Friday, March 31, 2023

To Kidnap a King

On his way back from the Third Crusade, King Richard I "Lionheart" of England was captured.

He had made many enemies in Europe. The Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos was one, because Richard annexed the Island of Corfu (a Byzantine possession). Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI was angered because Richard supported King Tancred of Sicily, who had usurped the position from its proper heiress, Henry's wife Constance. Leopold of Austria blamed Richard for the murder of Leopold's cousin, Conrad of Montferrat.

So when Richard's ship was wrecked near Aquileia and Richard had to travel over land to get back home, he passed through Vienna, enabling Leopold to capture him around Christmas 1192. Interfering with a Crusader was against papal decree, but Richard had also personally offended Leopold by getting rid of Leopold's banner on the walls of Acre, even though Leopold had been with him at the Siege of Acre. When word got out, Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold.

Word got back to England of Richard's captivity, but no one knew where he was being held. He was given over to Henry VI's care on 28 March 1193, who imprisoned him at Trifels Castle. Not only was Henry angered at Richard's previous actions, he also had a goal: conquering all of southern Italy. This required military might, and that required money. Holding a king for ransom was one sure way of acquiring funds.

Henry's status as Holy Roman Emperor made Celestine reluctant to excommunicate him. Richard's treatment was initially respectful, but Richard treated Henry with disdain. Henry convened a council to condemn Richard for the capture of Cyprus, the insult to Leopold, the death of Conrad, and making a truce with Saladin. Richard defended his actions, and explained his lack of respect for Henry's imperial title by saying "I am born in a rank which recognizes no superior but God."

Afterward, Richard was kept in chains "so heavy that a horse or ass would have struggled to move under them." Henry demanded a ransom of 150,000 marks (100,000 pounds of silver). Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, now in her early 70s, took action, riding the country to raise funds and writing the pope about the horrible situation. A tax of 25% of the value of property was decreed against layman and all churches. Meanwhile, Richard's brother John and King Philip of France offered Henry 80,000 marks to keep Richard at least until Michaelmas 1194 (29 September in Europe).

Henry did something honorable and refused their offer. The ransom from England came through, and Richard was freed on 4 February 1194. (The illustration shows Richard kissing the feet of the emperor.) Upon his return to England he forgave John's actions and named John his heir (instead of their nephew Arthur, son of their brother Geoffrey).

And now for something completely different: Michaelmas. What was it about, and why did I have to specify "in Europe" above? I'll explain next time.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Henry VI of Germany

King Henry VI of Germany who survived the Erfurt Latrine Disaster went on to become Holy Roman. Emperor. He was the second son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (called Barbarossa), and a member of the Hohenstaufen dynasty.

He was born in November 1165, and named King of Germany by his father in 1169. His father made him King of Italy in 1186, the same year that Henry married Constance of Sicily. Constance was the sole heiress of Sicily, but was challenged by her illegitimate nephew, Tancred. Tancred controlled Sicily (with some difficulty) until after 1191.

In 1191, Henry and Constance were proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor and Empress, and they turned their attention to Sicily. Their attempts to take over in Sicily were hampered by the locals' fear of retribution from Tancred if they aided Henry. Even after Tancred's death in February 1194, Sicily remained in his family's control, but in November Henry prevailed. He was named King of Sicily on Christmas Day.

Henry was considered well-educated, learning Latin as well as Roman and canon law. He wrote poetry and was a patron of poets. A German songbook from the 14th century, the Codex Manesse, has three poems attributed to Henry and has a portrait of him, shown above.

He interfered with English politics somewhat. Richard I of England had made an arrangement with Tancred, and so Henry tried to isolate England: he negotiated with Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to break off the engagement of Richard with Alys, daughter of Louis VII of France.

Henry had an even more significant encounter with Richard in 1193, when Richard became Henry's prisoner. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Meeting at Erfurt

The Erfurt Latrine Disaster in 1184 took place when too many German nobles gathered on a second floor of the Petersberg Church at the request of King Henry VI. They gathered to try to resolve a dispute between the Archbishop of Mainz and Landgrave Louis III of Thuringia.

Louis (1151 - 1190), a nephew of Barbarossa, liked to feud with his neighbors, the nobles of Thuringia in Germany (that's his seal in the illustration). One of them was Conrad of Wittelsbach, the Archbishop of Mainz (c.1120 - 1200).

Conrad was problematic, and very much attached to temporal power. Appointed Archbishop of Mainz by Frederick I, known as Barbarossa, he refused to recognize the antipope Paschal III, put up in opposition to Pope Alexander III. This caused a falling out with Barbarossa, so he fled to Rome, after which Mainz was given to Christian von Buch. Pope Alexander gave Conrad other titles, but Conrad was still considered Archbishop of Mainz. Unfortunately for Conrad, Alexander was forced to accept Christian as Archbishop of Mainz after the Treaty of Venice in 1177, a peace treaty between the papacy and Barbarossa. When Christian died in 1183, Conrad returned to Mainz and resumed his former status, but remembered all the people who had not supported him and instead accepted Christian.

Conrad made enemies along the course of his life, and his falling out with Barbarossa made Barbarossa's nephew Louis opposed to him. While King Henry VI of Germany was traveling through the area on his way to fight Poland, he decided to convene all the region's nobles to insist that they cease the endless territorial disputes. Conrad was not present, but of course Louis was. One record of the latrine disaster claims that Henry and Louis had stepped away to an alcove to discuss matters privately, and were therefore not in the main area that collapsed. Another claims they had to cling to the iron railings of a window frame to save themselves (that would have been very quick thinking).

Either way, they were saved from the terrible outcome. Louis died in 1190 on the Third Crusade. Conrad lived until 1200. King Henry's survival at Erfurt meant he was alive to be made Holy Roman Emperor. We'll talk more about him next.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Erfurt Latrine Disaster

In central Germany is the town of Erfurt, the capital of the state of Thuringia. Its first mention is in 742 CE when St. Boniface wrote to Pope Zachary to inform him that Boniface had created three dioceses, one of them "in a place called Erphesfurt." The area had been inhabited at least since neolithic times, according to archaeological evidence.

In 1184, King Henry VI of Germany held an informal assembly in the Petersberg Citadel. Petersberg is one of the largest and best-preserved fortresses in Germany. This particular citadel included St. Peter's Church (colored green in the illustration), which had been rebuilt between 1103 and 1147 after a fire burned it down in 1080.

During the rebuilding, they updated the plumbing for dealing with toilets. Rather than divert human waste to the streets or a river (the River Gera was on the outskirts, not near the citadel), they dug a sufficiently large cesspit below the foundation, suitable for holding all the waste necessary.

Nobles across all of Thuringia were invited to the meeting with Henry, held on the second floor of the deanery on 26 July. Just as the meeting began, the wooden floor collapsed from the weight, plummeting the participants not only to the ground floor but through it into the cesspit beneath. King Henry at the end of the room sat in an alcove with a stone support, so was safe. (Some reports say he clung to the iron railing of a window until he could be rescued.)

The cesspit was deep and full. Ladders were brought to help people out; however, at least 60 German nobles drowned in urine and excrement, although there are estimates that say it was closer to 100 participants. German sources refer to this as the Erfurter Latrinensturz ("Erfurt latrine fall" but usually called the "Erfurt latrine disaster").

