• Hincmar no-mates and Carolingian friendship

    There are a lot of themes that came up when I was indexing Hincmar of Rheims: Life and Work, the collection of essays I’m editing with Charles West. But there’s one that didn’t: there’s no index entry for ‘friendship’. On reflection that’s interesting, because friendship is an important theme in many recent studies of the Carolingian intellectual and political elite, especially in the work of Gerd Althoff.

    Is the lack of index entries just a reflection of the topics covered in the book? It can’t be comprehensive, of course: we’ve got just over 300 pages, while Jean Devisse’s biography of Hincmar is almost 5 times as long. But searching the proofs finds one interesting passage. Hincmar says about his early life:

    After the brothers in the monastery of St-Denis, where I had been raised, had converted to a regular life and habit, I dwelled there for a long time, fleeing the world without hope or appetite for a bishopric, or any prelateship. Taken from there by friends (familiares) for the service of the emperor and the meetings of the bishops, serving from the obedience alone that was enjoined to me, after some years I sought again the quiet of the monastery. (Hincmar, Epistola 198, MGH Epp. 8, p. 210):

    So Hincmar had friends at least at that point, and it’s fairly easy to identify one obvious candidate: Hilduin, abbot of St-Denis and Hincmar’s early mentor. But Hilduin died in 840, while Hincmar survived until 882. Who were Hincmar’s friends during his archiepiscopal rule? There aren’t any obvious names. You can admittedly come up with a shortish list of people who weren’t actively hostile to Hincmar, such as Hrabanus Maurus and Odo of Beauvais (although Egon Boshof reckoned Odo didn’t always support Hincmar). And I have got an index entry for Hincmar’s political networks: several of our authors used Flodoard’s summaries of Hincmar’s letters to talk about those. But definite friends are far harder to trace.

    Is Hincmar’s friendlessness just a trick of the sources? We don’t have a huge number of complete letters of Hincmar preserved; we’re mostly relying on Flodoard’s summaries of them. Maybe he’s inadvertently misleading us: since his focus is on the history of Rheims, perhaps he’s omitted more personal letters or not reported that aspect of his letters? But even so, we have a large amount of Hincmar’s writings, including a substantial section of annals, where he could choose whom he wanted to discuss; you’d expect some evidence of any significant friendships to show up.

    Which brings us back to Carolingian friendship. Recent studies have stressed that the language of friendship didn’t have the same meaning in past times that it does now. Beneath the enthusiastic and emotional rhetoric, it’s been claimed, friendships were more about social networking than the meeting of two minds, a facade of love over more instrumental relationships.

    So if Carolingian friendships are formalised constructions, pacts of solidarity, why didn’t Hincmar have them? He certainly could have profited from them in order to ensure the flourishing of his archdiocese and the attainment of his political goals. It’s possible that no-one really liked Hincmar (apart from Jean Devisse and a few others, a millennium too late), but if we say that that impeded his ability to make friendships, we have to readmit emotional connections into the equation. The example of Hincmar-no-mates suggests that we may have to rethink our wider ideas of what early medieval friendships involved.

  • What would Hincmar of Cologne do?

    I’m currently finishing off the introduction to the book version of the translation of De divortio Lotharii regis et Theutberga reginae that I’m doing with Charles West for Manchester University Press. So I’ve been rapidly re-reading a lot of scholarship on the case and its outcome. Most historians have seen the result (that Lothar failed to get the divorce he wanted) as due to the weakness of Lothar’s case for separation from Theutberga and remarriage to Waldrada and/or the influence of outsiders opposing him, with Charles the Bald, Hincmar of Rheims and Pope Nicholas I taking starring roles as the preventers of divorce. Letha Böhringer has shown this probably isn’t entirely fair on Hincmar (most recently in Letha Böhringer, "Das Recht im Dienst der Machtpolitik? Anmerkungen zu einer Neuerscheinung über die Scheidungsaffäre König Lothars II," Mitteilungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 119 (2001), 146-154), but I want briefly to consider via a counterfactual an aspect that I don’t think any of the scholarship has explicitly asked (Carlrichard Brühl gets nearest in "Hinkmariana II: Hinkmar im Widerstreit von kanonischen Recht und Politik in Ehefragen," Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 20 (1964), 55-77). What if Lothar II had had Hincmar on his side?

