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The Successors of Charlemagne

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a Frankish king, or emperora Frankish king, or emperor

Franks, since their origin, had been divided into the Salian Franks, whence Clovis will be issued, and the Ripuarian Franks -that some now prefer to name 'Rhenan Franks'- whence the Carolingians. That duality was to be found back until the classical Middle Ages, when the fundamental divisions in Europe will have become the ones between the diverses kingdoms, and the Holy Empire. As far as the Merovingians and Carolingians are concerned, it is lands named 'Neustria,' North of the Loire River, Paris, Picardie, which turned the world of Salians and those named 'Austrasia,' from Reims to the Rhine River at Köln, the one of Austrasians. Whatever the events since that, reality of struggles always will be the one of domanial properties. Aristocracy of Neustrians, which soon had been mixed with Gallo-romans, will always have its in Neustria, and the one of Austrasians, Germans, in Austrasia. When it was Austrasia, with the first Pippinids and the Arnulfians, which turned the place to dynamism about 680 A.D., Carolingians will try to put Neustria under their control through their lay faithful granted with domains and cleric ones with bishoprics and abbeys. Only maybe did Charles the Hammer endeavour to ease the resentment of Neustrians, as he seemingly had his royal residences both in Neustria and Austrasia. That struggle between both entities was to weaken as soon as under the reign of Louis the Pious as the Court then was peopled with clerics, freed and intellectuals. A apogee was reached at the Treaty of Verdun in 843 A.D. which did not work upon the same logics. Once the main consequence to that treaty swiftly stabilized, with the Francio occidentalis and the Francia orientalis about 880, the old duality Neustria-Austrasia reappeared. That time however, the duality limited itself into the Francia occidentalis as Austrasia, which was the stronghold of Carolingians, had been divided in two, at last, by the Treaty of Verdun. It even might that a dividing line eventually come to existence among the Franks at a certain time, between 'French' and 'Germans.' Carolingien rulers did then based their power upon lands possessed from Laon and Reims down to Metz, where they lost their stength. The lineage of Robertians, the ancestors to Capetians, as far as they are concerned, had the whole of Neustria at their disposal. By the turn of the 10th century A.D. it was still 'national,' not to say ethnic, realities which, in Francia occidentalis, were to found the large principalities, like Flanders, Aquitaine, Provence or Septimania, etc. The final break up into the feudal system, between 930 and 1000 A.D. was to keep in that 'national' logic but, above all, it was to complicate itself as the Empire had been attributed and was taking rebirth among the Germans since 962. Landlords in the West then will let Hugues Capet take the crown as he had then become a mere one of them, or even the candidate of the Ottonians. Ironically, the Capetians were of a Austrasian, or Saxon origin. A whole century of troubles, finally, from 850 to 950 A.D., took place. Like the Benedictines, with their Litterary History of France, stated it, the too large leniency of Louis the Pious as he limited himself to minute details only encouraged disorders as nobody further eventually obeyed him. Charles the Bald was 'more narrow-minded still and as feeble,' and he owed only to his good fortune. Louis the Stammerer reigned too few as his sons Louis and Carloman lacked expertise. Charles the Fat had neither courage nor skill and he reigned to few of time. Eudes, the Robertian, at last, did not have enough with his 10 years of reign to face the ruin of the Empire