From poop to politics: what was the reason Henry gathered them all together? It was a dispute between secular and religious authorities, which I'll explain tomorrow.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Medieval Toilets

Last week, a young co-worker expressed his disbelief that there were ever things like outhouses. I told him that I had used an outhouse many many times in my youth, which my family had built in our camping spot. That outhouse was a luxury: two holes, actual toilet seats, electric light, tissue paper.

Much of human history was not so fortunate.

Lacking indoor plumbing, the "privy" or "garderobe" was no more than a cramped alcove with a hole for straddling that dropped waste either to a deep pit or outside. Many castles built their garderobes to jut out from the exterior walls so that waste dropped into a ditch or moat. King Edward I made garderobes a requirement in his extensive Welsh castle-building program.

This design element for castles had one potential problem: the privy that extended out from the walls so the waste could simply fall outside the castle was a potential access point for invaders. An exposed waste shaft at Chateau Gaillard overlooking the Seine in Normandy (owned by King John of England) was low enough to the ground that it allowed forces of Philip II of France to sneak inside. A stone wall was built around the base to prevent further intrusions.

When Mayor Dick Whittington took office, he constructed a 128-seat public toilet facility called "Whittington's Longhouse" that dumped into the Thames so that high tide would flush the waste away. Many municipalities had public toilets, since health and hygiene were important for everyone's safety. They were often placed on bridges over rivers, as in York over the Ouse.

Whatever innovations were designed to drop waste away or flush it away with rivers or tides, there were still unsavory issues to deal with. The smell was always a problem. Also, in situations where refuse was not dropped into rivers but lay where it fell, paid positions were available for people to remove the waste and clean and fix the latrines. Maintenance was important, because unlike the stone example illustrated above, public latrines were built of wood, and wood needed to be replaced occasionally.

Tomorrow I'll share an incident in which architecture failed regarding a latrine. Prepare yourselves.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

What About Soap?

Continuing our discussion about medieval hygeine, let's ask about soap and whence it came. The answer depends on how you define "soap." Technically speaking, "soap" is "material you get when you combine fats or oils with an alkali, such as lye." [FDA link]

Soap-like materials were being made in Babylon around 2800 BCE, in clay cylinders inscribed with the phrase “fats boiled with ashes.” Egyptians in 1500 BCE were combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts for cleansing. A Roman legend claims that rainwater running down the slopes of Mount Sapo mixed animal fat and ashes, not only producing soap but giving the substance its name.

Pliny described soap as an invention of the Gauls, made from tallow and ashes. Latin sapo ("soap") may be cognate with Latin sebum ("tallow"). The physician Galen recommends soap for cleaning clothes as well as the body.

By the 7th century CE, Mediterranean countries were making soap using oil from the abundant olive trees. Naples even had a guild for soap-makers in the late 6th century. Records for Charlemagne's court list soap as a product the stewards had to account for.

Soap-making in England didn't seem to happen until the 12th century, possibly motivated by the introduction of soaps brought back by Crusaders from the Middle East. Syria, for instance, produced Aleppo soap, a green bar infused with laurel oil. This popular soap was milder and more pleasant smelling than other soaps, and inspired soap-makers to add aromatics to the mix.

Soaps are used for cleaning different things. The soaps used in the household for hand washing, etc., are called in the industry "toilet soaps." That term, as you can imagine, makes me think about medieval toilets, a topic I have never tackled (and only mentioned once) in almost 1200 posts. I think it's time to correct that omission. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Medieval Hygiene

Now that we've talked about rushes on the floors in the Middle Ages and whether they were sanitary, what about attitudes to cleanliness in other parts of day-to-day living? There is an unfortunate tendency to think of our medieval forebears as dirty, which was simply not true.

For example, the Goodman of Paris, a text written in the early 1390s about managing a household (and mentioned in my post on the hourglass), offers this about hand washing:

To make Water for washing hands at table: Boil sage, then strain the water and cool until it is a little more than lukewarm. Or use chamomile, marjoram or rosemary boiled with orange peel. Bay leaves are also good.

A bowl with water was available for washing your hands and face when you awoke, before meals, when arriving home after a long day's work or a long journey (washing the "dust of the road" from you sounds like a quaint saying today, but centuries ago you arrived home likely covered in dust).

Besides the Goodman, another popular text in Western Europe was the Tacuinum sanitatis ("Maintenance of Health"), a Latin work translated from an 11th century Arabic medical treatise. Numerous versions were produced in the 14th and 15th centuries. It discussed the virtues of bathing with Water of A Pleasurable Warmth:

Nature: Warm and humid in the second degree.
Optimum: The kind that opens the pores with moderate heat or with a fever.
Usefulness: For bodies with open pores; furthermore, it lowers the temperature.

There are also many depictions of people in bathing tubs, such as the one above. Of course, not everyone could afford a tub, or to heat water. Lower classes took advantage of streams and ponds or lakes. No one wanted a build-up of grime on their hands or bodies.

Our old friend Hildegard of Bingen offered a recipe for washing: whose face has hard and rough skin, made harsh from the wind, should cook barley in water and, having strained that water through a cloth, should bathe his face gently with the moderately warm water. The skin will become soft and smooth, and will have a beautiful color.

This is a face conditioner; did they have a face cleanser? Grime could be more easily removed if you had soap. Did they have soap? Let's figure that out tomorrow.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Green Grow the Rushes O!

The previous two posts talked about the use of rushes on floors in churches and in dwellings, but raised the question of how messy they could be, especially considering Erasmus' description of English homes.

"Rushes" could come from several different plants, but the fact that the commonly used Sweet Flat (Acorus calamus) grew to more than two meters raises an interesting question: might they have woven the rushes into mats rather than just strew them about?

It's not a crazy hypothesis. Weaving was hardly an unknown practice, and Egyptians used woven mats of rushes thousands of years ago. The argument yesterday about rushes piling up because of long gowns has been countered by arguing that of course women would pick up the hem of their skirt while walking, as you would on stairs. But would you want to do that every time you walked across your living room? On the other hand, the more they were walked on, the flatter they became, so catching on clothing would (I guess) become less a problem over time, until it was time to bring in a new layer.

If loose rushes were used as late as Erasmus' time and beyond, why do no artists' renditions of living situations never show rushes on floors? Does the level surface of the floor mean the rushes were woven into flat matting? Erasmus refers to rushes being "renewed" and the "bottom layer," which could mean fresh woven matting laid on top of previous. Perhaps the goal was to continue to add rather than subtract in order to keep a soft surface for walking; also, removing the previously trodden on matting was perhaps not worth the hassle.

Author Liza Picard, in Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London, says

...the usual floor, especially on the upper stories, was wood, often covered with rushes and sweet-smelling herbs. Woven matting was replacing loose rushes by the end of the century. If you have visited an Elizabethan National Trust house early in the season, you will have noticed two pleasant aspects of the rush matting faithfully reproduced by the Trust. New rushes have a lovely smell, and they are quiet and comfortable to walk on.

Would it really have taken until the late 1500s for someone to say "Hey! What if we took these long tough leaves that are just like the ones we weave into baskets and weave them into floor coverings?" Were some doing this all along, and were references to "rushes" or "rush" on the floor simply verbal shorthand for "rush matting"?

