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ward a

reappraisal of
liam the Great,
duke of Aquitaine

Bernard S. Bachrach

William, duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitou, has

won a glowing reputation from historians for his
personal piety and his active support of religious reform. Scholars have given him the sobriquet the
Great, and he is traditionally regarded as one of
those over-mighty subjects whose fame and power
eclipsed their less accomplished Capetian contemfioraries. ,4s count and duke, however, William clearly
had responsibilities that went beyond support of the
Church. In the present study an effort has been made
to examine the more se6ular aspects of Williams
career to see if, in fact, he justly &serves to be
considered one of the outstandingjfgures of the early
eleventh centuy.
Scholars are unanimous in their appreciation
of William the Great. Ko accomplishment
seems to have exaped him. His authority in
is described
as uncontested,
military talent is applauded,
and his inde-


of Medievd

pendence of the Capetian monarchs is regarded as absolute. His support of the Church
is seen as multifaceted:
he is crelrlited with
immense gifts to ecclesiastical institutions of
all kinds both within Aquitaine and abroad ;
he is described as an advocate of monastic
reform and a builder of churches. He is said
to have convoked church councils and decre82d the peace of God. His personal religious
is considered
to have been allembracing;
he made yearly pilgrimages to
holy places (Pfister 1885 : 283-5 ; Luchaire
1904 : 7 l-3 ; Flach 19 17 : 563ff. ; Boissonade
1926: 5 l-2 ; Dhondt
1948 : 225 ; BonnaudDelamare 1962 : 4 15-82 ; Garaud 1964 : 30-l ;
Kienast 1968a : 203-4; Dez 1969 : 37; Brisset
1973 : 136-53). Recently,
his position was
thus : . ..Count William in his
as duke of Aquitaine
was the
dist.inguished ruler of one of the largest principalities in Western Europe, exchanging ambassadors with, among others, the German
Em.peror and the kings of England and Cast i le,
and treating as an equal with the king of
France. His piety, his unusual intellectual
leanings, and the firmness of his rule awed
cogl.temporaries and have given him the epithat William the Great?
A careful examination of the evidence used
by the above-mentioned
scholars indicates
clearly that their consensus takes its tone and
m.rch of its substance from the encomium
devloted to William by his admiring contemporary A&mar of Chabannes
in his Chronicon
1897 : 162-3). Ademars reputation for truth telling and honesty was attacked
even by his contemporaries
(Saltet 193 1: 1602; Callahan 1976: 257). However, my doubts
the accuracy of the prevailing

Histosy 5 (1979) : 1 l-21 @J North-Hollabnd Publishing Company


view were stimulated particularly in the

course of a recent study that examined relations between Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou,
and VVilliam, in whrch the latter fared poorly
(Bachrach 1976:ll l-22).
Although it seer-Is that a reassessment of
Williams career is long overdue, it should be
emphasized from the start that he was far
from being a nonentity. It is clear that
William was a pious son of the Church who
made regular pilgrimages to holy places and
was highly regarded by reform-minded clergy
(Brisset 1972:452ff.; Cowdrey 1970:51-2).
William was clearly one of the leaders of the
peace movement, for which he convoked
church councils (Bonnaud-Delamare
437-51; Cowdrey 1970: 59), and a vigorous
foe of heresy (Labande 1973 : 137) ; he was also
an open-handed giver to ecclesiastical institutions and an active builder of churches (Brisset 1972 :452ff.).
It is clear that personal piety and support
for the Church were not all that might be
needed if a magnate would serve his family
and do what was required of him as count or
duke. Those secular political figures of the
early middles ages who won respect from
their contemporaries and lasting fame from
posterity did so in part, at least, as a result of
their accomplishments
in military affairs.
Whether one examines the careers ofhistorical
figures like Clovis and William the Conqueror
or of semi-legendary ones like Ring Arthur
and Roland the military element plays a
fundamental role. Even celebrated clericai
figures like Saint Germanus of Auxerre and
Bishop Odo of Bayeux earned a reputation in
part on the battlefield. The former, for
example, is called by Bede and Nennius dm
belhze (Prinz 197 1: 42ff.), and the latter not
only played a conspicuous role in the Norman


