Hincmar of Reims on King-making: The Evidence of the Annals of St. Bertin, 861–882
Nelson, Janet L.
Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual, University of California Press (1990)
Hincmar of Reims wrote voluminously—on theology, on canon law, and on the conduct of the powerful. Modern historians of medieval political thought have ransacked these works with an energy worthy of the Vikings and have amassed a disparate hoard of fragmentary discussions of how kings ought to act. Among this hacksilver can be found a rare gem of Hincmarian political analysis: a typology of king-making. Its original location was in a series of ripostes to a list of objectionable propositions, which Hincmar appended to his bulky treatise on the divorce of Lothar II and Theutberga. As so often, controversy sharpened Hincmar’s cutting edge. “Some wise ones,” he noted sardonically, had alleged that Lothar II was “a king, and subject to no human laws or judgments but only those of God, who constituted him king in the realm which his father had left him.” Hincmar first tackled the issue of the king’s subjection to law: “The law is not laid down for the just man, but for the unjust.” Hence a just king would be judged, and rewarded, by Christ alone, but a bad king would be judged by bishops “either secretly or in public.” The related, but distinct, proposition that the king was “set up” by God through the workings of filial inheritance then received separate discussion.
There were three ways, said Hincmar, that a man could be “set up in rulership”: by God, like Moses, Samuel, and Josias; by God through men, like Joshua and David; and by man “but not without the divine nod [of permission],” like Solomon “on the orders of his father David, and by means of Zadoch the prophet and Nathan the priest.” Hincmar went on to elaborate further subtypes of the third category: kings constituted “by the support of citizens and soldiers,” and kings who succeeded to their fathers, as can be found, said Hincmar, “in the case of all those in the Histories and Chronicles , and even in the Lives of the Caesars.