Most Undeservedly Overlooked Person in the Database Competition: Maginfrid

Posted: Dec. 16, 2014, 10:15 a.m. by Alice Rio

by Rachel Stone

Maginfrid is dead to begin with. Obviously, everyone in the database is dead, but Maginfrid’s dead even by the time he first appears in our charters. Two of Charlemagne’s charters (DKAR 1:198 and DKAR 1:203) describe him as ‘Maginfredus quondam servus noster’ (Maginfrid, our ex-unfree). He’s an ex-unfree in the sense that he’s passed on, he’s no more, he’s ceased to be. He hasn’t necessarily, however, joined the choir eternal, for reasons that become apparent when you read the charters.

We currently have over 600 unfree people in our database. The vast majority of these appear because they’re being donated or sold. Only three of them are granting property and two of them are just donating themselves. Maginfrid, however, although he was unfree, gave land to two monasteries, Hersfeld and Prüm (property in two villas to Hersfeld, a mansus and an unfree person to Prüm). Unfortunately, this wasn’t his property to give in the first place: it was Charlemagne’s and the two charters we have are royal diplomas regranting the property legally this time.

We don’t know anything more about Maginfrid, but he proves that being unfree could have many different meanings. Despite his lowly legal status, he could give away fiscal land and get away with this. Did he claim to Hersfeld and Prüm that he was donating the land on the orders of Charlemagne? Did they suspect something? There’s an intriguing difference in the details of the charters, which we reflect in the database. In the first charter from September 802, Richulf, archbishop of Mainz approached Charlemagne, requesting that the emperor grant the property officially to Hersfeld; Charlemagne did so. The charter concerning Prüm, however, dates from January 806. It says that the property given to Prüm was first reclaimed for Charlemagne by his missus, count Rimigarius. Only after that did Charlemagne donate it. Was Abbot Tancrad too slow in petitioning Charlemagne after Maginfrid’s death and being taught a lesson? Or was there some other reason for the different procedures used to achieve the same outcome?

What the case of Maginfrid reminds us is that official titles and legal status don’t tell us all about power relations in Carolingian Europe. Just sometimes in the charters, we can spot practices of power that look a lot more complicated. An unfree person could still have effective control of land and other people. And even the abbot of a prestigious royal monastery, if he was unlucky, could find himself on the wrong side of a dispute with Charlemagne.