Rulers who weren’t kings, discussed at Leeds

I have as usual to apologise for a gap in posting. I mentioned the Covid-19; then I was on holiday; and then I was late with a chapter submission that I finished, on overtime, yesterday. Much of this post was written before that all started piling up, but I’ve only today had time to finish it. I was originally going to give you another source translation for the first time in ages, but it turns out that even though I translated the relevant thing fresh in 2019, two other people had already done it even then and I somehow missed that at the time. Oh well, never mind, because that progresses my backlog into April of that year, when I had the honour of giving my second ever keynote address (and, it must be said, so far my last). This was kindly arranged by my then-colleague Dr Fraser McNair, who had put together a conference called Non-Royal Rulership in the Earlier Medieval West, c. 600-1200. To be fair, though, I was only one of three keynote speakers, so well-connected is Fraser. As ever, I can’t give a full account of a two-day conference at a three-year remove, but I can give you the premise, the list of speakers and some thoughts which, I promise, will not just be about my paper. I’ll put the abstract and running order above the cut, but the rest can go below one so that if it doesn’t interest you, you few who actually read this on the website can more easily scroll to things that do. So here we are!

Between the breakdown of Roman rule and the sweeping legal and administrative changes of the later twelfth century, western Europe saw many types of rulers. The precise nature of their title and authority changed: dukes, counts, rectores, gastalds, ealdormen… These rulers were ubiquituous and diverse, but despite the variation between them, they all shared a neeed to conceptualise, to justify, and to exercise their rule without access to the ideological and governmental resources of kingship. This conference will explore the political practices of non-royal ruler across the earlier medieval period, in order to understand how the ambiguities of a position of rule that was not kingship were resolved in their varuous inflections.

And in order to do that thing, Fraser got hold of this glittering line-up (and me):

8th April 2019

Keynote 1

    Vito Loré, “How Many Lombard Kingdoms? The Duchies of Benevento and Spoleto in the Eighth Century”

The Terminology of Non-Royal Rule

  • Russell Ó Ríagáin, “A King by Any Other Name Would Rule the Same? A Relational and Diachronic Examination of the Terminology of Authority in Medieval Ireland”
  • Emily Ward, “Quasi interrex? Boy Kings and the Terminology of Non-Royal ‘Rule’, 1056-c. 1200″
  • Andrea Mariani, “Portugal Before the Kingdom: A Study of the Count of Portucale’s Titles and their Political Legitimation (9th-12th Centuries)”

Lay and Ecclesiastical Non-Royal Rulership

  • Mary Blanchard, “Equal but Separate? The Offices of Bishop and Ealdorman in Late Anglo-Saxon England”
  • James Doherty, “The Righteous Brothers: Bishop Philip of Châlons, Count Hugh of Troyes and Cultural Capital on the Stage of Crusade”
  • George Luff, “Princes of the Church: The Emergence of Ecclesiastical Rulership in the Early Medieval West”

Keynote 2

    Fiona Edmonds, “Regional Rulership: Northern Britain in its Insular Context, 600-1100”

9th April 2019

Analysing Non-Royal Power Relations

  • Sverrir Jakobsson, “Non-Royal Rulers in Twelfth-Century Iceland”
  • Mariña Bermúdez Beloso, “Non-Royal Rulership in North-Western Iberia: Who (Were They), what (Were Their Functions), Over Which (Territories did They Rule), How (to Study Them), and Other Questions for the Sources”
  • Alberto Spataro, “Rule by Law? Judicial and Political Hegemony of Milan in the Regnum Italiae (11th-12th Centuries)”

Keynote 3

    Jonathan Jarrett, “Counts Where It Counts: Spheres of Comital Action in the Tenth-Century West Frankish Periphery”

Non-Royal Rulers in the Middle

  • Daniel Schumacher, “Count Reginar: Duke, missus dominicus, and Rebel”
  • Fraser McNair, “An Anglo-Saxon Strand in Legitimizing the Counts of Flanders”
  • Jamie Smith, “‘Friends in Other Places’: The Diplomacy of Early Tostig of Northumbria, 1055-1066”

Symbolic Communication and Non-Royal Rule

  • Guilia Zornetta, “Benevento Before and After the Fall of the Lombard Kingdom: From Ducatus to Principatus
  • Rodrigo Hernández Hernández, “Justice, Peace and Virtue: The Mercy of Diego Gelmirez as a Discursive Element to Consolidate his Rulership in the Historia Compostelana
  • Anna Gehler-Rachůnek, “Strategies of Political Communication: the Papacy and the West around 600”

So what did we learn from all this?

