Once Upon a Time in the South: John and the Wages of War (March 795)

Being a medieval historian often brings to mind the old joke about the drunk searching for his keys in the dark. Whatever we might want to find, unless it’s directly under the streetlights (or in our very narrow source base), we’re not going to find it, even if we’re pretty certain it must be around somewhere. In the early medieval period in particular, the lampposts are mostly fixed on royal courts and major religious institutions. For people and places beyond those shining lights, we generally have to hope that their paths will in some way cross these sources of illumination.  A fine example of this happening is the charter translated here (dangerously stepping on Fraser’s toes as the master of all cartulary knowledge in the process). I’m very fond of this one because it gives us an unusual glimpse of a warrior below the highest ranks of the elite. It also provides an illuminating perspective on the endlessly fascinating frontier region known as the Spanish March at an early stage of its development.

(Ed.: the charter as it stands is not preserved without textual question marks, which are illustrated in brackets following the MGH edition.)

DD Karol. 1 no. 179, also Catalunya Carolíngia 2.ii, p.310

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
<The most serene> Charles, by the grace of God, king of the Franks and of the Lombards and patrician of the Romans.
<Let it be known> to all our bishops, abbots, governors, companions, and all our followers, both present and future.
It is right that the power of the king should impart protection upon those who can be proved to need it.
[Therefore, let your greatness and advantage] know that John came to us and showed us the letter which our beloved son Louis [the Pious] had made for him and sent through him to us. And we found in this letter that John himself fought a great battle against the heretics or unbelieving Saracens in the district of Barcelona, where he overcame them at the place called Ad Ponte and slew the aforesaid infidels and took spoils from them. He then presented some of them to our beloved son, the best horse and the best mail coat and a scimitar with a silver scabbard; and he asked him [Louis] for the abandoned hamlet which is called Fontes in the district of Narbonne in order to work on it. He gave him [John] the hamlet and sent him to us.
And when he [John] had come to us with the letter which our son produced for him, he commended himself into our hands. Our said follower John asked that we might grant him the hamlet which our son had given him. We indeed grant him the hamlet itself, with all its borders and its appurtenances in its entirety; and whatever he and his men have occupied or will have occupied; and what they will have cleared from the waste in the village of Fontjoncouse; and what they will have occupied either within its borders or in other places or villages or hamlets; and what he and his men will have taken by aprisio. We grant all these things to him through our donation, so that he and his posterity may have it without any rent or trouble, while they are faithful to us or our sons. And in order that this authority may be held more firmly, we have sealed it under our signet.
Giltbert recognised and subscribed this on behalf of Rado.
Given in the month of March, in the twenty-fifth and eighteenth year of our reign, enacted at our palace at Aachen; happily in the name of God. Amen.

There’s a lot of interest in this short text, but let’s start with the basics. The exact dating of this charter is unclear, as that provided on the charter isn’t coherent. The most likely year is 795, that is before the more than a decade of campaigning through which the Carolingians would seek to expand the March. Louis the Pious was away from Aquitaine for two years from 792, making 794 the earliest he could have had his meeting with John, probably placing the charter grant by Charlemagne in March 795.

I’ve seen it suggested that John’s battle with the Saracens was connected to the invasion ordered by the Umayyad Emir Hisham I in 793. I suspect that that is both unlikely and unnecessary. The incursion of 793 was a fairly serious force that sacked the outskirts of Narbonne and beat the Count of Toulouse in battle, killing a large number of Franks in the process. That sounds like a far larger event than John’s skirmish, although it’s possible that John fought a band that had fanned out from the main invasion force. But we don’t need to assume that it happened then. In his epic poem praising Louis the Pious, Ermold the Black writes about feuds arising from raids on single households. Likewise, the Revised Royal Frankish Annals (s.a. 797) describes Barcelona as an area swinging between Christians and Muslims. This was a tough neighbourhood, and people in the region were quite capable of raiding each other without outside help.

One of the most exciting things about this charter is that it is part of a set. It comes down to us in a twelfth-century manuscript preserved in the cathedral of Narbonne. In 963, a descendant of John gave the land to the cathedral, together with a collection of relevant documents proving ownership, of which this charter was the first. Other documents in the collection included pertinent legislation and reconfirmations of the grant by later Carolingians. In addition, Christoph Haack and Thomas Kohl have recently drawn attention to an oath given by witnesses of the 795 grant in 833 on behalf of John’s son Teudefred. John and Teudefred had been chased off the land by Count Leibulf, but the latter managed to reclaim it, in large part thanks to the witnesses. The result is that we have a dossier that doesn’t just help us follow a family in the Spanish March through the ninth century, but also provides clues to help us understand the charter translated here.

One of those clues pertains to John’s ethnicity. Included in the manuscript is a charter given by Charlemagne in 812 to a group of men called hispani, one of whom is named John. The Emperor promised to protect the rights of these small landowners against the more powerful counts of the region. If, as seems most plausible, we identify this John as the same one from the first charter, this tells us that he and his men were most likely from the Iberian Peninsula (and after all, it takes Juan to know Juan). It is traditional to assume that such men were refugees from Muslim persecution in al-Andalus, and perhaps they were, but nothing in the historical record forces us to assume this. John appears as a warrior with a small following, who shrewdly parlayed success in battle into landed wealth. Although he was clearly a man of some standing, with a warband capable of skirmishing with enemy companies, this nonetheless places him several rungs below the type of military men we normally meet in the sources.

The site of John’s battle, Ad Ponte/To the Bridge, is unknown today, as is Fontes in the country of Narbonne. The oath of 833 tells us that it was originally given to John by a Count Sturmi as aprisio, before being confirmed by Louis and Charlemagne. The term aprisio is one that has been repeatedly discussed by scholars, but broadly it seems to have been a word of Iberian origin, applied to wasteland that was now being occupied. The hamlet of Fontes was deserted, so John raised buildings and cultivated the land. The reason the land was abandoned is uncertain. Saracen raids are one possibility, but there are many others.

There are a number of interesting details in this charter. The reference to the Saracens as ‘heretics’ points to the vagueness of Carolingian understandings of Islam. The discussion of the items presented by John to Louis suggests the importance of booty for warfare in the period, as well as the significance of gifts for relations between lords and followers. We can also see the interesting relationship between the written word and oral testimony. Louis wrote a letter for John that he could take to Charlemagne. Charlemagne confirmed the grant of lands in a text that was carefully preserved so we can read it today. But when John’s possession of the land was questioned, his son reclaimed it using the testimony of witnesses to the original grant. That testimony was itself written down and preserved. The two sources of authority interacted and complemented each other.

There’s much more that could be said about this charter, but it remains one of my favourites for the way it casts a spotlight on the Spanish March and on the people who tried to benefit from its sometimes-volatile nature.

Advertisement

Truth, Lies and Charlemagne’s Invasion of Spain

It is proverbial that truth is the first casualty in war. The events of the past months have reminded us that participants in war seek to control information in order to convince onlookers of the justice of their cause and the strength of their arms. Although the medium changes, this was as evident in the medieval past as in the present. In addition to deliberate fabrications spread by contending parties, misleading statements coexisted with genuine misunderstandings or miscommunications, reinforced by the tendency of commentators to interpret the news they received in ways that confirmed their pre-existing worldviews. This cloud of misinformation offers a challenge to historians, as we attempt to see through it to understand cause and effect and the reality of the conflicts that took place. But the stories people tell about the struggles they lived through also offer us a glimpse at their opinions about the practice and justification of war. Doing so can shed new light even on conflicts we think we know well.

A case in point is Charlemagne’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 778, probably the most famous war he ever took part in. Unfortunately for the Frankish king’s military reputation, the campaign went south very quickly metaphorically as well as literally. Charlemagne was invited to invade in 777 by Sulayman b. Yaqzan al-ʿArabi, the independent Muslim lord of Barcelona. Sadly for the Franks, not all of Sulayman’s pals in the Peninsula were on board with this plan. As a result, when Charlemagne invaded the following year, he found himself stuck outside the formidable walls of Zaragoza, held by Sulayman’s ally Husayn al-Ansari, who was considerably less enthused by the prospect of Charlemagne as a houseguest. Going nowhere fast, and with word of trouble elsewhere in the realm (including a sudden and dramatic collapse in house prices in his new city in Saxony), the Frankish king decided to cut his losses and retreat across the Pyrenees, where his rear-guard was ambushed at Roncesvalles by Basques and a count from the Breton March named Roland earned his posthumous immortality.

