Friday, April 9, 2021

A Few Notable Points About Charlemagne

The Basics

Charlemagne was King of the Franks, in an empire centered more or less around modern France but extending further, from 768 CE to his death in 814 CE (co-ruling with his brother Carloman I until 777 CE). 

He was a close ally of the Pope, and was crowned "Emperor of the Romans" by the Pope in 800 CE in what came to be called the Carolingian Empire.

This was right in the middle of the "Middle Ages" of Europe and towards the end of what are sometimes known as the "Dark Ages" of Europe. His rule preceded the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Roman Catholic Church split from the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Personal Life

He was born before his parents were married in the eyes of the church. They may, however, have had a Friedelehe (a.ka. a "peace" marriage), a Germanic form of quasi-marriage not accepted by the Christian church, with the following characteristics:
  • The husband did not become the legal guardian of the woman, in contrast to the Muntehe, or dowered marriage (some historians dispute the existence of this distinction).
  • The marriage was based on a consensual agreement between husband and wife, that is, both had the desire to marry.
  • The woman had the same right as the man to ask for divorce.
  • Friedelehe was usually contracted between couples from different social status.
  • Friedelehe was not synonymous with polygyny, but enabled it.
  • The children of a Friedelehe were not under the control of the father, but only that of the mother.
  • Children of a Friedelehe initially enjoyed full inheritance rights; under the growing influence of the church their position was continuously weakened.
  • Friedelehe came into being solely by public conveyance of the bride to the groom's domicile and the wedding night consummation; the bride also received a Morgengabe (literally "morning gift", a gift of money given to a wife upon consummation of a marriage).
  • Friedelehe was able to be converted into a Muntehe (dowered or guardianship marriage), if the husband later conveyed bridewealth (property conveyed to the wife's family). A Muntehe can also be characterized as a secular legal sale of a woman by her family clan's patriarch to her husband (sometimes with the requirement that the consummation of the marriage be witnessed).

Other alternative relationship forms that existed in that era included a Kebsehe with an unfree "concubine" in the Middle Ages, the morganatic marriage (a marriage without inheritance rights, usually of a noble to a commoner lover after the death of a first legitimate wife), the angle marriage (a "secret marriage" entered into without clergy involvement comparable to modern "common law marriage" banned by the church in 1215 but continuing in practice into the 1400s), and a robbery or kidnapping marriage (a forced marriage by abduction of the bride, sometimes with her or her family's tacit connivance to avoid an arranged marriage or because the couple lacks the economic means to arrange a conventional marriage).

Charlemagne "had eighteen children with eight of his ten known wives or concubines. . . . Among his descendants are several royal dynasties, including the Habsburg, and Capetian dynasties. . . . most if not all established European noble families ever since can genealogically trace some of their background to Charlemagne." The accounts are not entirely consistent.

He was mostly a serial monogamist, although he had two successive concubines at the same time as the marriage that produced most of his children, for about two years. 

His first relationship was with Himiltrude. After the fact, a later Pope declared it a legal marriage (despite the fact that she would logically have resulted in the invalidity of Charlemagne's later marriages as she lived until age 47). But she appears to have been a daughter from a noble family (as would be expected if she had an opportunity to have a relationship with a king's son), so she wasn't a serf who was an unfree kebese concubine either. An informal marriage-like relationship along the lines of  a Friedelehe that was not recognized by the church probably best characterizes her status at the time. This relationship produced one son who suffered from a spinal deformity and was called "the Hunchback" who spent his life confined to care in a convent.

Charlemagne's relationship with Himiltrude was put aside two years later when he legally married Desiderata, the daughter of the King of the Lombards, but the relationship with Desiderata produced no children and was formally annulled about a year later. 

He then married Hildegard of the Vinzgau in 771 with whom he had nine children before Hildegard died twelve years later in 783. 

