Carolingian Dynasty

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© Bob Denton 2014

This dynasty had in fact started back at the end of the sixth century with the Pippinids and Arnulfings who successively served as Mayors of the Palace of one or more of the Frankish kingdoms. They held the power of those realms while notionally the country was being run by the Merovingian kings.

They made their first bid for the throne by having Sigebert III adopt Grimoald’s son Childebert the Adopted, but this was summarily put down by Clovis II and his mayor Erchinoaid.

Charles Martel  686 – 741

Their ruling period is usually considered as starting with Charles Martel, Carolingian meaning descendants of Charles, Martel meaning ‘the hammer’ the sobriquet he gained following his victory at the Battle of Tours.

He was the illegitimate son of Pepin the Middle and his noble concubine, Alpaida, she also delivered him another illegitimate son, Childebrand.  As bastard sons they were not expected to inherit any of Pepin’s wealth or power and ignored in his will.  Yet Charles would become King of the Franks and Childebrand would become a Duke of Burgundy.

In 711 the Merovingian king Childebert III had died and his son Dagobert III succeeded to all three Frankish kingdoms at the age of twelve. He lasted just four years before dying of some unidentified illness, but in that time parts of his kingdom in the north and the south were being annexed off, becoming independent under strong nobles and churchmen

Pepin had been responsible for the reunification of the Franks Back in 687 and decried its fragmentation following Dagobert I’s death. The Neustrians resented their annexation by Pepin and the Austrasians.

When Pepin died in 714 his wife, Plectrude, had arranged that he name his eight-year-old grandson (Grimoaid’s son), Theudoald, as his successor. The nobles objected to the succession given his father’s treachery and execution. Plectrude seeing the threat in Charles had him imprisoned in Cologne and this had the effect of calming things in Austrasia.

However the nobles in Neustria and successfully put forward their Mayor of the Palace, Ragenfrid, as the effective successor to Pepin and the power in the Frankish kingdoms.

When king Dagobert III died he was succeeded by Chilperic II, he had been raised and kept safely away from his feuding family in a monastery to emerge as king at the age of 43. Of course he was manipulated by Ragenfrid.

In 715 Charles managed to escape from Plectrude and found he had great support among the Austrasians who reallied to his cause and declared him as the rightful Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia.

In 716 Chilperic and Ragenfrid led their army, supported by a Frisian army, into Austrasia to attack Plectrude and Theudoald and bring the Austrasians under their control.

They first defeated a force near Cologne led by Charles, but he escaped following this defeat. They then besieged the city and forced Plectrude to recognise Chilperic II as the rightful king, and Ragenfrid as the Mayor of all Franks.

On the way back home from this victory they were unexpectedly met by an army that Charles had gathered, The Battle of Amblève, near Liège, saw Charles attack Chilperic’s army while within a heavily defended location. He attacked at mid-day when it was the tradition for armies to rest and then he feigned a retreat to draw them out into a trap where he defeated them. This was a revolutionary approach in Europe which required great discipline and timing, He would never again face defeat on a battlefield until his death some twenty-five years later.

He took his time to grow his army and the next year Charles entered Neustria, again defeating Chilperic II at Vincy, near Cambrai. He was chasing the king and his mayor to Paris when he had to break off and hurriedly return to Cologne to counter Plectrude. He seized Cologne but spared Plectrude and Theudoald, quite unusual for that era.

Once this was resolved he returned to Neustria where he proclaimed Clotaire IV as king of Austrasia.

In 718 Chilperic allied with the freshly independent duke of Aquitaine, Odo the Great, to attack Charles, but they were again heavily defeated at Soissons. Chilperic and Ragenfrid fled to different points of safety, Odo sued for peace in return for his recognising Clotaire IV.

But Clotaire died soon after leading to a volte face where Chilperic II was recognised by Charles. But not before his victories meant that he had been appointed Duke and Prince of the Franks in 718 CE. However he did not fully subdue the Neustrians until 724 CE.

Odo the Great – little is known of Odo’s (aka Eudo or Eudes) origins but he had certainly become the Duke of Aquitaine by 700 CE, his territory bounded by the Loire to the north, the Pyrenees to the south and the river Garonne to the east.

This location meant that he had trouble on both sides, the Franks to his east and the recent Moorish arrivals in Iberia to his west. In 711 he is said to have fought against the Visigoths in Pamplona before they became rather more threatened by the invading Moors to their south. When Frankish Neustria and Austrasia were battling each other in 715 he declared his Duchy independent.

It is believed that he raised an army in support of Chilperic and Ragenfrid in order to be recognised as king of Aquitaine. But in the event they were defeated and he agreed peace with Charles.

It is unclear how he gained his sobriquet ‘the Great’. But in 721 he did inflict a heavy defeat on the Umayyad Moors at Toulouse (his capital), this was their first loss! The Pope declared him a Champion of Christianity for this victory. He tried to secure his western border by marrying his daughter to a rebel Berber chieftain who then controlled what became Catalonia.

