The long long gripe of Hugh the Chiliarch

I don’t know how many of you may have heard of the Conventum Hugonis? I’ve been freshly reminded what a marvellous text it is by the last article in that Spoleto volume, which yes, does mean I’m about to shut up about it, for now at least. I had something of a flash of inspiration during the reading of this last paper, tried to write it down and wound up with a 3,600-word paper core, which I might even be able to do something with next year (but seriously, not before), so I don’t promise to shut up about it for ever, but all the same, I recognise that an audience can have too much feudalism. Where’s the human interest, I might hear you cry if both you and I had the right kind of software? And the answer is, here in this text I’m about to talk about.

The illumination for March from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, taken from Wikimedia Commons and depicting the Château de Lusignan

The illumination for March from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, taken from Wikimedia Commons and depicting the Château de Lusignan

Hugh IV de Lusignan was a fairly important castellan lord in the South of France, floruit c. 1040, and his line became famous enough eventually that they furnished a king of Jerusalem and their castle got into the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, as you see above. In Hugh IV’s day it probably wasn’t quite that substantial, but he was a major player. He was however a major player in a world dominated by Duke William V of Toulouse, whom he calls a count, and like most of the second rank nobility of his area he had to come to some kind of position vis-à-vis William. It being the age it was, this position was a feudal one, and the Conventum tells us all about it. But it tells us all about it not as an idealised text showing the way to do such things, but after relations between the two had deteriorated to open (if carefully limited) war, and so it’s as much a library of what could go wrong in feudo-vassalic relations as of how they should work. A sample of Hugh’s scribe’s style:

The count, while holding a court assembly with count Fulk, promised to give Fulk benefices from his own property. Fulk promised that he would give Hugh what belonged to him. The count sent for Viscount Ralph and said to him about this agreement: ‘Hugh won’t keep the agreement which he has with you because I forbid it. But Fulk and I have an agreement to give him Joscelin’s honour and wife. We shall act to your undoing because you are not faithful to me.’ When he heard this Ralph was very distressed and said to the count: ‘For God’s sake don’t do this.’ And the count said ‘Give me guarantees that you won’t give him your daughter and won’t keep your agreement with him, and in return I’ll make sure for you that he won’t get Joscelin’s honour or wife.’ And so they acted so that Hugh got neither one nor the other.

You wouldn’t know it, but they were actually patching things up at this stage, after Hugh had taken over a castle (one of many) that he felt the count should have got for him and didn’t, by force, and held it until William agreed to do some kind of right by him. To read it as Hugh had it presented, he had had endless ill-treatment from William, including insults and threats, and got nothing but loss for it, and he makes sure to recount all this, I mean all of it, he goes on for a while. The standard edition, or at least one of them, as a particular scholar called George Beech has all but made a career out of replacing work on this text, has a text that took up eight pages of the English Historical Review, and the translation, coordinated by Paul Hyams and online in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, that I quoted above, is fairly meaty for a webpage too.1

It’s a very rich text, anyway, especially in the Latin as it’s full of words we hardly ever get about particular sorts of grants, honour and so on (as well as words we just hardly ever get, like Chiliarch, a Biblical term meaning ‘ruler of a thousand men’, which is what Hugh’s scribe calls him). The Conventum can be read for the history of military tenure for service, certainly, but it can also be read looking for judicial process, for emotion (William is angry, Hugh is gloomy—but how much of that’s presentation?) and for fun (I find it reads best in the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android). But it’s such a piece that it really comes quite close to literature. It’s even been seen as a forerunner of the epic Troubadour romances in its style: I think that’s going much too far but it has got enough going on, grieving, confrontation, dialogue and fury, that such an argument can be made.2

It can also of course be read critically, which is where the Dominique Barthélemy article I was reading comes in.3 Why was William treating Hugh so badly? Was it because at several points in the narrative Hugh is also dealing with William’s biggest rival, Fulk Nerra Count of Anjou?4 (Mind you, you see from the above that William and Fulk could at least appear in public together, so I’m not sure I reckon that so much.) When William shunted Hugh from lord to lord, was he merely grinding Hugh’s face in the muck of subjection to make a point? Or was he involved in delicate brinkmanship with a number of potentially dangerous castellans and trying to bind enough other lords to him to maintain control by an alliance of the great against the many not-so-great? Did Hugh really get nothing from those ties, or did it just break down later? Was, perhaps, the real trick to stop Hugh by any means necessary from taking Fulk as his lord instead, and therefore to make sure that a great number of things that Hugh wanted were in William’s control and not to be got by any other route? If William had emptied the bag, would Hugh have stuck with him? Hugh pleads his absolute loyalty at many points in the text, but how far do we trust it, given that the text seems basically to be to get Hugh’s outraged rebellion, in reality very calculated it seems clear, well justified and acknowledged as such by William? This is an agreement that renews Hugh’s fidelity; it’s hardly going to present him as anything other than utterly loyal, is it? and so on. And this is why the text has taken so much work and will continue to source and cause more, because it’s full of personality apparently overriding politics, and will source either. I recommend having a look if you haven’t.