invasion of England but, thanks to the Bayeux

Tapestry, can still be seen wielding his mace at
Hastings (Stenton 1957 : plates 50,68). Among
early medieval figures like Charlemagne,
King Alfred, and Otto I who won from
historians the sobriquet magma, military
prowess and political success have played a
dominant role.
Williams talents as dux belhwn are not
difficult to evaluate. During the early part of
995, he acceded to the request of his uncle,
Count Odo I of Blois, and began preparations
to aid him by attacking Anjou. Count Fulk
Nerra of Anjou tried to blunt the effect of this
alliance by seeking aid from his cousin-in-law.
Count Aldebert of La Marche and Ptrigord.
The latter responded by invading Poitou ;
he proceeded to capture and destroy Williams
frontier stronghold of Gensay. Aldebert then
moved against Poitiers and encamped some
two miles outside the city walls to await reinforcements. The local levy of Poitiers attacked
Aldeberts camp and was decisively defeated.
Aldebert proceeded to lay siege to and capture
Poitiers itself (Bachrach 1976 : 14) The first
phase of this campaign which was intended
to focus upon an offensive thrust by Williams
forces into Anjou ended in a debacle of
defensive ineptitude.
The second phase of &is campaign saw
William still on the defensive and devoting
his energies to rebuilding the stronghold at
Gencay. While William was putting the
finishing touches to the work at Genqay,
Aldebert, who was returning to La Marche
after having captured Tours, laid siege to the
newly repaired fortification. It is clear that
Aldebert cal tured Gensay and destroyed ir a
second time. Apparently, however, after the
battle was over and after Aldebert had removed his k;.rrnor,one of his defeated enemies

tool the opportunity

to kill the count with a
we&aimed arrow (Chavenon
1897 : 156-7).
In the third phase of the campaign William
secured the support of King Robert. The
corsnbined forces of Framia and Aquitaine
spent a long time besieging the stronghold of
Bellac which was successfully defended by a
magaate named Abbo Drus. Wit.1 the failure
to take Bellac, Robert returned to the north,
and Wiiliam led a huge army against the
stronghold of Brosse which was held by Guy,
viscount of Limoges. The viscount did not
permit Williams forces to establish an effective siege at Brosse but with a picked force of
fighting men he attacked the duke. Williams
forces were decisively defeated and the siege
was broken (Chavenon
1897 : 156-7~.
Thus WilliaLms one and only extended
military campaign
ended in dismal failure.
He lost GenGay twice and saw it destroyed
both times; the levy of Poitou was decisively
defeated and the city was captured. He failed
in two sieges (Bellac and Brosse) and was
beaten in the open field by Viscount Guy. In
this campaign
William demonstrated
grasp of strategy or tactics. He committed
basic strategic error in permitting himself to
be drawn into a war on his northern border
when he well knew that his enemy had allies
on Poitous southern border. William seems
to have had no specific plans for fighting a
two-front war and dashed from place to place
failing in cne encounter after another. Tactically, William permitted
his levies to attack
Count Aldeberts fortified camp when they
should have remained
within their own
fortifications at Poitiers. When he laid siege
to Brosse, William apparently failed to establish lines of circumvallation
and thus the
enemy wa.s able to attack and rout his forces.
Williams one major battle in the field was

fought in August of 1006. A large force of

Vikings landed on the Psitevin co,ast at SaintMichel-en-lHerm,
beached ,their boats, and
proceeded to ravage the countryside.
learning of the invasion, William is said to have
gathrered a substantial force of picked fighting
men and moved against the enemy camp. He
arrived at the coast shortly before nightfall
and. ordered his men to set up fortified camps
facing the Vikings. The latter, assuming that
the Aquitanians would attempt to attack their
camp in a mounted assault, spent the night
digging pits all around their own positio. i.
They covered these ditches with branches and
sot; s to camouflage them (Chavenon 1897 :
At the break of day, William formed up his
ho:r*semen into several ranks and, taking his
pls..r::ewith large numbers of important
in dhe first rank, led a pell-me11 cha.rge against
thf, Viking camp. The Aquitanian horsemen
wececaught in the carefully disguised ditches
an4 were thrown from their mounts. The rear
ranks of horsemen could not pick their way
thidnough the mass of floundering
spi-awling riders weighted
down by their
arnor, and the dangerous pits; they had to
dismount. The momentumof
the Aquitanians
attack was broken and they retired from the
field. More than thirty of Williams more
noble fo!!t?wers are said to have been taken
prisoner, :jtnd the duke himself only escaped
through the help of some brave followers
(Chavenon 1897:176-7).
With their charge shattered, many of their
leaders captive, and the duke less than eager
for another encounter,
the Aquitanians
remained in camp for the rest of the day. AS
night fell and the tide came in, the Vikings
boarded their ships and sailed away with their
booty ancl their prisoners. Later William


