Essays, Manuscripts, Material Culture, The Ludwigslied
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Unravelling the Manuscript of the Ludwigslied

This is part 2 in the series about the Ludwigslied. Part 1 can be found here.

Before diving into the nitty-gritty details about the poem and its content, I’d like to spend a little more time on its context. There are not a lot of resources to work with from those early days of the ninth century. And at first glance, neither is there a lot of online scholarly material available. As we all know, though, looks can be deceiving. Ms 150 is held at Saint-Amand-Les-Eaux for most of the medieval period. We think. And the abbey’s history is as fascinating as it is elusive. I start with the following questions: could the manuscript have been written at the abbey? Was the poem written at the abbey? Or were they both written elsewhere and then taken to the abbey?

Was Ms 150 written at Saint-Amand?

The abbey of Saint-Amand is founded in the early medieval days. By the ninth century, it lies just inside the kingdom of Lotharingia. It lies in a forest where the Scarpe, a tributary, meets the main flow of the river Scheldt (Fr. Escaut). A little south of this junction, there is a brook called the Elno in an area with springs and mudbaths known as far back as Roman times. In this place, Saint Amand of Tongres-Maastricht founds the abbey of Elno, later called Saint-Amand-Les-Eaux. Saint Amand receives the land in the first half of the seventh century from his friend, the Merovingian king Dagobert I.1

Around the same time, his friend Itta of Metz founds the nunnery at Nivelles. She is a noblewoman and widow of the Austrasian Mayor of the Palace (the right-hand man of the king). And she shares with Amand the idea and conviction to build a network of churches and monasteries in the region. But she also builds connections with abbeys as far away as Ireland. The Irish monks bring the gift of books in the style of the Insular manuscript tradition. And we are left to imagine a richly filled library at Nivelles! Along with gifts, the monks also bring their knowledge and expertise of manuscript production. Something that benefits not just Nivelles, but Saint-Amand as well.2

Illumination and Networks at Saint-Amand

The monks at Saint-Amand also absorb the Insular style of illuminating manuscripts. They make it their own and produce a style we now call Franco-Saxon. One scribe called Hucbald will go on to make a beautiful sample called the Second Bible for Charles the Bald.3

Second Bible of Charles the Bald (Source: Wikipedia).

The bible is commissioned by the abbot for king Charles. That is not a coincidence. The abbey is influential. It wields power and gains money from estates in the wider region. In both the French and German-speaking parts of Lotharingia. Its abbot is Gauzlin. He is abbot to other important abbeys and also arch-chancellor to the king. This is not just any gift. This is the gift of an influential abbey to its royal patron.4

So, to answer the question: yes, in terms of knowledge, expertise, network, money and power, the abbey of Saint Amand is a place where Ms 150 could have been written. The royal patronage of West Frankish kings would undoubtedly have approved of such a triumphant song about the king as the Ludwigslied is.

Could the poem have been written in Saint-Amand?

Is this abbey is a logical place for a scribe to write a poem in Rhenish Franconian? Ruth Harvey thinks it is when she discusses the origins of the poem in the 1940s. She believes it is originally made in West Francia.5 By the 1970s, however, Bischoff and Vezin beg to differ. In their study, they find that the different handwritings of the poem and manuscript do not compare to the manuscripts made at Saint-Amand. They believe the Ludwigslied is likely written in Lower Lotharingia and taken to the abbey before the mid-twelfth century.6

Origins of a Border Region

But what are these differences between the location of the abbey, and “an unidentified centre on the left bank of the Rhine or Lower Lotharingian region.”?7 Is it just a difference in language? Or more? Time for a little history of a region that is considered one from the collapse of the Roman Empire until the collapse of the Carolingian empire.

Shifting Borders: from Austrasia to Lotharingia (Source: The Viking Archive on the basis of maps on Wikipedia)

The Romans

In the days of the Romans, the Rhine is a clear border between the empire and the Germanic tribes. The Romance language develops on the left bank among the Gaul and Romans. It is a mix of local Gaul and Vulgar Latin.8 On the right bank, the Germanic languages including Franconian are spoken.9

The Merovingians

Things get complicated when a Germanic (!) tribe called the Salian Franks cross the Rhine into Gaul. They settle near the Scheldt in the first centuries CE. They assimilate. Their noble families receive education in the Roman school system and the army. When the Empire collapses, one Frankish family rise as the new leaders in the region. They are the Merovingians. Their first kingdom is here and they call it Austrasia.10

What Salian Franks do not do, is impose their own language on their subjects in former Gaul. Even when Clovis I aggressively expands his kingdom in the fifth century. For most of his kingdom is strongly influenced by the Romans, so he chooses to support the Romance language, use Roman commanding titles and moves his capital to Paris to ease the acceptance of his rule in the rest of Gaul.11 Furthermore, his interaction with the Church benefits both parties. Clovis uses Latin12 as a standard language for his administrations, such as law codes.13 And the Church quickly expands its network of religious institutions across Francia to firmly establish the faith.14

The Carolingians

For another pivotal change in this border region, we need to look at the rise of Charlemagne. He is raised in or near Aachen on the right bank of the Rhine in the Rhine Franconian area. Once he is king and later emperor, his court stays in Aachen and Rhenish Franconian is one of the dialects spoken there.

