The Leeds incarnation of the Universities and Colleges Union strike is beginning to look a bit like Occupy – remember that? – on its fourth day, and as I’ve mentioned I’ll be taking part in the UCU teach-outs today at the Quaker Meeting House on Woodhouse Lane, schedule here, in case anyone local is reading. But before then there is just about time for a short post about Charlemagne. Unless it’s not Charlemagne…
What do I mean and why am I in doubt? Well, one of the very last acts of the Carolingian dynasty of Frankish kings on their notional Spanish March that is now more or less Old Catalonia was a charter issued by King Lothar III to the monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès in 985.1 It was by now long past the point where the Carolingians had land or rights in their control that they could grant out, and all the charter does is confirm the land and rights that Sant Cugat claimed already to have. This raises at least two questions, of course, one being whether they really held all of those lands and rights or whether getting royal confirmation that you did was just a first step towards acquiring them—how easily could Lothar have checked, and why would he have cared?—and the second being why royal confirmation should actually have made any kind of difference that meant it was worthwhile sending one of your monks all the way from Vallès to Compiègne, once he had found out that that was where he needed to be, and then back, given that the king couldn’t actually enforce any of the charter from where he was except through the people who were already there. These are good questions and I’ve looked at them in print, but today I want to look at a smaller question, which is where some of these lands and rights had supposedly come from.2
You see, the thing that had driven Sant Cugat’s ambassador northwards on this occasion was the sack of Barcelona by Muslim armies in 985, in which Sant Cugat seems also to have suffered, though we’re not sure how much.3 This apparently cost them some of their documents, as indeed they apparently explained to Lothar, because he said in the charter:
“If, by restoring something of the properties of the saints in places destroyed by the tyranny of pagans we demonstrate the firmness of our benevolence in those gifts, we do not doubt at all that it redounds to the benefit of our soul. On account of which, let the industry of all our faithful men of the holy Church of God both present and future know that a certain Odo, abbot of the monastery of Sant Cugat, coming before the presence of our dignity, humbly besought our clemency that we would deign to confirm the collected properties of the monastery of Sant Cugat, eight miles distant from the city of Barcelona, conceded in the past or to be conceded in the future, with a decree of our royalty, the which we have done. We therefore concede to the aforesaid monastery all the things which [were contained] in the precepts of our predecessors, namely Charles the Great or Louis, our father, or by other scriptures of the faithful of Christ which we understand were burnt by the infestation of the pagans…”
I’m afraid this is roughly how the Carolingians rolled with their charters; trust me, it’s even harder to follow in the Latin. But behold, there he is, Charles the Great. But wait. The first notice we have of even a church at Sant Cugat is from 878, when it belonged to the cathedral of Barcelona. There may have been an abbot there by 895, and its own archive only starts in 904. But Charlemagne died in 814. For this reason Ramon d’Abadal, when editing this document, preferred to see in this a reference to a charter of King Charles the Bald (840-877), who finished up as Emperor (875-877), and might possibly have been thought of as ‘great’, at least compared to Charles the Simple (898-923), the only other contendor, and therefore his edition contains an entry for the notional precept of Charles the Bald that had been lost here.4 Still, if that is a reference to Charles the Bald, it’s the only one I know of to call him ‘Great’, whereas people were calling Charlemagne that within years of his death, as we have seen here before. But with the other king mentioned clearly being Louis IV (936-954), Lothar’s own father, the historical memory here didn’t necessarily go very far back. Whom were they actually talking about here?
I can’t solve this question, but there are three possibilities. Firstly, Sant Cugat, which later claimed to be a reactivation of a Visigothic monastery and does have a little archaeology going that far back, even if not necessarily monastic archaeology, may actually have been operating under Charlemagne and had a charter from him; we wouldn’t necessarily have the documentation, especially given the 985 sack.5 Secondly, it is possible that they did, as Abadal guessed, have a charter from Charles the Bald as emperor, which a century later they hopefully understood to be one of Charlemagne, given how much more famously he had been emperor and how much cooler that would be; it would have fitted with their own sense of antiquity from the then more-obvious ruins of the older occupation and it may have been a perfectly genuine mistake. Thirdly, of course, they may have been making the whole thing up, and possibly didn’t even have a charter of Louis IV; they would not by any means have been the only people who wound up claiming more after the sack of 985 than we suspect they lost in it.6
So, we could distinguish these possibilities as truth, error and fraud, but the thing is that from King Lothar’s point of view it really didn’t matter. Someone had come a very long way to get his royal approval of something; he was hardly going to refuse this chance to act in an area of his supposed kingdom where, despite some effort on his part, he had very little means of action.7 If it was all good, then he got his name into local commemorations and people hopefully became aware that the king could and would make such grants on request; but actually, it was probably better for him if the abbot was being disingenuous, because the only thing anyone aggrieved could do about that was, really, to come north in their turn and protest to the king, giving him further means of intervening on the March and reinforcing to his immediate courtly audience that places as far away as Catalonia looked to him for justice and authority. Really, it was a win-win for him and the one thing he wasn’t incentivised to do was cut Sant Cugat’s claims down. Furthermore, they were positively offering him a chance to renew the work of Charlemagne. Why would he ever refuse? And no-one, least of all King Lothar, needed to know whether Charlemagne had ever done such work in the first place. I would annoy King Lothar so much. But maybe that is sometimes the job of a historian! And maybe I’ll see you later while I annoy my employers by working for free! But that’ll do for today.
1. It’s edited in Ramon de Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, facsimile reprint, Mem&oagrave;ries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 75 (Barcelona 2007), 2 vols, Sant Cugat del Vallès III (I pp. 194-200).
2. My work in question being 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, DOI: 10.1484/J.TMJ.1.102535.
3. See Gaspar Feliu, “Al-Mansur, Barcelona i Sant Cugat” in Acta Historica et Archaeologica Mediaevalia Vol. 3 (Barcelona 1982), pp. 49–54, online here.
4. Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, I pp. 194-197, discusses the textual history and possibilities; his notice of the hypothetical earlier document is ibid. Sant Cugat del Vallès I (I p. 190).
5. For the best analysis of the sack and its documentary trail see Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, La presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007).
7. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather”.