ransomed the prisoners for a large sum of gold

and silver (Chavenon 1897 : 176-7).
A critical evaluation of Williams performance at the battle of Saint-Michel-en1Herm indicates that he repeatedly failed to
take elementary precautions: he did not send
out scouts to reconnoiter the enemys position
or to monitor their movements during the
night; and he did not employ skirmishers to
keep the enemy from regaining their ships with
the prisoners. William apparently made no
effort todestroy theVikingships which lay high
and dry on the beach and were very probably
vulnerable to fire arrows. The Aquitanians
under Williams leadership lacked caution in
committing themselves to the attack according to at least one contemporary (Chavenon
1897 : 176-7). It may be noted in this context
that William should have suspected that the
Vikings had dug traps to thwart his horsemen.
Such traps were used throughout the early
middle ages both by the Vikings and their
continental enemies. In fact, Count Conan og
Rennes had employed this same tactic in the
well-publicized battle of Conquereuil only
fourteen years earlier (Bachrach 1970: 51ff.,
1972:135-6; Merlet 1896344; Prou 1886:
Throughout the remainder of his reign
William saw remarkably little military action.
The sources indicate that he was involved in a
few sieges of minor importance. In all of these
efforts that have left some surviving record
the actual conduct of the military side of the
matter seems to have been ieft to one of the
dukes supporters. The most frequently mentioned of these is Count William of AngoulCme
who commanded tht dukes army even when
he was present in Ihe field (Chavenon 1897:
163-5, 185-6; Martindale 1969 : 542, 545,
547; Richard 1903: 157).


In defense of William it may be pointed-out

that his failure in the extended military
campaign of 995-997 occurred while he was
an !.nexperienced youth y&o had only recently
assumed the responsibilities of power. It
&mightfurther be observed that his defeat by
the Vikings at Saint-i!chel-en-1Herm
place in the wake of a surprise attack. In
addition, one might argue that the sparse
source materials preclude any definitive conclusion concerning Williams military talents.
Finally, it might be hypotheaded
Williams subsequent avoidance of large-scale
military operations was a matter of policy
based, perhaps, on the lessons he learned as a
result of his earlier defeats.
Any judgment concerning Williams performance must in a certain measure be
the military
career of Count Fulk Nerraof Anjou, who was
WilEams contemporary and neighbor, is
reasonably well-known, Fulk assumed sole
possession of the countship of Anjout
in 987 at
tl-teage of sixteen, and for the next five years,
acgainst substantial odds, he succeslsfully carried on a two-front war. This conflict ended
with Fulks decisive victory at the battle of
Conquereuil in 992. Despite his youth and inexperience, Fulk Terra proved himselfto be a
vigorous and aggressive military tactician and
strategist. Yet, Fulk fought only two largescale battles in the field during his fifty-three
year career. In short; it should be emphasized
that siege war%are and raiding were f&r more
common than any hother kind of fighting
during the early eleventh century in the West
of France (Halphen and Poupardin 1913:
233-5; Halphen 1901~7-48, :906:9fl.; Guillot 1972a:15-55; Bachrach 1975:111-22).
Although there are fewer sources for
Williams reign than on: would like to have,

the corpus of material is not inf:rior to what

we have for Fulk Nerra. It seems to me that we
are as well informed about Williams military
activity as we are about Fulks military acti=&y. In addition, I think it would be fair to
suggest that if William had won any not+
worthy victories or performed will as a tact ician or as a strategist, Ademar of Ghabannes,
who provides most of our evidence for his
career, was clearly partial to him, and W,U
about military matters, woui d
not have suppressed such information
(Bachrach 1975: 561-9). In support of the tra&
tional view of William, one might emphasize
the sparseness of the sources or speculate tlat
the truth about the dukes military career has
somehow been lost to us. It might seem prelb
eralble to hypothesize that perhaps William
consciously pursued a policy of avoiding
military activity either because he learned the
lesson of his early defeats or because he realized
that he larked military talent. Nevertheless, I
think it is safe to observe that by comparison
with his father William Iron Arm, who won
his sobriquet on the field of battle, and his
neighbor Fulk Nerra, William was not a man
of great military prowess.
* I I
William inherited from his father William
Iron Arm a strong base of comital power in
Poitou. The latter had preserved and enhanced the powers and prerogatives that the
countsof Poitou had traditionally exercised.
He kept the vas;. majority of fortifications in
the region under his control and only perm itted new stron gholds to be erected with his
pl~rmission. William Iron Arm did not nermit
the castellzns to usurp the counts customary
and the
rights over the fkee population,

