Archives for posts with tag: carolingians

if you haven’t been following along (or even if you have), you may not know that one of the little mysteries here on the blog has been why did the franks abandon cousin marriage in the 800s? in the 700s, they’d still been marrying cousins, but [from here]:

“By the ninth century, a marriage in the third *generatio* [i.e. second cousins – h.chick] had become scandalous…. [T]here was no lack of ‘honest and God-fearing people’ willing to report on their neighbours, being quite able to identify illegitimate marriages when it suited them. Apparently the public scandal of incest could shake whole communities — which suggests that abhorrence of this crime was not merely a matter of the clergy and some pious aristocrats.”

well, i think i’ve discovered what happened — the establishment and promotion of parishes and parish churches in every town and village, thanks to pepin the short and charlemagne. from The Development of the Parochial System: From Charlamagne (768-814) to Urban II (1088-1099) [pgs. 3-4]:

“A modern French historian has pointed out that every ecclesiastical institution in the end seems to lead back to Charlemagne. This is particularly true of the parish church in the modern sense of the phrase. The reign of Charlemagne (768-814) saw the beginnings of a movement for the establishment of a church and priest in every village. Such a church…very soon became the church to which the inhabitants of the village looked for all the day to day administrations of the Christian religion. It was their parish church. The movement continued for the next three hundred years. By the reign of Uban II (1088-1099), the pope who first began to apply the reforming principles of Gregory VII (1073-1085) to parish churches, each diocese north of the Alps was well on the way to being organised on the basis of the parochial system in the generally accepted sense of the term, that is a system of pastoral care exercised through numerous small urban and rural units, each with its church, its endowment and its priest. In the northern half of Italy however the country areas of dioceses continued down to comparatively modern times to be organised round the country churches of the older type (such a church being called a *plebs* or *pieve*), each with a number of dependent chapels. The division into smaller units came later in the cities than in the country. Only in the eleventh century did city area begin to be broken into parises, one of the first being Worms, which in 1016 was divided up into four parishes by the great bishop and canonist, Burchard of Worms. Up till then cities were still organised as one unit as in Roman and Merovingian times; the pastoral work being carried on from the cathedral, assisted by other churches, usually collegiate, none of them responsible for a particular area in the city. With the movement for the establishment of the parochial system in the years between Charlemagne and Urban II, first on the continent, then in England, this paper is concerned….

At the time of the Council of Mainz (847) it has been caculated that in what now very roughly corresponds to the Federal Republic of Western Germany there were some three thousand five hundred churches.

This spectacular increase in the number of country churches witnessed to the christianisation of barbarian society. But it was encouraged by those sections of Charlemagne’s legislation, which emphasised the importance of every Christian having frequent opportunities for worship and for instruction in Christian conduct. A church and priest in every village was a necessity if the emperor’s ideal was to be realised….

“The building of churches was assisted by a new form of property which the church acquired in the eighth century, namely tithe. The idea of tithe was not new. Previous to the eighth century the faithful had frequently been exhorted to give a tenth of their income to the Church. But it was a voluntary gift and could be made to any church they chose. In a circular letter to the bishops in 765, Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne, made the payment of tithe obligatory throughout his dominions…. Every person had to pay a tenth of the produce of his land or of his profits in trade or commerce, at first it would seem to the bishop of the diocese. But very soon the payment was transferred to the church where the person heard mass and his children were baptised.”

with “frequent opportunities for worship and for instruction in Christian conduct,” the franks (carolingians) of the 800s could’ve been — were probably — very well-informed on the church’s policies on incest. enforcement by the church authorities may also have increased, although a church wedding was still not mandatory at this point in time (not until the 1200s, in fact).

btw, i can’t actually take any credit for discovering this info. it was more that i stumbled upon it. =P here i need to thank the derb for indirectly helping me out — he’s always recommending The Great Courses audio lecture series, and, following his recommendations, the d.h. and i have been listening to some of them. it was in the Early Middle Ages series that i learned about the establishment of parishes by pepin. so, thanks john! (^_^) (they ARE really good series, btw!)

previously: mating patterns of the medieval franks

(note: comments do not require an email. pepin le bref.)


when it comes to clan-based societies vs. nation-states and all that, the reigning paradigm is that peoples resort to relying on their extended families/clans/tribes for all sorts of things like justice and economic support in the absence of a (strong?) state, but if they somehow miraculously acquire a state, people quickly drop the connections with their extended families. this to me seems completely upside-down-and-backwards.

never mind, for instance, that there have been strong states in the middle east since…*ahem*…the days of hammurabi if not before, and yet for some reason middle easterners are amongst the most clannish peoples on the planet (see: syria) — and i mean clannish as in actually relying on their clans in their daily lives. and never mind that the chinese — especially the southern chinese — still organize themselves along clan lines, too, with their clan clubhouses and everything — even though they’ve had really strong and powerful states for millennia as well.

see? upside-down-and-backwards.