Charles is best known for his martial exploits. He marched against Radbod and his Frisians in 719 CE, capturing West Frisia (Holland).  Then the same year he attacked the Saxons defeating them in the Teutoberg Forest and back to the west of the river

Chilperic died in 720 and Charles appointed Dagobert III’s son Theuderic IV as king. Theuderic was still a minor and would rule until 737 CE. But here was Charles appointing the king that he was supposed to serve, the succession of rois fainéants had taken their toll, the king had no power.

The early 720s were spent defeating any remaining independent German tribes taking control of both Bavaria and Allemania by the end of that decade.

Charles was not simply a warrior, part of his being considered as the founder of the European Middle Ages is that he is credited with being significant in the definition of both feudalism and of knightly chivalry.

Charles also sought to breach the gap between the Franks and the Pope.  He also offered protection and support to Saint Boniface from 723 as he sought to convert the Franks to Catholicism. Though Charles may have seen this as a useful tactic in his battles with the non-Christian Saxons.

The Pope asked Charles to become the defender of the Holy See but he refused the role.

Saint Boniface – was an Anglo-Saxon priest, Winfrid Wynfrith, born in Wessex England. He sought to spread Roman Catholicism through Europe, and started among the Frisians. His work there soon became complicated by Martel’s war with the king of the Frisians, Radbod.

Winfrid travelled to Rome where Pope Gregory II renamed his as Boniface, after a fourth-century martyr. The Pope appointed him as bishop of Germania where his mission had to start from scratch.

He first made progress when he chopped down a mighty oak known locally as Jupiter’s Oak. The locals had expected him to be struck down by the god for the felling, when he wasn’t he gained his first converts. Between them they used the wood to make a chapel to Saint Peter.

His destruction of pagan Saxon sites and growth of a German church would have assisted Charles in his plans to expand Frankish control eastward.

Having made real progress in Germania he saw Frisia as unfinished business and returned there in 754 but calling a meeting of his converts he was set up on by an armed group and killed. He became the patron saint of Germany.

Charles had forged perhaps the most formidable European power of the time, now he had to face an even more powerful force, that of the Moors. The Eastern Roman Empire was now in decline, the expansionist Umayyad Caliphate had assaulted and taken many of its territories and also those of the Persian empire. They began to appear unstoppable as they consumed the Sassanid Empire and seized most of the Byzantine empire too.

They had crossed from north Africa to seize a bridgehead in Spain back in 711 and expelled the Visigoths. Since then, other than the one setback against Odo, they had successfully expanded their control through Europe for the next score or so years.

Charles’s having dealt with his north-eastern issues had turned his attention had finally turn towards the south west where he had harried Odo and twice marauded through Aquitaine. But he was the least of Odo’s concerns.

Back in 721 the Umayyad Moorish emir of Córdoba had amassed an army to try to take Aquitaine. As mentioned earlier, somewhat surprisingly Odo had defeated him at the Battle of Toulouse, because this had been their first ever defeat. They had been caught off guard, did not deploy their cavalry and their defences were arrayed in the wrong direction.

Battle of Tours   732

Odo called for Charles’s help against the Moors and he would spend much of the rest of his life fighting the Umayyads. First this required some rethinking about the structure and the recruitment of Frankish armies. To defeat the Moorish cavalry they needed to be extensively trained and thus on call all year around, which meant payment and provisioning of a force. Having espoused the church Charles now confiscated their lands in order to pay for this army.

By 732 the emir was Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, a veteran of Toulouse who had cautioned his then leader against becoming enveloped by Odo. This type they were ready for his tactics and the outcome was devastating to the Aquitaine forces, the Muslim heavy cavalry wreaking havoc.

A second army was gathered by Odo but they too were slaughtered at the Battle of the River Garonne. The Moors sacked Bordeaux, but this was just a prelude to what would become an eastern putsch that threatened to overwhelm a largely Christian Europe.

Odo fled to reach Charles and get his support, he got it, but only after he pledged himself and his people to acknowledge the supremacy of Charles. But he knew that Odo’s problem would soon be his.

A review of Arab chronicles of the time show that they were unconcerned about the power of Germanic tribes and had no real appreciation of the strength of the Franks. This ignorance and assurance meant they had not sent any scouting missions in to the territories to establish what they might encounter.

Their advance force pressed on to the Loire, perhaps with Tours as their target because it was the holiest and richest shrine in western Europe.

Charles advanced his force of Franks, Burgundians and Aquitaines deliberately avoiding the roman roads seeking to surprise his enemy and choose his own battleground. This was between Tours and Poitiers. He certainly surprised the advance group who had not expected to find such a large force fully prepared for battle.

For seven days the two forces faced off with the odd minor skirmish while their full numbers amassed, but it was Charles that had picked the ground. He had the high ground and he drew up his force in to one large phalanx that would be difficult for the cavalry to assault.