vicalii and viscounts who were charged with

the duty of doing the counts business tended
to do SO faithfully. In short, the administration
of tlhe pagus as the basis of public authority
was preserved by William Iron Arm (Garaud
i 964 : SO-5) .
VsElliam the Great began his reign in a
rather unfortunate
manner with three years
of unsuccessful
warfare. This conflict was
brought to an end by an agreement with Fulk
Nerra by which William married Aldemode,
the cousin of the count of Anjou (Bachrach
1976: 14). Angevin penetration
of Poitou on
a large scale followed. Fulk either took control
of existing fortifications or built new ones at
Faye-laVineuse, Beauprdau, Chemille, Montrevault,
Maulevrier, Montfacon, DouC,
and MontreuiU3ellay
1976: 11321). In other parts of Poitou, Fulks friends
and relatives controlled Parthenay, Genqay,
Thsuars, Melle, and Cheneche (Beech 1964:
44K ; Martindale
1969 : 542 ; Bachrach J 975 :
119; Chavensn 1897 : 163-5, 185-6). Thus in
a period of about thirty years Fulk Nersa
expanded Angevin dominaton
over most of
thy: northern
third of Poitou and laid the
strategic base for Geoffrey Martels conquest
in 1033 (Bachrach 1976:120-2).
.Although the position of Williams family
as dukes of Aquitaine traditionally
was considerably weaker than its position as counts of
Poitou, scholars generally agree that in the
former capacity they exercised considerable
power over the bishoprics south of the Loire.
Historians ;lso agree that the dukes ability to
exercise usurped regalian rights over the
Church ixxreased substantially
after the
accession of Hugh Capet (Garaud 1960 :364ff.
and Brisset 1972:443ff.). It seems, however,


that William the Great dissipated ducal

resources and lost prerogatives that his father
had enjoyed. For example, William Iron Arm
exercised sole contrr..slover the appointment
of the archbishop of Bordeaux who was
metropolitan for tk : important Aquitanian
sees of AngoulCme, Poitiers, Saintes, and
P&igueux (Richard 1903:126, 34; Garaud
1960: 364; and compare Higounet 1963: 912). Probably by 1010 when Seguin was
appointed and certainly by 1027 when
Geofim c II was selected, William found it
necessary to share control of the power to
choose the archbishop with the duke of
Gascony (Chavenon 1897:194-5). It is even
possible that King Robert had a hand in the
appointment of Geofiey If since the new
archbishop was nagioneFrancurn (sic) .2
Wipiam Iron Arms domination of the archbishopric of Bordeaux and his power over the
Church in Aquitaine permitted him the
opportunity to transfer the diocese of Limoges
from the jurisdiction of the archbishop of
Bourges to the archbishop of Bordeaux
(Fontette 1965 : 5536) m William the Great
succeeded in following his fathers policy in
this matter in 1014 (B&set 1972:445-6), but
in 1023 he was thwirrted by King Robert and
his illegitimate half-brother Gauzelin, archbishop of Bourges :,Pfister 1885:196-7; Fontette 1965 : 557). Control over the diocese of
Limoges thus, in etiect, passed from the dukes
of Aquitaine to the royal house.
In secular affairs too there are many
instances of the eraion of the ducal position
under William as c ?mpared with that of his
father. For example, VVilliam the Great,
as we have seen, received support from
William Taillifizr, count of AngoulCme,
for routine military campaigns. To obtain
this support William the r&eat gave William