Charlemagne had managed to have one of his sons, Louis, be designed his successor as he was still alive. Louis the Pious reigned as emperor from 814 to 840. In turn, he managed to overcome the Germanic costums which were still extant among the Carolingians about the share of the kingdom between the heirs at the moment of the ruler's death. A law of succession, the "Ordinatio Imperii", likely inspired by Church, was taken in 817, by which the power and the imperial title were to be transmitted to the emperor's oldest son only instead of being parted into his three sons. But, when Louis the Pious got a fourth son, Charles, from his second wife, the empress Judith, he set aside the law for the sole benefit of this new heir, Lothar, for who his mother was devoured with ambition. The later was to get the preponderant part of the empire and to bear the imperial title. Followed a long struggle, implicating the sons against the father, and the sons between themselves. Troubles are making that Greats already made the most of it against the imperial rule, with each pretender securing the counts of his territories by giving lands to them. When Louis died in 840, the struggle kept on, bringing the defeat of Lothar, in 841. Two years later, in August 843, the Treaty of Verdun, brought a settlement under the form of a division of the Empire into three parts. Charles (Charles II the Bald) got the western part (the "Francia Occidentalis"), Louis (Louis II the German), the eastern part (the "Francia Orientalis") as Lothar eventually got the "Francia Media", these territories running from Frisia to Italy, along with the status of Emperor. Such a longitudinal division of the Empire had been deviced by the clerics so to have each kingdom have an equal share of resource, from the northern to the Mediterranean shores. The imperial title devoluted to Lothair however represented a weakening to him as he does not have the necessary means with his territories limited now to the center of the former united Carolingian empire. The Treaty of Verdun further that the ost, the Carolingian army, should not be used for civil war anymore. The treaty also brought to that many lands swap occurred between Greats as each landholder now owed fidelity to one of the three new rulers only. Negociations for the Treaty of Verdun further appeared like a sign of weakness to the Northmen and the Saracenes which both turned a threat at the time for the Carolingian empire. A irony was that the Capetians themselves were of Austrasian, or a Saxon origin. Adding to such a factual view, let's add a more political stance. A party named like the 'unitarian party' appeared under Charlemagne. It was constituted by the 'proceres', potens who were managing the main offices in the Palace, the embassies or the functions of missi. To them belonged Lambert and Matfrid, Hilduin and Helisachar of St-Riquier with like their head, Wala abbot of Corbia and archbishop Agobard of Lyons and, at last, men like Paschase Radbert or Florus of Lyons. They wanted to take the occasion of the change of sovereign to take the Frankish Church out of the gallicanism which Charles had enforced, or from the nascent feodality. Benedict of Aniane was also one of them as far as the secularization of the Benedictine abbeys were concerned. The unitarian party, above all by 817 A.D. were the main instigators of the divide of the Empire by Louis the Pious with the empire's principle transmitted to Lothair and territories to Pippin and Louis, which was a victory for the idea of unity. With the arrival of Impress Judith -- with her philo-Jewish clan -- and his son Charles, 'unitarians' opposed to any new view of the heritage. The civil war which began in 831 had the unitarians exiled as they involved Pope Gregory IV into the struggle, who was the pope of the Frankish party in Rome. That intervention is looking like it involved a other party among the Franks, the one which opposed, through a other gallicanism, to papacy, even a one dominated by the Frankish party of Rome. The penance of 833 A.D. was inforced by the unitarians against Louis the Pious but, two years later, a reverse decision was taken -- likely by the Impress' party -- re-established Louis et punished them. Their ideas got its last blow with the battle of Fontenay-en-Puisaye when Lothair was defeated by his brothers as he was their candidate for the Empire. Thence occurred the Treaty of Verdun by 843 A.D.

That partition of the Empire soon complicated further as the division of the Carolingian empire further was increased also by the cultural and linguistic split which was occurring at the time between the Germanic, and Gallo-Latin worlds, which was exemplified by that the Treaty of Verdun in 842 A.D. had to be written in both languages. Lothar died long before his two brothers, Charles and Louis, in 855, leading to the additional division of share into his sons. One of them, Louis (Louis II) got Italy and the imperial title. All the territories were to be eventually given back to him. The uncles did not hesitate to challenge their nephews and the Treaty of Mersen (Ribemont) in 870 eventually let Louis II with the southern part of Lothar's share only. When Louis died, in 875, Charles II the Bald rushed to Rome and got the imperial crown. The Empire was united back briefly only, as Charles died soon after, in 877. Under Charles the Bald alreay, Francia and Gothia were the sole provinces represented like in charge of protecting the Church. Louis II the German had died in 876 already. The Carolingians territories kept to be divided, Germany being divided into three kingdoms and the Francia Occidentalis into two grandsons of Charles II the Bald. No one assumed the imperial title until 881. A heir from the eastern line, Charles, eventually took back the title of emperor under the name of Charles III the Fat. He eventually, by lack of natural heirs and by setting aside Charles (the Simple) the heir of western Francia, reassembled, southern Burgundy excepted, the Empire as it was at the epoch of Charlemagne. This was purely nominal however as all the Frankish territories were, at this time, threatened by the Vikings and the Arabs. One year before his death in 888, Charles III was deposed, as ruler of eastern Francia, by the German nobility, at the Diet of Tribur. The Carolingian decline also held to hat the restoration of the Empire in the West and the will to unify Europe through administration and culture confronted to varied factors, like reluctance to centralization, the oblivion of the idea of State and administration, marked ethnic and linguistic identities, all which prevented the real development of a common identity, with solidarity. Strictly, no more first-line Carolingian came to claim for the Empire after 899. 'As they had not to wait for a ruler given by Naturne anymore, [each kingdom] searched to create for itself a king issued from its entrails'