The disaster of Roncesvalles was to loom over the rest of Charlemagne’s reign. But in May 778, before that desperate battle in a Pyrenean pass, Pope Hadrian I (r.772-795) sent Charlemagne a letter (Codex Epistolaris Carolinus no.61) that raises questions about the motivations behind the whole messy business. The Pope begins the missive by writing:

Your God-appointed royal rule has informed us through your letter that the Agarene people [Muslims][1] are, contrary to God, striving to invade your territory. When this became known to us, we immediately became very uneasy and concerned, but our Lord God and Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, will never allow such a thing to happen. But we, dearest son and greatest king, constantly pray for you with all our priests and pious monks, with all the clergy and with all our people, for the mercy of our Lord God to subdue this wicked people of the Agarenes and to force them to your feet, so that they can never gain the upper hand against you; just as the people of Pharaoh were sunk in the Red Sea because they did not believe in God, so in this case too our Lord God should put this into your hands through the intervention of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. Believe in this and be persuaded that almighty God, if you believe in him, will give you the victory of your kingdom over your enemies and ours. And as, day and night, before the tomb of the Apostle of God [in Old St Peter’s Basilica], we constantly pray to the majesty of the Lord to enlarge your kingdom, let us always rejoice in your well-being and in the exaltation of your kingdom by God.

 

Pharaoh and his men (and unlucky horses) find themselves taking an unscheduled dip in the Red Sea in the Utrecht Psalter, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS Bibl. Rhenotraiectinae I Nr 32 f.61v.

There’s a lot going on in this passage that we could talk about; divine aid for Christians fighting non-Christians; the liturgy of war; the typologising of Muslims as the followers of Pharaoh. What I’d like to focus on in this post is Hadrian’s apparent conviction, expressed in the first sentence of the letter, that Charlemagne was in imminent danger of being invaded and that this was the motivation for the forthcoming Iberian campaign. The Pope did not necessarily anticipate that the Franks would fight a defensive war, as his hope that Charlemagne would expand his kingdom in the final sentence indicates. But the passage suggests that Hadrian thought the Franks were mustering against a serious enemy that intended to attack them imminently.

The first thing to note is that factually this impression is nonsense. The north-east Iberian Peninsula was in the hands of a group of small-time warlords such as Sulayman in Barcelona and Husayn in Zaragoza. None posed a threat to Charlemagne. Further south, ʿAbd al-Rahman I (r.756-788), the Umayyad Emir based in Córdoba, was beginning to expand his reach in order to make his claim to rule all al-Andalus real. In 777 his armies took control of the Central Meseta. This development made him a potential danger to the lords of the north-east, and was what prompted Sulayman to seek help from Charlemagne. Despite this expansion, Córdoba was not an immediate problem the Franks. The first Umayyad attack on Carolingian territory would not take place until 793, under ʿAbd al-Rahman’s successor. Al-Andalus represented no danger to Charlemagne in the 770s.

So how did Hadrian come to the idea that Charlemagne was about to face an Andalusi invasion? It seems to me that there are three possibilities, listed here in chronological order:

1.   Sulayman misled Charlemagne in 777, making the latter think he was in danger to increase the chance of getting his support.

2.   Charlemagne misled Hadrian in his letter to put the war in a better light.

3.   Hadrian has got the wrong end of the stick/is misinterpreting the whole business for his own.

Option one is perhaps the most interesting because it would alter our understanding of events the most. I’ve generally viewed the invasion of 778 as a fairly straightforward attempt at conquest, with Charlemagne taking the opportunity offered by Sulayman to repeat his successful defeat of the Lombard kingdom in 774. That al-Andalus was ruled by non-Christians made it possible to justify the invasion as a holy war (something I’ve written about elsewhere). If Charlemagne legitimately thought he was facing an imminent threat and was looking for WMDs getting in his retaliation first, that changes the picture. That the Frankish king was genuinely concerned is suggested by grants of land he made to Christian settlers from al-Andalus in 781 that they might work together to defend the realm.

That said, this is the possibility I’m most comfortable rejecting. The Roncesvalles campaign was a fiasco that permanently stained Charlemagne’s reputation. A scapegoat, particularly a non-Frankish, non-Christian one, would be very welcome in those circumstances. Yet, there isn’t much effort made to present Sulayman as a malicious actor. The Annals of Lorsch say that Charlemagne took Sulayman prisoner in 778, but this conflicts with what we know about the (brief) rest of his career and is not mentioned in either the Royal Frankish Annals or the Chronicle of Moissac. If Sulayman had misled Charlemagne, I’d expect someone like Einhard to be cursing his name for his treachery. It’s still by no means impossible that Sulayman told Charlemagne that ʿAbd al-Rahman was coming for him, but I think it’s the least likely of the options available.

Option two is more plausible to my mind. Throughout his reign, Charlemagne was good at finding suitable casus belli to wage wars on his neighbours, as Duke Tassilo of Bavaria could confirm. The Carolingians as the defenders of the church and the Christian people against the Saracen menace was a theme that had appeared in writings connected to Charles Martel and Pippin III. That he might have misrepresented the situation to the Pope is not impossible. The preservation of Hadrian’s letter may be evidence in favour of this. The missive survives in the Codex Epistolaris Carolinus, a collection of 99 letters from Popes mostly to Carolingians. They were gathered together in one manuscript in 791 on royal orders so that they be consulted for future use. Given that he deliberately chose to preserve the letter, we can probably assume that Charlemagne was happy with the way Hadrian characterised the situation in early 778. This might be because he was the one who had presented it that way to the Pope.

I do wonder how necessary such a subterfuge would be. Hadrian was pretty dependent on Charlemagne’s support in Italy (more on which below). Further, it’s not like the Muslims of al-Andalus were the most sympathetic victims from a papal perspective. In the 780s Hadrian became increasingly interested in the Christians of the Iberian Peninsula. The letter of 778 suggests he was pretty relaxed about the idea of Charlemagne waging expansionist wars in the region.

Option three shifts the focus to Rome and comes in two flavours. The first of these observes that misunderstanding the situation allows Hadrian to rhetorically boost his own importance to Charlemagne. The devotions of the Pope and assembled faithful of Rome to St Peter on the Frankish king’s behalf look a lot more valuable if the heathen is massing at the border. Charlemagne valued these prayers. Hadrian had performed litanies for his victory over the Lombards in 774 and the Frankish king would request them in 791. Emphasising the protection that St Peter was offering meant emphasising the role of the Prince of the Apostles as Charlemagne’s patron.

As it happened, Hadrian, and therefore St Peter, needed a favour. Most of the rest of the letter is concerned with the Pope’s difficulties with Prince Arichis II of Benevento (r.754-787). Hadrian complains that Arichis is trying ‘to unlawfully free the inhabitants of Campania from the power and rule of St. Peter and ours and to put them under the [Byzantine] Patrician of Sicily’. He asks that Charlemagne intervene, and order Arichis to desist in such behaviour. This would not be the last time Hadrian would worry about the Beneventans plotting with Byzantium. Playing up how necessary the aid of the Pope and the blessing of St Peter were for Charlemagne’s success couldn’t hurt Hadrian’s case. A further bit of context might be important. Two years earlier Hadrian had been accused of participating in the sale of Christians as slaves to Muslim traders. He had denied the allegations, but he might have felt that a noisy declaration of a ‘tough on Saracens’ policy would be useful to distance himself from the rumours.

This is the more rational version of option three. The other variant is that Hadrian just straight up misunderstood the message. Although he was a shrewd politician who forged a successful alliance with Charlemagne, there were gaps to his knowledge. In a letter of 781 Hadrian sought to counsel the Frankish king on ʿAbbasid campaigns against Byzantium. In addition to being several years behind recent developments, the Pope completely garbled his information, inventing a civil war in the Caliphate that hadn’t happened. A hint that Hadrian might have been concerned that he didn’t have the full story comes in the letter, where he mentions that he sent the diplomats bearing this letter to Charlemagne ‘to clarify the matter’ of the forthcoming Saracen invasion.

I’m not sure which of these options is correct (although two and three strike me as the most plausible). It may never be possible to be certain. In the meantime, we shall have to content ourselves with weighing the meagre evidence trying to balance likelihoods. Nonetheless, we can say a couple of things for certain. In the eighth century, no less than in the twenty-first, people struggled to understand the causes of wars, hampered by poor communication systems, deliberate falsifications and the magnification of half-truths and misunderstandings. Despite these difficulties, they made the attempt. The reasons for conflict mattered, sufficient to lie and sufficient to try to pierce through the lies.

[1] -Ish. Early medieval Christian understanding of Islam and Muslims could be a little vague. Indicating that someone was a descendant of the Biblical Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Abraham, Agarene had both religious and racial connotations and while it could be used neutrally, it had strong pejorative overtones.

