Monthly Archives: April 2007

Carolingian royal charters II

Now I’ve had time to think about the question I raised in the last post, I think I’ve come up with a way of formulating my objection. Let us agree that if one, as a king, wished to make a public demonstration of one’s support for a particular magnate, that you might indeed use the bestowal of what these documents charmingly call ‘munificences’ upon him to do this; it’s a good ceremony (we imagine, as we don’t know how they did it), hey, the ideal way to do it. Okay, I have no problem with this.

Now. Let us suppose instead that, most likely because of some local circumstances—all the mead ran out on his estates last winter, he needs more bee-keeping land, or fisheries or whatever, to live in the style to which the king, should he happen by, would be accustomed—such a magnate, with whom your connection is already perfectly amicable due to years of good service carrying your messages, negotiating with towns, leading troops and so on, comes to you asking for some extra land. You have no problem with this, and grant it. What’s the ideal way to do this? Well, there’s this useful ceremony and documentation procedure designed for land transfers…

You see?

As usual, we need to look at the individual cases, and while Professor Koziol is wise to open up the possibilities, it remains possible in any of those cases that we may need to close them down again.

Carolingian royal charters

Geoffrey Koziol has made me think again. His second of two articles in Early Medieval Europe last year, more or less incidentally, has some stuff to say about the nature of the Carolingian royal charter in that family’s declining years, and I can’t work out why I don’t agree with it.1

The Carolingians, like any other kings, made grants to those they held in favour, by which their loyalty was hopefully rewarded and ensured. Sometimes these were only confirmations of previous grants, and these represent (I think we all agree) expressions of a connection rather than an actual material gift, because nothing new actually moves from one to t’other (and Matthew Innes would tell me that nothing but revenues ever really does change hands, but that’s another story). By confirming an old gift the king gets to reassert his patronage of the recipient, and the recipient gets to show off that he has a current and active connection to the king, with not only the material profit that this may represent but also the connections to power that this gives him which makes him sought-after as an intermediary and so on. This is how the whole deal works, and how centre holds edge and so on.

The thing that Koziol says that I baulk at is that other royal charters were also like this. Obviously any transaction with a king can carry these messages, and to that extent he’s right, but there are some important aspects missing from such a picture, or so it seems to me.

The first of these is that recent scholarship is pretty much establishing that these documents have to be requested: that is, the lead is with the recipient not the donor.2 We know this partly because the recipient appears to often be heavily involved in the drafting, which with confirmations frequently reuses the text of the old documents, but also just because study of the break-up of the Carolingian (or any other) Empire shows one the opposite case, when the magnates no longer come to court because the king has nothing to offer them, whether that’s in terms of actual wealth as in the old-fashioned view,3 or in terms of patronage as described above.4 Koziol knows this, it is clear that he does, but he is still trying to show strategies of royal patronage from the use of these documents, when as he admits we don’t have enough survival to be sure of a representative sample (p. 375), and when the king can only award such a document if he is asked. When Koziol shows us magnates not being seen at court, therefore, we need to ask whose the initiative was, and not less important, what it was that King Charles the Simple, not the most well-equipped of Carolingians, had to offer that made them try to come back.

Signature of Charles the Simple from a diploma to the Catalan nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, 898

This is the second problem I have. These documents at least purport to convey actual property. I realise that there are certainly instances where this is not the case—working on Catalonia, where the Frankish kings aren’t seen after 829, where succession to the counties was hereditary after 878, and where nonetheless numerous royal grants are made right up until 986, of course I do—and in these, yes, and in confirmations, the power of connection may be all that is left in the awards, but when this is not the case there is the potential for important riches, that radically alter the recipient’s standing, to be changing hands. And Koziol knows this too, because he interprets events in the light of such properties’ significance, both ideological and military-political; it matters who now holds what, and when he says that Charles the Simple hoped to acquire resources to reward followers with when he acquired Lotharingia (which he does say, p. 363), he acknowledges that royal gifts had a material significance.

Nonetheless, I am very familiar with charters that have no material content that can be true, with the idea that an account of the Carolingian collapse that bases itself solely on material resources is prone to collapse, and with the value of personal connections in distributing power, so I am not fully able to explain why Koziol’s assertions don’t sit right with me, and can only say: I’m sure it wasn’t quite like that…

1. Geoffrey Koziol, “Charles the Simple, Robert of Neustria, and the vexilla of Saint-Denis” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 14 (Oxford 2006), pp. 355–390, at p. 375.

