January 09, 2010

Carloman and Charlemagne

For the first two years of Charlemagne's reign, he reigned with his brother Carloman. The two were crowned together in 756 by Pope Stephen. They succeeded together in 768. One the great counterfactuals of European history is what would have happened had Carloman, instead of dying in 771, lived as long as his more famous brother did. We can only speculate about that if we understand the nature of their joint rule from 768 to 771 and understanding that is more difficult than you might think. Most of the sources come from Charlemagne's later reign so project his regime's concerns back on the late 60s and early 70s. The two brothers seem to have had separate establishments- they were crowned in distinct ceremonies in 768, their palaces and fortresses were in different places. In general Carloman's were orientated towards the South West and Charlemagne's towards the North East. They appear to have had separate followings, after his brother's death Charlemagne met his brother's fideles, followers and assured them of their continuance in power. There was some quarrelling but we have no idea about its extent and can only infer its causes. McKitterick suggests that Carloman was more friendly towards the Lombard kingdom to the south than Charlemagne, based on the fact that after Carloman's death his wife fled to the court of King Desidirus of Lombardy. Its a fair surmise based on the evidence she presents but we will never know for sure.

What we can know is that there were important things binding the brothers together. Their rule depended on the claim that they could make to Pippin III's succession. It is not neccessarily true that a divided monarchy means a monarchy divided against itself- in this case the two brothers seem to have sought to reinforce each other's authority rather than attack each other. Whatever happened in this period, that should reinforce a sense that Charlemagne's rule began precariously- which takes me back to my last post on this subject, we are in the period where the precedents for European monarchs were being established and defended. The dynasty was new- and McKitterick shows that succession was not straightforward- neither was the state neccessarily going to stick together. What we are looking at with Charlemagne and Carloman is a co-rulership but a co-rulership in a particular climate and it is one more piece of evidence that the world of early Frankia was not the world of later medieval kingship.

January 07, 2010

Vavasour Powell's antisemitism

In 1651, Robert Ibbitson published a pamphlet entitled 'Saving Faith set forth in Three Dialogues or Conferences between Christ and a Publican, Pharisee and Doubting Beleever whereunto is added two sermons one of them preached before Parliament and the other before the Lord Mayor of the City of London', reader note, brevity was not an admired virtue in seventeenth century pamphlet titles. There are many reasons that we should be interested in this pamphlet- Powell was an important figure both in the religious politics of the day and in its politics. He said whatever he said before the city of London and the Rump Parliament- two gatherings of important people and probably they asked him to speak because they knew what he was going to say. The pamphlet itself expresses a strongly fideist Christianity- even looking at which parts of the Bible Powell uses is interesting- there is a lot of Paul and of the Gospels.

However for today I want to concentrate on another passage from the pamphlet, it is within the dialogue between Christ and the doubtful believer. Christ is trying to convince the believer that Christ will save him:

Thou, poor, dear, and doubting soule, what if thou hadst had a hand in crucifying me (as the Jewes had?) yet cannot I forgive thee, as I did many of them. But thou hast not accounted my blood an unholy thing, for thou still desirest to have thy sins washed away by it. (pp.38-9

The interesting thing about this is that it is merely an aside, but notice the use to which Powell puts the blood libel. Christ is so magnificent that he can even save the Jews, the worst of men who had executed him. The anti-semitism is striking. What is also striking is that it is so unconscious- Powell isn't making an anti-semitic argument at all in this passage but its assumptions are antisemitic. Furthermore Powell in the rest of his pamphlet does cite good Jewish figures but never acknowledges their Judaism- here the whole group are stained by the bloodguilt of executing Christ and their forefathers lose their Jewish nature.

Powell's anti-semitism is interesting because it is so unconscious- as I said this is the only reference to the Jews in the entire pamphlet. Probably Powell was in favour of the readmission of the Jews to England in 1656 but we should not make out of that the argument that he was philo-semitic. As Alexandra Walsham points out toleration is a complex thing, and in Powell's case I suspect his feelings towards Judaism were, but fundementally what the aside reveals is that there was at the basis of it a deep anti-semitism and link between the Jews and the slaughters of Christ. The blood libel was not dead in seventeenth century England.

