Wednesday, November 9, 2011
53. Lothair Crystal (France/Germany, AD 855-869)
Here’s an interesting object from post-Charlemagne Europe, a crystal glass cut with the story of Susannah and the Elders from the Old Testament—given to his unjustly accused wife by Lothair, one of Charlemagne’s three heirs. MacGregor’s implication, in the podcast, is that had Lothair succeeded in getting rid of his wife—instead of having to apologize for mistrusting her and to take her back, which he did with the gift of this crystal—European history would be totally different, because there would be Spain, France, Lorraine, and Germany instead of the countries we now know. (Belgium, and probably the Netherlands, would have been part of Lorraine.) The moral of the story: royal divorces are bad news, no matter which way they go.
Charlemagne had put together the biggest European kingdom/empire since the fall of Rome, by early 800. He was king of the Franks, ruled from what’s now France, and I believe his language was related to modern French. But like so many good-sized kingdoms briefly assembled by a powerful warlord, it fell apart soon after he died; he split it three ways among his heirs, France to Louis the Bold, Germany to Charles the Bald, and the middle stuff to Lothair the Cuckold. (I’m just making those names up.) Lothair said he was a cuckold because his wife hadn’t given him a male heir, which was going to give his neighbors a chance to snap up his land when he died or weakened; like Henry VIII, he was hoping to get rid of her and try again with another wife. His torturers even got her to confess she had committed incest with her own brother, that’s why the marriage had to be canceled. But she appealed to the pope, who told Lothair to take her back; and not being ready to go the whole Henry VIII route, he did so, making up with this gift. France and Germany ripped his kingdom apart and fought about it for the next 1100 years; his name survives in the Lorraine of Alsace-Lorraine, that is the Rhineland.
The Susanna story is about a woman who is falsely accused of being a lewd person, and how the crafty lawyer turns the tables on her accusers and defends her honor. Unlike the well-known opera on the story about McCarthyism, the real version is a courtroom drama, about law. MacGregor reads the gift of this crystal as being Lothair’s testament to his wife, to the pope, to all of Europe: law is mightier than any king or kingdom; the king must be subject to the law. Which was probably a new idea in Europe at the time; and one with quite a bit of traction.