Tag Archives: Louis the Foreigner

Leeds IMC report for 2015, part 2

Back to the conference reportage, then, and far from the end of that too; you can probably imagine how much I want to be through this backlog, so I shall launch in and try to be brief… But the second day of the 2015 International Medieval Congress was a good one for me, as the sessions I went to covered pretty much the range of my interests and mostly they had people in I’ll go out of my way to hear talking, too. It unrolled like this.

539. Texts and Politics in the Long 10th Century, I: the Western kingdom

  • Horst Lößlein, “Establishing Rule: Charles the Simple and the cases of Western Francia and Lotharingia”
  • Fraser McNair, “Histories in Diplomas: kings, archbishops, nobles and the disputes over St Servatius’s abbey, Maastricht, 898 and 919”
  • Ed Roberts, “Religious Patronage in the Reign of Louis IV: dynasty, memory and the monasteries of St-Corneille and St-Remi”
  • When I started in on this whole research thing there was approximately one chapter about tenth-century Francia that had been written in my lifetime, so it’s really good to see people interested in working over the difficult evidence of the period and trying to understand how we got from the imperial break-up of 887 to something quite like France, Germany, Italy and Flanders a century later. This is partly the fault of Geoff Koziol, who was invoked in all these papers, but the pieces still need assembly.1 Each of these speakers had a piece, Dr Lößlein looking at the patterns of attendance at King Charles the Simple (899-923)’s courts and noting that although Charles was able to fight and negotiate his way into his secondary kingdom of Lotharingia, his inability to cow Duke Robert of Neustria, his eventual and short-lived successor, meant that there were large areas of his main kingdom of the West Franks where Charles could not actually go.2 Not just Robert’s territories, too, I might have added, but the difference is that he had to work with Robert nonetheless, whereas he could wait for people from south of the Loire to come to him. Fraser, an old friend by now, appealed to my scholarly heart by pointing out that there are narrative sources for the early tenth century in Francia, they’re just in charters, and he showed the different spins that court and Archbishops of Trier put on one particular dispute when thus recounting it. I enjoyed this, but especially for the subtle observation that Charles the Simple’s diplomas stress consensus and participation much more than those of his predecessor in Lotharingia, King Zwentibold. Fraser may get me to revise my opinion of Charles yet. Lastly, Ed, who noted how difficult a relationship Charles’s son, the unlucky but dogged Louis IV, had with the legacy of his father, whose reign had ended in civil war and imprisonment by his magnates, something which Louis at least suffered only briefly. Ed argued that Louis made his own way rather than pursuing a ‘Carolingian’ policy and having now taught his reign, I’d be inclined to agree. Questions here revolved mainly around the Spanish March (I bet you can’t guess who asked that one) and queens, since Louis’s queen Gerberga seems to have been an awful lot of his support thanks to being sister of King Otto I of the Germans.3 All of this, I think, goes to show that the pieces are there, it just needs people to find the work interesting enough to make it so to others.

    Ottonian family tree from the twelfth-century Chronica Sancti Pantaleonis

    A rather wonderful Ottonian family tree from the twelfth-century Chronica Sancti Pantaleonis, image public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Note how Gerberga and her children appear but no mention is made of her unlucky husband…

Then coffee, and then a session about which I had no choice, because I was moderating it, but didn’t need one because it was also really interesting.

641. Re-Formed Coinage, Renewed Meaning: using, imitating, and disposing of Byzantine coins far beyond imperial frontiers

