Category Archives: HST 3154

How a monk blew up a Carolingian kingdom

In April 862, King Lothar II held a council at Aachen to seal his divorce with Queen Theutberga, on the grounds of her previous incestuous relationship with her brother, Hubert, which he argued made her incapable of marriage. But in June 863, the council of Metz instead seems to have justified the divorce on the grounds that Lothar had previously been married to Waldrada. Why had the justification changed? Why the tactical swerve?

The treatise provided here in a draft English translation for the first time gives us a clue. With great erudition, it mercilessly – we might say forensically – takes apart the 862 arguments for Lothar’s divorce. Fornication or adultery could be cause for separation, but never remarriage; and any sins committed by either partner before a marriage were not carried into it, provided they had been repented for. If a woman was chaste – ie, faithful to her husband – within a marriage, then her past no longer mattered, no matter how ‘polluted’ it was. Just because a woman had previously committed incest, that did not mean that a subsequent marriage was incestuous.

The treatise seems to have been written in response to the 862 Aachen council. Very likely its author was Ratramnus of Corbie, a brilliant monk-scholar. And after this treatise was received, Lothar’s advisors had to change tack. Their new argument, that a pre-existing marriage invalidated a subsequent one, was far stronger, but it was also unconvincing in being raised so belatedly. No wonder that Pope Nicholas I didn’t buy it, with all the consequences that flowed from there.

The title of this blog is perhaps somewhat hyperbolic. But it seems probable that Ratramnus’s superb handling of patristic commentaries, canon law and biblical passages brought home to Lothar’s court that their previous arguments were going nowhere: and the desperate U-turn in their position that ensued surely left Lothar’s kingdom, and his kingship, more vulnerable. Flip-flops are never a good political look.

But the treatise is also significant in its own right. It’s one of the most synthetic and developed commentaries on marriage from the Carolingian period (alongside Hincmar’s De Divortio, of course), and notable in particular for its depiction of marriage as representing a ‘fresh start’ for even the most sinful spouse, and for its emphasis on equality of treatment for both husband and wife. It’s an interesting example of how politics and intellectual enquiry fed off one another in Carolingian Francia.

TRANSLATION (opens pdf)

Early medieval regime change

It’s sometimes suggested that the driving force behind King Lothar II’s efforts to divorce Theutberga was a desire to secure his succession. Lothar had no children with Theutberga, but several with his would-be queen Waldrada. But whatever Lothar’s motives had been in 857/8, the spiralling crisis of his kingdom in the 860s meant that any long-term concerns about his succession were overtaken by a more urgent problem, that of securing his political (and perhaps personal) survival. Lothar’s ‘solution’ to his marital problems was threatening his kingship in the here and now.

The best evidence for this is a letter written in the name of Lothar’s bishops and addressed to the bishops of Lothar’s uncle, King Charles the Bald (translated into English for the first time below). The letter speaks frankly. Lothar’s bishops state they have heard that unnamed people in Charles’s kingdom are advising him to depose his nephew. They call on their western colleagues to oppose this policy, out of episcopal solidarity but also because contrary to the rumours, Lothar’s kingdom was standing rock-solid behind him. The bishops declare that they have sworn oaths to Lothar which they have no intention of breaking; they admit that he has sinned in the past, but are now confident that he’s back on the right path.

Was Charles the Bald really considering instigating regime change? It is perfectly plausible. After all, Charles himself had nearly been deposed by his brother Louis ‘the German’ a decade or so earlier in 858, who had led an army into West Francia on the grounds that Charles was unfit to be king. Such an accusation could obviously be made against Lothar, thanks to the divorce ‘scandal’ which Lothar himself had initiated. And Uncle Charles was undoubtedly ambitious. The key factor was whether Lothar’s kingdom was divided. Would elements of Lothar’s followers welcome a new ruler, as elements of Charles’s followers had welcomed Louis the German in 858? This question explains the bishops’ insistence on their unity in the letter.

