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Bad Habit: A Wrongdoing Abbot in Tenth-Century Burgundy

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′.

Once again, a story from a charter: in this case, from the record of the resolution of a dispute over land. In 997, Bruno, bishop of Langres, arrived at the church of Saint-Étienne of Dijon looking, so he claimed, to pray there. What he found, however, was the canons of the church complaining that they had been defrauded of the land which was supposed to support their daily necessities. He investigated the complaints, and found them to be true: one of the men of the church of Langres, Odo, and his sons, had expelled the canons from the property. Bruno admonished them. Did they not know that ‘they weren’t feeding their bodies, they were damning their souls’?

The real joy of this charter, however, is the next bit:

“And then, so that [the canons] might be able to hold [the land] firmly for all time, through the benevolent counsel of lord archdeacon Teudo, abbot of that place, who had unjustly associated himself with the aforesaid knight [the Latin word is miles], whom the aforesaid canons had endeavoured to placate with gifts, and, once he had been placated, to lead along with them before Us to finish this matter.”

Teudo does then come before Bishop Bruno with the canons, and the whole affair is sorted out.

The archdeacon is making out like a bandit. Having in the first place teamed up with Odo and his sons to get the canons’ land from them, he is then paid by the canons to get the land back. He has also apparently got off scot-free, at least in public – note that his counsel is called ‘benevolent’ in the charter.

The interests of people, even within an institution, were not the same. It can be tempting to view ‘Saint-Etienne’ (or any other abbey, or even ‘the Church’ itself) as homogenous. It might seem obvious that this isn’t true, that an abbot might want to defraud his congregation (or, let it be said, that a congregation might want to declare their abbot’s legitimate business dealings a case of fraud), but it has to be actively kept in mind when looking at collective bodies. This charter is a useful reminder of the tensions which can arise, not just between a monastic institution and the outside world, but within the cloister itself.

Bishop Bruno is clearly on the canons’ side, but the bulk of the charter’s opprobrium falls on the lay people, Odo and his sons. It’s possible that Teudo was too firmly entrenched locally for Bruno’s wrath to fall upon him fully. Teudo had been archdeacon of Saint-Étienne for over thirty years in 997 and the church’s archives include a lot of land deals made between him and local laymen. It is possible that a blanket condemnation of Teudo was avoided because, if he were condemned as a fraudster, that would have opened up all of his deals to potential challenge.

This clearly didn’t happen – Teudo continued to make land deals with local people until 1005. However, the 997 case shows that, when dealing with the wrongdoings of powerful men, regional authorities such as bishops had to tread carefully.

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