  • Lin Ying, “Byzantine Gold Coins in Chinese Contexts: three approaches”
  • Florent Audy, “Scandinavian Responses to Byzantine Coins”
  • Rebecca Darley, “Valuing Byzantine Gold Coins in Medieval South India”
  • The core question of this session is not hard to spot, I guess: Byzantine coins are found in faraway places where their context as imperial currency could not apply, so what were people doing with them? In China, Professor Ying told us, they were mainly burying them with dead people, and along the Silk Routes and into Sogdia making things that looked like solidi to do that with as well, usually doubly or triply pierced for wearing; there’s very little indication that this was more than a species of jewellery to a population to whom normal coins would have looked very different. In Viking Scandinavia, that was also happening but there is more sign of a discerning user-base: although Byzantine coins are a tiny fraction of the foreign money and bullion that was accumulating in Scandinavia in this period, the gold is never pecked or tested and very often set as jewellery, whereas the silver usually had been pecked but only when it was real coins; there were also imitations of Byzantine miliaresia but except in Finland, these don’t seem to have actually circulated even as bullion. So why make them? As with the Chinese context there is more to do here. Lastly Rebecca provided the Indian context, not unlike the Chinese one in as much as Byzantine coins were apparently commodities here but treated fairly consistently, usually double-pierced above the bust and also imitated but only in gold, not as plated knock-offs; the contexts are almost all lost but use in temple contexts seems a better fit to what there is than anything to do with commerce or ports. That provoked a sharp question in discussion, because while in India the focus is clearly on the imperial portrait, in China it can often be on the reverse, leading someone to wonder if the coins were appreciated as Christian symbols, which Professor Ying thought possible. Certainly, as someone else observed, that would be about all you could see on a coin someone was wearing as jewellery unless you were impolitely close! This all hung together very well and I gather that publication of something deriving from this is in distant prospect; it should be fun.

    Double-pierced Byzantine solidus of Emperor Justin II, found in a tomb at Guyuan

    Double-pierced solidus of Justin II, found in a tomb at Guyuan; click through to an article on Lin Ying’s in which further context and some comparator finds are presented

That got me to lunch, and then it was off to a different bit of my interests! I do begin to understand how someone like me must be almost impossible to schedule for…

733. The Early Islamic World, VI: Iberia

  • Nicola Clarke, “Law, Families, and the Frontier in Umayyad Iberia”
  • Mateusz Wilk, “Power, Law, and Ideology in Umayyad Spain”
  • Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Conquest and Settlement: what al-Andalus can tell us about the Arab expansion at the time of the Umayyad Caliphate”
  • I will pretty much always go to hear Eduardo Manzano speak, but here there were obviously other things to interest me too. Dr Clarke dug into the agendas of the Arabic sources for the conquest of al-Andalus, all significantly posterior to events and for the most part more interested in trying to settle questions of how the caliph should behave to his lieutenants when they exceed his authority, and indeed who should have been caliph at all and why (for example, being able to restrain those same lieutenants), the result of which is that it’s quite hard to say how far either Caliph al-Walīd or the lieutenant in question, Mūsā ibn Nusayr, were in any real control of events. Dr Wilk, on the other hand, saw in them an attempt to picture Muslim Spain as a new and better Umayyad Syria, but with shifts once the Malikite school of law took hold there in the ninth or tenth centuries (and with no useful ninth-century sources, which is hard to say). This provoked surprising amounts of argument; commentators proved very invested in the importance of Malikism in al-Andalus either as a mark of Arabian connection or as the ineluctable result of fugitives from Arabia turning up there, and it would perhaps have been more fun to set these people arguing with each other than with Dr Wilk. Lastly Professor Manzano pointed out some odd things about the Muslim conquest of Spain, not least that it was accomplished largely by Berber auxiliaries whose acculturation to Islam took place largely in the peninsula, not before getting there, and that by moving a large salaried army into the peninsula and keeping it that way rather than settling it, at least at first, the new rulers committed themselves to importing a whole fiscal system, including gold coin for tax and copper coin for pay, where nothing like it had existed for a long time, which more or less required the cooperation of Christian worthies to make it work. This got Professor Manzano and me into an argument about the survival of the Visigothic taxation system and how far that involved copper, an argument that Ann Christys had to stop but in which I would now graciously concede that we were both wrong, which I’m sure would amuse him.4

    Copper-alloy fals of the unlocated al-Andalus mint

    A coin on the importance of which we could agree, a copper-alloy fals of the unlocated al-Andalus mint, struck in somewhen during the eighth or ninth centuries I guess, Jean Elsen & ses Fils,
    Auction 120, 15 March 2014, lot 1594

Revitalised by dispute, I imagine I needed tea less than usual at the end of this session, but with the last session of the day still to come I certainly did still need it.

