result of an array of difficult challenges, most notably pre-existing cleavages in what was supposed to be his support base. Lots of people wanted him there, but they wanted him to come in and support them against their foes. He entered the game positioned as a player rather than as an umpire. His key power, that of being the fons et origio of legitimate authority, was pre-broken – his allies couldn’t help him because they were caught up in local quarrels and he couldn’t help them because he was already parti pris

Charter A Week 35: Acquiring A Larger Inheritance

911 was a busy year. In that year, traditionally, Charles finally came to an agreement with the Viking leader Rollo, officially handing over to him the city of Rouen and the neighbouring districts. This was to go on to have long-term implications, but what everyone at the time was probably more concerned about was the other big event: the death of King Louis the Child.

Louis’ death came at an unstable time in his own reign. Evidence is short, but it appears that the magnates of Lotharingia had risen up in rebellion against him, and this was still ongoing when he died. The question was open: who would be king now? The new East Frankish ruler, Conrad, made a game effort, but the eventual winner was Charles the Simple.

This gain tends to be massively under-rated by historians. Charles gained and held control of Lotharingia. No West Frankish ruler had successfully done this ever. Charles the Bald had tried and failed; but Charles the Simple, in the face of active opposition, managed to defeat a military rival and build a functioning coalition of governance in his new realm.

How’d he do it? Well, this is the kind of thing it involved:

DD CtS no. 68 (20th December 911, Cruzy-le-Châtel) = ARTEM no. 356 = DK 7.xxvi

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

As often as We make reasonable provision for the advantages of churches and the convenience of those who serve God, We are totally confident that this can benefit Us both in the salvation of both body and soul, and as well the stability of the whole realm bestowed on and conserved for Us by God.

As such, We wish the vigour of all of Our followers, not only present but also future, to know that the venerable man bishop Stephen of the holy church of Cambrai, approaching Our Magnificence, indicated to Us that the clerics of his said see held certain goods of the same bishopric consigned to their victuals, concerning which they had also once held a royal precept by the largess of King Zwentibald. But, when the same city burned down, the precept was also consumed by the hungry flames.

On the business of this matter, therefore, he humbly supplicated Our Piety that We might by Our munificence make good the loss of the old edict, which We in turn quite freely agreed to do for love of God and the brothers serving God therein, and We commanded that this authority should be renewed to them and for them for their protection. We therefore order and proclaim that the aforesaid clerics of the church may freely and at will concede amongst one another their houses which they have in the city to whomever they wish within the congregation of the same place, by no less than hereditary right, whether through sale and purchase or through exchange or simply through a gift.

Furthermore, let both the current clerics and their future successors in the same place now and henceforth in perpetuity hold and possess the monastery’s territory which is outside the town, and equally the villas consigned to their uses, to wit, in the district of Cambrésis, Carnières, Viesly, Cateau, Montigny, Gouzeaucourt, Gondrechies; plus Onnaing in the county of Hainaut; Thorigny in Vermandois, Carseuil in the Soissonnais as well, together with bondsmen of both sexes, with lands cultivated and uncultivated, meadows, waters and watercourses, mills, fields, and everything pertaining the brothers’ aforesaid goods, having power as if by hereditary right to do with them whatever they justly choose by common decree through unanimous consent.

If, though, someone hostile to this Our decree (which We little imagine) might strive to inflict any injury no matter how little, let them be judged culpable of a 600 shilling fine, in such a way that two parts of it should fall to the brothers of the same place, and the king’s fisc should receive the third; and in addition let them be unable to vindicate what they have iniquitously struggled towards, so that no-one might presume to usurp anything of this sort again.

And that the authority of this edict might perennially obtain inescapable vigour, We strengthened it with Our own hand, and We commanded it be adorned with the worth embellishment of Our ring.

Sign of Charles, most glorious of kings.

Hugh, notary of royal dignity, underwrote and subscribed this on behalf of Archbishop Heriveus.

Given on the 13th kalends of January [20th December], in the 14th indiction, in the 19th year of the reign of the most glorious king Charles, in the 14th year of his renewal of the kingdom’s unity, and in the 1st year of his taking-up of a larger inheritance.

Enacted at the villa of Cruzy-le-Châtel.

Happily in the name of God, amen.

CW 35 911
The original diploma, taken from the Diplomata Karolinorum as given above. 

There’s a big burst of diplomatic activity in 911 and 912, and the recipients are from quite a wide spectrum of grandees. This is Bishop Stephen of Cambrai, but there are also acts for the major lay magnate Reginar Long-Neck, Bishop Drogo of Toul, Bishop Stephen of Liège, Count Ricuin of Verdun, and Count Berengar of Lommegau. The major absence here is Archbishop Ratbod of Trier, who doesn’t appear in Charles’ entourage until 913; but this is a fairly long list of Lotharingia’s great and good.

