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19.04.06 Schieffer, ed., Hincmar's Epistolae II

The Medieval Review

19.04.06 Schieffer, ed., Hincmar's Epistolae II

The letters of Archbishop Hincmar of Reims (d. 882) are invaluable sources for ninth-century Frankish history, but their MGH edition, of which this volume represents the latest instalment, has a tragic history of its own. The first volume was published in 1939 anonymously, because its editor, the brilliant medieval historian Ernst Perels, was Jewish. He had been removed from his professorial chair in 1935, and in 1938 was compelled to stop working on the Hincmar letters too. However, Perels was able to rely on support and assistance from his Mitarbeiter Nelly Ertl. Together they made considerable progress on preparation for the next volume until 1941, when Ertl was sent to East Prussia to assist with a child evacuation programme. In 1944 Perels himself was deported to a concentration camp, and died from exhaustion shortly after liberation.

This second volume, further edited by Rudolf Schieffer--a Präsident of the MGH himself from 1994 to 2012--finally brings to press Perels and Ertl's unpublished preliminary work on Hincmar's letters written between the summer of 868 and the end of 871, to which Schieffer has added new editions of the letters from the year 872, as well as thoroughly updated references and scholarly apparatus. Many of these letters are simply references to the summaries provided by Flodoard of Reims in his tenth-century Historia Remensis Ecclesiae, but there are also a number of lengthy and important texts that are edited here in full. These are all letters about bishops, but in them Hincmar covered a remarkable range of angles: relations between bishops and kings, between bishops and popes, between bishops and local priests, between bishops and heretics, between bishops and the church to which they were ordained, and between bishops and, ultimately, God. Most of these letters have been edited before, and could be easily found in Migne's Patrologia Latina. But this new edition is nevertheless a revelation, as three examples, chosen from many more, demonstrate.

Amongst the letters presented here are a series written by Hincmar of Reims in 868 as part of his efforts to defend his truculent nephew, Hincmar of Laon, from the wrath of King Charles the Bald--an opportunity that Hincmar seized to articulate his view of the right order between bishops and kings (nos. 211-214). On the basis of Perel and Ertl's work, Schieffer corrects the erroneous labelling of these letters (an error which resulted from a misreading of ei in as cum: a case in point of how tiny transcription mistakes can reverberate in wider scholarship), and also provides several paragraphs of previously unpublished text from a Berlin manuscript (Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Philipps 1741). This edition gives us another glance of Hincmar and his team at work, patiently developing, emending and honing his work even after its initial circulation.

Another famous Hincmar letter presented here is one from 871, that amongst other issues deals with Trising the priest, a local priest in Carolingian Francia (no. 323). Trising's case is well known to specialists. The priest quarrelled violently with his brother-in-law when the latter publicly accused Trising of conducting an affair with his own step-niece, and then evaded Hincmar's attempts to bring him to discipline by fleeing to Rome to take his case to the pope. What has not been so well known, because the relevant text was unfortunately omitted in Migne's faulty Latin text, is that Trising's unnamed sister-in-law had originally been married to the village mayor. This is a detail that perhaps adds little to the legal questions at stake in the letter, but it is very significant for our understanding of the social milieu of Frankish rural priests and their families: these were people at the top of their "small worlds."

Finally, the volume provides a full edition of Hincmar's views on the translation of Bishop Actard, expressed in a letter from 872 (no. 331, for which Schieffer could not rely on Perel and Ertl's preliminary work.) Actard had been bishop of Nantes, but claimed that the see was uninhabitable because of Viking attacks, so, with papal blessing, he was transferred (or technically, translated) to the archbishopric of Tours. Hincmar had given his assent to this translation in 871, but evidently had second thoughts. He was sceptical that the situation in Nantes was bad enough to merit such a move, since apparently the secular count had stayed put. Moreover he pointed out that Christians had stayed in Cordoba "and other cities in Spain" as well as in Jerusalem, simply paying a tax in order to continue their ministry. Hincmar's rigorously unsympathetic position in this letter was shaped by his insistence that a bishop was married to his church, and, as Hincmar had pointed out in earlier work, a husband could not leave his wife simply because he wished to do so. The letter was previously available through Migne in a reasonably accurate edition, but this new edition's painstaking identification of its sources shows how Hincmar drew on papal citations that he had previously used for his 860 treatise on the marriage of King Lothar II and Queen Theutberga. In doing so, it reveals with fresh clarity the associative connections between different strands of Hincmar's thought, as ideas worked out in one context were applied in quite another.

Rudolf Schieffer was first entrusted by Horst Fuhrmann with continuing Perels and Ertl's work in 1975, and, though soon redirected to other projects, never lost sight of Hincmar and his letters throughout his long career. It is good that he was able to finish this volume just a few weeks before his death in September 2018. His preface notes that there are already some preparations in hand for the third and final fascicle, which would provide editions for Hincmar's letters from 873 to 882, and that these could be published in the "foreseeable future." Hopefully MGH will be able to ensure this task is brought to a complete and satisfactory conclusion soon, not only for the sake of early medieval European history which Hincmar's letters do so much to illuminate, but as a tribute and a debt to the medieval historians involved in the editorial project so far.