    So consider Lothar II with the assistance of Hincmar of Cologne, a man who is a skilled and knowledgeable canonist/propagandist, loyal to his own king and moderately devious. How does this Hincmar in 857/858 deal with his ruler’s desire to divorce his wife of two years and return to his mistress, against the Christian rules of marriage and without alienating some of his own elites and giving his uncles in neighbouring kingdoms a propaganda coup?

    I think the key manoeuvre would have been trying to get Theutberga to co-operate right from the start of the procedure. Would that have been possible? Theutberga had to survive an accusation of horrible crimes against her (incest and ‘unnatural’ intercourse with her brother, then aborting the resulting child) via a judgement by ordeal in 858. In 860 she was coerced into confessing the same crimes. Lothar II was unrelentingly hostile to her and I think had hoped to have her executed if the ordeal had gone against her in 858. While she wasn’t necessarily infertile, she hadn’t born a child in two years of marriage, suggesting either she was at least subfertile or that Lothar was so unenthusiastic that he wasn’t sleeping with her frequently. (He eventually had at least four children by Waldrada, so any fertility issues must have been on Theutberga’s side). And there’d probably been a third person in their marriage from the start: it’s been reasonably assumed that Lothar’s involvement with Waldrada started before his marriage and continued after it.

    What if instead of the accusations, in 857/858 Hincmar of Cologne had come to Theutberga and offered her a deal: that she should voluntarily agree to give up the marriage and enter a convent, in return for getting all the prestige of a royal abbess? Would Theutberga have been prepared to take that? She fought long and hard to regain her position as queen, but how much was that about clearing her name from widespread ugly rumours? By 868 after a failed attempt at reconciliation, she said she’d rather "flee among the pagans that see the face of the glorious King Lothar". How hard would she have fought to stay as Lothar’s queen, if she’d been offered the change to be the next Radegund? I think there’s a reasonable chance she’s have accepted Hincmar’s offer.

    Hincmar’s problem then would have been squaring Theutberga entering a convent and Lothar remarrying with canonical traditions of indissolubility. While one-sided separation to enter the religious life had been OK in early sixth century Francia, there were a number of authoritative texts available to Carolingian authors opposed to this: Gregory the Great, in particular had rejected this. Either both spouses had to agree to enter the religious life or neither could. There were one or two canons which did allow the spouse remaining in the world to remarry, but they were less prestigious texts. Lothar could still have run into difficulties.

    But this is what he had Hincmar of Cologne for, a man who knew how to use authorities to get the result that he wanted. Gregory’s argument was that since husband and wife were one flesh, part of it couldn’t remain in the world while part didn’t. But in the 860 case of Count Stephen of the Auvergne, Hincmar came up with the first ever "canonical" justification for why an unconsummated marriage could be ended and remarriage allowed. With the same argument, he and Lothar could have come up with a rhetorically fairly convincing story to put before the bishops and magnates of Lotharingia.

    The argument would be that Theutberga had always wanted to lead a religious life, but had been forced into marrying Lothar by her brother Hubert. Lothar had, however, agreed to live in a chaste marriage with Theutberga, which they had secretly been doing for several years. Now, however, that was not enough for Theutberga: she wanted to leave the world completely. What was Lothar to do? Obviously, he wanted to support his wife’s religious calling, but if he did so, it would mean he had to leave the world as well, leaving the kingdom defenceless. What could a poor king do?