what appears to be the case, rather, is that, for whatever (*cough*genetic*cough*) reasons, people stop relying on their extended families/clans when they stop being very closely related to those family members, i.e. after a long period of outbreeding (avoiding cousin or other forms of close marriage). i’ve already shown in a previous post that the importance of the clan/kindred in anglo-saxon england was waning in the early 900s (in southern england anyway), before england was unified, so before there was a nice, cozy state for people to fall back on. the same appears to be true of the medieval french (at least some of them — there are regional differences, as there are in britain).

but i’m getting ahead of myself. first things first: picking up where we left off at the end of the last post on medieval france — mating patterns of the medieval franks. let’s look at the importance of the kindred and feuding amongst the franks. then i’ll get to how and when the franks/french dropped all the kindred and feuding business.

for those of you who don’t want to wade through all the details, tl;dr summary at the bottom of the post (click here). you’re welcome! (^_^)

as we saw in the previous post, the franks — and really i mean the salian franks who gave rise to the merovingian dynasty in austrasia — like all the other pre-christian germanic groups (and the pre-christian irish and britons and scots, too) married their cousins. who knows how much, but enough that the various christian missionaries to these groups raised loud and very vocal objections to their marriage practices.

the result, imho, is that frankish society — like early medieval anglo-saxon society — was “clan”- or kindred-based. from The Laws of the Salian Franks (1991) [pgs. 39-41]:

“The Frankish family was the small family usually found among the other Germanic barbarians: it consisted of husband, wife, minor sons, unmarried daughters, and other dependents including half-free dependents (*lidi*) and slaves. However, although the basic family group was the same for the Franks as for most other Germanic barbarians who settled within the territory of the Roman Empire, the Franks relied more heavily on the larger kin group than did the Burgundians, Visigoths, or Lombards (it is difficult to know about the Anglo-Saxons, for the early Anglo-Saxon laws are uninformative on this subject)….

that last bit is debatable, but anyway…

“The kin group was important because the individual alone, or even with his immediate family, was in a precarious position in Frankish society. One needed the support of a wider kin to help him bring offenders against his peace before the courts, and one needed kin to help provide the oathhelpers that a man might be required to present in order to make his case or to establish his own innocence before the court. These roles of the kin are familiar to all the Germans. But the Frankish kin group had further responsibilities and privileges. For example, if a man were killed, his own children collected only half of the composition due, the remaining half being equally divided between those members of his kin group who came from his father’s side and those who came from his mother’s side (LXII, i)….

“The right of the kin group to share in the receipt of composition involved also the responsibility for helping members of the group to pay composition. If a man by himself did not have sufficient property to pay the entire composition assessed against him, he could seek help from his closest kin, father and mother first, then brothers and sisters. If sufficient help was still not forthcoming, more distant members of the maternal and paternal kin (up to the sixth degree, i.e., second cousins [XLIV, 11-12]), could be asked to help. This responsibility of the kin to aid their kinsmen is known in Frankish law as *chrenecruda* (LVIII)….

“The importance of the kin group should thus be obvious, and added importance derived from the fact that one shared in the inheritance of one’s kin up to the sixth degree should closer heirs be lacking. Normally the advantages and disadvantages of belonging to a kin groups (legally related in an association known as parentela) evened themselves out, and the security of association plus the opportunity to inherit well justified the potential liability of the kin. However, on occasion the liabilities overshadowed the advantages. The debts of an uncontrollable relative might endanger a man’s property, or movement away from the area in which the kin group lived might have made the operation of parentela awkward if not impossible. So the law provided the means whereby a man could remove himself from his kin’s parentela, thereby avoiding responsibility for his kin — but in return he forfeited his position in the line of inheritance of that kin group (LX).”

and then there was the feuding as well. from Language and History in the Early Germanic World (2000) [pgs. 50-51]:

“The other form of protection provided by the kindred concerns blood-vengeance and the prosecution of a feud, for these act as a disincentive to violence and therefore offer protection in advance. It is not enough to define a feud as a state of hostility between kindreds; we must extend it to the threat of such hostility, but also, if the mere threat fails to prevent the outbreak of actual hostility, to a settlement on terms acceptable to both parties by means of an established procedure. In other words, the feud is a means of settling disputes between kindreds through violence or negotiation or both….

Central to feuding is the idea of vengeance, the willingness of all members of a kindred to defend one of their number and to obtain redress for him…. If a conflict nonetheless broke out it was waged not between individuals, but collectively between kindreds, as is best revealed by the way in which satisfaction could be obtained by vengeance on any member of the culprit’s kindred, not necessarily on the perpetrator himself. An offence to one was therefore an offence to all, as is most pithily expressed by Gregory of Tours in the case of a feud involving a woman with the words: *ad ulciscendam humilitatem generis sui*. In this case the kindred exacts vengeance from one of its members who is felt to have disgraced it; a refusal to act thus would have brought even greater shame up the kindred. An example like this shows, even in the language used, just what difficulties the Church had to face in dealing with such a mentality, for the word *humilitas*, in Germanic eyes the ‘humiliation’ or ‘shame’ done to the kindred, was for the Christian the virtue of humility. This virtue, including even a readiness to forgive an insult, was the undoing of Sigbert of Essex who, so Bede reports, was killed by his kinsmen who complained that he had been too ready to forgive his enemies and had thereby brought dishonour on his kindred. Such forgiveness and willingness to abandon the duty of feuding dealt a shocking blow to the kindred as a central support of Germanic society.”