Charter A Week 60: Two Responses to the Accession of Louis IV

This is, I promise, the last time I’ll mention the issues of finding charters to translate for the last years of Ralph of Burgundy, but it’s really noticeable how much the accession of Louis IV changes the evidential picture. This is actually the fifth post I’ve written over the years covering the events of 936, and it’s a twofer. That’s right, I couldn’t decide between two charters and so I’ve done both. What links them is that both are responding to Louis’ accession in different ways. The salient point here is that, as we’ve covered before, once Louis was crowned his main backer Hugh the Great took him into Burgundy to try and claim as much of it as possible. You see, Ralph’s brother Hugh the Black, whose powerbase was really more in Transjurane Burgundy, was also trying to do the same thing. We’ve seen before some of the tactics Louis and Hugh the Great tried to use to outbid Hugh the Black for regional support, but we’ve never looked at it from the other side. This brings us to our first charter – one of the most elaborate surviving in Hugh the Black’s name – issued just after the successful conclusion of Louis’ campaign.

ASSA no. 7 (1st September 936, Autun).

In the name of Lord God Eternal and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Hugh, humble count and margrave.

We wish to make it known to the faithful of the holy Church of God, present and future, but chiefly those before whose presence it should happen that this charter of this Our largess should come, that, when We approached the parts of Autunois for a certain necessary reason and entered the hall of the outstanding martyr St Symphorian to pray, and were awaiting the coming of Our followers there for a little while, there came into the presence of Our view Count Gilbert [of Chalon], Count Alberic [of Mâcon] and his son Leotald, and Our follower Adso, intimating to Our Sublimity that the abbot and prior of that place, Teudo, and the whole multitude of canons dwelling under him were suppliantly asking for some gift for Our commemoration in future; and that the place now seemed to be like it was brought to nothing due to the poverty, need, and want of the canons serving there.

We, then, wishing to obey their advice, for love of God and St Symphorian, and in alms for Our father Richard [the Justiciar] and Adelaide, and as well for the remedy of Our soul, restore and give certain manses of land to the stipends of the brothers serving the church of Saint-Symphorien: to wit, in the county of Beaune, twelve manses of land of fruitful vines in the estate which is called Nolay; and in the same district, in another place, eight-and-a-half manses in the estate of Créancey pertaining to the estate of Panthier which a certain matron named Drosia once gave to Saint-Symphorien.

Moreover, Our said followers beseeched that We might concede to them a charter concerning this gift of Our largess to be held in posterity. And thus We commanded a testament of this Our assent to be made, a decree of which We decreed, and in decreeing We urge that the aforesaid manses of land, with everything pertaining to them, visited and unvisited, should endure perpetually assigned and eternally deputed to the uses of the brothers and canons of Saint-Symphorien, and that they should unceasingly exhort the Lord and St Symphorian for Our life and safety; and, when the time comes and the end of Our life, let them, moved by mercy and led by piety, not neglect to commemorate the day of Our death, sustained by the aforesaid goods.

May peace and blessings, long life and joy, honour, praise and glory without any end come to those who conserve this Our decree; but to those who destroy it, may their part be anathema maranatha, be written with Judas, the betrayer of the Lord, and may they be thought of with Dathan and Abiron whom the Earth swallowed alive, subject to an endless curse.

And that this charter of Our largess might in the name of God grasp fuller firmness, We confirmed it with a touch and We asked it be confirmed by Our followers written herein.

Enacted at Autun, happily in the Lord, amen.

Sign of Count Hugh. Sign of Count Gilbert. Sign of Count Alberic. Sign of Adso. Sign of Humfrid. Sign of Viscount Robert [of Dijon]. Sign of Humbert. Sign of Witlenc. Sign of Manfred. Sign of Hugh. Sign of Leotald.

Given on the first day of the month of September, in the …th indiction, in the first year of the reign of King Louis.

I, Boso, chaplain of Saint-Symphorien, wrote and gave this.

As you can see right at the end there, by this point Hugh has recognised Louis as king, so this is probably after the division of Burgundy into spheres of influence. Partly, in fact, the charter seems to be asserting spheres of influence. As we’ve seen before, the big bone of division was over Langres. The end result of the fighting seems to have been to split the diocese of Langres in two, leaving the south under Hugh’s direct influence. The estates he confirms here are significant, therefore: they are in the county of Beaune, but the north of it (specifically, Créancey the northernmost of the two estates, is in Auxois). This is an assertion of power: Louis might have cut him out of Langres, but Hugh can still reach pretty far north.

With that said, it’s unlikely that any division cut Hugh off from his support. What we can see here, I think, is very much his established following and I don’t think that a charter from, say, July 936 would have had a witness list that looks very different. The biggest petitioners are Alberic of Mâcon and Gilbert of Chalon. Alberic is an old hand here: in addition to being count of Mâcon, he’s also count of Besançon, another significant Transjurane player and someone who has been allied to Hugh for a good long while now. The bond between Hugh and Gilbert is a little less obvious, but nonetheless present. Gilbert was a major figure in Ralph’s Burgundy and with a power-base mostly around Chalon, another important southern figure. The final titled person here, Viscount Robert of Dijon, supports the idea that the north/south split was a de facto division as much as anything else. And, of course, on the southern front, this is all taking place in Autun – although, you’ll note, without Bishop Rotmund being present. If he had (as I’ve suggested) had his coat turned by Hugh the Great and Louis, maybe he was persona non grata that winter?

Our second charter takes us to a familiar place and a familiar response. We’ve seen before that Hugh of Arles was a bit worried about all of this. He wasn’t the only one.

Brioude no. 337 (28th August 936, Brioude)

The Commander of everything good and the Lover of human salvation, Who gave himself for our redemption, has deigned to look out for us such that we can buy eternal prizes from the transitory goods which we will leave behind after a short time when death interrupts us. Wherefore it is greatly expedient that we should endeavour to entrust if not all then part of the doomed goods which we secure by His grant to His service, so that (that is) when the others are used up in the usages of this life, we might rejoice that what we gave to Him will remain with us forever.

Therefore, let everyone, both present and future, who will take their place in the congregation of the most blessed martyr Julian at Brioude, that I, Cunebert, levite and prior of the aforesaid congregation, at the exhortation and with the consent, to wit, of lord Hector, our dean, and all the canons of our said congregation of all ages, hand over a certain possession named Chanteuges in honour of our Saviour and the holy martyrs, to wit, in the first place the said lord Julian and another Julian, nicknamed ‘of Antioch’, and Saturninus, churches of the two of whom have been built therein, for this end: that hereafter a monastic way of life might exist therein. My grandfather Claudius, himself a convert, wished to make this possession a canonical congregation, as did his wife; she managed her other part with holy nuns, and because she was overtaken by death she left the aforesaid possession to me by right of a testament, so that after her death it should remain with St Julian at the abbey of Brioude.

However, since I and our abovesaid Dean Hector and all the brothers spoke frequently of the perils of this life and as well the tremendous trail of the Final Judgement, at length we all came to this consensus: that we should hand over the aforesaid place to a stricter way of life, that is, of monks, for our common salvation; and because charity already grows cold, since iniquity overflows all around and the order of things is soon overthrown such that we are unable to change our way of life to the canonical institution, at least it should benefit us before the Lord if we sustain from our rights those who might live according to the Rule, particularly fearing this, that for the honour of our lord Julian much should be given by us in alms lest it should happen that the Judge of All should impute to us that prophecy and hold us to have eaten up the sins of the people.

Both Prince Raymond [Pons] of the Aquitanians, and our abbot and viscount Dalmatius [I of Brioude] and certainly our bishop Arnald [of Clermont] and also the excellent men of this region, to wit, Bertrand and Viscount Robert [of Clermont] and the younger Robert and Eustorgius, and certain other provincials, consented to this decree in order that they would not be seen to rejoice half-heartedly, abjuring, indeed, their successors, in the name of God and the aforesaid holy martyrs, and chiefly indeed the most holy lord Marcellinus, bishop of Embrun, whose most holy body (with many other relics of the saints) were at the present time, by God’s gift, received in that place, that each of them in his time should defend this our constitution as much as possible, and that they should never endure that it be infringed.

Let this offering be first for our congregation, both living and dead; and then for our king and lords and our abovesaid princes, as well as for our kinsmen and intimates. After that – just all of us members of the church are held in one binding of charity, thus let it profit all of the faithful, so that we might be able to share in the good of each; then let this offering be, truly, for the soul of Duke William [the Pious] and his nephews William [the Younger] and Acfred, and for the soul of Claudius – to wit, my grandfather – and the other deceased; otherwise, let it be specially for all of those who offered defence or solace to this place and its inhabitants.

