Forum Scientiarum

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

West Frankish Conceptions of Royal and Episcopal Authority in a Post-Imperial Age, 898-1031

A key element of kingship is how it is conceptualised: what room for manoeuvre kings possess, and how people think of and believe in royal authority. During the turbulent century and a half following the deposition of the West Frankish (or French) king Charles the Simple in 923, conceptions of royal authority transformed dramatically, fragmenting and mutating. The kingdom’s episcopate played a key role here: during the ninth century, royal authority was closely connected to the authority of bishops. In this paper, I will examine these changing notions, looking at the end of older ideas about a king’s duties (his so-called ministerium) and the development of new and radical ideas of kingship which would go on to play important roles in European history, from the innovations in saintly rulership associated with reform monasticism, to the rootless conservatism of men such as Bishop Adalbero of Laon, whose convictions about the relative roles to be played by king and bishop can be found even on his coinage – Adalbero really did put his money where his mouth was.

Fraser McNair received his PhD in History from the University of Cambridge in 2016. He was a Fondation Wiener-Anspach postdoctoral fellow at the Université Libre de Bruxelles during the academic year 2016-17, and will go on after Tübingen to be a Leverhulme Trust postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leeds. His article on ‘The Politics of Being Norman in the Reign of Richard the Fearless (942-996)’ won the journal Early Medieval Europe’s prize for best first published article. He is currently an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, with Prof. Steffen Patzold as host. He specialises in the political and cultural history of ninth, tenth and eleventh century western Europe.