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Noch Einmal 918-919: Of the ritualized demise of kings and of political rituals in general

By Philippe Buc

Austrian Academy of Sciences: Veranstaltungen (2002)

Introduction: As 918 drew to a wintry close, King Conrad lay dying. His reign had been short. Perhaps, as Adalbert of Magdeburg later suggested, the Franconian ruler had been exhausted by bitter feuds against his former peers, the German ‘dukes’. Some of these vendettas were deeply routed, having grown in a fertile soil – the violent readjustments of the pecking order within the aristocracy brought about by two successive crises in kingship, Charles the Fat’s 887/888 deposition and Arnulf of Carinthia’s 900 problematic succession. Thus, the greater men of Germany had far from always been the king’s best friends, or those of his ancestors or relatives. Yet – so says another source, Liudprand of Cremona – Conrad now called them to his deathbed.

Adalbert and Liudprand’s quills – on the surface of things – broadly agree with yet another tenth-century source, Widukind of Corvey, as to Conrad’s succession. The dying Franconian ordered that Henry ‘duke’ of the Saxons, be chosen as his successor. He had recognized (to cite Widukind’s expression) that his kindred no longer held fortuna atque mores – fortune and virtue – had passed n to the Saxon. The royal insignia were to be taken to him. These three famously convergent narratives are etched into the German consciousness.