Historians argue about the relative size of the two forces, there appears to be no hard account to draw upon, so probably it was Charles’s propaganda that propagated the popular notion that he was outnumbered two to one.

It was October and the Franks were dressed more suitably for the cold of the incoming European winter. Charles knew a great deal about the Moors and their approach, they knew next to nothing about him. He had trained these troops for a decade and there was a core of hardened veterans.

The Moors waited for the Franks to advance but they did not, after seven long days it was the Moors that blinked first.

Abd-al-Raḥmân was so confident that his troops were the superior so he had them charge up the hill at the Franks. His cavalry lances and swords had always prevailed, but the Franks’ training mean they did not break. This would be one of a very few occasions where a medieval infantry would withstand a cavalry attack.

Many historian assert that the battle turned on a rumour that raced through the Moorish troops. Charles had sent scouts to cause havoc at the Umayyad base camp, he had hoped to free slaves and carry out other sabotage that would tie up some of their forces.

But the rumour that flew was that the Franks were stealing the loot that they had garnered from the sacking of Bordeaux. It was believed enough that numbers of the cavalry broke off and returned to camp, the infantry then saw this as a retreat and followed suit. Abd-al-Raḥmân in attempting to halt the retreat became detached and surrounded, he was killed, that just added to the belief that this was a defeat.

The Franks were ordered to return to their phalanx expecting a renewed assault the next day. They did not reappear but Charles did not want his force to be drawn out of their defensive position fearing that the Moor cavalry could tear them apart. It took some time before he would be convinced this was no trap, his scouts entered the camp to see that the Moors had left so hurriedly that tents and other equipment had been left behind.

They had grabbed up their loot and ran back over the Pyrenees. It was for this battle that Charles became Charles Martel – the hammer.

They were soon back again this time their target was Provence. In 736 a Moorish navy headed by Abd-al-Raḥmân’s son, landing at Narbonne and reinforcing Arles. Charles was allied with the king of the Lombards in his reaction to this assault.

Odo had abdicated and/or died in 735 and Aquitaine was now controlled by his son Hunald had initially declared his independence of Charles, but like his father before him he sworn his allegiance to Charles when the Moors threatened.

Charles was successful again by defeating one of the Moor’s armies at Arles and its main force near Narbonne. Significantly the Franks now had developed their own stirrups and a heavy cavalry of their own, something the Caliphate had assumed would take a generation had been achieved in five years by Martel.

He took Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon and with the Lombards recovered Agde, Agde, Béziers and Nîmes. He baulked at the time and cost in casualties that a full assault of Narbonne would entail and so withdrew.

The Moors maintained occupation of Septimania and Narbonne; it would take until 759 for Charles’s son Pepin the Younger (aka Pépin le Bref or Pepin the Short) to get them out of Narbonne.

Nonetheless the battle of Tours and these subsequent engagements meant that the Moors never expanded outside the south-western corner of modern-day France. This was of course in a large part due to the fact that the Umayyad dynasty had been defeated at the Battle of the Zab in today’s Iraq and the Caliphate split in to two parts.

When Theuderic IV died in 737 it finally illustrated how useless the Merovingian monarchs had been when he didn’t bother to designate a new one and no-one else in the Frankish kingdoms was moved to propose one either.

Charles had no desire to become king himself, but was satisfied with the notion that his descendants would be a dynasty of kings.

Charles Martel attacked Marseille in 739, when they had rejecting the governor he had sent them a few years earlier. His army punished the city severely so that its economic activities were curtaile with a resultant loss in prosperity. The city did not recover from this until the 10th century, as it faced 150 years of recurring attacks from the Greeks and the Saracens.

He died in 741 and his will split his lands between two of his sons. He was buried at the Saint-Denis Basilica in Paris.

Pepin the Younger (aka Pepin the Short)   752-768

His eldest son Carloman (the Wise) was awarded Austrasia and Alemannia, plus Bavaria as a vassal state. Pepin was given Burgundy and Neustria with Aquitaine as a vassal state. Their half-brother Grifo was awarded nothing and protested he should be awarded a portion of the lands. Carloman and Pepin united against him and imprisoned him in a monastery,

They then decided in 743 to name Childeric III as king, six years after their father had chosen not to appoint one. The two brothers worked well together, Carloman assisting Pepin against Hunald of Aquitaine in two battles in 742 and 745, Pepin assisting Carloman against the Saxons and the Bavarians several times during the 740s.

The brothers also sustained their father’s support for Saint Boniface. Carloman was particularly religious and decided to withdraw from public life in 747 and retired himself off to the Benedictine Monte Cassino monastery.

Pepin had to suppress a rebellion from his half-brother Grifo and then was clearly then in control of the whole of the Frankish realms. He celebrated this by removing Childeric III to the customary monastery; he was the last of the line of Merovingians. With the backing of Pope Zachary Pepin was proclaimed as king in 751, the first Carolingian to take the throne proper and therefore securing the succession to his children..

