When are you capable of courage?
Humility and the purpose of allegiance.
The Fulcrum of Courage, Part 10
If you could earn a dollar per second for soaking your face in a bowl of water, how long would you last?
What if the money went to someone else?
For whom could you hold your breath longest?
Love moderates anxiety. When people soak their faces for someone else, their affinity for that person enables them to resist a small amount of stress.
It’s not much, but it is enough for most people to hold their breath longer for their children than siblings, spouses than cousins, and friends than strangers.
In Lombardy, Gerbert of Aurillac was under extreme stress.
His creative spirit clashed with his duties as an administrator. Every mistake and failure left him frustrated or guilty. He became pessimistic and self-conscious.
The debate in Ravenna still haunted Gerbert. Otric’s tactics were shadowy, nebulous, and vindictive. Even after 3 years, the memory nipped at Gerbert’s self-image.
Whenever he was tempted to believe a blanket statement, or to avoid being specific, Gerbert still had subtle flashbacks of Otric’s aggression.
Otto II was a true friend and his death from malaria genuinely grieved Gerbert.
Yet, Gerbert felt released when they left Lombardy. He was sad, but also liberated from a paralyzing inertia. He no longer faced the same level of stress.
He could finally breathe and look forward.
King Lothair’s fears were revealed when he handed the Duchy of Lorraine over to the Saxons. His marriage to Emma did not enable him to refuse Otto II’s terms.
It was a lingering embarrassment.
Hugh Capet, a member of Lothair’s court, disagreed with the decision to give up the duchy. He subtly taunted Lothair for reconciling with Otto II.
Upon Otto II’s death, Lothair set out to retake it militarily.
This time, Hugh Capet publicly supported Lothair’s decision. Except, he chose not to order his own armies to join the king’s march on Lorraine.
Instead, he captured a fortress to the west. Then he went to Rome.
The Empress Theophanu was in Aachen with her 3-year-old son, Otto III.
Messengers took three weeks to get from Rome to the north of Germany.
Otto III was coronated heir apparent of Germany and Italy on Christmas Day, 983. News of the emperor’s death reached Theophanu a few days later.
Nobody can change the course of history alone.
In Lombardy, Gerbert was tempted to avoid commitments, but he knew people in Reims who believed in his abilities and would share his cause.
At the Notre Dam de Reims, he could discuss the fate of the Holy Roman Empire with the Archbishop in person. He would also have time to repair damaged relationships.
Otto III’s nearest male relative, Henry the Quarrelsome, had a legitimate claim on regency. He was the Duke of Bavaria until Otto II stripped his title and imprisoned him for making secret alliances with begrudged nobles and clerics.
Upon the news of the emperor’s death, however, Henry was released. He immediately sent letters to his allies and formally claimed regency of Otto III.
Theophanu objected with passionate support from two venerated matriarchs but neither their arguments nor their titles were enough to sway the Archbishop of Cologne. He awarded regency of Otto III to his ally, Henry.
Every ruler needs supporters to stay in power. Theophanu was the empress, but she lacked the political allies necessary to get her son back.
For most of his life, Gerbert resisted direct involvement in politics. As a count in Lombardy, he was often aloof and reticent.
On the journey to Reims, he spent hours riding in carriages with Meridiana. They had time to reflect on the events leading up to the rebellion.
The landowners of Lombardy required a skilled negotiator to lead them. Meridiana had the skills Gerbert needed, but there was never time to consider them.
Gerbert mistook his title as count for an affirmation of abilities he did not have. He was unable to learn from Merdiana’s admirable qualities partly because of the stress, and partly because of his own scattered thinking and arrogance.
Gerbert mistakenly assumed Otto II validated something untrue, so the landowners’ resistance confused him. It hurt to realize the flattering assumptions he made about himself were unjustified.
Meridiana gently reminded him that he never avoided her emotions… Why was he avoiding his own?
Consequences are often only visible in hindsight. Gerbert's confusion was due to a false affirmation. It had tainted his view of the future and his own capabilities.
He had become cynical. He failed to make necessary considerations. He took ill-conceived actions. The landowners thought he was playing a zero-sum game and rejected his ideas for increasing agricultural production because of it.
The man he saw in the mirror was not a fraud but a self-deceiver. Nobody believed he had a brilliant and intuitive understanding of land law, except him.
Sometimes, the only way to learn is to take risks.
Gerbert realized the dangers of self-deception and acting on incomplete knowledge as they left Lombardy. Denying his fear did not serve him, his friends, or the empire.
He wanted to prevent fear from leading to more mistakes.
Gerbert knew about Henry and Lothair. Theophanu reached out to him because she knew he would understand the dangers they posed both to the empire, and her son.
Theophanu’s situation was dire. It was also the point of maximum leverage. It might be possible to change the course of history if Gerbert helped her get regency.
By the time they arrived in Reims, Gerbert was aware of his fears and no longer felt bound by them.
He made a list of nobles and clerics whose networks would support Theophanu’s cause. Then he wrote a series of evocative letters to convey the possibilities.
He addressed the risks and emphasized mutual support. He revealed his own vulnerabilities and asked for help. He demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his own short-term interests. He showed his commitment.
In 984, Henry negotiated a new alliance with Lothair and attempted to seize Otto III’s throne for himself. In exchange for support, Henry agreed to relinquish Lotharingia, which included Lorraine.
The duke who replaced Henry remained loyal to Otto III, but the bishops of Saxony supported Henry’s claim on the throne.
There was only one move left for Henry to make. He needed the support of clergy and nobles in Franconia to regain his old duchy.
Except, he did not know who was on Gerbert’s list. The Archbishop of Mainz and the Duke of Swabia had already been persuaded to oppose him.
Gerbert’s thoughtful letter-writing campaign was a success. On June 29, 985, Henry the Quarrelsome was forced to surrender regency of Otto III back to Theophanu.
With Henry out of the picture, Lothair decided to press on. He did not stop after retaking Lorraine. He continued into Germany.
Emboldened by his success, Gerbert turned his attention to the French Monarchy. While Lothair was in Germany, he became Hugh Capet’s advisor and secretary.
In a letter to the Archbishop of Reims, Gerbert wrote, "Lothair is king of France in name alone; Hugh is, however, not in name but in effect and deed."
Hugh Capet became king of France with Gerbert’s help, ending Lothair’s rule and bringing an end to the Carolingian line of kings in 987.
Theophanu continued to serve as regent until her untimely death in 991.
In 992, Good Friday coincided with the Feast of Annunciation.
Next: What is the difference between power and courage? What it means to bounce back.