Of course we should be wary of taking this letter at face value. To begin with, the letter is not signed, so we do not know how many bishops were really standing behind Lothar. In fact, we do not even know that the letter was actually sent. It survives as part of the letter collection of Bishop Adventius of Metz, who might have been the text’s author; but we do not know whether the draft was discussed, let alone agreed and dispatched.[1]

Yet it suggests that (at least one of) Lothar’s bishops in the 860s – the letter sadly cannot be precisely dated – were becoming anxious not about the indeterminate future, but about the political present. The rapidity with which Charles the Bald invaded Lothar’s kingdom on his nephew’s death in 869 has led some historians to wonder whether Charles had not pre-arranged a military assault, suggesting that the letter’s fears were not groundless.

One of the things that attracts me to studying (and teaching) Lothar and Theutberga’s divorce case is how much it has to tell us about the political order constructed by the Carolingian rulers, as it continued to evolve after the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The Carolingian dynasty’s grip on power was unchallenged in the 860s, but paradoxically that could be a problem for individual kings. If any Carolingian king would do, and yours was struggling, why not trade up for a better one? And if that was the way the wind was blowing, might it not be better to change tack early? One suspects that this prospect brought sleepness nights for Lothar, wriggling like a fish on the line he’d cast.

Letter of the bishops of King Lothar to the bishops of King Charles, late 860s (opens PDF)

Image: Stuttgart Psalter

For blog posts relating to King Lothar II and Queen Theutberga, see http://turbulentpriests.group.shef.ac.uk/category/hst-3154/

For a list of translations available on this blog, see http://turbulentpriests.group.shef.ac.uk/translations/


[1] On the letter collection, see Charles West, ‘Knowledge of the past and the judgement of history in tenth-century Trier: Regino of Prüm and the lost manuscript of Bishop Adventius of Metz’, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/emed.12138

Secret archives in ninth-century Francia

In January 867, Pope Nicholas I wrote to Charles the Bald, king of West Francia. His letter (translated below) was on the topic of Lothar II and Theutberga’s divorce, which by this point had been running for nearly a decade. He had heard, he said, alarming rumours that Charles was now preparing to connive with Lothar in (another) trial of Theutberga, leading potentially to a trial by battle and her execution. Charles had hitherto been a steadfast supporter of Theutberga, and Nicholas encouraged him to remain so.

Nicholas also wrote to emphasise that he was now in charge of the divorce case. Both parties, Lothar and Theutberga, had appealed to him as the judge, and since there was no greater judicial authority than the papacy, no further appeal was possible. Any future judicial action required his say-so. A duel in particular was out of the question, for this would be tempting God.

But Pope Nicholas had another purpose in writing beyond these grand assertions of papal authority. He also hoped to use Charles as a means of getting his letters into Lothar’s kingdom. And this post was intended to be recorded delivery. He asked Charles not only to pass on a letter he had written to Lothar II’s bishops, but also to take note of which bishops refused to receive it, and to send their names back to him immediately. Nicholas was evidently having difficulty in telling which of Lothar’s bishops, thousands of miles across the Alps, were innocently out of the loop, and which were deliberately keeping themselves uninformed of the pope’s wishes.  The disjuncture here between papal aspiration and papal capacity is palpable.

And there was more. Nicholas also enclosed a letter for the attention of Lothar II himself, which he asked Charles to send on to his nephew. But in an appendix, he also asked Charles to keep a copy of it, secretly (nemine alio sciente). Charles was only to publicise this letter if Lothar delayed in obeying its instructions.

This might make the reader pause. Why did Nicholas insist on secrecy? Was Lothar II really not supposed to know that his uncle had a copy of the letter – a letter which this uncle had just passed on to him? If the aim was to put Lothar under pressure, why not just disseminate the letter immediately? And why mention this secret plan in a written document, which was likely to be read by numerous people besides Charles?

The solution to this conundrum, it seems to me, is in the binding power of shared secrets. Nicholas was trying to win Charles round, and by creating a secret, and sharing it with Charles, he hoped to strengthen their entente, and to exclude Lothar. It seems to me likely that Lothar was supposed to know that Charles had a ‘secret’ copy of the letter, and that this secret was intended to weaken the trust between the two kings. The preservation of Lothar’s letter in a West Frankish manuscript context (Paris Bnf. lat. 1557, sadly not yet digitised) suggests Charles did as he was asked.