    With that dilemma placed before the magnates, Hincmar would then suggest his theory that because of non-consummation, Lothar and Theutberga had never really been one flesh, so the marriage could be ended (and he might even suggest the nice touch of the original dowry going to Theutberga’s new convent as well). I think that combined argument might well have convinced the magnates. In particular, Theutberga’s family and supporters would have got at least something of a payoff. They might be losing Königsnahe, but they would be getting access to a monastery (or maybe multiples ones) as a powerbase and source for precaria etc.

    Could this have worked? The most difficult part might have been making Lothar II looking like a pious young man and keeping him away from Waldrada for a decent interval afterwards. And it would still have been difficult legitimating their son Hugh, if he had been born before 858, which is quite possible. But if Lothar hadn’t made accusations against Theutberga, posing as someone of superior virtue, it’d be a lot harder to start pointing the finger back and making accusations against him. In particular, the charge that he couldn’t rule his wife/household wouldn’t have been available. And consummation as required for a valid marriage was probably something that resonated with Carolingian audiences. Charles the Bald (and even Gunther of Rheims) would have had a lot less material to work with than the implausible and contradictory claims from 860 that take up so much of De divortio.

    And what of the papacy? There’s been much stress on Nicholas I’s interference in Frankish affairs, but even Nicholas didn’t get involved unless he’d been appealed to. And if Theutberga had been squared, who was there to appeal to him? Charles the Bald might have complained, but Hincmar would probably have retorted that it wasn’t really his business. And if Nicholas had intervened, what would he have done? Dragged Theutberga unwillingly out of her convent, saying she had to return to her marriage? That would have been difficult logistically and would probably have been a PR disaster for Nicholas. Whatever his views, he may well have had to accept the situation.

    The only remaining problem, of course, would probably have been an epidemic of other husbands in the archdiocese of Cologne trying to divorce their wives in the same way. (Fulcric has already tried something similar in the early 850s). But this is Hincmar of Cologne we’re talking about: he could almost certainly have found some semi-convincing argument for why Lothar’s case was an example that absolutely no-one else should ever follow.

    So I think there’s a plausible argument that the loyal Lotharingian Hincmar of Cologne could have arranged for his king to marry the woman he really wanted. And after that? If Lothar II hadn’t had to keep trekking down to Italy to make his case to Rome, could he have avoided the illness that killed him in 869. Could Lotharingia have survived, rather than become a lost kingdom? That may be going too far. But I think there is a decent case to be made, that with Hincmar of Cologne on his side, Lothar’s divorce mightn’t have been a lost cause.

  • What I’m doing: Hincmar and charters

    As you will have noticed, things have been very quiet on this blog for ages, because I’ve been busy on a lot of other things. The busyness will be continuing for several more months, but some of the results of it are now becoming available.

    1) The Making of Charlemagne’s database is now online and our blog will continue to be updated. I will also be giving a seminar on Tuesday 3rd February at Leeds on the project, as part of the series Medieval Studies in the Digital Age. (This is a free event, but you need to register).

    2) The book of essays on Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims I have been co-editing with Charles West is now at the proof stage. According to Manchester University Press, Hincmar of Rheims: Life and Work will be appearing in July 2015. This contains the research of an international cast of scholars (British, French, German, Dutch, US and Canadian) and will answer almost all your Hincmar-related research needs. The rest will be answered by our forthcoming translation of De Divortio, also from MUP, which is making steady progress: this will replace the translation of this text we have currently made available on the Collaborative Hincmar project blog.

    3) My new project (until July) is working on Charles’ Turbulent Priests project. I will be focusing on priests and their representation in original charters from the eighth and ninth centuries.

    I hope to get back to more regular blogging in a couple of months, but until then, I hope some of this interests you.

  • Hallelujah

    This is a guest post by dr ngo

    I just finished singing Handel's “Messiah” three more times (my 28th through 30th time with my current choir, far short of the record 118th through 120th set by a fellow bass), and it is indeed a magnificent work. Although there are, in my judgment, more musically inspiring and more emotionally moving movements, the Hallelujah Chorus is by far the best-known and most-loved: here are five versions.