It is clear that the rushbearing events for churches did not involve weaving the rushes, but that was not for a place that was lived in daily, and so I think matting would not be worth the investment in time. Homes are a different matter, however, if you'll excuse the pun.

It's a puzzle worthy of debate. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

This blog is a journey of discovery for me as I do my research into each topic and find ways to link them to the previous and following topics. I want to acknowledge Julia for her interest in rush floors and knowing more about them, especially since it led me to realize the different ways that "rush floors" could be understood. The truth is, the ordinary practices of day-to-day living are unremarkable to those living through them, and rarely get written about. We are then left to try to interpret from stray references what was actually happening "way back when."

Given Erasmus' condemnation of the English flooring and unhealthy climate, I think medieval hygiene is worth looking at next. Oh, and if you want some rush matting for your own floors, try here.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Rush Floors

We've read about medieval dwellings having rushes on the floors, in order to provide something soft and clean to walk on instead of the compacted earth that would constitute the floor in cottages. The cold stone floors of castles would also benefit from rush flooring. The accounts for King Edward II show a purchase of "a supply of rushes for strewing the King's chamber" from one John de Carlford. It was also used for the floors of churches, and the practice of rushbearing has been adopted as a modern festival at some churches.

Many different plants could provide these rushes, but a common one was the Acorus calamus, pictured here. To the Middle Ages it was "Sweet Flag," although it had many other names (since it grows on every continent except South America and Antarctica). The leaves are flat blades that can grow to a height of 79 inches, and emit a pleasant odor when crushed.

The use of Sweet Flag did not start in the Middle Ages. A papyrus dating to 1300BCE mentions it for use in perfumes. But rushes on the floor are thought of now as a medieval European practice. Was that practical?

Think of a pile of long-bladed plants strewn all over a dirt or stone floor. Sure, when crushed they emit a sweet aroma, but how high-stepping would you have to be in your own home to crush them and not have them catching on your feet and ankles? How deeply were they spread? Wouldn't they also provide an environment for vermin?

In a castle, the situation would be worse: high-born ladies in long gowns walking across rushes "strewn" about? The front of your floor-length gown would create a pile-up of rushes. Where's the sense in that? It's one thing to deal with it in a church which you visit for a short time once or twice each week, but in day-to-day living?

The Dutch philosopher Erasmus (1466 - 1536) makes the perils of rush floors clear. He lived in England for 15 years and complained about his time as a professor at Queens' College, Cambridge, for the lack of good wine. He wrote about England:

The [floors] are, in general, laid with white clay, and are covered with rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for twenty years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned. Whenever the weather changes a vapour is exhaled, which I consider very detrimental to health. I may add that England is not only everywhere surrounded by sea, but is, in many places, swampy and marshy, intersected by salt rivers, to say nothing of salt provisions, in which the common people take so much delight I am confident the island would be much more salubrious if the use of rushes were abandoned, and if the rooms were built in such a way as to be exposed to the sky on two or three sides, and all the windows so built as to be opened or closed at once, and so completely closed as not to admit the foul air through chinks; for as it is beneficial to health to admit the air, so it is equally beneficial at times to exclude it.

I have to assume that his experience of rush floors was limited. Here he describes (I assume) a lower-class household (of which there were many, to be sure), but his rooms at Cambridge would not be like this, nor a well-to-do household that could afford the regular refreshing of rushes. We cannot argue with an eyewitness, but his experience of rushes might not be universal.

There's another theory; I will, however, string this discussion of rushes along to a third day, and present a picture of a much more efficient use of rushes and tell you where you can still get them for your floors today. See you here tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


The churches mentioned in this blog have been well-known Anglo-Saxon, Norman, or Gothic edifices, but there were numerous small churches in villages and hamlets, and many of them had something in common: dirt floors.

Not plain dirt: they would be packed down so they were smooth and level. But they were dirt; stone floors were expensive, and wooden planks were also an extravagance in many cases. There was a way to make the compacted earthen floor a little more palatable, and that was through the uses of rushes.

Rushes came from several plants, a common one being the Acorus calamus called "Sweet Flag" (and a dozen other names). It had medical uses according to Dioscorides, but its use to cover floors derived from its sweet aroma. People would use rushes for the floors at home (and I'll talk about that tomorrow), but the use of rushes in churches turned into a festival in its own right that is still celebrated in towns in England today (although the need for rushes on the floor is long past).

Rushbearing was the event when fresh rushes were brought to the church. It developed into a fall celebration, involving the whole town collecting and parading the rushes to the church to be strewn on the floors. Records from the 16th century show that church bells were rung on the day, and wine, ale, and cakes were provided to those bearing the rushes. Townspeople would also dress up in costumes during the celebration:

...some of them putting on womens aparrell, other some of them putting on longe haire & visardes, and others arminge them with the furnyture of souldiers, and being there thus armed and disguysed did that day goe from the Churche, and so went up and downe the towne showinge themselves. [Wilson, Richard; Dutton, Richard; Findlay, Alison (2003). Region, religion and patronage: Lancastrian Shakespeare]

The Puritans outlawed rushbearing festivals because of the absence of decorum and presence of drinking, but in 1617 the "Declaration of Sports" by James I listed rushbearing as one of the pursuits allowed on Sundays and Holy Days.

Sometimes the rushes were carried by townsfolk, sometimes they were brought on a rushcart. Often the festival would take place on the Sunday closest to the feast day of the saint for whom the church was named. In many cases, it was simply a harvest festival, connected with collecting rushes before the cold weather wiped them out.

No churches nowadays need rushes on the floors, but many towns still have (or have revived) the festival. If you want to see how one town celebrates it, check out, where the town of Sowerby Bridge has surpassed all others by owning the web domain!

But what about non-church use of rushes for floors? Huts and cottages would have surely had earthen floors. And what about castles? Did stone floors need rushes? Were people in the Middle Ages trampling on plants in their own homes? Let's figure this out together ... next time.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

York Minster

York was founded in 71 CE as Eboracum, a Roman fortress overseeing the north of Britain. We know that York had a Christian community by 314, because a "bishop of York" was part of the Council of Arles that year. York's Christian history is not well-documented in the early centuries, however. The first church we have records of was built on the spur of the moment in 627 to baptize King Edwin of Northumbria; it was wooden, and didn't last, but Saint Wilfrid rebuilt it in stone, and by the 8th century the school and library were thriving.

That church was destroyed in a fire in 741. Bishop Egbert started the rebuilding, resulting in what Alcuin in his letters described as:

very tall, and held by solid columns which support curved arches; beautiful panels and numerous windows make it shine with brilliance. Its magnificence is increased by its gantries, terraces and thirty altars, decorated with a rare variety.

It was damaged by William the Conqueror in 1069, but then his Norman Archbishop Thomas of Bayeaux in 1070 started rebuilding. It was damaged again in 1075 by Danes, but in 1080 the repairs started. This new large (364 feet long) building was damaged by fire in 1137. The pattern of damage (by fire or attack) and repair has continued, right up to a fire in 1984 when 110 firefighters deliberately dumped enough water on the south transept to crash the roof completely, smothering the blaze and preserving the rest of the minster. Despite these events, York still has some of the oldest stained glass in England.

In 1215, a Gothic church was started, to replace the Norman architecture. Archbishop Walter de Gray also wanted its magnificence to rival Canterbury, since the Archbishops of York resented that the Archbishops of Canterbury were considered to have authority over all England's churches.