814. Networks and Neighbours, IV: tracing aristocratic networks in three early medieval kingdoms

I was here partly because the title involved some of my keywords and partly out of a loyalty to a related journal that was at that stage (this is a story for another time) still supposedly about to publish me, but also because Roger Collins was supposed to be moderating and that, unfortunately, proved not to be so. The running order was this:

  • Paulo Henrique de Carvalho Pachá, “Searching for the Visigothic State: monarchy and aristocracy in the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo”
  • Karen Torres da Rosa, “Merovingian Testaments and Power Relations in the Transference of Goods”
  • Renato Rodrigues Da Silva, “Northumbrian Aristocracy through Archaeological Evidence: coins and coinage”
  • Señor de Carvalho engaged directly with the work of Luis García Moreno, arguing that rather than an eternal opposition between kings and nobles in Visigothic Spain we should see a periodic rebuilding of consensus between these and other elements of the state which could break down in a variety of ways, not just that defining cleavage, since the monarchy was obviously unable to operate without any aristocratic support at all and the aristocracy was frequently divided.5 This made sense to me and the only thing that surprised was the age of the scholarship being engaged, surely written before the speaker was born. Discussion here was very constitutional, and made my normal ‘realpolitikal’ take on such power dealings feel very out of place. Miss da Rosa’s work was at too early a stage for it to be fair for me to comment on it here, though, and Señor Rodrigues’s paper, about the early Northumbrian silver coinage as a tool of aristocratic power, I thought rested on some pretty unprovable assumptions about moneyers; there were many ideas here that needed better links to the evidence. I’m afraid that at the end of this, incipient local loyalties not withstanding, I was minded not to come to another Networks and Neighbours IMC session.

    Obverse of a silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-704), Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum CM.1980-2007

    Obverse of a silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-704), Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum CM.1980-2007

    Reverse of silver penny of King Aldfrith of Northumbria (685-704), Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.1980-2007

    Reverse of the same coin. I think the triple-tailed wolf probably militates against this being an attempt to churchify the coinage, myself…

Looking back over this as I write it up, it strikes me suddenly how generalised the use of coin evidence is becoming in the fields of history I follow. Granted, one of these sessions was explicitly about it, but coins were part of one speaker’s evidence in two of the other sessions as well, which as you see makes hunting down suitable illustrations much easier for me! It’s nice to think, though, that the numismatic gospel might be getting out there. Anyway. What I did with the evening, I cannot now recall; I fervently hope that it was spent drinking with friends and colleagues, and certainly on one night of the conference I went hunting curry houses with two of the Birmingham posse; perhaps that was this evening? But in any case, it is another day recounted. Next one in two posts’ time!


1. My point of reference would have been Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (Harlow 1987), pp. 305-339, but now as I say there is also Geoffrey Koziol, The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas: the West Frankish kingdom (840–987) (Turnhout 2012), and we’re still reacting.

2. On this I cannot resist citing Koziol, “Is Robert I in Hell? The Diploma for Saint-Denis and the Mind of a Rebel King (Jan. 25, 923)” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 14 (Oxford 2006), pp. 233-267, which is fun.

3. On Gerberga, see Simon MacLean, “Reform, Queenship and the End of the World in Tenth-Century France: Adso’s ‘Letter on the Origin and Time of the Antichrist'” in Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire Vol. 86 (Bruxelles 2008), pp. 645-675, DOI: 10.3406/rbph.2008.7582.

4. I’m wrong because I hadn’t realised quite how early the Visigothic copper coinage we know about was, and it almost certainly wasn’t still running by 711; he’s wrong because it existed at all, dammit. See Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “The Copper Coinage of the Visigoths of Spain” in Mário Gomes Marques and D. Michael Metcalf (edd.), Problems of Medieval Coinage in the Iberian Area: a Symposium held by the Sociedade Numismática Scalabitana and the Instituto de Sintra on 4-8 October, 1988 (Santarém 1988), pp. 35-70, but now also Crusafont, Jaume Benages, Jaume Noguera Guillén, Eduard Ble Gimeno, Pau Valdés Matias, Tomi Cartes, Xavier Sicart & Joan Enric Vila, “La sèrie de plata de la monarquia visigoda” in Acta numismàtica Vol. 45 (2014), pp. 71-80, which changes the picture quite a lot!