January 05, 2010

King of the Franks

As a child fascinated by history one of my passtimes was to learn the names and dates of the English Kings- at one point I was perfectly able to recite them back to Alfred, now unfortunately I can only manage that feat going back to William the Conqueror. One of the things though that as a child I did not realise was how fluid the concept of a medieval king could be. Consider for a moment the Kingship of the Franks. Almost everyone will tell you that the first dynasty who ruled the Franks were the Merovingians and the second were the Carolingians- a dynasty begun when Pippin III seized the crown of the Franks in 751 and continued by his descendents, most notably Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. Pippin seized the crown from his position as Mayor of the Palace- a position held by his own family since the 7th Century. The list of Frankish Kings therefore switches neatly from Childeric III, the last Merovingian, to Pippin III the first Carolingian.

Actually that neat switch doesn't really represent what happened. The English Missionary Boniface of Mainz said in his early 8th Century letter collection that he was under the protection of Charles Martel (the Carolingian Mayor), and referred to Charles and Pippin III as patricius, dux francorum and princeps. Pope Gregory III in a letter to Boniface described Charles Martel as princeps francorum. Three papal letters referred to Charles as subregulus (under king). There are more charters from the Carolingians for the early 8th Century than from the Merovingians or any other Frankish family and Martel appears to have established a relationship with the royal monastery at St Denis. Furthermore the Mayors appear to have taken over in the early 8th Century the function of minting coinage. As Professor McKitterick (to whose analysis I'm indebted) argues the evidence suggests that by 751 Mayors of the Palace enjoyed a power equivalent to that of Kings. What we need to recognise is that this authority was slowly built up and overtook the authority of the Merovingians such that the events of 751 could happen, McKitterick argues that what happened was that the Carolingians acquired the history and customs of the Merovingian crown- they stepped into its shoes much as say Theodoric attempted in Italy to step into the shoes of the later Roman Emperors.

One indication that this was a process rather than an event- a growth rather than a sudden deposition- is that we don't know very much about what actually happened in 751. The deposition itself may have taken place over several years, from 750 (the first date given by a Chronicle) to 753-4, and the visit of Pope Stephen and crowning of Pippin's two sons, Carloman and Charlemagne. Later Carolingian accounts from sources like Einhard stressed the continuity of rule between the two dynasties and not the separation of the two: this was not a new order, but a renewal of the old. What is interesting about this is the modern model whereby authority is discreet and distinct does not apply to eighth century France- for a while authority was shared between the Carolingian and Merovingian dynasties. Furthermore it suggests the conservatism of the political culture- in the sense that the Carolingians were keen to stress their continuity- but also its incipient radicalism, the structures of French kingship really did evolve during the early eighth century as power transferred.

Perhaps one of the little appreciated truths about modern history, whenever that started, is that the intermediate steps, the intermediate definitions of sovereignty (such as the Carolingian mayoralty) do not really exist. One of the reasons it is hard to imagine ourselves back into the early Medieval period is that we imagine authority is what it is today- with one Prime Minister leaving and another taking over- such images may not help us when we come to analyse earlier periods.

January 03, 2010

History Carnival

Old Scrooge looked out the window and could see men and women smiling, 'Bah Humbug' he thought 'when they learn that the Thomason tracts have left the open shelves of the British library, they'll be smiling on the other sides of their faces!' He scowled into the swirling snow, thinking that at least if the weather makes everyone happy sometimes (as Jupiter said in a poem), it makes everyone unhappy sometimes. He tapped the stony walls of his mansion, and stared gloomily into the streets and then marched to the door of his study. He opened it and saw, he thought, a face on the handle- the face of Marley- no, no, no, for as Hakewill said long ago the eye is always deceived. He turned the nob and entered into his room, papers lay scattered on the desk, that bloody Cratchett- as untidy as a graduate student with a dissertation to complete- had left everything amiss. Scrooge sat down and opened his safe, the gold inside glittered. Into his cold heart came the cheerful thought that Henry I was dead long ago and could not enforce his barbaric punishments for those who hoarded gold- no matter how some historians might like him to.