the gauls also practiced feuding, so their society was probably clan- or kindred-based, too. from Medieval French Literature and Law (1977) [pg. 67]:

“[The vendetta’s] sole justification was a prior injury or offense. Sanctioned in Roman Gaul in cases of murder, rape, adultery, or theft, the blood vengeance implied a solidarity of family lineage….”

today the french are (mostly) not a clannish, feuding, kindred-based society — especially compared to, say, the arabs. what happened? when did they quit being clannish?

the kindred-based blood feud was still common during the carolingian empire (800-888) despite efforts of the authorities (the state!) to put a stop to it. from The Carolingian Empire (1978, orig. pub. 1957) [pg. 138 and 168-169]:

“It was in vain that orders were given for all who refused to abandon private feuds and to settle their quarrels in a court of law to be sent to the king’s palace, where they might expect to be punished by banishment to another part of the kingdom. Not even the general oath of fealty imposed by Charles contained a general prohibition of feuds. Instead the government contented itself with prohibiting the carrying of arms ‘within the fatherland’, and with setting up courts of arbitration with the possibility of appeal to the tribunal of the palace. But as far as the prohibition of carrying arms was concerned, not even the clergy were inclined to obey it. The lesser vassals who were themselves hardly in a position to conduct a feud, could always induce their lords to interfere in their quarrels by invoking their right to protection…. But not even the most primitive form of private warfare, the blood feud, actually died out. On the contrary, it appears to have flourished especially among the lesser nobility and the stewards of large domains….

“Just as a lord could force a serf against his will to become a secular priest, so also he could force him to take the tonsure of a monk….

“It certainly suited the secular authorities to rid themselves in this way of opponents or of those involved in a blood feud. In the case of a man involved in a blood feud, however, there was always the danger that the family of the victim would turn their ancient right of revenge against the whole convent.”

and then the carolingian empire broke apart, and all h*ll broke loose (until the capetians gained control of the area we now know as france, and even then it took some time for the kingdom of france to be fully consolidated). various authorities — the church and different barons, etc. — did try to bring peace to the land, but it really didn’t work for very long, if at all. from the wikipedia page on the peace and truce of god:

The Peace and Truce of God was a medieval European movement of the Catholic Church that applied spiritual sanctions to limit the violence of private war in feudal society. The movement constituted the first organized attempt to control civil society in medieval Europe through non-violent means. It began with very limited provisions in 989 AD and survived in some form until the thirteenth century.”

interestingly, the peace and truce of god movement began in southern france, not in the north where The Outbreeding Project had began earliest. perhaps those populations in southern france experienced more feuding in the late-900s than in the north? i don’t know. don’t have any direct proof (yet). in Medieval French Literature and Law (1977) we learn that everyone — the church, the lords of manors, the kings — tried EVERYthing they could think of over the next three to four hundred years to stop the feuding, with, as we shall see, very limited success [pgs. 108-113 and 116 – long quote here]:

Direct opposition to the blood feud began to make itself felt in southern France toward the end of the century. Combining ideology with expediency, the horror of blood with a desire for clerical immunity from attack, the Council of Charroux (989) ratified a special treaty of protection. Under God’s Peace, or the *paix de Dieu*, acts of violence against church property, laborers, peasants, their livestock, and clerics were forbidden under pain of official sanction. The Peace of Charroux took the form of voluntary submission rather than true prohibition and was sponsored by local prelates with the cooperation of the local nobility. It must have been at least partially successful, for similar accords were adopted by the Council of Narbonne in 990 and that of Anse in 994. An agreement concluded at the Synod of Puy (990) extended the protection of God’s Peace to merchants, mills, vineyards, and men on their way to or home from church. Pacts of ‘justice and peace’ were signed in 997 by the Bishops of Limoges, the Abbot of Saint-Martial, and the Bishop and Duke of Acuitaine. It was decided at the Council of Poitiers in 1000 that all infractions pertaining to *res invasae* would henceforth be settled by trial rather than war.

Monarchy favored the ecclesiastical peace movement. It appears likely, even, that Robert the Pious attempted to promulgate a declared peace at Orleans in 1010, although he remained unable to enforce it. By the third decade of the eleventh century the spirit of the southern pacts had spread to Burgundy and the North. At the Council of Verdun-le-Doubs (1016) the lay aristocracy of the region promised, in the presence of the archbishops of Lyon and Besancon: (1) not to violate the peace of sanctuaries; (2) not to enter forcefully the *atrium* of any church except to apprehend violaters of the peace; (3) not to attack unarmed clerics, monks, or their men; (4) not to appropriate their goods except to compensate for legitimate wrong inflicted. The Council of Soissons adopted an identical formula in 1023, as did the Councils of Anse in 1025, Poitiers in 1026, Charroux in 1028, and Limoges in 1031. Elsewhere, the bishops elicited individual promises of nonviolence from members of a particular diocese. At the request of the Abbot of Cluny and in the presence of the archbishop and the high clergy of the region of Macon, numerous Burgundian nobles swore in 1153 to refrain from attacking church property, to resist those who did, and to besiege the castles to which they withdrew if necessary.

