04.06.16, Hlawitschka, Konradiner-Genealogie

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Nathaniel L. Taylor

The Medieval Review baj9928.0406.016


Hlawitschka, Eduard. Konradiner-Genealogie, unstatthafte Verwandtenehen und spatottonisch-fruhsalische Thronbesetzungspraxis. Series: MGH Studien und Texte, vol. 32. Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 2003. Pp. xx, 220. ISBN: 3-7752-5732-2.

Reviewed by:
Nathaniel L. Taylor
Brown University

Who were the Konradiner? The first non-Carolingian German king, Konrad I (d. 918), gave his name (as a modern genealogical construct) to a powerful agnatic kin-group of dukes and bishops and the tenth and early eleventh centuries. One younger cousin was Konrad, duke of Swabia (d. 997). This Duke Konrad's son and successor, Duke Hermann II (d. 1003), was an unsuccessful candidate for the German throne following the childless death of Otto III in 1002. Two of Duke Hermann's sons-in-law, both also named Konrad (not, ironically, Konradiner themselves, but from a different agnatic family), were the principal contenders for the throne in 1024; the elder contender became the first king of the Salian line as Konrad II.

The current book is a review of a long and acrimonious debate over the genealogy of the Konradiner, specifically the parentage and wife of Duke Konrad of Swabia (d. 997). As Hlawitschka signals at the outset, this genealogical debate has specific implications for our understanding of the customs of throne-candidacy and acceptable marriage partners in Ottonian Germany. Hlawitschka reviews nearly a quarter century of published exchanges, principally between himself and Armin Wolf, over a reconstruction first proposed by Wolf in 1980 and substantially augmented by Donald C. Jackman in 1990 (Jackman, an American, worked with Wolf at Frankfurt in the 1980s while writing a Ph.D. dissertation for Columbia).

In 1980 Armin Wolf published a paper exploring the possible meaning of a twelfth-century genealogy of the Welf family (admittedly genealogically suspect in other particulars) which mentioned a 'Count Cuno von Ohningen' married to a daughter of Otto I, named 'Richlind' in one later interpolation (the Welfs were said to have descended from a daughter of this couple). [[1]] Wolf defended the idea (which had been raised before) that this 'Cuno' was identical to Konrad, duke of Swabia (d. 997); and he also argued that Richlind and her royal connections were real: though not found among the known daughters of Otto I, she was surely an otherwise unknown daughter of Otto's eldest son Duke Liudolf. This senior descent from Otto I, argued Wolf, gave their descendants specific right as a throne-candidates in the royal elections of 1002 and 1024, explaining the role of Duke Hermann (Richlind and Konrad's son) as the leading contender (other than the Ottonian duke Heinrich, later Heinrich II) in the election of 1002.

The essential criticisms of Wolf's Richlind-theory, raised by Hlawitschka already the year it was published, were twofold: first, Duke Konrad of Swabia already had an attributed wife named Judith (though this attribution was based on indirect evidence); second, the proposed marriage of Richlind to Konrad of Swabia was within canonically prohibited degrees of consanguinity, and would result in several such prohibited marriages contracted by their immediate descendants. (Consanguinity-based objections to any proposed genealogy depend on an argument from silence: if no known clerical objection to an apparently consanguineous marriage survives, then the marriage must not have been consanguineous--that is, one or both of the parties' proposed ancestry must be incorrect where they appear to overlap. Despite the uncertainty of such an argument from silence, the tracing of apparently prohibited marriages is a very popular way to test genealogical theories within the medieval aristocracy; it is used throughout Hlawitschka's book.) Both these objections were countered in a 1990 book by Donald C. Jackman, offering a new reconstruction of the earlier generations of the Konradiner, which diverged from earlier orthodoxy in crucial ways. [[2]] First, by inserting an additional duke Konrad into the genealogy as father of the Duke Konrad who died in 997, it was possible to marry Judith to the elder Konrad, freeing up the younger duke to be husband of Richlind. Second, placing both this father and son on a different branch of the Konradiner family tree, other than where they had traditionally been placed, reduced the apparent prohibitive consanguinity between Konrad and his alleged wife Richlind (from second/third degree to fourth degree). Since not all apparently consanguineous marriages disappeared with Jackman's revision, Jackman argued that, based on these consanguinities, and arguing from the absence of any contemporary records of clerical censure, some consanguineous marriages (fourth- and third-degree marriages) were customarily tolerated in Ottonian Germany despite their prohibition under evolving canon law. Finally, Jackman went further in revising the genealogy of the later Konradiner family, proposing an agnatic Konradiner descent to Rudolf of Rheinfelden (elected anti-king in 1077 during the Investiture Controversy; d. 1080), further supporting Wolf's thesis of a principle of inherited throne-right recognized in the Konradiner.

This is by no means a complete summary of the sources and interpretations at issue, but it is enough to underscore, as Hlawitschka does, that these revisions have more than genealogical relevance. As a corollary to his criticisms of the genealogy Hlawitschka has been consistent in criticizing the concomitant theories of the Konradiner's inherited throne-right, and the customary tolerance of consanguineous marriages.

Hlawitschka states that this book is more a historiography of the debate than a synthesis, and in fact it is organized as a historiographical review (or rather, half of such a review). It is arranged into chapters reflecting specific publications following Wolf's initial exposition of the Richlind-thesis. It opens with a three-page forward and bibliography, and a very brief first chapter justifying the book: essentially, because others keep the theory alive, so must Hlawitschka continue to publish criticisms. [[3]] The next three substantive chapters (chapters II - IV, the longest ones, comprising pp. 7-114) summarize the various source interpretations and conclusions of Wolf's early articles and Jackman's 1990 book (chapter II), and 1995 articles by both Wolf (chapter III) and Jackman (chapter IV) defending the theories against Hlawitschka's earlier criticisms. These chapters cover the most important textual sources, which are almost invariably open to divergent interpretations. Later chapters (V, VII-IX) continue the pattern of organizing discussion around further publications by Wolf, Jackman, or others (Johannes Fried, Josef Heinzelmann, Walter Greiner, Alois Schutz) who have supported or accepted aspects of the Konradiner or Richlind theses.