As Stuart Airlie and Abigail Firey have both remarked, secrecy is a thread running through the divorce case – Theutberga’s secret sin, her secret confession, the anonymity of the group who contacted Hincmar. It seems that not even the pope was immune from falling into its conspiratorial orbit.

Translation of Pope Nicholas’s letter (opens PDF).

A note on Pope Nicholas’s letters available in translation
A selection of Pope Nicholas’s letters concerning the divorce have been translated, some in full and some in part by David D’Avray, Dissolving royal marriages: a documentary history. Another set have recently been translated into German by Klaus Herbers and Veronika Unger in Papstbriefe des 9. Jahrhundert. Nicholas’s letter to Theutberga, written at the same time as this one (Jan 867), has been translated on the marvellous Epistola website. This particular letter to Charles is not in either selection, and has not been translated before to my knowledge.

Image: Stuttgart Psalter

Multilingual medieval kings, shared values and the Council of Koblenz 860

In early June 860, three Frankish kings met at Koblenz, an old Roman fort on the River Rhine. The two brothers Louis and Charles had come to draw a line under the political crisis ignited by Louis’s failed invasion of Charles’s kingdom in 858. This meeting was the culmination of much diplomatic fencing; their nephew Lothar II was also present to help broker the deal.

The meeting produced various written texts (as Jenny Benham has discussed). The peace itself was expressed partly through a Latin text, a jointly written statement. This had been hammered out a couple of days in advance by a joint group of select advisors, made up of bishops and senior aristocrats. The group played it safe, compiling a capitulary that mostly repeated verbatim one that been issued eight years previously in 851 at another royal conference. Emphasising the importance of fraternal love, the need for peace and support for the church, it was the Frankish equivalent of ‘motherhood and apple pie’, a largely symbolic affirmation of shared values with which no one could quibble. The Koblenz group did however throw in a few additions which perhaps tell us something about the key issues at the time, notably about marital abduction and over-hasty excommunication (see the translation below).

But the entente at Koblenz was also expressed through speaking and action: and here language came into play. It is not clear whether the Latin capitulary was publicly read out. But what is clear is that King Louis gave a vernacular summary of it in German, and that King Charles then gave a vernacular summary of it in Romance (i.e., proto-French). Alongside this interesting evidence for how Carolingian capitularies might have been ‘used’ in assemblies, the Koblenz text also notes that Louis spoke to Charles in Romance, and that Charles recapitulated his own speech in German. This was a multi-lingual summit in which the Frankish kings acted as their own translators.

What was the point of all this language-switching? Presumably it was for the benefit of the audience. Kings such as Charles and Louis were bi-lingual, as would have been the top Frankish magnates. But that was not necessarily the case for all of the entourage of these kings present at Koblenz. Those more minor aristocrats with lands only in the west, for instance, might well have been unfamiliar with German. So it was important that the kings showed they were speaking to everyone. This tactical multilingualism had already been used at the Strasbourg oaths of 841, when Louis and Charles had cemented an alliance. It was an established part of the political repertoire of a pluralised political community.

Events would prove, however that no matter how many languages they were read out in, the fine words about family feeling were not very deeply felt. All the recorded participants at the Koblenz meeting were men, but there was one woman who although not present must have been on many people’s minds – Queen Theutberga. By the time of the Koblenz summit, the young Lothar was several months into his fresh campaign to divorce his wife on grounds of incest. (One wonders if he awkwardly bumped into Theutberga’s brother Boso, who seems to have been present at Koblenz as an influential Frankish magnate). At Koblenz, the young Lothar was granted a junior role on the public stage, and his uncle Charles was still warmly referring to him as his ‘dearest nephew’. But not long afterwards, at another royal conference at Savonnières in 862, Charles had scented a political opportunity, and refused even to speak with a man increasingly engulfed by the scandal he had himself rashly orchestrated.