The term "minster" is from the Anglo-Saxon period, and denotes a church for teaching missionaries. That is no longer the purpose of York, but the honorific has stuck.

Despite the stone construction of many churches, they could still contain flammable material: carvings, roof beams, furniture, tapestries, etc. Churches in the Middle Ages could also contain flammable material that we never see or think of these days. Tomorrow I want to talk about the medieval event called "rushbearing."

Monday, March 20, 2023

York Library

York was an early center of Christianity in Britain, and had its own bishop from at least the 4th century. In 735, Ecgbert of York became its bishop; he is credited with beginning the school and library at the York Minster.

The collection of works there is estimated to be about 100 items—a remarkable number for the time. A poem by Alcuin mentions 40 different titles, including not only works by Bede and the Church Fathers but also by such classical authors as Aristotle, Cicero, and Pliny.

Alcuin's extant letters tell us that he made trips to procure books for the library, and that he brought some with him when he left York to take up his position at Charlemagne's court at Aachen. Despite his new patron's desire to promote learning, however, Alcuin makes clear that he never created a better library than the one in York.

Some of the books were given to Liudger the Frisian, called the "Apostle of Saxony," when he left studying at York to preach on the continent. Liudger founded a monastery at Werden. The monastery is gone, and some buildings are being used by a school, but it is possible that some fragments of York books still exist in southern Germany.

The Alcuin-era library is no more. Danes sacked the area in 866, and it suffered further at the Harrowing of the North by William the Conqueror.

The York Minster library was formally re-founded when John Neuton (c.1350 - 1414), a canon at York, left a bequest of about 70 books to the Minster. (The illustration above is an initial page of a law text that had been part of his collection.) Few of those original books survive, but York Minster has had a library for over 600 years, thanks to Neuton.

Next I'd like to talk about the Minster itself, and why it's called that instead of Cathedral. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Letters of Alcuin

Alcuin of York (c.735 - 804, seen here receiving the Abbey of Tours from Emperor Charlemagne) was a monk, scholar, lover of puzzles, teacher, poet, and correspondent.

He was so respected—Einhard's Life of Charlemagne calls him "The most learned man anywhere to be found"—that his letters were collected and bound in the early 9th century, not long after his death. The writing is in a script called Carolingian minuscule, designed to make the Bible easy to read.

Alcuin started teaching at York. When he was 46, he journeyed to Rome. On the way back, he met Charlemagne in Parma. Charlemagne invited him to teach at his palace school at Aachen. He became the teacher of Charlemagne, his children, and other nobles. He persuaded Charlemagne to stop executing those who refused to convert to Christianity. In 796, Charlemagne appointed him Abbot of Marmoutier/St. Martin of Tours. While there, he wrote to Charlemagne to describe his work as a teacher and the serious need for books, and his plan to acquire some:

But I ... am doing as you have urged and wished. To some who are beneath the roof of St. Martin I am striving to dispense the honey of Holy Scripture; others I am eager to intoxicate with the of wine of apples of grammatical refinement; and there are some whom I long to adorn with the knowledge of astronomy, as a stately house is adorned with a painted roof. I am made all things to all men that I may instruct many to the profit of God’s Holy Church and to the lustre of you imperial reign. So shall the grace of Almighty God toward me be not in vain and the largess of your bounty be of no avail. But I your servant lack in part the rarer books of scholastic labor of my master and a little also to my own toil. This I tell your excellency on the chance that in your boundless and beloved wisdom you may be pleased to have me send some of our youths to take thence what we need, and return to France with the flowers of Britain; that the garden may not be confined to York only but may bear fruit in Tours, and that the south wind blowing over the gardens of the Loire may be charged with perfume.

What made York an important source of books? That would be the school and cathedral at York, where Alcuin got his start. We haven't talked enough about York, but I'll fix that next time.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Richbod the Monk

Charlemagne prized learning as much as he prized expanding his realm. He brought scholars and artists together and created a Carolingian Renascence. One of the best known scholar-clerics in Charlemagne's court was Alcuin of York, through whose surviving letters we know a lot more about many of the people of the time than we would through public records.

One of Alcuin's correspondents and friends was a monk named Richbod. We first know of him as a document clerk in the Lorsch monastery, whose Annals cover the years 703 to 803 (and were mentioned here). Something about him brought him to the attention of Alcuin, who brought him to Charlemagne's court, where he became an advisor to the king and was awarded the position of Abbot of Lorsch by 784 and Archbishop of Trier by 792.

Monasteries where documents were painstakingly copied and re-copied did not always confine themselves to religious texts. Richbod would have been exposed to many different pieces of literature. According to one of Alcuin's letters, Richbod was a huge fan of Vergil's Aeneid. Alcuin even teased him about preferring it to the Gospels. Alcuin wrote to him, lamenting that Richbod did not return an earlier letter:

Lo, a whole year has passed, and I have had no letter from you. Ah, if only my name were Vergil, then wouldst thou never forget me, but have my face ever before thee; ... would that the four Gospels rather than the twelve Aeneids filled your heart.

Modern scholars have looked for reasons to make Richbod the author of the Lorsch Annals. Points in favor of this theory are that the Annals show knowledge of the inner workings of the Carolingian court, and that they end the year before Richbod's death. We do not know when Richbod was born, but if his death were from old age, then it is plausible that the Annals end because he can no longer work on them or direct them. An argument against Richbod's authorship is that the Annals contain flaws in Latin, which seem unlikely if actually authored by Richbod. He may, however, have delegated their writing to a scribe whose command of Latin was less than perfect.

Richbod died in October 804, and was buried in Trier. Curiously, a year later, Charlemagne had a son by the concubine Ethelind, whom he name Richbod. This Richbod became the Abbot of Saint-Riquier. The name is virtually unique in historical records. The Dictionary of Medieval Names defines it as from Old High German "ruler" + "messenger."

As mentioned, what we know of him comes largely from the letters written by Alcuin and preserved by chance. I want to talk more about them next time.

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Other Children of Charlemagne

Charlemagne made sure all of his children had decent careers, even those who were illegitimate.

By his concubine Gersuinda, he had a daughter Adaltrude (c.775 - ?). She was made abbess of Faremoutiers, an important Benedictine nunnery in the Seine-et-Marne area of France. Another daughter, Theodrada (b.784), from his third wife Fastrada, became abbess of Argenteuil, in the northwest suburbs of Paris. Fastrada was also the mother of Hiltrude (c.787?), of whom history records nothing.

His next concubine was Regina, who bore him two sons, Drogo (801 - 855) and Hugh (802 - 844). The two were tonsured and forced away from court when Louis the Pious succeeded their father. Drogo became a cleric and Louis eventually named him Bishop of Metz. Hugh was made the abbot of Saint-Quentin, and later also of Lobbes and Saint-Bertin. After the death of Louis, his three heirs fought over the kingdom. Hugh supported Charles the Bald against Louis and Lothair. Hugh was with the army when it was ambushed in June 844; he was killed by a lance.

Drogo rose to the position of Archbishop of Metz. A few months after the death of Hugh, in October 844 at Thionville, Drogo presided over an attempt to unite the three brothers, which came to nothing. Drogo had been active in supporting their father, and was respected by all, even though he changed his support more than once between his nephews. On 8 December 855, he fell into the River Oignon in Bourgogne while fishing, and drowned. He is interred at St. Arnulf in Metz.