  1. That in the two detached bits of the Lombard kingdom of Italy that dukes ruled, they managed things a bit differently but with the same general aim of keeping their locally powerful people separate and resourced only within containable limits, assuming that the Farfa archives are a safe measure of general patterns anyway (Loré).
  2. That Ireland ranked so many rulers of so small a kind as kings of some kind that there was almost nothing non-royal left, forcing us to think of redefining the term ‘king’ (Ó Ríagáin).
  3. That even boy-kings and queens counted as something that couldn’t be delegated down to, but only down from, however much more real power their delegates had (Ward).
  4. That Portugal might never have managed to break away from the crown of Castile-León had its counties not been handed over to royal family members by the Castilian kings, promoting the counties to something quasi-royal that could then exist separately (Mariani, though he and I argued for some time about how far this was Countess Teresa’s specific doing).1
  5. That there was almost no governmental activity in late Anglo-Saxon England which was specific to either ealdorman or bishop, rather than done by both (Blanchard).
  6. That not going on Crusade when everyone else was could work out well in terms of status, if the pope and very nearly all the leaders of the First Crusade begged you to stay behind and look after things—and if you then went later anyway, in the case of Hugh of Troyes (Doherty).
  7. That Pope Gregory the Great wound up as a non-royal ruler of Rome and its environs largely by acting as if the Exarch of Ravenna, whose notional job he was stealing, wasn’t doing it and being in a position to do it better and faster with Church money behind him (Luff; and it now strikes me that this was partly leveraging the ancient status of the city and all its very many privileges that Ravenna couldn’t mobilise, as well, an opportunity which had been waiting for someone to take it for a century or so by then).
  8. That nonetheless, the background of churchmen and top lay nobility tended to be a bit different (Gregory the Great and Hugh’s episcopal brother aside), so that except in those cases the two strata operated with different resources and assumptions (Blanchard and McNair in discussion).
  9. That there is some historical basis (though at this remove I can’t work out what! frustrating) to see not just the old kingdom of Elmet, which is reasonably accepted, but also smaller territories in the vales of Leeds, Dent and Ribbledale, as having existed even as early as the ninth century, and given that they seem to have central royal villae, perhaps even as early as the formation of kingship in the area after the Romans (Edmonds).2
  10. And then the next day…

  11. That the opprobrium dumped upon the memory of King Witiza of the Visigoths, whom the chronicles of 9th-century Asturias blame for bringing down the judgement of God, in the form of the Muslim invasion of 711, on the kingdom of the Goths, did not prevent some 11th-century Galician nobles naming their kid after him, which we know because he then rebelled against the Asturian-Leonese king (Bermúdez); it seems kind of fitting…
  12. That Pope Gregory the Great, as well as buying his way into Ravenna as discussed the previous day, when trying to work at a distance at or with people on whom his financial resources couldn’t work, used symbolic bargaining chips instead, including the bit of church apparel that distinguishes an archbishop from his fellow metropolitan bishops, the pallium, the rules for whose award he basically made up and remade over his pontificate as one of the very few levers he had into the Frankish Church (Gehler-Rachůnek).
  13. And that some guy called Jonathan Jarrett has been using the same map in his presentation handouts for like, a decade now, I mean get over it guy.

As you can see from that and the actual listing, it covered a fair range, and the papers I haven’t singled out were no less worthy just because they may have surprised me less (in the case of Fraser, for example, because of long discussions about it with him beforehand). But what was I talking about? At this remove, I had to look it up, I admit, but my essential theme was sovereignty, a vague word that has taken on sharper edges since David Cameron allowed his country to vote on being part of Europe or not. Did the rulers we were all looking at have it, and if so what distinguished them from kings? Taking, of course, the Counts of Barcelona as my type-case, I wound up arguing that although, as I once put it, “there was an idea of services that it was only proper to demand if one could claim to be a holder of appropriate power”, my guys at least held that because they positioned themselves as royal delegates, working within an old and accepted framework of power which left what they could do reasonably clear, even as they tried to expand that remit.3 To actually claim kingship would therefore have been to tear up the roots of their power and try to replant them, a risk which never seemed worthwhile. But it also meant that, on the rare early occasions when the king was in a position to demand things from them, their sovereignty was exposed as subordination; because they themselves rooted their power in service to the kings, they were only sovereign as long as the kings stayed away.4