Capitulary of Koblenz 860: TRANSLATION (PDF)

Image: the Stuttgart Psalter fol. 39v: a king (David) struggles with a horse and mule (Ps. 32)

‘Quite a battle of words ensued’ – struggles for public opinion in Carolingian Francia

Or: King Lothar’s divorce & 5,000 people in a field

How far was there a public sphere, an arena of public debate and opinion, in early medieval European kingdoms? It’s often been assumed that there wasn’t, whether because of the pervasion of ‘lordship’ which suppressed notions of the public, or because of presumed limitations to communication (for instance, low literacy rates). But recent work, for instance by Mayke de Jong and Irene van Renswoude, has suggested that we shouldn’t prejudge the question.[1] And this blog’s about a somewhat neglected text relating to the turbid politics of Lothar II’s divorce case which points in the same direction.

By the autumn of 862, King Lothar II had been struggling to escape his marriage to Theutberga for several years. But recent events had seemed to be going his way. In April, he had successfully persuaded his bishops to allow him to remarry at a council in Aachen. And at some point over the next few weeks he had Waldrada crowned as his queen. There were however two remaining obstacles. One was to secure the approval of the pope, Nicholas, to Theutberga’s removal; the other was to win over Lothar’s neighbour and uncle, King Charles the Bald of West Francia. Charles was refusing even to meet Lothar, so Lothar’s other uncle, King Louis the German of East Francia, lent his help. In the summer of 862 Louis sent envoys to Charles on Lothar’s behalf, to arrange a meeting where everything could all be ironed out.

That meeting took place at Savonnières, a royal estate near Toul in Lothar’s kingdom, in early November 862. However, Charles the Bald arrived with the intention not of letting bygones be bygones, but with the plan of turning the heat up on his nephew’s predicament. For he came armed with a written list of his grievances against Lothar. Specifically, he emphasised his concern that Lothar was sheltering people who had been excommunicated by the pope (a woman named Engeltrude who had fled her husband, and a man named Baldwin who had eloped with Charles’s own daughter); and he emphasised his opposition to Lothar’s attempts at divorce and remarriage given what Charles knew of the pope’s position. He would only meet Lothar, and give him the kiss of peace, if Lothar would publicly commit to remedying, or ‘emending’, these matters. These demands led to ‘quite a battle of words’ (non mediocri querela inde sermonibus est conflictum), according to the Annals of St Bertin.

But Charles did not stop there. Remarkably, he also brought with him to Savonnières pre-drafted speeches (adnuntationes) for delivery by himself, Lothar and Louis. These speeches were all modelled on a common pattern: each king promised to uphold the general commitments they had entered into at a previous royal meeting at Koblenz in 860, and noted that Charles had demanded of Lothar action on certain unspecified issues, to which Lothar had agreed.

But Charles’s plan hit a snag. For in some of the manuscripts in which Charles’s list of grievances and the speeches are preserved, an addendum notes that

After these preceding declarations had been read out in front of all the almost 200 counsellors of the three kings who were present, including bishops and abbots and laymen, Louis and Lothar and their followers entirely rejected them, that they should not be read to the people [populus], so that the case of Lothar should be entirely unmentioned.

In other words, Charles’s carefully pre-prepared speeches were never actually read out.

In the Annals of St-Bertin, Hincmar of Reims, who was present at Savonnières (and who was involved in writing up Charles’s documents) sheds a little more light on the incident. He blamed one of the aristocratic counsellors, Conrad, who was trying ‘to prevent the people from finding out what accusation Charles was making against Lothar’. In fact none of the speeches explicitly mentioned what the accusation was; but they did mention that there was an accusation, and perhaps that would have been enough to provoke further interest.

Who were ‘the people’ whose opinion evidently mattered enough to spike the speeches? It was not the 200 counsellors, who had already heard the draft speeches in the hall. But of course these counsellors would not have travelled to Savonnières alone. Michael McCormick reckoned that each of these aristocrats would have had a group of retainers and followers of their own, and estimated the total numbers at Savonnieres as around 5,000.[2] What Charles had in mind was surely for the kings to deliver their speeches to a crowd of these people (presumably outside, since the hall at Savonnières would have been too small for so many people), much as had taken place at Koblenz in 860.