If anyone, God forbid, should contradict this Our ordination, or try to change this we have decreed to injure us and St Marcellinus and the aforesaid holy martyrs, not only let them be deprived of this reward, but also, unless they correct themselves, let them incur the crime of a reckless person and persecutor before Christ’s tribunal; and beholding their own damnation, let them be immersed in the inferno by the Devil with Judas, betrayer of the Lord.

We also communally decree that we should commit the case and execution of this matter to the venerable lord abbot Odo [of Cluny]; and because he is occupied with many other things, therefore we delegate the business of the aforesaid matter to the most reverend man lord abbot Arnulf to be carried out. Let the monks, with their abbot, lead a life entirely according to the Rule as it was handed down by the blessed Benedict. After the death of the present abbot, moreover, let them make another for themselves not in accordance with the ordination of anyone else, but in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict; and let them and all their goods be free and absolved from all dominion of any person.

Therefore we entrust to the service of God and the holy Rule, absolved in every way, the aforesaid place of Chanteuges, sited on one side on the river Allier and on the other on the river Desges, with two churches, as we said, with other woods, meadows, waters, mills, all their adjacencies, cultivated and uncultivated, currently known and to be discovered; with another wood, that is, named Bourleyre. This place is in the district of Auvergne, in the county of Brioude, in the vicariate of the same estate. We also give to that place, in another place, the estate which is called Vaunat with all its adjacencies; and in another place, one double manse, called Benac, in its entirety; in that aich, two manses, of which one is called Bonnavat, in its entirety; and in the vicariate of Nonette, in the estate which is called Collanges, and in that aich, two manses called Combrunas, and in that vicariate, in the estate which is named Sauciat, as much in these estates as we are seen to have and possess, we cede wholly there with all its adjacencies. And I, Cunebert, for the honour of God our Saviour and the most holy Marcellinus and other saints whose merits are venerated there by all, cede to that place something from the goods of my property which fell to me through acquisition and inheritance legitimately; that is, in the estate called Paredon, three manses, with all their adjacencies, and in that aich, in the estate called Rivacus, two manses with appendages, with a garden and an indominical meadow; and in another place called Vaillac, three manses in their entirety, as much in those said estates as I am seen to have and possess; and in another place which is called Cros, as much there as I acquired from Ainard, and will be able to acquire both in land and in vineyards.

I give, transfer and give over this wholly and entirely to God, as was written above, the Saviour, and Saint Marcellinus; but, because the said place was bestowed from the dominion of Saint-Julien, as the case is being enacted for spiritual reasons, thus we ordered that spiritual rent should be rendered for the sake of recognising possession (nothing to men); to wit, that they should on ordinary days pay two psalms for the living and the office for the dead in each of the Regular hours. Indeed, our congregation holds a privilege, conceded anciently, that is, from the time of King Pippin, that whatever we might communally decree concerning the goods of our church should endure entirely undisturbed and inviolable. Therefore we pray and call to witness through the Lord and in the Lord and through all His saints, that no king at all, nor any bishop, nor any viscount, nor (as was said above) any person at all might presume to disturb this our constitution, fearing the divine warning which says ‘‘Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark’, and he who consents, and let him deserve blessings who consents to good.’

Sign of Cunebert, prior and levite, who asked this constitution to be made and confirmed. Sign of Raymond, duke of the Aquitanians, whose other name, by God’s will, is Pons. Sign of Bishop Godeschalk [of le Puy]. Sign of Viscount Dalmatius. Sign of Ingelberga. Sign of Dalmatius [II of Brioude], his son. Sign of Bertrand. Sign of Stephen. Sign of Viscount Robert. Sign of Bertelaicus. Sign of Eustorgius. Sign of Bernard. Sign of Wirald. Sign of Rodrand.

The authority of this testament given on the fifth kalends of September [28th August], in the first year of the reign of lord king Louis, in the basilica of the nourishing martyr Julian, before the altar of Saint Stephen.

I’ve actually spoken about the politics behind this one before so I can be shorter here than with the above. There are two main arguments here. First, Raymond Pons of Toulouse is never otherwise seen this far north. This is probably a show of force to rally support: with Ralph dead, the settlement of affairs in Auvergne which he oversaw and which we’ve discussed in passing in a couple of previous Charter A Weeks was potentially vulnerable. This meant that Raymond’s loose suzerainty could be challenged – but it could also be reinforced. Hence his presence here alongside the great and the good, reminding them of his claims and his power. Second, the claim to be ‘duke of the Aquitanians’ is new. Such a claim must be a response to Hugh the Great’s claim to be ‘duke of the Franks’, a denial of Hugh’s authority over Raymond and a claim that his status is equal. Even more, it may well be a warning to Hugh not to try anything in Aquitaine.

Hugh didn’t try anything in Aquitaine, but he did in Burgundy. Details are scanty, but it seems he cut a separate deal with Hugh the Black, leaving Louis IV out of the loop. Why he did this is unknown, and it appears to involve a change in his intentions since summer 936 (so much for Good Guy Hugh, past me…) but it’s the first sign of some really serious tensions between Hugh the Great and Louis. Next time on Charter A Week, we’ll look for a sign of some more…

So You’re at War with the Carolingians: A Survival Guide

Picture it in your mind’s eye. You are the ruler of a medium sized polity in eighth- or ninth-century Europe, cheerfully going about your business extracting economic surplus from your people, when one of your advisors comes up to you with a worried expression on his face. He has just received bad news from your informants at the court of the Franks. Your mighty Carolingian neighbour is starting to muster his armies and you are the target. Maybe your idiot son has launched one too many raids into his territory. Maybe too many of his nobles have been talking quietly to his idiot son about the need for fresh blood in Frankish politics. Maybe his favourite exotic animal has just died and he’s in a bad mood. As the Byzantines say, ‘If a Frank is your friend, he is not your neighbour,’ and unfortunately this Frank is right next door to you. You’re in trouble. Thankfully, help is at hand. In this post we’re going to consider some of the options you have when the Carolingian war machine is at the gates. These are by no means foolproof, but they will give you the best chance you have to survive.

This is Fine. Everything is Fine. (The Golden Psalter, St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 22, fo. 141).

Rule number one of fighting the Carolingians is don’t. This is the family that conquered most of western Europe, including Aquitaine, Saxony, Lombard Italy, Bavaria, the Avars and the Spanish March. They carved out the biggest empire west of Byzantium and they did not do that by being bad at war. You should at the very least be exploring options for avoiding conflict with them. Offering tribute and becoming a client is an entirely viable move, particularly if it buys you time to regain your autonomy at a later date (see Benevento in 788). If you’re not already a Christian, consider converting. Not only will that endear you to your Carolingian neighbours, but the process of baptism also comes with free shiny new clothes and a pen-pal who lives in Rome. (Christianity also comes in Greek, which is less immediately useful in the circumstances but in the longer run may allow you to play the Franks off against Constantinople).

As Duke Tassilo III of Bavaria (r.748-788) could confirm, becoming a client of the Carolingians is not without risk and you may find yourself in front of a kangaroo court on dubious grounds, particularly if you have enemies at home eager to replace you (and who doesn’t?). Even if you’re willing to risk that, peace is not always an option. Sometimes the Carolingians are out to get you specifically. In the unhappy event that war is unavoidable, you are best served by avoiding a straight fight. People as far away as Baghdad know that Frankish swords are the best, and the wealth of the empire means that their armies are well-equipped with chainmail and horses. Most importantly, you will almost certainly be outnumbered. Whichever colourfully named Charles or Louis you’re facing can raise large forces made up of contingents from different peoples across the empire. They will probably place multiple armies in the field, something that Charlemagne (r.768-814) did against the Saxons in 774, al-Andalus in 778, the Bavarians in 787 and the Avars in 791 and 796, and that Louis the German (r.840-876) would still be doing against the Moravians in the 870s. Their aim here is to limit your room to manoeuvre and force you into a pitched battle, playing to their strengths in numbers and soldiers on horseback.

(The one potential exception here for avoiding a major battle is if your Carolingian opponent is Charles the Bald (r.840-877). Charles did not have a great record at winning battles, if his defeats at the hands of the Bretons at Ballon in 845 and Jengland in 851 and by his nephews at Andernach in 876 mean anything. He was a very successful ruler but not particularly lucky on the battlefield, with a tendency to try to be a bit too clever for his own good in his military tactics. High risk, cunning schemes like attacking Brittany in the middle of winter with a small army or attempting to manoeuvre his army at night often blew up in his face, so you could try to bring him to battle and hope he outsmarts himself.)