New invasions of the Northmen, Sarracen pirats and Magyars were to add to troubles. The Viking raiders definitively realized of the organisational weakness of the Carolingian world by about 845 A.D. as such a weakness also encouraged the following invaders. Carolingian elites proved '[F]rightened to death and divided between themselves... and the kingdom of Christians, they let it go into disorders.' Northmen's raids then reached at their largest and kept alike until the early 9th century A.D. Calm settled after that a part of them eventually settled in Normandy by the treaty of St-Clair-sur-Epte (911). Vikings raiders were to be back, in England, by 985 only before Canut the Great created a vast Viking empire (1016-1035). In the western Mediterranean, it was the Sarracen pirats which were to rule since Sicily, they had conquered by 827 AD. Thence they raided Italian shores as they made a settlement too at Le Fraxinet, southeastern France, in Provence about 840 whence they plunder Alpine valleys. The time needed that abbot Mayol of Cluny, to be ransomed in 972 to have them dislodged. The Magyars at last, who after settling in Pannonia (current Hungary) took over since 895 as they particularly targeted Bavaria and Lombardy as they also reached to Gauls, Burgundy or Lorraine. Ruins generated by those invasions contributed for much into the Carolingian decline, among others because the miscellaneous provinces of the Frankish dominions had proved selfish and with no solidarity, or due to that ancestors to next dynasties like the Robertians or Ottonians proved more willing to fight. Northmen's raids at last, in Gauls, had the inhabitants understand, since 860 A.D. that only by organizing themselves at the local level, with castles, fortified bridges, etc. they could withstand attackers

It's from Charles the Fat's death onwards that the definitive decline of the carolingian empire may be considered like having begun. The imperial title definitively lapsed in 922. Eastern and Western Franciae (what were to become Germany and France) more and more assumed a separate destiny, as, on the other hand, in each kingdom, it was the nobilities which took or awarded the power. The imperial idea however remained strong in peoples' memory. Eastern Francia got out of the Carolingian line as soon as in 911 as Western Francia gradually passed under the control of the counts of Paris, who played to the western Carolingians the role that the fledgling Carolingian line had had to the Merovingians. It's not before 987 however that the counts of Paris definitively assumed the power, when Hugh Capet was elected king of Franks in Noyon. By this time, Western Francia had fallen still more into feudalism, as the high lineages themselves had got challenged in turn by smaller warlords. Eastern Francia as far as it was concerned, had become then the real center of power in Europe, as the Ottonian dynasty was building a new, well-hierarchized empire. The world of the end of the 900's was no more the one of the Carolingians. It is undoubtful that, if comparing one map of Europe in 800 A.D. and one in 900 then 1000, one sees that it is the Slavs and Byzantines -- through, indeed, the evangelization of a part of Slavs -- which benefitted from the decline of the Carolingian empire along two centuries. Henceforth, new powers, and new dynamics, were at work with the monastic order of Cluny playing a important role into moralizing and pacifying those times of trouble. Either side of the Millenium, the West had got deep into disorders of the time as everything had turned violent, hunger and atrocites. Mayeul, Abbot of Cluny, for example, as he had been invited by some count of Paris to come to visit him in St-Maur-des-Fossés by 994 A.D., found unthinkable that he had been invited into such a difficult journey which, moreover, was to bring him into 'unknown territories!' Pilgrimage to Compostella however, which had turned European about 950 A.D. brought to life a new share of pilgrimages like Le Puy or Conques which re-structured the West at the time Cluny was doing too. Gradually, the Cluniac reform, pilgrimages, and peace back everywhere in Europe brought to a will to free Church from political control. It was to be the age of the Romanesque art. Ancestors to the Capetians, the Robertians, descendants of Robert le Fort were valiant warriors and they protected the western part of the Empire against the Vikings. In 888, the Robertian Eudes was elected King by the Greats but as soon as Charles the Simple reached his 15th year, he was crowned in 893 and that deepened the conflict between the two houses during one century. Charles was dethroned and the Crown passed to Raoul of Burgundy, a Robertien by alliance. Then, from 936, his brother-in-law, Hugues the Great wanted to play with Louis of Outremer, son of Charles the Simple, a role of a coach; Louis then got closer to Otto I and married his sister Gerberge. In 948, the Pope was a proponent of Louis but Louis and Hugues died. The conflict continued then between their sons, Hugues Capet and Lothar. Lothar kept put himself under the protection of the Ottoniens of Germany while trying to shake their guardianship however, which was to hasten his end: the Ottons had, with the support of the Pope, the imperial dignity and were the successors of the Carolingians as, in addition, the Church saw the Ottons like a shield against feudalism, like Adalberon of Reims and his advisor Gerbert, who retained a elective conception of the Empire. It is they who brought Hugues Capet to the the Crown in 987 as the latter, however, on the pretext of a crusade in Spain, had his son, Robert, crowned and he intended to push his own policy. These episodes make appear a world divided, approaching the year 1000, with the latest supporters of the "French" Carolingians, gallicanist bishops, Cluniac abbots, or popes close to the Ottons. That was not to prevent a union between Rome and the Capetian regarding the anointment, the King being a miracle-maker as first romances, with concepts of the 'doulce France,' or Charlemagne the emperor with a flowered beard, will heighten the new dynastie into their role of kings

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: 3/7/2016. contact us at