5. That work being Luís Agustín García Moreno, Historia de España visigoda (Madrid 1989), to which one might for example compare Javier Arce Martínez, “The Visigoths in Spain: old and new historical problems” in Walter Pohl & Veronika Wieser (edd.), Der frühmittelalterliche Staat – europäische Perspektiven, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 16 (Wien 2009), pp. 31-42.

Harold, Viking lord of Bayeux, fl. 944-945

I need to spend some quality time with Richer of Rheims’s Historiae. It’s almost the only narrative source that pays any attention to my particular corner of Europe that’s even close to contemporary, though this is mainly because Richer’s teacher, the astronomical researcher, ecclesiastical politician extraordinaire, and eventual pope, Gerbert of Aurillac, or Gerbert of Rheims, or Pope Sylvester II, studied in Catalonia. He did so at such a time as to be taken to Rome by Marquis Borrell II, though, so Richer is practically the only cispyrenean source to even name Borrell (and he calls him Dux citerior hispaniae, which raises a whole bunch of questions about Borrell’s self-presentation). That’s why I should be reading him much more closely. And if not that, it should be because the excellent Monumenta Germaniae Historica edition includes a full facsimile of the autograph manuscript, including Richer’s own annotations, so you can really get to grips with what he was doing.1

Opening page of the autograph manuscript of Richers Histories, Bamberg, MS Hist. 5

Opening page of the autograph manuscript of Richer's Histories, Bamberg, MS Hist. 5

However, why I currently want to read him is because I’ve just read something about which I had no idea. I was, obviously given my reading, dimly aware that in 945 King Louis IV of the West Franks had the ill luck to be captured by the Normans, whom he’d been using as allies against his nobility, and only rescued by his arch-enemy Hugh the Great, Duke of Francia.2 But apparently this is not the whole story, because according to Richer the leader who actually captured Louis was not the Norman Count of Rouen, but someone whom the other contemporary chronicler, Flodoard of Rheims (Rheims was really where history happened those days eh?) called “Hagroldus Nordmannus, qui Baiocis præerat”, `Harold the Norseman who used to lead the people of Bayeux’.3 And although then, and probably in 944 when Duke Hugh had beseiged Bayeux but not taken it, Harold was against the Duke, before very long he was allied with him, that is to say he was not a Norman vassal but another independent leader following his own inclinations.4

Statue of Count Rollo the Ganger of Rouen, in modern-day Rouen

Statue of Count Rollo the Ganger of Rouen, in modern-day Rouen, from Wikipedia

What this mainly has me thinking is how we sometimes make Normandy too, well, normative. In too many histories the Viking Age is supposed to end with King Charles the Simple establishing Rollo the Ganger and his men at Rouen and thus stopping attacks everywhere (except places like Brittany that didn’t count as anywhere from Rheims). This is often reckoned as the only thing Charles the Simple got right, though I wonder whether Philip Augustus felt that way as Richard the Lionheart charged out of the Anglo-Norman bridgehead once again. But here is Harold to remind us that Rollo need not have been the only one, just the most successful, whose descendants wound up ruling England and nearly half of France and even in the mid- to late-tenth century clearly being the ones whose story was going to matter.5 But there were, apparently others, or at least one other, and we just don’t know where he’d come from. How many “Viking allies” did Louis have? Had he put them there, or was this another bright idea by Charles that a later king came to regret, and that Flodoard, Richer and most of all Dudo of Saint-Quentin already knew, when they wrote, hadn’t lasted? How many Viking princes might Charles have put along that coast, in fact? Harold apparently didn’t enlist the Church structures of his area in his own cause in the way that Duke Richard I of Normandy (I mean Count Richard of Rouen) did, or his local propaganda specialists, and so doesn’t get the same sort of record.6 Also, it can’t be denied that the eventually-Norman dukes were particularly successful and so survived to be recorded in more detail; but the fact that Richard was later able to take Bayeux over shouldn’t be allowed to make Harold a priori less significant than the extremely young Richard in the years before then. I wouldn’t want to guess which one King Louis was more scared by in 945. I bet there’s more where this came from too. Maybe after Leeds.


1. H. Hoffmann (ed.), Richer von Saint-Remi: Historiae, Monumenta Germania Historica (Scriptores) XXXVIII (Hannover 2000); I wonder if there’s a market for an English translation of this? Someone must be doing one.