Like Clovis, Charlemagne understands that his vast realm requires good management to keep it from falling apart. One thing he does is start a language reform. He gathers wise men around him, among whom the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin. Alcuin is, by the way, a ‘big fan’ of Saint Amand.15 He prepares a standard Latin grammar to be used throughout the empire. Furthermore, there is room for sermons and songs in the vernacular, the language of the people. The idea behind this is clear, as Charlemagne seeks to educate his laymen about Church rites in their ‘own’ language.16To this end, he also orders poems and songs about ancient kings to be written down for posterity.17 That is why we find many an Old High German poem scribbled on blank pages in older manuscripts with liturgy or Latin text. Two famous examples of this process are the Hildebrandslied and … the Ludwigslied.18

Charlemagne also sees the benefit of improving communication in his empire. He introduces Missi Dominici. These are officials, either clergymen or nobles who travel and inspect parts of the realm called missatica.19 The standardized Latin helps them to understand the administrative tasks and results at hand, even if they don’t speak the local language.

After Charlemagne

After Charlemagne’s death, it does not take long for the empire to fall apart. By 855 Austrasia no longer exists on either side of the Rhine. The area is now called Lotharingia. And in this kingdom, Romance and Germanic languages co-exist.20 But, as new as the kingdom is, within a few decades it falls to the great East Frankish kingdom with the Treaty of Ribemont.21

In short, the borders in this northern region shift so often, that the nobility tends to go its own way. Literally, in the sense that they travel between their estates in the French and German-speaking areas. And figuratively, in the sense that they are opportunistic when it comes to giving their loyalty to a king. The West and East Frankish kings fight to keep these loyalties.22 Which is something to keep in mind for the next article in this series.

The Scriptorium, A Scriptorium?

Where is the poem written? It is hard to say. ‘A scriptorium in Lower Lotharingia’ still seems rather vague to me.

The arguments of Bischoff and Vezin about the techniques of the handwritings are quite convincing that the poem could not be written at Saint-Amand. Was it written in Lower Lotharingia? In or near a German-speaking centre? That is definitely possible. Rhenish Franconian is, after all, the language of Charlemagne’s court. It is a vernacular poem, a style encouraged by the emperor. And last but not least, the handwriting is in the style of the ‘Caroline miniscule’ that was developed by none other than Alcuin!23

Yet, we know that networks existed in the region, that allowed clergymen and nobility to travel frequently between institutes and estates. It suggests to a certain degree, that these people are multi-lingual. The scribe clearly is, because he writes down both an Old French and Old High German poem in Ms 150. Moreover, the Sequence of Eulalie is written in Old Picard, the dialect spoken around Saint-Amand.24 It is also the oldest literary text in Old French, as it is probably written around 878.25

Preliminary Ideas?

So, the confusion is now complete. Was Ms 150 perhaps written at the court of Charlemagne, and at one point taken to Saint-Amand? The Old French text is written before the Old High German poem. Its dialect is that of the area of Saint-Amand where Old Picard was spoken.

Does this make it less likely that the two poems were added to the manuscript in the Germanic-speaking area? Or did the manuscript travel up and down between abbeys, or abbeys and court? Was the Sequence added in Saint-Amand, and could the manuscript have travelled back to the East Frankish kingdom where the poem was added? Or did the manuscript stay at Saint-Amand and were both poems added here, by a scribe who lived here, but perhaps was born and raised in the Rhine Franconian area?

Your guess is as good as mine.

