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  • The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas: The West Frankish Kingdom (840–987) by Geoffrey Koziol
  • Stephanie L. Hathaway
Koziol, Geoffrey, The Politics of Memory and Identity in Carolingian Royal Diplomas: The West Frankish Kingdom (840–987) (Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy, 19), Turnhout, Brepols, 2012; hardback; pp. 680; 10 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. €100.00; ISBN 9782503535951.

At a time when scholars are redefining the way historiography treats the Middle Ages, Geoffrey Koziol’s dense volume follows along the traditions of historians such as Janet Nelson and Chris Wickham in addressing some complex questions surrounding the drafting, function, and implications of diplomas in the politics of the Carolingian dynasty. Covering the time from the death of Louis the Pious to the reign of his last descendants, succeeded by Hugh Capet, the time frame of this book spans almost two hundred years during which political power play dominated the policy-making of the West Frankish kingdom. Perhaps in the same way Wickham referred to archaeologists as being able to see more clearly the sharper changes in history, Koziol equates his volume to a ‘semantic excavation’ (p. 3), examining Carolingian royal diplomas as representations of royal presence and ideologies in a political performance – a public memorial of alteration in a political regime and its alliances.

The book is organized in two parts, the first consisting of seven chapters devoted to the ‘performative’ aspects of diplomas in major political events: accessions, successions, conveyances, and alliances during the Carolingian dynasty, and fencing with the issues of forgery and the tenth-century monastic reform. Koziol uses the first chapter to lay down the framework for the views he puts forward throughout the book: the ways that diplomas have been analysed by historians and how he will treat them here as ‘the medium by which past politics were remembered and redeployed for present purposes’ (p. 15). [End Page 252]

That some of his conclusions might seem bold, the author is well aware, and, indeed, he challenges historians at every opening to see charters from a different perspective than has been established. Koziol engages with topics surrounding the study of charters, such as ritual, memory, lineage, and the establishment of legitimacy, as well as touching on Carolingian diplomatics. In the chapter ‘Politics and the Palace’, Koziol challenges the view that the decline in the number of diplomas after the death of Charles the Bald was the result of less writing or a loss in royal authority. More convincing is his argument that the monastic reformers and churches refashioned political diplomas and their public reception, some in order to present physical evidence of previously granted royal titles.

The treatment of forgery follows smoothly from the topic of monastic reform, but might seem precarious within the author’s framework of the Germanic-ness of Carolingian culture: the expression of triuwe and its relation to the medieval idea of truth and fidelity. It remains unclear whether the author is asserting his understanding of German Carolingian scholarship or if he again wishes to forge new perspectives in the treatment of diplomas and politics.

In the second part, consisting of Chapters 8–10 and an elided epilogue, the author attempts to derive an image of individuals and their personalities, applying his theory of ‘performative’ to the lives and reigns of Charles the Simple and Robert of Nuestria. Several discussions surround these figures, including some proposals for how the term ‘simple’ was used to describe Charles and the Judgement of Soissons, and how Robert’s personal intentions and principles might be seen in his attempt to justify his military actions in his only surviving diploma, the vexilla of Saint-Denis. The complex volume is drawn together agreeably with the discussion on Charles’s establishment of relations with the church of Saint-Corneille, the burial of kings at Compiègne, and Hugh Capet’s council of bishops there.

Though the topics covered might seem disparate, the author does well in discussing them under the theme of his theory of royal diplomas as objects of performance in political power play. However, despite the author’s assertion that passing details are important to the understanding of these diplomas...


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pp. 252-254
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