Charlemagne's last children were by the concubine Ethelind: Richbod (805 - 844), and Theodoric (b.807). We know nothing of Theodoric, and of Richbod not a lot, except that he became Abbot of Saint-Riquier, in the Somme area of northern France. Richbod was not a common name, but it was shared in history with a monk at Charlemagne's court who died a year before Charlemagne's son of that name was born. Was the son named in memory of the monk? What was the monk like, that he would have made such an impression on Charlemagne?

I'll tell you tomorrow.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Daughters of Charlemagne

Charlemagne believed strongly in education for all his children; his daughters learned to read and write as well as his sons. He was also close to his children, and kept them close to him, bringing the family with him on travels both military and diplomatic. None of them married, although he did try to arrange a marriage or two. Some did have children, however, after finding relationships of their own.

Some did not live long, however. His first daughter by Hildegarde was Adalhaid, born in 774 while the family was on campaign in Italy. She was sent back home, but died along the way. A final child, named for her mother, was born in 782 but lived only a few months.

Rotrude was born in 775. She was tutored by Alcuin, who called her Columba ("dove") in letters. Marriage to Byzantine Emperor Constantine VI was arranged when she was six and he was ten, but his mother Irene eventually ended the engagement when she decided the Empire should side with the Lombards, whom Charlemagne had conquered. Rotrude had an affair with Charlemagne's retainer Rorgo of Rennes, Count of Maine and of Rennes (who himself was married several times). She had a son by him, Louis (800 - 867) who became Abbot of Saint-Denis and archchancellor under his namesake and uncle, Louis the Pious, emperor after Charlemagne. Rotrude became a nun at Chelles, where she passed away in 810.

Another daughter of Hildegarde was Bertha (c.779 - 826). Offa of Mercia wanted to marry his son Ecgfrith to her, an offer which Charlemagne felt was an insult. As a result, he broke off diplomatic relations with Mercia and forbade English ships from his ports. Bertha had a long-term relationship with a secretary named Angilbert. They had three children, one of whom was Nithard.

The third daughter of Charlemagne and Hildegarde who survived to adulthood was Gisela (c.781 - c.808). We know she was baptized at the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio by the Archbishop of Milan while the family was in Italy. Her tutor Alcuin, who in his writings remarked that she had an interest in astronomy, nicknamed her "Delia." She never married, and some sources say she died in 808, while others say she was sent to a convent when her brother Louis came to power. The latter may just be an assumption based on Louis sending away as many potential sources of claimants to the throne as possible.

Next we will look at the children from Charlemagne's other wives.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Louis the Pious

Charlemagne's fourth son, his third by his wife Hildegarde, was Louis, called "the Pious" in later life. He was born 16 April 778 while his father (who liked to bring his family along when he traveled) campaigned in Spain. He had a twin named Lothair, who died while still a babe.

When he was three years old, he was named King of Aquitaine, giving him rule (with regents) of the southwestern part of the Frankish empire. Charlemagne sent his sons to their respective territories at a young age (as with Pepin in Italy) so that they would grow up intimately connected with the customs of the people over whom they had control. When in 785 Charlemagne sent for his son to see how things were going, Louis showed up with a retinue all wearing Basque garb (Basques were a chief part of the army in Aquitaine).

Louis did expand the boundaries of the empire into the Iberian Peninsula, crossing the Pyrenees with a large army and capturing Barcelona in 797.

When Charlemagne was ailing in 813, with Louis' brothers Charles the Younger and Pepin of Italy having recently passed away, he called Louis to his side at Aachen and named him co-emperor in the presence of several nobles, who agreed to the choice. In 814, hearing that his father had died, Louis immediately went to Aachen and crowned himself emperor. His first act was to purge members of the court he did not trust fully. He eliminated pagan symbols. He sent his sisters to nunneries, and forced his father's cousins to be tonsured and sent to monasteries. He wanted to ensure there would be no potential claimants to the throne.

Then he embarked on one of the longest reigns in that part of the world, but since Louis' actions have been mentioned many places, such as here, we will move on to Charlemagne's other children, starting with the daughters of Hildegarde. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Pepin of Italy

Dynasties, royal or otherwise, often re-use names of ancestors. Charlemagne's second son by his wife Hildegarde was named Carloman (777 - 810) after Charlemagne's brother (even though the brothers did not necessarily get along).

About 781, while on a trip to Rome, Charlemagne had Carloman baptized by the pope and re-named Pepin. This was a slap in the face to Pepin the Hunchback, Charlemagne's oldest son by his concubine Himiltrude, who was now effectively "replaced" by another heir who carried a dynastically important name (Charlemagne's father was Pepin the Short).

On this occasion of his re-christening he also was crowned by Pope Adrian I with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, and made King of Italy by his father. Although still a child, his reign was aided by those allies wishing to please Charlemagne. With Duke Eric of Friuli (the brother of Pepin's mother), he prevailed against the Avars (Eurasian nomads inhabiting the areas northeast of Italy), taking their capital fortress, the Ring of the Avars.

Several poems praising him and his conquests were composed during his lifetime. After 799 his capital was Verona, and it became a center of literature and the Carolingian Renascence. An unsuccessful siege of Venice might have contributed to his death. Six months of hanging around the swamps outside Venice created disease in the army. Pepin died a few months later, on 8 July 810.

Pepin had five daughters and a son, Bernard, who became King of Italy after him. Because Pepin pre-deceased his father, however, the third of the Frankish kingdom that he would have inherited was up for grabs. Since his brother Charles the Younger, a co-inheritor, died a year and a half later, also prior to Charlemagne's death, there was one option left for Charlemagne's empire: Louis, who will (finally) get his own entry (after numerous mentions in this blog) tomorrow.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Charles the Younger

Charles the Younger (c.772 - 811) was the eldest legitimate son of Charlemagne, born to his second wife, Hildegarde. Like all Charlemagne's children, he was educated and brought along on his father's travels.

About 789, his father looked for a suitable marriage. The plan was to marry him to Ælfflad, the daughter of King Offa of Mercia. Offa was willing, but also wanted one of Charlemagne's daughters, Bertha, to marry Offa's son Ecgfrith. Given the sexism of the time, Charlemagne liked the idea of his son possibility inheriting Mercia, but did not like the idea of a Mercian's offspring to potentially have a claim to Frankish lands. He rejected both marriages. Charles was later married to Juliana of Ingelheim; they produced no heirs.

His father involved him in running Francia and Saxony and named him Duke of Maine. Although Charlemagne intended to distribute his lands among three of his sons, Charles the Younger was crowned (co-)King of the Franks on 25 December 800, the same day that Charlemagne was named Holy Roman Emperor.

He died of a stroke on 4 December 811, prior to his father's demise, so the kingdom would have to go to a younger son. Maybe that would be Carloman, the next in line who was renamed Pepin? We'll see.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Pepin the Hunchback

Charlemagne's first known child was Pepin the Hunchback by his concubine Himiltrude. Born about 768, he was raised at his father's court. Charlemagne had strong feelings about his children, insisting that they all be raised well, educated, and given advantageous positions and marriages.