2. E. g. Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (London 1983), p. 316:

By 942, peace was restored between the king and all his nobles. The balance of power among the nobility, however, was altered radically with the murder of William Longsword in 942 by henchmen of Count Arnulf of Flanders, and the death of Herbert II of Vermandois the following year. Both left heirs in their minority. Louis quickly made peace with the four sons of Herbert and seized his opportunity to exert an influence in Normandy. In 944 he managed to get himself recognised by the Normandy Vikings as regent for William’s son Richard I (942-96). For a time Louis’ Viking allies proved invaluable in helping to pay back in kind some of the excesses of Hugh the Great’s vassals…. But in 945 Louis was taken prisoner by his Viking allies and only rescued from them, in exchange for Louis IV’s youngest son, by Hugh the Great.

3. Philippe Lauer (ed. & transl.), Les Annales de Flodoard (Paris 1905), s. a. 945, cit. Samantha Kahn Herrick, “Heirs to the Apostles: Saintly Power and Ducal Authority in Hagiography of Early Normandy” in Robert Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam J. Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 11-24 at p. 19 n. 26.

4. Flodoard & Richer, both s. a. 945, cit. Herrick as above.

5. See for this background Pierre Bauduin, “Chefs normands et élites franques , fin IXe-début Xe siècle” in idem (ed.), Les fondations scandinaves enOccident et les débuts du duché de Normandie (Caen 2005), pp. 181-194. I ought also to mention, and most of all read, Jason Glenn, Politics and History in the Tenth Century. The Work and World of Richer of Reims, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 60 (Cambridge 2004).

6. This is essentially the process that Herrick covers in “Heirs to the Apostles”, which is the article that sparked this whole post and is really quite sharp.

Coins in unexpected places, 2: sale of the century

The Department of Coins & Medals in the Fitzwilliam Museum has the largest collection of numismatic auction catalogues and fixed-price lists in the world, something of which Professor Ted Buttrey, who maintains it, is justly proud. We partly amass this by exchanges of duplicates with other institutions, but also we get them sent from the houses themselves, not least because we sometimes bid for things for the collection, though this often entails raising money from elsewhere because the actual departmental budget for purchases is very small. Such a catalogue recently arrived from the Alde auction house in France, advertising the sale of the collection of one Bernard Chwartz, of whom I never before heard. And, oh, man.

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

Supposed denier of Charles Martel, Marseilles, probably 737X43

I don’t think we’ll be able to get this, be our medieval collection never so unrivalled. This little piece of rather crude silver is commanding a starting price of 10,000 Euros, because it is claimed to be a coin of Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne after whom the Carolingian line is actually named. There are almost no coins known in the names of the Mayors of the Palace, that being the office that the Carolingians held under the Merovingian Kings of the Franks who descended from Clovis, before Pepin III took over in 751. (There may be two coins of the Carolingian rival Ebroin.) The kings issued coins but informally, in a way, in as much as the names on them were moneyer and mint, not the kings.1 But if any of the Mayors did issue coins, it would probably be Charles Martel, in as much as he ruled for some time without an actual king, and so a certain amount of aggrandising is probably to be expected. There are also apparently coins attributed to him known from Provence, so the Marseilles attribution that Pierre Crinon has here made makes sense.2 All the same, whether this is really what Alde are claiming it is, and Chwartz presumably thought it was, I’m not at all sure. It’s as with the mancus of King Cœnwulf of Mercia the other year, there’s just so little to compare it with that there’s no way to be sure till more turn up. It’s not all that’s of note in this collection, though: there are also two coins of Pepin III after his elevation, which are rare as hen’s teeth, a huge variety of Merovingian stuff including many old gold tremisses struck in the names of the Byzantine emperors, a little Lombard material, several bits of really early Charlemagne, a portrait coin of Lothar I from Aachen (which is astonishingly rare), coins also of all other Carolingian successors of Louis the Pious in the west including Louis the German but also the very last ones, some non-Carolingians too like Odo and Raoul, quite a lot of later French ‘feudal’ stuff and a Frisian imitation of a solidus of Louis the Pious, which I show below just to get some gold on the page. But there’s an awful lot more, and it’s all in lovely condition. (It’s also largely Southern French mints, which is interesting to me.) If Philip Grierson were still alive, he’d be down the front of this auction in person, trying to fill gaps in our collection with all the saved money he still had.

