Charlemagne’s charter D. 55 (dated 13 January 769)

Posted: July 7, 2014, 11 a.m. by adminluisf

By Jinty Nelson 

This is Charlemagne’s earliest surviving charter. It survives in what palaeographers are now convinced is an original,[1] written by Charles’ notary Hitherius.[2] It was issued at Aachen, which lay in the kingdom that Charles had been left by his dying father in September 768. Pippin had divided his realm between Charles and his brother Carloman. In political terms, the key question that arose from the division was how the brothers and their advisers would make it work in practice.  Some features of the allocation of regions (regna) were debatable; and whatever the deceased father might have determined, earlier Frankish history did not inspire confidence in the ability of brothers to get along nicely with each other.  Charter D. 55 is the earliest text to throw light on the relationship between Charles and Carloman after their joint-accession in October 768.

An important piece of supporting evidence that Charles was at Aachen that winter is the statement in the Annales regni Francorum (ARF)[3] that he spent Christmas at Aachen in 768. D. 55 strongly suggests that Charles stayed at Aachen for at least the three weeks following Christmas and including Epiphany (6 January) or Twelfth Night. D. 56, dated 1 March 769, which survives only in a twelfth-century Utrecht cartulary but is generally accepted as genuine, could suggest that Charles made a fairly lengthy stay. It is equally possible, though, that he left Aachen in mid-January but returned at the end of February for a more or less brief stay. By Easter, which fell on 2 April in 769, Charles was staying at Rouen in Neustria, also in his kingdom.

D. 55 is a grant to the abbey of St-Denis of St-Dié, a small monastery in the Vosges of which Pippin had held the vestitura, i.e. the possession. The insistence on future abbots (rectores) of St-Denis being there praesentialiter, in person, whenever the grant was confirmed might indicate that Abbot Fulrad of St-Denis had come to Charles in person to request the grant, something that was in any case quite normal - and hence was with Charles when D. 55 was made. Fulrad had been an influential elder statesman in the days of Pippin, and he was in charge of an exceptionally rich royal abbey with far-flung lands.[4] Fulrad could have felt a duty to keep the peace between the royal brothers. At this point, he certainly had a strong vested interest in keeping on good terms with both.

Yet the Vosges lay in the kingdom of Charles’ brother Carloman, and so did St-Denis.[5] Why, then, was Charles, not Carloman, in a position to grant St-Dié to St-Denis? The likeliest reason is that a deal was made with Fulrad. Fulrad received two grants from Carloman in February 769 and a further one in March. The grant of St-Dié to St-Denis removed any problems that might have arisen from rival claims on the part of the two sons of Pippin. Something like an ad hoc agreement could explain why the grant includes no such formula of permanence as ‘donamus in perpetuum’, though the grant itself is followed by a strong statement of St-Denis’s future rights over St-Dié (ut deinceps ipsum locum habeant vel teneant absque ullius contrarietate vel calumnia). Both Pippin’s sons needed to keep close relations with St-Denis: not only was it a major Frankish cult-site but its abbot, Fulrad, had been Pippin’s closest advisor – a power in the land. As a further sweetener for Fulrad, D. 55 mentions not only that Pippin was buried at St-Denis but that Charles himself planned to be buried there. 

The terms on which St-Dié was granted were the following: it was always to be staffed by between ten and fifteen monks from St-Denis working in relays or temporary stints (per vices) and they were not to cease offering by day and by night psalms and masses and other petitionary prayers and special prayers (peculiares orationes) ‘for us [i.e. Charles] and for our lord and glorious father’.  It sounds as if what Charles wanted from these monks was laus perennis, non-stop prayer, as pioneered at St-Maurice d’Agaune.[6] Charles added that he had ordered the grant to be made by a written charter to be given to St-Denis so that ‘from this day the rectores of that monastery should personally receive the little monastery of St-Dié to possess by our grace so that they should always keep it’. This seems to preclude any suggestion that St-Denis’ rights were somehow temporary.[7] 