No chapters are organized around Hlawitschka's own previous contributions to the debate. If he had done so, the book would have twice as many chapters, and Hlawitschka would have had to present the gist of Wolf's and Jackman's arguments without comment in chapters summarizing their works. Rather, he reprises his critiques of elements of Wolf's or Jackman's theses in the course of the summary chapters on their works. Thus the chronology of the articulation of Hlawitschka's critiques is not always clear. As Hlawitschka recognizes in the Foreword, there is considerable internal cross-referencing and some inevitable redundancy, since criticisms which first appear in step with a source discussion in an early chapter may reappear in substantially similar form later on. Later chapters address some of the rhetoric, as well as the substantive points, of Hlawitschka's opponents, revealing the degree to which intransigence over divergent source interpretation can lead to unproductive rhetorical exchange. In his own rhetoric, however, one can sense, at times, Hlawitschka's exasperation at the continued restatement of interpretive points of Wolf's or Jackman's theses which had already been dismissed, in his view, in earlier work.

Breaking the mold is the shortest chapter, chapter VI (pp. 151-55), which addresses a review article by French scholars Jean-Pierre Poly and Christian Settipani appearing in Francia for 1996. [[4]] Here Hlawitschka summarizes some of Settipani and Poly's doubts about the Konradiner and Richlind theses and quotes their conclusions, generally skeptical of Jackman's and Wolf's theories, or at least of the degree to which Jackman and Wolf have characterized them as 'proved.' Settipani and Poly sought to present a disinterested outsiders' review of the debate down to 1996. Their article was schematically arranged to discuss the various relevant sources and threads of interpretation in turn, rather than publication-by-publication. This is a model that might have been chosen for Hlawitschka's current book, since it de-emphasizes rhetorical exchange and focuses attention on the sources and their possible interpretations.

Given that both the social questions of consanguineous marriage and inherited throne-right have broad implications for Western Europe of the Millennium, it is unfortunate that this debate has not been taken up more widely beyond its original proponents and its most ardent critic. Poly and Settipani's review should, perhaps, be updated in light of more recent publications by Wolf, Jackman, Hlawitschka, and others. Hlawitschka's current book is conceived, perhaps, to give greater circulation to the debate, though by its nature it is not as clear an introduction to the theories and their sources as it might have been had it taken a different form (or, perhaps, had it been written by someone not already so deeply invested in the debate).

Who, then, is right? Wolf and Jackman, with their revisionist propositions, or Hlawitschka, denouncing the revision in favor of an earlier orthodoxy? The problem is that both the Richlind and Konradiner theses, as well as the earlier reconstruction defended by Hlawitschka, rest on a fragmentary evidentiary record and on interpretations with a certain amount of subjectivity. The Richlind thesis and the Konradiner revision have not been 'proved,' yet neither do Hlawitschka's vigorous demonstrations of their weaknesses 'prove' the traditional Konradiner pedigree. Yet Wolf, Jackman, and Hlawitschka have all, at times, exaggerated the degree to which their arguments 'prove' or 'disprove' the genealogy at issue. As Settipani and Poly earlier signaled (tellingly, by titling their review "un debat toujours ouvert"), one may ultimately have to be content to leave the Konradiner genealogy as an open question: to do otherwise may not be intellectually responsible. Unfortunately the lack of probative evidence for the genealogy means that one cannot fully endorse the revisionists' consequent theories of tolerated consanguineous marriages or inherited throne-right. The issue of clerical tolerance of consanguineous marriage is difficult to explore when one is using the consanguineous-marriage test as a way to reconstruct genealogies: any hypothesis about marriage customs would then rest on circular arguments. In the case of inherited throne-right, Hlawitschka admits (citing Thietmar) that some genealogical throne-right must have been understood in the early eleventh century, which is a logical middle ground between the advocates of entirely free choice (an older idea) and the more exclusive throne-inheritance scheme championed by Wolf and Jackman.

Until or unless the Konradiner genealogy is 'proved' either way, the social theories dependent on Wolf and Jackman's reconstruction must remain in limbo. Yet, shorn of these contexts, what is left of the Konradiner genealogy's broader historical value? At this point readers may feel inclined to agree with Saint Paul, who tells Titus to "avoid ... genealogies ... for they are unprofitable and vain."


[[1]]. Armin Wolf, "Wer war Kuno 'von Ohningen'? Uberlegungen zum Herzogtum Konrads von Schwaben (997) und zur Konigswahl vom Jahre 1002," Deutsches Archiv fur Erforschung des Mittelalters 36 (1980), 5-49; republished with a supplemental 'Nachwort' in Genealogisches Jahrbuch 39 (1999), 5-56.

[[2]]. Donald C. Jackman, The Konradiner: A Study in Genealogical Methodology (Frankfurt, 1990).

[[3]]. For example, Wolf-Jackman's revised Konradiner genealogy is now followed without comment in the revised first volume of the genealogical compilation Europaische Stammtafeln, Neue Folge, ed. Detlev Schwennicke, vol. 1.1 [revised] (Frankfurt, 1998), a multi-volume genealogical reference work widely consulted by non-specialists.

[[4]]. Christian Settipani and Jean-Pierre Poly, "Les Conradiens: un debat toujours ouvert," Francia 23 (1996), 135-166 (actually appearing, Hlawitschka notes, in 1997).

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Author Biography

Nathaniel L. Taylor

Brown University