A core concept here is time. If you can’t go toe-to-toe with the Carolingians, your aim is to make the process of conquering you too long, difficult and unpleasant to be worth the continual effort (think Russia in 1812, or Geoffrey Boycott). Keep it going long enough and a crisis is going to happen somewhere else in the Carolingian world to distract attention, like the Saxon uprising that forced Charlemagne to leave the Iberian Peninsula in 778. Internal Frankish conflict in particular is your friend. As the Bretons in 830 can attest, Louis the Pious (r.814-840) can’t invade your lands if no one wants to show up to join his army. Playing for time is easier said than done and you may need to survive several years of being repeatedly invaded. It helps if, like Benevento, you are far away from the Carolingian heartlands between the Seine and the Rhine and getting to you is a bit difficult. Sometimes you’re just going to get unlucky and become someone’s pet project they keep returning to over the decades, as with Charlemagne and the Saxons.

Other powers will take advantage of the Carolingians being focussed elsewhere, such as Emir Hisham I of al-Andalus, who raided Francia in 793 at the height of the Avar Wars. It may be worth formalising such alignments of interest by allying with your neighbours. The Bohemians were quite big on this, allying with the Moravians in 871 in the face of Frankish aggression, and in 880 with the Daleminzi and Sorbs. On a larger scale, Prince Arichis II of Benevento entered into negotiations for Byzantine support in 787. Admittedly, none of these enterprises were particularly successful; but with that said, keeping your neighbours on side will help stymie another classic Carolingian strategy of allying with them against you, as demonstrated by Charlemagne’s deal with the Abodrites, targeted against the Saxons.

You can also try cutting deals with rebels within the empire. The Umayyads of Córdoba repeatedly destabilised the Spanish March by allying with the losers in internal conflicts in the region, such as Aizo and Willemund in 827, and William of Septimania in 847. By dividing the frontier regions, you make it harder for them to be used as springboards against you, while also gaining sources of intelligence about Frankish movements. The Moravians did similar things with the counts of the Bavarian frontier, suborning multiple figures such as Ratpod in 854 and Gundachar in 869. The Carolingians were not always good at keeping their family conflicts in-house, and frustrated sons resisting the authority of their fathers can also make useful friends. Salomon of Brittany (r.857-874) sent troops to support Louis the Stammerer against his father Charles the Bald in 862, while Rastislav of Moravia (r.846-870) allied with multiple rebellious sons of Louis the German. This is a high-stakes move. By interfering in Carolingian politics you are placing a target on your back for retribution, so make sure you’re not exposed if/when the scapegrace princes decide to reconcile with their family.

One of the best means of getting the time you need to survive is by building fortifications. High walls are not invulnerable to Carolingian armies, but they can slow them down nicely (making derogatory comments about the species and odour of the besiegers’ parents from the top of the walls is traditional). Something like the extensions to the Danevirke finished in 808 by King Godfrid of the Danes (r.804-810) serves as a deterrent and statement of intent, while getting your subjects facing in the right direction and united in a shared project. The Moravians frequently managed to hold off East Frankish armies from their fortified cities. As I can attest from personal experience, trying to climb up to Devín castle in what is now Slovakia when the people on top don’t want you to makes for a challenging day out. The Vikings were masters of setting up shop on a strategically located island in a river and refusing to move unless they were paid to go. Perhaps the gold standard here are the fortified cities of the Upper March in al-Andalus, where the Carolingians spent several decades banging their heads against the walls of Zaragoza, Tortosa and Tarragona to limited effect.

This turtling strategy is not without risk. The Franks can be patient if the rewards are high enough. Concentrating all of your resources and political capital in one place is tempting, but leaves you vulnerable to being taken out with the fall of one city. Charlemagne was willing to overwinter and spend eight months besieging King Desiderius of the Lombards (r.757-774) in Pavia because seizing it got him most of northern Italy in one fell swoop.  Likewise, Emperor Louis II of Italy (r.855-875) kept laying siege to Bari until it finally fell in 871 because doing so destroyed the emirate that was based there. Allowing the Carolingians to get too comfy outside your walls is also a problem. Barcelona fell to Louis the Pious in 801 because Louis knew he didn’t have to worry about reinforcements coming from Córdoba and could besiege at his leisure.

But the biggest problem with hunkering down in your fortress is that it leaves your land and people vulnerable to the occupying army. The Franks will loot and pillage the surrounding countryside, partly to get booty, but mostly to put pressure on you to come out and fight. Not only is your resource base being stolen before your eyes, but a king who won’t protect his people is going to get very unpopular very quickly. Being on the defensive all the time is draining, and morale may collapse quite quickly. A case in point is the plight of Duke Liudewit of Lower Pannonia, whose fortification strategy against the armies of Louis the Pious, while not without success, eventually exhausted the patience of his allies, leading to his death in 823 at their hands.

All this suggests that fortifications may be useful, but they need to form part of a wider strategy. If you can’t take on the entire Carolingian host in one go, then you can at least attempt some aggressive countermeasures. Raids and ambushes will go a long way to restoring your morale and reducing theirs. The Basques and Bretons acquired a particular reputation for this sort of irregular warfare, practiced most famously when the former ambushed Charlemagne’s rear-guard at Roncesvalles in 778, leading to the death of Roland. The key to this sort of warfare is mobility, which allows you to pick your fights when and where you want them. No one did this better than the Vikings, who could use their ships to move unexpectedly along the rivers, but were also surprisingly good at moving over land by commandeering horses.

A certain audacity can sometimes be useful: see the example of the Saxons who snuck into a Frankish camp in 775 by pretending to be foragers, causing chaos among the half-asleep soldiers. Dirty tricks may also be necessary. In 871, having promised to bring the rebellious Moravians under East Frankish controls, upon arriving at the Moravian capital, Svatopluk I (r.871-894) changed sides and took by surprise the Bavarian army that had accompanied him.  Be aware that the Franks are by no means novices at irregular warfare themselves, as the unlucky Moravians ambushed by them later the same year learned to their cost. 

I would also suggest launching raids across the border if the Franks have retreated for the end of the campaigning season. Having spent much of 855 being besieged by Louis the German, Rastislav of Moravia tailed the Frankish army when it returned home for winter and began raiding the countryside. While this may feel akin to lobbing pinecones at a bear while it’s walking away, it helps place pressure on the Carolingians to come to the negotiating table. You want to make being at war with you an uncomfortable experience that has wider ramifications. Keep offering them a reasonable face-saving out while making it clear that the alternative is unpleasant. Salomon of Brittany was able to use attacks on Frankish territory to force Charles the Bald to recognise him as King of Brittany in 867. Raids like this also help solidify your position at home, not just by acquiring booty, but by giving your warriors something to feel good about, and helping your wider political community understand that you have a plan for how to win this war that goes beyond letting yourself be punched in the face until the other guy’s hand starts hurting.

While I have strongly counselled against taking the main Carolingian army in the field, smaller detachments are another matter. A classic example of divide and conquer can be observed in 849. The Bohemians, under pressure from a large Frankish army under the command of Ernest, dux of the Bavarian frontier, sent envoys offering peace to one of the army’s captains, Thachulf, dux of the Sorbian March. Thachulf’s arrogance in accepting their terms without consulting the rest of the army annoyed a large chunk of the Franks, who pressed ahead without the others and were defeated by the Bohemians. The military organisation of Carolingian forces into units based on kingdom of origin can be used in your favour, as when a campaign against the Moravians in 872 collapsed because the Thuringians and the Saxons taking part kept feuding with each other.

When it does come to battle, try to pick ground that suits you, and force the Carolingians to fight on your terms. Einhard observed that the Basques at Roncesvalles in 778 were helped by the lightness of their gear and their familiarity with the uneven mountain terrain. Charles the Bald was lured into a marsh at Ballon in 845, allowing the Bretons to exploit their superior knowledge of the ground. At Jengland in 851, the Bretons refused to close with Charles’s men, using their lightly armoured horsemen to harass the Carolingian army with javelins and feinting to draw them out of formation. In 891, King Arnulf (r.888-899) hesitated before engaging and defeating the Vikings at the Battle of the Dyle because his army would be hemmed in by marsh and river and have to fight on foot.  

There are no sure-fire ways of defending yourself against the Carolingians, but following these rules of thumb will give you as much a chance as anyone has.

[The above is an extremely artificial exercise and there are obvious problems with what I’ve just written. Not only have I flattened more than a century of Carolingian history, ignoring dramatic changes in the political structure of the empire, I’ve also homogenised the various peoples and polities unlucky enough to be stuck next to them. This is particularly egregious in the case of the Vikings, who operated very differently to the other examples I discuss.

