ICMS Session Report VI: Session 409 – Early Medieval Europe II

28 May

Saturday, May 15
Session 409
Early Medieval Europe II

This session was another with a Carolingian focus – and later Carolingian where, again, my knowledge level isn’t quite what it is up to about 800. However this session was excellent – note the change in terminology from good or very good I used for other sessions. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I believe, based on the quality of the papers, that this was the best session I attended for the entire Congress, even though it was on the edge of (or just outside of) my main period of interest. Keep in mind too – while I believe this session was the “best” one I attended, it wasn’t my favorite – my favorites were in areas/periods I am somewhat better acquainted with.

The first paper was by Margaret McCarthy, a PhD student at St. John’s College, Cambridge, titled, “Louis the Stammerer and the Development of a Kingly Identity.”

Her intention was to show how Louis the Stammerer created an identity as king or regis on taking the throne.

Louis the Stammerer was something of the Black Sheep of his family in his youth. He angered his father, Charles the Bald, repeatedly, including by marrying without permission. Hincmar of Rheims didn’t care for him. Though Louis was King of Acquitaine, Charles kept a pretty tight rein on him. In the Capitulary of Quierzy Charles basically indicated that Louis was to become king on his death, if a better alternative hadn’t come along by then.

It didn’t. Charles died in the fall of 877 and Hincmar crowned Louis as King in December. He started under difficult circumstances. While Charles had allowed him to sign a charter as King of Acquitaine to establish himself as a royal personage, the Quierzy Capitulary stated that Louis should always have a bishop’s advice and was expected to work with a circle of advisors. This is pretty restrictive language. And many of the nobility had recently provided a conspicuous show of non-support for Louis’ father.

McCarthy details how Louis set about establishing himself as King after he was crowned. She focused on the ways he did this through grants of land, charter issuance, gifts, and recognition by the Carolingian aristocracy.

According to the Annals of St-Bertin, immediately following Charles’ death Louis met with many of the nobility and issued various grants of land and property. This had an immediate impact of establishing his legitimacy as well as giving him a core group with a vested interest in seeing him become successful.

During the 18 months of his rule Louis gave out 38 charters, half of which were confirmation charters, establishing relationships and confirming the loyalty of the aristocracy. McCarthy provided a handout with several charters on it and proceeded to explain how these helped to establish Louis’ legitimacy.

I won’t go through these in detail however these charters included; gifts and grants to churches, establishing his legitimacy with the religious community; charters handed out at the request of nobles, including Boso of Vienne, which established that the aristocracy recognized Louis as possessing legitimate authority to grant such requests; a grant of papal privilege to a monastery indicating that the papacy recognized his right to rule and; even a confirmation of grants to a monastery located outside his lands, but with lands within, again establishing that it was his right to take such actions.

McCarthy provides a very good description of how Louis began his reign from a fairly weak standpoint – not only did his father not like him but, not mentioned by McCarthy that I recall, the Capitulary of Quierzy would have been witnessed by numerous members of the nobility AND it was proclaimed before a large Carolingian assembly. As soon as he realized he was King, Louis took actions to legitimize his rule by using gifts, grants and charters to acquire tangible evidence that various important groups and individuals recognized his authority – and was able to accomplish quite a bit in the 18 months before he died.

This paper stood out for me out of all the papers I heard at Congress, not for its content – which was good but on a par with several other good ones, including the others in this session – but for the way McCarthy organized and presented it. There’s a difference between a paper prepared to just read and one prepared for public presentation and McCarthy’s paper excelled in its presentation. It was clear, concise, and to the point. She did an extremely good job of making certain that issues she wanted to stress were clear and that she provided precise, very understandable information in support of these issues. There was no confusion over what she wanted to say or the points she wanted to get across. Her handout was relevant and useful. I consider this to be the most well presented paper I heard during the entire Congress – and the information contained in it wasn’t bad either. I regret that I didn’t get the chance to talk to her after the session and give her a quick “well done” for this.

The second paper in this session was from Karl Heidecker of Rijksuniv, Groningen, titled, “Carolingian Government and Social Practice: Imperial and Christian Reform.” I believe this is the correct title – I’m usually pretty careful about those types of things. It is a change from what’s in the Congress Program but not one that should change the focus much so I hope I didn’t get sloppy and shorthand it in my notes.

Heidecker also did a nice job of framing what he would be discussing. He believes we can view Carolingian government as a dynamic process and he chose to use a generational model to represent three phases in its evolution. Those phases were as follows:

  • Phase 1 – Pepin through Charlemagne
  • Phase 2 – Louis the Pious
  • Phase 3 – Louis the Pious’ sons

He proceeded to examine several aspects of Carolingian government and how these evolved over time.