    We generally sing and listen to the Hallelujah Chorus out of context, which is perhaps just as well. (And I am a man who usually loves context.) Because if you are actually following the text of Messiah, what you'll hear is this:

    The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed:

    “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us!”

    He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; the Lord shall have them in derision.

    Thou [God] shall break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.


    I'm certainly not suggesting that most singers – much less listeners – have this violent setting in mind when they sing/hear the Hallelujah Chorus. To the contrary, we don't even notice it. (I'm not sure how many times I had sung this before it sank in.) But what does it say about us when our extreme happiness is not just rooted in comfort and joy – about which Messiah has much to say – but requires for its perfection, even subconsciously, the smiting of our enemies: laughing them to scorn, dashing them to pieces?

    There is, of course, an alternative – a “cold and broken” Hallelujah, as composed and sung by Leonard Cohen. (Some prefer this sung by other performers, such as Jeff Buckley or K.D. Lang. They're entitled to their opinions, but they're wrong.)

    I leave it to the devout Christians among you to debate whether Handel/Jennens or Cohen better reflects the spirit of Christian rejoicing. I'll stand on the sidelines and watch.

  • A bottom-up view of gender

    The heated and sometimes vicious debate between some trans activists and a subset of radical feminists who deny that trans women are women (TERFs) has widened to include other feminists who I wouldn't have previously thought of as radicals (such as Caroline Criado-Perez. One of the issues is that trans thinkers are using the term "gender" in a different way from that normally used in mainstream women's studies (and the way in which I'd previously used it in my own research). But I've just come across a couple of useful pieces by the historical researcher Cristan Williams that suggest to me how this new way of conceptualising gender might fit with previous models, but also expand them usefully.

    The two pieces are Contextualizing the Body and Critical of "Gender Critical". "Contextualizing the Body" is arguing that gender is the "labelling of and inevitable contextualization of sex attributes". Williams defines "contextualization" as "the process of organizing data as being situationally and functionally interconnected to other concepts". She uses the analogy of the difference between a sound (a physical phenomenon) and our understanding of that sound.

    In other words, someone being identified as "male" or "female" is a mental creation. I've always been unhappy with this idea of biological sex as created since I came across it in Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. But Williams' take is interesting, because in "Critical of "Gender Critical"", she is arguing that while gender is constructed, it is also inevitable that this construction happens:

    In its simplest form, gender arises from the mind’s inherent and unending instinct to note that A is like B and C while being different than X, which is itself like Y and Z. For gender to truly abolished, this hard-wired mental process must not exist


    In Butler, gender is imposed on people as a form of power and those, like her, who argue for biological sex as a created concept tend to see it as some kind of wicked medical conspiracy against innocent babies. But actually, it's one of several obvious distinctions that can be used to divide humans up into groups (if not 100% accurately) and it's therefore a very common way to categorise humans in all societies.

    Williams goes on:

    Since this process [categorisation] exists as a relational state within the mind, each person’s subjective experience will be, in some ways, at least somewhat unique. These unique perspectives will inevitably invite discourse, giving rise to collective norms and taboos which become cultural systems influencing human behavior to one degree or another.

    Williams therefore has a three level model: sex attributes, individual-mind gender (what I've also seen trans theory describe as "gender identity") and society-wide gender norms/rules. And she sees gender as operating bottom-up (apologies for the double entendre), with individual ideas of gender feeding into collective ones. In contrast, traditional theories of gender see it as socially-constructed, but in a top-down way. Society (especially patriarchal society) imposes gender on (pre-existing) males and females, often coercively. This gender imposition then has subjective effects on individuals, who may internalize such gender norms.

    When you think of it in those terms, these two different views of how gender are produced have immediate parallels to the unending sociological debates on the relationship of individuals to society: do individuals create society or does society create individuals? Different authors have different perspectives, on this question, but there are also productive theories about structuration, the dual role of agents and social structures in the creation and maintenance of systems. Such theories can include power relations and hierarchies within society, but without removing all agency from individuals.