A variation of the *paix de Dieu* was concluded by the bishops of Soissons and Beauvais. The *pactum sive treuga*, or *treve de Dieu*, forbade violence not according to the object of attack, but according to its time, season or day. Wars of vengeance were initially prohibited during the seasons of Easter, Toussaint, and Ascension. In addition to their oath governing sacred property and clerics, the subscribers of the Council of Verdun-le-Doubs swore: (1) not to participate during certain periods of the year in any military expedition other than that of the king, local prelate, or count; (2) to abstain for the duration of authorized wars from pillaging and violating the peace of churches; (3) not to attack unarmed knights during Lent. The Council of Toulouse added certain saints’ feast days to the list of proscribed dates; the bishops of Vienne and Besancon included Christmas and the Lenten season. Caronlingian interdiction of the blood feud on Sundays was revived by the Synod of Roussillon in 1027. From Sunday it was gradually extended to include almost the entire week: first from Friday at vespers to Monday morning and then from Wednesday sundown to Monday….

The seigneurial peace movement in the large northern feudatory states, themselves large enough to be governed as small kingdoms, prefigured any sustained monarchic attempt to control private war. An accord ratified in Flanders at the Council of Therouanne (1042-3) regulated the right of the Flemish aristocracy to bear arms; the count alone could make war during periods of prescribed abstinence. Angevine Normandy, inspired by the Flemish example, was sufficiently advanced administratively and judiciallys to serve as a model for Philippe-Auguste after royal annexation of the duchy in the early thirteenth century. The *treve de Dieu* signed in Caen in 1047 had validated the principle of ducal regulation of private campaigns. According to an inquest conducted in 1091 by Robert Curthose and William Rufus, William I had enacted, as early as 1075, a *paix de Duc* limiting blood feuds and placing numerous restrictions upon the conduct of any but his own expeditions. The *Donsuetudines et Iusticie* of the Conqueror prohibited seeking one’s enemy with hauberk, standard, and sounding horn; it forbade the taking of captive and the expropriation of arms, horses, or property in the course of a feud. Burning, plunder, and wasting of fields were forbidden in disputes involving the right of seisin. Assault and ambush were outlawed in the duke’s forest; and, except for the capture of an offender in *flagrante delicto*, no one was to be condemned to loss of life or limb without due process in a ducal court. William’s law thus reflects a double current in the control of wars of vendetta. On the one hand, it limits the methods of private campaigns without prohibiting them altogether. On the other, it reserves jurisdiction over certain cases of serious infraction for the duke’s own court, thus bypassing the local seigneurial judge who would ordinarily have enjoyed exclusive cognizance over the crimes committed within his fief….

Although unable to control the *faida* [blood feud – h.chick] with any certainty until well into the thirteenth century, the Crown did support a number of measures restricting the right to war. According to Beaumanoir, only noblemen can legally settle a dispute through recourse to arms; a conflict between a nobleman and a bourgeois or a peasant was to be resolved in public court. Brothers and even stepbrothers were prohibited from fighting each other. Furthermore, the Bailiff of Clermont carefully defines the limits of family obligation in pursuit of blood feuds. Duty to one’s kin-group had formerly extended to the seventh degree. Beaunamoir maintains that since the Church had set impediments to marriage only at the fourth degree, kinsmen of more remote paternity were not obliged to come to the aid of distant relatives. Thus, while the collective responsibility of the feudal *comitatus* had not been eliminated entirely, it was curtailed somewhat.

“The rules pertaining to initiation and cessation of hostilities were a crucial factor in the limitation of vendetta. As Beaumanoir specifies, fighting may begin either by face-to-fact challenge or by messenger. In both cases the declaration must be made clearly and openly; war without public defiance is the equivalent of murder without warning, or treason…:

“‘He who wishes to initiate war against another by declaration, must not do so ambiguously or covertly, but so clearly and so openly that he to whom the declaration is spoken or sent may know that he should be on his guard; and he who proceeds otherwise, commits treason.’ (Beaumanoir 2: 1675: 358).

“Once war had been declared, the parties had to wait forty days before actually coming to blows in order to alert those not present at the original declaration. This waiting period or *quarantaine le roi*, which was attributed to Philippe-Auguste and renewed by Saint Louis, again emphasizes the distinction between open and secretive homicide; it broadens the criminal concept to cover the domain of general warfare. Surprise attack upon an enemy clan prior to the end of the forty day injunction constituted an act of treason as opposed to legitimate vengeance….”