Pepin was anointed at Soissons by Saint Boniface and then again by the Pope who travelled to Paris to officiate at the ceremony at the Saint-Denis Basilica.

This had been the first occasion that a Pope had crowned a temporal ruler. The Pope also bestowed upon him the title, which his father had refused, Patricius Romanorum (Patrician of the Romans).

He then achieved the agreement of his nobles, though there was a heavy presence of his army when they were consulted.  His family hardly celebrated this decision. Drogo, the son of Carloman, had seen his birthright usurped and rebelled. Grifo was still unhappy about their father’s will and he also rebelled. Drogo was captured and imprisoned Grifo was killed in battle.

Pope Stephen II facing pressure from the Lombards fled to Paris to seek Pepin’s support. While in Paris he also anointed Pepin’s sons Charles and Carloman as heirs to the most powerful throne in Europe which at this point already controlled most of modern France, Germany and the Low Countries. Though Pepin did have to face regular problems from the Saxons and Bavarians.

Pepin attacked the Lombards and seized several Ravenna and the Duchy of the Pentapolis from them. He donated these to the Pope in what was known as the ‘Donation of Pepin’, which served to stabilise the Papal States.

But Pepin did militarily resolve his southern and western issues. He managed to seize Septimania from the Moors, though Narbonne held out until 759.

After a raft of battles against the combined Aquitaine and Basque forces including some brutal police action he had Walter of Aquitaine pledge his loyalty to him by 768; Walter was promptly assassinated by his unhappy supporters.

Pepin died while on campaign in 768, he was fifty four years old; he was interred in the Saint-Denis Basilica.

Charlemagne   768 – 814

On Pepin’s death in 768 Salic Law was applied again and his realm was split between his sons Charles, aged 26, and Carloman I who was just 17 years old. Charles inherited Neustria, Aquitaine and the north of Austrasia.  Carloman was awarded the balance of Austrasia, eastern Aquitaine, Burgundy, Provence, Septimania and Swabia.

There is much discussion about whether this had created two realms of whether it was just a power share of one realm. The brothers viewed each other with suspicion but did nothing to spark a war between them. Charles however did enter in to an alliance with the Lombards king, Desiderius, and married his daughter which quite effectively opened a second ‘front’ on Carloman.

When Carloman died in 771 this issue was mute, Charles seized the whole realm, ignoring any rights that Carloman’s children should have expected. He became known as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great.

He had inherited a large collection of territories that had little in common so that imposing a central will was always going to be a tough ask; this meant he would mostly be called upon to be a warrior.

His first major challenge was Saxony, from 772 and for the next thirty years he had to face constant rebellion which he put down savagely. Progressively he did manage to conquer Saxony and presided over their enforced conversion to Christianity. This was achieved by the simple expedient of saying that anyone who did not convert would be put to death. A little further north the Frisians often allied with the Saxons and so they had to be dealt with too.

In 771 he repudiated his Lombard wife and cancelled his alliance with her father. In 772 the new Pope, Adrian I, demanded the return to the papacy of cities that the Lombards had annexed. He sent ambassadors to Charles to ask for his assistance. Charles marched across the Alps into Lombardy and succeeded in pushed the Lombards back to Pavia upon which he then set siege. Meanwhile he chased another army back to Verona.

In 774 he was able to visit the Pope in Rome and re-confirm his father’s grant of his Italian lands; he was rewarded by being named Patrician. He returned to Pavia in time for the Lombards to surrender. He then crowned himself as King of Italy using the Iron Crown.

Iron Crown of Lombardy – is the earliest royal insignia of Christendom dating from the early Middle Ages. It is a simple circle of gold that held a thin band of iron set at its heart. The iron is claimed to have been beaten out from a nail that had been used in the Crucifixion on the True Cross.

The nail’s provenance is of course vague with no fewer than thirty countries claiming to have fragments of these holy nails. But these doubts did nothing to dissuade a succession of rulers from using the crown, even Napoleon would use it in 1805.

In 1993 the crown was subjected to scientific investigation and no iron was found within it. Two explanations emerged. The first said that the holy iron had been laid over the crown in an arc and not within it, and lost somewhere down the ages. The other said that it had perhaps been removed when the crown had been repaired in 1332. The crown is today at the Cathedral of Monza, outside Milan.

Charlemagne had the Italian nobles pay him obeisance. He garrisoned Pavia and left for home, but had to return to deal with several rebellious dukes. He held the north of Italy though his attempts to bring the south of Italy under his control was never quite realised.

In 778 he was approached by Moorish leaders in northern Spain who wanted to break with the Umayyads in Cordoba. It came to nothing and worse his army was set upon by Basques as he withdrew back through the Pyrenees.

In 786 Charlemagne turned his attention to the north-west where he subjugated the rebellious Bretons, taking hostages to underwrite the Bretons pledge of loyalty to him.

