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Research Project | Department I/II

Kingship in Late and Post-Carolingian Europe

The Kingdom of Burgundy (888-1032)

The Kingdom of Burgundy, which was created in 888 at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune by the House of Welf, persisted for four generations and at least nominally extended for a time to the Mediterranean, differs in several regards from the other post-Carolingian successor kingdoms. Contemporaries in the neighbouring realms were aware of the differences without really understanding them. Thietmar of Merseburg, for instance, wrote that no other king possessed merely the title and the crown, granted bishoprics to whomever the leading men proposed, availed of so little for his own use and lived off the income of the episcopate. Thietmar even ventured that such a king ruled over the Burgundians only so that the madness of the wicked might continue unrestrained and that no other king would appear to pass a new law (nova lex) that would uproot the established customs (consuetudines). Thietmar’s assessment should be taken with a grain of salt, for his notion of kingship is based on Ottonian Germany and, consequently, from a context with very different material and immaterial preconditions than the Kingdom of Burgundy, which informed his criteria for identifying a successful king.

The Kingdom of Burgundy represented a new type of rule initially centred on Lake Geneva and whose size increased through fusion with the Kingdom of Provence. This process made the kingdom very heterogeneous, a kingdom in which different traditions were – and had to be – fused. In other words, it was a kingdom of quite limited geographic dimensions, but that was permeated by the kingship to varying degrees. From this perspective, examining the political and social transformations as well as norms and normative change is very promising indeed.

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