Frisian imitation of a gold solidus of Louis the Pious, probably 830X50

Frisian imitation of a gold solidus of Louis the Pious, probably 830X50

Less spectacular are two pieces that have come up in the most recent catalogue from the Barcelona auction house of Aureo, but again, if Philip were still alive, I’d be hounding him to buy them for us. A while ago I wrote a paper observing that, though we have none of the coinage of late-tenth-century Barcelona, it’s possible to say quite a lot about what it was like and how it was managed from the charters. This is the most numismatic thing I have ever written, and I think it’s sustainable and interesting, and it currently awaits a final revision before publication at the end of the year.3 It may be just as well it’s awaiting, because obviously the one thing that could really distress my argument is someone actually finding some of the relevant coin. This hasn’t happened, thankfully, but what has come up for sale are two pieces of the Barcelona mint from, probably, fifty or sixty years earlier.

Two deniers of the ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona mint for sale from Aureo, Barcelona

Two deniers of the ninth- or tenth-century Barcelona mint for sale from Aureo, Barcelona

They are at least of known types, though the cataloguer for Aureo has chosen to ignore this in pursuit of making their ancestry more glorious.4 So the 1,600 Euro price for the diner of Ramon Borrell is probably unjustified, as we know what his coins looked like and this isn’t it. What really tickles me is how Aureo cite an authority for this and then admit that their authority says it’s something else. Is this really likely to work? They’re rare even as what they really are though—there’s about forty of these coins known, in three types, of which the Museum has one and these are the other two, dammit—and I certainly couldn’t tell you for sure that none of them were Borrell II’s. All the same, this is not the problem. The problem is that they cite, in their attribution of these coins, a brand-new article on the tenth-century coinage of Barcelona that I haven’t read.5 This is going to have to change very quickly, but although the Department and Cambridge UL are both subscribed to the relevant journal we haven’t received 2007’s issue yet, let alone 2008’s. Happily for me, at least, I see that one of the other contributors is an old contact, so I can probably get onto this fairly quickly. But, dammit, this is why we have subscriptions, and of course now it may be that what I want to say is no longer viable… I shall be slightly on tenterhooks till I find out.


1. The book I automatically check for this sort of thing, Philip Grierson & Mark A. S. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1: the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 1986), where see pp. 138-49, is a bit old now, but I’m pretty sure that if this had been modified I’d have heard about it in the classes my boss gives in the room where I work

2. Grierson & Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage 1, pp. 146-49. The catalogue cites, instead, Maurice Prou, Catalogue des monnaies mérovingiennes de la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris 1892), nos 119-21, probably because there are illustrations there whereas we don’t have any.

3. Jonathan Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economic” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London 2009), subject to this all coming out right…

4 Until a few days ago I’d have said the latest work on these coins, which Aureo have ignored, was Xavier Sanahuja Anguera, “La Moneda de Barcelona al segle X segons les troballes Espanya-1 i Espanya-2 (925)” in Acta Numismàtica Vol. 36 (Barcelona 2006), pp. 79-113, which also gives a corpus, but, read on…

5. Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, “La Moneda barcelonina del segle X: altres novetats comtals”, ibid. 38 (2008), pp. 91-121.

ZOMG documents

The things I discover while searching for images to support this blog’s posts are often close to being the best excuse for doing the blog in the first place (although the other night I was congratulated on it by David Ganz, which was a little unsteadying). Nonetheless, look. You may just have heard of an initiative called ARTEM, which was a project at Nancy in France to collect and digitize all the original charters preserved in France from before 1121. And this has done grand service by allowing really close palæographical analysis of a large base of charters, pointing out various tricky things about scribes, and compiling huge databases of words and vocabulary that allow some really clever things to be done about testing dubious documents for plausibility, and also studying the development of the language (if you can stop that becoming a circular enterprise, anyway).