In 787 he fought to add Bohemia to his domains and succeeded by the next year. He removed the role of Count for the region and replaced the individual with a series of loyal counts.

But this brought him cheek-by-jowl with the Avars (aka Huns) in the Danube basin (todays Austria and Hungary) and spent much of the 790 subduing them and then converting them to Christianity.

But these additional territories needed to be policed and they grew the borders that he had to protect. But of course they also branded the Franks as the European leaders.

Charlemagne had many wives and mistresses and perhaps sired eighteen children. He had one oddity which was that rather than seeking dynastic marriages for his daughters he required them not to marry while he was alive. Some suggest that this was a fear that they would create branches of the family that could later foment dissent.

In a period of relative calm in the early 780s he carried on the family tradition my elevating his sons to have their own realms. His eldest Carloman was crowned as king of Italy and given the name Pepin, sadly for him he has been awarded the epithet Pepin the Hunchback by historians. His younger son, Louis, was made king of Aquitaine. They were supported by regents but the real power stayed with Charlemagne. Though when Pepin joined a rebellion against his father in 792 he was summarily banished, inevitably, he was sent to a monastery.

In 800 he went to the aid of Pope Leo III attacked by members of his curia for being tyrannical. He escorted the Pope back to Rome, Charlemagne as the ‘protector of Christendom’ presided over a review of the complaints, the outcome being a series of pledges from the Pope about his future conduct.

On Christmas Day the Pope crowned Charlemagne as ‘Emperor of the Romans’ at St Peter’s Basilica. It is unclear whether this was pure gratitude or formed part of the agreement made to restore the Pope.

It was perhaps a bid to return to the days of the Western Roman Empire. Certainly there was concern that the Eastern Roan Empire was in heavy decline, worse they had elected Irene as a female emperor in 797. Charlemagne was now appointed to be the equal of the Eastern Emperor.

To some extent this new role had reduced his military conquests and therefore the loot and land that could be used to keep his diverse realm gainfully occupied.

Charlemagne also found time to create a strong administration in his diverse and broad dominion. He established counts for each ‘county’ who had to raise taxes, raise troops, keep the peace and administer justice. He would gather them, senior churchmen and military leaders together annually at Aachen to discuss the issues of the time. He would take their advice and complaints, make proclamations and get their support for his policies.

Most senior individuals were required to declare themselves as royal vassals and while he retained their loyalty they could expect to receive valuable roles and land grants. He also employed royal agents to give out his policies and report back on local adherence.

He helped to expand commerce by regularising the monetary system, creating a standard system of weights and measures, and a unified approach to customs duties. He encouraged trading with remote locations and provided security for merchants engaged in these.

His army was assembled from freemen who had to fund themselves, but the booty from his expansion and land grants underwrote this approach. However his military was not well prepared for what was to come after his death, threats from a series of seafaring enemies, the Danes for example.

Of course part of his mission was to spread Christianity to all parts of his lands. Quietly yet effectively he had added the religious perspective to his royal rights, insisting that his dynasty had the right to rule by the grace of God.

He encouraged a renaissance in culture and scholarship amassing a library of classical and Christian works. He went on to develop a standardised form of writing, the Carolingian minuscule, which made reading and writing easier. Later it would be used as the basis for European printed alphabets.

This support for the arts led to a Carolingian Renaissance, leading to some describing Aachen as the new Athens. Charlemagne heralded as the ‘new David’ and the ‘new Constantine’.

He had decreed back in 804 that his realm should be divided by Frankish custom among his three sons but that had rally taken account of his imperial status. In 813, wracked by ill-health, he crowned his surviving son, Louis I (aka the Pious or the Fair), as emperor to ensure no meddling by the Papacy. Louis was appointed to co-rule with Charlemagne while he lived.

Charlemagne died early in 814 and was buried at Aachen for this was where he had spent much of his time when not campaigning.

Louis I, his sons and grandsons   814 – 840

The first Louis had to take on his regal authority early. Perhaps he was setting an example for all those that followed – twenty individuals would call themselves King Louis of France, though two or three of these never actually ruled. He collected a number of sobriquets – Louis le Pieux (the Pious), Ludwig der Fromme (German version of Pious), Louis the Fair and Louis the Debonair, and in Latin was known as Hludovicus or Chlodovicus.

In 781 as third son of Charlemagne he was appointed king of Aquitaine -at the age of three and reigned this fractious kingdom for 33 years. Bundled off to Toulouse and his new realm he was supported by regents. Charlemagne was eager for him to grow up within the kingdom he would rule, and insisted he wore local costume and respected local customs.

At no stage had he been allocated any sort of sinecure, he was a warrior. As king of Aquitaine he had led his troops to displace the Moors from Barcelona, besieging it for two years (801-2) and had later asserted his authority over the Basques across the Pyrenees and of the city of Pamplona by 812.

In 794 already having sired two children by concubines he entered in to a dynastic marriage arranged by his father to Irmingard they had five children across the next ten years. He seemed to inspire loyalty gathering a multinational series of bishops and advisors around him.