Taillifer substantial resources including the

viscounties of Melle and Rochechouart, the
hor,ors of ChCnechC, Chabanais, Rufifec, and
Co:nfolens along with many other holdings
and strongholds in Angoumois, Poitou, and
Aunay (Chavenon 1897:163-5, 183-6; Boussard 1957 : 24). William the Greats policy of
alienating substantial resources to 0btai.n
support helped to establish the house of
William Taillifer as one of the most important
in Aquitaine (Depoin 1904 : 19-25 ; Boissonade
1935 : 2 1ff.) . William Taillifer further enhanced his own position by marrying the
daughter of Fulk Nerra, and F1qlksgrandsons
succeeded their father as count of AngoulCme
(Chavenon 1897 : 163-5 ; Boussard 1957 : 24 ;
compare Depoin 1904 : 22).
This dynastic alliance between AngouEme
and Anjou may be seen to have weakened
William the Greats position in Aquitaine.
Thus, in about 1018 we find that King
Robert, who was closely allied with Fulk
Nerra at the time, reasserted royal control
over the bishopric of Angouleme (Boussard
1957 : 24; compare Lmbart de la Tour 1890:
25 l-2). William the Great also found it necessary to grant substantial resources in Aquitaine directly to Fulk Nerra. For example,
Ful k obtained the strongly fortified ci&as of
Saintes and numerous fortifications throughout the Saintonge. Thus much of western
Aquitaine was dominated either by Fulk Nerra
or by his son-in-law (Faye 1853 : l-2 1; Jean
le Saintongeais 1904 : 33Off., 405ff. ; Bachrach
19763116; compare Richard 1903:149, 187).
Both in Poitou a,nd in Aquitaine prerogative.3 that William tie Great had inherited
from his father slipped away. One must agree
with Marcel Garaucl who has shown in his
thorough monograph on the castellans of
Poitou that the vast majority of chateaux

escaped comital control during this period and

that William lost the prerogatives
that the
count traditionally
had exercised over free
men through the loyal service of the viscounts
and the vicari It should be emphasized that
Angevin strength south of the Loire increased
at Williams expense (Bachrach
1976 : 115-2 1). In 1033, only three years after
the Greats death, his son and
successor William the Fat found himself in a
very weak position vis&vis the Angevins and
was decisively dc%ated at the battle of Moncontour by Geoffrey Martel the son of Fulk
Nerra. William
the Fat was captured
Geoffrey and spent most of the remainder of
his life in prison; the Angevins ruled Poitou
and exercised extensive influence throughout
Aquitaine during this period (Halphen 1906 :
57-9; Guillot 1972a:52-3;
The general pir:tL re of the fragmentation
comital or ducall power during the later tenth
and early eleventh centuries will come as no
surprise to those who are acquainted with J& F.
on the dissolution oft he pagus and Georges Du bys classic
study of this phenomenon
in M%connais
139ff.). Briefly, it is generally agreed that the
local unit of Carolingian
pagus or civitas, continued to function into the
later tenth century when it too began to be
morselled up into smaller pieces. This process
saw the emer!;ence of the castellan based in
his stone tower as the new fundamental unit of
territorial power. Under the early Capetians
it is maintained
that the role of the casteliar
grew mere important
while public authority
and rova I power faded in significance with increasir g rapidity (Lemarignier
195 1: 40 1ff.) .
As thir: process developed,
private jurisdiction

emerged as dolninant and the r(Flation between

the lord and his jdelis became the nexus of
political power (Duby 1953 : 149-79).
The careers of WiPliam Iron Arm and his
son William the Great provide insight into
the process of change described above. For
example, William Iron Arm exercised publ~
through his viscounts and vicadi
but he also was recognized
3s lord by the
castellans of Poitou and also by many of the
greater magnates of Aquitaine (Garaud 1937 :
426-9; Lemarignier
1951: 402, n.2). With regard to thecastellans who are described as Williams fide/es in the sources., William claimed
very wide powers but recognized few if any
obligations. As Garaud has shown, William
the Great lost the traditional
public powers
his father had exercised. When, however,
William the Great tried to demand no less
vast control over hiscfideles than his father had
he was successfully opposed. For
example, in dealing with Hugh of Lusignan,
William found it necessary &Olie, cheat, bribe
and foreswear Znself in order to dupe or
trick hisjdelisinto doing as he asked.4 Through
these methods Wi!liam w&s able to curb the
self-styled Chiliarchs more ambitious schemes
for self-aggrandizement.
But in the end, the
wily Hugh obtained
an agreement
William for a settlement that increased rather
than decreased
the wealth,
power, and
prestige of the house of Lusignan (Martindale
1963:548; Painter 1957:27-32).
Williams difficulties in cuerci?ing the same
levels of power, influence, and a lthority over
hisjdeZe.s t ha.1 William Irwin Arm had exercised
led him in about 1020 to write to Bishop
Fulbert of Chartres to ask aiJa)ut the forma
jdeZ.Etatis.5 The learned Illshop u rote back and
observed that one who swears faithfulness to
his lord must rj se cause him bodily harm,