But they also made images of all these documents, you see, and it seems that some if not all, and several others, have now made it to the web, by means of a separate initiative of the Ministère de Culture called ARCHIM, ARCHives Nationales, IMages de documents. Now it’s not massively searchable, I have to admit, but, folks, there is magic and gold in there for a diplomatist. If you go in via the guided search form, each field has a link to a list of the available options (this, unlike the access method, is very good practice). And if you for example choose date, you can see that there are twelve seventh-century documents in there, of which several turn out to be papyrus. And it’s not just documents: here, for example, for the enthusiasts of the late Carolingians among us, is a fragmentary seal of King Louis IV of the Western Franks (937-54):

Seal of King Louis IV the Foreigner

And here is dear Charles the Simple again, confirming an immunity to the canons of Paris:

Precept of immunity from King Charles the Simple to the canons of Paris, 911

It’s a pity one has to dig so hard, but there is gold in there all right. I have as usual added it to the sidebar.

Charles the Simple, you are the weakest link

(I was quite right about the readership. Post something and you all disappear. What is up with that? Anyway.)

Forgive something without my usual depth of reference, link and footnote, but this is a post that has been brought about mainly by my awareness that I need to know more, so it seems silly to point you to references that I know aren’t adequate. This is stream-of-consciousness Carolingianist reflection this is, and I shall rely on your ability to Google and Wikisearch if you want or need more.

Map of the Treaty of Verdun

Map of the Treaty of Verdun scrounged from the defunct MSN Encarta

You probably know that there are a variety of theories about when the Carolingian Empire really failed, but most of them would agree that by the deposition of Charles the Fat (who ruled the whole Empire between 884 and 887), when a non-Carolingian (Eudes, or Odo) ruled in the West and an only-just-Carolingian (Arnulf) in the East, soon to be replaced by an entirely new dynasty, the Ottonians (though they had Carolingian links, but really, everyone in the nobility had those), it was pretty much dead. And that is certainly fair enough but you then have to deal with not just one but two Carolingian restorations in the West, Charles the Simple in 899 and Louis the Foreigner in 936, both of which took territory on the eastern border at various points and in the case of Lothar III (Louis IV’s son) marrying Ottonian daughters and so on. Certainly in my particular corner of tenth-century Europe, they still thought the Carolingians were in charge until 987, and when they weren’t, they dated charters by the years since the last one died, and stuff like that. The Empire may have died, but the Carolingians hung on for a good long while. This is why it always bothers me when people talk about the late Carolingian era and mean, for example, Charles the Fat. There was almost as much Carolingian rule after him as there had been before, in terms of reign length; surely he is mid-Carolingian, because if he’s late, what’s Louis V? So yes: when I say late-Carolingian, as given my thesis and book title I frequently do, I mean later than that.

Now there is certainly an argument that the Empire is gone after Charles the Fat, not just because, well, it is, but also because if you believe Matthew Innes the patronage structures of the Empire survived being split into parts, but one man couldn’t then control all these separate multifocal parts from one throne, so it could never have been reassembled. Certainly not by a man with Charles’s particular defects and beset by Vikings, anyway. But the Carolingian state might have survived longer. There was, admittedly, localisation and break-up all around, and after Louis the Stammerer whole swathes of the south of France were effectively no go for the king, not that either Charles the Simple, or more importantly Lothar III, who was still giving orders to the Spanish March in 986 (albeit mainly because he was asked for them) ever entirely admit that. In the East the nature of politics itself is changing, to a highly ritualised court where the kings deliberately emphasise their theocratic status, because little else differentiates them from their peers except unction. In the West, before very much longer, the Capetians will have succeeded and have to learn to play a game of alliances, friendship, negotiation and temporisation that reflects their far slimmer resources in a world dominated by quasi-independent magnates. And one of the huge questions that has given rise to so much dreadful writing is at what point the grand authority and consensus that someone like Louis the Pious or even Charles the Bald could usually exercise, outside of times of generalised rebellion anyway, something which those two always come through in contradistinction to their successors, fell apart to a situation like Charles the Fat’s or Charles the Simple where their reigns end in ignominous deposition and captivity.