My central conceit of addressing an early medieval prince also led me to encourage certain types of solutions, suggesting that the political community best equipped to resist the Carolingians is:

1.   Far away

2.   Sufficiently centralised to raise the resources to build and man extensive fortifications, and to remain united under considerable pressure.

While point 1 stands in any circumstances, strictly speaking point 2 can be challenged. Fracturing into small, hard to manage communities and thereby becoming ungovernable will also give the Carolingians a real headache, as Louis II’s misadventures in southern Italy attest. I just couldn’t see this being the sort of option that would appeal to a prince.

The main reason I wrote this post is because I wanted to put myself into the head of someone who was an enemy of the Carolingians. Most of our sources come from the Carolingian world, which shapes our perspective of their wars. Not only do we understand things from their logic, it leads us to sympathise with them. One of my research priorities is to centre these apparently peripheral polities. I want to underline how scary a prospect the Carolingians were in this period (Reuter’s adage that ‘for most of Europe in the eighth and ninth century it was the Franks who were the Vikings’). But I also want to think about their leaders as undertaking strategies and responding to the problems caused by their giant neighbour. This represents one way of thinking about that.]

A Sad Story About Why Charles the Simple Succeeded Odo

We’ve discussed Charles the Simple’s succession to the West Frankish throne a little bit before, but never really gone into detail about one question which has always bugged me: why did Odo let Charles succeed him? OK, sure, we can talk about Charles’ dynastic legitimacy and his hereditary claim to the throne, and that may have been a factor. Certainly, later sources put Odo and Charles in some kind of ward/guardian situation; but this is basically ahistorical and the result of working backwards from eleventh century expectations. The main practical reason that Charles ends up as Odo’s successor is that, over the course of several years of peace negotiations but most crucially in late 897, as Odo lies on his deathbed, Odo conceded that role to him. So, to reframe the question, why was Odo so willing to negotiate?

It can’t be because Charles posed a significant military threat. The high point of the rebellion of which Charles was the figurehead was right at the start, in 893 and 894. After 895, when the siege of Laon which Charles conducted with Zwentibald failed, the young ruler’s situation was pretty dire. From the beginning, his rebellion was riven with internal dissent, and by the last years of Odo’s reign virtually everyone had jumped ship. All of Charles’ backers – even Archbishop Fulk of Rheims, who was in loco parentis to the young man – went back to Odo’s side (in Fulk’s case only briefly, but his persistent opposition to Odo and support for Charles was the exception in these years). Odo was able to confiscate the rebels’ castles, estates and resources. Charles had no money, no troops, and no friends.

It is very surprising, therefore, that Odo condescended to negotiate from this position of superiority, yet in 896 he did so. Not merely did he do so, but he was – according to the Annals of Saint-Vaast – active in encouraging his followers to lend their support to Charles as his successor. What could his motivations for such a thing have been? One option is that he was a far-sighted statesman, who could see that the best way to repair the damage the civil war had caused the realm was to allow Charles to succeed him whilst negotiating for the best deal for his followers after his own death. This is not an implausible option, and certainly it seems like Odo’s brother Robert of Neustria was well-placed to be honourably received by the king after Odo’s death. But was there more at work?

Perhaps the general sense of malaise hanging over Odo’s court by 895 had something to do with it. Morale on Odo’s side, even the king’s own morale, seems to have been declining. Abbo of Saint-Germain-des-Prés complained in an addition to his Bella Parisiacae Urbis that the king whom he had once praised as a glorious Viking fighter was now useless and apathetic: he heard of Vikings raiding across his kingdom, and declared he simply didn’t care. Certainly his pacific tendencies after 895 form a contrast with his bullish approach before that year.

However, there may be more to it than that Odo was simply ground down by war. A neglected carmen figuratum, a picture poem in praise of Odo written around 893, ends with a prayer that God will bestow a son on Odo.

The manuscript in question being this one, Berlin Staatsbibliothek Fragm. 89, fol. 8r (source)

A second poem, in praise of Odo’s queen Theodrada, accompanies the first. However, evidence of Odo actually having any children is generally conspicuous by its absence. (There is a bizarre document purporting to be from the early tenth century from the Breton monastery of Redon which mentions the presence of one ‘Guy, son of King Odo of France’ – however, this is transparently a later forgery and Guy did not have any historical reality.) These poems are interesting because they are signs that, a brief way into Charles’ rebellion, Odo had dynastic ambitions. A clear inference, therefore, is that something had changed by 896, and the most obvious thing is that Theodrada had died. It would have been quite possible for Odo to remarry, of course – one thing that always surprises me about Odo is how young he was, being only in his early thirties when he became king – but that was a way in the future and Charles’ rebellion was a problem now. It seems that Odo’s ambitions to have a male heir were buried with his wife. Under these circumstances, negotiating with Charles was the option of least resistance. If Odo couldn’t be succeeded by an heir of his body, he could at least ensure that the crown went to someone with a good claim, and try and prevent a war such as he had been fighting for the previous several years from breaking out anew on his death.

King Lothar and Flanders in the Reign of Count Arnulf II

In theory, if there’s any two West Frankish regions I have any special claim to know, it should be Normandy and Flanders. I’ve been working on these areas since I was an undergraduate – in fact, my master’s dissertation was a comparison of tenth-century princely power in the two of them. Yet one of the joys of the tenth century is that by deep-diving into the sources and by making cross-connections you can discover new things and end up changing your mind even after working on it for a decade. Flanders is a case in point. As often mentioned on this blog, I wrote an article reassessing the succession crisis following the death of Arnulf the Great of Flanders; but the state of my knowledge in 2014 was such that I left it there. However, what has emerged out of my research since then is that Flanders played a pretty crucial role in the rest of Lothar’s reign too, and this is what I want to talk about today.

The short version of one of my arguments in the article is that when Arnulf died in 965, Lothar broke his promise to safeguard Arnulf II, the elder Arnulf’s baby grandson, invaded Flanders, imposed a friendly regent, and annexed a huge swathe of the south for himself. However, that’s not where things stopped. A little while ago, I argued that Lothar’s patronage can be detected on the Flemish border during the 970s, hoping to Lotharingian border magnates into his own orbit. That, however, is only half the story. What I left out is that all the magnates Lothar was hoping to attract were indelibly associated with Arnulf II of Flanders: Dirk of Holland was his guardian, Godfrey of Verdun his stepfather, and even though Arnulf of Valenciennes doesn’t seem to have been related to him (at least not in any way we can prove) he was an important figure in the last days of Arnulf the Great. In fact, Lothar’s patronage around 970 extended to Arnulf II directly. In 972, for instance, Arnulf issued a charter for Blandijnberg in Ghent. The Blandijnberg charters are never above suspicion, and indeed in its current form this is a mid-eleventh century forgery. The crucial thing about it for our purpose, though, is that it grants the abbey the estate of Harnes, near Lens. (This donation was confirmed by a more-or-less unsuspicious royal grant a few years later, so this bit of information in the charter is likely legit.) This is interesting, because Harnes was under Lothar’s control twice over after 965. On one hand, it was south of the Lys, the area he annexed after Arnulf the Great’s death; on the other, it was recorded in 899 (in a charter we’ve discussed on this blog before for entirely separate reasons) as belonging to Saint-Amand, an abbey which we know Lothar controlled at this time. The most likely way for it to get into Arnulf’s hands, therefore, is that Lothar gave it to him; and the most likely reason for that is that the king wanted to draw the young count into dependence on him.

Another hint is that despite everything, Arnulf was able to keep hold of at least the northern part of Ponthieu. Conflict over Ponthieu was a structuring element of northern French politics in the middle and late tenth century. To keep things short, I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that the fighting pitted the Flemish counts on one side against the Robertians on the other; and that it was a multi-generational conflict. That Arnulf appears ruling Montreuil in 981, therefore, despite the fact that it was in the area Lothar took over in 965, indicates that Lothar favoured him over the Robertians and backed his continued possession of the stronghold.

