Becoming a Lord in Three Easy Steps

By Fraser McNair

Fraser is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of History. His thesis is entitled ‘The development of territorial principalities between the Loire and the Scheldt, 893-99′.

Social mobility is not new. Any medieval society was filled with as many ambitious people looking to make their way in the world as any modern one. What is more difficult to see, in many cases, is how a wannabe nobleman turned his dreams into reality. This is a particular problem in tenth-century France, after the breakdown of the Frankish empire. Under the ninth-century Frankish kings, one of the most important roads to getting ahead in life was through royal reward – but after the implosion of royal power in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, the kings were no longer in a position to be advancing anyone. So what was an ambitious nobleman to do?

Enter Dodo. Dodo was from a family from the area of Rheims, in north-eastern France. He was the brother of Artald, who was made archbishop of Rheims in 931. This was a turbulent time in the Rheims archbishopric. Artald had been appointed in opposition to the eleven-year-old boy Hugh, son of the local count. This led to a decades-long war, so Archbishop Artald needed allies he could trust.

Giving church property to one’s relatives was an entirely standard practice. A previous archbishop, Hervey, had granted the castle of Châtillon-sur-Marne to his nephew, also called Hervey, who held it after Archbishop Hervey’s death until his own death in battle in 947. Following these practices, Dodo was entrusted with the fortress of Omont.

His hold was not secure, however. In 945, Archbishop Hugh, now grown up, was temporarily restored to the see. Dodo handed Omont over to him, on the condition that Hugh confirmed his possession of his familial land. Hugh’s hold of the see was only temporary, and Artald was put back in place as archbishop soon after. However, Hugh held out in Omont, ravaging the surrounding countryside. Dodo only retook the fortress in 949.

What did Dodo do for Artald? Like most early medieval lay noblemen, he fought. Remember how Hervey of Châtillon-sur-Marne died in battle? That battle was against forces of the church of Rheims attempting to retake Châtillon, and they were led by Dodo. Similarly, Dodo himself led the forces which recaptured Omont after Hugh had holed himself up there after his excommunication in 948.

Possibly the most notable aspect of Dodo’s career is that, unlike Hervey, and in fact unlike most of the local lords reported in chronicles of this time, Dodo had a son, Manasses, who hanged some traitors at Omont in 960, and appears to have held the castle after him. In a sense, Dodo and his son got lucky. Archbishop Artald did not die until 961, and it was presumably through his influence that Manasses was able to hold on to Omont. After Artald’s death, Manasses was well entrenched in local politics. His descendants would go on to be counts of Rethel, and never seem to have faced the opposition which prematurely ended Hervey of Châtillon’s career and life.

How did you become a lord in the tenth century, then? Dodo’s career shows three things. First, have the right connections. One did not have to be at the highest echelons of nobility to take advantage of a well-placed family member. Second, get lucky. If Artald had died before Omont had passed to Manasses, Dodo’s career might have ended up looking a lot more like Hervey’s. Third, be useful. Dodo’s military leadership was important to Artald’s attempts to regain his church’s property. Without these things on your side, you might end up disgraced, ruined or dead. With them, your family could go from local nobles to counts in only a few generations.


Further Reading:

  • Fanning & B.S. Bachrach, The annals of Flodoard of Reims, 919-966, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, vol. 9 (Peterborough, Ontario: 2004)

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