Louis and Lothar’s position was clearly that the matter of Lothar’s marriage was now resolved, and everyone could move on. Charles, however had no intention of letting Lothar get away with it, and had hoped to use his speeches to ensure that it remained publicly marked as a live issue. Was this in the hope of making gains at Lothar’s expense, or out of concern for not being sucked into the maelstrom? Either way, when his proposed speeches were blocked for fear of their effect on the populus, Charles gave his own short address that very evening, inside the hall to a group of counsellors – and had it written down, too.

In the end, the Savonnières meeting was a mixed success for everyone. Lothar got the kiss of peace from Charles, and avoided having the assembled transalpine Frankish aristocracy publicly reminded of his sins; Charles at least made sure his version of events was written down, which emphasised the conditionality of his friendship. King Charles was a tough negotiator, but thanks to Uncle Louis’s support Lothar II was making some headway. As Lothar would discover, the pope was going to prove a rather harder challenge.

English translation of the ‘Capitulary of Savonnières’ (pdf)


[1] E.g. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/emed.12183

[2] McCormick, Origins of the European economy, p. 665.

“I am not at all able to endure without any conjugal union” – king Lothar II and the Council of aachen 862

In the year 862, King Lothar II appeared before a group of bishops gathered in Aachen, in a state of high anxiety. Barefoot, and with quavering voice, the king asked for mercy, forgiveness – and a new wife. A previous council in 860 had separated him from Queen Theutberga. But it had not given permission for him to remarry, and Lothar declared this put him in an unbearable position. He was not permitted to take a concubine, but nor, he stated, was he ‘able to bear the ardour of his youth without conjugal union’.

The king’s speech can be read as a remarkably bold act of passive-aggression. By publicly emphasising the king’s human frailty, it compelled the king’s bishops, for reasons of pastoral care, to accede to his demand. As they observed, ‘we are not able to forbid him from marrying a wife and procreating children, lest he slip into worse things’.

Lothar hoped that a public display of royal weakness could be turned into royal strength – a king acting the part of the humble and penitent Christian, setting a moral example for his subjects. It’d worked for Emperor Louis the Pious in 822, after all. And at first sight, it worked again in 862. The bishops agreed that Lothar II could remarry, and his ‘concubine’ Waldrada was soon after formally accepted as his wife.

But the plans soon began to fall apart. To win over sceptics, Lothar was forced to hold yet another council in 863, where in a dramatic and rather unconvincing twist, he revealed that ‘actually’ he had been married to Waldrada all along. And even in 862, his court was so divided that the bishops could not agree on a single version of the Aachen meeting (something I’ve discussed at greater length elsewhere). No wonder that Pope Nicholas I was able to make Lothar yield.

And so in 865, Lothar was obliged to receive back his ex-wife, Theutberga, with all due ceremony. 862 may have been a sham humiliation, but it laid the foundations for 865, which was a very real one.

Here’s a translation of the three main documents from the Council of Aachen 862 – a glimpse of a desperately inventive early medieval royal court.

TRANSLATION (PDF)

The Carolingian military-religious complex & the fate of the Middle Kingdom

Since at least the early tenth century, the failure of the Middle Kingdom – the kingdom of Lothar II, Lotharingia – has been tied to the failure of the Carolingian empire, whose wider history has almost always been dominated by the trope of decline: the inability of Charlemagne’s successors to measure up. That’s lent the kingdom’s eventual fate – divvied up by rival kings in 870 – an air of inevitability.

But for all that a combination of bad luck and poor judgement landed King Lothar II into a very deep hole in the 860s,  we must beware the historian’s besetting vice of teleology. Dramatic reversals in fortune were par for the course in ninth-century politics. Lothar was admittedly in a pickle from 863 onwards thanks to his marital problems, but had it been his uncle King Charles the Bald who’d succumbed to unexpected illness in 869, events would have taken a rather different turn. And this blog is about some evidence that, up to his death, Lothar’s embattled kingdom seemed to remain in working order.