The first aspect he examined was regarding marital legislation. In phase 1, most of the laws generally were concerned with forbidding illicit marriage. In phase 2, under Louis the Pious, the laws became explicit and detailed. And during phase 3 legislation showed a heightened self-confidence of the clerical elite – they became quite active in regulating marriage. The impact of this is that during the first two phases enforcement was somewhat haphazard and marital laws were more often used as a threat to encourage proper behavior. In phase three marital legislation became used as a weapon where clerics in particular began to actively use Church law.

From there he moved to land litigation with a focus on Northern Alamannia. When Pepin and Carloman established control over the area they used a flexible, adaptive technique. In the alpine regions they were more forceful including deposing the Abbott of St. Gaul and dividing it into three regions, west, central and east. In the western region the Carolingians displaced the majority of the existing nobles. In the central region Charlemagne installed his in-laws as counts while in the east the local nobility, the Alamans, largely retained control.

Once Louis the Pious took over this all changed, He systematized the means of control, disbanded the existing fiscal districts and drew up new administrative districts.

I’ve always been very interested in peasants so my attention was immediately piqued when he started discussing how land and other disputes were resolved in this region. Heidecker found that this was a very grass roots type of conflict resolution, almost never being resolved above the comital level and very frequently below. Most conflicts were resolved by compromise and were achieved through the involvement of local officeholders. In essence, when it came to conflicts, the locals governed themselves.

This was another very good paper. I don’t think there was really a thesis involved here – at times the paper moved a bit in that direction but for the most part, as with McCarthy, the focus seemed to be on providing information. He also provided a very structured paper, he had some good visuals to indicate geographic regions he was discussing and he did a nice job of clearly supporting his ideas. I found it very informative and look forward to, hopefully, reading some published work by him on this. I may even have to have a look at his newest book, The Divorce of Lothar II (Cornell, 2010). I enjoyed the way he approached this issue.

The final paper for this session was by Justin Lake of Texas A&M University, “Pompatica Scientia in the Tenth Century.” Again, this is a title change from that in the program.

In this paper, Lake examines the concept of learning and knowledge, particularly classical knowledge of grammar and the liberal arts, and how that was viewed by contemporaries in the 10th century (though several of his sources were later). Was a high level of knowledge a help or a hindrance to people of this era, particularly when it came to advancement?

He opened with a discussion of Hervé of Tours, as portrayed by Rodulf Glaber. Hervé was sent by his parents to learn the liberal arts at a cathedral school. Hervé, wanting to become a monk, rejected this learning as “showy and vain” and tried to enter a monastery, only to be dragged back by his father (don’t worry about poor Hervé – he eventually got his wish). In the same history, Vilgard, a learned man, became “puffed up with pride” – so much so that he was eventually corrupted by demons who disguised themselves as poets and fell into heresy. Glaber didn’t think much of the liberal arts.

Thietmar of Merseberg, in his Chronicle, discusses Brun of Cologne and characterizes him as being guilty of a “useless devotion to philosophy.” Clearly, there were folks during this period who didn’t think highly of secular learning.

Lake moved from this to a discussion of the cathedral schools of Germany. He believes they secularized learning and separated the arts from religion. The intellectual climate promoted by these schools resulted in learning being esteemed and becoming a means of achieving high office during this period.

Richer of Saint-Rémi, in his history, discusses Gerbert of Aurillac as a man of great learning, talent and intellect. He never mentions his sanctity, instead stressing Gerbert’s learning and secular knowledge. Lake described this type of biogrophy as “secular hagiography.” In Richer, overt displays of erudition seem to influence patronage. Gerbert’s knowledge certainly didn’t hold him back as he became Pope Sylvester II. Richer also discusses medicine and siege weapons in detail, providing evidence of his own knowledge.

In the early 11th century Dudo of Saint-Quentin wrote a history of the Normans. I haven’t read this but Lake related how Dudo utilizes obscure prose and knowledge and gives an impression of pomposity out of a desire for patronage. He dedicated this work to Bishop Adalbero of Laon.

Lake believes that in moving learning from having a religious focus to the liberal arts, the cathedral schools paved the way for the use of ostentatious displays of knowledge as a means by which people promoted themselves for patronage.

I have one very gentle criticism of this paper – the title. This is not my period – I’ve read Thietmar and Adam of Bremen and have the Swabian Chronicles and a couple of other 11th century sources on my shelves (lot of good that does, I know). However it seems to me that Lake relied more on 11th century sources than those of the 10th. Graber, Dudo and Thietmar all wrote in the 11th century. This may be a bit picky but I think perhaps the title of the paper could have been adjusted to reflect this.

This was another very good paper to cap off an excellent session. As with the first two speakers, Lake was clear about what he wanted to discuss, the points he wanted to get across and he supported his position with substantial, detailed evidence. He also provided a very helpful handout.

All of the speakers in this session did a very nice job of defining their respective topic, framing it, and then providing a great deal of information. There were some very good questions asked. As I said in my opening, I was very impressed with the quality of these papers, the presentations provided by the speakers, and the session overall. Danuta Shanzer deserves a lot of credit for organizing all of the EME sessions, but this one in particular.

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Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Conferences


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