The chronicler Paul the Deacon refers to Pepin being born ante legale connubium ("before legal marriage"), but does he mean Charlemagne and Himiltrude were eventually married? Or that perhaps they had a Germanic form of marriage bond (called Friedelehe, "lover marriage") that was less formal than what we now think of as marriage? Pope Stephen III in a letter to Charlemagne refers to him being married at a time when Himiltrude was the only female in his orbit. Himiltrude disappears from records in 770 when Charlemagne marries Desiderata of the Lombards, and then Hildegarde a year later.

Whatever the case, questions of legitimacy were raised about Pepin. About 781, on a visit to Italy, Charlemagne has another son, Carloman, by his wife Hildegarde, baptized by the Pope and rechristened "Pepin of Italy." This seems to signal that he was "replacing" the older Pepin.

Perhaps anger about being replaced built in the older Pepin, and in 792 he and a group of Frankish nobles rebelled against Charlemagne. 792 saw a famine after a poor harvest, and Charlemagne had been making some legal changes to consolidate his authority and prevent abuse in local courts. He also created a new loyalty oath and insisted that it be taken by all nobles. The Royal Frankish Annals (mentioned here) also cite the cruel Queen Fastrada as a reason to make changes at the top.

Pepin and the nobles planned a coup while Charlemagne was away in Bavaria. A Lombard learned of the plot and informed the king. (The informant was named Abbot at St. Denis for his loyalty.) The plotters had their lands confiscated, and some were executed. Pepin's life was spared, but he was tonsured and forced into a monastery. The Lorsch Annals state in 793 that, post-rebellion, Charlemagne lavishly rewarded all those nobles who were still loyal to him.

Pepin's monastery was Prūm, far from court. When Charlemagne decreed that, upon his death, his kingdom would be divided into three for his three "remaining" sons, it was clear that the still-living Pepin was being completely ignored.

The Royal Frankish Annals list his death as 8 July 810.

The musical Pippin is a highly fictionalized account of his life.

Those three "remaining" sons who would each inherit one-third of the kingdom were Charles the Younger, Pepin of Italy, and Louis. I'll tell you about them next time, and whether they managed to be satisfied with only one-third of the father's realm.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Charlemagne's Wives & Concubines, Part 4

Charlemagne outlived his third wife, Fastrada, who died in August 794. Before the year was out, the 50-year-old monarch had acquired a fourth spouse. She was Luitgard, the daughter of Count Luitfrid II (740 - 802) of Sundgau (on the eastern edge of France). She was kind and virtuous and his children from previous wives and concubines all liked her. Alcuin said of her:

"The queen loves to converse with learned men; after his devotional exercises, it is his dearest pastime. She is full of complaisance for the king, pious, blameless and worthy of all the love of such a husband."

On a trip through Neustria, Luitgard died on 4 June 800 while visiting the monastery of Saint Martin of Tours, months before Charlemagne's trip to Rome when he was declared Holy Roman Emperor. Her tomb is supposedly at the monastery, but its exact location is unknown.

Charlemagne did not remarry, but he did have more children by concubines. In 801 he had a son by Regina, Drogo, who became the bishop of Metz in 823 and abbot of Luxeuil Abbey. Regina also bore him Hugh in 802, who became chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire.

His final known concubine was Ethelind, who added two more sons to his tally of a dozen and a half children. Richbod lived from 805 to 844, and became abbot of Saint-Riquier. One of Charlemagne's grandchildren by his daughter Bertha had been abbot there previously. There was also Theodoric, born 807.

Some of Charlemagne's children did not survive into adulthood. Those who did survive did well for themselves—well, perhaps not for themselves: they were given their careers or had arranged marriages. We will take a brief look at the lives and careers of his children next.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Charlemagne's Wives & Concubines, Part 3

Just because Charlemagne was married doesn't mean he didn't also have concubines. Charlemagne's biographer Einhard describes four concubines whom he says the king took after the death of his last wife, but Einhard was determined to praise his subject. Wetti of Reichenau, on the other hand, refers to Charlemagne's "undiminished and extramarital sexual energy." There seems to be evidence of births, however, that suggests he maintained concubines during his marriage to Hildegarde.

Gersuinda, described by Einhard as a Saxon, gave him a daughter, Adaltrude, born in 774, and then largely disappeared from history.

Madelgard produced a daughter in 775, Ruodhaid, who became abbess of Faremoutiers from 840 to 852, a Merovingian Benedictine nunnery that was a common destination for Carolingian royalty.

After Hildegarde's death in 783, Charlemagne married Fastrada in October of that same year. Fastrada's father was Count Rudolph of the East Franks, and the political advantage of this marriage was an alliance with lands east of the Rhine where Saxons were a problem for the Franks. Fastrada was considered cruel by Einhard (who, to be fair, did not come to Charlemagne's court until after Fastrada was out of the picture). When Charlemagne's oldest son, Pepin the Hunchback (by his first concubine, Himiltrude), tried to rebel unsuccessfully against his father, supposedly it was Fastrada who ordered him to be humiliated by being publicly tonsured.

Fastrada bore two daughters, Hiltrude and Theodrada, who became the abbess of the monastery at Argenteuil. Argenteuil had been connected to St. Denis, but a record in 828 states that Argenteuil became independent when Charlemagne gave her the position, but that Theodrada wanted it to go back under St. Denis, so long as Theodrada were allowed to live there for life.

Fastrada died on 10 August 794 in Frankfurt, where she had traveled with her husband for the Synod of Frankfurt. She was buried in St. Alban's Abbey in a tomb of white marble, but her tomb today can be seen in Mainz Cathedral where it had been transferred after the destruction of St. Albans in 1552.

Fastrada appears in the musical Pippin, a fictional version of the life of Pepin the Hunchback, about whom I have lots more to tell you, but that will have to come after one more wife and a couple more concubines. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Charlemagne's Wives & Concubines, Part 2

Continuing with Hildegard of Vinzgau, Charlemagne's official second wife (as opposed to a concubine like Himiltrude): with her he had nine children (including twins). As with many women at that time, what we know about her is only what is known related to her connection with her husband.

They were married 30 April 771, the same year that he repudiated Desiderata and sent her home, and months before his brother and co-ruler Carloman died. She came from Carloman's territory, and so Charlemagne may have married her for the political value of having an ally in the midst of his brother's (and rival's) land.

Because the Franks and the Church followed Roman law, a girl reached marriage age at 12; it is thought that Hildegard was likely 12 or 13 when they were wed. She went through eight pregnancies (they had twins) between 771 and 783. Charlemagne took her on campaign with him; their first daughter, Adelaide, was born at the Siege of Pavia. She also went with him and the family to Rome in 780-81, where their sons Louis (later "the Pious" and king) and Carloman (named after Charlemagne's brother but renamed "Pepin" at Rome) were baptized by Pope Adrian I. A 2019 biography of Charlemagne expresses the belief that Hildegarde was interested in astronomy and is referred to as the "Astronomer" in a chronicle about Charlemagne's campaign in Spain.

Hildegarde was devout: she was a friend of St. Leoba, and made many donations to the monasteries of St. DenisSt. Martin of Tours, and others. A Hildegarde Chapel at the Monastery of Kempten commemorates her, and they mention her as a founder. She managed to gain benefits for her siblings through her husband. She is the only wife of Charlemagne who was still married at the time of her death. She died on 30 April 783 and was buried on May Day in the Abbey of Saint-Arnould in Metz.

