A few years ago, I remember Charlie Insley telling me that "charters were the new black". I'm not sure I was convinced at the time, but there does seem to be an increasing interest in the use of charters for understanding the ideology of power. A couple of seminars at the IHR earlier this year both looked at the charters of particular rulers and I want to bring them together and see if the result tells us anything wider about the topic.

First of all, Kathryn Dutton from Manchester was talking about "Countship: concept and practice in twelfth-century Anjou". Kathryn is at the start of a project examining non-royal power in twelfth-century France, which will compare the ideology of three territorial principalities: Greater Anjou, Brittany and Aquitaine. Her paper was looking at Geoffrey V of Anjou, on whom she'd written her thesis.

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Enamel from Geoffrey's tomb at Le Mans

Geoffrey married the Empress Matilda of England, and was the father of Henry II, but his most important family connection for propaganda purposes seemed to be that his father, Fulk V of Anjou, became king of Jerusalem, after marrying Queen Melisande. (It's only as I come to write up it that it occurs to me it's unusual to become a ruler of your father's previous territory while your father's still alive).

Kathryn was talking about a variety of methods, charter and non-charter that Geoffrey used to enhance his status. One was the use of relics and physical symbols: one of his ancestors, Fulk III had brought back a fragment of the True Cross from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and gifted it to St-Laud of Angers. Geoffrey was the abbot of St-Laud, and it's possible that he wore the reliquary containing it. Fulk V sent back from the east an ivory tau-staff given to him by the wazir of Egypt, which Geoffrey may have used for adventus ceremonies.

Geoffrey never went on pilgrimage or crusade himself (though he may have considered doing so), but he probably used relics and his charters for Anjou often refer to him as "son of the King of Jerusalem". In contrast, his charters in Normandy, which he conquered in 1144, don't use this expression. Several of his charters refer to his military successes, e.g. his capture of Gerald of Montreuil-Bellay after a lengthy siege in 1151. He then seems to have led Gerald and his family in chains in something of a triumph, giving charters at a number of places to celebrate this victory. This caused outrage at the Capetian court, especially when Geoffrey took Gerald as a prisoner to Paris. Bernard of Clairvaux threatened him with excommunication and prophesied his imminent death (which indeed happened).

Charters, then, were only one part of Geoffrey's projection of power, though obviously an important one. In contrast, Roberta Cimino from St Andrews, a couple of months later focused specifically on charters, in a paper entitled "The queen's title in Italian diplomas (9th-10th centuries)". Roberta was looking at one particular title, that of "consors regni", implying the sharer of an empire, which was used in mid-ninth to mid-tenth century Italian royal diplomas but rarely elsewhere. "Consors imperii" was a title first used in the late Roman empire for the ruler and his heir, and it was revived for this purpose at the start of the ninth century, in texts such as Einhard's Vita Karoli or the Royal Frankish Annals. From the mid-ninth century it started to be used for the king or emperor's wife.

There's been a lot of discussion about why the meaning of the term shifted, with some researchers, such as Carlo Guido Mor, seeing the use of title as reflecting the existence of a specific institution of co-regency, and others, such as Paolo Delogu seeing it as an honorific title, introduced into Carolingian diplomatics from literature. Roberta was arguing that the title didn't have a fixed meaning, but was instead a fluid instrument, used in some, but not all charters mentioning the queen. Diplomas, she argued, were performances in total and all the elements contributed to them.

For example, although the title was used for Empress Ermengarde (wife of Lothar I) in 848, it didn't appear again until the 860s, when it started to be used for Angilberga, the wife of Louis II. Even then, it wasn't used in all the charters which mention her. Roberta was arguing that Louis's chancery practice changed after his expedition to south Italy in 866, both because he had a very limited chancery staff and because he was concerned to promote his imperial authority. There was an orchestrated campaign of imperial propaganda which included solemn titles for the queen. Very unusually, there are also silver deniers from 871-872 which have Angilberga's name on the reverse.

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Roberta also looked at the use of "consors imperii" for Ageltrude, the wife of Guy of Spoleto. Guy was the first non-Carolingian emperor, and had a very strong imperial ideology. Ageltrude is not always given the title "consors imperii," but she is in two clusters of charters: four from 891, issued on her imperial coronation and two from 894, at a time when Guy was experiencing political problems. The properties being given to Ageltrude at that point had previous associations with Carolingian women. Overall, the title is applied to Ageltrude only when she's recipient of properties associated with the Carolingians.

Roberta then finished with a diploma from 948, in which "consors imperii" was used to demonstrate the relationship between two men: a diploma of Lothar II of Italy calls Berengar of Ivrea, the effective ruler of Italy, "summus consors regni", showing the negotiation of power between them.

Roberta's examples showed the flexibility of the term, suggesting it was not referring to an institution, but the combination of the two papers gets us back to the thorny question of authors and audiences of charters as well. On the one hand, there are historians like Geoff Koziol arguing that every charter is a carefully calibrated demonstration of royal authority; on the other hand, Jon Jarrett is worrying about whether these processes (and the charters themselves) are being driven by granters or recipients: are the different titles etc used just because different recipients are responsible for drawing up the diplomas?

But there's another issue with audiences: should we be talking about the audience for a charter or for charters? If the audience for a charter is essentially one-off (those present at a particular solemn occasion, plus later readers) then why don't all charters aim for maximum impressiveness? If this is a ruler's big chance to show how impressive he/she is, surely they should go for broke every time? Now possibly they don't always have the parchment and high-quality scribes available to produce a first-class looking diploma, but terms like "consors regni" are cheap and easy to add. And yet they don't get added automatically to every charter, just as Geoffrey V doesn't always call himself the son of the king of Jerusalem.

I think this means that if we're going to see charters as a language deliberately controlled by the granters, we're going to have to presume a common audience for a whole sequence of charters, not just one. Language gets dulled by repetition, and using every possible title in every charter is the charter diplomatic equivalent of shouting all the time. Maybe we need to turn this analysis of the political language of charters round and ask why some phrases don't get used all the time and what that may tell us about the audiences for different charters of the same ruler.