"Damn that Spirit of Christmas, Damn that White Christmas, Damn that Bing Crosby (who didn't even mainly write about Christmas, though the ignorant fools think he did)" said Scrooge impatiently. In the silence of the house, he heard something- the wind whispering, someone coughing. The air was bad, Scrooge cleared his throat. At least it wasn't as bad as at his plant in Donora- pollution had killed people there but he and his chums had got away with minimal compensation payouts. Some people think you can just do good to get money, write to support yourself, like Christian de Pizan had, but he, Scrooge knew better. The noise again. There was something, he was sure of it. Maybe it was the newspaper man outside, "Read all about it, Read all about it, the ten most important executions of the 2000s", no it couldn't be him. What could it be, some kind of scratching from the fireplace, a mouse? No it couldn't be a mouse. A superstitious man might have believed that there was a connection to Scrooge's business for the day, investigating with a lawyer what he could gain from a seventeenth century will: unfortunately there was nothing in John Giffard's bequests that he could purloin, though he did learn that Chris Holland's great grandfather was a seventeenth century heavy metal fan. That explained a lot about Holland's investment strategies!

No that sound again, what could it be. Scrooge moved closer to the fire. One could always get things wrong- after all all those seventeenth century writers had thought Cromwell had had a fight with Charles I, when actually it was the Earl of Essex and Charles's elder brother Prince Henry and the story just got misplaced. There was something definitely there and it was coming from the fire- sounded like, Marley? Scrooge started- it was Marley, and it was speaking. "You shall be visited" said Marley "by three ghosts- one of Christmas past, one of Christmas present and the next of Christmas Future. Remember what they say, otherwise you will be taken to hell where you will be choked by a smog worse than the Glasgow one of 1909, consumed by fire and eaten forever by locusts- remember Dante and beware." Scrooge fell back in his seat- and began to think of questions to ask the ghost, "Marley, Marley" he shouted, but the ghost had disappeared, disappeared just like blogs might disappear (he thought for some reason remembering an essay that he'd seen about the future of medievalist blogging) before the triumph of social media.

"Ghosts! Everyone knows ghosts don't exist" Scrooge harrumphed to himself. Probably it was a setup, someone wanting him to be sympathetic- like that time Cratchett had offered him a photo album of his family in some war or other. Scrooge remembered that, he'd laughed and sent the idiot away, telling him to do the accounts. Scrooge knew everything on God's earth was right, he went back to his coins and counted them ferociously. No ghost could buy their way past Scrooge, even St Peter would take his money. The shutters banged in the wind. Scrooge buried his head in his papers and suddenly a pale light grew, he raised his head.

A fat gentleman had entered through the fire, "I am the ghost of Christmas Past" he boomed, remember this- he opened his hand and suddenly Scrooge found himself in the midst of a group of soldiers eating Christmas dinner- one writing a letter home to his family. "What is happening" screamed Scrooge, "Where am I?" The Ghost laughed and said, "You are in the past, in the vast caverns of the past and before this evening is out I will show you everything you need to know to reform. You will see a whole Carnivalesque of posts about the ancient and medieval world that will enrich your understanding. You will understand what you are missing and my brothers will visit you too." Scrooge grew silent, his mind could barely cope, "What you mean Ghost I'll discover why the Roman Empire fell and what are the most influential book history tools developed since 2000? What's going on?" The ghost smiled wryly and ushered him on. History you see is always unfinished.

That's all folks for this carnival, there will be others coming up. Sharon needs volunteers so email her at sharonATearlymodernwebDOTorgDOTuk if you want to volunteer. I'd recommend it- its fun and this is a thing which ought to be kept going.