All this changed, as I noted in my earlier post, after 973, when the exiled sons of Count Reginar III returned from exile. Their bellicose pursuit of their lost inheritance forced the border magnates to cling closely to Otto II, and undid years work of work on Lothar’s part. In the mid-to-late 970s, therefore, we can see Lothar pivot to attacking Arnulf. In 974, for instance, he issued a diploma for the elder Robertian brother and duke of the Franks Hugh Capet confirming donations he had made of land in the Ternois to the abbey of Saint-Riquier in southern Ponthieu, confirming his overlordship over the southern part of the region and giving him some kind of role in the north (which was in all likelihood under Arnulf’s rule at the time).  In 975, he issued a diploma for Marchiennes restoring the estate of Haisnes, which was ‘unjustly stolen from [the abbey] in the time of Count Arnulf [the Great]’ – Arnulf II’s grandfather ended up a historiographical casualty of the new hostility between the king and his comital relative. Interestingly, in 976 Arnulf’s step-uncle Adalbero of Rheims sponsored the translation of St. Thierry in Rheims. Lothar refused to come because he was busy in other parts of the kingdom, and when he did show up he was accompanied by a large army. We don’t know what this army had been used for, but one good suggestion is Flanders.

This brings us to a question we’ve covered before on this blog, the emergence of a separate line of counts of Boulogne. I argued in the previous post that our earliest evidence for any kind of count in the area comes not from the start of Arnulf II’s reign, but from the end.  Count Arnulf, that shadowy figure who is nonetheless the clearest outline we can see from this shadowy time, evidently had a powerbase in western Flanders. This is interesting, because Lothar had some support in that region (including, probably, the chronicler Folcuin of Saint-Bertin); and Arnulf II seems – from later, bitter reports of his behaviour towards Saint-Bertin – to have left a bad memory there. This is speculative, of course, but I think it’s quite possible that, first of all, Arnulf of Boulogne/Ternois was from the family of the advocates of Saint-Bertin (based on their onomastics); second, that that this advocatial position was the basis for the assumption of comital status; and third, this may have been helped by Lothar’s military intervention. Notably, our last attestation of this family as advocates is from 975 – by the 980s, a new family, the Gerbodos, was in place. It is worth considering, therefore, that the fragmentation of Flemish comital power which we know to have taken place by 988 was helped along by royal support for local opposition.

Lothar’s position changed again after 978. As we’ve seen, his invasion of Lotharingia in that year failed. It is therefore noteworthy that – by contrast with Charles the Simple’s invasion of 898 which I have argued was its closest comparison – it took  over a year for peace to be made after direct fighting had stopped. What was Lothar doing in that time? Dudo of Saint-Quentin has a confused anecdote as part of a panegyric on the peacemaking efforts of the Norman duke Richard the Fearless, which says that Arnulf II refused to do military service for Lothar and the king therefore invaded Artois and the area south of the Lys. This has intriguing parallels with a passage in the Gesta Episcoporum Cameracensium which says that Lothar invaded the area at the end of the reign of Bishop Teudo of Cambrai (so, late 978). Either on their own could be written off as a simple repetition of the events of 965. However, although both are evidently confused, the fact that two independent sources have put figures from the late 970s into the same scenario suggests that what is being confused with 965 is real events of 978. That is, Lothar invaded Artois, targeting Arnulf’s possessions or (more likely) those of the church of Cambrai or (perhaps) both.

He then used his gains to reconcile with Arnulf. This gave him a point of entry back into Arnulf’s family networks, and we can in fact see hints of his step-family being used to negotiate the peace between Lothar and Otto which was ultimately signed at Margut in 980. This peace and reconciliation between Arnulf and Lothar, though, led to hostility between Lothar and Hugh Capet. Hugh made a separate peace with Otto II at Rome in 981 and then rushed home to besiege and attack Montreuil, which he was able to take by surprise. Arnulf agreed to hand over the fortress and northern Ponthieu.

Which is, I think, what this late medieval miniature is supposed to show (source)

After decades of fighting, the Robertians had finally defeated the Flemish for Ponthieu. At the same time, Lothar had established himself as master of Artois, even if his more grandiose schemes for using his Flemish connections had failed to pan out. Lothar’s relationship with Arnulf, in fact, is a kind of microcosm for his entire reign. He was a canny politician and powerful ruler whose capacity to manipulate and control events within his kingdom was generally significant. However, he was not great at resolving the contradictions within his own policy aims. Thus, during the 970s, he treated Flanders and its associated elites as on one hand targets but on the other hand important allies. What this meant was that when Lothar was treating Arnulf II as an ally his capacity to get things done in the region was weakened through what Lothar had done when he was his enemy. There must have been other issues too – trust springs readily to mind – but this factor is a key for understanding why, despite all his efforts, the gains Lothar reaped from his Flemish policy during the 970s were so relatively limited compared to his designs.    

Lothar’s Potential Supporters in the Invasion of 978

In 978, King Lothar attacked Aachen, forcing Emperor Otto II to flee. It was an audacious move, aimed to conquer Lotharingia – the third attempt made in as many generations of West Frankish kings. However, unlike Charles the Simple in 911 or Louis IV in 939, Lothar’s support within Lotharingia itself seems remarkably weak. Charles and Louis had the backing of a vast array of Lotharingian nobles – it’s one of the reasons why Charles’ attempt worked and Louis’ required some serious bad luck to go wrong. Who did Lothar have?

Charlemagne’s throne at Aachen. The city was being revived as an imperial centre in the 960s and 970s, so an attack here had tremendous symbolic resonance. (source)

The only sure supporters we know about are two brothers, Reginar IV of Hainaut and his brother Lambert of Leuven. Reginar and Lambert were the sons of Reginar III, who had been an inveterate opponent of Archbishop Bruno of Cologne in the 950s and had been exiled to Bohemia and stripped of his lands. In the early 970s, Reginar and Lambert returned to Lotharingia and launched a serious of wars trying to regain control of their lost lands. In 976, they achieved a significant military success, capturing the citadel at Mons. The Annals of Niederaltaich actually give them credit for inspiring Lothar’s attack, and it’s quite possible that it was in part to capitalise on their strong position. However, in terms of explicit evidence of support for Lothar, that’s about it.

That’s not to say that cases – more or less tenuous – can’t be made for other members of the Lotharingian aristocracy being, if not behind Lothar, at least not behind Otto II. My personal favourite candidate is Archbishop Egbert of Trier. According to Alpert of Metz, once Lothar had taken Aachen, he went to besiege Metz. His route from Aachen to Metz would have taken him through Trier (at least if he was following the Roman road), and we know from charter evidence that Egbert was actually in Trier at the same time Lothar was. Even more, the charter from whence we know this is dated not by the regnal dates of Otto II, but only by an AD date. My suspicion is that this is because Egbert was acting as Lothar’s host. Later, in the 980s, he was accused of being a West Frankish sympathiser – might he have also been one in 978?

Egbert’s father, Count Dirk II of Holland, is another potential sympathiser. We don’t know much at all about what he was doing in this period, but besides his relationship to Egbert he has indirect ties to another potential supporter of Lothar. Abbot Poppo of Stavelot, a major ecclesiastical figure in the early-to-mid eleventh century Empire, was the son of a man named (according to his Vita) ‘Tizekinus’, who originated on the Lotharingian border of Flanders. The Vita says that Tizekin died in ‘the war for Hesbaye’, which is generally understood to mean the 978 attack. ‘Tizekinus’ as a name is unique, and is in all likelihood an error for the name ‘Tescelin’. There is a Tescelin who shows up in charters from Ghent next to Count Dirk II, and given that Poppo originally took up knightly service with Dirk’s grandson Dirk III, Vanheule has suggested the family had hereditary ties to the counts of Holland. I like this suggestion, but I want to pile one more on top of it. Tescelin’s death has generally been viewed as fighting against Lothar, but the Vita doesn’t say that explicitly, and he could have been fighting for Lothar. If he was, and if his allegiance reflected Dirk’s, the Frisian count might have thrown in his lot with the West Frankish king rather than his Ottonian opponent.

It is therefore interesting that the name ‘Tescelin’ appears in a list of malefactors who had attacked the church of Cambrai. This list is replete with problems, not least of which is the dating. It could be from the 950s or the 970s – Mériaux, the most recent commentator, suggests the 970s as more probable, and I agree with this view. This list of malefactors is clearly focused around the Reginarids, and a ‘Count Reginar’ is named. If this is a 970s list, this is evidently Reginar III. If Tescelin was an ally of Reginar, then this is another oblique hint that he might have been an ally of Lothar too.

Another name on the list of malefactors is ‘Count Albert’. There are a few potential identities for this figure. Probably the most likely, as Mériaux says, is Count Albert the Pious of Vermandois, a known enemy of the church of Cambrai during this period. However, Mériaux also keeps open the possibility that it is Count Albert of Namur. This latter Albert appears in an early eleventh-century vision of a monk from Saint-Vaast (an abbey in Cambrai’s diocese) being tortured in Hell, so evidently left an unhappy memory there. The reason this is interesting is that Lothar’s initial route to Aachen would have put him within easy striking distance of the citadel at Namur, yet he apparently passed without resistance. Albert of Namur’s father Robert was an old ally of the Reginarids, and of Count Immo, who had recently been killed fighting alongside Reginar and Lambert and who had also been a follower of Hugh Capet, one of the major figures on the expedition. Perhaps, then, Albert of Namur was at least a fence-sitter during the invasion.