A traditional answer is one in terms of resources. Louis and Charles the Bald had lots to give, but it was easily lost especially in times of disputes when you, as prospective but not effective king, had to buy support with whatever you can. The old theory was that the kings just ran out of land to hold supporters with. Matthew Innes argues more subtly that the connections that the kings needed to pull broke and couldn’t be re-gathered, as I say. But that explains why no Empire, not why no state: Lothar III seems to have done all right at mobilising resources and even at bestowing honours, albeit in a rather changed political landscape. That change is the crucial thing to me. Lothar and his father Louis played a game, more and less successfully respectively, that looks to me from my cursory acquaintance very much like the web of friendships and alliances of magnates against other magnates that the successful Capetians also played. Louis VII and Lothar III make a very powerful comparison, except that actually Lothar was arguably the more important king, meddling in Germany and Spain and sought out by monasteries all over the kingdom still, even those bits where he really couldn’t intervene, for protection. And there was still a certain cachet in his family extraction, and indeed his name, that the Capetians took many more centuries to work up, and this is clearest in Catalonia but if you doubt it you should see how some southern French sources refer to Hugh Capet, the first Capetian, “qui erat dux sed sumpsit regni exordium”… The Carolingians retained legitimacy of a special kind to which later kings appeal again and again, and Lothar had nothing to prove in that respect. It didn’t make his subjects more obedient per se, but in the status game he had an extra card that he knew how to use.

A Romantic depiction of Charles the Simple borrowed from Wikipedia

All the same he was playing a different game. So when did the game change? Well, lately as the sidebar proclaims I have been reading a lot about the establishment of Normandy, so my eyes are very much on Charles the Simple. Now Charles is an interesting man who is long overdue a new look, and Geoffrey Koziol is I believe on the way to providing this as recent articles of his have shown, but for the moment no-one has done a proper look at him since 1899, since when for example all his charters have been published and other things that rather change the picture have happened. But one thing is clear: Charles saw himself, or at least presented himself, as an old-school Carolingian. He had the Big Name of Charlemagne himself; in his documents he sometimes had himself called “King of the Frankish and Gothic kingdoms”, “rex in regna francorum et gotorum”, referring to West Francia and the Spanish March. Now no king had been on the March since 829, but it’s not total rubbish: people from there came to get charters from him, and in 908 he appointed one of his courtiers to the bishopric of Girona, albeit only because the local counts had reached deadlock and couldn’t choose a candidate themselves. He even appointed churchmen in Aquitaine, which was closer to home and thus much more worried about him trying to muscle in. He wasn’t completely off the mark to present himself as such a king, is the point. But though he or his chancery talked the talk, could he actually rule like that? His end would suggest not, imprisoned in a castle by Herbert of Vermandois and brought out only to occasionally threaten the Burgundian king who takes his place. So what happened there then?

The stuff I’ve been looking at about the treaty that put Rollo the Ganger, Viking extraordinaire, in charge of the Normandy coasts, and eventually Rouen (one of the interesting things in that book, which I’ll write about separately, is that Charles seems to have held authority in Rouen some time after Rollo was first evident on the political scene), suggests that what had happened is that Charles the Simple didn’t really realise that the game had changed. It may have changed expressly because in the absence of a Carolingian, Eudes and his family, from whom the Capetians eventually stemmed, had had to broker a consensus by agreements, alliance and back-scratching promises, as well as sub-par status play with religious houses and prominent bishops proclaiming them God’s choice, just as the Capetians did in their early stages. They couldn’t match either the Carolingians’ resources or their family status, so they had to build a ruling consensus a different way. But that doesn’t mean that the game was reset as soon as the Carolingians return. Louis IV and Lothar III, as I’ve said, did just this sort of thing but with an extra string to their bow. Their magnates’ opinion was still vital to them. Now Charles the Simple frequently tried to do without it, appointing his choices not theirs: the biggest problem for the writers of the time was his particular insistence on the promotion of a low-born favourite called Hagano, but this seems to be one tip of a far larger iceberg of aloof rule and bungled patronage. Louis and Lothar relied on friends and alliances, but Charles’s presentation seems to have matched his actual actions; he was the Carolingian, king by right restored over the usurper, and specially to be obeyed therefore. Only in the end, that wasn’t how the king had to play the game. Maybe he could have had what his titles suggested, if he’d been a better friend and listener, if he’d treated his most important subjects as allies rather than enemies. Or maybe I just haven’t understood the depth of his situation. But I think that I need to in order to be sure that I know what was happening circa 900. It may be a more important explanation of what happens circa 1000 than people have so far seen.