The persistence of wars of vengeance following the Saint-King’s death is apparent in the large number of *treves* concluded in the Parlement of Paris during the reign of Philip the Bold [1363-1404]. Despite the attempt to continue his father’s policy of suppression, Philip remained more capable of terminating conflicts already under way than preventing the outbreak of new wars. Philip the Fair experienced even greater difficulty in controlling the resurgence of independent military ventures among his vassals….”

so despite ALL of those efforts from the authorities in medieval france over the course of three or four hundred years, kindred-based blood feuds continued in france until the 1200-1300s. meanwhile, in southern england (but NOT in northern england, wales, or the highlands of scotland), feuding seems to have died a natural death by the 1100s. it would be interesting to know if there were regional differences in the timing of the cessation of feuding in france (like in britain) — my bet is yes, but i don’t have any info on that one way or the other. i will certainly be keeping an eye out for it.

there are some hints, though, that the kindred was, in fact, becoming less important in medieval france before the 1200-1300s.

the first was the increasing significance of the paternal lineage (la lignée) at the (both literal and figurative) expense of the extended family. the nuclear family became more important, and parents (fathers) began to bequeath their wealth and property to their sons (and daughters) — mainly to the eldest son, of course — rather than also to their own brothers and cousins and second cousins thrice removed (you get the idea). as i wrote about in a previous post, this process of the shrinking and verticalization of the french family began around ca. 1000. most of the historical data we have on this process comes from the northern/austrasia region of the franks — where The Outbreeding Project began — but that doesn’t rule out that it wasn’t also happening elsewhere in france. again, i’ll have to keep my eye out for more info.

another indicator of the decreasing importance of the kindred in medieval french society, imho, is the rise of the communes (liberté! egalité! fraternité! (~_^) ). (yes, i know there were communes in northern italy, too. i’ll come back to those at a later date.) the later communes in medieval france — in the 1100-1200s — tended to be officially established entities given charters by the king or some regional lord, but the earliest ones from the late 1000s were really movements — associations“of the people” — of individuals (and maybe their immediate families), NOT of whole kindreds or clans or tribes. from Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (1995) [pgs. 464-465]:

Communes were sworn associations of rural or urban dwellers designed to provide collective protection from seigneurial authority. The earliest development of self-governing cities occurred in the later 11th century between the Loire and the Rhineland, as well as in northern Italy…. The urban territory became officially a ‘peace zone.’ Responsibility for enforcing order and judging violators fell to the commune, as did collection of taxes and the payment of dues to the king or local lord. These urban franchises were available to all residents, including those who, fleeing servitude in the countryside, remained for a year and a day….

Communes engaged all inhabitants in a communal oath, thus substituting a horizontal and egalitarian form of association for the more traditional ones of the aristocracy. Within the commune, each member was subservient to the other as a brother. On the ideological level, the notion of ‘peace’ played so fundamental a role that in some charters *pax* and *communa* are synonymous terms….

“Communes continued to form through the 12th and early 13th centuries, and in the reign of Louis IX there were over thirty-five of them in the regions directly north of Paris. They gradually became more established, with a hierarchy of guilds structuring relationships between segments of the population, often concentrating authority in the hands of a clique of ruling families. Communes began to decline after the 13th century, with European economic growth generally….”

the citizens of communes tried their hand at stopping blood feuds, too. most of the commune citizens themselves dealt with disputes with others NOT via the feud and with the help of other family members, but as independent individuals via civil means. however, the commune members might wind up suffering collateral damage if feuds raged nearby, so they tried to put a stop to them. from Medieval French Literature and Law (1977) [pg. 110]:

Municipal opposition to private war accompanied the communal movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Though theoretically excluded from participating in the blood feud and protected by local peace pacts, the merchants living in northern and eastern France were nonetheless subject to the ravages of vendetta. An abundance of evidence indicates a willingness on the part of some municipal residents to settle their differences independently of civil procedure. Most, however, sought more regular means of settlement. When it came to handling arms, the merchant, like the cleric, found himself at a distinct disadvantage. The commune was, in essence, a peace league, a specially designated civil space whose inhabitants were guaranteed the right to trial without combat. Among the founding principles of the municipality of LeMans (1070) were the repression of vendettas among the members of the urban ‘friendship’ and mutual protection against external attack. The charter of Laon (1128) was entitled to *institutio pacis*; that of Tornai, *forma pacis et compositionis*. The pact of Verdun-le-Doubs was, in effect, an earlier version of the twelfth-century *convenance de la paix*, a protective agreement organized by artisan and trade guilds. In 1182 a carpenter from Le Puy founded a brotherhood of merchants and manufacturers devoted to the suppression of violence. Not only were feuds prohibited within the group, but when a murder did occur, the family of the victim was expected to seek reconciliation with the guilty party by inviting him to its house. The peace league of Le Puy had spread throughout Languedoc, Auxerre, and Berry before seigneurial uneasiness with institutional restraints upon the right to private war led to its own suppression. In spite of constant and often violent opposition, similar *confreries de paix* appeared in Champagne, Burgundy, and Picardie under Philip the Fair and his sons.”

the communes of the 1000-1100s, then, are free associations of independent individuals, usually minus their extended families/kindreds, but plus lots of civic behavioral patterns like the presence of the right to a trial in a court of law rather than the vendettas and feuds of a clan-based society. that’s a big change. wrt timing, the french communes — as free associations of independent individuals in place of kindreds — appear right around the same time as the gegildan in southern england (900s), the gegildan being another type of association of independent individuals replacing the earlier kindreds. again, i’d love to know if there were any regional differences in where these communes were located (apart from between the loire and rhine) — more in the north? more in the south? i shall endeavor to find out.