Like other Carolingian kingdoms, Lothar II’s had been afflicted by Viking raids, though the absence of a Lotharingian equivalent of the Annals of St Bertin or Annals of Fulda mean that we’re generally less informed about them. Viking raids could be dangerous and destabilising, but they also offered rulers a chance to demonstrate their martial vigour against an unproblematically ‘othered’ enemy. The Franks had mixed feelings about “civil” war – i.e. killing other Franks – but fighting Vikings was a different matter.

That’s demonstrated by a letter that chances to survive from Bishop Adventius of Metz, one of King Lothar’s most important supporters, and which probably dates from the year 867. In it, Bishop Adventius gives notice that the ‘whole people’ in his diocese is to undertake a three-day fast to beseech God for Lothar’s victory in an upcoming confrontation with the Vikings (see translation below). This is, in a way, the staging for a holy war.

Without doubt there were genuine religious motives at work here. But Lothar II’s kingdom was under enormous external pressure, which had not been relieved by Lothar’s decision under compulsion to readmit Theutberga as his wife in 865. So the opportunity to bring everyone together in a set of religious ceremonies against a common enemy would have been a welcome fillip to the king and his supporters. Here everyone could see the God-given, traditional order being rehearsed by the Carolingian military-religious complex: bishops praying for kings to triumph in war, with the common people (vulgaris populus) doing as they were told by their local priests.

In 867, Lothar II could, then, still present himself as a traditional king doing traditional kingly things, despite all the problems he and his supporters were facing. Ironically, though, hewing to tradition was actually one of the causes of those problems, since his disastrous marriage politics can be read as an attempt to behave just as his predecessors had, without realising that the ground had moved beneath his feet. In the end, maybe Lothar II was just too traditional for his own good?

Translation of Adventius’s letter about the Vikings (pdf) 

Image – oh just some manuscript or other (w. thanks to Anna Dorofeeva)

Bishop Altfrid’s Report, summer 862

Much of what we know of early medieval high politics is based on texts written for public consumption: the final version of agreed charters, crafted formal records of meetings, or commemorative (or subtly critical) histories. It’s perhaps this slant of the evidence which has led some historians to emphasise the ritualised quality of those politics. Amidst the records of choreographed assemblies and ceremonies, the actual workings of political process are hard to discern: the surviving evidence appears all highly polished surface, with little indication of whirring cogs beneath.

But just occasionally a text survives, usually by the skin of its teeth, that seems to let us see (to mix metaphors) under the bonnet of the spluttering engine of Carolingian dynastic political manoeuvring. The text presented in this blog in translation for the first time, thanks to one of my former students, Hayley Harrison, is a good example.

It’s a letter sent in the summer of 862 by Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim (†874) to his king, Louis the German (of East Francia). Altfrid had travelled to West Francia on his king’s behalf, to conduct diplomatic negotiations with the king’s brother, King Charles the Bald (of West Francia). He wrote this letter to let King Louis know how things were going. Although Altfrid was from a Saxon family, he had probably been educated in West Francia (perhaps at Corbie), and already had some experience of acting as an envoy between Louis and his royal relatives, so he was a natural choice for this embassy. His predecessor as bishop of Hildesheim was moreover the exiled Ebbo of Reims, so we can assume that Altfrid was quite well informed about wider Frankish politics.

The letter doesn’t explain the specific purpose of Bishop Altfrid’s mission to King Charles, but we do know it touched on the affairs (so to speak) of King Lothar II, Louis and Charles’s nephew, who had just recently divorced his wife Theutberga at the Council of Aachen in April 862, and was now gearing up to marry Waldrada. Indeed this was probably the embassy’s main focus: Louis wanted to reconcile Lothar and Charles, and to help draw a line under his nephew’s recent political difficulties. That was not, however, how things turned out.