D. 55 opens with Charles using the new title Dei gratia (Pippin’s title had been rex, vir inluster), and ends with a new sign of authentication: Charles’s monogram. The charter was written by Hitherius, a former notary of Pippin’s[8] who joined Charles’s service after Pippin’s death. That Hitherius’s (or a subordinate’s) was the mind behind both the innovations, title and monogram, makes good sense.[9] Schaller[10] is unpersuaded by the suggestion about the monogram, on the grounds that Hitherius didn’t visit Italy until after 769, and Italy is where you would have had to be to know about Byzantine monograms: but in fact you could equally well have known if you’d been close to Pippin’s court, which welcomed Byzantine envoys in 757 and, especially, 767, when politics were higher on the agenda than religious debates.[11] The gap of over a year between Charles’s DD. 60 (March 770) and 61 (which lacks a notary’s sign-off) or 62 (April 771 or July 771) has been explained, thought-provokingly, in terms of Hitherius’s absence in Italy during that period.[12] How heavily Charles must have relied in the early years of his reign on those who had been close to his father, and on how few men an early medieval ruler could run a ‘chancery’ – a term that appealed to the scholars, excellent in their day, who edited the diplomata.  

Charles’s D. 55 and Carloman’s D. 43 show interesting differences. In D. 55 CM repeatedly highlights his closeness to his father. Carloman’s D. 43, his first extant, issued at the palace of Samoussy near Meaux (between Aisne and Marne) in January 769 is a confirmation of Pippin’s and his predecessors’ charters assigning the tolls of the fair of St-Denis to the monastery. As no more than a confirmation, it lacks the touches in D. 55 that connect Charles and his grant directly with his father. The equivalent personally-connecting touch in D. 43 is not to Pippin but to Fulrad, who certainly received Carloman’s confirmation-charter in person. There is no Dei gratia title here (though Carloman D. 45 (March 769) started using it) and no monogram in D. 43 or any of Carloman’s subsequent eleven charters.  Had Fulrad’s been the mind behind the monogram,[13] it would surely have been more likely to have been first used for Carloman, whose man he was and in whose kingdom his abbey lay.  In the early years of Charles’ kingship, Hitherius occupied the role of the king’s right-hand man. After he received the abbacy of St-Martin, Tours, in 775 or possibly 777,[14] Rado became chancellor, and Maginar became a favoured man.

A further comparison can be made between the places where Charles and Carloman issued their first charters. Carloman thrice issued charters at Samoussy,[15] his first two and his last, and died there on 4 Dec 771. Pippin had stayed at Samoussy once, for Christmas 766.[16] Charles in turn stayed there only once[17] (but he Christmased at Quierzy). Pippin stayed at Aachen once, spending Christmas 765 there.[18] Aachen was in Charles’s kingdom after September 769; Samoussy was in Carloman’s, and his death there could mean that it was place and a palace that mattered to him – though perhaps he was making for Reims, but couldn’t make it. Reims was where he was buried.[19]

It would be tempting to suggest that Charles spent the first Christmas of his reign at Aachen[20] because it held some importance to him – tempting but premature.  With the exception of a brief stay at Aachen in December 777 (D. 118 was issued there palacio publico on 6 December, but he Christmased at Douzy), there is no evidence that he visited it again until 788, when he wintered there[21] from Christmas through to after Easter, 19 April 789 in Aquis palatio, and held a council in March-April 789, when the Admonitio generalis was finalised and issued.[22]  What the future would hold for Aachen was not known in 769; and perhaps not even until after 789 would Charles change his mind about where he wanted to be buried: not at St-Denis, but at Aachen.[23] For Fulrad’s successors, the whirligig of time brought in its revenges.



Primary sources:

Pippini, Carlomanni et Caroli Magni Diplomata, in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Diplomata Karolingorum I, ed. Engelbert Mühlbacher (Hannover, 1906)

Chartae Latinae Antiquiores, XV, eds. Hartmut Atsma and Jean Vezin (Dietikon-Zurich, 1986)

Annales regni Francorum, ed. Friedrich Kurze, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum (Hannover, 1895), trans. P. David King, Charlemagne. Sources, ‘Annals of the Kingdom of the Franks’, and ‘Revised Annals of the Kingdom of the Franks’  (Kendal, 1986), pp. 74-131.