It had been expected that his brothers would share Charlemagne’s realm between them but both had died – Pepin in 810 and Charles in 811.

So in 813 at 35 years old and the sole surviving son of Charlemagne, he was appointed as co-ruler with his father, both as King of the Franks and the Emperor of the Romans (the term Holy Roman Emperor was first used in the 13th century). The next year his father died, he rushed to Aachen and, gaining noble support, he crowned himself as the sole ruler. He retained some of his father’s advisors but had brought a strong coterie of his own.

His 26-year reign was a record for a medieval emperor that stood until 1056 and Henry IV. His realm stretched from Hamburg to Barcelona and encompassed not just Franks but Aquitanians, Avars, Bavarians, Bretons, Byzantines, Jews, Lombards, Romans, Saxons, Slavs, Spanish… His reign proved fractious and would face three civil wars and a brief period where he was deposed from the country.

To earn his Pious epithet he promptly removed prostitutes from the palace and being aware that  his unmarried sisters had been consorting with court officials had them packed off to nunneries. He sent his father’s cousins Adalard and Wala to monasteries, yet took no action against his half-brothers.

He was a good and prodigious administrator in his first year he issued forty diplomas, or decrees, this was twice that his father had issued in the previous dozen or so years. He insisted that he ruled all or the people regardless of their ethnicity.

As emperor he was fully mindful of the Salic rules and involved his sons in his administration. In 815 Lothair was allocated Bavaria to rule and Pepin was given Aquitaine though they were not given royal titles – his youngest son Louis was as yet too young. He was planning an approach for splitting his kingdom among them.

Pope Stephen IV came to Reims in 816 and ceremonially re-crowned Louis which reinforced the relationship between the Frankish crown and the Papacy.

By 817 he had set out his vision the Ordinatio imperii which was quite revolutionary in seeking to avoid regional differences and maintain his centralised and unified ideal. His father had ruled by having a whole series of kingdoms and counties, Louis eschewed this approach.

He also issued his Pactum Hludowicianum which defined the relationship between his empire and the papacy, with him certainly operating as the senior partner of the agreement, he would later suggest the Pope was his helper in caring for God’s people.

But his approach radically changed when that same year a wooden gallery that linked the palace with the cathedral in Aachen collapsed and killed many unlucky enough to be crossing it at the time. Louis I was one of those injured and was reportedly close to death, this focussed his mind on succession.

He then produced what was named as the ‘Partition of Aachen’ where he decided that Lothair should be crowned as co-emperor and would inherit the bulk of his father’s realm except those allocated to his brothers and cousins, though they would have to pledge their allegiance to him as the emperor. He therefore received the bulk of the realm and seniority.

The next son Pepin was made the king of Aquitaine, Gascony and the cities of Carcassonne, Nevers and Toulouse. The third son Louis (the German) was made king of Bavaria and its environs. Their cousin Bernard, son of Charlemagne’s brother Pepin was made king of Italy. If any of these three died their realm would pass to their sons, but if they had no sons then Lothair would take the territory under his wing.

Bernard promptly started to seek independence for his realm, but Louis sent his army to seize him and bring him back to Aachen to face trial. He was condemned to death but Louis commuted this to blinding. However the sentence led to several days of agony for Bernard followed by his death.

Louis was not Louis the Pious for no reason, he was so distraught over what he had done and publically made penance to Pope Paschal I. As part of his penance he also reconciled himself with members of his family by promoting his half-brothers to new roles and releasing Adalard and Wala from their monasteries.

For the next decade Louis had to face unrest from all around his frontiers. Slovenians caused problems to the south east, the Danes (Vikings) in the north east. Converting the Danish king Harald to Christianity settled things down though they still occupied territory along the Frisian coast. To th west he had regular problems with the Bretons and the Basques across the Pyrenees. By 839 Louis, now facing more seaward threats, needed to create the first Frankish navy.

When his first wife died Louis was remarried in 823. His new wife, Judith, delivered him a new son that year, Charles. Louis decided he must therefore revisit his Partition of Aachen decisions and allocate a kingdom to Charles, this immediately provoked the hostility of his other sons.

 In 829 Charles was awarded Alemannia by Louis. Lothair was incensed, supported by Wala and his brothers plus a number of officials, he sought to discredit Judith. He suggested that she had committed adultery and that Charles was not even fathered by Louis. This fractured the realm with a number of leading churchmen supporting Lothair’s dismissal of the new division. But Louis was back in control by 830, It was another of the brothers, Pepin, who first gathered an army and marched on Paris. He then captured Louis as he returned from a campaign against the Bretons. Louis now promised Pepin and his other son, Louis, more of the cake.