As the letter explains, Bishop Altfrid first travelled to Lotharingia, picking up envoys from the young Lothar, before they all proceeded to King Charles’s court, at his grandest ceremonial centre, Compiègne. There, as Altfrid reported to Louis, the two embassies met with very different receptions. To Altfrid, Charles was gracious and cordial; to Lothar’s envoys, he was conspicuously cold and peremptory. Lothar was a king mired in sin, and Charles would have no dealings with him until he mended his ways. Charles did want to talk about Lothar’s case – but with Louis, privately, and in Lothar’s absence.

As Stuart Airlie has argued (1), we see in Charles’s public behaviour a message as clear as the words that were spoken (or written, if as seems possible the ‘Capitulary of Savonnières’ represents an echo of this meeting, perhaps even the ‘other record’ the letter mentions). Until Lothar had resolved his marital problems, his followers and clients were not welcome in Charles’s kingdom. And a king who could not ensure his followers were treated with public respect was a king seriously failing in his responsibilities.

If Lothar II had not yet grasped that the Aachen Council of 862 would not simply extricate him from the crisis engendered by his attempted divorce, he ought to have begun to realise it now.

Translation of Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim’s letter (pdf)

Image: Nordrhein-Westfalen Landesarchiv in Münster, Kindlingersche Sammlung vol. 40, fol. 210v-211r

1: Stuart Airlie, ‘Unreal Kingdom: Francia Media under the shadow of Lothar II’. In: Gaillard, M.Margue, M.Dierkens, A. and Pettiau, H. (eds.) De la mer du Nord a la Mediterranee: Francia Media, une Region au Coeur de l’Europe (c.840-c.1050). Centre luxembourgeois de documentation et d’etudes medievales, pp. 339-356

The Carolingian 1%

As the Carolingian empire grew in size, so its ‘stakeholders’ grew richer – kings, churches, and the highest-ranked Frankish aristocrats above all.

Few if any Carolingian aristocrats were higher-ranking than the couple who issued this will around 863, presented below in draft English translation for the first time (primarily to help students). Count Eberhard came from a well-established noble kinship group labelled by modern historians as the ‘Unruochings’, because many men associated with it were named Unruoch. Eberhard’s wife Gisela was the daughter of Emperor Louis the Pious and Empress Judith, no less. This was a family at the very top of the tree.

That position is evident from the document itself, in which Eberhard and Gisela distributed their possessions amongst their sons and daughters. A large part of the will reads like a treasure list: immense quantities of golden, silver and ivory objects, from swords to drinking vessels. Some of these were probably of recent manufacture, others may have been antiques already.  The will is also famous for its dozens of books, which are individually divided up amongst the children too. Eberhard and Gisela had evidently built up a very considerable library.

Nevertheless, the bulk of their wealth was in land. The will does not give a precise value or acreage, but it is apparent that Eberhard and Gisela were seriously wealthy, with property in what is now Germany,  Italy, Belgium and France. They were certainly part of the Carolingian 1%, busy with Piketty and Scheidel’s ‘capital accumulation’, and keen to pass it on to their heirs.

But the more you have, the more you have to lose, and Eberhard and Gisela clearly worried about that. Their will accounts for the possibility that a future king of the Franks, Lombards or Alemans will seize property from one of their heirs ‘by violence or without cause’.  The Carolingian world of the 860s was one of kingdoms ruled by rival kings, which posed problems for those aristocrats whose property stretched over the old empire as a whole.

Indeed the will can be read as indicating that the couple were beginning to create separate ‘kernels’ of land, with, for instance, all their Italian estates passing as a bloc to their eldest son, Unroch. While kings were still aiming for the ultimate prize – to reconstitute the empire of Charlemagne – were their aristocrats already quietly but surely accommodating themselves to a new, more fragmented reality?

Translation: The Will of Count Eberhard and Gisela (pdf)

Image: the “Reliquiary of Pippin”, a 9th-c. reliquiary now in Conques (France), perhaps like those mentioned in the will.

