Hincmar’s world 5: the curious case of Hincmar in the night

The game of pointing out Hincmar’s inconsistent views and political manoeuvring is an enjoyable one for scholars. One of the most interesting examples was discovered by Carlrichard Brühl in ‘Hinkmariana II: Hinkmar im Widerstreit von kanonischen Recht und Politik in Ehefragen’, Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters 20 (1964), 55-77. The title translates as ‘Hincmar in conflict with canon law and politics on marriage questions’, a provocative statement for all those who have seen Hincmar as one of the key founders of the canon law of marriage. But Brühl makes good on his argument, demonstrating that Louis the Stammerer (Charles the Bald’s son), who ruled West Francia 877-879 was married twice and that Hincmar appears to have accepted this. The evidence is as follows:

1) Annales Bertiniani 862 (written by Hincmar at this point) say that Louis married the daughter of Count Harduin and sister of Odo (her name is given by other sources as Ansgard), without Charles the Bald’s permission, although Charles subsequently acknowledged the marriage.

[From the marriage there were at least three children: Louis III, Carloman, and a daughter Gisla, none of whom Hincmar mentions before 878].

2) Annales Bertiniani 877 reports Hincmar crowning Louis the Stammerer king on 8th December 877, but does not mention his wife.

3) In Annales Bertiniani 878 Hincmar says that Pope John VIII crowned Louis the Stammerer on 7th September 878, but Louis was unable to get him to crown his wife.

4) Regino’s Chronicon 878 says that Louis married Ansgard in his youth, and had two sons by her, but because he had married without Charles’ permission, Charles forced him to separate from her and made him marry Adalheid.

5) Two charters from April 878 and Feb 879 show Adelheid as Louis’ wife.

6) A charter of Carloman from January 883 implies that Ansgard (his mother) was dead by then.

7) Flodoard gives the outline of two letters of Hincmar on the subject: one to Louis the Younger (king of East Francia) in 880, ‘about the two wives of the same Louis, son of Charles, how it was done’, and the other to Louis III and Carloman (Ansgard’s sons) from the end of 879: explaining ‘why he did not force him [Louis the Stammerer] to receive his rejected wife Ansgard and did not prevent him retaining Adelheid, and about the letters given to him [Hincmar] by king Louis for the advancement of his sons’.

Brühl’s view was that Regino was right about the repudiation, but wrong about the date and instigator of it. He thinks that Louis repudiated Ansgard on his own initiative, at the start of his reign (October 877), in order to win over the magnates (who were certainly sceptical, if not hostile to him). Brühl thinks this probably happened before the coronation in Dec 877, and Louis married Adelheid after the coronation, rather than that Hincmar refused to crown Adelheid, but never mentioned it. Brühl thinks that Hincmar accepted the repudiation and remarriage and kept quiet about because he knew it was in the kingdom’s interests that Louis should be king.

Brühl’s argument is very convincing, but there are still problems that bug me. Why did Pope John (who was obviously looking for Frankish support) crown Louis but not his wife? Hincmar may have seen it necessary to keep quiet about the repudiation in the Annales during Louis the Stammerer’s lifetime for reasons of state, but why did he not mention it after Louis’ death, when he was promoting and supporting as kings Ansgard’s sons? If he wanted to get in with them, why not denounce Louis the Stammerer after 879, especially since if Louis’ second marriage was invalid, one future rival for Louis III and Carloman’s kingdoms was removed (Adelheid’s son, the future Charles the Simple)? And how could Louis the Stammerer, anyhow manage to carry out a divorce and remarriage, without ecclesiastical help and with no complaint from anyone? No Carolingian ruler had managed that since Charlemagne in the early 770s.

Hincmar’s fingerprints seem to me all over this business, even if he’s done his best to wipe them off. If Louis the Stammerer needed to repudiate Ansgard in late 877 (and Brühl has convincing reasons why he might), Hincmar was the obvious expert to produce a water-tight ‘justification’ for this, which would also allow a valid remarriage.

Unfortunately, however, I can’t see how Hincmar can have done it. My initial theory was that Louis used Hincmar to claim that his marriage to Ansgard had never been valid in the first place (based most likely on claims that he’d abducted her and a valid marriage could not be made from raptus). This allowed him to remarry, but had one big problem: if Ansgard’s marriage weren’t valid, Louis III and Carloman weren’t legitimate heirs to Louis. If Louis the Stammerer did do this, he was taking the risk that he could have further heirs with Adelheid.

However, in the spring of 878 (probably) May, Louis became so ill that his life was despaired of. My hypothesis was that after that, he tried to backtrack, because it was looking unlikely that he could have a heir in time from the second marriage. If Adelheid’s marital status was looking uncertain in September 878, it might explain why even a helpful Pope was reluctant to crown her at that time. It would also fit with another comment by Regino, who says that in 879 Boso of Provence made himself king, ‘holding the teenage sons of Louis as nothing and despising them as unworthy/ignobile (degeneres), because at Charles’ order their mother had been spurned and repudiated’.

The problem is, my theory didn’t hold up when I looked at the charters. There are the same requests for prayers for Louis’ wife and children (coniux and proles) in charters from December 877, Apr 878 and June 878. The implied status of Louis’ sons by Ansgard remains unchanged. However the remarriage was organised, it couldn’t have been that way.

For the moment I’m stuck. Could even Hincmar have come up with a justification for a remarriage which didn’t annul the first marriage? I have no real proof that he was involved at all. And yet passive acceptance of royal actions wasn’t Hincmar’s style. I still think somehow he devised this locked room puzzle, even if I can’t catch him at it.


One thought on “Hincmar’s world 5: the curious case of Hincmar in the night

  1. This is a serious suggestion and not a snark. What if the political atmosphere was just as poisonous as the American over the last eight years or even more? and numerous parties might just be lying with no concern about consistency and tracking the logic, or attempting to track it now, would be futile. I have been reading for the last week or so Sarah Palin’s various stories about what she has done or not done in her political career. Can anyone keep track? She certainly is not bothering to keep her story consistent.

    Of course Sarah Palin is an obscure figure thrown into sudden prominence and not key figure like Hincmar. One must rather see Hincmar as an expert in an arcane field where no one is in a position to contradict him; he can therefore say anything he likesat any given moment, though he may have needed to change his mind and his pronouncements on short notice. There is no way of knowing what he said orally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. of any given politically charged day. All you’ve got is some of the material that was put down on parchment, and they are the barest fragments of a very complex situation.


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