A view of modern-day Lusignan

A view of modern-day Lusignan

1. Jane Martindale (ed.), “Conventum inter Willelmum Comitem Aquitanorum et Hugonem Chiliarchum” in English Historical Review Vol. 84 (London 1969), pp. 528-548, transl. Paul Hyams et al. as “Medieval Sourcebook: Agreement between Count William V of Aquitaine and Hugh IV of Lusignan”, online here, last modified 25 April 1996 as of 15 September 2008. Beech’s edition is in George T. Beech, Yves Chauvin & Georges Pon, Le « Conventum » (vers 1030), un précurseur aquitain des premières épopées, Publications romanes et françaises 212 (Geneva 1995). On the family more generally, it’s still conventional to cite Sidney Painter, “The Lords of Lusignan in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries” in Speculum Vol. 32 (Cambridge MA 1957), pp. 27-47. Beech has been working on this text for many many years; his first piece on it was in 1966 (J. Beech, “A Feudal Document of Early Eleventh Century Poitou” in Pierre Gallais & Yves Rou (edd.), Mélanges offerts à René Crozet à l’occasion de son 70e anniversaire par ses amis, ses collégues, ses élèves et les membres du C. E. S. C. M. (Poitiers 1966), I pp. 203-213—it really is given as J. Beech, I’ve seen the original, I don’t know how that happened), and his most recent ones were in 1998 and 1999, George T. Beech, “The lord/dependant (vassal) relationship: a case study from Aquitaine c. 1030″ in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 24 (Amsterdam 1998), pp. 1-30, and “The Contribution of Diplomatics to the Identification of an Early-Eleventh-Century Aquitainian Narrative” in Adam J. Kosto & Anders Winroth (eds), Charters, Cartularies and Archives: the preservation and transmission of documents in the medieval west. Proceedings of a Colloquium of the Commission Internationale de Diplomatique (Princeton and New York, 16-18 September 1999), Papers in Mediaeval Studies 17 (Toronto 2002), pp. 61-80.

2. Beech, Chauvin & Pon, « Conventum »; cf. Dominique Barthélemy, ‘Du nouveau sur le Conventum Hugonis‘ in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol.153 (Paris 1995), pp. 483-495, and in reply Beech, “The lord/dependant (vassal) relationship”.

3. Barthélemy, “Autor d’un récit de pactes (« Conventum Hugonis »): La seigneurie châtelaine et le féodalisme, en France au XIe siècle” in Il Feudalismo nell’alto Medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 47 (Spoleto 2000), I pp. 447-489 with discussion 491-495.

4. Studied in detail in Bernard S. Bachrach, Fulk Nerra, the Neo-Roman Consul, 987-1040. A Political Biography of the Angevin Count (Berkeley 1993), as well as many other works by him; Regesta Imperii brings up 21 on title keyword search alone, and it probably hasn’t got them all…

5 responses to “The long long gripe of Hugh the Chiliarch

  1. My fourth-year seminar on chivalry was discussing this just yesterday afternoon; we were using it as a document on the origins of Knights, with as little discussion of feudalism as I could manage. The students did a good job.

    One angle that we pursued was the difference view each man had of the relationship between them. If you believe Hugh’s document William considered him to be practically a slave; but Hugh thought he was a respectable man with a presumption of hereditary rights to property that his family had held the past. Of course he was not a knight of the type seen in Ramon Lull’s Book of Chivalry ( the main text we have looked at in detail so far); but if he were a knight he would not be a simple knight. He’s got men of his own who advise him and serve him as Hugh is supposed to serve William.

    A fun text.

  2. Yes, I love this text and teach it a lot; it’s great for getting students to break down the idealized feudal hierarchy they have in their heads as they try to figure out what’s really going on between William and the put-upon Hugh.

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