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The King-Making of Charles the Bald in Lotharingia, 869

Hincmar's account of Charles the Bald's assumption of power in the Middle Kingdom is the great set-piece of the AB . It occupies more space than almost


any other single episode. This is not only because Hincmar here quotes more texts in full than elsewhere; nor does Hincmar give this event such prominence simply because he himself had "stage-managed" it. In fact, the theatrical metaphor diverts us from Hincmar's purpose in writing up these events as he does: precisely what he seeks to emphasize are the spontaneous actions of many powerful men, clerical and lay.[42]

Hincmar acknowledges that the news of Lothar II's death in Italy without a legitimate heir produced divergent responses among the Lotharingian aristocracy. Two sets of envoys, he says, came to Charles at Attigny: a minority of the bishops and magnates (primores) of the late Lothar's kingdom sent word that Charles should await his brother Louis the German's agreement to a partition of Lotharingia before himself advancing into that kingdom; but a majority invitied Charles to move into Lotharingia as swiftly as possible, promising to meet him either en route to Metz or on his arrival at that city. Hincmar reveals his own preference: the latter counsel was "sounder" (sanior), and Charles thought it "more acceptable and healthier [salubrius] for him."[43] These adjectives are redolent of the language of church councils, and evoke the role of consensus therein.[44] Sounder, healthier proposals naturally prevail: a vote carried by the part that is greater both in quantity and quality entails unanimous compliance.

Charler's calculation, so Hincmar wishes to imply, proved correct: at Verdun, Charles was met by "many men" from Lotharingia, and at Metz received "many others" into his lordship. All these persons participated in the ensuing rituals (cohibentibus omnibus) in the church of St. Stephen at Metz. Hincmar gives the full texts of two speeches. The first was by Bishop Adventius of Metz. His theme was the divinely inspired unanimity that activated all present. He quoted St. Paul: "[God] hath made us to live of one mind in one house, and broken down the middle wall of partition between us."[45] Adventius also stressed the hereditary right by which Charles succeeded as "legitimate heir" to his nephew's kingdom. Now therefore, he said, it was "worthy for Charles and necessary for us" that the "faithful people" should hear what was fitting from "the most Christian king." Charles responded with the desired assurances: "You know that I will keep for each his due law and justice, as long as each of you offers the royal honour due obedience and subjection.[46]

Hincmar now addressed the Lotharingian bishops present, to justify his officiating at Metz, which was outside his province. He could advance good canonical reasons for an archbishop of Reims to act during a vacancy in the neighboring province "in his Belgic region." On receiving the bishops' collective assent, Hincmar proceeded to a second, general speech. Charles, he said, who had "usefully been in charge of and benefited" his people in the West Frankish kingdom, has come to Metz "led by God" (deo ducente). Like Adventius, Hincmar stressed unanimity. But his accent was not just on the support of the Lotharingians, but on its voluntary, spontaneous character:


"Just as all the animals came together into Noah's ark, with no one compelling them," so "you have flowed together here by divine inspiration." What men could perceive as an unforced, collective assembling ("you have come together on your own volition") signified the action of God through them.[47]

Hincmar invoked two earlier occasions. One was in the remote past, when Clovis, "famous king of the Franks," converted by St. Remigius, "apostle of the Franks," with "his whole people," was baptized "with 3000 Franks (not counting their women and children)," and was anointed king with oil brought from heaven. The other occasion was within living memory, when Clovis's "descendant" and namesake, Louis the Pious, Charles's own father, was "restored to rulership and crowned with the crown of the realm by the priests of the Lord with the acclamation of the faithful people in this very church, as we saw who were present there!"[48] Hincmar could telescope the whole of Frankish history: the same heavenly oil "of which we still have some" was to be used for Charles as had been divinely supplied for Clovis, while Charles's coronation recalled that of his father in the same place a generation before. Both models, of oiling and of crowning, were to be taken up and fused in the ritual that followed.[49] The common factor linking the three occasions was the manifestation of God's will through the participation of the Franks, "the faithful people," as well of Frankish bishops, in the elevation of their rulers.

Hincmar ended by letting the "people" speak for themselves:

"If this pleases you, make a noise together with your own voices." And at this all shouted out together. The bishop [i.e. Hincmar] then said: "Let us give thanks with one mind to the Lord, singing 'Te deum laudamus.'" And after this [Charles] was crowned king by the bishops.[50]

In thus allowing us to "hear" the aristocracy's consent to Charles's king-making, Hincmar conveys the indispensability of their collaboration with the bishops. Louis the Pious's restoration, still vivid in Hincmar's memory, Clovis's anointing, no less vivid in Hincmar's historical imagination, both seemed to him to show God working through the Franks to give them the rulers that were good for them. The king-making of 869 too represented, for Hincmar, a Judgment of God.