    What’s more, historians of gender as socially constructed have often accepted that there is a subjective side to this construction, that there is a complex individual response to how society’s ideas about masculinity and femininity affect them. Michael Roper, for example has written about this and so have other historians of masculinity. There are all sorts of practical difficulties for historians in recovering past subjectivities, but that’s our problem, not a problem with the model.

    In other words, there’s room in existing gender theories for a third level which is intermediate between bodies and society, which goes beyond simple internalization of social norms and which might correspond to trans theory’s "gender identity". The current problem, however, is that because this third level is so subjective, it’s quite hard to understand how another person might imagine it in a very different way from you. I suspect trans people underestimate how difficult a process "gender identity" is for cis people: "gender conforming", which is commonly used to describe non-trans people, isn’t a helpful phrase (although Williams doesn’t use it in her series of articles). One useful idea that Judith Butler did come up with is about gender as being a performance and I think for a lot of cis women (and for some cis men) it isn’t an easy performance. It took a long time for me, for example, to learn to cope with being an unfeminine woman.

    But cis people rarely experience the extreme gender dysphoria that’s common for trans people: the sense that the gender to which society has assigned them is completely unliveable for them, is wrong in some fundamental way. To go back to the metaphor of gender as performance, it’s not just that you’ve been miscast in the part you’re expected to play, as a lot of cis girls and women feel. It’s presumably more that you don’t want to be in this kind of play to start with. I didn’t want to share in the kind of femininity that my mother tried to inculcate me in, but I’ve found forms of womanhood that are acceptable to me. The ability to do that, to fit within my "own" gender to that extent, is an advantage that I have, even if it now seems so natural to me that I don’t recognise it as an advantage.

    So part of the challenge is to find terms and descriptions for this interaction of bodies and society within one’s own mind that reflect the complexities of what’s going on within both cis and trans people. I’m not sure "gender identity" works as a term and possibly we need several terms. But thinking of gender as both bottom-up and top-down potentially allows us both to understand people's experiences more clearly and also to work towards changing harmful gender norms.

    Firstly, trans people’s experience suggest that individual-mind gender is not determined by a combination of sex attributes and social gender norms. A child with a penis surrounded by people telling it that it is a boy can nevertheless have an individual-mind conviction that she is female. Equally, he can have an individual-mind conviction that he is male (or even a different non-binary individual-mind view). Radical feminist thought tends to focus on social structures of oppression to the exclusion of individuals. But thinking about gender as created bottom-up suggests that if you can change the individual-mind gender and the gender performance of enough individuals, you can start to change the gender norms of the society they create.

    But a bottom-up theory of gender also suggests that the scheme of "abolishing gender", which some activists call for, isn’t likely to happen. Individuals are going to have an understanding of what "men" are like and what "women" are like, because that’s the way our minds function, to spot patterns. Enough of those understandings are likely to be common for some social ideas of gender to develop, even if not necessarily the ones we currently have.

    For an analogy, it’s useful to look at social constructions of age and the elderly. Ageing is a biological fact, although there’s no clear dividing line between who counts as "old" and who doesn’t, and it varies greatly between societies depending on nutrition and healthcare availability. And in social situations, other people’s age is normally "read" from their appearance and behaviour: you rarely get to check someone’s birth certificate. There are societies in which the old are valued as wise and others in which they’re denigrated: the power relations aren’t simply one way round. But I’m not aware of any societies where age has been "abolished", or where there aren’t age-related expectations and norms.

    In the same way, gender is always going to exist: as Cristan Williams points out, we’re hard-wired to make such distinctions. But I’d argue that acknowledging gender as bottom-up as well as top-down gives us another possible set of tools for changing oppressive gender stereotypes and ones which it’s worth all feminists trying to use.


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