to sum up, then — the pre-christian franks, like all the other pre-christian germanics, were a cousin-marrying, kindred-based population in which the extended-family was extremely important (on top of the nuclear family) and in which blood feuds between kindreds regularly occurred. a frankish individual’s identity was all bound up with that of his kindred — frankish society was not comprised of independently acting individuals. feuding also took place amongst the romano-gauls, so they were likely clannish, too.

the roman catholic church banned cousin marriage in 506, but it’s likely that the franks didn’t take this seriously until after the mid-700s (although the particularly devout may have), at which point they really did (see previous post).

beginning in the 1000s, there are indications — the rise of lineages and the appearance of communes — that the french kindreds were starting to break apart. however, feuding continued in france into the 1200-1300s, so clannishness did not disappear in france overnight.

all of this can be compared to the southern english whose kindreds began to drift apart in the 900s and where feuding seems to have disappeared by the 1100s. remember that the law of wihtred in kent outlawed cousin marriage sixty years (two generations) before the franks did. also keep in mind that there may be regional differences in france (as in britain) that might be obscuring an earlier disappearance of kindreds/clannishness in “core” france. or maybe not. we shall see.

whew! that is all. (^_^)

previously: whatever happened to european tribes? and kinship, the state, and violence and mating patterns of the medieval franks and la lignée and the auvergnat pashtuns and the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society

(note: comments do not require an email. vive la commune!)

back in the saddle again! (it chafes a little….)

this post will be about the mating patterns of the medieval franks meaning the merovingian franks (no, not THAT guy!) and the carolingian franks, but mostly the merovingians. so we’re talking from between ca. 450 a.d. to ca. 800 a.d. (charlemagne died in 814), but i’ve got a little info from later in the period, too.

tl;dr at the end of the post. (^_^)

to refresh everybody’s memory, the heartland of the franks was austrasia which today is roughly part of ne france, belgium, part of the netherlands, luxembourg, and part of nw germany [map source]:


the franks conquered most of the rest of france and large parts of western germany and even northern italy over the course of the early medieval period, but austrasia and neustria (immediately to the west) remained the franks’ stronghold and the region over which they exercised the greatest influence and control.

so…what were their mating patterns like?

first and second cousin marriages were banned by the roman catholic church at the council of agde in 506 a.d. frankish church leaders appear to have adopted and pushed for the bans almost immediately, but the secular laws issued by the frankish kings in the 500s — the pactus legis salicae — did not ban cousin marriage. from The Laws of the Salian Franks (1991) [pgs. 41-42]:

“The Frankish laws contain little direct information about the institution of marriage. A legal marriage could be contracted between an adult freeman and an adult free woman (the laws do not set a minimum age), subject to the consent of their relatives and provided the two parties were not related within the prohibited bonds of relationship. The Frankish laws specifically prohibit marriage between an uncle and niece or grandniece (and so by implication between an aunt and nephew and grandnephew), or marriage with the former wife of a brother or of a mother’s brother (and by implication marriage with the former husband of a sister or with the former husband of a mother’s sister) (XIII, ii). Note here that the mother’s brothers and sisters were evidently held to be more closely related than the father’s brothers and sisters since it is marriage with the former spouse of mother’s brother or sister that is prohibited, not that of father’s brother or sister. Admittedly the church councils of Merovingian Gaul interpreted consangunity more broadly than here defined, but these added restrictions were not enforced in the civil courts, just as among the Franks neither Christian non-dissolubility of marriage nor monogamy was enforced in the courts. A late law issued by King Childebert in 594 provided death for the man who married his father’s wife (one of the very few instances for the death penalty in the code). In the case of marriages that had already taken place and now were designated incestuous (e.g., marriage with the wife of brother, or sister of wife, or wife of uncle), they were to be corrected by proclamation of the bishop. If this was ignored, the parties were to be excommunicated and their property passed to their relatives (Cap. VI, I, 2).

“As in the case of the other Germans, the offspring of a Frankish illegal marriage was illegitimate and could not inherit (XIII, ii). There are no provisions for the offspring of unions not recognized as marriage.”

so it was not illegal for people in francia to marry their cousins for most of the 500s. at this point in time, it’s not clear if the church could’ve enforced its cousin marriage ban. however, there is evidence to suggest that by the merovingian period, at least some marriages took place in a church and were consecrated by a priest. if so, church officials (priests, bishops) would definitely have had the opportunity to check for any relatedness between the bride and groom. from Culture and Religion in Merovingian Gaul: A.D. 481-751 (1995) [pg. 133]:

The picture which emerges from the sources is, then, of an episcopal benediction in the church, at the altar, as part of the marriage rite. Furthermore, there is enough evidence to support the assumption that this benediction was given during and as part of a special nuptial mass.”

and pgs. 136-137:

Matrimonial mass was, then, known and practised in Merovingian Gaul, although one cannot tell how often and under what circumstances. It could, after all, be a question of social status or relations with the bishop and his entourage. Since there is no evidence for a secular matrimonial ceremony, it seems more than probably that a religious one was held, about which we hear from the sources. Whether it was just an episcopal benediction or a full matrimonial mass is unknown. In light of the evidence I have already discussed, it seems to me more likely that a full mass was celebrated. More evidence, however, is needed to establish this with greater certainty….