Ultimately, for Barcelona at least, that trap was sprung by the end of the Carolingian dynasty to whom loyalty was most directly felt in the March, allowing the counts (and not just of Barcelona) to claim that their power’s ancient basis now related to kings who were gone, and was thus beyond the effect of any kings who remained, and it would take until the late thirteenth century for anyone to really try and challenge that.5 But I ended by taking a brief tour around tenth- and eleventh-century Europe and wondering how many other non-royal rulers we might see as beholden ultimately to kings in the same way, and wondering therefore if the first layer of authority down from the kings was really where non-royal power started or if we should all be looking, for example, at viscounts instead. Going back to it, it seems quite a clever paper; it has quotes in I know are quotes but don’t recognise any more, and in general there seems to be a lot more distance between me now and the writer of that paper than three years would suggest. But writing this post has been a good excuse to get in touch with him.

Extracting a core point from the whole conference, anyway, I suppose it makes me think mainly that a lot of power negotiation in the early Middle Ages was pretty desperate, because of it being the several centuries of political flux that are precisely what draws me to the period; this meant that lots of people in power, but only just, were keen to bend, break or remake things that might once have been rules, resources or bases of power, as needed by their changed circumstances. That probably makes it rather hard for us to extract constitutional rules about how early medieval kingdoms worked; their occupants were actually working against that kind of deduction being possible a lot of the time! But if instead we’re after social ‘rules’ about how people in power try to make it work, the lack of constraints and binding (or just working) legacy structures in this period makes it a more, not less, useful source of models and ideas…

1. For those not clear on how exactly Portugal emerged and what if anything a Countess Teresa, arguably its first ruler even though the credit usually goes to her son Afonso Enriques, might have had to do with it, there used to be almost no options in English and now lately are several, of which I favour either A. R. Disney, A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire from Beginnings to 1807 (Cambridge 2009–12), 2 vols, vol. I pp. 70–94, for outline, or Bernard F. Reilly, “Alfonso VII of León-Castilla, the House of Trastámara, and the Emergence of the Kingdom of Portugal” in Medieval Studies Vol. 63 (Turnhout 2001), pp. 193–222, for the messy details.

2. A lot of the evidence was place-names, which is fine; but some of it was sculpture, whose dating is a bit trickier. For example, my notes record an assertion that there is early medieval sculpture at or from St Wilfrid’s in Ribchester; but if so, the Historic England register doesn’t mention it (or I would have pictured it for you…).

3. The quote comes from Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), p. 132.

4. An argument I first developed a decade ago, good lord, in the almost unobtainable Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22, esp. pp. 8–15.

5. On that later resolution see Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: the making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley CA 1989).

6 responses to “Rulers who weren’t kings, discussed at Leeds

  1. “to vote on being part of Europe or not”: oh come now. We can’t help but be part of Europe – that’s mere geography. It was being part of the EU we voted on.

  2. I love the last paragraph in particular, because it both nails down what underlies all the different case studies and also what makes early medieval political culture such as fascinating field of enquiry – its sheer dynamism.

  3. The idea that “Europe” is a single ideological complex seems pretty unlikely to me (insofar as I can guess what an ideological complex is).

    But even if it were we didn’t vote to leave it. I realise that there were Remainers who argued that if we left the EU I would never again be allowed to listen to Mozart or look at a Rembrandt but they were obviously insane or dishonest. Is nobody in the EU allowed to enjoy the work of Ibsen or Tolstoy or Tchaikovsky, of Abel, Euler, or the Bernoullis?

    P.S. Wasn’t the famous ‘just a geographical expression’ applied to Italy by Metternich? I’m sure it was Metternich & Italy when I was a schoolboy.

    Come to think of it there has recently been some bone-headed agitation against playing Tchaikovsky on the grounds that Mr Putin’s interpretation of our single ideological complex is too Russian, or something else equally fatuous.

    • OK, I will buy the second paragraph’s argument, and thus admit that my dramatic overstatement was probably too over. I guess ‘we’, in the sense of the people who got those ballot papers, were voting against European government more than anything else. But I can happily accept this on the grounds that if you’re right about Metternich, I can quote that line without risking Godwin’s Law, and that is adequate compensation for my loss!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.