betray his secrets or strongholds, detract from

his premg&ves
of justice, or hinder his polities. In addition, the lorsi is owed good counsel
and support by hisfi&bz Fulbert then observes
that the lord must in his turn act in the same
way in all things to his~idelis. If the lord fails to
do so he will merit being condemned for bad
faith just as would a ~&&KSin a similar
circumstance and the lord would be considered perfidious and foreswom (Behrends
1976: no. 51). What is important about
Fulberts reply to Williams letter, as scholars
have long recognized, is the reciprocal nature
William Iron Arm and after
him William the Great had tried to keep the
flow of obligations moving only toward the
lord, but by about 1020, it seems that a body
of custom was developing to protect the
position, apparently newly won in Poitou, of
thej&& (Garaud 1965 : 559-62 ; Gio.rdanengo
Those who have traditionally defended
Williams greatness may perhaps find some
consolation in the view that the dissolution
ofthe pagus was not limited lto Poitou or to
Aquitaine (Devailly 1973:109-35,
Fossier 1968b : 477-5 18). They may also find
solace in the consemus arnong modem
scholars that King Robert, Williams contemporary, presided over the diminution of
royal power (Lemarignier 1965: 64-5). Further, it may seem a mitigating factor to view
William as ensnared by an historical trend or
caught in an historicral process.
It should be pointed out, however, that the
growing power of castellans in M~coM~~s,
Berry, Picardy, or Poitou and the concurrent
development of custom to protect the newlywon position of these,%&s from their lords
was the work of particular individuals, not the
result of the imposition of a depersonalized


law of history. Fideles

of William the Great
like Hugh of Lusignan, Radulf of Thouars
and William of Parthenay were real people
with particular talents who subverted comital
power in Poitou so as to increase their own
wealth and power (Imbert 1864:332-42,
1871:33K; Garaud 1964: 39-43; Martindale
1969:542, 544, 546).
Modern scholars have with good reason
vigorously attacked the great man theory of
history and laid emphasis upon institutions.
Yet this corrective has often gone so far that
the human element is not appreciated. The
need for balance is well expressed by Le
Patourel ( 1965 : 294) : we tend to use abstract expressions like the expansion ofA.njou.
These are, it goes without saying, no more than
a convenient shorthand. To describe the
process with any approach to realism would
take a long time; but such expansion was
clearly She work of men, of ambitious, greedy
and for zeful men.
Indeed, Count William of AngoulCme,
Fulk Ncrra, and Ring Robert were real people
with pclicies and talents that enabled them to
deprive William the Great of prerogatives and
resources that W!lliam Iron Arm had exercised in Aquitaine. Fulk Nerra by contrast
with William the Great was not victimized by
the dissolurion of the pagus or by the
development of a body of custom to protect
Jideles Erom their lord. Rather Fulk increased
his power not only in Anjou but in Tocraine,
Maine, Poitou, and Saintonge. In Anjou he
reversed the process of dissolution and eliminated the viscount of Angers (Bachrach 1976 :
Halphen 1906 : loo:/. It might be
added here in further comparing William the
Great and Fulk Nerra that the former experienced difbculties in utilizing monastic resources (Monsabert 1936 : 179; Marchegay and