This series started yesterday on International Women's Day, but is far from a one-day sequence. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Charlemagne's Wives & Concubines, Part 1

Charlemagne (747 - 814), King of the Franks and Lombards, Holy Roman Emperor, and champion of Christendom, was a serial marryer. It was common for nobles to make politically advantageous marriages, and Charlemagne was no different. His marriage to the daughter of King Desiderius of the Lombards was extremely brief and may have been designed as a political move against his own brother.

When their father, Pepin the Short, died, his two sons, Carloman and Charles (not yet called "the Great"), became "joint kings" with equal power. Charles was the elder, and no doubt would have preferred to inherit the entire country. Although they were considered co-equal, they were granted separate geographical areas to see to. Charles got western Aquitaine, Neustria, and the northern parts of Austrasia; Carloman got southern Austrasia, eastern Aquitaine, Septimania, Burgundy, and Swabia bordering Italy.

By marrying Desiderata in 770, Charles made an alliance with King Desiderius of the Lombards; a secondary result is that Charles now had a powerful ally on the other side of Carloman's territory, effectively surrounding his brother's lands. Tension between the two, recorded by Einhard, suggests that they were very close to outright war at the time of Carloman's death in December 771. Charles repudiated Desiderata—a medieval practice by which a husband can declare the marriage annulled—and sent her back to Lombardy. (Another theory of his marriage to Desiderata is that it was arranged by Charles' mother, and he simply did not like her and ended the marriage for strictly personal reasons.)

Desiderata may not have been Charles' first wife. He already had a son, Pippin the Hunchback, from a relationship that may have been with a wife or a concubine. She is known as Himiltrude. References to her disappear starting with his marriage to Desiderata. Einhard called her a concubine, and Paul the Deacon says Pippin's birth was "before legal marriage." A letter from Pope Stephen III, however, prior to the marriage to Desiderata, speaks of Carloman and Charles as both married and urges them not to put away their wives. A grave at the monastery of Nivelles of a 40-year-old woman is believed to be Himiltrude, suggesting that she lived past Charles' marriage in 770. The fact that Pippin was not considered eligible to inherit after Charlemagne's death supports the idea of his illegitimacy.

In the same year that Charles sent Desiderata back to her father, he married Hildegard of the Vinzgau, daughter of Count Gerold of Kraichgau. Gerold possessed lands in Carloman's territory, so this marriage helped create more ties with the lands formerly ruled by his brother. They had several children, one of whom did succeed Charlemagne. I'll continue this tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

King Desiderius

I mentioned here how Charlemagne fought and defeated Desiderius, King of the Lombards, and sent him to live out his days in a monastery. An interesting note in their relationship is that Desiderius was also Charlemagne's father-in-law.

Was his father-in-law. Charlemagne married Desiderius' eldest daughter, Desiderata, in 770. Marrying her was a political move, forging an alliance between the Lombards and the Franks. The marriage was annulled in 771, however, and she was sent back to her father.

The political alliances of Desiderius were all over the map, so to speak. When he was named King of the Lombards upon the death of his predecessor, King Aistulf, Aistulf's predecessor, his brother Rachis, who had been in a monastery, left it and tried to take the throne. Desiderius defeated him with the help of Pope Stephen II, after promising that he would give lands to the pope. The pope went for this, since Aistulf had made raids against papal lands. Desiderius, however, was not very forthcoming about handing control of the territories over to the papacy, so by the time Pope Stephen III came along, he was opposed to Charlemagne's marriage to Desiderata, and pushed for the annulment. It didn't really require what we think of as "annulment"; in the Middle Ages, "repudiation" was sufficient: the husband "repudiated" his wife and sent her back to her family. It was a holdover from Roman law. There were at least two dozen repudiated queens in the Middle Ages

Desiderius later tried, like Aistulf, to encroach on papal-controlled lands around Rome, and this time Pope Hadrian I called on Charlemagne's aid. It was expedient for Charlemagne to take up the request, since it allowed him to do a favor for the pope and annex Lombardy.

There was another "family connection" between Charlemagne and Desiderius. In 774, Charlemagne's brother Carloman died. Carloman's wife, Gerberga, might have expected her sons to inherit his territory, but Charlemagne simply absorbed it into his own. Gerberge fled with her sons to Pavia (and later, Verona) and took refuge with Desiderius. Desiderius, unhappy with the treatment of his daughter by Charlemagne, took in the refugees. This contributed to Charlemagne's willingness to besiege Pavia in aid of Pope Hadrian. The family was likely sent to monasteries, just like Desiderius, who was surely sorry that he ever got mixed up with the Frankish royal family.

What did Charlemagne do for a wife after Desiderata? He had three more. Let me tell you about them tomorrow.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Conquest of Lombardy

Although there once existed an agreement between the papacy and the Lombards, the desire of King Aistulf to take more land on the Italian Peninsula started an attempt by the popes to curtail Lombardy's power. To do so, they not only pointed out the hostility to them presented by the Lombards, but also their "heathenism" because of the type of Christianity they practiced. The years-long process culminated in calling on their most devout and powerful champions, Charlemagne.

The immediate precursor to the war between the Franks under Charlemagne and the Lombards came when Pope Hadrian I expelled the Lombard officials from the papal curia. King Desiderius then invaded papal territory, and Hadrian sent to Charlemagne for help.

Awkwardly, there were ties between the Frankish and the Lombard royal families. Charlemagne's co-ruler was his brother Carloman, whose widow Gerberge had gone to shelter at Desiderius' court, later settling in Verona. Desiderius claimed that her children should have a stake in ruling Gaul. Even more awkwardly, Charlemagne had married Desiderius' daughter, Desiderata, but had divorced her after a year and sent her back to her father—a grave insult.

Charlemagne brought at least 10,000 troops to the city of Pavia in September of 773. Although he had brought no siege engines with which to take the fortified city, Pavia had under-prepared for a siege anyway, having neglected to stock extra supplies. (The illustration shows part of the original medieval outer wall, now incorporated into housing inside the city.) Desiderius had sent his son, Adelchis, to Verona to guard Gerberge and her family. Charlemagne sent a small troop to Verona, taking it easily after Adelchis fled to Constantinople.

Charlemagne spent the first months of 774 subduing the land around Pavia. By summer, famine was a real problem in Pavia; Desiderius surrendered in June. Charlemagne declared himself Rex Langobardorum, "King of the Lombards." It was unusual to take the title of king over a subjugated land, rather than simply annex it to yours.

Although Desiderius was no longer king, he was allowed to live another 42 years. Let us look at his life and career next.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Pepin's Godfather

Liutprand was King of the Lombards from 712 - 744. During his reign he conquered much of the Italian Peninsula, made an agreement with Pope Gregory (pictured) that donated lands that began the Papal States, established several sets of laws, and raised the first Carolingian king.

One of Liutprand's important law reforms was the Notitia de actoribus regis ("Notice concerning royal administrators"). It significantly prevented local administrators from illegally appropriating lands of the lower classes. It required the administrator to swear on the Gospels that any irregularity in ownership would be reported to the king, and that a royal charter 

Liutprand had been allied with Charles Martel, King of the Franks. They had enough respect for each other that, prior to Pope Gregory negotiating a peace with Liutprand, Gregory had sent to Martel for aid. Martel refused to fight his former ally, forcing Gregory to have the meeting at Sutri in which he allowed Liutprand to go through Italy at will, so long as the papacy in Rome was spared.

