There are a lot of themes that came up when I was indexing Hincmar of Rheims: Life and Work, the collection of essays Im editing with Charles West. But theres one that didnt: theres no index entry for friendship. On reflection thats 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 cant be comprehensive, of course: weve got just over 300 pages, while Jean Devisses 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 its fairly easy to identify one obvious candidate: Hilduin, abbot of St-Denis and Hincmars early mentor. But Hilduin died in 840, while Hincmar survived until 882. Who were Hincmars friends during his archiepiscopal rule? There arent any obvious names. You can admittedly come up with a shortish list of people who werent actively hostile to Hincmar, such as Hrabanus Maurus and Odo of Beauvais (although Egon Boshof reckoned Odo didnt always support Hincmar). And I have got an index entry for Hincmars political networks: several of our authors used Flodoards summaries of Hincmars letters to talk about those. But definite friends are far harder to trace.
Is Hincmars friendlessness just a trick of the sources? We dont have a huge number of complete letters of Hincmar preserved; were mostly relying on Flodoards summaries of them. Maybe hes inadvertently misleading us: since his focus is on the history of Rheims, perhaps hes omitted more personal letters or not reported that aspect of his letters? But even so, we have a large amount of Hincmars writings, including a substantial section of annals, where he could choose whom he wanted to discuss; youd 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 didnt have the same meaning in past times that it does now. Beneath the enthusiastic and emotional rhetoric, its 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 didnt 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. Its 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.