Mabille 1869 : 259) while the latter was able to

do much as h!e wished (Guillot 1972a : 162ff.).
The abbot \DfCormery was aware that William
was not able to protect the lands of Cormery
monastery that were located in Poitou firom
Fulk Nerra and thus asked Hing Robert for
help (Bourasse I86 1: 62 -3). Fulks supporters
in Poitou extorted lands and income firom
Poitevin monasteries
such as Saint-Hilaire,
one of WilEiams favorites, in return
(Garaud 1964 : 197-8). By contrast, King Roberts ability to provide protection was apparently
by Hugh
of Lusignan who sought charters from the
monarch for two monastic houses he founded
in Poitou (Painter 1957:32).
scholars have seen William of
Aquitaine as a great man. They have emphasized his role as a supporter of religious reform,
a builder of c:hurches, an advocate of learnin 9;,
and1 a leader of the peace movement. William,
indeed, was all this and more. Personally, he
was pious and embarked
on almost yearly
lto various holy places. He was
highly regarded by important churchmen like
Bishop Fulbert of Chartres and Bishop Leo c+f
Vercelli. William helcl the important title of
duke of Aquitaine in ;an era when status was
not unimportant
and his wealth often m[ade
him a generous
friend. For many, tlhese
virtues have been sufficient to have William
considizred among the great.
But there is, as we have seen, another z13de
to Williams career that until now has been
largely ignored. As a military leader and as
ruler of Poitou and Aquitaine, William lost
much of what his family had previously acquired. The northern
third of Poitou was
taken from him., King Robert recaptured
royal prerogatives
over the Church in Aquitaine, the house of AngouEme

intoa. fc.rmidable power, the castellansusurped

comi ta prerogatives, j&&s won equal treatmcnf, and the strategic groundwork
laid :torAngevin domination
of Poitou and
leadership in Aquitaine.
The diminution
of Williams reputation,
however, would seem to be of greater significance than stripping yet one more noble of his
undeserved gEoire or of depriving proponents
of A,quitanian
regional identity,
past and
present, of a hero. The prevailing scholarly
consensus concerning
the weakness of the
early Capetian monarchy rests, in part, upon
the notion that the kings were inferior to their
overmighty subjects; William the Great often
serves as the prototype of such men. The early
Capetians have been subjected to exhaustive
of their overstudy, but our apprec:ation
mighty subjects as in Williams case often has
rested upon a less intens.+e examination of the
cvidcnce. May it not be that the reputations
of other great magnates in early Capetian
France also rest upon less solid foundations?
More significantly,
however, since William
+he Great (9!)5-1030) is the man most likely to
be contrasted with King Robert (996-103 l),
may it not be suggested that the Capetian
monarch was not as unsuccessful, and was
perhaps even more able, than heretofore believed? While the present study has not been
intended primarily as a vehicle for the rehabilitation
of the reputation
of the early
Capetians, it does emphasize the importance
oitreating the position of the monarchy in a

Beech 1966:204. Richard 1903:139, n. 1, discusses the origins of Williams sobriquet le grand. This
study was made possible by a grant from the American
Council of Learned Societies for 1973-4.


1897: 150-2, 1Se. The traditional
hostility between Aquitaine and Franctir, which had
not abated during thii period (Kienast 1968a : 8 1),
permits the hypothesis that :ne choice of a Frank as
archbishop was due to the exercise of northern influence. In trying to date Williams surrender of half
the power over the appointment at Bordeaux it seems
possible that he did so wl.en he married Jhisca the
sister of the duke of Gascony in 1010, the same year
that Seguin was appointed archbishop.
Garaud 1964:85. It should be pointed out that
Garaud admits that William the Great lost prerogatives and powers that his father had enjoyed. But
Garaud argues that William the Greats losses were
not as substantial as those suffered by other counts
and dukes during this period. Thus Garaud (1964:29)
observes: 1autoritC comtalc ne subit pas, en Poitou,
une dissolution aussi profonde que dans certains
r&ions da royaume de France. G,arauds point of
departure is the classic study by Duby (1953).
Martindale 1969 : 533,542-7 ; Beech 1966 : 205.
The wide-ranging, one-sided claims made by the count
over his fi4& are well-illustrated (Martindale 1969 :
543) : Comes vero dixit : Non eos tibi interrogo propter
tuum malum, sed etiam per hoc quod meus tu es ad
facere meam
Beech ( 1566 : 206-72,
recognizes that Williams claim vis&vis Hugh yol:
are mine lto do my will, would seem to illustrac
dictatorial powers claimed by the counts of Poita,
over their J$ik&~.
Behrends 1976 : no. 5 1. Williams letter does no
survive but Fulberts answer does. This I 3tter has bee
widely used by scholars (Ganshof
Behrends ( 1976 : no. 51) provides the most recer t
edition of il. Fulbert does not use the terms uassus o:
vassalus but Behrends insists upon translztingfidelk ZY,

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