Annales Mettenses Priores, ed. Bernard von Simson, Monumenta Germaniae Historica,Scriptores rerum Germanicarum (Hannover, 1905)

Secondary works:

Donald Bullough, ‘Albuinus deliciosus Karoli regis. Alcuin of York and the Shaping of the Early Carolingian Court’, in Lütz Fenske, Werner Rösener and Thomas Zötz eds, Institutionen, Kultur und Gesellschaft im Mittelalter. Festschrift für Josef Fleckenstein (Sigmaringen, 1984), pp. 73-92.

Donald Bullough, Carolingian Renewal (Manchester, 1991)

Ildar Garipzanov, The Symbolic Language of Authority in the Carolingian World (Leiden, 2008)

Michael McCormick, ‘Textes, imagies et iconoclasm dans le cade des relations entre Byzance et l’occident’, Testo e Immagine nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo 41, ii (Spoleto, 1994), pp. 95-162.

Janet L. Nelson, ‘Carolingian Royal Funerals’, in Frans Theuws and Janet L. Nelson eds, Rituals of Power: from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages (Leiden, 2000), at pp. 131-84.

Janet L. Nelson, ‘Aachen as a Place of Power’, in Mayke de Jong and Frans Theuws eds, Topographies of Power in the Earlier Middle Ages (Leiden, 2001), pp. 217-42.

Martin Schaller, ‘Alte und neue Überlegungen zur Herkunft desMonogramms Karls des Großen’, Hpeirionde. Proceedings of the 10th International Symposium of Byzantine Sigillography (Wiesbaden, 2011), pp. 111-177

Alain Stoclet, Autour de Fulrad de Saint-Denis (v.710-784) (Geneva and Paris, 1993)

Barbara H. Rosenwein, ‘Perennial prayer at Agaune’, in Sharon Farmer and Barbara  Rosenwein eds, Monks and nuns, saints and outcasts: Religion in edieval society (Ithaca NY, 2000), pp. 37-56

Barbara Rosenwein, ‘One site, many meanings: Saint-Maurice d’Agaune as a place of power in the early Middle Ages’, in Mayke de Jong and Frans Theuws eds, Topographies of Power the Early Middle Ages(Leiden, 2001), pp. 271-90.

Joseph Semmler, ‘Verdient um das karolingiasche Königtum und den werdenden Kirchenstaat: Fulrad von Saint-Denis’, in Oliver Münsch and Thomas Zötz eds, Scientia Veritatis. Festschrift für Hubert Mordek (Ostfildern, 2004), pp. 91-116.

Klaus Zechiel-Eckes, Hubert Mordek and Michael Glatthaar eds, Admonitio generalis Karls des Großen, Monumenta Germaniae Hostorica, Fontes iuris Germanici antiqui XVI (Wiesbaden, 2013.

[1] Paris, Archives nationales K 5, no. 12/1.

[2] Atsma and Vezin, Chartae Latinae Antiquiores XV, no. 608, Introduction to sections 3-6 and p. 63.

[3] Royal Frankish Annals, both versions, also copied in Annales Mettenses Priores.

[4] Stoclet 1993; Semmler 2004.

[5] Contra Stoclet 1993, p. 95, n. 3.

[6] Rosenwein 2000, 2001.

[7] Stoclet 1993, p. 95.

[8] He wrote five of Pippin’s thirty extant charters – 13 (753), 24, 26, 27, 28 (these four all 768).

[9] Garipzanov 2008, p. 175, on the monogram.

[10] Schaller 2011, pp. 135, 169-73.

[11] McCormick 1994, p. 131.

[12] Bullough 1991, p. 127.

[13] As Schaller argues.

[14] Bullough 1984, p. 77 and n. 12.

[15] ARF: villa.

[16] ARF term it villa; charters term it a palatium publicum.

[17] D. 87, Dec 774.

[18] villa in ARF.

[19] Nelson 2000.

[20] Annales regni Francorum 768-9, pp. 28-9: villa; DD. 55, 56: palatium publicum.

[21] Annales regni Francorum, s.a., pp. 80-86.

[22] Zechiel-Eckes, Mordek and Glatthaar 2013, p. 13.

[23] Nelson 2000, 2001.