2. Mark Mersiowsky, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign Charters” in Karl Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 5 (Turnhout 2000), pp. 15-25.

3. E. g. C. Previté-Orton, The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History Volume I: the later Roman Empire to the twelfth century (Cambridge 1952) pp. 334-335.

4. I should of course have read Professor Koziol’s book, Begging Pardon and Favor: Ritual and Political Order in Early Medieval France (Ithaca 1992), where I imagine I might find this more worked out, and it is on the list, but meanwhile, cf. Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the middle Rhine valley 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000), esp. pp. 68-93, and idem, “People, Places and Power in Carolingian Society” in M. de Jong & F. Theuws with C. van Rhijn (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Middle Ages, The Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 397-407.

Learning all the time

Historia de Catalunya Salvat in series
Having finished some books, and taken them back to libraries and got some more out, last night I found myself on a train back from London, finally reading something about the third-century crisis about which I was so happy to write at you at length not so long ago. It seems that I didn’t get too much wrong, which is more or less how I got away with my initial teaching too; it’s nice to know I can still more or less pull off that synthesis of data in insufficient time that the classroom tends to require at the beginning of a course.

Meanwhile, I have today wrapped up a first draft of “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” and it’s about to go off to learned commentators and hopefully that’ll be finished for actual submission before very long after that. I’ll let you know when and where it comes out when I have such details, obviously. Meanwhile, I should as ever and like any other academic with a family be doing something else.

Mostly a rhetorical question

Is it better to find that what you want to say was published already if it was five years ago, or a hundred and five? What if it’s one or a hundred and one?

No-one has quite said what I want to say on aprisio, but they’ve come quite close, and very much closer to what the paper I want to refute did. But it looks as if this one will be ready to set things right (of course) very soon now.

and now, gender and Islamists

(Edit: updated with tags and a replacement link for the one that Medieval News have now taken off their site.)

I don’t seem to have much of interest to talk about in my own work at the moment, though I can assure you that lots of notes and footnotes are happening in the background. So to fill in meanwhile, I don’t know if you saw this already, but I was fascinated. Basically, a research project in Cairo has come up with nearly 8,000 female Hadith scholars, from seventh century to present day. Apart from the impact this could have on current gender politics in Islam if properly exploited, the comparisons boggled me. Did you know that the Council of Laodicæa, almost the last (late fourth century sometime) and certainly the weirdest (outlawing wizards, soothsayers, augurers and mathematicians, Canon 36—I’ve always assumed this referred to things like card-counting, but your suggestions are welcomed) of the Canonical Councils, saw the final outlawing of women priests (or not so final, depending on exactly how longue your durée is I suppose; it’s Canon 11 anyway).1 This project is as if someone dug back into the records we don’t have of the early Church and produced biographies of say, 40 of those women priests that it outlawed. It deserves to be known more widely, and while it seems unlikely that putting it here will achieve this, at least I’ll know where it was.

You want medieval? Well, the only reason I know owt about the Council of Laodicæa is that Charlemagne renewed several of its provisions in the Admonitio Generalis in 789. He and his legislators (or maybe just the latter) went through the big councils, for some reason included little wild Laodicæa, and on picking through its clauses decided, I don’t know why, that the one about mathematicians was one they had to have.2 I guess they were looking for Patristic precedent to cite against pagan practices, but it’s still a bit odd. I wonder how many people reminded Gerbert of Aurillac about it?


1. The Byzantines were still legislating around female participation in the liturgy in the seventh century, I discover: see J. Herrin, “`Femina Byzantina’: The Council in Trullo on Women” in Homo Byzantinus: Papers in Honor of Alexander Kazhdan, Dumbarton Oaks Papers Vol. 46 (Dumbarton Oaks 1992), pp. 97-105, online through JSTOR.

2. A. Boretius (ed.), Capitularia Regum Francorum Vol. I, Monumenta Germaniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum. Legum Sectio II: Capitularia Regum Francorum I (Hannover 1883), no. 22, pp. 52-62, the mathematicians canon being cap. 18 (p. 55).