A final piece of evidence comes from Toul. Charter evidence from the abbey of Bouxières – a clause referring to the seal ‘of whichever king God chooses to preside over the realm – has been convincingly dated to this period by Bautier, and may in turn suggest that at least some local people did not back the Ottonians to the hilt. However, we don’t know who.

Ultimately, after heaping up hypotheses, we still haven’t got very much – one potential episcopal supporter, a much weaker case for one comital supporter, and a possible neutral. I still think it’s worth making these arguments, or else Otto II’s powerbase within Lotharingia looks so overwhelming that Lothar looks like a complete cretin for even trying; but even if all this speculation happens to be accurate it was still a very risky gamble.

In fact, Lothar’s attack reminds me most of Charles the Simple’s attempted invasion of 898, right down to having limited and mostly Reginarid support. Our sources, in fact, emphasise that Lothar’s game plan was one massive alpha strike aimed at captured Otto II personally. Once this failed, Lothar does seem to have had a Plan B – an attack on Upper Lotharingia, where much of the tepid support-cum-lack-of-opposition we saw above came from – but that fizzled out pretty quickly.

Looked at through this lens, 978 looks like a much more traditionally Carolingian attempt to opportunistically exploit the ambiguous position of the Middle Kingdom than the kind of proto-William-the-Conqueror unsupported invasion it’s often implicitly portrayed as. This has two interesting corollaries. First, it implies that Lothar thought that he could pose a convincing military threat to Otto if it came down to it. This is striking because of how overwhelming Ottonian military power had been in the mid-tenth century compared to anything the West Franks could muster and indicates the degree of political and military consolidation which had taken place since the darkest days of the West Frankish civil war. Second, it gives Lothar’s second invasion of Lotharingia in 984 a much more interesting cast. After all, if traditional Carolingian warfare hadn’t worked for him, why not try something new? That, though, is a story for another day…

Charter A Week 51/1 – Dismembering Aquitaine

One disadvantage of the ‘Charter A Week’ format is that charters which are important but not prima facie interesting don’t usually make the cut. Last week is a case in point: there are  pair of related documents in the name of one Gerbald for the abbey of Cluny, which are by themselves not that interesting, but which reveal William the Younger, duke of Aquitaine, gathering his men – and Archbishop Anskeric of Lyon – about him as part of a rebellion he was launching against Ralph of Burgundy. One thing we didn’t cover when we looked at his first diploma is that the Aquitanians refused to play ball with Ralph for a while – that diploma was issued when he made a very carefully stage-managed visit to the Loire to receive William’s homage.

Part of the problem was that Ralph had been fighting William for years well before he became king. We know from various sources that Ralph and Robert of Neustria won and lost possession of Bourges several times in the years around 920. When Ralph became king, as I just said, this hostility carried over, with an extra dollop of ‘he’s really a usurper’ on top Thus, even after William submitted in 924, things were not well and warfare had broken out again by 926. Ralph led an army against Nevers, which was being held by William’s brother Acfred, and was intent on pressing further into Aquitaine until he had to turn and deal with rumours of an Hungarian invasion. The next year, though, William the Younger died.

His was not the only big-name death that year. Abbot Berno of Gigny, the first abbot of Cluny (amongst many other places) also died in 927. His will divided his abbeys between his nephew Guy and a rising star of the monastic world named Odo. Guy objected to the will and started muscling in on Odo’s position. Thanks to Odo’s papal connections, he was able to get a warning against Guy, but the pope’s response also put a burden of protection on King Ralph, pushing Odo and Ralph together.

Odo_Cluny-11

An eleventh-century image of Odo of Cluny. You know, for some reason I’d always imagined him clean-shaven. (source)

Thus the following:

D RR no. 12 (9th September 927, Briare)

In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity.

Ralph, by God’s grace pacific, august and invincible king.

Because it is certain that “God is mighty but despith not any” [Job 36:5], and indeed “without Him there is no power” [Romans 13:1], thus it is also clear that He will examine the works of the mighty, and because of this We should take great care that, since by His dispensation We are able to either help or hurt, We should subject Our potential completely to His will in order that it might do what will increase His holy Church’s honour.

Wherefore, let it be known to everyone, both kings and persons of other dignities, that is, either present or future, that William [the Pious], that great and magnificent man of his time,built through the hand of Berno [of Gigny], a certain reverend abbot, a certain monastery named Cluny in honour of the leading men of Heaven, to wit, Peter and Paul, and made this same place free from all worldly dominion under a great and terrible abjuration, and subjugated it to the Apostolic See to be protected (and not to be dominated).

We, rejoicing in his work and favouring what he established, establish through this precept of Our authority that the place – in accordance with what he decreed through a testament – should be completely free and absolved from disturbance and domination both from kings and from all princes, or kinsmen of the same William, and indeed of all men; that is should remain in the monastic order and be administered in accordance with the tenor of the testament which he made thereof; that the inhabitants dwelling there under the order of the Rule might elect for themselves from amongst themselves an abbot in accordance with the rule of St Benedict after Odo, whom Abbot Berno left for them; that they should possess their common goods, either those which they have now or those which will be acquired in future, to wit, whether they be from Our liberality or from the largess of anyone else, without domination or contradiction from anyone; that they should pay no toll on market days; that no-one should distrain their men, free or servile, against their will; that they should have their indominical tithes for the hospice; that they should hold the allod which Gerbald gave to the aforesaid monastery, and they should similarly claim Blanot with its appendages in perpetual right; that no-one should accept any produce-fee from woods where they have a part and from assarts except them; that they should also possess the curtilage which is called La Frette (which the aforesaid Berno, taking from Gigny, freely turned over to Cluny – for it was through him, actually, that each place was founded) on the conditions which he established, with the allod of the late Samson, and the bondsmen and manse which were Larvin’s, with perennial dominion.

Naturally, in accordance with the earnest entreaty which the aforesaid William prayed for, We too, in Christ’s name, command and appeal to God that it should never be subjected to any mortal through any kind of agreement, but that they should be permitted to live in accordance with the tradition which they are seen to hold in Our days. If they turn away from it, then by God’s judgement let them be preserved for correction of their rule, and let no donation made to God and the saints ever be taken back.

But that this constitution of Our precept might perpetually endure unbroken, We undersign it with Our seal and We command Our leading men to undersign it.

Sign of King Ralph.

Ragenard witnessed on behalf of Bishop Abbo [of Soissons].

Enacted at the estate of Briare, in the twelfth indiction, on the fifth ides of September [9th September], in the year of the Lord’s Incarnation nine hundred and twenty seven, also in the fifth year of the reign of King Ralph.

This diploma is, first and foremost, targeted at Acfred. As Odo’s ally, Ralph had plausible deniability when it came to not exercising dominion over Cluny; Acfred did not, and this act makes a point of noting that as William’s kinsman he has no place at the abbey. Such a gesture is perforce more effective when it’s being issued by a king at the head of an army. At this point, Ralph was returning north from the Mâconnais proper, on his way to Berry where he would receive the submission of William the Pious’ old – if inconsistent – ally Ebbo of Déols. In one fell swoop, he had managed to detach both Berry and the Mâconnais from the Guillelmid family – a hefty chunk of land, and in the case of Mâcon a significant one, given how tightly embedded William the Pious had been there.

Of course, what you may well be thinking – especially given how many royal diplomas we’ve seen on this blog – is ‘what on Earth is happening with the diplomatic here?’ This is the first of a little series of diplomas written in a recognisably ‘Cluniac’ style. We’ve seen elsewhere that the question of Cluniac influence on kingship would become very vexed in the early eleventh century, but there is a case to be made that it was really the years around 930 when Cluny, or at least Abbot Odo (which is not quite the same thing), had the most influence on West Frankish kingship. The preamble to this diploma sets out a coherent, if brief, political theory which is both evidence for Odo’s attitudes to kingship and an explanation of his politics. A king needed to be the humblest of all, because he had the most potential to do either harm or good. Ralph, willing as king to prostrate himself before God (or, at least, to safeguard Odo’s interests, which was more-or-less the same thing), had legitimacy Acfred did not.

So what did Acfred think of this? For the first time in a while, this Charter a Week comes in two parts; and as further evidence of the increasing inapplicability of the name, we’ll see the second part next week.

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!

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…)