Lothair raised an army of Lombards in response and called for a general council meeting. The meeting was controlled by Austrasians and Germanic who had come with their own military support, they concluded that Pepin and Louis must release their father and abase themselves before him for their actions. But Lothair too was vilified and banished back to Italy. Wala was despatched off to a monastery. This ended the first rebellion, though Louis was forced to replace the Ordinatio imperii with a new Divisio regnorum that would split the realm into four roughly equivalent territories when Louis died. But this was not met with general agreement, many did not want the empire fractured.

By 832 it was sparked off again, Pepin raising unrest in Aquitaine and Louis the German allying with neighbouring Slavs to grab Swabia. Louis the Pious reshuffled things declaring Charles as king of Aquitaine and giving the rest of the empire over to Lothair.

But Lothair was not interested, he joined his brothers and others in rebellion. Louis the Pious agreed to meet up at Rothfeld with Lothair, but when he arrived he found all three brothers and Pope Gregory IV were there standing against him. Worse the presence of the Pope managed to spread dissension among the troops of Louis and they progressively withdrew their support. Louis ordered the rest to leave rather than be wounded or killed in his name. The ‘battleground’ for this betrayal became known as Campus Mendacii or the ‘Field of Lies’.

In 833 Louis the Pious was forced to confess a whole series of trumped up sins, strip himself of his imperial regalia and was then deposed to a life of penance. The sons’ humiliation of their father led to further internal strife, earning them enemies of many of the nobles from Austrasia and Saxony. Louis the Pious was reinstalled in 834.

In 836 Louis made peace with Pepin and Louis the German restoring them both to their thrones. Charles obviously became a favourite of Louis, the next year he crowned Charles as king of Alemannia and Burgundy and added parts of Lois the German’s territories. When Pepin died in 838 Charles was also crowned as the king of Aquitaine.

The Aquitaine nobles disagreed preferring that Pepin’s son, Pepin II, should rule them. Louis the Pious threatened invasion and a third civil war broke out. Pepin II advanced his forces to Paris, Louis the German attacked Swabia.

This time Lothair came out in favour of his father but this was conditional on him revisiting the division of the realm. This rethink saw Pepin II disinherited, Louis the German was awarded Bavaria, though Louis subsequently chose to invade it and moved Louis the German off further eastward. Lothair concentrated on Italy.

Subsequently Louis proposed that his realm be split roughly into an eastern and a western and gave Lothair the first choice between his two favoured sons. Lothair chose the east and Charles was awarded the west. Louis secured the latter by invading Aquitaine and having the nobles approve to the ascension of Charles.

It would be wrong to think that these map-redraftings were his only focus. In 839 he won accolades from the Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) emperor Theophilus I for his service to the security and expansion of Christianity.

Louis the Pious died in 840 and was buried in Metz. His sons once again became fractious the realm falling into civil war for the next three years. Louis the German and Charles united against Lothair and defeated him in 841 at the Battle of Fontenoy-en-Puisaye. The war was settled in 843 by the Treaty of Verdun which agreed that the realm should be split three ways.

Francia Media (the kingdom of the Middle Franks) was awarded to Lothair I, and because of his seniority he was also granted the title of emperor. His realm stretched from the Frisian coast and the Low Countries, stretching southwards to encompass the regions of Lorraine, Burgundy and Provence and reaching into Italy. Significantly it included Charlemagne’s capital of Aachen and Rome.

Francia Occidentalis (the kingdom of the Western Franks) was placed under Charles II (aka Charles le Chauve or Charles the Bald), it was today’s France with a few twists. It included Catalonia that crossed the Pyrenees in to modern Spain, of course it did not include the modern-day Lorraine, Burgundy or Provence. Charles ruled what is today’s France many consider him to be the first true king of the Franks reigning from 840 to 877; many of course suggest this was Clovis.

Francia Orientalis (the kingdom of the Eastern Franks) under Louis (aka Ludwig) the German. This was the land west of the Rhine plus the cities of Mainz, Speyer and Worms. This realm therefore consisted of areas only annexed in the previous century Alemannia, Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia. It was not a bad effort for defining modern Germany. [Note: the tag Louis the German was an 18th century appellation used by historians, he was never called this in life. But it is easier here to use the term to distinguish him from his father and his son.]

Aquitaine consistently remained something of an exception through until 860.

Charles the Bald was the youngest son of Louis the Pious and his second wife Judith. The Treaty of Verdun had awarded him West Francia and the early years of his reign were relatively peaceful as the three brothers met regularly and ran essentially a confraternal government.

But Charles proved unpopular within his kingdom and his nobles reached out to Louis the German, who promptly invaded. Charles unpopularity extended to an inability to raise an army to defend against this so he escaped to Burgundy.  His local bishops however refused to acknowledge Louis the German and he was returned to power.

Francia Media did not last long because Lothair died in 855, therefore it was split between his three sons.

The kingdom of Italy and the title of emperor was awarded to his eldest Louis II (not to be confused with Louis II king of West Francia). The next eldest Lothair II was awarded Lotharingia or Lorraine (the Low Countries and the Rhineland – today’s Franco-German borders and west Switzerland), the kingdom of Arles (Lyons and Provence) was awarded to Charles of Provence his youngest.