Update: Stephane Lebecq has done a French translation of the will, in one of the two Festschrifts for Regine le Jan: https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/abs/10.1484/M.HAMA-EB.5.103301

Lost for words – King Lothar II’s “most beloved Theutberga”

All historians, I think, are attracted to the gaps in the archive – the silences, the absences, the things that aren’t there. For historians of early medieval Europe, it can sometimes feel like there’s more gap than record, though really this isn’t such a poorly documented time and place, especially Carolingian Francia. But it’s the inconspicuous absence, not the glaring one, that’s often the most telling: and here’s a case in point.

On 17th January 866, King Lothar II granted his wife Queen Theutberga twenty estates in Francia, in a charter issued at the royal palace of Aachen. For kings to transfer lands to their queens was not itself unusual. But such transfers normally took place at the beginning of a marriage, as a dowry, not as in this case eleven years later, which makes this charter rather strange.

That’s not however the only remarkable thing about this charter. What’s also odd is how it describes Theutberga – or rather, how it doesn’t. She is described as dilectissima nostra, ‘our most beloved’. But ‘our most beloved’ … what? The adjective dilectissimus is quite common in royal charters from the ninth century, but it’s usually applied to a noun: ‘our most beloved’ sister, son, wife, daughter, mother, etc. In this charter, there is no noun, Theutberga is just ‘dilectissima’. Why?

Perhaps the context of the charter might help explain it. As all readers of De Divortio will know, in 866 Lothar was still grimly struggling to separate from Theutberga, and this charter has been interpreted as a pay-off or compensation in exchange for separation. In that context, he could hardly call her his ‘wife’ (coniunx, uxor). That would be an awkward acknowledgement of a status that he was insistently denying. To call her his ex-wife would however have been politically risky – he wasn’t quite there yet. Better perhaps just not to say anything at all.

In a later charter, it seems that Lothar applied similar discretion to Waldrada, his mistress, who is described as ‘our beloved’ with no further qualification – though in this case we cannot be entirely sure, because the key passage was later tampered with, when someone changed Waldrada’s name to ‘Rotrude’.

But Lothar’s grant to Theutberga has not been tampered with, and  survives in its pristine original. And that allows us to see something rather peculiar – something that it’s tempting to ascribe to the hesitation of the scribe, identified by modern historian as a man named Rodmund  (who had also worked for Lothar I, and who seems to have in practice run Lothar II’s chancery), in the face of this unusual phrasing.

Though it’s not marked up in the standard edition, Dupraz noted that there was a significant gap after Theutberga’s name.[1] And on inspecting a facsimile, he’s right. There’s in fact a clear gap in both occurrences of the phrase “Theotbergae dilectissimae […] nostrae” in the charter. The first, at line 3, is this blog’s cover image. The second, at line 7, is visible here:

The intact ascender of the L reaching up from the line underneath suggests this gap isn’t an erasure (though one might need to check the original to be sure). But if the gap isn’t an erasure, what is it?

Dupraz suggested it was to enable a suitable noun to be added later. Perhaps, but I’m not quite sure the space is quite long enough for that. Rather, the little gap seems to express the uncertainties of Lothar and Theutberga’s circumstances, years into their relationship’s tragic breakdown. A moment when the scribe stopped, paused and moved on?

Translation of Lothar II’s Charter for Theutberga (pdf)

Image: Lothar II, D. 27. Original charter in Parma. It seems possible that Lothar II took this charter with him to Italy, along with a reissued version of 868 (a topic for another blog), and it was abandoned in Piacenza when he died there in 869. More research required…

*Updated 10 August 2018 in light of comments from Clemens Radl and Levi Roach (thanks to both).*

*Updated 4 Jan 2021 to add draft translation*

[1] Louis Dupraz, ‘Deux préceptes de Lothaire II (867 et 868) : ou les vestiges diplomatiques d’un divorce manqué’, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Kirchengeschichte 59 (1965), pp. 193-256.

Further reading. The charters are briefly discussed in Heidecker, Divorce of Lothar, p. 171, with n. 93. You can see a full facsimile in Chartae Latinae Antiquiores, vol. 93, no. 7, pp. 40-43, with useful technical commentary on the scribe. For helpful context, see Roberta Cimino, ‘Royal women and gendered communication – Female voices in Carolingian diplomas’, L’homme 26 (2015).