In his section of the AB , Hincmar supplied his contemporary audience with something other than objective reporting. What they could perceive as apologia or propaganda or self-conscious myth-making, we modern historians tend to read as a genre familiar to us: history as fact. This short paper's sampling of just one theme has suggested that each annal may be a more skillful literary construct than hitherto suspected and would thus repay careful textual analysis.[51] But the historian's further aim must be to get behind the text to ninth-century political realities. The more closely we scrutinize


the AB in the light of other literary sources of the period, the stronger our impression that its "facts" are refracted—that inconvenient realities have been distorted, even obscured altogether. This is clear, for instance, in the case of the Ab 's presentation of Charles's inauguration at Metz: where the AB shows unanimity, divisions remained; where spontaneity is depicted, political pressures were rife; where the historic unity of the Frankish gens is evoked, only a localized fraction of that people were involved; where Charles's success is implied, in fact only months later, Metz, and much of Lotharingia, were in the hands of his rival Louis the German.[52]

But we need not give up the quest for truth of a kind in the AB . Hincmar's original audience, a coterie of sympathizers sharing his local concerns, would have expected bias, but not cynicism. For them, the writing of Gesta , based, so to speak, on "real life" details, was an opportunity to express, and evoke, more general assumptions and values. Hincmar's accounts of king-makings are evidence of consistent views as to how power might legitimately be acquired in the Frankish realm. The AB is a work of ideology. The power to shape the past is itself an historical fact. In the case of the AB , the early medieval historian can know more than usual of the wielder of this power, his methods and his purposes.

The political ideas of the mature Hincmar touched his theological views at a crucial point. He had fought hard, and successfully, against the predestinarian teachings of Gottschalk: "How could it be that each will receive according to his works on the day of Judgement, if there were no Free Will?"[53] Hincmar wanted to affirm the responsibility of individuals for their own actions, hence for their own salvation. The alternative, as Hincmar saw it, was social disintegration. Hincmar was "above all a pastor."[54] Like Gottschalk, he was acutely aware of the ubiquity of coercion in the temporal world: unlike Gottschalk, he could conceive of truly voluntary human actions and understood divine grace as enabling rather than constraining. Hence Hincmar could set a high value on decision-making that was unforced. Of course, he was no egalitarian democrat: those directly involved in the choosing of Frankish kings were the leaders of the Franks, the aristocracy, to which Hincmar himself belonged. Nevertheless the assumption was that they spoke for the rest.[55] Hincmar has been regarded as a less true Augustinian than Gottschalk; but his appreciation of the role of consensus as the expression of the community of faithful men accords with Augustine's definition of the commonwealth as an association of wills.[56] For Hincmar, God worked through the church and its sacraments, but he could also work "through soldiers and citizens." In old age, responding to what he perceived as new threats both to the kingdom that he had struggled so long to defend, and to his personal influence in its government, Hincmar laid new stress on the politics of consensus. His annals (and he was nearly sixty when he took up the job of writing them) convey, intermittently, the same message as his


revision of the de Ordine Palatii , or the letter written in 879 to a great lay magnate reminding him that "the general disposition of the realm" must depend, not on any one man, but on "the judgement and consent of many."[57] Such ideas had long underlain the political practice of the Franks. Hincmar gave them clearer expression and a new coherence and social force: "The Deeds of Our Kings" were the pastor's teaching aid. Whether addressing his intimates at Reims, in the AB , or reaching out in capitularies and manifestos to a wider audience, Hincmar had a very clear perception of "the useful past."[58]

Hincmar saw in the Carolingian dynasty a divinely placed bulwark of social order for the Franks. Boso, the non-Carolingian, was to be rejected. The dynasty's discarded members deserved some sympathy and some share in its honores . But discarded they must be. The overriding problem of past and present was to transmit the dynasty's power safely over time. In a letter to Charles the Bald, Hincmar pointed anxiously to "the loss of many capital places as a result of the multiple divisions of the Frankish realm. For the sake of the royal honor , there must be no diminution of the resources your predecessors used to be able to have from those places." The king and the faithful men in his household needed those portiuncula for their upkeep.[59] The solution was to avoid further division of the Frankish heartlands (the tripartite arrangement agreed at Verdun by the leading men of the Franks along with their kings became for Hincmar both model and limiting case), and if possible to reintegrate what had previously been divided.[60] Hincmar supported Charles the Bald's efforts in this direction, opposing distractions in far-off Italy; he supported Louis the Stammerer's plan for an undivided succession in 879. But another equally urgent requirement had to be set alongside this one: namely, to maintain the aristocratic support on which the dynasty's power depended. Hincmar sought to square these imperatives, presenting Charles in 869 as having such support, Boso in 879 as lacking it. But in the last resort, as in the case of the Stammerer's sons, or as in 876 when Charles sought to acquire his nephew's inherited kingdom, it was the expressed will of the local primores that must prevail. Without their consent, Hincmar implied, no realm could be acquired, in fact or in right. Contemporary history taught prudence, recognition of the fundamental reality of aristocratic power. But for Hincmar, it also showed the role of the faithful men in king-making, not opposed to, but the vehicle of, God's intervention in the world.

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