Charles the Bald and Louis the German briefly worked together to see how they might annexe parts of Lothair’s lands for themselves. When Lothair II died in 869 without issue, Louis the German was seriously ill and his armies engaged elsewhere, so Charles the Bald took the opportunity to seize the whole kingdom.

Louis recovered and threatened war, they signed the Treaty of Mersen in 870 which shuffled the pack one more time. They entered a chaotic period when The Emperor Louis II died in 875 and the empire passed to Charles II, (aka Charles the Bald), who was of course already king of West Francia. Louis the German died in 876 prompting Charles the Bald to try to seize his territory, but he was held at bay by Louis the Younger, the second son of Louis the German.

When in 877 Charles the Bald died, there was a scramble by his sons to divide up West Francia. It was his eldest son who became Louis II (aka Louis le Bègue or Louis the Stammerer) succeeding him as King of the Franks but he was a weakly man and lasted for only eighteen months. He did pass his Spanish territories of Barcelona and Girona to the delightfully named Wilfred the Hairy. But facing numerous Viking attacks he became ill while campaigning against them and died.

Louis II’s two sons then took it in turn to rule. From 879 Louis III ruled but they agreed the next year a splitting of the realm with his younger brother Carloman being allocated Aquitaine and Burgundy.

Louis III lasted for some forty months and did record a victory against the Vikings in 881 at the Battle of Saucourt-en-Vimeu. Enjoying a peaceful moment and pursuing a young lady he fell from his horse. He died without leaving a son so his brother Carloman II took on the role for thirty months. He inherited a realm that was under regular assault by the Normans. He died in 884 while hunting, his cousin Charles the Fat succeeding him.

But the years of internal bickering and short uneventful reigns had served to fracture and weaken the notion and the realities of a Holy Roman Empire.

Charles II  840 – 877

Charles le Gros or Charles the Fat, was Louis the German’s youngest son would be the ruler who would reunite the empire under him, albeit briefly.

He was regularly unwell and said to suffer from epilepsy, but he slowly ascended to control the empire by the simple expedient of outliving his brothers and cousins and being handed the reins of their kingdoms, none were gained by conquest.

He had originally been allocated the kingdom of Alemannia in 876, but when his elder brother had a stroke and abdicated he then inherited the kingdom of Italy in 879.

In 882 his other brother Louis the Younger was facing problems in the Low Countries following the ‘Great Heathen Army’ defeat in England by Alfred the Great. Those who survived had crossed the Channel and settled in his realm. While having some success against these Vikings, Louis the Younger died during his campaigns. Charles the Fat inherited East Francia. He inherited the campaign against the Vikings which was resolved by one of its leaders converting to Christianity and becoming Charles’s vassal, the other was paid off to leave.

Then when his cousin Carloman II died in 884 the nobles in that realm asked him to become the king of West Francia. For just three years the empire was reunified under Charles II.

In 885 a large fleet of Viking longboats travelled up the Seine under Sigfred, they reached and laid siege on Paris. Disease was rampant in the city and Eudes de Paris (Odo the count of Paris) appealed for Charles II’s support to rid his city of this threat. Charles did lead an army to camp at Montmartre but did nothing to attack the Vikings, he was more interested in attacking Burgundy that had rebelled. They did depart the next year with a payment made to them in silver. But the incident damaged Charles’s reputation.

He did assuage the Bretons by permitting their duke, Alan I, to call himself king of Brittany, of course Charles was the emperor so this did nothing to threaten his status and halted the conflict there.

However in 887 his nephew successfully led a coup to seize east Francia. He went in to retirement following this and died naturally in 888. The empire never came together again, progressively becoming five separate kingdoms.

Impressed by his actions against the Viking siege of Paris, the West Franks elected Odo to become their king, he was crowned at Compiègne in 888. He continued campaigns against the Vikings but began to come under pressure to give way for Charles III le Simple (Charles the Simple or Straightforward), the posthumous son of Louis the Stammerer. He had twice been passed over but now wanted his rights asserted. Charles III was speculatively crowned in 893 at Reims Cathedral, but only fully assumed the role when Odo died in 898.

Five more Merovingian kings would occupy the throne through the balance of the 10th century. Robert I who was Odo’s brother. Rudolph who was Robert’s son-in-law and the Duke of Burgundy. Louis IV d’Outremer (Louis from Overseas), because he was son of Charles III and an English noblewoman. Louis IV who was succeeded in turn by his son Lothare de France and his grandson Louis V le Fainéant (Louis the Lazy).

Robert’s grandson would later found a dynasty that would last over 800 years – the Capetians. This began with Hugh (987-996) and ended with Louis Philip (1830-1848) and  The Miracle capétien is a term often applied to this longevity, for the dynasty and its cadet branches unlikely retention of the French crown

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© Bob Denton 2014