Scholars are all agreed upon the fact that Christian marriage with a full celebration of a mass was practised during the Carolingian period. Nevertheless, the evidence from Merovingian Gaul suggests that Carolingian practices and reforms were deeply rooted in Merovingian developments. It is true that during the Carolingian age the christianisation of marriage reached a certain degree of completion. Yet, the Carolingians did not invent their rite *ex nihilo*, nor did they import it from Rome. They simply continued an already existing Merovingian practice, which they further developed and adapted to suit their needs and reforms.”

so, by the 600-800s, frankish marriages were most likely held in a church and, therefore, the clerics would’ve had a chance to enforce the church’s cousin marriage bans. this may also have been the case earlier in the 500s as well, but the situation is not as clear. in 755 at the council of verneuil, pepin the short declared that “all laymen should marry with public nuptials” [pg. 407].

however, st. boniface (boo!) was freaked out by the franks’ marriage habits — in particular what he viewed as their incestuous practices as well as their habit of committing adultery — and he lived between ca. 675 and 754, so it sounds as though the franks may still have, in actuality, been regularly marrying close cousins into the early 700s. from Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900 (1981) [pgs. 75-76]:

“The marital customs he [st. boniface] observed among the Germanic tribes in general and among the Franks in particular troubled Boniface deeply. He sought advice from popes on the definition of adultery and incest. Gregory II answered him with a series of prescriptions on incest, and Pope Zachary sent Pepin excerpts from the *Dionysiana* on impediements to marriage. The church’s concept of incest was so broad, extending the prohibitions to the seventh degree of consanguinity, as well as to relationships by affinity and spiritual kinship, that it considerably restricted the capacity of aristocratic families to form extended alliances through marriage. Introduced into the Frankish councils by Boniface, the prescrptions were included by Pepin the Younger in the capitularies. As a further measure for exercising control over marriages, the national synod of Verneuil, over which Pepin presided, declared that ‘all men of the laity, whether noble or not, must marry publicly.’

“In an effort to eradicate all forms of incest, Boniface also concerned himself with extramarital fornication between relatives. Sexual intercourse before or after marriage with a relative of the spouse was held to constitute a bond of affinity similar to that arising from betrothal, marriage, baptism, or confirmation. Disregard for these bonds of affinity or for consanguinity, even in the case of casual intercourse, was considered a serious offense and disqualified the transgressors from marriage for the rest of their lives. Their punishment was lifelong penance, to which Charlegmange added confiscation of their property.”

not sure which capitulary this was in which pepin the younger (aka pepin the short) banned cousin marriage for the franks. if it was a capitula ecclesiastica, then all christians in the kingdom would’ve been obliged to follow the church’s cousin marriage bans. this would’ve been issued sometime between a.d. 752 and 768.

from “An Unsolved Riddle: Early Medieval Incest Legislation” in Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective (1998), a collection of papers from an “historical archaeoethnological” conference [pgs. 109-110]:

In the course of the eighth century the Frankish campaign against incest gained momentum, aided by papal decrees and letters which began to circulate in the North (De Jong 1989:38-41). When it came to blood relations papal guidelines were more radical than Frankish episcopal and royal decrees, but in other respects — such as spiritual kinship — Rome and the Frankish leadership saw eye to eye right from the beginning. Letters sent from Rome to Boniface reveal an increasingly rigid papal position. Gregory II forbade all unions between blood relations and affinal kin (‘*quamdiu se agnoscunt affinitate propinquos*’), but permitted the recently converted a marriage ‘*post quartam generationem*’; his successor Gregory III withdrew any such privilege, assuring Boniface that marriage within the seventh *generatio* was out of the question….

“In practice…it did not make any difference whether one forbade marriage ‘until the seventh *generatio*’ (Gregory III), or proclaimed an unspecified ban on all kinswomen and affines (Gregory II). Both meant the same: marriage and kindred did not go together. Pope Zachary expressed this clearly in 743, stating that no Christians were permitted to marry if they were in any way related to each other (Werminghoff 1904:19-21). Avoidance of kin-marriage had become one of the defining criteria of Christianity….

by the 800s [pg. 120]:

By the ninth century, a marriage in the third *generatio* [i.e. second cousins – h.chick] had become scandalous, but the fourth generation remained a viable option, along with a whole range of more distant kin (Le Jan 1995:316-17). This pattern persisted well into the tenth and eleventh centuries.

and by the late 800s-900s [pg. 113]:

Occasionally, one catches a glimpse of clerics acting like something of a vice-squad, tracking down incestuous unions while traversing their diocese (De Jong 1989:52-3).