Two of the children were named Kings (one of Aquitaine and one of Italy), one was made a Duke of Maine (a region in Northwestern France that is home to the city of La Mans), three died as infants, one daughter who never married died at age 25 after having one son out of wedlock with an abbot, one daughter died at age 47 after having had three children with a court official he remained in good standing in Charlemagne's court out of wedlock, and one daughter probably died at age 27 having never married or had any children although the time of her death is not well documents and she may have spent her final years in a convent. 

During his marriage to Hildegard he had two concubines, apparently successively, with whom he had one child each, Gersuinda starting in 773 and producing a child in 774, and Madelgard in 774, producing a daughter in 775 who was made an abbess. 

He then married Fastrada in 784 and she died ten years later in 794, after having two daughters with him, one of whom became an abbess. 

He then married Luitgard in 794 who died childless six years later in 800. 

After Luitgard's death, Charlemagne had two subsequent successive concubines. The first was Regina, starting in 800 with whom he had two sons (in 801 and 802), one of whom was made a bishop and then an abott, and the other of whom became the archchancellor of the empire. The second was Ethelind, starting in 804 with whom he had two sons, in 805 and 807, the first of whom became an abbot.

A Female Byzantine Rival

His main competitor for the title of Emperor was the Byzantine Empire's first female monarch, Irene of Athens.

Brutal Conversions Of European Pagans And Wars

Charlemagne was engaged in almost constant warfare throughout his reign and often personally led his armies in these campaigns accompanied by elite royal guards call the scara.
  • He conquered the Lombard Kingdom of Northern Italy from 772-776. He briefly took Southern Italy in 787, but it soon declared independence and he didn't try to recapture it.
  • He spent most of his rule fighting pitched campaigns to rule mostly Basque Aquitaine and neighboring regions, and the northern Iberian portion of Moorish Spain.
  • In the Saxon Wars, spanning thirty years ending in 804 and eighteen battles, he conquered West German Saxonia and proceeded to convert these pagan peoples to Christianity, and took Bavaria starting in 794 and solidified in 794.
  • He went beyond them to fight the Avars and Slav further to the east, taking Slavic Bohemia, Moravia, Austria and Croatia.
In his campaign against the Saxons to his east, Christianized them upon penalty of death and leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden. There he had 4,500 Saxons, who had been involved in a rebellion against him in Saxon territory that he had previously conquered, executed by beheading in a single day.

According to historian Alessandro Barbero in "Charlemagne: Father of a Continent" (2004) at pgs. 46-47, "the most likely inspiration for the mass execution of Verden was the Bible" and Charlemagne desiring "to act like a true King of Israel", citing the biblical tale of the total extermination of the Amalekites and the conquest of the Moabites by Biblical King David.

A royal chronicler, commenting on Charlemagne's treatment of the Saxons a few years after the Massacre of Verden records with regard to the Saxon that "either they were defeated or subjected to the Christian religion or completely swept away."


neo said...

like islam

Spanked said...

"According to historian Alessandro Barbero in "Charlemagne: Father of a Continent" (2004) at pgs. 46-47, "the most likely inspiration for the mass execution of Verden was the Bible" and Charlemagne desiring "to act like a true King of Israel", citing the biblical tale of the total extermination of the Amalekites and the conquest of the Moabites by Biblical King David."

I'm pretty sure Charlemagne didn't need biblical inspiration for the Massacre of Verden. The Franks and their Saxon victims had a long history of creating many, many similar events.
At most biblical tales like the above would be Charlemagne's PR, justifying the massacre to assuage Christian sensibilities.

Jaap said...

Was not Charlemagne imagining himself to be a Roman Emperor?
These were very dark times. Gregory of Tours and pope Gregory VII and their legacy were still in evidence due to Irish educators, founding monasteries and libraries all over western Europe, but with grudging official sanction. Two generations later Anglo Saxon monks would not hesitate to offend heathen sensibilities. Boniface. Alcuin. Which makes the emergence of someone like Alfred all the more remarkable.
Bright lights shining in the darkness ...