Cross-Rhine digital facsimile charter cooperation

This is another link post, but I didn’t bundle it in with the previous one because it has a significance that’s worth spending a bit more time on. In July of last year I was passing through the website of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, as one does when looking for actual publication details of their volumes to put behind abbreviations (part of an argument I’m in over something I’m editing just now, sorry) and I saw there this notice that the MGH had now put online all of the 9-volume facsimile edition Diplomata Karolinorum by Ferdinand Lot and Philippe Lauer.1 And lo, it’s true and if you go look you can see them all. It’s a really good job, too; the original images are of course uncoloured, so they look a bit dull reduced to the size of a blog’s main column (witness below) but they have set them up zoomable and so on and seriously, one is a long way down the rabbit hole before these images pixelate, well below the point where you’re basically looking at the parchment texture. These were really good photographs and they’re being rendered near-perfectly.

Facsimile of 753 judgement in favour of the abbey of St-Denis

The first charter on the site, a 753 judgement in favour of the abbey of St-Denis

So that gives you about 300 images of royal charters right the way through from Pippin the Short to Louis V, passing via Charlemagne’s sister and most other points between with a final diversion into the kingdoms of Provence and Burgundy, it’s already quite a corpus, and not just originals either but fakes and things attempting honestly to represent the appearance of originals, so they’re actually quite a good resource for the kind of basic diplomatic that is telling authentic from inauthentic. But of course there were once a lot more, still are many more royal charters than here presented and, with the famous exception of those of Emperor Louis the Pious (now nearly done) these are all edited.2 But, equally famously among those who know, they were not all edited in the same projects. The problem here arises from the fact that the Carolingian Empire covered the territory of many modern states, most obviously France and Germany. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica‘s intention of editing everything written between 500 to 1500 in countries where Germanic languages were spoken covered France as far as they were concerned, but the French, and specifically the École des Chartes in Paris, were equally keen to make sure these monuments of their country were edited in-house in the new Chartes et diplômes relatifs à l’histoire de France. Somehow an agreement was reached that the Monumenta, which had started first, would get to do the kings and emperors who had covered the whole Empire (so, Pippin III, Carloman I, Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Charles the Fat) and those of basically German focus, while the French would do the kings of the West Franks from Charles the Bald onwards and also Provence and, what might have been more contentious, Burgundy, and the Monumenta would not bother with those.3 (If the Italian diplomatists were involved in this at all, it didn’t work out, with the result that the eventual Codice Diplomatico Longobardo, itself also now going online, duplicates a lot of the editing work done in the other series for the documents ‘their’ kings issued for and in Italy.)

Portrait of Engelbert Mühlbacher

One of the men who made it work, Engelbert Mühlbacher, editor of the first volume of the MGH‘s Diplomata Karolinorum. “Engelbert Mühlbacher“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. There’s some kinds of scholarship where one just feels more validated with a huge beard, alas.

There was thus, even in the run-up to the Great War, what now seems a surprising amount of Franco-German cooperation on these projects: on the German side Engelbert Mühlbacher got the MGH edition of charters of Pippin III, Carloman and Charlemagne out with plenty of use of French archives to do so, and substantial if abortive work was done on the edition of Louis the Pious’s documents too, while on the French side the result was the Lot & Lauer facsimile volumes. (Note their sharing, or appropriation, of the Monumenta‘s series title.) But that cooperation ended fairly abruptly in 1914 and even since 1945, as I have somewhat unkindly pointed out, it has been hard to see.4 That these French volumes now go online courtesy of the MGH is thus a small big thing, and should be celebrated as something that hopefully heralds further such collaborations. After all, though the Chartes et diplômes volumes are thoroughly good editions, as one would expect from the École des Chartes, they are nonetheless not online, not everywhere has the print volumes and there are some projects which need one to compare both sides of the Rhine; indeed, there are some projects that can only be done by so comparing.5 Some parts of the Recueil have already been sucked into the ever-growing collective that is Chartae Burgundiae Medii Ævi, and those documents that we have as originals now form part of Telma, but even so the old editions work well as units, not least because of their indices, and it would be so nice to have them online… One can but hope, but it’s projects like this, quietly and successfully done, that give one some reason to.

1. F. Lot & P.Lauer, with Georges Tessier (edd.), Diplomata Karolinorum. Recueil de reproductions en fac-similé des actes originaux des souverains carolingiens conservés dans les archives et bibliothèques de France (Paris 1936-1949), 9 vols.

2. I draw most of the information here from my memory of Peter Johanek, “Probleme einer zukünftigen Edition der Urkunden Ludwigs der Frommen” in Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840) (Oxford 1990), pp. 409-424. If the details are wrong, that will be my fault; this post was almost entirely written in airports or on aeroplanes and I didn’t have access to my notes.

3. On the Monumenta and its initially-imperial intentions see David Knowles, “Great Historical Enterprises III: the Monumenta Germaniae Historica” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 10 (London 1960), pp. 129-150, repr. as “The Monumenta Germaniae Historica” in idem, Great Historical Enterprises. Problems in Monastic History (London 1963), pp. 63-97.

4. E. g. J. Jarrett, review of Reinhard Härtel, Notarielle und kirchliche Urkunden im frühen und hohen Mittelalter (Wien 2011) in The Medieval Review 12.06.21 (Bloomington 2012), online here (Härtel, I should say, being an impressive exception to the rule), or Jarrett, “Introduction: problems and possibilities of early medieval charters” in Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 1-18, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101674, at pp. 2-4.

5. One excellent demonstration of these possibilities is Shigeto Kikuchi, “Representations of Monarchical ‘Highness’ in Carolingian Royal Charters”, ibid. pp. 187-208, DOI: 10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101683, where Charles the Bald’s diplomatic strategies only really show up once you can see what Lothar and Louis the German were doing with their documents. Have I mentioned yet that you can buy this volume here? Just so you know…

3 responses to “Cross-Rhine digital facsimile charter cooperation

  1. The acts of Louis IV and Lothar, along with several later kings, are available from the indispensable However, Charles the Simple’s and Charles the Bald’s in particular remain, for the moment, frustratingly offline – we can merely sit and wait for the copyright to run out!

    • That can’t be too long for Charles the Simple at least! I suppose Eudes will be the last. Oh well. I hadn’t thought of checking the Internet Archive, though, thankyou for the suggestion!

  2. Dear Jonathan,
    This is a splendid article showing the state of play for these items and traversing countries, which is infrequently done. Thank you.

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