Bishops seem to have taken the campaign against incest seriously. Salomo III of Konstanz [d.919 – h.chick] wrote an enraged letter to his colleague Liutbert of Mainz, complaining that ‘people of good standing’ had told him that marriages in the fourth and fifth *generatio* were publicly celebrated in his (Salomo’s) diocese; some judicial probing had proved the accusation to be true. Salomo, insisting that fourth-generation unions should be broken up, viewed such practices as a direct onslaught on episcopal authority (Zeumer 1886:416). The significance of this letter is twofold. First, a bishop who kept a ‘clean’ diocese took good care to identify incestuous partners, especially when such unions had been publicaly celebrated. Second, there was no lack of ‘honest and God-fearing people’ willing to report on their neighbours, being quite able to identify illegitimate marriages when it suited them. Apparently the public scandal of incest could shake whole communities — which suggests that abhorrence of this crime was not merely a matter of the clergy and some pious aristocrats.

at the end of this article, there is a transcript of the round table discussion which took place after this paper was presented at the conference. i enjoyed this part [pg. 128 – link added by me]:

“DE JONG: The West seems to be the great exception, as appears from ‘Epouser au plus proche’ edited by Pierre Bonte, in which Guerreau-Jalabert’s article discusses preferred marriage with very distant kin (1984)….

“AUSENDA: The conclusion is that the West…

“DE JONG: …is an exception, the medieval West.”

there is also evidence from the ecclesiastical records that, by the 800s, questions surrounding consangunity issues in specific cases were related to more distant relatives than in earlier periods, so the cousin marriage bans were actually working. from Morality and Masculinity in the Carolingian Empire (2012) [pg. 267]:

In contrast to these cases [in the merovingian period], which concern relatively close relationships…most ninth-century cases we know of involve more distant relationships. Count Stephen enquired whether he could legitimately marry his fiancee, since he had a fourth-degree connection with her from a previous affair with her relative. Hincmar, excommunicating Fulcherus and Hardoisa, quoted prohibitions from Gregory II on marriage to one’s first cousin (*consobrina*) or to any relative or wife of a relative. Solomon II of Constance separated a couple related in the fourth and fifth degree, while in the early 860s Nicholas I confirmed the condemnation by an east Frankish synod of the noble Abbo for marrying a wife related to him in the fourth degree. There are also several references to cases involving spiritual kinship. The Council of Mainz in 888 anathematised Altmann for marrying his ‘spiritual co-mother’, while a letter of Pope John VIII discusses how Bishop Anselm of Limoges had demanded that a man separate from his wife, because he had performed the emergency baptism of his own son.

Combining this positive evidence of new incest restrictions being applied with the negative evidence for noble marriages to close kin, at least in the Frankish heartlands, suggests that while Carolingian incest provisions may not have removed endogamous marriage entirely, they did discourage its more blatant forms.

and wrt the 900s-100s, from Those of My Blood: Creating Noble Families in Medieval Francia (2011) [pgs. 43-44]:

“There is indeed evidence that many nobles were acutely sensitive to the question of incest when arranging a marriage. Faced with a choice between defying the church’s position and finding spouses to whom they were not related, the nobles of the tenth and eleventh centuries generally took the latter course. Blatantly consanguineous marriages rarely took place between about 900 and 1100, even when there were apparently strong inducements to arrange such matches. Rather than practicing endogamy, the nobles of this period almost never married anyone related more closely than a fourth or fifth cousin — that is, someone related within five or six degrees — and here it may be argued that they were simply unaware of their relationship. First-cousin marriages were unknown, and the few second- and third-cousin marriages usually ended in divorce when the couples involved could no longer tolerate the general opprobrium….”

and there are indications that this was also true of the lower classes, already by charlemagne’s day (ca. early 800s) — from Daily Life in the Age of Charlemagne (2002) [pg. 58]:

[T]here is evidence that the Carolingian family in peasant settings married not only outside the kinship group, but outside the immediately marriageable estate group. There was some movement of males from one estate to another, and the evidence suggests that frequently the newcomers had better luck marrying, while some of the marriageable males in their own estate remained unmarried.”


the church banned first and second cousin marriage in europe in 506 a.d., and frankish clerics seem to have wanted to enforce those bans right away, but they may not have been able to. in probably the 750s, the frankish king banned cousin marriage in the kingdom and demanded that marriage ceremonies be carried out in public, most likely in a church. by the 800s, second cousin marriages amongst the franks were considered “scandalous.” bishops actively enforced the bans in their dioceses and neighbors willingly squealed on their cousin-marrying neighbors to the bishops. by the 800s-1000s, there is good evidence that both the frankish aristocracy and the lower classes avoided close cousin marriage. (the frankish aristocracy began to ignore the cousin marriage bans in later centuries.)

across the channel, the law of wihtred from 690 — a secular law — also banned close cousin marriages for the people of the kentish kingdom. (there were close ties between the frankish and kentish kingdoms, btw — marriages happened between the two royal houses, etc.) this is slightly earlier — by about 60 years — than the frankish secular decree against cousin marriage, but they are nearly contemporary, imho.

these areas — austrasia and southeastern england — represent the center of “The Outbreeding Project” in europe which began in the early medieval period. these are the populations — along with possibly the danes and the northern italians? (i’ll let you know as soon as i know!) — that began avoiding close cousin marriage the earliest and have continued the practice for the longest — ca. 1200-1300 years or ca. 48-52 generations (counting generations conservatively as 25 years in length). these are my “core europeans” who, i promise you, i will talk about some more here on the blog.


previously: what about the franks? and more on medieval england and france

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