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).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × 2 =