There’s more, especially in the content of the poem that needs more explanation of why it could or could not have been written at an East Frankish court or in an East Frankish abbey. But that’s for the next article in this series…


  1. Maria R. Grasso, Illuminating Sanctity: The Body, Soul and Glorification of Saint Amand in the Miniature Cycle in Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 500 (Leiden: Brill, 2019) pp. 3–4.
    André Boutemy, ‘Le scriptorium et la bibliothèque de Saint–Amand d’après les manuscrits et les anciens catalogues,’ in: Scriptorium* Volume 1.1 (1946) pp. 6 [pp. 6–16].  ↩
  2. Alain Dierkens, ‘Saint–Amand et la fondation de l’abbaye de Nivelles,’ in: Revue du Nord Année Volume 296 (1986), pp. 329 [pp. 325–334].  ↩
  3. André Boutemy (1946) pp. 8.
    Emilia Henderson, ‘Franco–Saxon manuscript decoration,’ The British Library | Medieval England and France, 700–1200 Last Accessed 10 February 2020.–english–french–manuscripts/articles/franco–saxon–manuscript–decoration  ↩
  4. Rosamond McKitterick, ‘Charles the Bald (823–877) and His Library: The Patronage of Learning,’ in: The English Historical Review Vol. 95. 374 (1980), pp. 42–46 [pp. 28–47].
    Ruth Harvey, “The Provenance of the Old High German “Ludwigslied”,’ in: Medium Ævum Volume 14 (1945), pp. 16 [pp. 1–20]. Rosamond McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751–987. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018 edition (originally published 1983), chapter ten.  ↩
  5. Harvey (1945), I recommend reading the whole article.  ↩
  6. Roger Berger and Annette Brasseur, Les Séquences de Sainte Eulalie. (Genève: Librairie Droz, 2004), pp. 59.
    John Fought, ‘The ‘Medieval Sibilants’ of the Eulalia–Ludwigslied Manuscript and Their Development in Early Old French,’ in: Language, Volume 55.4 (1979), pp. 845 [pp. 842–858].  ↩
  7. Rosamond McKitterick, The Carolingians and the Written Word (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 233.  ↩
  8. Rebecca Posner and Marius Sala,’Romance Languages,’ Encyclopædia Britannica. Published 08 August 2019. Last Accessed 15 February 2020.–languages/Latin–and–the–development–of–the–Romance–languages#ref74713.  ↩
  9. Thomas Henry Elkins, Peter John Heather and Others (See All Contributors), ‘Germany | Languages,’ Encyclopædia Britannica* Published 19 February 2020. Last Accessed 23 February 2020.  ↩
  10. I recommend reading in full these articles about the rise and rule of the Merovingians with this paragraph: Ian Wood, ‘Defining the Franks,’ in: From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms edited by Thomas F.X. Noble (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), pp. 110–119].
    Ian Wood, ‘Administration, Law, and Culture in Merovingian Gaul,’ in: From Roman Provinces to Medieval Kingdoms edited by Thomas F.X. Noble (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), pp. 358–375.  ↩
  11. Yitzhak Hen, ‘Clovis, Gregory of Tours, and Pro–Merovingian Propaganda,’ in: Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire Année Volume 71.2 (1993), pp. 273 [pp. 271–276].  ↩
  12. Posner and Sala (2019).–languages/Latin–and–the–development–of–the–Romance–languages#ref74713.  ↩
  13. J.N. Adams, The Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC–AD 600. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 313–314.  ↩
  14. Anne Judge, Linguistic Policies and the Survival of Regional Languages in France and Britain. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 11–12.  ↩
  15. Maria R. Grasso, *Illuminating Sanctity: The Body, Soul and Glorification of Saint Amand in the Miniature Cycle in Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS 500 (Leiden: Brill, 2019) pp. 3–4.  ↩
  16. Bridget Drinka, Language Contact in Europe: The Periphrastic Perfect through History. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 153–154.  ↩
  17. Rosamond McKitterick, ‘A Landmark Figure in the History of German?’ in: Landmarks in the History of the German Language, edited by Geraldine Horan, Nils Langer and Sheila Watts (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), pp. 13, 22 [pp. 11–34].  ↩
  18. Ibid.  ↩
  19. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Missus Domenicus,’ Encyclopædia Britannica Published 20 July 1998. Last Accessed 23 February 2020.–dominicus.  ↩
  20. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Rhineland,’ Encyclopædia Britannica Published 12 February 2020. Last Accessed 16 February 2020.  ↩
  21. Posner and Sala (2019).–languages/Latin–and–the–development–of–the–Romance–languages#ref74713.  ↩
  22. Harvey (1945), pp. 5–6.  ↩
  23. David Ganz, ‘Carolingian Manuscripts. The Verdict of the Master,’ in: Francia Volume 42 (2015), pp. 6 [pp. 253–274].
    Glanville Price, ‘Eulalia, v. 15, Once Again,’ in: Romance Philology Volume 46.4 (1993) pp. 464 [pp. 464–467].  ↩
  24. Posner and Sala (2019).–languages/Latin–and–the–development–of–the–Romance–languages#ref74713.  ↩
  25. Berger and Brasseur (2004), pp. 31.  ↩

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