Some of them, like Reginar Long-Neck and Stephen of Liège, Charles had close prior contacts with. Others, like Stephen of Cambrai, appear to have been quickly brought into Charles’ circles with rewards such as this confirmation diploma. Charles distributed access to his presence fairly evenly over Lotharingia, and this reaped rewards.

Not the least of Charles’ rewards was getting to call himself king in Lotharingia (although not king of Lotharingia), and we can see in this charter that there has been a quite important shift in his diplomatic. There are a couple of elements here I’d like to pick out. The first is that he has assumed the title of vir illustris, an old Roman senatorial title. Charles probably wasn’t claiming specific continuity with Rome so much as with his Carolingian and Merovingian ancestors. Tenth-century figures knew that vir illustris was an important rank and an old one. With that said, Charles dropped it fairly quickly, and it was ‘king of the Franks’, rex Francorum, which persisted. This was also explicitly backwards looking. As we’ve seen, until now kings in royal diplomas have tended to be simply entitled rex, king. Now, by hearkening back to the earlier Frankish rulers, Charles was (probably, this is disputed) trying to assert his overlordship over the whole Frankish world.

The absence of evidence for the 910s is a pain. Make no mistake, after the acquisition of Lotharingia, Charles probably was the most powerful man in the Frankish world, by quite a large margin. His two competitors, Berengar I of Italy and Conrad I of Germany, ruled territories racked by civil war and Saracen and Magyar invasions. Having beaten out his rivals and settled the Norman problem in the West, Charles was at the height of his power; and it’s a shame we can’t see how that worked in his relations with his neighbours.

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…

Loyalty and Regime Change in Neustria, part 1: Old War Stories

I was going to write about the conference I was at in Tübingen over the weekend, but I need to do some reading for it and I still don’t have library access here; and I’ve decided not to put up the legendary bigamous lesbian nun property magnate commune of Chartres until I’ve got you all good and hyped for it. So, this is the first of two posts where I try and solve a small issue which has been bothering me about one of the most important political changes of the whole post-Carolingian period. This one is largely background – the meat will be in a few days.

In my last post, I mentioned that the West Frankish kings of the mid-tenth century weren’t necessarily always in the kingdom’s driving seat, and for no king is that truer than Louis IV. Louis was born in 920 or so, the son of Charles the Simple (AKA the greatest Frankish king) and Eadgifu, the daughter of King Edward the Elder of England (the first of the three English kings called Edward who, for reasons of pro-Norman snobbery you’d really think would have died out by now, doesn’t get a number). When he was a toddler, his father was overthrown and imprisoned, and his mother fled with him to England for fear of what the victorious opposition might do to them.

He grew up in England until 936, when Charles’ eventual successor King Ralph died. Upon Ralph’s death, the West Frankish magnates, led by Hugh the Great, ruler of Neustria (the region of France between the Seine and the Loire rivers), decided to recall Louis to Gaul and make him their king. So far, so good. However, Hugh was largely interested in Louis’ value as a puppet king; and as Louis had no particular desire to be such, he and Hugh soon came to blows. The war began in 937, and kept going until 950. The issue at stake: how much real power would Louis be permitted?

Louis was, quite possibly, the most successful Carolingian monarch, at least in proportion to the resources he began with. His opponent was much richer and much more entrenched in Frankish politics, with more allies and more subordinates. However, while Louis was often on the back foot, his improvisational resistance kept him a player – until he was captured by Vikings and sold to Hugh in 945. Hugh stripped him of – apparently literally – all his estates and fortresses, leaving him nothing but his title.

Louis had only one string left to his bow: his marriage ties. His wife Gerberga – a fascinating, powerful woman who will probably merit several posts in future – went to her brother King Otto the Great of Germany, who arrived with a large army to put Louis back on his throne. After several years of campaigning, Otto effected a division of the kingdom, and peace was made in 950.

This wasn’t the end of things, though. In 954, Louis died by falling from his horse (just like the previous King Louis and the next King Louis), leaving the throne to his son Lothar, who was about fourteen or so. Gerberga – possibly because Otto was at this point caught up in fighting a very large-scale rebellion in Germany – appealed to Hugh as the best way to guarantee her son’s rule; and so Hugh came once more to his old puppet-master role. He and Lothar together attacked Poitiers, seemingly in an attempt to force the Duke of Aquitane, William Towhead, to submit to Hugh. At the same time, Gilbert, ruler of Burgundy, died, leaving his duchy to Hugh, fulfilling a long-standing objective of Hugh’s policy: the control of Burgundy.  King subdued, Burgundy gained, Aquitaine next: everything looked good, but at this propitious moment, in 956, Hugh died. And then everything changed…