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The Public Morality In the Carolingian Times

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That time -as a link may be established with the desertion of nudity for baptism and the one of immersive baptism or with too body in paganisms- had a tendency to shield the body and even hating or being scared of it. The body also participated into justice through the God's judgments. Paralysis, blindness and maniaco-depressive madness were the more frequent illnesses as infantile death rate was very high. Women were the 'genitrix' above all, mothers that is. 60 percent of the people were young, under the age of marriage and with women, they constituted the 3/4th of the population, which accounts for the solidarity among expanded families. Elders were rare and they represented the clans' chieftains, the 'seniores.' The Church, in the Carolingian times favoured families of the conjugal type, at least in terms of housing. As it had accepted of sort the Gallo-Roman practices under the Merovingians, it also eventually imposed the prohibition of divorce under the Carolingians but the Franks however kept with polygamy. Charlemagne had 4 legitimate spouses and 6 wifes at least. The Church fought against that practice as it also expanded the prohibition of marriage for cause of relationship as the monogamy and the indissolvation of marriage eventually turned the rule by 10th century A.D. only first among the commoners and Gallo-Romans then among the nobility and the Franks. Church also favoured marital temperance against passions as marriage was not meant to quench lust but to guarantee the perpetuation of species only. At the same time, the practice also got distant of the excesses in terms of hatred of body which had been typical of the previous epoch. A lot was written about the immorality of the Carolingian Times. This is not fundamentally false. Some of these troubles were linked to political considerations however as some say that it's mostly the Reform writers who added those traits to the description of the Carolingian era. Charlemagne was reputed for his appetence for women. He had a great number of concubines beyond his 5 lawful spouses. Through the queens, the impresses or the concubines, the emperor got 20 children, of them a lot of daughters who were themselves reputed for their debauchery, like Emma who allowed Einhard to seduce her. Charlemagne required both of them to a legitimate marriage (the fact, however, that Charlemagne somewhat tended to accept those extra-marital relationships by his daughters, has a likely explanation in that he had refused any legal marriage to them by fear that those give ground to lesser branches of the Carolingians, thus threatening the main lineage; a proof of that may be found into that Charles accepted and liked the grandchildren born from those unions; such unions, further, did not contradict the German costum of the lesser marriages, known like 'common-law' ones). Charles, on the other hand, took a capitulary however to forbid the prostitution in the empire. The prostitution indeed had bloomed until the beginning of his reign. This capitulary was the first ever in the Frankish world about such a matter

Charlemagne's successor, Louis the Pious, took serious measures to reform such a public morality. He had the young courtiers, who were the accomplices of the king's daughters, killed or exiled as he forced the latters to a more decent life. He had expelled too from the court in Aachen all the ancient household members of Charlemagne, the morality of who he suspected not to be appropriate. The disorder, however, soon came back under the reign of Charles the Bald, among the greats as well as in the family of the emperor. Richilde, the daughter of Boves, count of the Ardennes, became the publicized mistress of Charles as she shared out the throne with the emperor after the impress Ermentrude's death. Judith, the emperor's daughter, was married to the old English king Ethelwolf as she was 12 years old only. She soon took for a lover one of ther sons-in-law as, once a widow, three years later, she publicly lived with him. Louis the Stammerer, her brother, was said to have a some special relationship with her! She eventually was authorized to marry Baudoin the Iron-Arm, count and forester of Flanders. Louis the Stammerer, who succeeded Charles, had two children -Louis III and Carloman- with one maidservant of Richilde. He was obliged by his father however to marry Richarde, the daughter of the king of England, as he abducted, in person, a nun of the convent of Chelles. It was at this same epoch too that the court of Lotharingia was perturbed, during a long time, by the affair of the repudiation of queen Teutberge by the king Lothar II. The king had espoused the queen, who was a princess of Burgundy, for political reasons only as he quickly abandoned her to the benefit of Waldrade, the niece to the Archbishop of Trier. The king eventually had the queen condemned by three councils, who canonically broke their union. The pope, as upheld by the king of Francia Occidentalis, could not obtain more than the exterior obedience of Lothar. Berthe, one of the three children Lothar had had with his concubine became the head, until her death in 925, as the marquise of Tuscany, of the most dissipated court in Europe!

The disorders in the public morality reappeared during the very last Carolingians of the French branch. Such disorders however might have been part of broader political maneuvers. Emma, the queen of Lothar -this queen was amazingly famed too for her warlike aptitudes- was of light morality and she had become the mistress to Adalberon, the Archbishop of Laon, France. Lothair gave as a wife to his son, Louis V, Blanche, the daughter of the count of Arles. Blanche became in turn the mistress to the same archbishop! Lothair was poisoned in 986 due to that he was willing to put an end to these troubles. It is unknown whether the poison was poured by the queen or the daughter-in-law as these events took place among the struggles who brought Hugues Capet to the throne of France. Louis V was poisoned in turn by Blanche, as Adalberon of Laon was a partisan of Charles of Lorraine, the last Carolingian pretendant. It is at that time too -and that's maybe more immoral still- that the texts Charlemagne had enacted against prostitution ceased to be enforced, due to the disintegration of the empire. Prostitution, hence, boomed back. It's at these times that the prostitutes of Paris would have set up themselves into a guild and that, in the courts of the kings or the great vassals, appeared retinues of prostitutes to their service. Their conditions was lower and they were more despised than the concubines of the previous epochs as an officer was officially in charge of managing them!

Another question at the time might have hold into the ways of life selves of the clerics. After the disorders endured by the Church by the beginnings of the era, which had been due to that the level of culture of the clerics had declined, it seems like that, since the early 9th century, or even as soon as the reign of Charlemagne, some mercantile stances, or devoided of scrupules invaded the world of them, up and above all to reach unto the high-ranking people in the Church. One knows, about 811, that secular priests or bishops are questioned about bearing arms, or being 'publicly married', as regular abbots are endeavouring to increase their domains through luring freemen, Greats or smaller ones, which were few trained or imprudent, using threats of a divine nature, and stealing from those their inheritances or inducing them into donations. The result being that such families were led to misery and to join the groups of robbers of the time! Such troubles, obviously, likely just could increase during the following times due to the varied disorders which gradually, progressively affected the Carolingian Empire

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/28/2010. contact us at