Martel's son Pepin the Short, when he achieved his majority, was sent to Lombardy to be presented with arms by Liutprand. I have mentioned before that a king might send his bastard children to be raised at some removed but noble household. It was also common to have legitimate royal children exposed to other courts. The ritual investing of a prince with his first arms and welcoming him into manhood made him symbolically Liutprand's adopted son. It also meant closer ties between the two kingdoms. Pepin did eventually turn on Lombardy, but that was after Liutprand's death when one of his successors, Aistulf, declared himself King of the Romans and reneged on Liutprand's promise to leave Rome alone. You can read the result here.

Aistulf's thirst for more power led to conflict with the Franks, and ultimately led to the end of an independent Lombardy when Pepin's son Charlemagne conquered them. Next time we'll see how that went.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Liutprand of the Lombards

In order to preserve Western Europe for Christendom and repel the Muslim invasions, Charles Martel enlisted the aid of Liutprand, King of the Lombards (c.680 - 744). His reign from 712 until his death in 744 was one of the longer and more productive reigns in Lombardy.

He almost didn't make it. Due to political intrigue, his family was destroyed by rivals: the usurper Aripert II exiled his father King Ansprand to Bavaria, blinded his brother, and cut off the ears and noses of his mother and sister. Liutprand was young enough to be considered harmless, and so was spared and sent to Bavaria with his father.

King Ansprand returned with an army of Bavarians and Austrians. Aripert fled towards Gaul, but drowned crossing a river. On Ansprand's deathbed, the Lombard nobles called Liutprand and declared him his father's co-ruler. This practice—declaring a co-ruler—made succession clear and ensured there would always be a functioning ruler. Liutprand did the same with his own son in later years when Liutprand was ill. Ansprand died the next day.

The illustration shows a large part of the Italian Peninsula under Lombard rule, and Liutprand can take credit for that by taking advantage of local hostilities. Byzantine Emperor Leo III made edicts against icons in 726. Pope Gregory II, however, rejected iconoclasm. Some parts of the peninsula (remember that at this time "Italy" is not a country but a large number of independent states) accepted Leo's edicts; some did not. The clash was serious: for example, the Byzantine Duke of Naples was killed by a mob while trying to destroy religious icons.

Liutprand took advantage of the civil discord to take his armies south and conquer much of the peninsula. On approach to Rome, he was met by Pope Gregory at the ancient city of Sutri, where the two negotiated a deal by which the papacy would get control of Sutri and some other towns as a donation to the pope (the start of establishing the Papal States), and Liutprand was allowed to take as much other territory as he was able.

As the longest-reigning Lombard king, it would be inappropriate to try to summarize his rule in one brief post. His later relationships with popes and the Carolingians and his legal reforms deserve their own attention. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Abd-al-Raḥmân al-Ghafiqi

During the Battle of Toulouse in 721 and the defeat of the Muslim attempt to make inroads to Aquitaine and Gaul, the Muslim general was killed. A succession of Muslim leaders replaced him until they settled on Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd Allah Al-Ghafiqi. In 730, he was made governor of Al Andalus back in northern Iberian Peninsula.

For a 731 attempt by the Umayyad Caliphate to cross the Pyrenees and invade Western Europe, al-Rahman was put in charge of the army. This time, the Muslim army made swift progress. Toulouse had been won by surprise, but this time Duke Odo's light infantry faced a Muslim cavalry in open battle. Al-Rahman took Bordeaux and then defeated Odo at the battle of Garonne.

Odo fled northward to Charles Martel, who had declined to help him in 721. Martel had been planning since then, however, and with a financial loan from Pope Gregory II had hired, trained, and equipped a standing army to defend Christendom from the invading Saracens. He marched his people south and set up on a hill south of Tours.

Al-Rahman came upon Martel's army on 10 October 732 and paused. Martel had taken a superior position: high ground, with a wooded area at its foot that would impede the organized progress of the cavalry. After seven days when neither army made an offensive move, al-Rahman finally decided he could not delay. His cavalry charged uphill and broke through the Frankish phalanxes several times. The phalanxes did not scatter, however, and little progress was made by the Muslims.

Al-Rahman was killed in one of the charges, and the remaining officers could not agree on a leader or a new strategy. They were also concerned with the spoils of war they had gathered along the way, and the risk of losing and having their camp plundered motivated them to retreat.

Four years later, al-Rahman's son made another attempt at the request of the Caliph, this time by sea. His fleet landed at Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast, proceeded to Arles on the coast (already under Muslim rule), and then prepared to march north.

Charles Martel was ready. He brought his army south, along with help from King Liutprand of the Lombards. They liberated Avignon, Nîmes, and others. He then drove the Muslims out of Arles and burned the city to the ground to prevent its future use as a Muslim base. Once again, the Muslim invasion of Europe was turned back.

Liutprand of the Lombards was one of the most successful Lombard rulers, and we'll take a closer look at him next time.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

The Battle of Tours, Part 2

As the army of the Umayyad Caliphate, led by Abd-al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi, moved north into Gaul from Aquitaine in 732, their progress was slowed by the need to live off the land. Finding provisions for an army of at least tens of thousands was difficult. The most plentiful source of food would have been the wheat harvest, but in late summer and early autumn the harvest wasn't ready.

Still, their approach to Tours galvanized Charles Martel to bring his army south to meet them after he got word from Odo the Great. He arranged his army south of Tours in defensive mode, rather than going on the offensive. He set up his army in phalanxes on hills with a wooded area in front of them, which would force the Muslims to break up among the trees. The trees also prevented the Muslims from seeing beforehand the size and arrangement of the Frankish forces. The hills also meant that the Umayyads would have to attack while running uphill.

Al-Rahman's army arrived to the area on 10 October, but he did not want to attack immediately. After seven days of waiting, the Umayyads attacked, leading with their cavalry. The cavalry charged several times at the Frankish phalanxes, breaking through them repeatedly. The phalanxes were well-trained infantry, hired and extensively trained by Martel over recent years thanks to financial support from Pope Gregory II. They were disciplined and did not scatter.

The Mozarabic Chronicle of 754 goes on to say:

The northern peoples remained as immobile as a wall, holding together like a glacier in the cold regions. In the blink of an eye, they annihilated the Arabs with the sword. ... But suddenly, within sight of the countless tents of the Arabs, the Franks despicably sheathed their swords postponing the fight until the next day since night had fallen during the battle. Rising from their own camp at dawn, the Europeans saw the tents and canopies of the Arabs all arranged just as they had appeared the day before. Not knowing that they were empty and thinking that inside them there were Saracen forces ready for battle, they sent officers to reconnoiter and discovered that all the Ishmaelite troops had left. They had indeed fled silently by night in tight formation, returning to their own country.

Call it luck or call it the result of clever strategy by Charles Martel, the Umayyad Caliphate retreated to the Iberian Peninsula, abandoning Europe to Europeans. Al-Rahman was killed in battle. Despite the defeat, he is praised for being an able commander, and we should take a closer look at him next time, as well as his son, who attempted another invasion of Gaul just a few years after Tours!